Mid-winter sunshine casts long shadows in the crisp breezy afternoons. The sky is a pale cobalt blue and the sun at noon pierces the chill of Sydney in July. Locals will tell you it’s freezing, but that’s only because if we can’t swim in the ocean, we’ll recite with great drama, how this is the coldest winter in 116.5 years. Sydney siders are crazy about the sunshine, and to be fair, it is almost always shining. And so one of the many reasons why a mid-winter break in one of the world’s prettiest harbours, reveals it’s sparkling self. With so much to do and see, we’ve packed our top sightseeing ideas into this quick guide, so you can pack a weekend in Sydney, full of destination favourites.

Because the cities beaming skyline edges into the expansive Harbour, walking the shoreline makes for a congenial introduction to Sydney. As you walk from Circular Quay around the gentle bend towards the Opera House, open-air restaurants, cafes and souvenir stores spill over onto the crowded walkways. Unlike many signature landmarks, the approach to the steps of the Opera House lift the creamy arches into the sky and create a statuesque architectural impression. There are tours running daily and a menu of Australian theatre productions to experience, but as the first stop on your Sydney weekender, a bite to eat at the Opera Bar or Opera Kitchen is a must do. It will take around half an hour to meander back past the ferries and the Museum of Contemporary Art to reach Sydney’s heritage Rocks Village. On Saturday mornings, the Rocks Markets are bursting with local produce and gorgeous locally crafted collectables. 

By now, it’s about halfway through the day and time to head a little out of the city to see the broader coastline and some of the many bays and beaches. Just a 20-minute drive east of Sydney the road curves downhill to face the horizon of Bondi Beach. The crest of blue sky and the deeper blue ocean is as iconic as the Surfers who take on the waves all year round. Something happens when you reach Bondi Beach; it instantly becomes summer. A chilly mid-winter morning doesn’t stand a chance against the off the shoulder loose tops, ripped denim shorts and bare midriffs, all suddenly bronzed. To the southern end of the beach, a jagged pathway past Bondi Icebergs emerges and hugs the undulating coastline. The walk takes you to Bronte and Tamarama Beaches, but a stop at Bronte and a fresh juice or cold beer before heading back to Bondi by foot gives you a taste of the great outdoors. If daylight allows, take a drive down New South Head Road towards Watsons Bay with a photo op at the sparkling Macquarie Lighthouse. The Sydney Hop on Hop off bus will also take you along this route.

Late afternoon brings a cool change and by 5.00pm the night is creeping in. Dinner by the water with the city lights shimmering on the harbour at one of Sydney’s favourite waterside precincts, Darling Harbour, is packed with open eateries and swish boardwalk cafes. Greek-inspired seafood, spicy dumplings, fresh sushi hubs create plenty of spacious dining options. The foodie reprieve gives you a chance to consider how you’ll spend your second day in Sydney. Heading west will take you to the scenic Blue Mountains, or if its more of the big blue you’re after there are ferries, cruises and jet boats zig-zagging the harbour. It’s also halfway through the whale migration season that extends from May to October so a perfect time to experience one of natures most spectacular shows.

As the boat skips across the waves and the swell becomes more buoyant, darting eyes fix on the frothy surface. White spray jets into the air and the whales are close by. Though it is possible you’ll have the magnificent experience of seeing a whale breach, more likely will be the sightings of their smooth curved backs arching silently through the water alongside the boat. Even this is a thrill, knowing that beneath you whales carve through the deep on the way to warmer climates and filling the waters with song. Check for cruise times as these vary from weekend to weekdays.

Having walked the harbour foreshore, cruised the bays and beaches you get a taste for the breadth of coastline that characterises Sydney. It’s such a broad sprawling city, but if you’re exploring the centre, experiencing it from on high is as exciting as it is dramatic. By seaplane or helicopter, flying along the jagged cliff faces with the foamy waves crashing into the craggy sides is spectacular. From Bondi to the Blue Mountains, the neat roofs and green parks stretch alongside hilly streets and like this, Sydney looks serene and orderly. The chopper rides depart from Sydney Airport and are a quick 15-minute ride, but there’s something whimsical about boarding a seaplane and hearing the motors chug across the water to take off.

Many visitors use Sydney as a base before they take off to the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru or Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. So to make the most of your stay, try and fly in the night before. To get from the airport into the city, you can either hop on the Sydney Airport Link Train which takes 15 minutes and costs $17 or jump on a shuttle bus. Remember to get yourself an Opal Card which is a smart card you top up so that you can pay your fares on trains, buses, ferries and light rail. Really, the best way to see Sydney is by foot with several of Sydney’s best-loved highlights enjoyed for free simply by walking around in the winter sunshine.