From Manly to Palm Beach: Your guide to visiting Sydney's Northern Beaches
Dive into Manly
Hop on a ferry at Circular Quay and soak up one of Sydney’s most mesmerising views as you’re whisked across Sydney Harbour to Manly in just 30 minutes. Scope out some new beachwear on a stroll through the Corso on your way to the golden sands of Manly Beach, where you can sign up for a surf lesson, or follow the short but scenic coastal path to protected Shelly Beach – also a popular snorkelling spot. Enjoy a tranquil walk in the Shelly Beach Reserve or get your legs pumping on a longer hike to North Head. Part of Sydney Harbour National Park, this dramatic headland is a great vantage point for whale-watching between May and November, with freshly upgraded lookouts and walking tracks to explore.
As Manly’s cafes wind down for the day, its bars and restaurants come to life, with Wharf Bar and 4 Pines Brewing just two of many fun places to kick off a night out. Visiting on a weekend? Shop for artisan souvenirs at the Manly Markets, held every Saturday and Sunday on Sydney Road, and connect with local producers at the Manly Fresh Produce Markets. Visit in May for the Taste of Manly festival, and feel the rhythm at the Manly Jazz Festival in September. Or pop into the Manly Art Gallery & Museum at any time of the year to get a taste of local culture and creativity.
Take the scenic route to Dee Why
Seek out one of Sydney’s best-kept secrets at the northern end of Manly Beach (known as Queenscliff Beach). Thought to have been dug by fishermen a century ago, the ‘Manly Wormhole’ tunnel leads through the headland to stunning Freshwater Beach, framed by golden sandstone cliffs. Make a day of it and treat yourself to a cheeky drink at the always-happening Harbord Hotel. Or continue north along the coast, perhaps via the scenic clifftop walking trail linking North Curl Curl and Dee Why, where you’ll find a 50m ocean pool and a buzzy cafe strip opposite the beach.
Alternatively, head inland to tackle the walking and mountain biking trails at Manly Dam (officially the Manly Warringah War Memorial State Park) and tuck into a picnic, surrounded by peaceful native bushland. Or shop up a storm at Warringah Mall, a short hop further north in Brookvale.
Cruise from Collaroy to Mona Vale (plus Pittwater)
Relax into the laid-back Northern Beaches lifestyle as you explore further north, perhaps pausing for a round of golf or a walk to the tip of the windswept Long Reef Headland, which separates Dee Why from Collaroy Beach – another fine spot for whale-watching. Or kick your feet up at The Collaroy, a local institution with two floors of drinking and dining options just steps from the sand.
Collaroy Beach eventually becomes Narrabeen Beach, where the azure Narrabeen Lagoon meets the sea. Here you can hire a kayak or small boat (no boat licence required) to explore this sparkling waterway, or rent a bike to cycle around it instead. Or stretch your legs on a stroll from Narrabeen Headland to Turimetta Headland before continuing north through Warriewood to Mona Vale. Here you’ll find one of the region’s most photo-friendly ocean pools located on a rock platform at the tip of a sandspit, which appears to float at high tide when the pool is surrounded by water.
At Mona Vale, you have two choices: Head inland to Pittwater or continue up the coast. If Pittwater is your goal, make your way to Church Point Wharf, where a short but scenic ferry ride takes you to Halls Wharf on the western shores of Pittwater. Feel instantly at peace as you step off the ferry into a serene native bushland setting on the edge of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Just a short walk from the ferry is YHA Pittwater Eco, which makes a superb base for bushwalks to dazzling viewpoints and Aboriginal engravings, kayaking and sailing adventures, whale-watching trips (in winter) or simply taking time out in nature.
Reach for Palm Beach
Nestled between Pittwater and the Pacific Ocean to the north of Mona Vale, Newport marks the beginning of the pointy end of the Northern Beaches peninsula, home to some of Sydney’s most coveted real estate. On the Pittwater side, sprawling drinking and dining venue The Newport is a prime spot to lap up dreamy water views alongside locals with a cool drink in-hand.
The water views get even better as the main road snakes northward from Newport past the idyllic Bilgola, Whale and Avalon Beaches – all superb spots for a swim, though there are plenty of protected beaches to be uncovered on the Pittwater side, too – before ending at Palm Beach. With its golden sands sweeping towards the historic Barrenjoey Lighthouse (built in 1881) perched atop the headland at its northern tip, it’s easy to understand why many Sydneysiders love to day-trip here on weekends.
Lace your walking shoes for the short but steep hike up the Smugglers Track to the lighthouse, where you can drink in the panoramic views along Palm Beach and across Pittwater towards the New South Wales Central Coast from your elevated perch. No doubt you’ll be ready for a swim when you get back to the beach – keep an eye out for famous faces among the frothy turquoise waves.
Words: Sarah Reid
All images credit: Destination NSW
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