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10 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting the Sydney Opera House +Our Honest Review

10 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting the Sydney Opera House +Our Honest Review

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When you think of the most famous buildings in the world, you probably think of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building … oh, and the Sydney Opera House!

This iconic building is Sydney’s crown jewel and an unmistakable symbol of not just the city, but of Australia as a whole. Its architecture is absolutely stunning, and the venue holds so much history as well as awesome performances. So naturally, checking it out is one of the very best things to do in Sydney

We’ve spent a lot of time in Sydney and Bailey even lived here for a while, so naturally, we’ve visited the Sydney Opera House many times. Of course, we’ve walked past it and seen it a lot. However, we’ve also taken tours inside the Opera House and done Sydney sightseeing tours that visit the outside of this building. Bailey has even enjoyed watching performances and concerts here! 

So with all of that in mind, we’ve written this ultimate guide to visiting the Sydney Opera House. Read on so that you’ll be fully prepared to see this iconic landmark. 

Don’t have time to read the full article? Visiting the Sydney Opera House is a must! You can book tickets to a performance online or take a guided tour to see the inside. For a VIP experience, this behind-the-scenes tour takes you to areas not normally open to the public!

1. About the Sydney Opera House

A close up of the Sydney Opera House as seen from the water on the Journey Beyond the Cruise Sydney lunch cruise
The Opera House!
The roof of the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House as seen on a tour
The concert hall ceiling as seen on a tour

The Sydney Opera House is the most famous building in Australia, and it’s regarded as an architectural masterpiece. 

The story of the Opera House goes back to 1956. An international competition was held to see who could come up with the best design for a new opera house. The winner was Jørn Utzmon, a Danish architect, and he received £5,000 as a reward, as this was in the days before Australia switched to the dollar. 

That may not sound like a lot of money, but it’s equivalent to around £115,000 in today’s money or $219,500 AUD.

There’s still some debate as to whether the design of the opera house is meant to resemble sails or shells. Since Sydney is a coastal city with a strong maritime history, I think both interpretations work! 

Most of the funding for the construction of the Opera House was paid for by the state lottery. The original estimate was $7 million AUD but it ended up costing $102 million AUD – talk about going over budget! 

The Opera House also took a lot more time to build than expected. It took 14 years to be completed, even though at first it was only supposed to take 4 years.

All that money and effort paid off, though. Now, the Opera House is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and hosts thousands of performances every year. You can see everything from classical ballet, contemporary dance, New Age theater, and, of course, opera! 

In 2007, the Opera House was listed as a World Heritage Site. Some very famous faces have graced its halls, from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won his final bodybuilding competition here in 1980, to Queen Elizabeth II, who visited four times. She also opened the Opera House in 1973!

2. Where is the Sydney Opera House?

A tour group walk the inside of the Sydney Opera House
A tour group inside of the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is located on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour. More precisely, it’s on a promontory called Bennelong Point, which was previously known as Cattle Point. It’s just to the east of another Sydney icon: the Harbour Bridge.

Related Read: If you’re looking for other impressive landmarks, read our guide to visiting the Sydney Tower Eye. It has some of the best views and you can even dine in the sky here!

3. When is the best time to visit the Sydney Opera House?

The Sydney Opera House lit up at night as seen from the Journey Beyond the Cruise Sydney
The Opera House lit up at night!
Daniel listens to our guide inside the Sydney opera House
So interesting!

Visiting the Sydney Opera House is a year-round experience. Sydney, as well as the Opera House, are also great places to escape the cold in winter.

When it comes to the time of day, it depends on what you’re doing. If you’re looking to check out the exterior, it’s nice to go early in the morning before any crowds are around. However, the performances are generally held in the late afternoon and evening. And, of course, nothing beats seeing the Opera House lit up at night!

Meanwhile, if you’re taking a daytime tour of the Opera House that shows you around the interior, this will probably be in the late morning or early afternoon. This is an indoor activity with limited numbers, so it doesn’t really matter about the specific time you go. 

4. How can you book and see shows at the Sydney Opera House?

Bailey at the Sydney Opera House
This was a highlight for sure!
Bailey out the front of the Sydney Opera House
I was so excited!

You can book tickets to a show on the Sydney Opera House website by visiting the What’s On page. This section also has running dates, times, and prices. It’s pretty easy to do! 

However, if you don’t mind which show you see, you can also book tickets in seconds though Viator. They have lots of different seating options, including premium seating as well as A, B, C, and D reserve seating, so it’s up to you. What you get to see changes depending on the performance schedule. The options cover Broadway shows to opera performances, and everything in between.

