The city of Manly, a short ferry ride from the Sydney CBD, is best known for it’s long sandy beach – but, going to see the sea is not the only reason to visit Manly – here’s 20 more fun and unusual things to do in Manly, Sydney.
1. Find the Manly Wormhole
It’s got nothing to do with sci fi or spaceships, and it might not transport you to another dimension – but this tunnel carved into the rock at Queenscliffe at the far north end of Manly Beach is very pretty!
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The downside is that you have to scramble across a few rocks to get there.
The Manly Wormhole is listed on Google Maps, but be warned it doesn’t always tell you how to get their correctly.
To avoid getting stuck on peering over the edge of a cliff with no wormhole in sight, check out our guide on how to get to the Manly Wormhole.
2. Uncover the Secret Mural
This cute pastel mural is by the street artist Brentos, but you could walk around Manly all day and not spot if it you didn’t know where to look.
In fact, the mural is hidden behind the door to the Pacific Waves car park on Sydney Road (close to the junction with Market Place).
Open it and watch the colours and pictures of cute Australian animals appear from the gloom.
If you follow the tunnel, you’ll come to the Pacific Waves car park. The mural was painted to make the tunnel that led people to the main shopping area of Manly more appealing.
There’s heaps more good street art in Manly – Market Place is full of it, particularly around the Library and Car Park. Also look out for the Manly Mermaid at the Little Legends cafe – and then, there’s our next entry on the list….
Looking for more cool Sydney street art? We’ve got a few posts you should look at…
First up, here’s where to find an amazing road of celebrity-themed street art in the cool area of Marrickville.
If you’re visiting Surry Hills, or, even just go through it on the Light Rail, you might see a really bright coloured house with faces painted on it – as soon as we saw it we wanted to know why it was there. So we found out!
And lastly, not all of the cool street art in Sydney involves paint. There’s a very famous Sydney artist called Will Coles who uses concrete to make his art – and, it’s hidden all over Sydney. Here’s where to find some of areas where you’ll see Will Coles’ works.
3. Drink Peanut Butter Vodka
We went to Peanut, Butter Jelly bar to see the street art murals that line the walls – and then we tasted the peanut butter vodka and didn’t want to leave – and I normally don’t drink vodka!
The concept of Peanut, Butter, Jelly is that it combines street art and street food – the walls are covered in murals, the menu covers the world!
You’ll find Bao, Burgers, Tacos and San Choy Bau…. it’s brilliant if you’re with a group and can’t decide what to eat.
And no matter what you do eat, make sure you that you try one of the cocktails. The night I was there they could not make my first choice, the nutella, cream and peanut butter-based Peanut Butter Jelly Dessert, but the Peanut Butter Jelly Jam with peanut butter vodka, Chambord and jam was very, very moreish.
It’s at 7 Whistler Street Manly – if you go to the bar at the front, make sure you head back into the restaurant to check out the walls inside.
The two murals pictured are by artist Madsteez. He’s a Californian artist, but a mad surfer – which makes him perfect person to paint in a Manly bar if you ask me!
4. Go Hunt for Some Ghosts
Back in 1830 (and for about 150 years after that), when people arrived in Sydney, they didn’t arrive directly in the harbour area.
Instead, they first landed about 14km away in Manly at the Quarantine Station where they stayed until it was sure that they didn’t have any communicable diseases they could pass onto the vulnerable Sydney population.
Unsurprisingly, as medication was not as good as it is today, not everyone who went to the Quarantine Station made it out – and, it’s said that the ghosts of some of them haunt the grounds of the Quarantine Station even today.
Cue spooky music.
You can take ghost tours to visit the most haunted sites on the property – including the infamous Gravediggers Cottage (above) and the old showers (see what happened when we visited)
To extend your stay, book into the resort on the property. You can explore the beautiful grounds during the day and experience the solitude, and a little spookiness, at night.
5. Spot a Little Penguin
I know more people who have seen ghosts at Q Station than I know people who have actually seen one of the little penguins that make Manly their home but, apparently, there is a tiny group of penguins that nest here and that waddle back to their homes at sunset.
Being a penguin warden is actually a job you can apply for in Manly so it must be true!
The penguins are in Manly between May and February when they comes to nest.
Unlike some other places in Australia, there’s no organised visits or specific place to the see the penguins, you just have to be super lucky – and if you do see them, don’t disturb them and don’t use flash photography. See more here.
