Climb Sydney Bridge for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Adventure

R. C. Staab Avatar

Here’s one fact no one mentions about climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge: It took longer (10 years) for BridgeClimb Founder Paul Cave to get approval from government officials than it took to construct (8 years) the world’s largest steel arch bridge. Having worked in government for more than a dozen years, when I heard about BridgeClimb Sydney in Australia I imagined a silly tourism experience with visitors on the roof of a pylon stepping 10 feet out on the bridge superstructure. That’s not the case. This is the real deal.

Here’s a guide to a climb experience like no other. It’s a must-do when visiting Sydney.

Choosing the Right Climb

The first step in experiencing the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is booking the climb. All the climbs cost upward of $200 per person so there’s no substantial cost differential among the climbs.

The most popular climb is the Summit – a three-hour climb with a group of 14 people max. Leaving from The BridgeClimb office or Climb Base in The Rocks neighborhood of Sydney, climbers spend most of their time on top of the highest arch of the bridge, walking to the summit, crossing over to the other side and returning back to the office. Following the same path, the Burrawa climb offers Indigenous history commentary and music and includes a $20 donation to the non-profit community organization, Tribal Warrior.

Although the entire experience from entry into the BridgeClimb Base Camp to exit takes three hours, climbers are only outside on the bridge for about two hours.

Climbers on the Ultimate Summit cross the entire length of the bridge. They spend the same amount of time on top of the bridge, but more time going through the superstructure under the arch. It takes half an hour longer than the Summit. This is designed for people who have done the Summit tour previously or for those focused on bragging rights to say they crossed the entire bridge.

Finally, there’s The Summit Insider. Climbers spent most of the time walking along the lower arch of the bridge, emerging to the summit for a few minutes. It’s a two-and-half-hour journey, mostly likely offered for those uncomfortable with the idea of being on top of the upper arch. Some people with a fear of heights choose this option.

Photos of celebrities on the bridge from a display at Base Camp. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Choosing the Best Time

Groups leave mostly every hour from 8 am until evening. Depending on the time of the year – remembering the seasons are flipped in the Southern Hemisphere – there are sunrise/dawn, daytime, twilight and night climb options. For our recent trip in April 2024, we booked a twilight tour which meant arriving at the Base Camp at 3 pm, climbing the bridge as the sun set and then returning as the lights of the city buildings glistened in the distance at 6 pm when it was almost totally dark. Afterward, we ate dinner in The Rocks neighborhood where the Base Camp is located.

Most tours leave regardless of the weather. Our trip left with an 80% chance of light rain. (more on that later). There are cancellation fees depending on when you cancel or re-schedule. Be sure to study the times of sunrise and sunset before booking the trip.

The Base Camp in The Rocks in Sydney Astralia
BridgeClimb office or Base Camp in The Rocks. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Preparing at Base Camp

The BridgeClimb operators are incredibly serious and exacting about their policies. Climbers have to fill out and sign numerous documents and waivers.

Before even getting to suit up in BridgeClimb gear, every person will receive a breathalyzer test. If the reading is .05 or higher, participants are not allowed the climb. People 75 years or older will need a Certificate of Fitness signed by their doctors. Likewise, women less than 24 weeks pregnant also need a Certificate of Fitness. Women over 24 weeks pregnant cannot climb.

The guide asks each person when they last had food. They don’t want climbers fainting from hunger. The guide inquires, “Does anyone need anything to eat before we go?” They will ask about medications. They will inspect your shoes and suggest changing them out if they are open-toed or leather-sole. It’s best to wear running, sport or hiking shoes.

Before suiting up, every person will be given a locker key for their clothes. No wallets, phones, cameras, jewelry, hair clips and loose objects are allowed. No exceptions.  A metal detector will ensure climbers don’t try to fool the guide. The metal key goes around the neck and inside the suit. Everything is secured.

SheBuysTravel Tip: There is an additional cost for photos that guides take while on the trip. It’s well worth a few extra dollars. Order the photos when booking the trip.

Ensure you are in a climber's "suit" before you start the Sydney Australia Bridge Climb.
Climbers in their “suits” heading up to start the journey. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Suiting Up

After checking in at Base Camp, climbers are fitted with a BridgeClimb suit – a jumpsuit of sorts that goes over clothes and shoes. At this point, you will be asked repeatedly if you need to use the restroom before all the gear is added. There are no bathroom breaks on the bridge.