Prices vary based on which seats you choose, ranging from $109 AUD for D reserve seating to $349 AUD for premium seats (aka the best seats in the house). Prices only cover your seats, but I’d plan to spend extra on a few drinks beforehand. Dates and times also vary depending on what shows are offered, and you can check availability on Viator.

Personally, I love using Viator because you can cancel your booking or change the date up to 24 hours beforehand. This option gives you more flexibility while ensuring you don’t miss out on seeing a show at this iconic venue!

You can click here to purchase tickets to a Sydney Opera House show! I loved seeing a performance here and have no doubt you will too.

5. What should you wear to a show at the Sydney Opera House?

inside of Sydney Opera House Australia
Photo credit: Sydney Opera House

There’s no enforced dress code at the Sydney Opera House. You sometimes see people dressed in jeans and casual clothing, especially since cruise ship passengers often dock in Sydney to catch a show.

That said, we think a night out at the Sydney Opera House is the perfect excuse to dress up – and most people do! 

If you’re watching an opera show especially, you should dress very formally. One of the unspoken rules of opera is that you dress up to attend a performance! I think this can add to the fun and ambiance of it all.

For other shows, like concerts and dance performances, people don’t dress quite as fancy, but they still tend to dress up. We recommend using this as an opportunity to break out your nicest clothes and dress up for the night. After all, how often do you get to see a show at the Sydney Opera House?

6. Can anyone enter the Sydney Opera House?

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie inside the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House on a tour
Inside the Opera House!
The inside of the Sydney Opera House as seen on a tour
It’s such an impressive budling!

Yes – as long as you have a ticket for a performance or are on a scheduled tour in Sydney. You can’t just waltz in as you like! 

However, there is no age limit or any other kind of restriction on who can and can’t enter the Opera House. As long as you have a ticket or are on a tour, you’re good to go!

And if this isn’t the case, you can still walk around the outside of the Opera House. You can even take photos at the top of the stairs, which is a super popular thing to do. For those on a budget, this is one of the best free activities in Sydney!

7. What are the best tours of the Sydney Opera House?

Sydney Opera House Official Guided Walking Tour

Tour guide explains a painting inside the Sydney Opera House, Australia
Tour guide explains a painting inside the Sydney Opera House, Australia

This hour-long walking tour takes you inside the Opera House and shows you areas that are not accessible to the general public. You’ll get to explore its unique architectural features and learn a lot about those famous shells (or sails!) from your expert guide.

You’ll also see the stages where world-famous performances have taken place and peek behind the curtain a bit! When we went, our guide shared some juicy behind-the-scenes secrets. I won’t spoil the surprise – you’ll just have to take the tour for yourself!  

The Sydney Opera House is so beautiful inside, and we love exploring it. You really don’t understand its vastness until you sit in one of those seats and stare up at the vaulted ceilings yourself. And at $43 AUD per person, it’s one of the most economical tours of the Opera House and easily one of the best walking tours in Sydney!

This tour is in English, but they occasionally offer German, French, and Spanish ones as well. I love that it’s really easy to fit into your Sydney sightseeing itinerary because tours are available daily, with start times between 9 am and 3:30 pm. However, tickets sell out fast!

We highly recommend checking availability and reserving your tour online in advance.

Sydney Opera House Tour and Meal + Drink at Opera Bar or House Canteen

Daniel listens to our guide inside the Sydney opera House
So interesting!
Bailey enjoys a drink at the House Canteen at the Sydney opera House
Cheers!

As if a tour inside the Sydney Opera House weren’t enough, this guided tour also includes a meal and a drink at one of the onsite restaurants. You can choose from House Canteen or the Opera Bar, and both offer excellent vibes and views!

The House Canteen is chic and modern inside, serving a range of international cuisines and cocktails. Your other choice is the Opera Bar, which has a more relaxed vibe with pizza, bistro food, and cocktails. Their menu changes seasonally, and they use local, fresh ingredients. However, the real draw at both is the beautiful Sydney CBD and Harbour Bridge views.

We opted for a late lunch at the Opera Bar to soak up the fantastic views. However, the meal tickets can be redeemed anytime between 11:30 am and 6 pm. Mind you, if your 1-hour tour ends at 10 am, you’ll be waiting around for some time. But hey, this gives you an opportunity to snap those epic shots of the Opera House!

And of course, this experience also comes with a fun and informative walking tour of the Opera House. The guides are a wealth of knowledge and you’ll learn all about the dramatic story behind this landmark. All of the twists and turns would put some of the plays held here to shame! 

