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Sydney is renowned for its iconic Harbour Bridge, Opera House and the magnificent Sydney Harbour itself. If that is not enough there are the world famous city beaches like Bondi, Coogee and Manly – that first draws the eye, but there’s a surprising depth of character just below Sydney’s surface. For starters, there’s historic Sydney. Circular Quay was the landing place of the First Fleet and, really, the birthplace of modern, European Australia. In The Rocks, meanwhile, you can find many world-class restaurants as well as other world class tourist attractions such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sydney Observatory.
Sydney’s nightlife is also second-to-none. From the inner-city hipster hangouts of Newtown and Surry Hills to the more decadent might spots of Kings Cross, Sydney is the place to go to let your hair down.
So, by our estimation Sydney has it all and we bet after you visit, you secretly want to live there.
Australia: Cinematic Sydney
For native sons Baz Luhrmann and Peter Weir, Sydney, New South Wales and, indeed, Australia, is much more than home but a lucid backdrop and stand-in for films like The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge!, The Cars That Ate Paris and Picnic at Hanging Rock. But domestic directors are far from the only ones to shoot in Sydney and environs.
The capital of New South Wales has been visibly – and invisibly – immortalised in accidental hits (Babe, The Matrix), awkward sequels (Babe: Pig in the City, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, Mission: Impossible II, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith), flops (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Australia), Bollywood buffoonery (Dil Chahta Hai), Academy Award gems (Frost/Nixon, The Quiet American) and Hollywood blockbusters (Independence Day). Quite the eclectic list.
So without further ado, quiet on the set … action!
Sydney’s Top 10
10. Australian Museum Especially good value in school holidays when puppet shows, storytelling and more reveals the country’s Aboriginal and European history.
9. Taronga Zoo Yes, there are other zoos in other cities around the country. But none of them, repeat none of them can offer views that compare to this.
4. Circular Quay The best place to experience the harbour is on the water. The best place to do that from is Circular Quay, for everything from ferries to sightseeing cruises to speedboats.
8. Darlinghurst The big gay scene means some of the best clubs can be found in 'Darlo'. Some of the best shopping is here as well, so get that credit card ready.
3. Bondi Beach More than just the location for a reality TV show, Bondi is one of the world’s great beaches. You’ll probably see some bare boobs here, but the men responsible are now aware of the importance of a low-fat diet.
7. Kings Cross It’s been gentrified since its Underbelly ‘glory’ – and gory – days, but Sydney’s sin suburb still walks on the wild side.
2. Sydney Opera House World-heritage listed, best location on the planet and home to great gigs of all genres. Nuff said.
6. Sydney Aquarium Touristy and expensive, but so well done you immediately forget that and wander happily around going ‘Oooh’ and ‘Aaah’ did you see that!’
1. Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk across it, climb over it (legally is the best way) and generally be astounded by it. Seriously, you can’t be anything but.
- The Rocks – This area is home to buildings dating back to Sydney’s earliest settlements.
- La Perouse – This Sydney suburb located near Botany Bay has a number of historical sites, including an old tower.
- St Mary’s Cathedral – This beautiful 19th-century church located in the city centre is Australia’s biggest.
- Hyde Park Barracks – Constructed by and for convicts in the 19th century.
- Pyrmont Bridge – This old swing bridge now only open to pedestrians was once a main thoroughfare into the city.
Sydney Art & Culture
- Australian Museum – Learn about Australian culture and history at this impressive and imposing museum.
- Art Gallery of NSW – This cultural institution displays large collections of Australian art and contemporary exhibits.
- Sydney Opera House – This famous landmark is dedicated to dance, opera, music and dramatic performances.
- Museum of Sydney – Located in a historic building, this city centre museum has exhibits showing past and present Sydney, including aboriginal culture.
- Paddington – This area is home to a high number of art galleries and boutiques.
- Queen Victoria Building – Located in the city centre, this 19th-century building is home to hundreds of stores.
- Castlereagh Street – In Sydney’s CDB, this street is lined with designer boutiques like Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
- Strand Arcade – A victorian-style shopping arcade selling jewellery, antiques and clothes.
- Rocks Market – This lively weekend market features tons of vendors selling crafts, art, jewellery and other items.
