UPDATED OCT 25, 2019
It's easy to forget how nature-rich Sydney is when you're stuck in the nine-to-five grind. So, we rounded up our favourite outdoor spaces that are perfect for a dose of fresh air, whether you're catching a stroll on your lunch break or putting some KMs on your Fitbit.
Reserved initially as a water source for Sydney, Centennial Park's 189 hectares were opened to the public in 1888. Since then, it has been beloved by bicyclists, joggers, wedding parties, and families. The rolling lawns are populated by heritage-listed trees and buildings, and the large ponds are inhabited with all manner of birdlife, from elegant swans to flamboyant parakeets. Horseback riders, cyclists, and joggers share Centennial Park's perfectly appointed Grand Drive circuit while birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts, and picnickers make the most of its verdant greenery. It's a true oasis in Sydney's center.
The oldest public parkland in Australia is also the most accessible. Hyde Park is located in Sydney's Central Business District, and its 16.2-hectare lawns are perfectly appointed for a sunny lunch on the grass. Originally used as a course for horse racing, the park was formalised as a significant green space in 1854. Split in half by Park Street, Hyde Park is populated by several historically significant landmarks: The Anzac Memorial sits at its southern end and the Archibald Fountain at its northern end. The perfect place to catch some respite on your lunch break, both segments are dense with Hills figs trees that provide natural shade and play home to possums and bird life that can be spotted throughout the day.
If you’re looking for a great place to hang out with friends and family on weekends, look no further than the sprawling park found at the water’s edge in Balmain, visited by children, furry friends, and adults alike. Built in 1854, Mort Bay was Australia's first large-scale dry dock. Now, Mort Bay provides excellent views of Sydney Harbour and the Harbour Bridge (making it a favorite for New Year's Eve celebrations). Complete with basketball courts, picnic tables, and permits for commercial fitness training, it’s an incredible al fresco activity zone.
Another CBD favourite is the Chinese Garden of Friendship. The walled garden serves as a unique celebration of the friendship between China and Australia. Containing waterfalls, tea houses, and secret walkways, the Chinese Garden provides greenery and serenity not otherwise found in bustling CBD. Thoughtfully designed by landscape architects with respect to principles that date back to the 5th Century, you’ll find yourself amongst willow trees, calm lagoons, lotus plants, koi fish, water dragons, turtles, and birds. We say the perfect time to make the most of this location is in summer, so bring a book and reap the full benefits of the garden’s resplendent blooms and cooling water features. Fitt Tip: Opening times are seasonal, and there is a small entry fee of $6 — but you can't put a price on this much serenity.
Taking inspiration from the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Paddington Reservoir Gardens is a recent addition to Sydney's green spaces, opening in 2009. This heritage-listed site in Sydney's east has been transformed from its unglamorous beginnings as a water reservoir, garage, and petrol station to one of Sydney's most photogenic sanctuaries and most romantic green escapes. Restoring much of the original reservoir’s framework with brick, timber, and iron fixtures, the site blends sustainable elements, immaculate gardens, and sweeping boardwalks ideal for a meditative stroll. Peaceful? You bet. The split level park space features a sunken garden on the rooftop and atmospheric water features.
Across the street from the historic University of Sydney, you will find Victoria Park, a sloping green space with its origins rooted in the 19th Century. The park contains tennis courts, a swimming pool (popular with students and Glebe locals in summer), and a vast expanse of lush lawns. Students and ducks alike gather around the shaded Lake Northam in between classes, and the park is also a popular location for festivals year round.
Hidden in Lavender Bay Parklands and overlooking Sydney Harbour is Wendy Whiteley's "Secret Garden". A short history lesson: Wendy Whiteley is the wife of the late and beloved Australian artist Brett Whiteley. The Whiteleys established their home in Lavender Bay in the 1970s and Wendy's garden was created with the same painterly eye, scattered with sculptures and found objects she has collected over the years. Here, through Wendy’s passionate stewardship, you’ll discover native and exotic shrubs, herbs, and trees that attract an array of birds. It’s open to the public and she pays for its maintenance — a gift from the Whiteleys to the people of Sydney.
Originally a sprawling cemetery, Camperdown Memorial Rest Park was converted into a public space in 1948. The high-walled park close to Newtown’s busy King Street features a continually changing array of street art, and on an average day, you will find students lounging, rowdy gatherings and picnics, impromptu jam sessions, skateboarders, and dog walkers making use of Camperdown's wide-open spaces. It’s the perfect place to grab some grub and kick back with friends or, between 5pm and 9am, to bring your dog, when the park is off-leash for four-legged friends. It’s also a frequent location for local festivals including the annual Newtown Festival, a must-see for any visitors to Sydney.
In Sydney’s south, Royal National Park stands proud as one of Sydney’s most beloved green spaces. With sweeping coastal views, lush inland bushwalks, favourable surfing at Garie Beach, and breath-taking natural wonders like Wedding Cake Rock, Uloola Falls, and the Figure 8 Pools, you’re bound for endless adventure. Luckily, there are a fair amount of campgrounds if you can’t make the journey back to the city.
Bronte Park may be quite small in the scheme of things, but as the backstop to one of Sydney’s favourite beaches, it shines like an emerald. The tree-lined park features a number of picnic shelters, a playground for the children, and access to the famed 30-metre ocean pool. Use it as a cool reprieve on a hot surf day or a shady stopover if you’re trekking the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk.
This Surry Hills gem may be best-known for its heated, 50m lap pool, but Prince Alfred Park’s 7.5 hectares have heaps of ways to get active. There’s a 1km exercise circuit for joggers and pram-pushers; 2.5 basketball courts; five pristine tennis courts; barbecue and picnic areas; and to top it all, an off-leash dog park. If you’re keen to relax, sit back on one of the park benches viewing the park and watch it thrive.
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