Lookouts and Vantage Points

Have you ever looked on a map, seen a lookout marked and gone there, only to find the view has been obscured by trees that have grown up, or buildings erected since the lookout was built? We've checked out the lookouts and vantage points around Sydney, and share with you the best of them.

Harbour Bridge Pylon
If you're after an elevated view of Sydney Harbour, and Circular Quay in particular but can't afford the trek to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, you can make the slightly less arduous and considerably cheaper trek up to the lookout in the south east pylon of the Harbour Bridge.
The entrance is on the walkway on the east side of the bridge, which is accessed from Argyle Street at the top of the Argyle Cut steps. The view is not quite as impressive as that from the top of the bridge, but it is not to be sneezed at, and visitors have the bonus of viewing a well presented display on the building of the bridge.
UBD Map 1 Ref J 4.
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  • Sydney Tower
    Sydney Tower, completed in 1974, is the second tallest in Australia (with the Q1 building on the Gold Coast being the tallest). It is also the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere (after Auckland's Sky Tower, though Sydney Tower's main observation deck is almost 50 m (164 ft) higher than that of Auckland's Sky Tower). The golden turret has a capacity of 960 persons and contains two levels of restaurants, a coffee lounge, an Observation Deck, two telecommunication transmission levels and three plant levels. Skywalk is a popular, breathtaking outdoor tour on the roof top. Being the highest structure in Sydney, the views of Sydney and its metropolis are uninterrupted in every direction.
    Location: 450 Market Street, Sydney.
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    • Giba Park, Pyrmont
      Giba Park is a roof-top reserve at the end of Point Street. Overlooking Pyrmont Point Park and Sydney Harbour, the roof of the building below the reserve is at the same level as the original land, and thus recreates the view that would have been seen from here had the cliffs not been quarried to sea level in the 1880s. Giba is an Aboriginal word for stone, reflecting the importance of the stone quarried from Pyrmont from which many of Sydney's fine sandstone buildings were built.
      UBD Map 10 Ref L 14.
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      • Lower North Shore

        Balls Head, Waverton
        Balls Head is the best place to take in the vistas of the lower Parramatta River, which officially stops being Sydney Harbour at the Harbour Bridge. There are a couple of lookouts which take in the views both up and down the river, walking trails around the point, toilets, picnic and barbecue facilities, and an Aboriginal gamma hole carved out of the sandstone to collect drinking water. The location gets very busy on weekends, when parking and picnic spots are at a premium, so plan your visit on a weekday if possible. UBD Map 6 Ref N 15
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        • Manns Point, Greenwich
          A little further up the Parramatta River from Balls Head, Manns Point offers a somewhat different perspective to this section of the river, taking in Balmain on the opposite shore. On the way in, the drive takes in some interesting views across Gore Cove to Berry Island, the Lower North Shore and the Shell Refinery terminal. At Manns Point Park there is a concrete slab which covers the entrance to a now flooded tunnel built to carry electricity cables under the harbour from Long Nose Point, Birchgrove.
          UBD Map 6 Ref G 12
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          • Headland Park, Georges Head
            Set in bushland once occupied by defence bases at Middle Head, Georges Heights and Chowder Bay, this lookout gives expansive views over Sydney Heads and the lower reaches of Port Jackson. For almost 150 years Georges Heights was a strategic vantage point used by the military for the protection of Sydney. The stone forts built here to defend Sydney from a naval attack, along with a sculpture park, are accessed by walking tracks. Facilities include BBQ and picnic facilities, casual cafes and restaurants.
            UBD Map 217 Ref H 11.
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            • Middle Head, Mosman
              Sitting directly opposite the entrance to Sydney Harbour, Middle Head was for many years the frontline point of defence against attack from the sea. The former military area is now part of the public parkland that fringes Sydney Harbour. The lookouts, gun placements and tunnels of the old fort provide a picturesque window to the past when NSW was the most isolated colony of the British Empire.
              UBD Map 217 Ref L 6.
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              • Bradleys Head, Mosman
                Bradleys Head, situated within walking distance of Taronga Zoo and its ferry wharf, is a very popular corner of Sydney Harbour National Park. Known to mariners as the last peninsula on the northern shore of the inner harbour, it was here that early colonists built the first fort on the harbour in 1803, to protect the young colony on Sydney Cove from naval attack. The fortifications seen today on the headland date from the 1830s and 1870s. Walking paths across and around the foreshore of the peninsula lead to the fortifications.
                Sitting on the rock platform off the headland is a Doric stone column. It is one of six that were taken from the demolished Sydney Post Office and placed in positions in Sydney. In conjunction with the tower off Fort Denison, it was once used for speed trials of vessels in Sydney Harbour.
                Bradleys Head is a popular venue for watching popular events on the harbour, including the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race each Boxing Day (26th December), and the Sydney Harbour Ferry Race held each Australia Day (26th January)
                The foremast of the cruiser HMAS Sydney, renowned for taking part in the Royal Australian Navy's first ship engagement in World War I German light cruiser SMS Emden, is mounted on the headland as a memorial to that battle. A gun from the Emden is on display in Hyde Park in the city. Also on the headland is an active lighthouse, Bradleys Head Light, constructed in 1905.
                Bradleys Head was named by Governor Hunter to commemorate the assistance given by William Bradley, First Lieutenant of the First Fleet ship HMS Sirius, in the surveying of the harbour.
                UBD Map 237 Ref C 2.
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                • Arabanoo Lookout, Balgowlah Heights
                  Arabanoo Lookout takes in the spectacular panorama of the Manly headland, North Harbour and Sydney Heads. Backed by sports playing field with toilets and picnic facilities, the lookout can be reached either by road or the Spit to Manly Walking Track. From the lookout it is a short walk to down to Reef Beach, Dobroyd Head and Crater Cove Lookout. UBD Map 197 Ref L 15.
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                  • North Shore

