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The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of Sydney’s most popular attractions, and it’s not hard to see why – from unbelievable photo opportunities to unforgettable, adrenalin-fuelled experiences, there are dozens of different ways to enjoy it. With that in mind, it’s good to know what your options are. So, let’s crack into a complete rundown on how to visit, see, and experience the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Guide

What’s covered in our Sydney Harbour Bridge Guide?

By the end of the guide you will have learned…

  • The story of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and why it was built

  • Weird and wonderful Harbour Bridge facts

  • How to get there

  • The best Harbour Bridge viewpoints

  • How to enjoy the bridge on foot, by bike, or by climbing to the top

 

But to start with, let’s answer a few basic questions:

Sydney Bridge

What is the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

In its most literal sense, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a 500-metre long steel-arch bridge across Sydney Harbour. In its most practical sense, it is the major transportation link joining Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) with the northern suburbs.

The bridge has eight traffic lanes (previously six, with two tram lines having been replaced by extra roads in 1958), two railway tracks, a pedestrian walkway and a cycle path.

However, as well as being a major road, rail, freight, pedestrian, and cycle link, “The Coathanger” (as it is affectionately known due to the shape of its famous steel arch) also has a special place in the hearts of locals. And a special place in the heritage of Australia.

 

History of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was constructed between 1924 and 1932 under the supervision of civil engineer John Bradfield and the NSW government, after Bradfield’s initial proposal in 1912 had been put on hold by the First World War.

In fact, proposals to build a bridge across Sydney Harbour had been put forward as early as a hundred years before that – in 1825, renowned architect (and ex-convict) Francis Greenway wrote a letter to The Australian newspaper imploring the government to fund the building of a bridge that would “give an idea of strength and magnificence that would reflect credit and glory on the colony and the Mother Country.”

Greenway’s lofty claim was realised a century later, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s opening ceremony (on March 19th, 1932) was one of the grandest public occasions in Sydney’s history – with up to a million people supposedly swarming the streets to get a glimpse of the action.

Since then, the bridge has been a lifeline for Sydney’s transportation system. Today, just under 200,000 vehicles cross the bridge every single day. 

That’s the textbook stuff. Fancy hearing a few stranger aspects of the bridge’s history?

Historical Photo's Sydney Harbour Bridge

Quirky facts about the Sydney Harbour Bridge

  • A blinking aircraft beacon at the summit of the arch, installed in 1949, is nick-named “Blinky Bill” after a popular Australian cartoon character from the 1930s. The bulb needs to be replaced every two months, and it’s done by a pair of expert electricians who have to set up a safety net and check each other’s harness on the way up.
     

  • According to some, the Bradfield Highway over Sydney Harbour Bridge is still a designated ‘Travelling Stock Route’ by law. This means that farmers, technically, still have the right to move livestock over the bridge between the hours of midnight and dawn.
     

  • According to urban myth, the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s iron was not supposed to be painted grey – but then that was the only colour available to order in sufficient quantities (272,000 litres) at the time when construction was approaching completion. finished in 1932.
     

  • At 134 metres (440 feet) above the water, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world. However, the height of the arch can actually fluctuate up to 18 centimetres (7 inches) up and down, according to the contraction and expansion of the iron in hot or cold weather.
     

  • At the penultimate moment of the Opening Ceremony, a retired cavalry officer called Francis de Groot galloped forward on horseback from the ceremonial Honour Guard just as the ribbon was about to be cut. He slashed the ribbon with his sword while declaring the bridge “open in the name of the decent citizens of New South Wales!” He was later taken to a mental hospital, declared insane, and fined for the cost of the ribbon.

 

Here is some slightly more useful, practical information you need to know about visiting the Sydney Harbour Bridge:

1930's Bridge Poster

How to get there: travel options and transport links for getting to the Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

By public transport

The closest train station to the Sydney Harbour Bridge is Circular Quay. Located right in the heart of central Sydney, at the northern edge of the CBD in the historic harbourside district, Circular Quay is one of Sydney’s main transport hubs. It has train and bus connections from all across the city (including the super useful City Circle route and the T2, T3, and T8 commuter train lines). 

