City of Cities, Sydney. In the middle of New South Wales’ coast awaits a seductive mix of shiny skyscrapers and sun-drenched sandy beaches. Sydney is bombastic and stylish. Confident and innovative. With its tranquil parks and lush penthouses, the city has retained a connection to nature. One can’t deny that Sydney has it all. Australia’s self-proclaimed capital is proof that you don’t have to be born a star to become one. The city has gone from rugged swampland to urban jungle. But the road to success hasn’t been beautiful. In 1788, the British Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet to turn the country into a penal colony. With him he had British prisoners to realize the vision. And the captain would not let the indigenous people stop him. The Aboriginals who had lived in Australia for thousands of years were pushed away, used and murdered for this purpose. This brutal treatment was just the beginning of a painful story.
Today, Greater Sydney have about five million inhabitants and covers an area as large as London, and the majority live in one of the suburbs. The Centre is relatively small and can by the enthusiast be discovered on foot. For many, Sydney offers the first taste of Australia. The first glimpse is obtained from the seat of the aeroplane when going in for landing. This takes expectations soaring high. It is hard to beat the view of the glittering port of Port Jackson at Parramatta River estuary. The elegance of the Opera House and the perfect curvature of the Harbour Bridge. And not to forget, the cream-coloured sandy beaches in the east. There are sophisticated wine bars, stylish restaurants and wonderful views. The suburbs create a dynamic patchwork of cultures, ethnicities and lifestyles. The city is a melting pot of diversity and constantly attracts new residents and envious visitors.
After several years of bitter rivalries between Melbourne and Sydney about which city was the greatest, best and most beautiful, Canberra was officially elected to become the Australian capital. But this did not put an end to the competition between the two cities. Some prefer this, some prefer that. It seems, however, that Sydney has a big advantage, and that is the weather. The sun is almost always shining. Sydney lifestyle is characterized by the favourable climate and a large part of everyone’s leisure time is rightly spent outdoors. At one of the city’s outdoor cafés, at a beach or in a park. There are many who stay behind. Those who can’t bring themselves to leave Sydney after a visit. And that is perfectly understandable. It is easy to fall for the city’s charm, the tempting weather and the beautiful surroundings. One can’t deny that Sydney is a true world metropolis in the east.
Sights and experiences
Overview of areas
There are split opinions about what counts as Greater Sydney. A common one is the one that counts the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley in the west, Botany Bay and Wollongong in the south, to Pittwater in the north. In the heart of the city centre lies Port Jackson. The water divides the city and the districts are linked by the Harbour Bridge and a tunnel. Sydney City, North Sydney and East Sydney are among the more visited areas.
Areas being counted as Sydney City are the CBD (Central Business District), Paddington, Darlinghurst, Buzzy Hills, Glebe, Newtown, Balmain and Leichhardt. Here you will find many famous landmarks such as the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay. The areas just outside the CBD are very attractive being a little quieter and having many nice and hip areas with cosy restaurants, vintage shops and cool cafes.
North Sydney is known for its beautiful beaches and its proximity to nature. The area lies north from the CBD, just across Port Jackson. Get across the Harbour Bridge and you’re there. Some of the first sights to meet you are the amusement park Luna Park (wotif.com/things-to-do/luna-park-sydney-unlimited-rides-pass.a456428.activity-details) and Taronga Zoo. In the south-eastern part lies Manly which is easily reached by ferry from Circular Quay. Ku-Ring Gai Chase National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au) is located in the north and it is full of Aboriginal history. It has many hiking trails and beautiful vantage points. Try to paddle among mangrove trees with the help of local guides among Sydney’s unique wildlife (wotif.com/things-to-do/sydney-to-ku-ring-gai-wildlife-adventure-tour.a492579.activity-details).
East Sydney is incredibly popular. On the coast you will find iconic beach-front areas such as Bondi, Coogee, Tamarama, Watsons Bay and Bronte. Here, the sea and the beach are what attracts people, but going inland for just a short distance will provide you with great shopping and nightlife.
Areas being counted as South Sydney are areas south of Coogee like Maroubra and Malabar. A little further south lies Cronulla and several suburbs bordering the Royal National Park. The southern parts are a little quieter and have access to lovely beaches. Especially appreciated is Cronulla Beach.