The chance to explore a world-famous building is already a golden opportunity, so the fact that this tour also includes a meal (with a view!) makes it better. Plus, this gives you more time to soak in all the architectural beauty.

Tours are available between 9 am – 3:30 pm and are offered in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and German. It costs $80 AUD per person, including your guided visit to the Opera House and your meal and drink. For children, it costs $45 AUD since they’ll get a kid’s meal and obviously, they can’t have an alcoholic drink! 

The discounted tickets and kid’s options make this tour great for a family day out. However, be warned that there are about 200 steps to climb on the walking tour! It’s something to remember, especially if you have small children. But we loved the exercise and built up quite the appetite for lunch afterward,

For the perfect daytime activity, you’ll want to book this guided tour and meal in advance!

Sydney Opera House Guided Backstage Tour

Small theater in the Sydney opera house
Small theater in the Sydney Opera House

If you’re into theater and the performing arts, you’ll LOVE this guided backstage tour of the Sydney Opera House. You’ll learn about behind-the-scenes happenings that are even more dramatic than the on-stage performances! Plus, you get to check out dressing rooms and even step out on stage, a privilege usually reserved for performers and Opera House staff.

Another thing we love is that this is a small-group tour, so it’s really personal and you can ask lots of questions. And if all that weren’t enough, you get to go for breakfast at the Opera House’s Green Room Kitchen, which is where artists and performers typically grab food after a show! In fact, the general public aren’t usually allowed in here, so this is a real treat. 

These tours start bright and early at 7 am, which is the perfect time since there are no crowds! This also gives you a chance to see areas that are restricted later in the day. Think dressing rooms, rehearsal areas, and concert stages.

Tours last about 3 hours, with a light breakfast and tea/coffee at the end. There’s lots of walking, including 300 stairs, so you’ll be hungry. As such, it’s not recommended for little kids.

It costs $175 AUD per person, including an extensive guided tour and an exclusive breakfast. Tours are available Thursday through Monday. However, since it’s an exclusive tour, it does sell out.

Trust me, if you’re a theater fanatic, you won’t want to miss this opportunity! Secure your tickets before they sell out!

Sydney Opera House VIP Guided Tour Ticket, Two-Course Dinner and Drinks

Inside the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House as seen on a tour
Inside the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House as seen on a tour

This tour is an awesome way to experience the Sydney Opera House in style. You’ll get the true VIP treatment as you explore behind the scenes with a local guide who will teach you all about its history and unique architecture. Plus, they’ll share some fun secrets about performances gone by. 

But the fun doesn’t end there because you also get to enjoy a two-course dinner at either of the Opera House’s restaurants. You can dine at Bennelong, an insanely beautiful restaurant that feels like a smaller replica of the Opera House. Or, you can dine al fresco and enjoy the amazing views at Midden by Mark Olive. At either restaurant, you can get a 2-course meal with two complimentary drinks. 

We think that this tour would be such an amazing way to spend a romantic evening in Sydney. First, you get a 1-hour tour of this historic and beautiful building, and then you get to dine at a lovely restaurant inside while enjoying amazing views. 

Tours start at 4:15 pm with a meet and greet. Afterward, you’ll explore the venue, climbing several staircases and getting a sneak peek into its inner workings. At 5:30 pm, your guide will escort you to your restaurant of choice, where you can feast and recap the tour’s highlights.

The tour costs $199 AUD per person if you dine at Midden or $305 AUD each if you eat at Bennelong (as this is the fancier option). Either way, you’re in for a great night! 

Why not treat yourself to the VIP experience? Reserve your tour plus dinner at the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Opera House Guided Tour in Mandarin

Inside supports of the Sydney opera House
Inside supports of the Sydney Opera House
A close up of the sails of the Sydney Opera House on a guided tour
A close-up of the sails of the Sydney Opera House on a guided tour

Guided tours of the Opera House aren’t just available in English! If you’re a Mandarin speaker, book this Mandarin tour so you don’t miss out on any of the details from your guides.  

You’ll tour behind the scenes for a full hour, getting close to unique architectural features like the famous shells. The knowledgeable guides also share what a struggle it was to get this magnificent building up and running! Honestly, we learned so many fascinating anecdotes about the history and prior performances. And it’s much better to hear it in your native language!  

You’ll also be able to take beautiful photos from vantage points that the general public can’t get to. Everyone takes that iconic photo at the top of the steps, but you’ll be able to snap amazing pics in lots of other places, too. Make sure to bring that camera to capture it all!