By boat

Circular Quay is also the departure and arrival point for Sydney’s main ferry routes, with the piers just a short walk from the train station. Eight different ferry routes run regularly between Circular Quay and numerous waterfront suburbs and other destinations around greater Sydney.

On foot

From Circular Quay, pedestrian access to the bridge is via Cumberland Street, located in the famous Rocks precinct. From the northern side of the bridge, walking access is from Milsons Point. If you don’t fancy walking back, there is a railway station right at Milsons Point; or you can take the ferry back across the harbour between Milsons Point and Circular Quay. 

Wondering how long it’ll take to get there from other central Sydney landmarks?

The pedestrian access point onto Sydney Harbour Bridge is about a 20-minute walk from Town Hall Station in the CBD, 15 minutes from the Royal Botanic Gardens, 10 minutes from Wynyard station or the Museum of Sydney, and 20 minutes from the Sydney Opera House.

By car

For those not planning on using the train or transport network, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is also accessible directly by car from the Cahill Expressway. The Cahill Walk, a pedestrian walkway running alongside the Cahill Expressway, is also one of the best vantage points for taking photos of the bridge, as there is no obstruction from the overhead motorway like you get from below.

Visiting Sydney as part of a self-drive vacation? Check out our New South Wales self-drive itineraries and get inspired!

 

Disability access to the Sydney Harbour Bridge 

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Physical Disability Council of New South Wales (PDCN) and their “Everybody’s Bridge” campaign, as of 2018 the Sydney Harbour Bridge is fully accessible to all visitors. The installation of state-of-the-art accessible elevators at each end of the pedestrian walkway – which was previously accessed only by a flight of 60 stairs – means that people with limited mobility, seniors, disabled travellers, and parents with prams can also cross the bridge, enjoy the views over Sydney Harbour, and see the workings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge up close.

Map Sydney

From on top, from below, or from afar – The best spots to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a dominant city icon, and it’s possible to catch a glimpse from all around Sydney Harbour. However, some spots provide a better vantage point than others. Not to mention perhaps more peace and quiet, or a unique perspective.

 

The best viewpoints for seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

The Freebies 

Observatory Hill, Cremorne Point, and Blues Point Reserve (at McMahons Point) all offer spectacular direct views onto the bridge, without having to spend a penny. The Jeffrey Street Wharf, where photographers can snap a perfect reflective image of the bridge in the water, is another popular, public location on the north side.

 

Splash out

The Opera Bar, an open-air beer garden adjacent to the Sydney Opera House on the opposite side of Circular Quay, is undoubtedly one of the best places to get a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a drink in hand. The observation deck atop Sydney Tower, the city’s tallest building, is a way to ensure exclusive, unobstructed views over the bridge, the harbour, and even beyond greater Sydney towards the Blue Mountains, the Hunter Valley, and up towards the Central Coast beaches.

 

Local favourites and secluded spots 

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is a popular local spot, where splendid bridge views are almost secondary to open-air picnic and park vibes, while the beautiful Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, overlooking Lavender Bay in North Sydney, is a place where visitors can get an unusual, slightly abstract photo opportunity onto the bridge  different from those on postcards and Instagram feeds the world over.

 

From the water 

One of the easiest ways to get an up-close view of the bridge is from the water. Public ferries from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo, Manly, and Watsons Bay pass right by the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, while ferries to Parramatta, Darling Harbour, Barangaroo, Cockatoo Island pass right under the bridge.

Alternatively, there is a huge range of harbour cruises providing front-row views of the bridge from below – from simple sightseeing tours to fancy High Tea, evening cocktail, and three-course dinner cruises.

 

From the sky

Anybody keen to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge (and the rest of Sydney) from above can take a scenic seaplane ride departing from Rose Bay, or a scenic helicopter tour from Mascot. 


So, that's how you can see the Bridge, but how do we do it?

Walking Dog on Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge activities and experiences

There are plenty of options for active travellers who want to combine a trip to the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a bit of exercise or a heart-pumping experience.

 

Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge

There was a time when only daredevils and rebels would climb the bridge in the dead of night, or perform illegal high-wire stunts. Those days are gone, however, as BridgeClimb have been operating official, legal, unforgettable guided climbs to the summit since 1998. 