In Western Sydney lies Parramatta, to and from here you can travel by ferry to Circular Quay. Parramatta has old government buildings, a nice park and a nature reserve. Harris Park and Rosehill are also located here. Western Sydney borders the Blue Mountains which is a popular day trip (wotif.com/things-to-do/jenolan-caves-blue-mountains-day-tour.a228630.activity-details) .
Discover and explore
Taronga Zoo (wotif.com/things-to-do/taronga-zoo-tickets-general-admission.a545412.activity-details) is located at Bradleys Head Road. A short journey by ferry from Circular Quay or via rocket ferry hop-on hop-off between Circular Quay, Watsons Bay and Darling Harbour takes you to Taronga Zoo (wotif.com/things-to-do/taronga-zoo-ticket-with-hop-on-hop-off-explorer-cruise.a188986.activity-details). At Taronga Zoo, you have a beautiful view of the Sydney skyline. The zoo has 4,000 animal species spread out across 28 hectares of land. Koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and more unique animals can also be found at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour (wotif.com/things-to-do/wild-life-sydney-zoo-tickets.a171985.activity-details).
One of the most photogenic trails around Sydney is Bondi to Coogee Walk (sydneycoastwalks.com.au/bondi-to-coogee-walk). The trail follows the coast, is six kilometres long and takes you through the eastern suburbs. There are plenty of benches to rest on. And the view is far from moderate so you may want to bring the camera.
In the southern part of Sydney is the Royal National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/royal-national-park). The park is located along the sea and has a beautiful coastal landscape. Getting here from the city centre takes only an hour and it is like stepping into another world. Try your legs along various hiking trails. Afterwards, relax on one of several nice beaches. The National Park is good for biking, or why not bring a picnic.
A trip to Bondi Beach is synonymous with a Sydney visit. The wide sandy beach has made a name for itself throughout history and is a well-visited destination. If you believe Bondi is a bit too touristy for you, there are many more beaches to try out. For example, go south to Bronte Beach or go north and you will find Palm Beach located along a narrow peninsula. Or make it easy, take a ferry to Manly. Ferry transport is one of the best ways to see the city, they depart from Circular Quay. There are several beaches to choose from. Shelly Beach is a smaller alternative. Next, visit the green area North Head Sanctuary. From Manly, you can also go to Spit Bridge. Follow the ten-kilometre long hiking trail that runs along the water (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/manly-scenic-walkway).
Art and culture
Art Gallery Art Gallery of New South Wales (artgallery.nsw.gov.au) is located on Art Gallery Road right next to the botanical gardens. The gallery has both Australian and international art. Exhibitions are constantly shifting and most of them are free of charge. For more contemporary art and modern art, you can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (mca.com.au) at 140 George Street. They have, among other things, a large collection of modern Aboriginal art, free admission. If you are interested in marine history and want to experience what it’s like to be in a submarine, visit the family-friendly Australian National Maritime Museum at 2 Murray Street (wotif.com/things-to-do/australian-national-maritime-museum-tickets.a370398.activity-details).
History and parks
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Locally, it is called the Coat Hanger, because of its arc-like shape. The bridge links the southern and northern part of Sydney and is an important traffic route (not for free). Crossing the bridge on foot is free. But if you want to get a different perspective, you can climb it. Bridge Climb is a company that takes you to the top, 134 meters up (wotif.com/things-to-do/bridgeclimb-experience-at-sydney-harbour-bridge.a188962.activity-details). This might be the coolest way to see the city. However, the activity is quite expensive.
The oldest part of the city is called The Rocks. Here, settlements were established after the First Fleet landed. At that time, conditions were miserable which quickly transformed the area into slum. The Rocks have been refurbished and now compliment the cityscape with its colonial history, its narrow alleys and old pubs. The slums are long gone, and it is now one of the cosiest quarters in the city.
Sport, entertainment and events
Sydney Opera House (wotif.com/things-to-do/opera-performance-at-the-sydney-opera-house.a297766.activity-details) is synonymous with the city, and a visit here is a must. The Opera House has an enviable location at the port near the botanical garden. Under the white shell-shaped roof, a variety of performances are held all year round. Operas can be costly, but if you are lucky you can get your hands on some last-minute tickets. There is a lot more than opera. Many concerts are held in the premises that don’t have to cost a fortune. Or you can try a tour of the iconic Opera House and finish with a meal overlooking the harbour and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (wotif.com/things-to-do/sydney-opera-house-tour-tasting-plate-for-two.a189088.activity-detail).
