Historic Sydney Strolls: The Best Harbour Walks for Families

Ready to uncover a completely different side of Sydney? If you're looking for unique ways to experience the iconic city, simply dive into the diverse and captivating world of the Harbour Trust's cherished destinations, where history, beauty, and adventure collide.

Beyond fascinating landmarks from different eras, the extraordinary places protected by the Harbour Trust offer a treasure trove of experiences, waiting to be enjoyed – these include a series of scenic coastal walks on the city’s doorstep.

Historic Sydney Strolls: Explore 5 of the Harbour Trust's Beloved Destinations 

1.  Coastal Walk from Middle Head to Georges Heights 

Middle Head to Georges Heights
The coastal walk from Middle Head to Georges Heights is one of the best harbour walks for families in Sydney. Credit: Harbour Trust


Discover the stunning beauty and rich history of Sydney Harbour with a family-friendly adventure on the Mosman peninsula. Breathtaking views are guaranteed and kids will have plenty of fun along the way!

Start your journey at Middle Head / Gubbuh Gubbuh or the Georges Head Lookout at the neighbouring precinct of Georges Heights and follow the scenic coastal trail, offering panoramic vistas of Sydney Harbour and beyond – all framed by lush bushland. With paths clearly marked and a moderate gradient, it's the perfect outing for families with toddlers, school-aged kids, and adventurous teens.

Along the way, discover hidden treasures like the Headland Park Artist Precinct, where green spaces, artist studios, and Frenchy’s Café await. Plus, enjoy a leisurely picnic at Georges Head Lookout, which offers a jaw-dropping harbour view.

History buffs will be excited to know the lookout features military landmarks steeped in history, including gun batteries and heritage gun emplacements. Dive deeper into the area's past with talking objects and informative signs scattered throughout the trail. 

Walk distance and time: Approx 3.5 km/40 - 50 minutes return (excluding pitstops and picnics)
Ages: suitable for toddlers and children, not all areas are pram-accessible 
Other key information: It’s easy for families to drive to Georges Heights and Middle Head and there are areas with unmetered/free parking. To reach Georges Heights or Middle Head from Sydney’s CBD, board the 100 service (QVB to Taronga Zoo) at a designated stop in the city, then alight at Mosman Junction and transfer to the 111 service to complete your trip.

2.Sanctuary Loop at North Head Sanctuary, Manly

North Head Sanctuary Loop
Third Quarantine Cemetery – a scenic stop on the Sanctuary Loop at North Head Sanctuary, Manly. Credit: Harbour Trust

For a harbourside walk to remember, discover the Sanctuary Loop—a circuit trail within North Head Sanctuary, Manly that is one of Sydney’s quintessential experiences. 

Drink in breathtaking coastal vistas from Third Quarantine Cemetery and enjoy scenic lookouts, including the Fairfax Lookouts. Encounter rare native plants and animals, observe diverse birdlife, and marvel at the historic decommissioned gun emplacements at North Fort. Don't miss the poignant tribute at Australia's Memorial Walk, which is paved with bricks honouring the names of past servicepeople. 

The Visitor Centre, located near Bella Vista Cafe, is the perfect starting point. And, if you're a family visiting on the weekend with young/school-aged children, you could extend your visit by popping into Bandicoot Heaven – an information centre run by the volunteer organisation North Head Sanctuary Foundation. Bandicoot Heaven provides visitors with info about local plants and animals and is open on Saturdays and Sundays between 10 am and 4 pm.

Walk distance and time: Under 8km/approximately 2 hours return
Ages: Suitable for older children who enjoy walking 
Other key information: The walk is quite exposed in parts so adequate sun protection is important, and there is an incline in the walk near the third Quarantine Cemetery. There is a free car park near the visitor centre, or visitors can walk or catch public transport to North Head Sanctuary. The 161 bus service runs from Manly Wharf to North Head Sanctuary daily.

3. Cockatoo Island / Wareamah Trails

Cockatoo Island Trail
A family arriving at Cockatoo Island, known to Sydney First Nations peoples as Wareamah. Credit: Harbour Trust

Located in the heart of Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island / Wareamah boasts a pair of rewarding walking trails that will transport families back in time (View map here).

