Australia’s largest city combines the stylish sophistication of a multi-cultural metropolis of 4.8 million and the friendly, laid-back ambiance of a charming beach town. While Sydney is young and vibrant at heart, it manages to cherish its history.
One of the most photogenic and pedestrian-friendly cities in the world, Sydney has a bevy of interesting things to see and do. Reminder to self – pack camera, walking shoes and a ‘cossie’ (Aussie for swimming costume), because any excuse is good enough for a trip to the beach.
Whether you are cruising into Sydney to spend just a few days, or are planning an extended visit, she won’t disappoint. And you won’t want to leave without experiencing these fab five – the most popular venues in town.
1 Circular Quay
For first-time visitors, the Circular Quay is the first place to spend some time. A short downhill walk from the central business district, or CBD, brings you to the gorgeous harbor. Stroll along the quay to soak up Sydney’s relaxed lifestyle and friendly vibe.
Despite its name, Circular Quay is a semi-circle, stretching between the Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanical Gardens on one side and the art deco Harbour Bridge on the other.
It was here in 1788 that convict-laden vessels from Britain landed to establish the country’s infamous penal colony. One of the world’s most impressive harbors, it has always been the city hub.
Today the quay serves as the launch pad for ferries and sightseeing boats and the terminal for buses and underground trains. It vibrates with commuters on weekdays and attracts tourists every day and evening. The beautifully landscaped walkways are lined with small cafes, great pubs, boutiques and galleries, with buskers and street markets popping up on weekends. At the boat terminal, you can hop on a morning ferry to head out onto the water for the most dramatic photo op of the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the sweeping harbor and the amazing city skyline. For a special occasion dinner, make a reservation at Quay, on the upper level of the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Even the stunning harbour, viewed through floor-to-ceiling windows, does not overshadow the food.
2 Sydney Opera House
Mention Sydney and its iconic Opera House is most likely the first image that springs to mind. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon in 1956 and completed in 1973, it is one of the most elaborate entertainment venues in the world. No visit to Sydney is complete without a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Perched at the tip of Bennelong Point and jutting into the Sydney Harbour, the iconic ‘sails’ of the billowing, cantilevered rooftops were created with over one million shimmering white tiles. The best way to experience the Opera House is to catch a show. But don’t be misled by the name. There’s a lot more than just arias going on inside. The more than 1,800 events every year – in seven performance spaces – include world-class ballet and contemporary dance, theatre, children’s events, and symphonic and pop concerts.
Public access to the Concert Hall and Opera Theatre foyers is not available, so the daily, guided, one-hour House Tour, that includes an introduction to the building’s extraordinary history, or the two-hour Backstage Tour, that showcases behind-the-scenes magic, are popular options. The recently revamped forecourt offers a variety of dining options. The Opera Kitchen, dubbed “a fancy food court, is relaxed eating at its best. At sunset, the place to be is at the Opera Bar, enjoying a drink along with the breathtaking view.
3 Royal Botanic Gardens
A stroll around the RBG is no ordinary walk in the park. Wrapped around Farm Cove at the edge of Sydney Harbour, the gardens are a tranquil 66-acre oasis, amid the crowds, skyscrapers and traffic of the city centre.
Established in 1816 by then-Governor Macquarie, it is home to more than one million plant specimens.
There is something here for everybody. Avid gardeners won’t want to miss the rare and threatened plants or the romantic rose garden. Cadi Jam Ora (or First Encounters) pays tribute to the Cadigal whose relationship with this land is detailed in the weekly Aboriginal Heritage Tours. Magnificent shade trees offer shaded spots to enjoy a picnic, while the pathway that skirts the lower part of the gardens is a favorite for joggers.
4 The Rocks
As Sydney’s oldest neighborhood -The Rocks – has an engaging history. Originally, this precinct on the western side of Sydney Cove was home to the indigenous Cadigal. With the arrival of the British in 1788, it became a European settlement and convict town, earning a decidedly dodgy reputation. By the mid-19th century, it was the city’s most cosmopolitan centre and many of its original and lovely sandstone buildings still stand. No longer the city’s CBD, it’s now the somewhat pricey place to shop for everything from designer clothes to antiques, Aboriginal arts and crafts, boomerangs and other souvenirs. It’s also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Every weekend, sidewalk stalls line Jack Mundey Place, Playfair and George Streets for The Rocks Market.
For quintessential Sydney fine-dining, look no further than Rockpool and celebrity chef, Neil Perry. By night, the outdoor cafes that line the cobbled alleys jump with people enjoying the lively pub scene. Since no visit to Australia is complete without tasting its world-famous wines, the place to head is A Wine Odyssey where they showcase the best of the best, while offering an a la carte menu based on their wine selection.
From here you can walk over the “Coat Hanger,” Sydney’s monstrous Harbour Bridge. The views seen on foot are better than what you can see from a car, and the admission is free. More adventurous types can book a three and a half hour, supervised Bridge Climb to the top of the arch. Climbers views come at a price, but are absolutely unforgettable.
5 Bondi Beach
One of the joys of being in Sydney is being able to be at a beach in minutes. Bondi (the name rhymes with the Aussie greeting, “G’dye.”) is a suburb, five miles – 30 minutes by public transit – from the center of the city. With its golden half mile of sand, turquoise blue water that averages 70 degrees F and fabulous waves, it seems light years away from the CBD. A magnet for swimmers, novice to world-class surfers and anyone just wanting to soak up the sunshine or engage in some people watching, Bondi attracts all ages and stages from back-packers to billionaires. It is Sydney’s most famous beach, so you can expect it to be crowded. The Bucket List is the place to grab crisp, melt-in-your-mouth fish and chips, then head to the beach. Then to Icebergs for Pavolva – Australia’s signature dessert. Meringue, cream and fresh fruit in a bowl – heaven!
Beyond the beach, you will find the Bondi Skate Bowl, fine dining, eclectic shopping and a buzzing night life.
The hour-long leisurely walk from Bondi to Bronte leads you high along the cliff-side footpath, then down to the water’s edge, opening up gobsmacking ocean views along the way. Mid-week walks are the least crowded.
Sydney bound? Be sure to pack your ‘cossie’ to make the most of the city’s oceanfront magic.
Cruise & Travel Lifestyles 2015