Sydney is glorious. It truly is. A city blessed with a near-perfect climate, dozens of white sand beaches and incredible fresh food and cold beer. Australia’s proximity to Asia, and Sydney’s multicultural population means that the city is a melting pot of international cuisine. It’s almost easier to find an incredible Pad Thai or Bahn Mi than it is for find a ‘more traditional’ meat pie and sauce.
It’s a sport-loving, outdoorsy city, a place where visitors can nab tickets to a professional sports game in winter or summer, or simply grab a surfboard and make their own fun at the beach. Sydney is an incredible cultural hub as well, with scores of museums, events and festivals keeping the arts and music scenes vibrant. Much of Sydney’s charm is hidden away in the suburbs, so make the time to explore properly and take in a city regularly voted as one of the most livable places on earth, as well as one of the most beautiful.
#1 Where To Stay
#2 How To Get Around
#3 What To Pack
#4 The City
#5 The Suburbs
#6 Take A Day Trip Here
#7 Go Here For A Breathtaking View
#8 Take A Hike
#9 Parks And Rec
#10 Where To Eat/Drink
#11 Where To Shop For Bargains
#12 Locals Go Here For Breakfast
#13 Where To Have An Indulgent Night Out
#14 Worth The Hype
#15 Avoid It
#16 Don’t Leave Without
Where To Stay
Though Kings Cross isn’t the centre of Sydney’s nightlife anymore it’s still a very good spot to base yourself with excellent public transport and more than a dozen backpacker hostels, as well as a few nicer hotels towards Potts Point. Around the CBD and the Harbour hotels are crazy expensive – but the views might just make it worthwhile.
CHEAP AS CHIPS
For a budget option Backpackers HQ (172-174 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst) is cheap, central and has free breakfast and wifi. It’s dorm-style accommodation but is modern and clean.
Prices from: $52/night
WON’T BREAK THE BANK
The Abey Hotel (208 Riley Street, Surry Hills) is a step up – it won’t break the bank, is also very central and has a small indoor pool and some parking facilities. Book well ahead for better prices.
Prices from: $149/night
If you want to go all out, then the boutique QT Sydney (Corner of George and Market Streets) is a treat. Quirky as all hell, it has an award-winning bar and restaurant, day spa and an elevator that plays music according to how many people are inside. No, really.
Prices from: $320/night
How To Get Around
Though the locals might complain, Sydney’s public transport is very good for travellers. It’s clean, fairly regular and services most of the suburbs and sights. Buying a pre-paid Opal card (available at most convenience stores/railway stations etc – check out their website for stockists) is a solid plan. This relatively new form of electronic ticketing is similar to London’s Oyster Card and means you need just one card for most buses, trains, ferries and the light rail. Downloading an app like Tripview can help you plan your trips around what is a very large and sprawled city.
Hiring a car probably isn’t the best plan unless you’re travelling long distances. Sydney’s traffic is pretty terrible and the parking is worse – most of the time buses or trains are going to be quicker. Taxis are numerous, but expensive.
Around the inner-city suburbs, walking is great. You’ll get a real feel for the place, be able to stop in places for consistently excellent coffee or a drink and try and spot the Harbour Bridge sneakily peeping into view.
What To Pack
For most of the year (Sept to April) Sydney is somewhere between warm and stinking hot. All you’ll need is sunblock, a hat, t-shirt, shorts and thongs (flip-flops) to get around. A lightish jacket will ward off all but the worst summer storms. Swimmers are also a must. Late April to August, Sydney can be a bit chilly (down to 5°C on the worst winter nights, 10°C on a cold winter day) so rug up with a decent jacket and scarf.
Bring money too, and lots of it. Sydney is not a cheap city to stay, eat or drink in. An average breakfast at a cafe will set you back around $20AUD, while a schooner of local beer at a city pub is around the $7.50 mark. There are ATMs almost everywhere, so there’s no need to carry large amounts of cash on you.
Sydney’s actual CBD is relatively small and quite dull, and is mostly used as office space and shopping. Many of the city’s great cafes, restaurants and nightspots are clustered around the edges of the city and throughout inner-Sydney suburbs. It’s well worth taking a stroll around the colonial era Rocks area and up George Street to the QVB to see the beautiful older buildings and shopping areas but really that’s it. It’s very safe at night to walk around, but pretty quiet. You’d be better off heading out into suburbs like Newtown, Redfern or Darlinghurst for nightlife.
There’s wonderful shopping in Paddington, Surry Hills and Darlinghurst – a long walk along Crown Street, Oxford Street and Glenmore Road will take you through these suburbs and past the boutiques of many excellent Australian designers. Newtown has cheaper, quirkier shops. If it’s food you’re after jump on a train to Cabramatta for the best Vietnamese the city has to offer, head to Haberfield and Leichhardt for Italian or to Auburn for Turkish. Eastwood’s got Sydney’s best Korean while Liverpool is fantastic for cheap shopping and excellent Indian food.
Take A Day Trip Here
Hop on a train and head west to the Blue Mountains for a day or weekend adventure. Just 1.5 hours out of Sydney, you’ll find yourself in pristine Australian bushland, with fantastic views from famous lookouts like ‘The Three Sisters,’ and quaint mountain towns like Leura and Katoomba. Pack your walking boots – there are scores of hikes in the area but make sure to bring a jacket, as it can get quite cold in the mountains.
