The Best Sydney Harbour Cruise Experiences in 2023

There is something really special a Sydney Harbour cruise. Seeing the city from the water is hard to beat and while the ferries are fabulous, the city looks even more beautiful when you can really spend some time soaking it in, in comfort on a leisurely harbour cruise. After 20 years taking guests and visitors on these cruises I can honestly say we have done dozens of them. Here are our top recommendations.

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Whether you’re a traveller new to Sydney’s shores, a passenger on a cruise ship or a proud local, time out on the harbour is always memorable. With a wide range of cruises available, there’s no excuse not to climb aboard!

Ask a local and they might tell you to forgo a cruise and take a ferry ride instead. I say do both, while the ferry is great, and you should take as many as you have time for, a harbour cruise is a special experience that allows you to spend more time on the water, see parts the ferry routes don’t cover, and learn more about the history of the city and its iconic waterway.

Check out these great Sydney Harbour cruise experiences and see which one suits you best.

Sydney Harbour Dinner Cruises

As a local, you forget just how beautiful it is on the harbour at night. We only go on a dinner cruise for a special birthday or if we have visitors in town. Whether you are here for a quick visit or have spent your entire night here, it’s a lovely way to spend the evening.

There is nothing nicer than sipping a glass of champagne while you watch the harbour turn from day to evening. Several companies offer dinner cruises on Sydney Harbour, and the quality and offerings vary.

When choosing a cruise, you can find some with a drinks package (wine, beer and soft drinks). Captain Cook allows you to pay extra for a window seat for front-row views of cityscape sparkling as you enjoy your dinner.

Our three top Sydney Harbour dinner cruises are:

All three of these cruise options are wheelchair accessible and have accessible bathrooms.

Tall Ship Cruises

Step back in time onboard the authentic 1850s tall ship. Imagine you are sailing into Sydney harbour with new cargo for the colony. 

The crew are happy to explain how they sail the boat and you can even pay a little extra for a climb the mast experience if you dare. Our Captain told us a little about the history of Sydney and our two-hour cruise was a perfect way to see the harbour for the first time or as a local, appreciating how lucky we are.

Sydney Harbour tall ship near the Opera House
Sydney Harbour Tallship Deck space

Sydney Tallships have two vessels, the Southern Swan and the Soren Larsen. Watch the action unfold or pitch in and help. The choice is yours.

I have enjoyed the twilight cruise and the dinner cruise and thought they were both great value for money. I highly recommended this experience!

All cruises leave from Campbells Cove in the Rocks and book out early in peak season.

There are three options you can consider:

Sadly these vessels are not wheelchair accessible at this time.

There is no fancy seated dining, instead you enjoy time on deck on a historic vessel that lets you imagine life in colonial Sydney.

Sydney Harbour High Tea Cruises

High teas, morning tea or afternoon tea, whatever you call it these sweet treats have always popular for special occasions, but they are also a lovely way to catch up with friends or give your feet a rest after a long day of sightseeing. 

They are great for the first half of your hen’s day with aunties and grandmothers before you party with your girls. They are also great for landmark birthdays and mother’s day.

The best options for morning or afternoon tea on the harbour are:

  • Captain Cook High Tea Cruise – We recently took a high tea cruise with Captain Cook and while it was not quite the luxury experience that you might find in one of Sydney’s 5-star hotels, it was delicious and the 90 minute cruise a throughly enjoyable way to see the harbour. This cruise is fully accessible.
  • Sydney Harbour Morning Tea Cruise – With live commentary on the harbours sites this is more of a harbour tour with morning tea served rather than the focus being on the tea but its a lovely morning out on the harbour. This cruise is accessible for small wheelchairs but the bathrooms are not.
  • Sydney Harbour Bar – Another Captain Cook Harbour Bay is the pick if you taste leans more towards savoury options. You receive a seafood platter of Australian prawns, oysters, smoked salmon blinis and calamari to share

Planning your Sydney vacation? Check out our guide for 7 perfect days in Sydney.