- Sydney Fish Market – Pick up fresh seafood (and get it cooked, too) at this wholesale and public market.
Gay & Lesbian Sydney
- Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – This large, lively gay and lesbian festival is typically held in March.
- North Bondi Beach – A popular hangout for Sydney’s gay and lesbian community.
- King Street, Newtown – This street features upmarket, gay-friendly bars and restaurants.
- Oxford Street, Darlinghurst – Home to gay-owned and gay-friendly bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes.
- Kingsteam – This men’s sauna has a spa, steam room and gym.
- Sydney Harbour Bridge – Walk or cycle across one of Sydney’s most popular sites.
- Royal Botanic Gardens – This 30-hectacre garden is home to thousands of plants found here.
- Hyde Park – This large city park with a huge fountain is popular with locals.
- Sydney Tower – Sydney’s tallest structure, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
- Taronga Zoo – See many animals indigenous to Australia at this zoo with a view of the city skyline.
- Go surfing off popular Bondi Beach.
- Cheer on the NSW Blues at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
- Catch an exciting Sydney Roosters rugby match at the Sydney Football Stadium.
- Go sailing on a yacht in Sydney Harbour.
- Play a round of golf at the Moore Park Golf Course.
The bustling business heart of Sydney is about more than just skyscrapers and multinational business headquarters. Below the modern skyline is a cultured snapshot of the past merging with the future in sandstone gems like the Queen Victoria Building and Town Hall.
It’s also here that you’ll find Sydney’s shopping centre. Spreading out along Pitt Street Mall, beneath the shadow of Sydney Tower, are a shopaholic’s wet dream in the shape of some seriously la-di-dah boutique stores (they employ people just to open the door for you!) and more comfortably daggy high-street chains.
Largely deserted on weekends (except for the skateboarding kids in Martin Place), the CBD is also home to some of Sydney’s best museums and galleries, including the Sydney Museum, the Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the ANZAC War Memorial.
Best avoided if you don’t like crowds, Darling Harbour has made a valiant and mostly successful attempt to turn itself into Sydney’s entertainment hub. It can get a little edgy on a Saturday night, but most of the time the many bars and restaurants boast a relaxed, feel-good vibe that is surprisingly good at getting you to spend lots of money.
During the day, Darling Harbour is often filled with families making the most of kid-friendly attractions like the Imax Cinema, Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World. A little walk away is the Powerhouse Museum, which can’t be beaten in terms of interactive exhibits.
Busy, busy, busy, but also fun, fun, fun, Circular Quay is the image that pops into the head when most people think of Sydney. It’s the perfect starting point for exploring the city, offering easy access to the Bridge, Opera House and Museum of Contemporary Art.
Circular Quay is also home to a number of street performers (of varying standard) and a variety of eateries from the generic fast-chains to the Michelin-starred, book-months-ahead boast-to-all-your-friends venues to some wonderful turn-up-and-they’ll-squeeze-you-in-and-give-you-a-great-meal-and-an-even-better-time gems.
Want to know where all the cool kids go? The answer is Surry Hills. Equally popular with trendy creative types and students (who show over inclination of wanting to grow up to be a trendy creative type), it retains enough grit and deliberately grungy dilapidation (which still attracts monster house prices) to retain its edge.
Some of Sydney’s best pubs, including The Shakespeare and The Clock, can be found here. And when it comes to hangover cures required from spending time in said pubs, the Bourke Street Bakery simply can’t be beaten.
Surry Hills is also the place to come for designer threads sold by the designers themselves (some serious bargains can be found this way). And if you’ve got an appreciation of modern Australian art, be sure to check out the Brett Whitely Studio Museum.
Sydney Eat & Drink
Icebergs Dining Room & Bar The pride of Bondi, this is serves two clienteles. Upstairs for posh nosh; downstairs for pub grub. The views are fantastic regardless.
Buon Ricordo Reckoned to be the best Italian restaurant in Sydney. There’s only way to find out whether or not you agree…
Quay Officially one of the best 50 restaurants in the world. You may need to book ahead.
Catalina Oh we do like to be beside the seaside, especially when the harbour views are this good and the food matches them.
