Sydney and its stunning harbour are where you will find some of Australia’s most iconic sights, such as the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. In my Sydney City Guide I’ll reveal how to make the most of your visit to this beautiful Australian city.
Sydney is the capital of New South Wales and is home to nearly five million people, making it Australia’s largest urban centre. Read on to find out everything you need to know when planning your Sydney trip:
When to visit Sydney
Sydney can be enjoyed at any time of the year with its mild climate and high sunshine rating. The weather is cooler in the winter (June to August) and can be hot and humid in the summer months (December to February).
If you only visit one city in Australia it should be Sydney, and there are a million photos of this gorgeous harbour city to prove it. For tourists visiting Australia, there is no doubt that Sydney holds many of the drawcards. From cruising the harbour past the Opera House to spending the day relaxing on Bondi Beach, Sydney will not disappoint.
Kingsford Smith Airport is Sydney’s international airport, eight kilometres south of the city centre. Transport to and from the airport is easy by train, bus or taxi. Catch the Airport Link railway to where it connects with the City Circle train at Central Station in around 15 minutes. Metroline buses run from the airport to the city (as well as Bondi Junction). There are also a number of private coach and shuttle services.
Things to do in Sydney
The first thing to do in Sydney is to head for Circular Quay. From here you can complete an easy walking tour of the city’s main attractions. Here on the harbour you will find the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge where, if you have a head for heights a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a lot of fun. The views are unsurprisingly spectacular, especially during the evening. Less adventurous but with similar 360-degree views is the Skywalk atop the Sydney Tower.
Central Sydney walking tour
A walking tour of Sydney’s main attractions should be the first thing on your list of things to do in the city. Start in Circular Quay beside the harbour and spend some time boat and people watching. Ferries come and go every few minutes, disgorging tourists and commuters. There are always street performers keeping the atmosphere lively.
From Circular Quay head east to the steps of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Don’t be misled by the name because entertainment here comes in a wide variety of styles and there are over 3,000 shows every year to choose from. You can take a backstage tour, which is the only way to get VIP access to the Opera House, but for most people it will be just as satisfying to gaze up at the Opera House from the steps in the sun, taking in the sparkling harbour views.
Walk around the harbour front to the Royal Botanic Gardens and historic Government House. The beautiful gardens were founded in 1816 and remain an important scientific and historical site, as well as enjoying a beautiful location surrounded by parkland. Don’t miss Lady Macquarie’s Chair, a sandstone rock that has been shaped into a park bench. There are several formal gardens, a rainforest walk and a number of cafes. If you are picnicking, watch out for cheeky Cockatoos steeling your lunch.
Government House is actually still in use today and you can learn about Australia’s colonial history on a free 45 minute tour. The lovely old building was built in the late 1830s and is now the residence of the Governor-General of Australia (the Queen’s representative in Australia).
From here walk in the direction of Circular Quay again but this time via the Hyde Park Barracks. This landmark building was once convict quarters and a prison.
Carry on towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge and spend some time in ‘The Rocks’. This historic neighbourhood is where the first European settlers built their homes and businesses. Nowadays the cobblestoned lanes of The Rocks is a hub of cafes, restaurants and bars so it is the perfect place for lunch, a late afternoon drink, or dinner. To find out more about the historic buildings you are walking past, hire an audio walking tour of the Rocks with a map and downloadable audio commentary.
Nearby is the Museum of Sydney, a pint-sized small museum that is well worth a short visit to learn more about Sydney’s fascinating history.
Darling Harbour is lined with waterfront restaurants that boast good seafood and more. Other attractions include the National Maritime Museum for naval history buffs (there are a number of WWII ships that visitors can explore), the Chinese Gardens and the Sydney Aquarium. For fans there is an Australian version of the famous Madame Tussauds waxworks museum and a big IMAX theatre.
The final leg of your central Sydney walking exploration is the Harbour Bridge (just stroll back to Circular Quay), which you can cross on foot. If you don’t want to do the Harbour Bridge Climb there is a cheaper option. Pylon Lookout is about half way across the bridge and only costs $13 to climb to an observation deck. This is 87 metres above the water level and offers really wonderful views of Sydney.
A day at the beach in Sydney
Once you’ve spent enough time in the central city, the ferry services are the best way to see wider Sydney. Ferries depart regularly for different parts of the harbour, including Manly, Taronga Park Zoo, and the attractive beachside suburbs of Watsons Bay and Mosman. For information and the timetable see the Sydney Ferries website.
To get to the famous Bondi Beach there are regular bus services (333, 380, 381) from the city, as well as a train service that runs as far as Bondi Junction, from where you can get a bus the rest of the way to Bondi Beach.
It is only a 40-minute ferry ride to Manly and this gorgeous beach is a great idea for an afternoon trip in Sydney. Spend some time relaxing on one of the many beautiful beaches.
Sydney Harbour has many stunning coves and inlets and one of the best ways to enjoy it is on foot. Well known scenic walkways include the Bondi Beach to Bronte Walk. This runs along the coast of the Tasman Sea for about 2.5 kilometres and boasts Sydney’s best coastal views. download a map If you have more time continue past Bronte all the way to Coogee Beach.
