Sydney offers a wide choice of harbour cruises, almost all of them leaving from Wharf 6, Circular Quay, and the rest from Darling Harbour. While many offer a good insight into the harbour and an intimate experience of its bays and coves, the altogether much cheaper ordinary ferry rides, enjoyable cruises in themselves, are worth experiencing first. The best of these is the gorgeous thirty-minute ride to Manly, but there’s a ferry going somewhere worth checking out at almost any time of the day.

The Australian Travel Specialists (ATS) at Jetty 6, Circular Quay and the Harbourside Shopping Centre at Darling Harbour (02 9211 3192, atstravel.com.au) book all cruises.

Cruise operators

Captain Cook and Matilda
Captain Cook: 02 9206 1122, captaincook.com.au; Matilda: 02 9264 7377, matilda.com.au. The majority of cruises are offered by these 2 operators which have now combined forces (while retaining separate titles). The Captain Cook Breakfast (Sat & Sun Nov–March 9.30 am; 1.5hr; $55) and High Tea (Wed & Sat 2.30pm; 1.5hr; $59) cruises are probably the most popular and affordable of the private cruises, allowing you to venture into quaint little bays and coves (with commentary on local history and ecology).
Harbour Jet
1300 887 373, harbourjet.com. Harbour Jet runs the “Jet Blast” (35min; $65), the “Sydney Harbour Adventure” (50min; $80), and the “Middle Harbour Adventure” (2hr; $95) on a boat that roars along at 75kph, executing spins, power breaks and fishtails.
Ocean Extreme
1300 887 373, oceanextreme.com.au. Some alternative cruise companies offer more thrills (but noise pollution for the locals): Ocean Extreme offers “Rush Hour” (1hr; $85), a trip out to the heads and back.
State Transit Authority Cruises
02 9246 8363, sydneyferries.nsw.gov.au. Cruises offered by the State Transit Authority (STA) – Heritage Cruise – are a little cheaper than other options (basic returns $11.60).
Sydney Harbour Tall Ships
1300 664 410, sydneytallships.com.au. Sydney Harbour Tall Ships operates the Svanen, a beautiful, 3-masted Danish ship, built in 1922, which moors at Campbell’s Cove. Two-hour “Lunch” and “Twilight” cruises (both $99) sail past iconic harbour sights while guests devour gourmet seafood BBQ offerings. One of a number of more romantic sailing options.
Sydney Heritage Fleet
02 9298 3888, shf.org.au. Sydney’s oldest sailing ship, the James Craig, an 1874 3-masted iron barque, is part of the Sydney Heritage Fleet based at Wharf 7, Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont, near Star City Casino, and does full-day cruises on Sat and Sun (9.30am–4pm; $150; over-12s only; refreshments and lunch provided).

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

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