Six of the best hikes in and around Sydney

(Image credit: Hamilton Lund/Destination NSW)

Coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi, with Bondi in the distance

By Caro Ryan25th February 2024

From the iconic Bondi to Coogee walk to coastal camping on the Royal Coast Track, these hikes will take you to secluded beaches, rainforest oases and bushland swimming holes.

Australia’s iconic city, Sydney, lures visitors with promises of a harbour that pours out to the jewelled Pacific Ocean, lined with beaches and communities buzzing with culture and diversity. Woven throughout the city and its surrounds is a web of trails that leads both the ambler and experienced adventurer to some of Sydney’s most outstanding natural delights.

Getting started is easy with the free NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service app; the digital maps will keep you on track. Throw the essentials of water, snacks, lunch, hat, sunscreen and first-aid kit into your backpack and let your comfy walking shoes lead you on an adventure. Whether on a bustling coastal path or quiet mountain track where you can hear nature whisper, Sydney’s best hiking trails can take you there.

With 50 national park reserves in the Sydney region and hundreds of trails to choose from, these six walks pass secluded beaches, oases of verdant rainforest, thundering waterfalls and bushland swimming holes – and all are made even easier with nearby public transport links to trailheads.The Bondi to Coogee walk is a quintessential experience for both locals and visitors (Credit: Ampueroleonardo/Getty Images)

The Bondi to Coogee walk is a quintessential experience for both locals and visitors (Credit: Ampueroleonardo/Getty Images)

1. Best for beach culture: Bondi to Coogee

There’s a reason that the 6km (2.5-3 hour) Bondi to Coogee walk has become a rite-of-passage among residents of and visitors to Sydney. By kickstarting your walk with a coffee from one of Bondi‘s famous cafes and then rewarding yourself with a meal or drink at Coogee, you’ll be opening your heart to the quintessential eastern suburbs experience – one that demands exercising and exceptional coffee to see and be seen.


Passionate hiker and search & rescue volunteer, Caro Ryan started to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely. She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book How to Navigate – the art of traditional map & compass navigation in an Australian context and hosts Rescued – an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

Locals can be found jogging, walking and saluting the sun along the concrete pathway that winds around the golden sandstone headlands. Thank me later if you choose to wear your swimwear (that’s “cossie” to Aussies) under your clothes for a baptism into Sydney’s beach-swimming culture. Choose between the natural Pacific waves or a quintessentially Australian ocean pool, washed clean with every tide. You’ll pass five beaches and pools on your journey, so why not try them all?

To add a creative edge to your walk, visit during the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition (late Oct-early Nov) when 2km of the route is transformed into an immense outdoor art gallery. Whale-watching season runs from May to November, with humpbacks at the peak of their annual migration in June-July.

Website: 10km Manly Scenic Walkway has epic views back onto the city (Credit: John Spencer/DPE)

The 10km Manly Scenic Walkway has epic views back onto the city (Credit: John Spencer/DPE)

2. Best for harbourside bushland: Manly Scenic Walkway

Starting from the north side of the Spit Bridge in the well-to-do northern suburb of Mosman, this grade three walking track is one that, depending on the time of day, still feels a bit of a local secret. The 10km Manly Scenic Walkway (also known as The Spit to Manly Walk) meanders in and out of quiet coves, picnic-friendly parks, lonely beaches and bush-covered headlands.

If the thought of a hidden beach, with views straight out of the Sydney Heads appeals to you, some extra research could reward you with a little-known side track that leads down to Washaway Beach and the feeling like you’ve been teleported to the Mediterranean.

Views over Middle Harbour and some of Sydney’s priciest real estate dominate the first third of the walk, before the mood changes as you dive under the canopy of bushland in the Sydney Harbour National Park near Castle Rock Beach. Slow down as you climb Dobroyd Head and connect to some of Sydney’s Indigenous heritage at the Grotto Point Aboriginal engraving site where you’ll see petroglyphic images of humans and animals etched into the sandstone.

On weekends you may find an ice-cream truck as you pass Tania Park; enjoy a soft-serve cone while gazing over the Crater Cove huts below, where a handful of people came to live rent-free, building shacks from driftwood and stone from the 1920s-60s. Pull yourself away from the scene and make the final push onto well-earned refreshments at beloved beach-side suburb, Manly. Here, you’ll appreciate the 1920s ferry advertising slogan, “Manly: seven miles from Sydney and 1,000 miles from care.”

Website: Bay is a great place to stop for a swim on the Cowan to Brooklyn track (Credit: Caro Ryan)

Jerusalem Bay is a great place to stop for a swim on the Cowan to Brooklyn track (Credit: Caro Ryan)

3. Best for fit adventurers: Jerusalem Bay Track

The Jerusalem Bay Track (also known as “Cowan to Brooklyn”) is a sweet 11km snippet of the epic Great North Walk that stretches 250km from Sydney to the port city of Newcastle. Like much of the full two-week adventure, this perfectly formed half-day section begins and ends at public transport, linking Cowan and Hawkesbury River railway stations. It also delivers a teaser of the full expedition along undulating and forested tracks.

Starting at Cowan, about an hour by train from Sydney’s Central Station, your knees will immediately get a workout as you wind your way downhill alongside the sing-song babble of Jerusalem Creek. Enjoy a break at Jerusalem Bay and snap a shot of the iconic palm tree planted by the Rhodes family who built a home and boatshed here in the late 1800s: this stand-alone introduced species is in stark contrast to the surrounding native eucalypts.

