Winter Sun Holidays: Sydney’s Best Beaches

By: Maxine Sheppard

December 21, 2011

While we’ve been filling up the hot water bottle and throwing on yet another jumper, Australian travel writer Lara Dunston has been busy bringing us the lowdown on sunny Sydney. Last week she gave us a guide to Sydney’s best fine dining establishments, and this week we’re looking at the amazing variety of beaches on offer in the city – perfect for visitors and Down Under-dwellers looking to plan the ultimate Christmas friends and family get-together…

Beach City

Sydney must be the world’s best big city for beach bums. Why? It’s partly the sheer number of beaches – Sydney has dozens of beautiful beaches. Beaches are easily accessible from the centre of the city. And Sydney’s stretches of sand are located in myriad different natural settings that make the beaches so alluring.

There is everything from secluded, leafy harbour beaches and the dramatic amphitheatre of Bondi to Palm Beach’s spectacular peninsula. Here are some of the best Sydney beaches – ones that will make you want to take a dip Down Under.

Northern Beaches

Palm Beach

Palm Beach, or “˜Palmie’ as the locals call it, is Sydney’s northernmost beach and suburb, and one of Sydney’s best. Its physical beauty is such that it’s filmed as the fictional town, “˜Summer Bay’ for the long-running Australian soap opera Home and Away. While it’s an egalitarian little town in the series, Palm Beach is home to quite a few properties owned or being rented out to the rich and famous because of its relative solitude. While it is a 50-minute drive from the centre of the city, the reward is that it’s far less crowded than most Sydney beaches, apart from weekends at the height of summer. The surf can be good here too, but if it’s a little rough for you, on the other side of the peninsula is Pittwater, sheltered from the swell. It’s worth the walk up to Barrenjoey Head to take in the views from near the lighthouse.

From Barrenjoey Head looking over Palm Beach and Pittwater by Martin Darley on

From Barrenjoey Head looking over Palm Beach by Martin Darley on

Freshwater Beach

While there are many fantastic and famous beaches down the coast towards Manly, such as Whale Beach, Avalon, Newport, Narrabeen, Dee Why and Curl Curl, the tiny Freshwater Beach, neatly nestled between two headlands, is a part of Australia’s surfing history. On Thursday 24 December 1914, Hawaiian Olympic swimming champion, Duke Kahanamoku, had a wooden surfboard fashioned after one that he rode back home and took to the waves at Freshwater. Soon boards were being shaped just like the Duke’s – his original remains in the Surf Lifesaving Club at the beach. The beach itself has great facilities including a grassy park and BBQs and surf good enough for Hawaiian surfing royalty.

Freshwater Beach by Thorsten on

Freshwater Beach by Thorsten on


Just around the corner from Freshwater is one of the iconic Australian beaches, Manly. At the northern end of this long stretch of sand it’s called Queenscliff, followed by North and South Steyne as you head south. Around the walking path at the southernmost end of the beach you’ll come across appealing and sheltered Shelly Beach Park, while offshore from here, on a rocky point, local surfers enjoy the big swells at Fairy Bower. As most visitors arrive via the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay in the heart of the city, the suburb of Manly (named after the “˜manly’ aboriginals who originally lived here) immediately feels different – more like a summer seaside holiday town than a city suburb. One of the key attractions amidst the Norfolk Island pine trees of Manly is the surf school, which has been running here for decades. While fish and chips on the beach here is a must, Manly also has a bourgeoning bar and restaurant scene. Try Hemingway’s opposite the beach for a cocktail, Manly Pavilion for a creative fine dining lunch or dinner overlooking the harbour, or Hugo’s on the ferry wharf for a casual meal anytime of the day or night.

Manly Beach by HI on

Manly Beach by HI on

Harbour Beaches

Within Sydney’s harbour there are myriad concealed and enchanting little beaches. One firm favourite is Watsons Bay, a small fishing village with a tiny beach that is home to Doyles seafood restaurant, which opened in 1885, and the Watsons Bay Hotel where a cold beer and fish and chips are a Sydney institution. A short walk from here is another of Sydney’s institutions – the nudist beach of Lady Bay Beach, more commonly known as Lady Jane Beach right near the entrance to Sydney Harbour. There are several sanctioned nude beaches in Sydney and Lady Jane is the most famous, established in 1976. More family oriented is the beach at shady Nielsen Park, a grassy reserve since 1911 and a very popular spot for a summer picnic. It’s a “˜netted’ beach, as the clean waters of the harbour are home to all kinds of sea life – including sharks.

Watsons Bay, Sydney by Chee-onn Leong on

Watsons Bay, Sydney by Chee-onn Leong on

Southern Beaches

Bondi Beach

Bondi is Australia’s most famous beach and it’s the epitome of the Sydney city beach suburb. The beach is a massive, crescent-shaped stretch, with the northern end of the beach having more gentle surf than the southern end where the boardriders take on the often-challenging waves. Also at the southern end is the local swimming club, the Bondi Icebergs where Icebergs Dining Room and Bar serves up great Italian fare. Back on the beach, Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club is the oldest surf lifesaving club in the world and they’re kept busy on weekends when up to 40,00 visitors can hit the sand. The waterfront street, Campbell Parade is great for a stroll and back from the beach you’ll see that despite the number of visitors, Bondi has remained a true suburb of Sydney.

Bondi Beach and Icebergs swimming club by Vmelinda on

Bondi Beach and Icebergs swimming club by Vmelinda on


A must-do when visiting Bondi is taking the Bondi to Bronte Coastwalk. This wonderful walk along the cliffs gives you spectacular views of Bondi, then takes you to my last two favourite beaches. The first beach, Tamarama, is also known also as “˜Glamarama’ because it’s where many of Sydney’s young and beautiful come to sun bake. The beach itself is tiny and often has rough waves and rips, but behind the beach is a lovely little park that’s perfect for a picnic. When the swell gets big here, surfers love it – so much so that even 10-times world champion Kelly Slater had trouble getting a wave to himself when he visited.

Tamarama Beach, Sydney by Debra Law on

Tamarama Beach, Sydney by Debra Law on

Bronte Beach

The next beach around the headland is stunning Bronte, with its historic baths built in 1887. It’s a good surfing and swimming beach (but always swim between the flags on Australian beaches due to rips) and the park behind the beach is one of Sydney’s most attractive places for a BBQ (there are coin-operated barbecues), a picnic or in summer a game of cricket. If you don’t arrive with your own supplies, the cafe scene at Bronte is buzzy, with locals having a leisurely brunch during the week and visitors on the weekends at any one of the half dozen cafés. A sunny Sunday afternoon spent here has been known to have visitors checking the price of real estate the next morning!

Bronte Beach, Sydney by Thorsten on

Bronte Beach, Sydney by Thorsten on

Virgin Atlantic operates flights to Sydney via Hong Kong. Visit Virgin Holidays for holidays to Australia including to Sydney and New South Wales.

Check out loads more fantastic travel destinations on Lara’s Grantourismo blog.

Photos: Header shot of Bondi © Dan Breckwoldt |, Palm Beach © Martin Darley |, Manly Beach © Hl |, Freshwater and Bronte © Thorsten |, Watsons Bay © Chee-onn Leong |, Bondi © Vmelinda |, Tamarama © Debra Law |


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our Places