                    The Bluff Lookout, Bantry Bay
                    Bantry Bay on Middle Harbour was used to store military explosives in the first half of the 20th century because of its isolation. The nine explosives magazines were built from 1914 and replaced old hulks that had been used to store explosives in nearby Powder Hulk Bay on Sydney Harbour. The bluff lookout is located on the Bluff Walking Track that begins Grattan Cres. Frenchs Forest and ends at Seaforth. If offers a different perspective on Sydney Harbour to that normally seen, and shows what the Sydney basin was like before the arrival of Europeans. UBD Map 176 Ref L 13
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                    • Marjorie Headen Lookout, Thornleigh
                      This picturesque spot overlooks the Larool and Waitara Creek valleys, offering extensive views up both. It is located in the most southerly part of the Berowra Valley Bushland Park. Public transport: train to Hornsby or Thornleigh, bus No. 588 to Cnr Norman Ave. & Vale Road. Walk to lookout at end of Norman Ave.
                      UBD Map 153 Ref A 3. Norman Avenue, Thornleigh.
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                      • Northern Beaches

                        Fairfax Lookout, Manly
                        Fairfax Lookout, situated at North Head, Manly, overlooks Sydney Heads and offers sweeping views up Port Jackson to the city of Sydney. Walking tracks lead to the former North Fort Artillery buildings and the dramatic coastal cliffs between North Head and Manly. Nearby is a long forgotten cemetery where people who died at the Quarantine Station were laid to rest. The lookout is over 3km from the centre of Manly so getting there by car is the way to go if the walk is too far.
                        UBD Map 218 Ref H 4.
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                        • Gov. Phillip Lookout, Beacon Hill
                          This lookout is located at the top of Beacon Hill, which is the highest point in the region of Sydney's northern beaches. Views of almost the entire eastern half of the Sydney region may be had from the summit which is approximately 152 metres above sea level. Views extend from the southern outskirts of Sydney, west to the Blue Mountains and north to Gosford and the Central Coast. The skyline of the city is seen to the south, ships, pleasure craft and occasional migratory whales can be seen out to sea in the east.
                          The lookout is popular with locals on New Year's Eve when the firework displays across Sydney Harbour are clearly visible, approximately 11 kilometres to the south.
                          UBD Map 177 Ref J 6.
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                          • West Head Lookout, Commodore Heights
                            Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park forms a buffer of natural bushland between Sydney's northern suburbs and the Hawkesbury River. Its river shoreline is a tight cluster of secretive, winding creeks, sheltered beaches, hidden coves, mangroves on the tidal mudflats and wide expanses of deep blue water, backed by heathlands on the sandstone ridges and dense forests on the slopes. West Head Lookout is situated at the far north east corner of the park, and offers spectacular views across Broken Bay to the central coast and Pittwater to the Barrenjoey Peninsula. On the way in you pass some of the best and most accessible Aboriginal rock art sites in the Sydney region. The lookout has toilets, good picnic facilities and is the starting point for numerous delightful bushland walking tracks.
                            UBD Map 78 Ref Q 9.
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                            • Barrenjoey Headland, Palm Beach