Jerusalem Bay makes for a great swimming spot – and you’ll appreciate cooling off before you begin the ascent up to the Brooklyn Dam campsite – but plan your day with the 1.5m tide of this branch of the Hawkesbury River in mind. A popular swimming spot for the 700 locals who call the oyster-farming community of Brooklyn home, this picturesque reservoir was originally built in 1885 to support steam trains, powering them up the hill to Cowan.

From here, it’s a gentle downhill into Brooklyn, where you can celebrate with a cooling ale and a dozen of Sydney’s freshest rock oysters at the Anglers Rest.

Website: Overcliff/Undercliff track takes hikers into the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (Credit: Caro Ryan)

The Overcliff/Undercliff track takes hikers into the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (Credit: Caro Ryan)

4. Best for mountain lovers: Overcliff/Undercliff

The most visited national park in New South Wales, the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is a hiker’s and nature-lover’s paradise. The challenge of its diverse walking trail system is choosing the track that’s right for you. Whispered about by locals and visitors alike, the Overcliff/Undercliff track encompasses all I love about this region: immense, panoramic views, a variety of habitats, quiet spots to be drawn into nature’s embrace and a great cafe.

This hike forms part of the Blue Mountains’ new Grand Cliff Top Walk, a two-day, 20km village-to-village hike from Wentworth Falls and Leura to Katoomba. Opening in March 2024, it draws walkers along the southern escarpment of the Jamison Valley, with accommodation, dining and leisure activities in the local communities.

Just two hours west by train from Sydney’s Central Station, you’ll find yourself at the tidy village of Wentworth Falls. Here, you can follow in Charles Darwin’s 1836 footsteps and understand his struggle to describe the “quite novel” scene before him of the “immense gulf” and “absolutely vertical sandstone cliffs” Perched above Wentworth Falls’ 187m drop at Fletchers Lookout, a clear day brings the Southern Highlands region into focus, more than 80km to the south across a vast expanse of wilderness.

This recently upgraded 3.5km track from Wentworth Falls Picnic Area to the Conservation Hut Cafe  (complete the loop by returning via the short and easy Short Cut Track) will take 1-2 hours and leave you feeling like you’ve discovered a hidden gem. Cut into the side of a 200m high cliff face, this exhilarating walk is jam-packed with expansive vistas across the Jamison and Kedumba valleys and you’ll pass through a variety of Blue Mountains habitats, including rainforest, heathland, eucalyptus forest and swamp; home to myriad fauna and birdlife.

Website: National Park is home to more than 650 Aboriginal archaeological sites (Credit: Natasha Webb/DPE)

Royal National Park is home to more than 650 Aboriginal archaeological sites (Credit: Natasha Webb/DPE)

5. Best for Aboriginal heritage: Jibbon Loop Track and Aboriginal Carvings

The Aboriginal lands of the Dharawal People extend around 120km from southern Sydney to Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast. Like many First Nations communities, they were brutally cleared from their land in the early 1800s under Governor Macquarie, but the landscape of the Royal National Park still bears witness to 8,000-9,000 years of Dharawal living history in more than 650 known Aboriginal archaeological sites – including 218 rock engravings that depict food sources like eels or animals such as whales, a major totem of the Dharawal.

A 5km return walk from the sleepy seaside village of Bundeena (get here via a 40-minute ferry trip south from Cronulla) will lead you to Jibbon (Djeeban in Dharawal), meaning “sandbars at low tide”. Jibbon Head is the most extensive engraving site in the entire park and includes images of whales, kangaroos and Ancestral Beings.

An incredibly significant and spiritual site for Dharawal, this open-air museum is where their foundational stories, the Dreaming, come from. Walk up from Jibbon Beach and visualise this place 250 years ago: women with their morning catch, men returning from the hunt and life before everything changed with the arrival of British colonists in 1788. To protect the site from erosion or damage, National Parks worked closely with the Dharawal to create a viewing platform and walkway. Pause here and ponder, paying your respects to their Elders.

Website: heath-framed walking trails of the Royal Coast Track extend for 30km along the coast (Credit: Peter Sherratt/DPE)

The heath-framed walking trails of the Royal Coast Track extend for 30km along the coast (Credit: Peter Sherratt/DPE)

6. Best for coastal camping: Royal Coast Track

Sydney’s Royal National Park was dedicated in 1879, becoming the second national park in the world after Yellowstone in the US. Only 25km from the city, this 16,000-hectare expanse is the first park that many visitors see as they land at Sydney’s Mascot Airport.

Stretching 30km south along the coast, The Royal (or “Nasho” to locals) is popular with Sydneysiders looking for a daytrip to wild beaches, well-maintained picnic areas and coastal heath-framed walking trails.

Its best-known hike is the classic Royal Coast Track, a challenging two-day stretch stopping at a walk-in-only campground at North Era beach. Fall asleep to the lullaby of the waves, wake to the sound of kangaroos munching on grass and stride out along beaches with no one else around (especially mid-week).

If you’re ready to step up and try a two-day hike with camping, carrying everything you need, this public transport-friendly track is a great choice. Create your own walking holiday by catching the quaint local ferry from Cronulla across Port Hacking to Bundeena. At the end of the hike in Otford, hop the train back to Cronulla.


BBC Travel’s The SpeciaList is a series of guides to popular and emerging destinations around the world, as seen through the eyes of local experts and tastemakers.

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