Various festivals are arranged in the city all year round. Since 1984, the LGBTQ-friendly festival of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (mardigras.org.au) have been arranged. In recent years, it has been held in March and the festival runs for several days. It all culminates with the parade followed by a gigantic party with extra everything. The festival is immensely popular and attracts people from all over the world.
The biggest party of the year, however, will be on New Year’s Eve (sydneynewyearseve.com). Sydney is well known for its lavish firework shows in the harbour, a most crackling colourful experience for the whole family. From the Harbour Bridge, fireworks will explode to the tune of festive music. It’s a spectacular display of pyrotechnics that gets the rest of the world to glance at Sydney with rightful envy.
There are several massive shopping malls within the city centre. Pitt Street and George Street are two store-dense streets to visit. Queen Victoria Building, also called QVB (qvb.com.au) is the city’s grandest mall. The building is grandiose with a large glass dome in the middle and it was built in the 1890s. QVB takes up a whole block at George Street. Pitt Street Mall is located right in the city at Pitt Street. Here are plenty of shops and malls to visit. For an unusual shopping experience, you can take the ferry Shopper-Hopper to one of Sydney’s largest outlet at Birkenhead Point (wotif.com/things-to-do/sydney-harbour-shopper-hopper.a503627.activity-details).
Given the size of the city, it might not come as a surprising that the quality of the night life is amazing. You can find everything from simpler lunches to creative drinks and amazing dinners. No matter where you are, you are never far from a memorable place to eat. For example, you find a Malaysian food menu that is kind on your budget at Mamak (mamak.com.au) at 15 Goulburn Street. Or buy a pie of Harry’s Cafe de Wheels at Brougham Street or Italian street food at Friggitoria at 12 Bayswater Road. Colourful dishes are served at the Instagram-favourite Concrete Jungle Cafe (concretejunglecafe.com), a super hip but slightly more expensive place at 58 Kensington Street. For a cheap night out, head to King’s Cross. This block has long been infamous for prostitution but there are several pubs here that do not cost a fortune and it is a popular hangout among young people and backpackers.
Studies and work
There are several universities to choose from in Sydney. The University of Sydney (sydney.edu.au) is the oldest university in Australia and was founded in 1850. It is one of the largest in the country and is prominent in research. They have, among other things, courses in art, humanities, biomedicine and sociology. Other universities are Western Sydney University (westernsydney.edu.au), University of New South Wales (unsw.edu.au) and the University of Technology Sydney (uts.edu.au).
Good to know
In the City there are two helpful Visitor Information Centres. First, Sydney Visitor Centre, which is located at 33 Wheat Road in Darling Harbour. They are open daily between 09:30 and 17:30. The second one is in The Rocks on the corner of Playfair and Argyle Street. For discounted activities, tickets and accommodation in Sydney you can visit Wotif’s website (wotif.com/discover/australia/new-south-wales/sydney.d178312).
Warnings and preparations
If you are planning to visit several museums and try some activities, you can save money by purchasing a tourist card. You pay a fixed sum that allows you entry on several places in the city. There are a few different variants to consider when choosing what you want to do and see. With a iVenture Card (iventurecard.com/de/sydney), you can choose for how many days you want to use the card and to which attractions. There are over 30 attractions to choose from.
It may also be worth considering what time of year you want to visit the city. The summer months of December to February are peak season, meaning lots of tourists. This thanks to the weather being at its best, with heat and lots of sunshine. It is a bit quieter in September-November and March-May. In May-September it is winter, and it can be chilly and windy.
Trains, buses, trams and ferries are operated by Transport NSW (transportnsw.info). Visit the website and use the Travel planner for an overview. If you intend to frequently travel with public transport, it is worth getting an Opal card. It is a card you charge with money which then can be used on all means of public transport. The card has a maximum limit for every day and week, and after that, the trips will be free of charge. Read more on Transport NSW’s website.
In Sydney, you don’t have to look far to find somewhere to sleep for the night. However, it can be difficult to find affordable accommodation, especially if you want to stay in a busy area. But you do get what you pay for. This is especially true for hostels. However, in order to experience less touristy parts of the city, try accommodation away from the city centre.