                              The headland at the northernmost point of Barrenjoey Peninsula rises quite sharply from the beach to over 100 metres above sea level, and features a highly photogenic operational historic lighthouse. A bushwalking track leads to the top of the headland from the car park on the narrow sand spit linking the south side of the headland to the rest of Palm beach. The views from the top are quite spectacular; to the north is Broken Bay and the towns of the Central Coast, to the south is Pittwater and the northern beaches suburbs on the peninsula. UBD Map 98 Ref Q 9.
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                              • Ilya Avenue, Bayview
                                When you take the drive through the bush along McCarrs Creek Road, you'll pass some pretty waterfalls, creeks and stretches of virgin bushland on your way from Terrey Hills to Pittwater. The views up Pittwater as you approach Church Point are quite spectacular but unfortunately it's a bit difficult to find a big enough gap through the trees to capture the view in a photograph. My solution is to take a quick drive up to Bayview, the suburb on the hill behind Church Point. Streets like Ilya Avenue and Lentara Road are perfect to capture a picture-postcard view of Pittwater. In your shot will be the many yachts at anchor, Church Point and Scotland Island.
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                                • Collaroy and Long Reef Point from McLean Lookout
                                  There are a few high place along the northern beaches coast where it is possible to view up and down the coast, this is by far the best. The view is uninterrupted north to Narrabeen and south to Collaroy and Long Reef Point on this popular residential coastal strip.
                                  Location: Hilma Street, Collaroy.
                                  UBD Map 158 Ref E 9.
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                                  • Narrabeen Lookout
                                    Situated a few kilometres north of McLean lookout, Narrabeen Lookout offers similar views, but includes the panorama of Narrabeen Lakes.
                                    Location: end of Alleyne Street, North Narrabeen.
                                    UBD Map 158 Ref E 1.
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                                    • Greater West

                                      Mount Portal Lookout, Glenbrook
                                      This is one of Sydney's finest lookouts, situated in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. A stunning spot high above the junction of the Nepean River and Glenbrook Creek, the main view is down the Nepean River and across the plains of western Sydney (the Cumberland Plain). The view extends up Glenbrook Gorge and to the stunning cliffs on the other side. It is a popular abseiling spot with plenty of information signs about the local area. The lookout is wheelchair accessible.
                                      UBD Map 182 Ref C 7.
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                                      • The Rock Lookout, Mulgoa
                                        The Rock Lookout area of Blue Mountains National Park is situated within the historic Mulgoa Valley, only minutes from the bustling city of Penrith. A short track of a few hundred metres leads to The Rock  with superb views of the Nepean River. A longer track of 2.5 kilometres leads from the car park through swampy heath and Eucalyptus forest to Riley s Mountain where more views of the Nepean Gorge and surrounds can be enjoyed by the keen walker or photographer. Access is by foot (over uneven ground) from the car park at the end of Fairlight Road, Mulgoa, near Penrith. Please note: the last section of Fairlight Road is dirt/gravel road.
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                                        • Inner West

