Sexy Sydney: There’s more than you think to Australia’s harbour city
It’s known for its golden beaches, harbour and iconic architecture. Sydney has always been a big draw for visitors to Australia, with many travellers starting and ending their journey in the Harbour City. With the city centre situated in the picture perfect harbour, it’s a rarity that a city has an ability to combine urban living with the beach.
Like Melbourne (see Marvellous Melbourne: There’s so many reasons to visit Australia’s cosmopolitan city), I also lived in here nine years ago as a backpacker and loved it for very different reasons than its Victorian rival. As I returned to New South Wales, I found the city hadn’t changed as dramatically as Melbourne in the intervening years. Like always, the watersides of Circular Quay and the Botanical Gardens proved the draw they always were and I found myself attracted to both like a magnet frequently during my trip.
This isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive guide to Sydney (we’d be here all day!), but this small guide gives an introduction to the city and a few tips and places that I recommend for visitors. Just like Melbourne, I highly recommend picking up some of the free Sydney city guides, which include money off vouchers to many attractions. I found Sydney an expensive city (and this is coming from a Londoner!) so every little helps. A good place to stop by is the official tourism offices in Darling Harbour and The Rocks, which have a wealth of information, leaflets and helpful, friendly staff. The Darling Harbour one also sold disposable rain ponchos should you need to buy one for the whale watching tours which depart from here.
The city centre is bordered by Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House to the north and Darling Harbour to the west. Not quite a traditional grid system, the main roads of George Street and Pitt Street are the ones to head for if you get lost.
Sydney city centre is great for shopping. Near Town Hall station are Paddy’s Market – a great place to find tourist bargains – and Queen Victoria Building, an 1890s Romanesque shopping mall which continues underground all the way to Pitt Street Mall so you can shop until you drop without having to waste time at the slow pedestrian crossings.
Anyone travelling into Sydney via train or plane can’t miss the Sydney Tower – the tallest building in city. Located on Market Street, visitors can whiz up to the Sydney Tower’s Eye‘s Observation Deck for 360 degree views of the city. Booking online is a lot cheaper than the walk price – AU$18,20 compared to AU$26, or some of the tourist info booklets have discount vouchers too. Or if you’re feeling a bit braver, partake in the Skywalk, an open-air moving platform, an experience which starts from AU$48.50 (online adult ticket). Alternatively, you could book a table at one of the restaurants in the Tower, including the Sydney Tower Buffet or 360 Bar and Dining.
As well as being the departure point of most of the ferries, Circular Quay is also a good meeting place, with some of the city’s most iconic sights in walking distance. A short walk to the north east is the Sydney Opera House, which has stood on Bennelong Point for 39 Years. There are several productions on every day so try and catch a show or take the Opera House tour, which I can highly recommend. I did the one hour ‘Essential tour’ (AU$29-35) which gave you the history of the design and building and the chance to visit the building’s many theatres and studio spaces. Although I had a discount voucher from the official Sydney guide, I did think it was expensive for an hour tour. However, the building is so unique and iconic and the tour guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, it was worth it.
On the western side of the quay is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is free. In the same building as the Overseas Passenger Terminal are various restaurants giving a fine view while you dine of the Opera House and Harbour, including Ocean Room and Quay.
MOAMG likes: Searock Bar on the eastern side of Circular Quay. With seating both inside and out, Searock has a brilliant happy hour with beers, wine or bubbly for only AU$5 from 5-7pm every night. I must confess I ended up here often either alone or with friends to sip a glass of bubbly after a long day sightseeing as I gazed at the Harbour Bridge.
Sydney Oyster Bar. Another alfresco bar/restaurant on the eastern side of Circular Quay. I had brunch on a sunny Friday lunchtime of delicious scrambled eggs on sourdough toast and a pot of Earl Grey tea.
Opera Bar. Located on possibly one of the best spots in Sydney, the Opera Bar includes both indoor and alfresco dining and drinking on the lower concourse on the lower concourse of the Royal Opera House. The views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House are stunning. Great spot for lunch or pre-dinner cocktails. Also features live music.
