Who doesn’t want to spend a day of vacation letting the kids play in the sand or climb on an awesome playground while you enjoy the breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour?
Throw in two gorgeous and accessible coastal walks, a delicious fish n’ chips picnic, cap it off with a night time ferry ride to admire the lights of Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, and you have a pretty perfect day right?
Located in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Watsons Bay is a spectacularly situated place at the end of the South Head peninsula. South Head is one of the 3 headlands marking the entrance to Sydney Harbour, meaning the town has gorgeous views of Sydney and the Pacific Ocean. (The other 2 headlands are North Head and Middle Head--creative naming, huh?)
Not only does Watsons Bay have the views from South Head itself, but the peninsula narrows to a mere 250 m separating the Pacific Ocean and Sydney Harbour here. You can can take amazing panoramics of the harbour, the ocean, South Head, and the cliffs, all by just spinning around in place. It is a photographer’s dream.
But families will love Watsons Bay not just for its scenic beauty but also for its lovely park and playground, beaches with calm water thanks to its location on the harbour, kid friendly restaurants, and easy access from central Sydney through the ferries.
We love to hang out here, letting the kids play while the adults soak up the views. We get fish n’ chips from the famous Doyles on the Wharf and have a picnic. If you can stay late, watching the sunset over the Sydney skyline and the harbour is mesmerizing. It also makes a fantastic backdrop for the family Christmas card.
* Trivia Alert- If you are wondering why Australia seems to be missing all of its apostrophes on its place names, it is because the Geographical Names board starting removing them in the 1960s, arguing that these places don’t belong to their namesakes. As in Watson doesn’t actually own Watsons Bay. It drives the grammar gremlins crazy. Read Who Took The Apostrophe Out Of Badgerys Creek to see what I mean.
What To Do In Watsons Bay
Play in Robertson Park
Watsons Bay has one of my favorite parks in all of Sydney, the excellent Robertson Park. Basically a giant green space on a slight slope extending almost all the way across the isthmus separating the Pacific and Sydney Harbour, Robertson Park has views for miles from every part.
Bring a football (or soccer ball if you are American), frisbee, or just let the kids attempt to climb the huge trees. Spread a blanket on the grass (if you can snag one from your lodgings) or sit at one of the picnic tables and enjoy the scenery and people watching.
The playground is large and shaded, and the public bathrooms are right behind it. My kind of setup.
The playground has a toddler section and is enclosed by a fence, so helpful for those with escape artists masquerading as children.
The other section of the playground is probably best for elementary school kids and unfortunately, there isn’t much for the middle school crowd.
Go for a Swim
Because the beaches at Watsons Bay are situated on the harbour side of the peninsula, the water is relatively calm compared to the ocean beaches of Bondi or Coogee. They are perfect for families with smaller kids who want to splash about without getting knocked over by waves.
Check out the strip of sand next to the ferry wharf, in front of the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, or walk down to nearby Camp Cove for a larger, sandier beach. Camp Cove has a seasonally open kiosk for snacks and drinks and you’ll find a small public bathroom up the steps at one end of Camp Cove inlet where the South Head Heritage Loop starts.
If you have bigger kids who love to jump off platforms, head to the Watsons Bay Baths. These are Olympic- sized enclosed swimming areas (with shark netting), surrounded by floating pontoons. Water polo games are held here and it is a great place to sit for awhile and hang your feet in the water. Bathrooms can be found across the street next to the Watsons Bay Tea Rooms/ Watsons Bay Library (they share the same building).
Go for a Walk
Watsons Bay is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and it is easy to get the kids motivated to go explore it. There are several overlooks and coastal walks you can do from the ferry wharf. (None are stroller friendly though as they all have some stairs.)
The Gap is the narrowest point of the peninsula, where the cliffs drop in height to look like a pseudo entrance to Sydney Harbour if you are approaching from the ocean.
Many boats have mistaken The Gap for the actual entrance to Sydney Harbour, much to their detriment.
From the ferry wharf, simply walk to the top of Robertson Park, cross Military Road, climb a few stairs, and you will arrive at The Gap. Admire the view and be prepared to take a lot of photos.
You can turn left and head north up the stairs to get to an overlook where you can see South Head, the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and all the way to North Head by Manly Beach.
There is a military installation just beyond the overlook that prevents further progress, so to walk to the tip of South Head, you have to backtrack to Robertson Park and then walk along the harbour side of the peninsula. (More on that walk below.)
Or, you can turn right from The Gap and head up the coastal path heading south. This is Gap Park, a nature reserve packed with outstanding views of the Pacific Ocean, Sydney Harbour, and Watsons Bay below.