                                          Clarkes Point, Woolwich
                                          Woolwich Dock, carved out of the shoreline the Hunters Hill/Woolwich peninsula a century ago, dramatically punctuates the sandstone cliffs that line the northern shores of Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River. A dramatic platform perched high above the head of the dock, this lookout reminds us that Sydney's is a working harbour. The view takes in Lane Cover River, Balmain peninsula, city skyline and the Harbour Bridge. The adjacent parklands are accessed by walking paths.
                                          UBD Map 215 Ref F 14.
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                                          • Gladesville Bridge
                                            The further up Parramatta River you go from the Harbour Bridge, the lower the terrain and hence, the fewer high vantage points there are from which to take panoramic photos. One spot that does fit the bill is the top of Gladesville Bridge; the views in either direction are well worth photographing, but there is nowhere to stop or park a car on the bridge. The only way to take advantage of the photo opportunities the bridge affords is to walk the arch on which ever side you wish to photograph. The view downstream includes the harbour bridge and the office buildings of North Sydney on the horizon. The view from Fig Tree and Tarban Creek Bridges, just to the north of Gladesville Bridge where Burns Bay Road crosses Lane Cove River, are well worth photographing too.
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                                            • Yurulbin Park lookout, Birchgrove
                                              Yurulbin Park is a former shipbuilding site located at the end of Yurulbin Point (Long Nose Point) which has been transformed into an award winning public space. Yurulbin Point lies north east of Snails Bay and extends approximately 500 metres into Port Jackson at the northern end of the Balmain Peninsula. The water frontage of the park, now an idyllic refuge transformed from a derelict industrial site in the early 1970s, offers panoramic views from Snails Bay, Goat Island, Sydney City and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Evidence of pre-European Aboriginal etchings and middens on nearby private land show the site was used for fishing and conducting feasts. Both Long Nose Point and the park changed back to the traditional name of Yurulbin, Aboriginal for 'Swift Running Water'.

                                              Since the 1980s, Louisa Road, that once looked out on shipyards and heavy industry has been home to Sydney's cultural elite, it residents having included David Williamson, Peter Carey, Bruce Beresford, John Singleton, the musicians Glenn Shorrock and James Morrison, and the actors Colin Friels, Serge Lazareff and Judy Morris.
                                              Location: Louisa Road, Birchgrove
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                                              • South West

                                                Lake Burragorang Lookout, Nattai
                                                Burragorang Valley, to the south of Sydney beyond Campbelltown and Camden, was a favoured scenic spot for over a century, and the beauty and tranquillity of its surroundings makes it still well worth a visit today. Burragorang Valley was once the haunt of bushrangers and a rich farming and mining area, and now home to the spectacular lake created by the building of Warragamba Dam. The lookout near Nattai is a spectacular site to visit and provides an ideal venue for groups to meet and enjoy a day in the bush. The locality features bush trails, picnic facilities including barbecues, playgrounds and toilets.
                                                Location: Burragorang Road, Nattai.
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                                                  • South

                                                    Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Tops

                                                    Bald Hill is located at the southern end of Royal National Park on the Illawarra escarpment high above the coastal village of Stanwell Park. At the apex of Lawrence Hargrave Drive, the Bald Hill lookout takes in the panoramic 360 degree views of the Northern Illawarra and the escarpment all the way to Wollongong and Port Kembla. Whale watching, when in season, captivates many a Sydney day-tripper. Not only are the views excellent, the area is also internationally known as a major hang gliding centre. It was on the beach below Bald Hill that Lawrence Hargrave, an Australian pioneer of flight, experimented with box kites in the early part of the 20th century.
                                                    Location: Otford Road, Stanwell Tops, 44km south of Sydney via Princes Hwy and Lawrence Hargrave Drive.
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                                                    • Christensen Lookout, Oatley Park

                                                      Oatley Park is one of the largest reserves of natural bushland on the Georges River, a well-used, tree covered area that is almost completely surrounded by water. It covers an area of about 45 hectares and it is one of the most significant areas of bushland remaining in the St George area. There are expansive views of the river in both directions from Christensen Lookout and Websters Lookout. Location: Christensen CXircuit, Oatley Park. 1.9 km walk from Oatley station.
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                                                      • Bald Face Point, Blakehurst

                                                        The bushland reserve at Bald Face Point in the suburb of Blakehurst is bounded on three sides by waterways and bays off the Georges River which flows into Botany Bay. The park feature a lookout on the high ground of the point. A path leads down the hillside to the quarry that gave the point its name, then to a small sandy beach with views to Tom Uglys Bridge. Aboriginal rock art and axe grinding grooves have been recorded here, but erosion of the soft sandstone of this rock point has rendered them difficult to see, not to mention more recent engravings by all and sundry on the same rock faces. Close to the water's edge is a rock overhang where there are visible signs of its occupation by the local Aborigines of pre-colonial times. There is a shell midden nearby, and the cave itself is blackened by hundreds of years of fires used to cook the fish and oysters on which they would feed. Location: end of Stuart Street, Blakehurst, 18 km south of Sydney.
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                                                        • Eastern Suburbs