We definitely recommend this tour to any Mandarin speakers who want to make sure that nothing gets lost in translation. It costs $43 AUD and there are several different time slots available daily (from 9:30 am – 4 pm). You can book this Mandarin tour of the Sydney Opera House by clicking here!

Related Read: If you’re also visiting Perth, check out my list of the best things to do here! This is actually my hometown, and I highly recommend it.

8. Do you need to book a tour in advance?

Bailey on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
Bailey on the steps of the Sydney Opera House
A close up of the Sydney Opera House tiles on a tour
A close-up of the Sydney Opera House tiles on a tour

Yes, definitely. The Sydney Opera House is iconic and one of the best places to visit in Sydney, so tours book up really fast. This means you need to reserve your tickets well in advance. The good thing is that for most of the tours we’ve mentioned, booking through Viator allows you to change or cancel up to 24 hours beforehand. As such, you can book way ahead of time with confidence.

9. What are the best restaurants at the Sydney Opera House?

A meal and drink from the House Canteen at the Sydney Opera House
A meal and drink from the House Canteen at the Sydney Opera House
Bailey enjoys a drink at the Sydney Opera House
What a view!

House Canteen 

The House Canteen is one of the newest venues inside the Opera House. It offers breakfast pastries and coffee in the morning. At lunch and dinner, you’ll find Asian fusion cuisine, including Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese-style dishes. But if I’m being honest with you, the real draw here is the amazing view of the Sydney Harbour! 

The House Canteen is open Sunday to Thursday from 7:30 am to 10 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 7 am to 11 pm.

Midden by Mark Olive 

At Midden by Mark Olive, you can dine al fresco between the sails of the Opera House. Olive is an Indigenous Australian chef and he has created a restaurant that pays homage to the Traditional Custodians of the land that the Opera House now occupies, the Gadigal. 

The restaurant uses native Australian ingredients and the menu is focused around local produce. You can dine outdoors here and enjoy insane views of the Sydney Harbour, and you can even enjoy afternoon tea on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.

Midden by Mark Olive is open daily from 11:30 am – 2:30 pm for lunch, and 5 – 8:30 pm for dinner. 

The Opera Bar

If you want to enjoy a drink or a light snack while taking in the Sydney Harbour Bridge views, then the Opera Bar is perfect. Everything here is light and fresh, and they do some great spritz cocktails. It’s an awesome place to relax after you tour the Opera House and enjoy the views. It’s open from 11 am until late! 

Bennelong

Its location inside the Sydney Opera House is enough to draw visitors to Bennelong. However, it’s actually heralded as one of the best restaurants in Australia. It’s a spacious, stunning eatery that really showcases the creme de la creme of Australian food and wine. It’s pricey, but if you’ve got the budget, we highly recommend dining here. 

Bennelong is open Wednesday to Saturday from 5:30-8:45 pm. It’s also open for lunch on Saturdays (12-2 pm) and Sundays (12-3:30 pm). You’ll need a reservation, and it’s best to arrive at least two hours before your show starts to ensure you have time to enjoy this fine dining experience to the fullest.

Theatre Bars

There are also several theater bars in the Opera House where you can grab a cocktail or a glass of local wine before the show. They also have snacks and light bites. Remember that you can’t take drinks into the performance halls themselves, so make sure you have time to finish them before you head inside.

10. Is visiting the Sydney Opera House worth it?

Glass windows in the Sydney opera House with views of Sydney harbour
Glass windows in the Opera House with views of Sydney Harbour

Yes! It’s one of the world’s most recognizable buildings. Even if you only have one day to spend in Sydney, you can’t miss the chance to visit the Opera House. Plus, there are some fantastic restaurants here, the performances are incredible, and the tours are so much fun. We loved learning all about the behind-the-scenes secrets of this iconic venue. 

You can always view the outside for free. However, if you want to see a show (and don’t mind which one), you can book directly through Viator online. If you prefer to tour the building, check out our list of tours above!

Related Read: When traveling to Western Australia, you should definitely try some local wines! You can read my list of the best Margaret River wine tours here.