Seeing penguins is cool – but swimming with dolphins is even cooler – and you can do in in Port Stephens, a short drive from Sydney
6. Get a Burger at the Pirate Pub
Ahoy my hearties, The Hold offers great burgers and a nautical-themed bar.
One nice touch is that they offer a vegan version of every dish on the menu so, you don’t need to feel left out if you’re on a plant-based diet.
It’s a great place to stop while you’re exploring – especially on a very hot day, where the cool dark interior gives you a welcome break – or on a super cold one where it feels more cosy than some of Manly’s more cavernous pubs.
7. Seek out a Tiny Door
Back in 2018, 32 literary-themed tiny doors were stuck around Manly and other suburbs on Sydney’s North Shore.
Not all of them are left, but you’ll still find some along Marine Parade including the Lorax’s Door (below) and the Barn Door.
To find the full list of original doors and their locations, head to the Tiny Doors Northern Beaches website, but do bear in mind that a lot of them have disappeared (including the ones at Manly Library and Manly Art Gallery).
8. Or a Hidden One
The Cumberland Bar used to be famous for the fact that you entered it through a secret door behind a fridge – the fridge has gone, but that doesn’t make it any easier to find once you reach it’s address in a small deli at 17-19 Central Avenue, Manly.
And I’m not going to spoilt it!
Once you do make it inside, you’ll find what they call an underground speakeasy with a Spanish twist
They serve over 250 different whiskies but for a retro moment, don’t miss the pre-mixed Campari and Soda – or the lights made from the leftover bottles.
9. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Echidna
These spiky mammals look like hedgehogs on steroids – they’re much larger, their spikes are longer and they lay eggs rather than have babies, but they are adorable – and, Manly, particularly the area around North Head, is one place you might spot them.
There’s an echidna that lives around the grounds in Q Station that staff call Billy and I spotted this fellow snuffling around for ants by the Third Quarantine Cemetery in the nearby North Head Sanctuary.
North Head and Q Station is also home to fluffy animals called bandicoots so watch out for those too – they tend to come out at night.
10. Visit the Old Cemetery
The observant above you will have noticed that this was where I spotted Snuffly above and it’s an interesting place to spend half an hour even if you don’t see an echidna.
The Third Quarantine Cemetery is, as the name might suggest, the third place that people who died at the Quarantine Station were buried on the site – mostly from bubonic plague.
You can book an organised tour of the place, which I will do one day, although on this visit I just had to wonder around on my own.
However, a bit of reading afterwards threw up a poignant fact – most Christian graves are dug so they face east-west. At this cemetery though the graves face south toward the city that so many of those who rest here were trying to reach.
Apparently there were around 240 people buried in the graveyard but only around 68 markers remain.
If you’re interested in graveyards, this thesis on the cemetery makes for interesting reading.
There’s also a set of Gun Tunnels up here that you can also tour – that’s another one on my list and I’ll add it once I’ve done it – the link is the same as the graveyard tour above.
If you like visiting graveyards, have a look at our post on the fascinating, quirky, gravestones at Coober Pedy’s Boothill Cemetery.
11. Learn to Sculpt
While following the walkway that goes from the Third Quarantine Cemetery back to Manly, I came across a small sculpture studio – and wandering in, not only found artist Katherine Castillo Alferez working on something new, but that they also offer sculpture classes.
You can book a course, or just go for a one off session to see if you like it. See more here at their website.
If you don’t have an artistic bone in your body, but do like to look at sculpture, then also head around the back of the building where you’ll find a small display of giant sculptures.
This is the Manly Art Precinct and there’s a few artists here – most are only open Monday to Friday though.
12. Discover the Seven Manly Sins
24 Hours in Sydney are a tour company that love research and digging up unknown facts about a destination (hmmm, who else does that sound like?) – and, apparently their Manly tour even managed to surprise members of the local council who went on it.
It aims to tell you the darker tales of Manly from priests claiming to raise the dead to where the bodies are buried (literally).
The more of you that go on the tour the cheaper it becomes, so get a group together and book it via their website.
13. Hire a Clear Kayak
Manly is a city made for doing things on water – it’s one of the best places in Sydney to learn to surf, Shelley Beach is a calm bay in which you can snorkel. There’s a tiny water park with slides – and it’s long been known as a place to hire a kayak – and now they have Clear Kayaks too.
We first tried this in New Zealand – which is where the picture above was taken – and it’s amazing.