The Rocks are the heart of historic Sydney, with many original 19th century houses and converted wharfs. The free Rocks Discovery Museum is a good place to start which gives you an insight to the life and people of 19th century Sydney. Susannah Place include a well-conserved row of terrace houses and a museum. Across the road is The Big Dig – ruins situated underneath a YHA hostel, which included Cribbs and Carahers Lanes, which you can find more details on at the Discovery Museum. The Rocks also plays host to markets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Situated on Observatory Hill in the south of The Rocks, the Sydney Observatory is a great spot to visit, especially for those from the Northern Hemisphere. As well as a museum, there are night viewings and the chance to see the stars through the telescope. I went to the night visit, which included a 3D theatre session and found it fascinating. Adult night tickets AU$18, daytime tickets AU$8.
Of course, no visit to Sydney would be complete without some kind of Harbour Bridge action. While many are content to simply photograph it from Circular Quay of the Botanical Gardens, I would highly recommend crossing it one way or another. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb involves people – with a head for heights – dressing up in matching jumpsuits and climbing up the iconic structure on a guided walk. However, it’s pretty expensive at prices starting from AU$198 at night up to AU$298 for dawn. Alternatively, you can walk across the bridge for free, you access it from Cumberland Street – just south of the junction with Argyle Street and a stone’s throw from the Australian Heritage Hotel – one of the oldest pubs in the city.
Domain and Royal Botanical Gardens
Just east of Circular Quay and the Opera House is the Domain and Royal Botanical Gardens, which are both free. The Botanical Gardens has an extensive collection of plants, flowers and birdlife, including cockatoos and Ibis, spread over 30 hectares. The big draw of the Botanical Gardens is following the scenic path tracing the waterline with stunning views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. On New Year’s Eve, thousands of people gather in the Gardens and Domain to watch the fireworks display from the Harbour Bridge.
At the eastern end is Lady Macquarie’s Chair, a lookout carved into the sandstone rock for the Governor’s wife in the 19th century. It is known for having one of the best vantage points in the city.
From the chair, if you follow Mrs Macquarie’s road to the Domain (located south of the Botanical Gardens), you will eventually get to the Art Gallery NSW. The 19th century building contains a variety of art by Australian, Aboriginal, European and Asian artists and is free to enter.
Darling Harbour is definitely the most touristy part of Sydney without a doubt. Among the attractions include Madame Tussaud’s, Sydney Aquarium and the IMAX. As well as several waterfront restaurants and the South Steyne floating restaurant, there is also a food court in the Harbourside Shopping Centre.
Darling Harbour is also a major starting point for a lot of cruises and whale-watching trips. There are several companies offering excursions to spot the giant mammals, however I opted for Whale Watching Sydney (May-November season). I booked the 2 hour adventure cruise (AU$51). I initially balked at the cost, but once I saw the humpback whales out at sea it was worth every cent. While the company also does a three-hour cruise on a bigger boat, I was part of a smaller group on a speedboat so we dashed straight out to meet it and saw whales pretty soon after stopping. In total, we saw six humpbacks, including a calf (not all at the same time) coming up about eight times, so there was above water action about every 10 minutes. The guide was informative, enthusiastic and serious about conservation of the whales. I seriously recommend anyone who comes to Sydney (in whale season of course!) to go watching, it was a highlight of my trip.
Sydney has got absolutely tons of beaches, but as I lived in the city during the winter, I didn’t get to spend as much time on them as I would have liked. However, during my recent visit in November, the weather was fairly warm so I did check out a few. Manly beach is known for being one of the city’s best and is located a 30 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay. After getting off the ferry, cross the road and walk down the Corso full of shops and cafes down to main Manly Beach. The beach is long and golden with toilets, changing rooms, water fountains and volleyball nets dotted along. There is also a surf school here for those who want to try it out.
Bondi to Coogee
Of course, the most famous beach in Australia is Bondi, just east of the City Centre. As well as being a big draw for holidaymakers and locals alike, it’s a hot spot for surfers too. It’s also the beginning of the scenic Bondi to Coogee walk, which takes you past Tamarama, Bronte and Clovelly beaches. From mid October until early November, the Sculpture By The Sea exhibition is on which has pieces of art and sculpture dotted along the Bondi – Bronte part of the coastal walk.
For Metro Girl’s other travel posts, check out the You Can Take The Girl Out Of London… section.