Surfing at Manly Beach

Manly and Bondi are Australia’s most famous beaches, so when you’re in Sydney and pressed for time, which one do you visit?

I’m pitting the two mighty Sydney beaches against each other to help you decide. Categories I discuss in my blog Manly v Bondi are: travel, beaches, side trips, food and drink venues.

Although I now live on the northern beaches, I’ve spent as much time living in Bondi as I have in Manly – so I pride myself as an unofficial authority on these two Sydney hot spots.

Getting there

Bondi: From the Sydney CBD (central business district) you can catch a train (from Martin Place or Town Hall) to Bondi Junction then a bus down the hill to the famous sands of Bondi Beach. A pretty ordinary transport experience.

If driving, take note that there are only two ways in and out of Bondi (Bondi Rd and Old South Head Rd) and these roads are often choked. Parking at the beach is limited and if you are lucky enough to get a park on the beach front, it’s pretty exy.

The Manly Ferry is the most scenic and fun way to visit the Northern Beaches
The Manly Ferry

Manly: From Circular Quay (west of the Sydney Opera House), jump on a Manly Ferry for a half hour Sydney Harbour cruise to Manly. The trip takes you past the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Fort Denison Island (a historical fort in the heart of Sydney Harbour), as well as Taronga Zoo, Watson’s Bay and Balmoral. For the price of a ferry ticket (about $7.50 per adult), you not only travel to Manly, but get a fabulous harbour cruise to boot! Once at Manly, there is a short walk through a pedestrian mall (the Corso) to the beach.

It can be tedious if driving to Manly – first getting across (or under) the harbour and then along Military Rd, both are usually chock-a-block with traffic. Once at Manly, there is paid parking along the beach front as well as several council car parks, which give you the first 2 hours free.

Compare: really, there is nothing to compare. Manly wins this contest hands down!

Sun, surf, sand

Bondi: Home to the TV documentary Bondi Rescue, this beach comprises a large bay with flags marking swimming areas to the north and in the middle of the bay. The southern end of the beach tends to be quite rough but is a prime surfing spot.

A promenade skirts the length of the beach, as does a large grassy reserve which comprises a skatebowl. Bondi Icebergs Club ocean pool is located to the south of the beach, while the smaller public ocean pool is at the north end. Bondi gets really crowded on holidays, weekends, and any time the mercury rises above 25 degrees, so if you head to this eastern suburbs beach, be prepared to be sunbaking right next to someone else.

The promenade along Manly Beach
Manly Beach looking south

Manly: The only beach in New South Wales to be mentioned in TripAdvisor’s 2017 10 best beaches in Australia, Manly is also home to international surfing competitions. The long stretch of sand has three distinct swimming areas – to the south is Manly Beach, in the middle is North Steyne, and to the north is Queenscliff. Manly Beach to the south gets pretty crowded because it is the closest beach for those arriving by ferry. A pedestrian promenade runs the length of the beach however, and I would recommend taking a leisurely stroll further along the beach or, if you’ve brought a bike, skateboard or scooter, use your wheels (bikes can be taken on the ferry).

There is a grassy reserve along the length of the beach featuring playgrounds, water fountains, showers and picnic tables.

Compare: although they compare well in the beach category, how can you ignore the best beaches in Australia list?

Must-visit locations within walking distance

Bondi: The headland at the south end of Bondi Beach is the start of a 2km coastal walk to Tamarama and Bronte beaches. This is a fantastic walk and gives you a bird’s eye view of the Pacific and the waves crashing on the rocks far below. In October/November each year this route is home to the Sculptures by the Sea exhibition, an installation of over 100 eclectic sculptures from Australia and overseas artists.

Fairy Bower and Shelly Beach
Fairy Bower and Shelly Beach

Manly: Several side trips await you from Manly. From the south end of the beach, continue along the promenade to Fairy Bower and the pretty little cover of Shelly Beach. What makes this area truly magnificent is not apparent until you submerge yourself under water in the Cabbage Tree Bay aquatic reserve. With (usually) calm water, it is an underwater paradise so make sure you’ve packed some goggles to view all the fish.

From Manly Beach, head back along the Corso for breathtaking walks around Manly Harbour. To the right of the ferry wharf the path hugs the foreshore and provides magnificent views and pretty picnic and swimming spots. If you are there late at night, you may even witness some fairy penguins near the wharf. A short walk through the streets to the left of the wharf will bring you to Little Manly Beach which offers a tranquil beach setting with a café and facilities, plus a park that provides gorgeous views over the harbour.

From Queenscliff, you can take a walk along the lagoon, or if you’re keen for a climb, take the stairs over the headland to Freshwater Beach.

Compare: with at least three side trips in walking distance, Manly comes up trumps again!

Chow time

Both Bondi and Manly have a glut of restaurants, cafes, bistros and bars. However you’re more likely to get a meal and a drink with a view at Manly. And you don’t have to pay through the nose for it (although there are plenty of restaurants where you do). If you are on a tight budget, or have a large family to feed, check out wearemanly.com.au for daily specials. We often eat out using this website to find a 2 for 1 deal.

View at sunset from restuarants around Manly harbour
Sunset view from Manly harbourside restaurants

The ferry wharf concourse houses several restaurants and a pub overlooking the harbour where you can sit in or outdoors to enjoy a meal and a drink, while the beachfront at Manly is choked with restaurants. Cheaper eats can be bought from takeaways on the Corso and taken to one of the many picnic areas to eat (just watch out for the sea gulls). You are spoilt for choice for pubs and nightclubs at Manly, too. Three pubs are located on the Corso, while the 4 Pines brewery is opposite the wharf, plus there’s the wharf bar that I talked about before. As for night clubs, these are found in any of the major hotels and above restaurants along the beachfront.

Compare: Not surprisingly, Manly wins this section, too, because there is just so much choice!

10 thoughts on “Manly v Bondi”

  1. Hi Diane. I heard you on James Valentine too and that morning had seen a group snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Reserve on my walk to Shelley. So after hearing you describe how clear the water was and the amount of sea life there my FOMO got me down there with snorkel and googles at 4 pm and I went in from Shelley Beach out to the small waves on the right near the point. Saw heaps of fish and the water was clear and warm. Loved it!!! So thank you for the prod.

    1. You’re very welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Please share my blog with other like-minded people. Even people who live on the peninsula are often unaware or need reminding of what a fabulous place we have here.

  2. Hello Diane, I love you informative site and articles. My wife and I are planning an Australian vacation or holiday for the May 2019, We will be in Sydney the second week. We would love to visit and snorkel Cabbage Tree Bay while there. Can you tell me what the water temperature averages at that time, will a wetsuit be needed? Thanks.

    1. That depends on what temperatures you are used to. I tend to wear a wetsuit because I get really cold, but plenty of others don’t. However, it’s always a pity to leave the water early because you’re cold. In May the water is still generally tepid, low 20s, unless there has been a lot of inclement weather about. Glad you like the site.

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