One of my absolute favorite towns in all of Australia is a small beach spot called Manly. While it’s technically a suburb of Sydney, it carries a unique vibe and has a history of its own. After living and working a short walk from the Manly harbor, I got to know the area like the back of my hand and grew to love it like my home town. Here to share everything I know about what to do in Manly, Australia I have created this complete guide so you can learn to love it like I do!
Because Manly is a ferry ride away from the CDB (downtown Sydney), it often gets missed by those just passing through or travelers on a tight time schedule. However, I recommend the area to anyone. Write it into your schedule as a half day, full day, or weekend stopover and enjoy the ferry to and from the big city. (In fact, the ferry from Manly into Sydney proper is arguably the best view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge!)
History of Manly:
“Seven miles from Sydney, A thousand miles from care.” is the slogan of Manly, dating back to 1788. It rings true n the sentiment of the locals still today. Just a short ferry ride from the big city, but the laid back vibes create an atmosphere of relaxation and forgetting your troubles.
When settlers first made the journey across the harbor to Manly, they found Aboriginal people working and playing along the shore. They took note of their muscles and wrote in their journals of how “manly” the locals were, thus giving it the name we still use today.
Fun fact: Manly is a beach of firsts! The first recorded body surfing, the first surfboat, boardriding, longboarding competition and life saving club started here.
Best way to explore it:
My personal favorite way to see any new area is by foot. Luckily, Manly is small enough that you can walk the entire town in less than an hour. The main road, connecting the harbor and the surf beach, and the busiest side road are both walking streets, so by foot really is the best way to see it all here!
If walking just really isn’t your thing, Manly Bike Tours & Hire offers rentals starting at $22AUD ($15USD) per hour.
Pro tip: There is a tourist information center just outside of the wharf entrance/exit. There, you can get a map of Manly and set up a free (remember to tip!) walking tour of the town!
What to do in Manly, Australia:
There are two beaches to choose from. (well, three if you’re willing to walk a bit-follow the walking track at the Northern end of Manly beach to get to Shelly Beach in the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve.) The Harbor beach (located on either side of the port where the ferry docks) has no waves and a netted area for families. A short walk to the other side of town (follow The Corso) is Manly Beach. This is the main beach area and is popular for surfers and kite boarders. It is much more windy here, but because the beach is longer, you are more likely to find an area away from other people.
Two things to remember:
1 The sun is intense so wear sunscreen and a hat to shade your skin.
2 When swimming, stay between the red & yellow flags. These are the safest places according to the lifeguards.
If you are looking for something more active than laying on the beach, strolling town is always a fun option. There are so many shops to pop into, restaurants to refuel at, and coffee shops to take a break.
There is a large, outdoor market along the Corso & Market St every weekend (weather permitting-which, it usually is) with a ton of handmade goods, clothing & jewelery booths and produce. It’s definitly worth a visit, if even just to window shop!
Where to eat:
There are so many restaurant options in this suburb. Everything from Asian to Aussie, Burgers to Kebabs, and high end dining to window Fish & Chips! A few of my favs are:
- Hugos for a romantic date night to watch the sunset over the hills with a glass of wine.
- Manly Thai Gourmet. A bit of a hidden spot, it offers good views of Manly Beach and well portioned, $10 lunch specials! A must for any traveler on a budget.
- PureWholeFoods for healthy, organic options. Great coffee & fresh squeezed juices here too!
- Pantry. My personal favorite, a single building on Manly beach (literally!) with fun cocktails and an enticing appitizer menu. Perfect for soaking up the joys of life if you’re solo or for ordering some share plates if you’re with a crew.
Best Coffee Shops:
My personal favorite topic when wondering what to do in Manly, Australia.
Naturally, I had to throw this category in here & Manly has so many great cafes to choose from!
- Three Beans hooks it up with the Tall Lattes. A good, corner spot to people watch.
- Barefoot Coffee Traders is a small cafe with big mugs, friendly staff, open walls!
- Orchard St. This fully organic shop has a lot more than just coffee. It offers a ton of other health drinks, tonics, essential oils and items for a healthy daily routine.
Desserts & Drinks:
- Steyne Hotel is a historic building with 5 bars, all with different vibes and live music on weekends.
- Ivanhoe Hotel boasts fun cocktails and a secluded outdoor seating area.
- Anita Gelato. You can’t miss this one as the line is always out the door…but for good reason. A nearly absurd number of flavors to choose from, each one as delightful as the next. It’s worth the wait.
- Manly Bakery doesn’t look like much, but it is the best price for a good selection of mouth watering baked goods.
If you are looking to take a bottle back to your place, there are several liquor stores (or bottleshops, as they call them) around town, but Liquorland is the cheapest option.
Hotels in Manly:
There are accomodation options for every budget here.
- Airbnb stays in Balgowlah Heights neighborhood are a 10 minute bus ride (or 40 minute, easy, scenic walk) into town.
- Boardrider Backpackers has cheaper dorm rooms and is in a fantastic location.
- Hotel Steyne is Manly’s most famous hotel and, although the cost runs high, the location is unbeatable, the history is fun and food, drink & live music is just outside your room.
Coles on the main street carries most of your grocery needs. There is a pharmacy and newstand located along the walking street (called The Corso). A library (with free wifi and outlets) sits on Market Place behind the Ivanhoe Hotel. Manly Wharf is where you will catch the ferry into downtown Sydney.