Sydney really is quite beautiful – the harbour and beaches in particular. Most of the attractions are centred around the CBD, harbour and coastal areas. It’s a sprawling city with a population of around 5.3 million. Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in however it’s also one of the most liveable.
The climate in Sydney is generally warm, hot summers (often with thunderstorms) and winters are from mild to cold. Be aware that it can get foggy which causes delays at the airport. If you’re a tourist and are flexible, then I’d recommend flying in or out of Sydney any time after midday. Spring or autumn is perfect if you’re wanting to do some walking or hiking.
You’ll find beautiful examples of Georgian architecture tucked in between modern Sydney skyscrapers, in particular the Queen Victoria Building, and in The Rocks area near Circular Quay. Francis Greenway, a convict, was responsible for designing the Hyde Park Barracks, the Macquarie Lighthouse and St James’ Church and eventually earned himself a pardon.
Lieutenant James Cook discovered Australia in 1770, and subsequently claimed it for Britain. Sixteen years later, Britain decided to use it as a penal outpost and the First Fleet of 11 ships set sail on 13 May 1787, arriving at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. They initially landed at Botany Bay however decided it wasn’t suitable. Australia celebrates 26 January as Australia Day. The history of the early days of Australia is fascinating. It began as a penal colony in Sydney and has grown to become one of the most loved and best countries in the world to live in, with the convicts playing a major role in its establishment. These days, if you have a convict in your lineage, then it’s something to be proud of.
Here’s just the tip of the iceberg of some of Sydney’s best attractions:
The Rocks is the oldest part of the city and sits underneath Sydney Harbour Bridge. Visit Cadman’s Cottage which was built in 1816 and Australia’s oldest pub, The Australian Heritage Hotel which was built in 1824. The Susannah Place Museum offers guided tours of four terrace houses built by Irish immigrants in 1844 which housed more than 100 families. Wander around the laneways and try and get a sense of yesteryear.
The Sydney Opera House wasn’t based on a design of sails as most people believe, but rather Jorn Utzon’s final design was inspired by a segmented orange. The 14 separate roofs form a sphere when combined. If you happen to be visiting during the Vivid Sydney Festival over 3 weekends between May and June, you’ll be treated to a kinetic display of spectacular illuminations on the Opera House, displaying vivid colours, aboriginal artwork and abstract designs.
Royal Botanic Gardens and Government House – in the gardens you not only enjoy the beautiful flora, but if you do a bush food tour you can learn all about the indigenous history of the land. Just south of the Opera House, you’ll find the heritage-listed gothic revival style Government House. It’s construction commenced in 1837 and is a regal building.
Taronga Zoo – with panoramic views of the harbour, this zoo houses over 4,000 animals and is just a short 12 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay.
Luna Park was opened in 1935 and continues to entertain and amuse its patrons to this day. The heritage-listed amusement park is tame compared to today’s adrenalin packed theme parks however it has a timeless charm about it and its location on the harbour, overlooking the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay, adds to the appeal.
The Beaches – Bondi is world famous and definitely worth a visit especially for the Iceberg saltwater pool, however my favourite is Manly and I also like Coogee and Bronte Beaches. Manly is a 30 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay and you can easily spend a day here, exploring, dining and swimming. The ferry ride alone is worth it – and all for less than $10. Take a stroll along the beautiful esplanade – hopefully before they remove all the iconic Norfolk Pines. The first were planted in the 1850s however some needed to be replaced. Sydney is famous for its northern beaches and if you have the time, take a drive along this beautiful coastline from Manly all the way to Palm Beach which is about 30 kms north, stopping along the way to enjoy refreshments and stunning views. Alternatively, you could trek from Manly to the Spit which is about a 10 km walk and takes you through bushland and via beaches, bays and inlets. I dare you!
Bondi to Coogee Coastal Trail – One of Australia’s most scenic treks. See my blog Canberra to Sydney Coastal Road Trip (Part 2). But please also do read Part 1.
