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Where is the best free view of the Sydney Central Business District from within 30 minutes drive of the city?

I'm used to the Brisbane tradition of going up to the top of Mt Coot-tha to look over the city lights and was wondering if there's somewhere similar in Sydney. The edges of the Hornsby Plateau seem likely but I've never been able to find somewhere comparable.

Example view from Mt Coot-tha:

enter image description here

  • Thanks guys, for prompting me to look for alternative ideas to simply "getting up high". I've caught many glimpses from different points on the Hornsby Plateau so it seemed a logical place, but never a really good view - unlike so many of these. – dlanod Nov 10 '14 at 6:02
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Sydney's a bit too flat to have any mountains with CBD views; instead, I'd head across the water!

From the west side of Darling Harbour near the Maritime Museum and the Star Casino, you'll get the Hong Kong-from-Kowloon-style "skyscraper view" of the CBD. This is particularly impressive at sunset, when the sun setting in the west catches all the glass panels:

enter image description here (photo courtesy of my colleague Josselin Cornou)

You can also get this view easily and cheaply on the public ferries: The F4 Darling Harbour service will give you an up and close and personal version of the view above (on the other side of the docks visible in the foreground), plus the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge.

  • After Melbourne, I'd never think of Sydney as 'flat' ;) – Mark Mayo Nov 10 '14 at 5:48
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One little known option is Blue Bar on 36, at the Shangri-La hotel, close to Circular Quay. It's on the 36th floor, is pretty smart (but have been in there in smart-casual) and the drink prices are horrendous, but there's nothing stopping you going up for a look. It's free to enter.

Bar on 36 view (source: Lonely Planet article)

You get a view down on the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour and a great view of Sydney Harbour itself.

Another free view that people don't seem to go to - Observatory Hill. You get a really different alternative view of the bridge - so your travel photos are a bit different to the standard Opera-house-from-a-ferry shot, and while nowhere near as high as Bar 36, you are raised on the hill, so have a bit of a good view of Circular Quay and part of the CBD.

View from Observatory hill (source - my own photo)

The Glenmore Hotel in the Rocks area has a rooftop bar, which is free to get up to, and has a spectacular view of the tourist-y Circular Quay area, with great shots of the Opera House and some of the CBD. Highly recommend for a drink or meal.

Glenmore hotel view

(source: Timeout online)

I've been thinking of high-up shots, but if you want just views of the CBD, I can recommend the views from the ferries. Ferries taking you to Cremorne Point, McMahon's Point and around to Balmain East and Darling harbour all have spectacular views of the CBD.

Timeout has a list of the six best ferry trips, and it shows you some of the views

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    Yes, I liked Observatory Hill a lot. And then you can go from there under the bridge and look at the way it's made, which I found very cool. – Kate Gregory Nov 10 '14 at 13:07
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Other good and free views not yet mentioned include:

enter image description here

  • Larkin St Lookout, Waverton

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  • Bradley's Head

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(Ideas courtesy of a great write-up by Ilya Genkin.)

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