cockatoo island, Sydney Harbour

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cockatoo Island

Top choice in Sydney

Studded with photogenic industrial relics, convict architecture and art installations, fascinating Cockatoo Island (Wareamah) opened to the public in 2007 and has regular ferry services, a campground, rental accommodation, and two cafe-bars. Information boards and audioguides ($5) explain the island's time as a brutal convict prison, a shipyard and a naval base. A range of tours run from the Visitor Centre, from straight-up heritage tours to Ghostyard Paranormal and Convict Escape Attempts (from $16). The island's a major venue for the Biennale.

A spooky tunnel passes clear through the middle of the island and you can also explore the remains of the prison. During WWII most of the old sandstone buildings were stripped of their roofs and converted into bomb shelters. Solitary confinement cells were unearthed here after being filled in and forgotten in the 1890s.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Sydney attractions

1. Elkington Park

0.49 MILES

If Balmain’s historic cuteness doesn’t float your boat, head to Elkington Park, named in 1883 after a local politician. It slopes down towards the water,…

2. Yurulbin Point

0.82 MILES

On the northern tip of the Balmain peninsula by the Birchgrove ferry slip, this narrow point stretches to within 300m of the North Shore. Once called Long…

3. Balmain


Once a tough, working-class neighbourhood, Balmain now rivals Paddington in Victorian-era desirability – with the added advantage of being surrounded by…

4. Watch House

1.12 MILES

One of Balmain's many notable historic buildings, the Watch House, is Sydney’s oldest surviving lockup (1854). It now operates on Saturdays (combine it…

5. St Mary’s Hall

1.19 MILES

This brick former church hall, built around 1851, is in a rather dilapidated state.

6. Clontarf Cottage

1.23 MILES

Balmain’s jacaranda-filled streets contain dozens of historically significant buildings, most of which are privately owned. The squat, shingle-roofed…

7. Hampton Villa

1.32 MILES

Balmain’s hibiscus-scattered streets contain dozens of historically significant buildings, most of which are privately owned. The most notable is this…

8. Balls Head Reserve

1.37 MILES

Scruffy, bushy Balls Head Reserve not only has great views of the harbour, the city skyline and the industrial relics on Goat Island, it also has a wiggly…