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 to tick off in this sunny corner of the Northern Beaches.
The clifftop trail connecting Bondi and Coogee is Sydney’s most famous coastal walk, but the Northern Beaches’ version is every bit as beautiful. The 10km track links the Spit Bridge with Manly Beach via a string of secret beaches like Fisher Bay, Forty Baskets and Sandy Beach, before swinging through Fairlight on the way into Manly. The trail then hooks up with the rugged terrain of North Head if you’ve got any energy left when you get there.
A more chilled-out way to get to Manly Beach 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 like 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 ferry, the wharf is linked to the golden beach by the Manly Corso, and this buzzing pedestrian mall pulses with the sound of street performers. Wannabe musicians—particularly young local performers learning their craft—regularly draw big crowds of passers-by on their way to the beach, complementing the 200 retail stores, bars and eateries that line the Corso.
Manly Beach itself is shaded by towering Norfolk Island pine trees, making it a mega-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 way back in 1983, catering for both kids 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 a century ago to link Queenscliff at the north end of Manly Beach with Freshwater, which many Northern Beaches locals consider their favourite strip of sand in the area. In fact, Freshie 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 brewery pub 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 an NRL 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—as well as for spotting whales during winter on humpbacks’ annual migration along Australia’s East Coast. Grotto Point also 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 south end of Manly Beach. Firstly, Fairy Bower rock pool is rectangular in shape, built by local residents in 1929. 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 water you’ll find in Manly, with 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.