Tips for an unforgettable day trip to Manly
Manly is a pretty little beachside suburb in Sydney, Australia. It is extremely popular with tourists and day trippers, in particular in summer, because it is dead easy to get here by ferry from Circular Quay. Families and visitors who are looking at spending some time in Sydney should definitely consider the trip out to Manly. Out of all of Sydney it is my most favourite suburb.
It’s the mix of beaches, a cosmopolitan atmosphere and the lively shopping and restaurant precinct that makes Manly popular with visitors from around the world.
We used to live in Manly from 2004 to 2008. With the arrival of our second child we moved away to buy a house – not an easy decision to make as Manly is such a pretty suburb that holds a firm place in our hearts. The village feel, the pedestrian-friendly streets, the many natural wonders in the vicinity make it a perfect place to live and visit. Let me share with you some ideas on how to spend a day in Manly.
Day trip ideas for Manly, Sydney
Main attraction of Manly are of course the wonderful beaches. Since Manly is located on an peninsula it is surrounded by water to three sides. If you are looking for a family-friendly beach then the ones on both sides of the wharf are the perfect choice. No waves, afternoon shade, no rips and a shark net make this a great option for families with small children.
On the Pacific side you will find a seemingly endless ocean beach with great surf. There are surf life rescue clubs in three locations – just make sure you enter the water between the flags to stay safe.
If you are after beaches ‘off-the-beaten-path’ try Shelly Beach (at the end of the oceanfront walk at the south end of Manly Beach) and Little Manly Beach which really only ever sees locals and no tourists at all.
For amazing views of the harbour and the Sydney skyline, take bus 135 to North Head. The bus departs right in front of Manly Wharf. Alternatively, you can choose to walk but it’s a 45 minute climb up a hill that is best avoided in summer.
There are many things you can do at North Head Reserve, for example explore the area that is covered in heath and check out the wildlife. Think bandicoots, fairy penguins and lorrikeets. Or you could head to the fort and check out historic military sites and installations.
Our personal highlight however is the view from Fairfax Lookout from the tip of the peninsula. During whale watching season make sure you pack a pair of binoculars as you might get lucky here!
Another great destination that you can reach with the 135 route is the former Quarantine Station. Today, the historic buildings are occupied by a luxury resort hotel, Q Station, but in the early days of the colony this was the place where ships had to go into quarantine. If sickness was reported on board, the ship would have to take the detour via Manly rather than going straight to port in Sydney.
To see the small but interesting museum, take the bus all the way to its last stop, then walk to reception. The free courtesy shuttle will take you down to the wharf area where you will be able to check out not just the museum but also a spectacular sandstone wall with inscriptions from ship crews and passengers.
The entry to the museum is free. And while you are already there, make use of the picturesque private beach or have a meal at the exquisite Boiler Room restaurant.
Sea Life Aquarium
It is hard not to notice Sea Life in Manly. It’s the circular building which is just a stone’s throw away from Manly Wharf. There is a reason why it looks so small on the outside: it simply is rather small.
You can explore three storeys of tanks and terrariums which will take you approximately 30 minutes. In the basement you will find the wonderful shark tunnel which is inhabited not just by sharks but also giant turtles and stingrays. The ground floor level is home to a number of smaller tanks, and on the top floor you will find a theatre with the fairy penguin enclosure. Make sure you attend a show while you are there to stretch the value of your ticket.
The best way to see Sea Life in Manly is by buying a combo ticket which gives you a discount on a number of Sydney attractions. This way the entry fees don’t sting so much.
Manly is actually quite a good shopping destination. Once you arrive at the wharf on a Manly ferry all you need to do is head straight to the Corso, the main shopping street.
You will find here a mix of touristy shops selling beach stuff and souvenirs, boutiques and the usual high street stores that are omnipresent pretty much everywhere in Australia. However, the fact that you can take it all in in a pedestrianised zone makes it quite a pleasant experience.
