Sydney is famous for its beaches, and Manly is one of the best in the Harbour City. So it’s little surprise that most of the best things to see and do here are either in, on or around water. Discover the top attractions in Manly Beach, Sydney.
The clifftop trail connecting Bondi and Coogee is Sydney’s most famous coastal walk, but the Northern Beaches’ version is every bit as spectacular. The 10km (6mi) track links the Spit Bridge with Manly Beach via a string of secret beaches, including Fisher Bay, Forty Baskets and Sandy Beach, before swinging through Fairlight on the way into Manly. For those with the energy left once you get there, continue on to tackle the rest of the trail, which hooks up with the rugged terrain of North Head.
A more chilled-out way to get to Manly Beach from the city centre is the ferry from Circular Quay, a quintessentially Sydney experience. The journey only takes half an hour, giving commuters a front-row seat to landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is best enjoyed in the late afternoon when the sun sets over the glittering waterway.
When you hop off the Manly Ferry, you’ll notice that the wharf is linked to the golden beach by the Manly Corso. This buzzing pedestrian mall, which is lined with 200 retail stores, bars and eateries, also pulses with the sound of street performers. Wannabe musicians – particularly young local performers – regularly draw big crowds of passers-by on their way to the beach.
Manly’s famous beach is shaded by towering Norfolk Island pine trees, making it an incredibly popular place to laze around on summer days. But for visitors who are feeling a little more adventurous, there are plenty of surf schools that can introduce first-timers to the waves. Manly Surf School has been offering lessons since 1983, catering for both newbie children and adults, as well as seasoned surfers.
Want to escape the crowds at Manly? Just squeeze through the Wormhole. This little tunnel was carved out by fishermen over a century ago to link Queenscliff – at the north end of Manly Beach – with Freshwater, which many Northern Beaches regulars consider their favourite strip of sand in the area. In fact, Freshie, as it’s fondly known, is where surfing was introduced to Australians in 1914 by Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku, who is commemorated with a statue nearby.
If all these outdoorsy adventures are making you thirsty, grab a schooner at 4 Pines, Manly’s very own craft brewery. This bar near the wharf is where 4 Pines was born a decade ago, and the on-site microbrewery still pumps out a mouthwatering selection of drops fresh from the source, which go down a treat with the modern pub grub menu. Brewery tours are also available.
Sports fans wanting a taste of Sydney’s suburban sporting culture should grab a ticket to a National Rugby League game at Brookvale Oval, home of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. ‘Brookie’ is a charming old ground that feels like it hasn’t been touched in decades, providing an imposing home fortress for the decorated Eagles outfit. Manly’s Shute Shield rugby union side, the Marlins, also draw big crowds to the Village Green on Saturday afternoons.
Lace up your walking shoes and stroll along the Manly Scenic Walkway until you reach this century-old structure, which doubles as one of Sydney’s best vantage points for birdwatching – particularly cormorants and white-breasted sea eagles. It’s also a great place to spot whales during winter, when humpbacks make their annual migration along Australia’s east coast. What’s more, Grotto Point contains an impressive collection of indigenous rock art engravings of kangaroos, whales and boomerangs forged by the local Aboriginal population thousands of years ago.
Sydney’s beaches are often accompanied by an ocean pool, but few are as unique as this one at the southern end of Manly Beach. Firstly, Fairy Bower Sea Pool, which was built by local residents in 1929, is triangular in shape. And secondly, it features a pair of striking sculptures by artist Helen Leete called The Oceanides, which look like a pair of dancers twirling above the water.
The ocean isn’t the only area of natural swimming that you’ll find in Manly, as there’s also an idyllic dam located at the back of the suburb. Manly Dam is a popular spot for fishing, picnics and swimming, but the best way to see it is in a kayak. You can rent one from the Manly Kayak Centre to explore this tranquil waterway at your own pace.
This bakery on Manly’s Rialto Lane serves the best baked goods in the area. Delectable rows of freshly baked pastries line the shop’s display case, with classic butter croissants lying alongside more unusual flavours, such as chocolate and almond, and blueberry cheesecake. No matter what you go for, you can be sure that time and effort has gone into the creation – the team here spend three days proving, rolling and laminating their dough to perfection before baking their croissants.
If you love handmade arts and crafts, then consider a trip to the Manly Markets, which open 10am–5pm every weekend (except public holidays). You can find everything from jewellery to paintings and home-made body care products, so browse the stalls for the dream gift or a memento of your trip to Manly.
Manly Wharf is home to some of the best restaurants and bars in Sydney, including the very popular Papi Chulo. Alongside the flavourful food served at this smokehouse and grill, there’s a menu of creative cocktails, perfect for sipping while you watch the sun go down.
While Manly Beach’s long, open curve of sand stretches off into the distance, Shelly Beach feels more sheltered. Its arched bay makes it a secluded spot in Manly, and an ideal place for snorkelling and scuba diving. The beach is part of Cabbage Tree Bay, a protected marine reserve that lies adjacent to North Head and Fairy Bower. It’s well set-up for a long day lounging beachside, with facilities including showers, toilets and a kiosk, along with free-to-use barbecues – ideal for a picnic at the beach.
Escape from Sydney’s searing summer heat with a trip to Manly Art Gallery and Museum. Though small, the museum houses an impressive collection that belies its size. There’s over 130 works by the Italian-born artist Antonio Dattilo Rubbo, who spent much of his adult life teaching and painting in Australia, and a collection of Australian ceramics. Past temporary exhibitions have displayed various styles of painting, illustration, printmaking and ceramics, as well as multimedia artworks.