Café Sydney The best views in town – unless you count the top of the Bridge, and they don’t let you take food up there.
Otto Italian cuisine and a favourite celebrity hangout. Is that Russell Crowe in the corner or just some fat bloke with a beard?
Rockpool The best of a very good bunch in.
Bather’s Pavilion What’s this? A brilliant dining experience found north of the Bridge? You betcha! Balmoral Beach
Guillaume at Bennelong Thought the Opera House was just for music. ‘Willy’s’ (as we’d call it here in Oz) begs to differ.
Bilson’s Go for the 10-course degustation. Stay for the wine list.
The New Year’s Test Match used to start on New Year’s Day. Now though, we’ve got a much-needed extra day to get over hangovers before the action gets underway at the SCG.
The Sydney Festival in January features a combination of free and ticketed music, theatre, dance and art events.
Hit the beach for Australia Day. Sing songs. Laugh at sunburnt Poms.
Watch March’s annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras wend its way along Oxford Street.
Treat the family to the rides and displays at the Royal Easter Show. (Just in case you’ve never been to the Show in your own city…)
The ANZAC Day Dawn Service in Martin Place is a moving reminder of why we must never forget.
The Archibald Prize Exhibition runs at the Art Gallery of NSW from April to June, with famous Aussie faces brought given the artistic treatment.
Vivid Sydney transforms the city with lights and projections in June.
The walk from Bondi to Tamarama beaches becomes an outdoor art gallery in October/November with Sculpture by the Sea.
Head to the harbour for the Boxing Day start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
Watch the Bridge light up with fireworks on New Year’s Eve.Circular Quay is the place to be for the party of both years!
When To Go
Sydney enjoys a mild, pleasant climate means it’s perfect for visiting all year round. The city only experiences about 12 days a year when the mercury climbs to over 30°C, but humidity often makes it feel hotter in summer.
Gale force winds are not uncommon in winter. It’s not such a problem in the heart of the city (although the viewing platform outside the top of the Sydney Tower won’t be for the faint-hearted), but in outer regions like the Blue Mountains (100km to the west), it can be a serious issue.
Winter can also see the fog descend on Sydney. It’s eerie but also rather cool to see the Bridge blanketed in a damp white shroud.
What To Miss
The Monorail – Kind of cool in its day, but as that day was 1988 it’s a bit pointless now, especially as its stops are within easy walking distance of each other.
24-hour pubs – Unless you’re looking for trouble, these nonstop drinking holes are best avoided.
Sightseeing Cruises – They take you around and give you a spiel on the sights, but you get the same view and a more interesting commentary on the commuter ferries and from a friendly local.
You will have a lot of Sydney car rental options at the Airport and in different suburbs of the city.
Sydney is eminently walkable, but if you don’t have the energy, the City Circle offers regular trains around (and under) the heart of the city. Despite Sydneysiders constantly complaining about public transport, it’s actually not bad.
Sundays are ‘Family Fundays’. If you’re an adult travelling with at least one child, you’re whole group pays just $2.50 per person for travel all day on trains, buses and ferries.
Get up early to explore Circular Quay, The Rocks and Darling Harbour without the crowds. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, join the many early morning joggers taking the scenic waterfront path around The Domain and Botanic Gardens and into the City. Stop to catch your breath at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair as the sun rises over the water and you’ll realise why they call this the most beautiful harbour in the world.
Bondi Beach, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House – Sydney’s residents are justly proud of their city’s world famous landmarks. Take time to explore Sydney and you’ll discover an exciting, culturally diverse city with delicious ethnic cuisine, great shopping, excellent nightlife and first-rate accommodation options from budget to five-star hotels.
The iconic Sydney Opera House is a drawcard for Sydneysiders and tourists. Watch an opera inside, quaff an Aussie Semillon on the concourse or grab some snaps of the Opera House’s sail-roofed glory. Sharing the limelight on Sydney Harbour is the equally famed Harbour Bridge. Linking Sydney’s east and north, the bridge can be crossed on foot, bicycle, car or if you’re brave, you can climb it on the Bridge Climb. While you’re in the area, check out The Rocks and Circular Quay. The Rocks is the place Sydney’s first settlers made their home and you can still wander its cobbled streets. It’s alongside Circular Quay, where you can catch one of Sydney’s famous harbour ferries. Not to be missed is the ferry ride to Taronga Zoo where you can pat kangaroos and koalas.
