Travels on the Run: Sydney

It can cost more than $300 to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where they harness you up and take you on a hair-raising ascent to the top of the landmark’s 440-foot steel arch. Plus, you’re not even allowed a camera to capture the breathtaking panorama far below.

There’s a better way to experience the bridge — for free. A run!

I start from George Street in The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood. After climbing a staircase that connects with the bridge’s on-ramp, I’m soon gliding along a pedestrian walkway high above the water, refreshed by the breeze as I take in the view of teensy sailboats skimming across the indigo water, Sydney’s sparkly, high-rise skyline, and the iconic Opera House standing out like a brilliant white pearl.

After a mile or so, the bridge drops me in Kirribilli, North Sydney, where I loop down to a little park beneath the bridge’s ramparts. There, a group works out with Sydney Harbour as a backdrop in what’s got to be one of the world’s finest exercise venues.

I make my way east through tony, tree-shaded streets to Lady Gowrie Lookout. Away from the famous panorama, I take a moment to absorb the twittering birds and quiet waters lapping against a tiny outcrop before heading back into the urban bustle.

Run Stats

Mileage: 3.9 miles (6.3 km) round trip
Best time: Sunrise or sunset is spectacular, though you won’t go wrong any time of day

Start: George Street, The Rocks neighborhood
End: The Rocks neighborhood, with a recommended extension to the Sydney Opera House

The Route 

– To get to bridge level from The Rocks, find a sign along George Street (just south of Argyle) pointing toward a flight of stairs. This will lead you to a pedestrian walkway along the bridge’s on-ramp.

– Once you’re on the walkway, follow it about a mile to the other side of the bridge. When you’re over land again, take the stairs leading down off the bridge.

– Run to the water’s edge via Broughton Street and Olympic Drive; I highly recommend standing on the Jeffrey Street wharf water taxi platform to take in the spectacular cross-harbor view of the Sydney skyline.

– Make your way east along the water’s edge until you can’t go any farther (about a tenth of a mile), then cut up a staircase to Kirribilli Avenue. Turn right and make your way to the easternmost end of the street. You’ll pass the elegant Kirribilli House, one of two official prime ministerial residences, and see the sign for Lady Gowrie Lookout and a flight of stairs leading down to the water.

– Return to the bridge via Carabella Street, running past posh houses and buzzing cafés and restaurants.

– Retrace your steps back to The Rocks.

Optional Extension

– Once you’ve run back across the bridge to The Rocks, extend your run by continuing on the pedestrian walkway along the Cahill Expressway, following signs to the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden.

– Climb down some stairs, then follow pathways inside the botanic garden down to the waterfront, ending at the Opera House. Here, a low wall overlooking the bay and the bridge is hands-down one of the best après-run stretching spots on the planet.

Barbara A. Noe is senior editor of National Geographic Travel Books.