If you’re unsure how to go about it, here are a few frequently asked questions about climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge: 

 

Is it safe?

Yes, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge is perfectly safe.

BridgeClimb operates guided climbs with a professional climb leader, and participants are provided with all safety equipment and gear required (safety harness and wire lifeline, protective clothing suited to the weather conditions, etc.) as well as a safety orientation briefing before the climb.

Is it always the same climb?

No. You can do a range of different climbing options. For example:

  • The Summit Climb – the classic, 3.5-hour full climb that includes everything, ascending up to the top from the east side, clamouring on ladders and catwalks to the outer edge of the arch and the summit, then descending down the western side of the bridge.

  • The Summit Express Climb – a truncated, 2-hour return version of the climb, straight to the top and back down.

  • The Sampler – a short and sweet, 90-minute return climb, which goes up the inner arch to a spectacular viewpoint halfway up.

  • The Canape Climb and Climb & Dine options – for those who want to climb in style, knowing they’ll be rewarded with some delicious gourmet hors d’oeuvres at the summit, or a divine dinner after returning to ground level.

  • Private group climbs – whether a wedding ceremony, family reunion, or birthday party, you can arrange an exclusive private climb that will be sure to make the occasion an even more memorable one.

Who can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

Almost anybody.

Absolutely no previous climbing experience is necessary, nor do you need a particular level of fitness.

Most of the climb is a steady incline on wide stairs, so even travellers who are a bit out of shape should have no problem reaching the top. If you find yourself struggling along the way, there is the option of latching onto a descending downward BridgeClimb party.

There are, however, a few restrictions:

  • Only children aged 8 and up, and over 1.2 metres tall, are allowed to climb the bridge. But there is no upper age limit!
     
  • The climb is not appropriate for travellers who are over 24 weeks pregnant.
     
  • If you have a disability or an injury, this may not be a barrier to climbing! Read BridgeClimb’s pre-climb checklist for useful information on health & medical conditions.
     
  • Thanks to the Auslan climb, a special guided tour which is delivered twice a month in Australian sign language, hearing-impaired visitors are able to enjoy the summit climb.
     
  • The commentary for most climbs is in English, but there are also dedicated tours with Japanese- and Mandarin-speaking guides.

 

When is a good time to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

Basically, any time of day –  BridgeClimb offer guided climbs at dawn, during the day, in the evening, and at night.

Daytime climbs mean excellent city and harbour views, while evening and night climbs offer amazing sunset views, plus the chance to see Sydney’s glittering night skyline in a unique way. 

If you don’t like the heat, then avoid daytime climbs in the high summer months of December to February. October, November, March and April are good months for avoiding the heat, the busy school holiday crowds, and the potential rains between April and September.

That said, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a fantastic experience all year-round and BridgeClimb operate 364 days a year.

How to choose the best season for your visit to Australia

Sydney Bridge Climb

Other bridge-based activities

 

The Bridge Walk 

 

One of the most popular and accessible ways (including for travellers with limited mobility – see above) to enjoy the Sydney Harbour Bridge is on the famous Bridge Walk. This entirely free, public pedestrian walkway stretches along the eastern side of the bridge, taking in unrivaled views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour. 

 

At a leisurely pace, it should take about 45 minutes to cross the bridge on foot (allowing for plenty of time to stop and take photos along the way). Visitors can start the walk on either side, and go in either direction: from the Rocks on the CBD side, where access is near the weekly Rocks Market; or from Milsons Point on the north shore, where access is near the funky Kirribilli Markets. So there are plenty of chances to stock up on snacks before or after the walk, too.

 

The South East Pylon Lookout

 

For visitors who don’t feel up to walking the entire length of the bridge (which is fair enough, considering it is one of the longest steel-arch bridges in the world), the shorter walk from The Rocks to the South East Pylon is a popular option. This is the location of the informative Harbour Bridge Museum, as well as the incredible Pylon Lookout, which offers superb 360-degree views over the city centre, the whole of Sydney Harbour out towards the Heads, and of course almost a bird’s-eye view onto the Sydney Opera House. 