The jumpsuit is designed with a series of clips that attach securely to a safety harness. Climbers will also be given a headset and radio – also attached to the suit which is how they will communicate with their guide during the trip. A BridgeClimb baseball cap and a rain poncho will be part of the required apparel.

Finally, there’s one last “step” before heading out of Base Camp.  Every person will be required to practice climbing up a straight ladder to a platform, as well as attaching and moving with the tether line that securely connects the suit to a metal rail. That rail runs the entire length of the climb. Once attached at the beginning of the walk, the strap stays on for two hours until the exit.

There’s no turning back.

The first part of the Sydney Australia Bridge climb begins on a level walkway under and parallel to the main roadway of the bridge and continues straight to the bridge’s southern Pylon.
For all climbers, the first part of the climb begins on a level walkway under and parallel to the main roadway of the bridge (at the right just above yellow brick supports). It continues straight to the bridge’s southern Pylon (in the middle of the photo). Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Heading Out

First thing is first. Line up in a row. The order of the group will remain the same for the next two hours. Like choosing a seat on a roller coaster, first or last place offers the best views without having a person on each side.  Who wants to constantly look around someone on both sides for the incredible view?

One by one, each person in the group connects the suit to the rail. Off everyone goes through the tunnel from the Base Camp to the first outdoor section of the bridge. Suddenly, it’s as if you are walking into a giant erector set. The bridge is everywhere around you.

Above is the main roadway of the bridge. The roar of the cars and the trains is deafening. It never stops. Below is the ground clearly visible through the bridge supports. It’s a long way to the grass and cement below.

The group walks slowly along two wooden planks sitting on top of a very narrow metal walkway. Even though the walkway is about three feet wide, sometimes people have to turn sideways to get past bridge supports. All the while, climbers are pulling the tether of their suits through the metal rail which can get stuck at the rail joints. The group halts and stops, halts and stops.  

There’s something about being attached to a bridge that is unnerving. For some this is the most harrowing section of the walk.

The Pylon and the beginning of the arch towards the summit of the Sydney Australia Bridge climb.
The Pylon and the beginning of the arch towards the summit. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Scale the Ladders

Next is a climb straight up four sets of ladders. This is exactly what the group has practiced at Base Camp, but that was with only one set of stairs. Like the walkway, there’s room for bodies of every size, but it can be claustrophobic. It’s like climbing up inside a narrow, caged elevator shaft. There are staff at each level to make sure you’re safe.

For the first two flights, the car noises increase. At one point, each person is eye to eye with vehicular traffic. It seems like the only thing between you and the cars is a long metal grid through which you can almost reach out to touch the speeding cars. But it’s you and the stairs and the rail and the person above in the distance. The ascent up the ladders takes at least 10 minutes, maybe more for those who are unsteady.

For most people, this is the most strenuous part of the trip – four sets of ladders with a pause between each set. It takes more than a half hour for all of the group to climb and reach the top of the last ladder.

Then you emerge.

The Sydney Australia bridge's top arch.
Approximate view as climbers exit the ladders by the Pylon and emerge on the bridge’s top arch. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

The View at the End

One reason to take the bridge climb is for the satisfaction of knowing you did it. That comes later. Leaving the ladder at the Pylon, here are the views of Sydney you’ve imagined. Ferries are streaming in the harbor past the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens offer a flush of green color and the buildings of the city are like vultures towering over Sydney’s Circular Quay.

Once all climbers have caught their breath, they exhale the fresh air, feel the wind from the ocean and get a burst of energy.

Walk along the arch of the Sydney Australia bridge toward the summit.
Walking along the arch toward the summit. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Onward to the Summit!

In the distance, people in other groups are ahead. No one has turned back, or at least been allowed to turn back.

Everyone cautiously starts up the walkway. Surprisingly, it’s easier and not as strenuous as one imagines. The steps are well spaced so it’s more like a gradual walk up a hill than climbing the stairs of an office building. There are rails on each side to place each hand. There’s no imperative to hold on to maintain balance or momentum. The width of the walkway has widened to accommodate two people side-by-side. This comes in handy for the climb leader who walks back and forth among the group. The leader provides a running commentary about the iconic structure and sights in the distance. The two-way radio allows visitors to chime in with questions.

