One of the most underrated walks in Sydney is the Parramatta River Walk. If you are looking for things to do in Sydney that are off the beaten track, then I definitely recommend this walk.
Backpacking through Sydney you will definitely be told to go out and do the Coogee to Bondi walk. It is stunning, walking along the sandstone cliffs past beaches and rockpools. It is the epitome of what every traveller thinks Sydney should be. Sure, you may have to battle the crowds who are constantly stopping to get that perfect Instagram photo. Or be pushed out of the way by the fitness fanatics who sprint the 6kms all throughout the day. As you walk past the beaches and the rockpools you will start to notice that there are barely any Australian accents, you will hear Irish, English, Scottish, Brazilian and German voices in abundance. Don’t get me wrong, I love this walk and do it often. However, Sydney has so much more to offer than just its coastline.
For a less crowded and still a beautiful walk, why not try the Parramatta river walk instead. You swap the blue ocean for the lush green river. The roaring of the waves for bird calls as they flit through the trees above you. Overbearing sun with no shade to fragrant gum trees lining the path. Most of all, you get rid of the crowds so that you can enjoy your walk, taking in your surroundings and experience a different part of Sydney.
None of the links in this post is sponsored, these are just my recommendations based on my own experiences
A Little History About the Parramatta River Walk
I am not going into great detail on the history of this walk, because I think one of the fun things to do is to read and see it as you walk. Also, I am no historian and I would probably get all the dates wrong. So here are just a few things to note.
The traditional custodians of this land were the Burramatta people who lived all along the river where they fished for oysters, fish and eels (eels creep me out). European settlement changed that for the Burramatta people bringing fighting and disease – if you know anything about Australia’s dark colonial past, you will know what happened to the Burramatta people. If you don’t know anything about the impact that European settlers had on the traditional peoples of this country, then I definitely suggest you do some research. Throughout the walk, you can see artworks that depict this impact and change on the traditional custodians of this land.
This is also the route that Governor Phillip took as he went in search of more fertile lands, ending up in Parramatta. Which became a separate farming settlement providing Sydney with food and supplies as it grew. As the European settlement spread out, colonial architecture started to dot the rover banks, including a Georgian manner that housed several governors, a female factory and an orphan school. If culture and history are your thing, check out these free cultural experiences in Sydney.
Where to Start the Parramatta River Walk
To start the Parramatta River Walk I suggest catching the river cat ferry from Circular Quay to Olympic Park. Technically it starts at Ryde Bridge but I like to start it at Olympic Park as its easier to get to.
Catching the river cat ferry is a tourist experience all by itself. As the river cat winds through the bay, you realise just how much water there is in Sydney, and how many waterfront mansions there are! If you aren’t in a rush you might jump off the ferry at Cockatoo Island for a morning coffee. After Cockatoo Island, the ferry heads under the Gladesville Bridge and past multiple marinas, if you are a boat enthusiast you will definitely get your fill on this ride. The river starts to narrow after this, just wide enough for a couple of ferries to pass one another as they glide through the relatively still waters. You won’t be getting seasick on this ride, even on the roughest of days.
Jump off at Olympic Park Wharf to start the walk. Or if you are enjoying your ferry ride so much, catch it the whole way and walk back from Parramatta.
Alternate Start and Route
If you don’t want to walk all the way to Parramatta or if the Parramatta ferry is closed then you can do a shorter walk (but just as beautiful) from Meadowbank to Olympic Park. Catch the ferry to Meadowbank wharf and start walking up the river towards Parramatta. When you reach the Silverwater Bridge, cross over and walk back down the river towards Olympic Park Wharf. The whole walk takes about 2 hours
The Walk Itself
Take a right as you come off the wharf. The walk is heavily signposted so you won’t miss it. For pretty much the whole walk you follow the river, crossing over it at different times as you like. Here is a link to a map of the walk if you need more information. However, I just started walking and followed all of the signposts and had no difficulties finding my way.
There is a coffee shop at the Armory Wharf if you are in dire need of caffeine and didn’t stop off at Cockatoo Island. Not to mention some really cool historical structures to look at. After the Armory is the Silverwater Bridge, cross here and walk along the other side of the bank for a while to get some different perspectives.
The other side of the river has more shade and some beautiful parks to walk through. You will see a lot of locals out for a stroll, maybe walking their dogs or kids on their training wheel bikes. I love how close to nature this walk is. The whole way you are surrounded by trees and birds, I saw fish jumping in the river and heard cicadas singing from the trees. It can be baffling to think that this is right in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world.
As you near Parramatta you have a few footbridges to cross before you reach the centre itself. The walk takes you right to the Parramatta ferry wharf if you are itching to get home. However, if you are hungry, I definitely recommend grabbing some food in Parramatta. This town centre is famous for its different cuisines, from Vietnamese to Lebanese, you can find it all. I personally love the pho at Pho Pasteur, the broth was so good I could have bathed in it.