Taronga Zoo is not a beach but it must be the zoo with the best view in the world. Of course they have a comprehensive range of Australia’s incredible wildlife, including rare species like the Goodfellow’s Tree Kangaroo. They also have many other animals from around the world from Galapagos tortoises to Sumatran Tigers. The zoo climbs up the hillside on the harbour and the views as you go higher just get better and better.
There are over 20 keeper talks each day and don’t miss the highly entertaining seal show and the amazing Free Flight Bird show, during which some of Australia’s unique and colourful bird species get to show off against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour. Taronga Zoo is open every day (including Christmas) from 9.30am to around 4.30pm.
1888 Hotel is a boutique hotel within easy walk to Darling Harbour. The trendy reputation of this hotel means that rooms are a little more expensive but worth the extra.
A stay at the opulent InterContinental Sydney is a real treat with its luxurious rooms and stunning harbour views. 117 Macquarie Street (0061 2 9253 9000; intercontinental.com)
Sydney has a Four Seasons Hotel, which also overlooks the harbour and is a short walk to Circular Quay. This is a full-amenity hotel, including an outdoor pool. If you can afford it go for a corner room. 199 George St, +61 2 9250 3100
Holiday Inn Old Sydney has an excellent central location and boasts a rooftop pool overlooking Sydney Harbour.
The Medina on Crown hotel apartments on Crown Street in Surry Hills is perfect for a travelling family, with lovely poolside BBQ area.
Over at Bondi, the Adina Apartment Hotel Bondi Beach 69-73 Hall Street (0061 2 9300 4800; adinahotels.com.au) has a range of apartments near the seaside.
There are three YHA hostels in central Sydney, one near the coach terminal, one in The Rocks district, and one near the central train station. All are well-designed and have rooftop swimming pools.
Y Hotel Hyde Park is, as the name suggests, very near Hyde Park and is also close to public transport. It offers simple rooms and a free breakfast in the attached cafe, with some options to upgrade. There are also simple kitchen facilities available. 5-11 Wentworth Ave +61 2 9264 2451
In Bondi Junction there is a cute B&B called Number 71 Bed and Breakfast 71 Denison Street (0061 2 9387 5338; number71.com) offering character on a budget.
Sydney restaurants and bars
In The Rocks district of Sydney try Fish at the Rocks if you are in the mood for an excellent seafood menu. For modern Australian-French fusion cuisine head for Baroque Bistro.
If you want lunch with a view in Darling Harbour, try South Steyne a floating former-ferry restaurant. Consistently rated as one of the best restaurants in Sydney (and indeed the world), is the Quay Australian Seafood Restaurant, which is also in the Darling Harbour area.
Also in central Sydney, a favourite example of the city’s excellent Asian cuisine is Din Tai Fung, where the dumplings and their lychee mint drink are unmissable.
In Surry Hills try El Loco Mexican Restaurant, a really cool cocktail bar and eatery where the fish tacos and jalapeño margarita are brilliant. There’s also the fashionable Trinity Bar, Pub and Wine Bar (505 Crown St) with an eclectic range of draught beers.
For breakfast or lunch in Surry Hills go to Kawa, an organic cafe with perfect coffee and homemade cakes. Also on Crown Street is Pizza e Birra, which serves delicious Italian food and ice-cold Italian beer.
Sydney’s bar scene is known for its ‘small bar’ vogue and locals love small, atmospheric bars. In Surry Hills one such bar is the exclusive Fico (544 Bourke Street), where the food and wine pairings are excellent.
In Newtown Rice Paper is a Vietnamese restaurant that does an amazing line in fresh rice paper rolls. A super popular brunch spot is the Luxe Bakery (Missenden Rd), with perfect eggs and great sourdough bread. Tapavino is one of the best tapas bars with generous servings of excellent Spanish wine.
Bloodwood in Newtown is the collaboration of a group of highly-rated Sydney chefs and the dishes such as kingfish carpaccio and delectable desserts like trifle with marscapone are incredible. You can’t book so get there early unless you want to wait a long time to get a table.
In Bondi head for Hurricane’s Grill & Bar, a steakhouse with excellent fare, including steak with the unusually-named Monkey Gland sauce. For beautiful Bondi views go to the Bondi Trattoria Italian Restaurant. For a sophisticated drink the big-city-style Panama House Wine Bar has tasty food and welcoming staff friendly.
A Day Trip from Sydney
A very worthwhile trip outside Sydney is into the World-Heritage-Listed Blue Mountains. Head for the tiny town of Katoomba, where there are charming tea rooms and galleries. The famous Echo Point lookout here offers incredible views past the Three Sisters rock formations and across the seemingly endless eucalyptus forests, over which the blue haze rises that gives the area its name. There are many hiking trails through this region.
Other Useful Information
There are three Sydney Visitor Centres for tourists – at the airport, at 33 Wheat Road in Darling Harbour and at the corner of Playfair and Argyle Streets in The Rocks. These offer free maps and advice, as well as assistance with accommodation and tour bookings. General Sydney tourism information is available on the sydney.com website, where you can also book tickets for Sydney’s plethora of entertainment options.
Sydney has an extensive public transport network, including trains, buses and ferries. Sydney MyMulti Day Passes are available that allow people unlimited travel on all three types of transport. See the sydneytrains.info website for more information.
By Natasha von Geldern
Enjoy your visit with my Sydney City Guide!
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