As well as floating around the beautiful above ground scenery, you get to see everything in the water below your kayak. The Manly version uses a slightly different type of clear kayak, but you get the picture – maybe that’s how you finally spot one of the little penguins!
14. Walk to Bondi
Manly is now the start (or the end depending which way you go) of the most epic walk in Sydney – the Bondi to Manly walk.
This walk between Sydney’s two most iconic beaches is 80km long – and so is probably going to take you 2-7 days to complete, but if you’re interested you’ll find the map of the route here.
It’s all on public land and mostly coastal so you’re guaranteed beautiful views. It’s suitable for most levels of fitness – so long as you gauge how far you can manage to walk each day, but unfortunately isn’t all accessible or dog friendly.
The exact start (or end) point is about halfway along Manly Beach outside the Manly Greenhouse bar.
Just double check the website before you leave (link also above) as parts of the route do occasionally close because of rock slides or fire risk.
15. Pay Homage to Duke Kahanamoku
A little north of Manly Beach is the suburb of Freshwater – and here, in a small park overlooking the sea, you’ll find a sculpture honouring Duke Kahanamoku – the Hawaiian swimmer who is said to be the father of modern surfing – and the man who popularised the sport to Australia.
It’s in Freshwater because when Duke came to Sydney he was staying in the suburb and it was where he first took his homemade surfboard into the Sydney waters in 1914 wowing the crowd in the process.
The park also contains the Surfer’s Walk of Fame which honours some of Australia’s best surfers through plaques on and alongside the pathway that leads to a clifftop seaview.
The easiest way to add a trip to the statue to your Manly trip is to jump on the 167 bus at Stand A by Manly Ferry Wharf, it drops you off a few steps away. Once you’re on the bus, the journey takes about 14 minutes.
If you’re feeling active, you can then walk back into Manly taking in the the Manly Wormhole on the way. If you’re not, head to the Harbord Diggers bar and restaurant for drink.
The Diggers were one of the original commissioners for the statue so, if you’re a surf fan, pop along and say thanks by supporting their bar!
16. Go Snorkelling
While Sydney is full of beautiful beaches and surrounded by blue sea, there’s not a huge number of places where it’s both calm – and interesting – to snorkel – Manly is one exception.
Shelley Beach is the best snorkeling spot – and, if you didn’t pack your snorkel – or just want to go with a guide (and a wetsuit) you can book a short snorkeling tour with Ecotreasures.
17. Spot the Secret Fishpond
I love in when you think your day is over and then you just stumble across something fascinating on the way back to the ferry – this little pond in a private house on one of the backstreets that takes you from toward Manly Ferry Terminal is just one of those things.
A sign outside the property explains that the pond contains over 100 fish – and where all the statues around it came from. One of them first arrived in Australia in 1880!
You’ll find it on Ashburner Street, between Dungowan Lane and Darley Road.
Do remember that it is in someone’s home.
18. Enjoy Pizza and a Pun
Pocket Pizza have a lot of fun naming their pizzas. The menu changes regularly, but as I type this you can order a Gordon Hamsey, a Prawnhub or a Hey Pesto.
As you might tell by the fact that this picture is of the outside, and not a slice of steaming pizza yumminess, I managed to go to Manly on a weekday – and they don’t open for lunch in the week.
To check opening hours and the menu click here. You’ll find them at 46 Pittwater Road.
19. Sit on the Big Shell
I did one of my days exploring Manly with Megan who runs a website and Instagram page that includes street art, sculptures and Big Things in Australia and as such she was on a quest to find this.
I was sceptical – I’ve been to Manly many, many times and I didn’t recall seeing a shell by the wharf – turns out I’d been looking at it from the wrong angle. What I thought was just a bench outside the Belgian Beer bar is actually a shell – who knew!!!
And, according to Megan’s site, it actually contains nozzles that used to emit a blue mist…. I’ve definitely not seen that, I’d have remembered it!!!
20. Drink Like a Local
There are a lot of pubs and bars in Sydney, but they actually brew their beer at the Four Pines Keller Door on the East Esplanade.
Settle in for a Kolsch and dinner, or, if you’re into craft beer, book a tour that takes in Four Pines and some of the other breweries on Sydney’s North Shore. Check it out here.
If gin is more your thing, then instead look out for products from the Manly Spirits Gin Distillery.
You can also visit the distillery or their bar which you’ll find in Brookvale. Find the location and opening hours of the bar and times for the tours here.
So there you have it, our guide to a fun day in Manly. Let me know if you find anything else strange that I should check out.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.