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Help me, LP! Which Sydney ferry has the best views?

An aerial view of Sydney Opera House with ferries in front, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

In this series, Lonely Planet’s team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. All-around travel expert and native Aussie Tasmin Waby helps a reader with the Sydney-related question below.

Question: There are so many ferry services in Sydney. Which boat offers the best views of the harbor?

Tasmin Waby: We have good news for you, dear traveler: all eight of Sydney’s main ferry trips – surely one of the best things to do in town – leave from (and return to) Circular Quay. Which means you’ll enjoy stunning views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House no matter which boat you board. 

All ferries coming and going from Sydney’s Circular Harbor will pass by the world-famous opera house © Jiri Foltyn / Shutterstock

Since Circular Quay is on Sydney’s south side, you’ll be heading north and then either east or west (depending on your destination). In the mornings, the sun will be behind the opera house; in the afternoon it’s setting behind the bridge. Plan your photography accordingly. 

A number of private ferry companies run slightly more expensive trips focused on either quicker journeys (like the My Fast Ferry to Manly) or sightseeing with additional commentary. Private operators also take passengers to off-the-beaten track destinations – we love the Captain Cook Cruises ferry to Shark Island (the national park entry fee is included in your ticket). And remember that you can pay for all your ferry trips, public or private, with an Opal card as well as a contactless card or smartphone. 

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Planning tip: Smaller ferryboats back out from Circular Quay and spin around before heading off – so pay attention to which end is the bow before grabbing your seat for the trip.

Surfer coming out of the water at Manly Beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Manly’s major surfing scene is only a short (if rough) ferry ride from central Sydney © Getty Images

The ferry to Manly (F1)

Possibly the most iconic ferry trip in Sydney, the Manly ferry takes you through the harbor and past North and South Head, where the protected harbor swirls into open ocean. (The waves around the heads can get a bit choppy – so if you get seasick take your medicine well before you depart.)

After you leave the slower-paced area of Circular Quay, busy with boats and sometimes giant cruise ships, the pace picks up for most of the journey until you approach…

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