Go Here For A Breathtaking View
It’s no Empire State Building, but the view from Sydney’s distinctive Centrepoint Tower is pretty incredible. You’ll take in the whole CBD, harbour and iconic sights like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Buy tickets online for a significant discount.
Alternatively, buying a drink at the bar on top of the Shangri-La Hotel (Blu Bar on 36) comes with a free view. You’ll need to dress ‘smart-casual’ but at sunset, it’s a wonderful place to be.
Take A Hike
Without question Sydney’s best walk is the Bondi to Coogee clifftop stroll. Start at either end (both have decent public transport) and meander the 6 kilometres of paved paths taking in views of Tamarama, Bronte and Clovelly Beaches as well as stunning Gordon’s Bay. Pack your swimmers and stop where you want for a dip, take a picnic or stop in at one of the many cafes on the way. It’s particularly spectacular at sunrise and sunset.
Parks And Rec
The Royal Botanic Gardens right next to the Sydney Opera House are gorgeous, with plenty of information about local plants and flowers, they’re also right next to the Art Gallery of NSW which has free entry (though some special exhibits do charge a fee.) Centennial Park is a huge expanse of public land on the edge of the CBD. It’s full of sprawling sports fields, lakes, a cycling track and the nearby riding stables cater for anyone keen to horseback ride in central Sydney. Taronga Zoo in Mosman is a great daytrip – hop on a ferry from Circular Quay and you’ll be able to wander through world-class animal exhibits set against the spectacular harbour backdrop. The bird show there is a must see. Sydney’s Luna Park is also a short ferry-ride from Circular Quay – its rides aren’t cheap but having at least one go on the Wild Mouse is worth it for the view alone.
#1 The Royal Botanic Gardens (Mrs Macquaries Road, CBD)
#2 Art Gallery Of NSW (Art Gallery Road, CBD)
#3 Centennial Park (Enter the park via Oxford Street or Darley Road, Bondi Junction)
#4 Taronga Zoo (Bradleys Head Road, Mosman)
#5 Sydney’s Luna Park (1 Olympic Drive, Milsons Point)
Where To Eat/Drink at 2AM
Sydney’s lockout alcohol laws mean a large area of inner Sydney has restrictions that don’t allow entry to certain venues after 1:30am, and then last drinks for those already inside at 3am. Tokyo Sing Song is outside this area, and has a great late-night basement vibe. Karaoke joint Ding Dong Dang is out-of-control fun for a late one with a group of mates. Mr Crackles has slow-roasted pork rolls and cups of crackling to absorb the excesses of your night. Golden Century serves excellent Chinese food until 4am (but keep note of the price – it adds up quickly). Otherwise Sydney has late-night kebab shops on most corners in busy areas – do what the locals do and have zero shame about ordering one with the lot.
Where To Shop For Bargains
Sydney is an expensive city – bargains are few and far between. There’s excellent vintage shopping on Crown and Campbell Streets in Surry Hills, and Paddy’s Markets in Haymarket offer up all the tourist kitsch (clip-on koalas, Australian flag bikinis) you could possibly want. Otherwise you’re best to save your pennies for duty-free at the airport.
Locals Go Here For Breakfast
Sydney takes breakfast seriously. Smashed avocado on toast is a common cafe order, and many places do it well. Reuben Hills has a version with lime and coriander which is next level as well as the best salted caramel milkshake you’ll ever have. Just up the road, Kawa does great eggs and mushrooms on toast. Further afield, Three Blue Ducks and Cornersmith are popular, and you can’t beat yum cha as a brunch hangover cure – try Marigold.
#1 Reuben Hills (61 Albion Street, Surry Hills)
#2 Kawa (348 Crown Street, Surry Hills)
#3 Three Blue Ducks (143 Macpherson Sreet, Bronte)
#4 Cornersmith (314 Illawarra Road, Marrickville)
#5 Marigold (683-689 George Street, Haymarket)
Where To Have An Indulgent Night Out
Picking up tickets to a ballet, opera or show inside the iconic Sydney Opera House can be surprisingly easy – just do a bit of research and plan ahead. Pre-show, some cocktails at Opera Bar for the best drinking view in town. Afterwards, a late Chinese Banquet at the award-winning Mr Wong.
Worth The Hype
Bondi Beach is a Sydney cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. It’s one kilometre of perfect white sand, blue water and lots of very tanned, very beautiful people. Swim between the red and yellow lifesaver flags (it may look calm but there can be nasty rips) and if you want to splurge a little, downing an ice cold beer at Bondi Icebergs will give you one of the best views in Australia.
Getting a Manly Ferry at Circular Quay is also a must. It’s a stunning trip and you’ll see the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and CBD from a different perspective as you make your way to (yet another) perfect Sydney beach. A lunch of fish and chips at Manly while being swooped by seagulls will round out the day.
Darling Harbour is an overpriced tourist trap, with expensive restaurants and very little to actually see or do. The BridgeClimb is quite expensive – if you can’t afford it, walking over the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s pedestrian path is free and gorgeous. Sydney’s ‘uptown’ clubs like Ivy and Establishment aren’t worth the hype or $10 drinks.
Don’t Leave Here Without…
A scoop or two of Gelato Messina (stores in several Sydney locations) and a swim at one of Sydney’s perfect beaches.
(Lead image: Richard Moross/Flickr)
Bonnie Sutherland is a children's puppeteer whose show takes her around the world. She lives for food, new and weird experiences and giggles.