Look for the large anchor at one of the overlooks just south of The Gap. It commemorates the Wreck of the Dunbar, a frigate that wrecked here in 1857 when the captain mistook The Gap for the entrance to Sydney Harbour. 121 souls were lost but one crew member survived clinging to the cliffs until he was discovered 2 days later and rescued.
Walk to Macquarie Lighthouse
A 1.7 km (1 mile) walk from The Gap, this is a bit of an uphill (and up stairs) climb but doable for most families sans strollers. Its short length and majestic views more than make up for the little bit of huffing and puffing it may require.
Most of the walk goes through Gap Park, a natural area, and follows the oceanside cliffs. Eventually it will join up with Old South Head Road as a sidewalk for a short bit before splitting off again to enter the park around Maquarie Lighthouse.
Macquarie Lighthouse is Australia’s oldest and is still used today. Designed by a convict, Francis Greenway, (he was an architect but was sentenced to deportation for check fraud), it came out so well that he earned a pardon and went on to design a number of buildings in Sydney.
South Head Heritage Loop
If you want to stroll out to the very tip of the peninsula, then take the South Head Heritage Loop for an easy, fairly flat (but still has a few stairs) stroll.
The Heritage Loop is 1 km long around South Head and you have to walk about 650m each way from Watsons Bay Ferry Wharf to get to the Loop, making a 2.3 km trip total.
Walk down Marine Parade along the beach in front of the Beach Club restaurant, then cut right over to Cliff Street. That will end at Camp Cove where you will see a sign and stairs at the edge of the beach for the Heritage Trail.
* Pro Tip- Lady Bay is a small beach along the Heritage Trail and it is a nudist beach. Most of the beach is below the path and obscured by trees but it is something to be aware of if you are visiting on a busy summer weekend and have an observant kid.
Places To Eat In Watsons Bay
Robertson Park is a popular spot for picnics given the views and have no fear if you didn’t bring food with you, Doyles on the Wharf is right there. This takeaway fish n’ chippie is a Sydney legend, so much so that the guy next to me on the plane said Doyles was the one thing he always visited when he came home. Not sure what that says about his family but it is pretty tasty fish for a decent price.
Order at the take-out window of Doyles, then grab a place on the lawn or at one of the picnic tables in the park. You can also sit on their small deck, behind the takeout window. Be aware that the take-out window is cash only and it closes at 5pm! Alcoholic drinks are sold but for onsite diners only. There is an ATM in the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel if you need cash.
*Pro Tip- If you want a bottle of wine to sip on your picnic, I recommend buying something before you arrive in Watsons Bay. There is a bottle shop at the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel next to Robertson Park, but it is not large and can be expensive.
Restaurants Along The Beach
Besides Doyles On The Wharf, there is also Doyles On The Beach - a nicer, more expensive, table service version of the takeaway shop. It gets lower reviews though, maybe because fish and chips was always meant to be a cheap, informal sort of meal.
The Beach Club at Watsons Bay has a more extensive menu than Doyles but the same gorgeous scenery. A good option if you want more than seafood and it has a kids menu. Order at the window and find a seat with a view while you wait for your food. It can pretty busy and is definitely more of a bar crowd as the night wears on. Part of the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel.
Restaurants At the Top of Robertson Park, Along Military Road
Eastern Bay Thai has inexpensive Thai food that is ravingly reviewed. Open 5-930pm and BYO alcohol.
Nautica Greek Restaurant is great if you feel a craving for some souvlaki or just fresh seafood. Has a kids menu. Closed Mondays and only open after 5pm Tues-Fri.
Milk Bar is a combo general store/ coffee place/ cafe and perfect if you want snacks for a picnic.
Getting To And From Watsons Bay
The ferry is the easiest way by far. The F4- Cross Harbour does a loop through the harbour, with stops in Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and North Sydney every 15 minutes throughout the day. The ride from Circular Quay takes about 25 minutes and costs AUD $6 adults and AUD $3 youth on your Opal Card.
There is also a private ferry, Captain Cook Cruises. It costs a little more but the boats are a little faster, nice if you are prone to sea sickness. $7.50 adult,$5 kid, can use your Opal card, 20 min ride. They have boats leaving every 15- 20 min all day from roughly 7am-7pm during the week and 10am- 520pm on Sat/Sun. (They have later boats running to Barangaroo Wharf, see the timetable for details.)
Definitely take the ferry if you can. Seeing Sydney Harbour by night is a treat.
The last public ferry (the F4- Cross Harbour) leaves Watsons Bay at 419 pm on weekdays. On Saturday, the last ferry leaves Watsons Bay at 1119 pm and on Sundays/ holidays, the last boat is at 919 pm. See the timetable for exact times.