Check out the Manly Arts and Craft Market on weekends in Sydney Road and the Manly Farmers Market on Wednesday and Sunday mornings in Manly Plaza (off Sydney Road).
Family-friendly Restaurants in Manly
Perfect for typical Australian favourites like ribs, fish and chips and tuna steak – maybe not the cheapest in town but with the right beachy attitude. The kids menu includes steak, battered fish, tuna, chicken wings and chicken nuggets served with fries for just $13. 30-31 South Steyne, http://manlygrill.com.au
The Boathouse Shelly Beach
A great choice if you opt for Shelly Beach anyway. The concept is rather simple: Your mates secure a table while one of you heads to the counter to order the food. The menu is on a blackboard, so it’s helpful to take a photo. The food is delivered to your table when ready.
The Boathouse is decorated with the popping colours of flowers and fruit, an airy café with a sense for aesthetics. But it does come with steep prices. The menu is simple yet tasty: light salads, fish and seafood, burger. A cheaper option is the casual take-away kiosk next door. http://www.theboathousesb.com.au
As a German I need to introduce you to the idea of “Kaffee und Kuchen” – a Sunday afternoon tradition that involves freshly brewed coffee and a delicious slice of cake. You will find this right in heart of Manly at the Brezel Bar. Not only will you get here freshly baked pretzels but also wonderful cakes and pastries. 5A Raglan Street, http://www.brezelbar.com.au
Manly Fish Cafe
The best place in Manly for fresh fish and seafood. The Manly Fish Cafe is somewhat of an institution. You can choose to buy a take-away meal and enjoy it on the beach, or you take a seat in the restaurant next door for a romantic meal. Definitely make sure you order some Sydney Rock Oysters! Kids can have fish and chips for $13. http://manlyfishcafe.com.au
Manly Wharf Hotel
Because the Manly Wharf Hotel is located in the wharf building it is absolute waterfront and has great views of the harbour. Consider this a good option for a typical pub meal such as burger, salads, steak, pizza or fish. Or head out onto the pier for some sunset drinks on the water. Kids eat free from Monday to Thursday between 5:30pm and 6:30pm. Kids meals are also free when purchased with a regular main meal. Otherwise $10. http://manlywharfhotel.com.au/
Selection of reasonable accommodation options in Manly
If you are thinking about staying in Manly you will be pleased to know that there is a small selection of accommodation options available. However, rates in particular in high season (December – February) can be steep. On the upside, staying in Manly means you can easily combine a city break with a beach holiday, so you have the best of both worlds.
Here is our personal selection (Please note: All following links are affiliate links which means that any booking that is done via one of these links will award us a small commission. This commission will help us run this blog, and you won’t need to worry about any extra costs. Booking.com is our affiliate partner, not just a worldwide leader in online hotel accommodation but also a trusted partner which we have used many times ourselves. Thank you.):
Novotel Sydney Manly Pacific
The 4-star hotel is located right on the beach, and many rooms have beautiful ocean views. Manly’s shops and restaurants are easy to reach by foot, and so is the ferry to the city. There is a rooftop pool, a funky restaurant on the ground floor (Daniel San), friendly staff and modern furnishings. Book Novotel here.
Manly Oceanside Accommodation
This motel is located just a couple of steps from the ocean beach and comes with tons of good old 60s charm. The facilities are basic but acceptable. The rooms come with microwave, toaster, fridge and TV – a cheap option for those who can do without luxury for a while. Book Manly Oceanside Accommodation here.
Travelodge Manly Warringah Sydney
The name might be a little bit confusing because the Travelodge is not located in the heart of Manly as the name might suggest. Instead it is in Brookvale, a couple of metres from Warringah Mall and Brookvale Oval. However, this hotel is a good and price conscious alternative as there are direct busses that you can take to Manly and the CBD from here. Parking is just $10/day, making this hotel a good alternative for travellers who don’t necessarily have to stay right on the beach. Book Travelodge here.
You are on the look-out for more ideas for Sydney with children? Check out our popular 5-day itinerary here: 5 day itinerary in Sydney for the whole family