Sydney Harbour Lunch Cruises

Get the full Sydney experience on a seafood buffet lunch cruise as you feast on prawns, oysters and more while you travel around the harbour. Learn more about the Emerald City from the experienced onboard staff who offer interesting commentary throughout the journey.

Once you have finished lunch, you still have plenty of time to head on deck and snap the harbour’s icons.

Our top picks for lunch on Sydney Harbour are:

  • Sydney Harbour Premium Lunch Cruise with Journey Beyond is a premium 2 course meal that includes matching wines (or beer and soft drinks).
  • Sydney Harbour Long Dinner or Lunch Cruise is at the other end of the spectrum. This four and a half experience includes cruising with drinks to enjoy your meals at some of Sydney’s finest waterfront restaurants, including Doyles Seafood Restaurant in Watsons Bay and Public Dining Room in Balmoral. A superb choice for a memorable special occasions on the Sydney Harbour.

Jet Boating

If you prefer a bit more of an adrenaline rush when you hit the water, this one is for you! The bright yellow Thunder Jet will have you zipping around the harbour and get you right up close to its most famous sites.

This ride lasts 30 minutes and comes complete with a great soundtrack and a poncho to keep you dry as you twist, turn and fishtail your way around the harbour.

Check out the Thunder Boat Thrill Ride and experience the harbour’s wild side!

Small Boat Tours

The Sydney Icons, Bays & Beaches Cruise is a small group tour (max 12 people) will help you discover the biggest hits of Sydney Harbour and even get your feet wet!

Highlights of the Icons, Bays and Beaches tour includes:

  • Being close to the water and open sided the boat has uninterrupted views and offers perfect photo opportunities.
  • Even though its small there is a bathroom!
  • You get to explore a bay or beach that is hard to access with regular group harbour cruises 
  • Seeing the harbour in the morning when the light is best.
  • Visiting some of the harbour’s prettiest small bays where ferries don’t go.

If the swell is not too high, the boat will stop at Quarantine Station and you can visit the museum there. An alternate stop is the beautiful Parsley Bay. There is also the option to stop at Watsons Bay. Regardless the stop allows time to visit the local cafes for some morning tea. This cruise is not wheelchair accessible.

Sydney Harbour Hop On Hop Off Cruises

If you want to spend a few days exploring the bays and islands of the harbour then these services are a great idea. They require a bit of planning and some of the stops can be reached via public ferry but these HOHO ferries let you forget about working out ferry routes and make a day on the harbour easy!

The two HOHO boat services in Sydney are:

Either of these will give you a great day our with a bit of planning.

There are two operators and not a lot of difference between them in service or price. They both stop at Circular Quay, Barangaroo, Taronga Zoo, and Watsons Bay. The Captain Cook service stops at Shark Island and Manly. The Fantsea HOHO does not include these two stops but it does include access to the Manly Fast Ferry in the price of your ticket.

Neither service operate on Mondays or Tuesdays, Captain Cook only operates on weekdays during school holiday periods. Both services operate on weekends.

Whale Watching Cruises

If you find yourself in Sydney between May and November you might like to combine your Sydney Harbour experiece with some whale watching.

Get close to whales on Sydney Harbour

During the peak months there are spectacular sightings off Sydney Heads almost every day and there are a number of different cruises on offer depending on how good your sea legs are!

Our top picks for whale watching in Sydney:

  • For those with a sense of adventureOcean Extreme Whale Watching offers high speed trips on a vessel that is nice and close to the water. Over 12 years only.
  • For families Captain Cook offer a 2.5 hour whale cruise that comes bundled with a HOHO cruise. Suited to those with mobility issues.
  • Longer experience with a meal – the MV Jerry Bailey cruise sees you out on the water for 4 hour! The team are exception and the boat an older style catamaran is comfortable.

Read our list of 25 Free things to do in Sydney on your first visit.

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