As Sydney is built around a narrow harbour, it is no surprise to find that there are many ferry services. Most are operated by a government agency called Sydney Ferries. Sydney Ferries operates approximately 175,000 services, transporting more than 14 million people across Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River each year.
Circular Quay, the hub of the Sydney Ferries network, is located in Sydney Cove between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The extensive network connects 39 destinations and spans approximately 37 kilometres from Parramatta in Sydney’s west, Manly in the north and Watsons Bay in the east. Sydney Ferries' fleet consists of 28 vessels (all of which are wheelchair accessible), which travel around 1.3 million kilometres per year.
Sydney Ferries enables visitors to experience an array of spectacular destinations and explore Sydney’s hidden treasures, which are scattered along Sydney Harbour’s foreshores. This includes destinations like Balmain, Double Bay, Manly, Parramatta, Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour and Cockatoo Island
Sydney Ferries can trace its roots as far back as the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove. In 1789 the first ferry service was established between Sydney Cove and the farming settlement of Parramatta. The first ferry, officially named the Rose Hill Packet (otherwise known as ‘The Lump’), was crafted by convicts and powered by sails and oars. Parramatta was the furthest navigable point inland and trips typically took up to a week to complete. As time progressed, a series of rowboat ferrymen set up small operations to transport people from either side of Sydney Harbour.
In 1861, Sydney welcomed the establishment of the North Shore Ferry Company, which operated the very first commercial ferry service across Sydney Harbour. Less than 1,000 people at the time were residing on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour. After a string of mergers, most of the ferry services were integrated into a new organisation called Sydney Ferries Limited in 1899.
Sydney Ferries Limited became the world’s largest ferry operator shortly after the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened on 19 March 1932. The opening of the bridge, however, saw ferry travel drop from 30 million passengers a year to 13 million passengers a year. With the private proprietors facing financial ruin, the NSW Government intervened and agreed to take over Sydney Ferries Limited in 1951 to keep the services afloat.
Ferry tickets can be purchased from Sydney Ferries ticket outlets at Circular Quay and Manly, ticket vending machines at Circular Quay or from a cashier on board most Sydney Ferry services. A return ticket costs the same as two single tickets. The Day Tripper ticket gives you unlimited travel on all regular Sydney Ferries, Sydney Buses and CityRail services within the Sydney inner suburban area. Your ticket is valid until 4.00am the next day. This currently costs A$18.20 for an adult and A$9.00 for a child.