The New Year’s Eve Fireworks are held annually and is a stravaganza which assaults the senses. The fireworks are synchronised to a soundtrack of popular music as they burst forth into the sky, bedazzling the multitude, as they aww and aah and gasp in wonderment. At midnight, the harbour becomes a sound and light show for 12 minutes, representing the 12 months of the year.
Sydney Ferries – if you’re on a budget (and even if you’re not), this is one of the best ways to experience the spectacular views of Sydney’s iconic sights. Some of the most scenic are:
Manly Ferry – you’ll never get tired of it no matter how many times you take this ride.
Darling Harbour Ferry will take you under the Harbour Bridge and around to Darling Harbour where you can get off for IMAX Theatre, Sealife Sydney Aquarium, Madam Tussauds, Powerhouse Museum and a short stroll to Chinatown.
Mosman Ferry travels via Cremorne Point, Taronga Zoo, South Mosman, Old Cremorne and finally Mosman Bay
Watsons Bay Ferry – along Garden Island, Darling Point, Double Bay and Rose Bay, finishing at Watsons Bay where you can have a picnic or enjoy fish and chips at one of the many cafes or restaurants in the area, or just have a beer at the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel.
Museums and the Arts – if you’re into the arts, here are some that should definitely be on your list of to do’s –
- The Carriageworks (drama, art and dance)
- The White Rabbit (contemporary Chinese art)
- Local street art with Culture Scouts Inner West Tour
- Cult films at the Golden Age Cinema
- The Museum of Contemporary Art
- The Art Gallery of NSW
And here’s a list of Aboriginal art galleries:
- Karlangu Aboriginal Art Centre
- Spirit Gallery
- Aboriginal Contemporary
- Wentworth Galleries
- Aboriginal Art Galleries (Opera Quays and Queen Victoria Building)
- Cooee Art Gallery
Indigenous Walks – Dharawal National Park with an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger and Dreamtime Southern X.
Chinatown is situated in the Haymarket area of the CBD and is Australia’s largest. You’ll be spoilt for choice where Asian cuisine is concerned. Here you’ll also find Paddy’s Market which sells clothing, giftware and food and it’s open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Surf lessons – If you’re a wannabe surfer, you’ll find plenty of surf schools along the coast. At Bondi, try Let’s Go Surfing, and in Manly it’s Surf School. You can book via VIATOR. They also offer a 7 Day Surf Camp of the NSW South Coast.
The Cipher Room – You’ll find it in Erskineville and the aim of the game is to solve a series of puzzles in the allotted time in order to escape. You get to choose from one of three rooms. Good luck!
The Unicorn Hotel – If you want an insight into real Australiana, give this a go. It’s a true-blue Aussie pub where you’ll be able to snack on Jatz biscuits and French Onion Dip, play darts and pool and enjoy a real ale.
Most popular streets in Sydney to while away the hours in alphabetical order are:
- Barrenjoey Road, Avalon (if you happen to visit Palm Beach area)
- Bondi Road, Bondi
- Crown Street, Surry Hills
- Darling Street, Balmain
- George Street, CBD
- Glebe Road, Glebe
- King Street, Newtown
- Military Road, Mosman
- Oxford Street, Paddington
- The Corso, Manly
Make sure you purchase a transport card to travel around as it’s a huge city and you want to be able to get a bang for your buck. The Opal card can be used on public transport throughout Sydney, including trains, buses and ferries, as well as to the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Hunter Valley and the Illawarra. This link will assist:
To help you plan your trip, you might find this website useful:
IMAGES – ON UNSPLASH
- Image 1 – Jamie Davies
- Image 2 – Raj Eiamworakul
- Image 3 – Keith Zhu
- Image 4 and 5 – Holger Link
- Image 6 and 7 – Srikant Sahoo
- Image 8 – Thandy Yung
- Image 9 – Annie Spratt
- Image 10 – Simon Rae
- Image 11 – Caleb Semeri
- Image 12 – Andreas Dress
- Image 13 – Dan Freeman
- Image 14 – Jase Ess