Visitors have the option to explore either the upper or lower islands of Cockatoo Island – or both! The trails offer insights into Cockatoo Island's history, spanning from the turbulent convict era (1839 to 1869) to its golden maritime years (1857 to 1991). Highlights include landmarks like the Turbine Shop, Fitzroy Dock, Convict Precinct, Biloela House, and Biloela Lawn.

Families are encouraged to head into the Visitor Centre near the ferry wharf, where they will be welcomed by a friendly volunteer and can receive a free map as well as tips for exploring the island. Children can enjoy the talking objects tour and purchase a kid's activity book for outdoor learning and exercise. Adventurous teens may be interested in orienteering courses available on the island.

Walk distance and time: Approximately 90 minutes
Ages: Suitable for all ages
Other key information:  The lower island circuit is more accessible while reaching the upper island involves a steep incline with limited wheelchair accessibility. Families without prams should have no issues reaching the upper island. Public ferries (F3 and F8 services) operate daily to Cockatoo Island from Circular Quay, Barangaroo, and Parramatta River wharves.

4. Macquarie Lightstation, Vaucluse to Camp Cove

Macquarie Lightstation
Macquarie Lightstation, Vaucluse – the site of Australia’s first lighthouse. Credit: Harbour Trust 

While the beautiful Camp Cove isn't under the Harbour Trust's care, the organisation proudly safeguards a historic building that overlooks the beach – the former Marine Biological Station, one of the first buildings established in Watsons Bay. Meanwhile, Macquarie Lightstation in Vaucluse is the awe-inspiring site of Australia’s first lighthouse. Macquarie Lighthouse was constructed in 1818 but, due to crumbling foundations, it had to be reconstructed in the 1880s. This iteration of the elegant tower stand to this day. 

Travelling between Camp Cove and Macquarie Lighstation is under half an hour's walk, offering families the flexibility to start their adventure with either a coastal walk followed by a refreshing swim or vice versa!

Plus, while marvelling at the iconic Macquarie Lightstation,  families can engage with two talking signs share its captivating history.

Walk distance and time: 2km/under 30 minutes 
Ages: Suitable for all ages
Other key information: good pram accessibility, although some roads around Watsons Bay are narrow and uneven.

5. Bondi to Manly 

Harbour Trust Bondi to Manly Walk
Visitors to Chowder Bay, Mosman enjoying the Bondi to Manly Walk. Credit: Harbour Trust

Embark on an unforgettable journey with the Bondi to Manly Walk (B2M) – a remarkable opportunity for both locals and visitors to soak in the beauty of the world's greatest harbour!  This unique pilgrimage spans 80 kilometres of breathtaking harbour foreshore, connecting two of Sydney's most beloved surf beaches. Along the way, explorers will discover some of the Harbour Trust’s memorable destinations including North Head Sanctuary, Middle Head, Chowder Bay, Georges Heights, Sub Base Platypus and Macquarie Lightstation. 

The B2M Walk is signposted with countless 'waymarks', each adorned with a distinctive Aboriginal whale symbol, guiding adventurers along the stunning coastal and harbourside tracks from Bondi Beach to Manly Beach. 

Now, because 80km is a fair lot of ground to cover in a day—you can break the walk into eight smaller chunks:

  • Bondi Beach to Watsons Bay: 9.9 km 
  • Watsons Bay to Rose Bay: 10.7 km 
  • Rose Bay to Darling Point: 7.6 km
  • Darling Point to Kirribilli: 9.9 km
  • Kirribilli to Taronga Zoo: 10.4 km
  • Taronga Zoo to Spit Bridge: 9.1 km
  • Spit Bridge to Manly Wharf: 9.8 km
  • Manly Wharf to Manly Beach (via North Head Sanctuary):  10.2 km 

Walk distance and time: 80 km cumulatively 
Ages: Suitable for older kids and teenagers if broken into sections
Other key information: This Sydney 'pilgrimage' is one to take seriously and enjoy the entirety of!

More Outdoor Fun

Sydney's Best Bushwalks
Secret Beaches in Sydney to Avoid the Crowds
12 of the Best Rock Pools in Sydney

Have you signed up for our newsletter? Join ellaslist to get the best family and kid-friendly events, venues, classes and things to do NEAR YOU!