There are lots of hostels in the city. An area full of backpackers is Kings Cross. Here the hostels are a bit cheaper, such as backpackers HQ (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Backpackers_HQ.htm) at 174 Victoria Street. They offer free breakfast and free Wi-Fi. Some major Hostel are Base (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Base_Backpackers_Hostel_Sydney.htm) at 477 Kent Street, Wake Up! (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Wake_Up_Sydney_Central.htm) at 509 Pitt Street and Bounce (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Bounce_Sydney.htm) located next to the central station at 28 Chalmers Street. In addition to these, there are several YHA (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Sydney_Pittwater_YHA.htm) around the city.
You can camp in a tent at Cockatoo Island, a short journey by ferry from Circular Quay. Try glamping camping and stay in a nicer tent. Everything is ready when you show up and besides sleeping necessities there are sun chairs, a cooler box and lamp. Otherwise, renting a budget tent or a simple camping site might be equally good. If you need access to more comfortable accommodation, there is a great deal to choose from here (hotelscombined.com/Place/Cockatoo_Island.htm).
To the east, it is mainly Bondi and Coogee that attract visitors. Near the beach are Bondi backpackers (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Bondi_Backpackers.htm) at 110 Campbell Parade. The Hostel lie at a crawling distance from Bondi Beach and is fresh and clean. Glenferrie Lodge has a fantastic location on the north side of Harbour Bridge at Kirribilli at 12 Carrabella Street. The House is old but has been renovated. A room for two costs from 149 dollars per night. (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Glenferrie_Lodge.htm). At Manly Beach, you can stay at Manly Bunkhouse, at 35 Pine Street (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Manly_Bunkhouse.htm). It is a hostel without disturbing parties every night.
A Saturday in Sydney City
07:00 – Morning stretch
Get ready to wake up to the sound of the sea and the warmth of the sun. Put your running shoes on, grab a water bottle and head out. To avoid the crowds, the sooner you get out, the better. Follow the popular coastal hiking trail between Bondi and Coogee. Start in north or south, it is your pick. If you don’t want to do the whole 6 km, you can stop in Bronte. If you want to rest, there are park benches to sit down on.
10:00 – A well-deserved weekend brunch
After your morning sweat along the coast it’s time for a well-deserved meal. A big brunch awaits you. If you finish the trail in Bondi, you can fill your empty stomach at the Trio Cafe (triocafe.com.au) on 56 Campbell Parade. If you got all the way to Coogee, visit Barzura (barzura.com.au/breakfast.html) at 62 Carr Street. In addition to the classic Eggs Benny, a Bloody Mary is recommended.
13:00 – Shopping on the schedule
After a swim in the sea, take the bus back to the city. It’s time to discover more of the city! As the heat is at its peak in the middle of the day, you escape the sun by going on a shopping tour. Ignore the major shopping malls at George and Pitt Street and head to the hipster suburb Surry Hills, east of the central station. Discover quirky vintage shops and small corner shops. Stop for a coffee or buy Italian ice cream at Gelato Messina (gelatomessina.com/au) at 389 Crown Street.
16:00 – Art, culture and history
Lure out your cultural streak and improve your knowledge in art and Australian history. Near Hyde Park lies the Australian Museum (wotif.com/things-to-do/australian-museum-tickets.a188942.activity-details). As the country’s foremost natural science museum, there is plenty of information about Australia, its history, nature and wildlife. A large part of the museum is devoted to Aboriginal history. Then head to The Rocks where you visit The Museum of Contemporary Art.
18:00 – Old quarters
After a stroll in the historic quarters in The Rocks you walk down to the harbour. From there you get a good view of two iconic buildings, the Harbour Bridge on the left and the Sydney Opera House on the right. Most likely, there is some performance taking place, and with some luck there are tickets left. Or, why not just take a seat on the outdoor terrace behind the Opera House (operabar.com.au) and enjoy the fantastic views.
20:00 – Supreme dinner
If you can, why not give yourself a treat? Walk past the Coca-Cola sign and take a seat inside the Farmhouse Kings Cross (farmhousekingscross.com.au). You will find the restaurant on 40 Bayswater Road. Here, the choices are minimized, instead you are served five dishes on a long table. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with the table neighbour. The menu is constantly changing. After dinner, you may want to visit a nightclub. It’s Saturday. You are in Sydney. The night is far from over.