 

Bike across the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Another fantastic way for active travellers to enjoy the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to cycle across it. There is a dedicated cycle pathway running along the western side of the bridge, and the entry point to get on it from the CBD side is beside the fabulous Sydney Observatory. The cycle path is well protected and at a safe distance from the road traffic, so even uncertain cyclists and young ones can feel comfortable on the bike! 

Travellers can choose to bike it on their own, as part of a tour, or to hire a bike on site. There are many companies who offer bike rental near the Sydney Harbour Bridge – including electric bikes – as well as fully guided bike tours, for all ages and abilities, that include crossing the bridge. 

Here are just a few of them:

  • Bonza Bike Tours at 30 Harrington Street a few blocks from the bridge entrance in the Rocks, who have a huge range of rental gear and provide maps with suggested routes
  • BlueBananas back near Town Hall station at 281 Clarence Street, who specialise in guided electric bike tours
  • Bikebuffs beneath the Sydney Observatory on Argyle Place, who offer more bang for your buck in terms of ticking off sights with their motto: “more riding, less talking”
fireworks Sydney

Enjoy special occasions at Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge has a special place in the hearts and minds of the country. And there are some occasions on which it is just a little more special than normal.

 

Fireworks displays and special events

The New Year’s Eve fireworks display over the Sydney Harbour Bridge is famous around the world — but it’s not the only time that the bridge is lit up with an amazing exhibit of pyrotechnics. 

From Mardi Gras to Chinese New Year, Australia Day to the Olympic Games, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is frequently the centre of attention for major events and annual celebrations. Check out the What’s On section of the official Sydney page from the NSW government to see if anything is going on when you plan to be in town!

 

Wedding ceremonies and photos

For any visitors looking to tie the knot on vacation, there are few more iconic (or spectacular) spots than on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. BridgeClimb offers private wedding climb packages, where you can have a wedding ceremony performed at the top of the Arch, 134 metres above Sydney Harbour. You can even have a few loved ones join you as guests and witnesses, or have an intimate ceremony with just the two of you. 

 

Wedding photos

Even if you don’t want to have the whole ceremony on top of the bridge, you can still climb up and have a professional photoshoot in full wedding attire. Or, as most couples choose to do, include the Sydney Harbour Bridge in your wedding photos from afar – popular spots to have the Bridge and Opera House in the background include from the top of Observatory Hill or from Cockatoo Island, both of which are less busy than the spots around the waterfront but no less beautiful. 

 

Themed climbs for festivals and special events

BridgeClimb offers a range of quirky, unique themed climbs during certain days of the year. Such as a dress-up and dance summit party for Mardi Gras and a fun Karaoke Climb during Chinese New Year. During the annual Vivid Sydney Festival of Lights, climbers can ascend the arch after nightfall and see a special light installation set up at the summit, as well as enjoy sensational views for watching the light shows illuminating the Sydney Opera House, CBD skyline, the historic waterfront, and other Sydney Harbour landmarks. 


The top of the Bridge is also a great spot to be for the annual Sydney Ferrython on Australia Day (January 26th), when the city’s public ferries line up against one another and race from Circular Quay over to Shark Island and back, ending with a dramatic finish under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

In summary: there are lots of different ways to experience the Sydney Harbour Bridge

So, to recap, here’s a quick summary of what there is to do at the Sydney Harbour Bridge:

 

  • Take in the views – from above, below, on top, or afar

  • Get active – walk, cycle, or climb your way up and across the Sydney Harbour Bridge

  • Mark a special occasion and take some memorable photos

 

More Sydney-related travel secrets from our blog:

The best Sydney beaches

The Blue Mountains: A Traveller's Guide

Visiting the Hunter Valley

The beautiful Jenolan Caves
 

Want to add Sydney Harbour Bridge to your itinerary? We're here to help.


If you’re still looking for more information, why not reach out to First Light Travel’s free, expert travel planning service? They can help answer any questions you might have, or organise anything that needs booking, and it won’t cost a cent!

David Mckenzie
Submitted by
David Mckenzie
: 3 Dec 2019 (Last updated: 6 Dec 2019)

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