Other Things to do While You’re in Sydney

Bailey smiles at the camera while the helicopter pilot fly's over Sydney
So much fun!
Prince Henry cliff walk on a Blue Mountains Tour from Sydney
Prince Henry cliff walk on a Blue Mountains Tour from Sydney

Sydney is a city full of exciting things to do and see, so you’re going to want to fill your schedule while visiting this iconic city. Below are a few of our favorite activities that you should consider adding to your Sydney itinerary:

  • Helicopter Ride – Sydney is a beautiful city; there is just no doubt about it! And one way to take in all the sights is on a helicopter tour! We did this helicopter ride the last time we were in the city, and it was incredible! We got the most amazing views of the bridge and Opera House, not to mention the beautiful coastline. And to top it off, we even saw whales!
  • Visit Manly Beach and/or Bondi Beach – There are some pretty amazing beaches right in Sydney, so you should definitely add a beach day (or three!) to your Sydney itinerary. One of our favorites is Manly Beach, and you can easily get there via the public ferry. Or, head to the famous Bondi Beach! Once there, you can do the walk to Bronte or Coogee Beaches – they are both also stunning!
  • Take a Sydney Harbour Cruise – In the city, you absolutely must take a Sydney Harbour Cruise! It’s a great way to take in the sights while leisurely sailing down the water. They have both lunch cruises and dinner cruise options. On this dinner cruise, we had a fabulous time watching the skyline and enjoying a gourmet meal with bubbly in hand.
  • Day Trip to the Blue Mountains – The Blue Mountains is a beautiful wilderness area where you can enjoy hiking, waterfalls, mountain views, and charming local towns. It’s about an hour’s drive and makes for a great day trip from Sydney or even a weekend getaway. This Blue Mountains day full-day tour is our top choice as it includes a gourmet lunch, Scenic World, the wildlife park, as well as a cruise! Plus, the 3,400 5-star reviews are pretty reassuring that it’s an excellent tour!
  • Explore Darling Harbour – One of our favorite areas in Sydney is Darling Harbour, which features more restaurants, bars, and cafes than I can count! Plus, almost everything is waterfront! Here, you can enjoy the Chinese Garden of Friendship or walk across the Pyrmont Bridge. You can also visit popular attractions like Madame Tussauds, the Sea Life Aquarium, and Wild Life Sydney Zoo (which are all included on the Sydney Attractions Pass!).

Where to Stay in Sydney

Get the best views of Sydney at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, Australia
Photo credit: Four Seasons Hotel Sydney

If you’re planning a trip to Sydney, you’re going to need a place to stay. Luckily, Sydney has a huge variety of accommodations to fit every budget. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, check out our top picks for places to stay, from luxury rooms to budget-friendly hostels. We’ve got you covered!

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney – $$$

For stunning views of Sydney Harbour and the iconic Opera House, book a room at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. You’ll have unobstructed views of the city from the comfort of your room. The hotel is located in the city center within the historic Rocks neighborhood – nice and close to lots of activities and restaurants. It’s also just a 15-minute walk to the Sydney Opera House.

Rooms here start at $400-$500 AUD per night and can be reserved with Booking.com.

Meriton Suites Kent Street Sydney – $$

Stay right in the heart of Sydney in a modern luxury apartment at Meriton Suites Kent Street. The suites are air-conditioned and have laundry facilities, and either a kitchenette or full kitchen to make longer stays more comfortable. You’ll also have access to an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and hot tub. These apartments are just a 10-minute drive from the Sydney Opera House.

These full apartments are $230 AUD nightly when booked in advance with Booking.com.

Sydney Harbour YHA – $

For a hostel with a view, head to the rooftop terrace at the Sydney Harbour YHA. Located in the historic Rocks district, you’ll have amazing views of the harbor and be within walking distance of all the major sights. It’s also about a 20-minute walk along the waterfront to the Sydney Opera House. You can opt for a shared dorm room or a private room here. There’s a communal kitchen, TV lounge, billiards, and a 24/7 reception desk.

Dorm rooms are around $70 AUD nightly and private rooms are more around the $180 AUD mark. You can check for the best rates and book on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie during a Sydney opera house Tour in sydney, Australia
Thanks for reading!

If you’re visiting Sydney, you absolutely have to stop by the Opera House. This building is famous for a reason; it’s an architectural masterpiece and hosts some of the best shows in the country. You can always visit the outside for free, but we definitely recommend seeing a performance or taking a tour. You’ll get to view the interior of the building and get the inside scoop on everything that goes on behind the scenes!

To learn more about Australia, read our other blogs here! For an idea of what topics we cover, click on one of the links below.

10 Things to Know BEFORE Whale Watching in Sydney

15 FUN Things to do in Manly Beach, Sydney (more than just swimming and beaching!)

16 Things to Know about Swimming with Whale Sharks in Exmouth

15 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Litchfield National Park