A Rain Cloud in the Distance

As the group walks toward the summit, clouds in the distance are showering part of the city. Everyone is wearing a baseball cap, still attached to the suit. Now it’s time to pull out the poncho from a pouch that is attached tightly to the waist. The problem is the pouch is behind each person, zippered in tightly and hard to grasp with the suit, the harness, the tether and the radio. The climb leader and other climbers help each other, and everyone is quickly wrapped in blowing nylon ponchos.

When the climb leader is asked, “What happens if it continues to rain?,” she answers, “Keep walking.”

After a brief, light shower, the sky clears for the rest of the walk.

The Aboriginal and Australian flags on the Sydney Australia Bridge's summit
The bridge’s summit with the Aboriginal and Australian flags. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Celebrating the Summit

With frequent stops, the group has plenty of time to take in the views. In no time, everyone reaches the summit as the Aboriginal and Australian flags flap above. There’s a celebratory group photo and an opportunity to take individual photos by a staff member photographer. This is a reminder to order photos in advance. No cameras or phones are permitted.

At the top, the group crosses over a short bridge to the western side of the bridge for views of the now brightly lit Luna Park at the marina on the north end of the bridge, the Sydney Olympic Park and the Blue Mountains in the distance.

The group turns and heads back to the Base Camp along the western edge of the bridge. It’s all downhill from here.

Author and his wife on the bridge at twilight. Note tether attached to the bridge from suit near “BridgeClimb Sydney” trademark. Photo courtesy: BridgeClimb

Stopping for a Photo

Having booked the twilight tour, we had daylight views heading up to the summit and twilight views heading down of the Central Business District (CBD). This is a reminder to carefully consider the time of day you choose and check out sunrise and sunset charts.

The view from The Rocks at the base of the Sydney Australia bridge.
The view from The Rocks at the base of the bridge. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Returning to Base Camp

The downslope of the bridge is easier to walk as you head closer and closer to the lights of the city. Once near the Pylon, the four flights of ladders await.

As the group is now on the western side of the bridge, descending the ladder feels like you are within arm’s reach of cars at eye level with the metro trains on the other side. What a commotion! The sound of trains crossing the bridge hits one ear while car noise invades the other.

At the bottom of the ladder, the group transitions to the straight walkway that connects the Pylon to the base camp.

Finally, there’s a rush to unhook all the gear and change into street clothes. Climbers receive a Certificate of Achievement for your bucket list, prints of photos from the trip and the ability to download them later. They also have a great story to tell of their unforgettable experience to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Entrance to the Pylon Lookout and Museum from the Sydney Australia Bridge.
Entrance to the Pylon Lookout and Museum. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Climb to the Pylon Lookout

If climbers want to see part of what they experience on the bridge, they can climb 200 steps to the Pylon Lookout for 360-degree views and visit the museum about the bridge. At the Lookout, a glass view-finder at the observation area will help identify landmarks and locate Sydney’s suburbs. The displays throughout the museum explore the long history of building the Harbour Bridge, the challenges of working with the New South Wales (NSW) government and the engineering challenges that a steel arch presented. Discover why locals refer to the bridge as the coathanger.

There’s a 50% discount off entry to the Pylon Lookout & Museum. Check out the bridge climb website for special offers. The lookout and museum is open daily, with varying hours on weekdays and weekends.

Walkway across Sydney Australia Bridge.
Walkway across Sydney Bridge. Photo credit: R.C Staab

Transverse the Bridge at Car Level

Not far from the Base Camp, there’s a series of steps to a walkway across the bridge that connects The Rocks neighborhood to the Milsons Point neighborhood on the other side. At Milson Point, there’s a transit stop with a quick connection to Circular Quay for those who want to walk one way and take a 6-minute train ride back.

R.C. Staab is a New York-based author, playwright, musical theater writer and lyricist. His latest book, New York City Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for New York City’s Hidden Treasures, was published in Spring 2023. His first book 100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore Before You Die was published in 2020 and is now in its second printing. In 2021, he walked the entire 139-mile coastline of the Jersey Shore from Sandy Hook to Cape May the book, generating more than 200,000 views on social media. He frequently contributes to New Jersey Monthly magazine and online travel publications. He is long-time member of the Society of American Travel Writers having traveled to 49 of the 50 US States and more than 60 countries. He specializes in cultural tourism, adventure travel and historical sites. His off-Broadway musicals and plays have been produced in New York, San Francisco, England and the Midwest. He is a two-time nominee for England’s Best New Song competition. He lives in New York City with his wife, Valari, and his dog, Skye.
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