To anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere, Australia seems like the far end of the world, but Sydney proved that it’s well worth a visit. So what should you see when you get there this month? Here are ten suggestions.
1. One of Sydney’s most appealing features is its beaches. From Palm Beach in the north to Cronulla in the south, surf and white sand mark the city’s eastern boundary, and except for the far western suburbs, nowhere is more than half an hour from a beach. Most Sydneysiders have a favorite. At Palm Beach, you can choose between the surf at the seafront or the still water of Pittwater, the start of the Hawkesbury River. Bondi is probably the most famous of Sydney’s beaches, but devotees would argue that Coogee is better, and for those further south, nothing matches Cronulla. You can take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, and the harbour beaches are perfect for those who’d rather ripples than waves.
2. Another of Sydney’s glorious natural assets is its harbour, 54 square kilometers of open water forming the heart of the city. As well as serving as an important commercial waterway, the Harbour is the focus of numerous festivals and celebrations, and a magnet for pleasure-seekers. You can swim from its beaches, explore the bushland on its shores, take a ferry across it or join one of the many cruises around its coves and waterways.
3. The Sydney Opera House would be hard to miss – and you’d be silly to try. It sits on Bennelong Point, surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Harbour and backed by the Royal Botanic Gardens and the city skyline. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Opera House is one of the most distinctive buildings of the 20th century, and one of the most photographed. Tours run daily, you can enjoy a meal or a drink while you look at the fabulous view, or attend a world-class performance of ballet, opera, drama or light entertainment in one of the numerous theatres or on the open-air forecourt.
4. Before the Opera House was built, the Harbour Bridge was Sydney’s best-known symbol. It is the world’s largest (but not longest) steel arch bridge, opened in 1932 to provide access between the city and the North Shore. The Pylon Lookout on the southern pylon is reached via three levels of exhibits and displays showing the history and construction of the Bridge, and the view from the top is fantastic. If you’re feeling energetic, you can also join a guided climb across the top of the span.
5. Sydney is Australia’s oldest city, and Sydney’s oldest precinct is the area known as The Rocks, where Captain Phillip’s landing party set up the colony’s first inadequate shelters. Situated on the western peninsula of Sydney Cove, The Rocks today is a delightful collection of art galleries, coffee shops, boutique gift shops and unique arts and crafts outlets housed in a beautifully preserved pocket of colonial cottages, cobbled lanes and leafy courtyards. Heritage sites, historic churches and once-infamous pubs trace the area’s checkered and often bawdy history.
6. Like any major city, Sydney offers ample opportunity to shop till you drop. In the CBD, department stores, Australian and international designer stores, boutiques and specialty shops are located within blocks of each other. The Queen Victoria Building, the Strand Arcade, No 1 Martin Place and The Galeries Victoria all offer a range of modern specialty shops in heritage settings. Chinatown specializes in all things Asian, and Pitt Street Mall is not just a shopping experience but a chance to enjoy a moment in the sun.
7. Darling Harbour’s motto is Expect everything, and in this case, “everything” includes a stunning harbour setting, Sydney Wildlife World, Sydney Aquarium, the Chinese Garden of Friendship, the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, eateries from international cuisine to takeaway, and a constantly-changing program of entertainment indoors and outdoors, night and day. Star City Casino is right next door – and, of course, you can shop to your heart’s content.
8. Sydney is as well-endowed culturally as it is commercially: theatre from classic to fringe, music from orchestral to pop, art from traditional to pavement, dance from ballet to nightclub. As well as the Opera House, the Australian Museum and the Art Gallery of NSW, you’ll find plenty of theatres, specialist museums and art galleries dotted throughout the city centre and suburbs. The Powerhouse Museum, with its interactive, hands-on approach, is a particular favorite.
9. Taronga Zoo has a huge advantage over other zoos. It occupies a perfect site on the shores of Sydney Harbour, with ample room for spacious, natural wildlife enclosures and fabulous views of the Harbour and the city. As well as the usual daytime trip, you can visit the zoo at night in summer, or stay overnight throughout the year (tents and meals provided) with the Roar & Snore program.
10. The northern, southern and western boundaries of Greater Sydney are as natural as the Pacific Ocean to the east. To the north, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park borders the wide waters of the Hawkesbury River. Port Hacking, to the south, divides the southern suburbs from the untouched coastline and superb forests of the Royal National Park. And to the west, the Blue Mountains, with its iconic landmarks and charming villages, provides a perfect daytrip for visitors wanting a glimpse of the rugged grandeur of wild Australia.
But really, it’s impossible to cram the diversity and energy of Sydney into ten glimpses. Why not visit and see for yourself?