Around the headland from Circular Quay is Darling Harbour. Whether you’re taking a harbour cruise, up close and personal with the fish at Sydney Aquarium or watching an IMAX movie, it’s is a fun destination. Closer to the city center, Centrepoint Tower offers the best view of the Sydney. The structure rises above the Westfield shopping centre, which is the perfect spot to give your credit card a work out.
When you’ve satisfied your retail therapy needs, head to the Australian Museum. It’s a great place to learn about Australia’s natural history and will keep the kids entertained too. Across the road from the museum is Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral. The church is an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture and crafted from local yellow sandstone.
When you’re ready to explore outside the CBD, Bondi Beach and Balmain are must-see destinations. Sydneysiders know they’re lucky to have a beach as beautiful as Bondi only 15 minutes from the city centre. After a dip in the Pacific grab a latte from one of the many cool cafes in the area. Balmain is further inland and its streets are lined with heritage buildings and the shopping, café and pub scene is top notch.
On New Year’s Eve there’s no other place to be than by the water. Head to Sydney Harbour for the city’s famous New Year’s fireworks display. If you fancy dancing the night away nab a ticket to the annual Shore Thing party on Bondi Beach.
Cricket fans should join the other pilgrims for the most Australian of rituals, the New Year’s Day cricket test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
For your dose of culture in January, the Sydney Festival has free and paid-for music, theatre, dance and art events.
Australia Day is on January 26, a Bank Holiday for the whole nation. Locals hit the beach for some sun and a BBQ or the harbour for the Ferrython, the annual ferry race.
Oxford Street is awash with rainbow flags with the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras in early March. Along with the parade down Oxford Street, there are parties, art exhibitions, beach BBQs and talks.
Every Easter the country heads to the city for the Sydney Royal Easter Show at Homebush Bay.
In August cinema buffs can choose from the latest films from Australia and around the world with the two-week Sydney Film Festival.
In September the Festival of the Winds takes over the Bondi sky with a sea of kites.
In the first week of October, the Manly International Jazz Festival is the perfect excuse to check out Sydney’s best beach on the north side of the city.
The coastal walk from Bondi to Tamarama Beach is beautiful year round but it becomes an outdoor art gallery in early November with the annual Sculpture By The Sea.
On Boxing Day the annual Sydney to Hobart race kicks off and Sydneysiders line the harbour to watch the yachts sail out of the heads.
Leisure and Recreation
Aussies love the great outdoors and Sydney’s beautiful natural harbour and stunning beaches makes it pretty easy. Cruise the harbour, have surfing lessons on Bondi, parasail in Manly, scuba dive in the harbour or rent a bike in Centennial Park.
Along with outdoor pursuits, Sydney has a lot to offer the keen shopper. There’s a brand new Westfield on Pitt Street in Sydney’s CBD and a similar affair in Bondi Junction. Market fans should head to Paddington Markets on Saturdays or Bondi Markets on Sundays. You’ll find smaller local designer boutiques on Oxford Street in Paddington and Crown Street in Surry Hills.
Sport is almost a national religion so it’s worth checking out a local sporting fixture. The NRL (National Rugby League) and AFL aka Aussie Rules seasons start in late March and finish early October. Matches are played at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Olympic Stadium. The international cricket season is from November to February.
When visiting Sydney is just not enough
If you fall in love with Sydney like so many others do, then just visiting sometimes isn't enough. Moving to Sydney becomes a viable option when you want to experience something totally new. Sydney offers so much; history, the culture, the excitement as well as the very close proximity to South East Asia.
Summers in Sydney are warm to hot and winters are mild and the seasons are the reverse of the northern hemisphere. In winter, average temperatures are 49-61oF (9 - 16oC) so you will need a warm jacket. In summer temperatures range from 63-77oF (17 - 25oC) but can hit 100oF (38oC) so pack for warm weather. Plan your visit between October to April to make the most of Sydney’s outdoor lifestyle and beaches.
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