If you are leaving later than 419 pm on a weekday, then you’ll have to pay a little extra for the private ferry, Captain Cook Cruises. Their last boat leaves Watsons Bay at 655pm.
* Pro Tip- Always double check sailing times online or at the wharf when you get to Watsons Bay. Timetables change because of weather, maintenance, or seasonally.
After 655pm on weekdays, you have to take bus 324 down to nearby Rose Bay to catch the F4- Cross Harbour. The ferry runs until 929 pm on weekdays (1129 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, 929 on Sundays) from Rose Bay back to Circular Quay.
You could Uber down to Rose Bay to meet the ferry as well, it isn’t far.
Or if you are really into walking, you can walk the 8km to Rose Bay from Watsons Bay. Part of the walk is on sidewalks but part is along the extremely pretty Hermitage Foreshore Scenic Walk. Plan on 3-4 hours to do this and go way before sunset. You will find restaurants and snacks in the commercial district of Rose Bay along New South Head Road so you can find something for dinner there. Read the description of the Harbour Walk on the Woollahra Municipal Council’s website.
Where We Stay
Stay as near to Circular Quay and Sydney’s CBD (Central Business District) as you can afford. It will make getting to the majority of the major tourist sites much easier.
Try to get a place with a view of the Opera House and/or Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is worth the extra money to be able to relax after a busy day of sight-seeing and enjoy both of those architectural icons lit up at night. Preferably with a glass of tasty Australian wine in hand.
Heads up: We are not sponsored in any way and have never received compensation at the behest of any organization or company. If you book one of our recommended properties from our VRBO or booking.com links, you won’t pay a penny more but we may get a small commission since you entered through our “gate,” versus Google’s for example. Thanks! Disclosure Statement.
Best Western Stellar A nice hotel in an excellent location by Hyde Park. Has rooms with 2 queens plus kitchenette for one of the best prices you’ll find in the CBD.
Hyde Park Inn has hotel rooms and mini- apartments, all with kitchenettes, in an excellent location near the Museum train station. Splurge for the deluxe family room with 1 double and 2 singles plus a balcony overlooking the park. Simple continental breakfast delivered to the room each morning and free parking.
Veriu Broadway has a Family Tribe Suite with a double bed, bunk bed, and sofa bed plus a full kitchen, sitting area, and washer/ dryer. Located in Ultimo, about a 15 min walk from Central Station or the light rail lines near Paddy’s Market.
Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel If you think everything you have read about Watsons Bay so far sounds fantastic, then go ahead and plan on making this your home base while you are in Sydney. The hotel has loft rooms with one double bed and 2 singles in the loft. Refrigerator and kettle included but no kitchenettes. Free parking. There can be noise, especially on weekends, from the incredibly popular bar downstairs so be sure to ask for a quiet room when you book if you are a light sleeper.
Rocks Boutique Cottage B has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths and is across the street from the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, making it also extremely close to Barangaroo Reserve and all of its family-friendly activities. A 15 minute walk to Circular Quay. Has WiFi (slow) and a washer/ dryer. VRBO #9026474
Sydney City Home in Historic Rocks is a 2BR/ 1.5 BA home, also across the street from Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel. The host has 348 great reviews and the price is certainly very decent for the location. Has WiFi, washer/ dryer, but no AC or central heat (will provide heater if you ask). Airbnb #750274
Great Direct Views Harbour & Opera House. New Listing A 1 BR/ 1 BA, North Sydney apartment with a million dollar view of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Couch is a pull-out so can sleep 4. Comes with WiFi, washer/ dryer, and a waterfront pool in complex. The building is adjacent to the ferry wharf at McMahons Point so it is easy to get to Circular Quay. VRBO #9204526
Harbour Views. Massive Apartment We have stayed in this 3BR/ 2BA, Woolloomooloo apartment on different trips and loved it each time. It really is spacious, reasonably priced for Sydney, the hosts are responsive, and the view is impressive from the large deck. It is a 5 minute walk to the Kings Cross train station, a grocery store, and a pharmacy. The WiFi is good and the apartment comes with a parking spot.
The train does go into a tunnel across the street so you can hear it from the deck but it wasn’t a problem for us. The Botanic Garden is a 10 minute walk, and the Opera House was 30 minutes away, walking through the Botanic Garden. The address is 183 Brougham St. Airbnb #79024
Check Out The Entire 5 Day Itinerary For Sydney
If you thought Watsons Bay sounded fantastic, we have lots more places like it in our full colour Sydney With Kids travel guide.
It lays out each day with what to see and do in Sydney plus lodging and restaurant recommendations are included-- no hours of research needed from you. Packed with detailed maps and tips to make your trip simply awesome!
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