                                                          The Gap, Watsons Bay
                                                          There are a number of lookouts along the pathway that follows the oceanside clifftop at Watsons Bay. Jacobs Ladder offers views up the coast; The Dunbar Memorial and The Gap remind visitors of the treachery of this coastline; Gap Bluff throws in views up the harbour to the city of Sydney (above) for good measure.
                                                          UBD Map 218 Ref B 14
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                                                          • South Head, Watsons Bay
                                                            A pleasant 1km walk (each way) north from the harbourside village of Watsons Bay, the walking track to South Head passes Camp Cove (where Capt. Arthur Phillip camped overnight while looking for a settlement site for Sydney in January 1788), inner harbour gun emplacements and Lady Bay beach (a designated nudist beach). At South Head there are Aboriginal rock carvings, Hornby lighthouse, 19th century gun emplacements carved into the rock, not to mention views to North Head, out to sea and the coastal cliffs south to Gap Bluff.
                                                            UBD Map 218 Ref A 10.
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                                                            • Murriverie Rocks, North Bondi
                                                              Hidden behind the greens of the Bondi Golf Course, Williams Park in North Bondi is a gem of a spot to visit. The views up and down the coast are second to none, but there are a few bonuses that make the locality a must to visit. Up on the cliff tops there are some excellent examples of Aboriginal rock art alongside a few other mysterious carvings that pioneer aviator Lawrence Hargrave believed to have been created by Spanish sailors. If that's not enough to whet your appetite, there are remnants of World War II fortifications, as well as a dramatic gash in the cliffs known as the Murriverie Pass, which for many decades rock fisherfolk descended, partly on ropes and ladders, to the water level to fish.
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                                                              • Kambala Lookout, Vaucluse
                                                                As New South Head Road climbs the hill after leaving the Rose Bay shopping area, take a quick glance to the left and you'll get a spectacular harbour view which includes Woollahra Point, Shark Island and Bradleys Head in the foreground, set against the backdrop of the city skyline, the harbour bridge and opera house. If you find it difficult to stop, take Vaucluse Road or Wentworth Road off to the left where you can park and snap this picture-postcard view to your heart's content.

                                                                Dudley Page Reserve, Dover Heights

                                                                Directly east of Kambala Lookout at the top of the ridge is Dudley Page Reserve. It is the one place in this exclusive residential area where visitors can enjoy the view across the harbour to the city that the locals enjoy out of their lounge room windows every day. The reserve's name recalls Alderman Dudley G. Page, a local resident and Waverley Councillor, 1951 - 66, who served as mayor of Waverley in 1959.
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                                                                • Queens Beach, Vaucluse

                                                                  Queens Beach is a small, isolated beach which gigantic views across the harbour to the city skyline, Harbour Bridge and Shark Island. A popular bushwalk called the Hermitage Trail follows the harbour foreshore for a few kilometres from near Greycliffe House. The walk passes three beaches - Queens, Tingara and Milk Beaches - all of which are sheltered, shallow and calm, though small.

                                                                  Milk Beach, which has a similar aspect, was so named because milk and other supplies were once dropped here for the residents of Strickland House. Milk Beach is on a popular bushwalk called The Hermitage Trail.

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Kirribilli from the Harbour Bridge pylon lookout

The view from the top of the Sydney Opera House sails is said to be spectacular, but few people have ever seen it. Unless you have permission (and it is rarely granted), scaling the sails is illegal and anyone who tries it is charged with traspass under the Sydney Opera House Trust Act 1961. The view from the Harbour Bridge walkway is just as spectacular, and you don't get a fine and a mark against your name if you cross the bridge.

One group that has climbed the Opera House legally is the Scottish Ten project which uses technology to create accurate digital models of Scotland's five World Heritage Sites and five other World Heritage Sites elsewhere in the world. The Sydney Opera House was one of the five other World Heritage Sites chosen. The team successfully completed their task in May 2013.

Photos: Scottish Ten Project

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