For most tourists Sydney is synonymous with a trip to Australia. The harbor city boasts some of the countries top attractions including the iconic Sydney Opera House, but there is so much more to Sydney than what meets the eye. Unfortunately, to thoroughly explore the city and its surrounds would take at least a week so most visitors with limited time are relegated to seeing just a few key sights. The good news is as long as you’re staying somewhere within Sydney’s CBD or immediate surrounds, it’s relatively easy to walk to most key attractions.
So first things first, you’re in Sydney, which most likely means one the top things on your ‘to do’ list is to see the Sydney Opera House. Chances are you’ve seen it a number of times whether it be in movies, television or pictures, but there is nothing quite like seeing it in person. The Opera House sits on point shooting north toward the harbor between the Royal Botanic gardens and Circle Quay (the area where most ferries run to and from downtown). To minimize walking, it’s best to see the Opera House while walking a loop of other nearby attractions.
Hyde Park is the perfect place to start your winding walking toward the harbor and Opera House. The park sits just south of Sydney’s City Centre aside Elizabeth Street. Rolling green grass and towering palm trees give way to dozens of people lounging in the shade, eating lunch in the grass or jogging through the park. This is a perfect place to sit and watch a group of gentlemen playing chess or listen to one of the musicians strumming on the lawn. Behind Hyde Park, the dark, worn stone of St. Mary’s Cathedral creates a stunning backdrop.
Exit the park behind the Cathedral and head north on Art Gallery Rd. toward the harbor. You’ll meander through towing trees alongside The Domain, another rolling park. If you have time, stop and marvel at the renowned works of art inside the Art Gallery of New South Whales before heading into the Royal Botanical Gardens.
As you enter the gardens themselves, 30 hectacres of lush grass, swaying palm trees and an array of rare plants roll out before you. If it weren’t for the towering glass buildings reaching tall above the gardens, you’d wonder if you had left Sydney altogether. Free guided walks through the gardens leave daily at 10:30 am from the Palm Grove Center, and an additional walk is offered at 1pm from March to November. If you don’t take a guided tour, I at least suggest visiting the rose garden and pavilion, the succulent garden and the Wollemi Pine – one of the world’s rarest plants that was only discovered in 1994. If you’re hungry or need a break to rest your feet, stop at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant and Cafe located in the middle of the park.
From the Royal Botanic Gardens continue north around Farm Cove and near the Government House to exit the park at the base of the iconic Sydney Opera House. As its comes into view, you’ll stand in awe of its off-white, angular and geo-metric rooftops as they reach toward the sky. The Opera House itself was designed by Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect, and took 14 years to build. The arts venue hosts an average of 2,500 performances each year, with ticket prices ranging from a relatively cheap $50.00 to hundreds. Tours of the Opera House run daily from 9am until 5pm and cost $35.00 per person. If you don’t do a guided tour, you can learn a bit about the place by browsing through a book for sale in the gift shop located inside on the lower level. Or, you can read 5 things you didn’t know about the Opera House in the Sydney visitors guide. A quick synopses.. there are five theaters inside or seven if you include two other rooms, there are well over a million tiles on the roof of the Opera House, it cost 102 million dollars to build,, etc.
The view of the Opera House from this vantage point isn’t best, but don’t worry, continuing on our walking tour will give you some beautiful photo opportunities. From the Opera House follow the harbor left along Circle Quay. It’s here you can catch a ferry to the surrounding islands or just sit and watch some of the aboriginal street performers play the digeridoo. You’ll follow the quay along the water past busy restaurants and cafes until you pass the Park Hyatt hotel. It’s here you’ll find some of the best views of the Opera House across Sydney Cove.
Circle back left and sitting on the street above Circle Quay you’ll find an area referred to as The Rocks. The Rocks is Sydney’s original development, which is preserved today. In this historic part of town you’ll find nearly 50 restaurants, several museums (the Contemporary Art Museum) and countless galleries and shops.
From Cumberland street in The Rocks find the stairs leading up to Sydney’s Harbor Bridge. If you’re feet aren’t worn out, get ready to make the …. trek across the famous bridge. A pedestrian walk run on one side of the bridge offering a protected way to cross, while the other side is reserved solely for bicyclists. However you decided to cross, it’s definitely worth the venture. By now, the sun should be ready to fall leaving you to gaze upon the city lights from Milsons Point across the bridge. The lights of Luna Park should be shining bright as the sun falls. The park is a beautifully restored 1930s amusement park, which is free to walk through or pay extra to take one of the rides down memory lane.
If you’re too tired to walk, you can catch a ferry back across to Sydney Cove – just look for the ferry terminal at the base of Luna Park in front of the Aquatic Center. Or, take your time making your way back across the bridge and reward yourself with a stop at Sydney’s oldest operating pub in The Rocks or simply return back to your room knowing you explored a good portion of what Sydney has to offer.
As if day one wasn’t touristy enough, get ready to embark on a true tourist venture. Your day starts out wandering the pedestrian malls of Pitt St. and exploring the surrounding shops along the CBD. The combination of Pitt St., Castlereagh and King Streets is a shoppers dream – add in a stop at the beautiful Queen Victoria Building and you’re in fashionista paradise.
Once you’ve had your fill of dodging in out of the hundreds of people on Sydney busiest center streets, head east down Market Street and cross the Pyrmont Bridge into Darling Harbor. The harbor is a true tourists dream, and to be honest it’s the perfect place for families. It’s here you’ll find the typical attractions like Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Sydney’s Hard Rock Cafe. You’ll also find Wildlife Sydney (home to some of Australia’s famous creatures like roo’s and koalas), The Sydney Aquarium, IMax Theatre, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Darling Quarter and Playground, the Chinese Garden, the Harbour Side Mall, the Sydney Convention Center and several other wharfs. Above it all runs the Sydney Monorail shuttling passengers around the immediate area.
If it’s lunch time, find one of the many specials at the restaurants alongside Cockle bay and Darling Harbour including the many $10.00 steaks, but be warned it’s rump steak and can be tough. Or, check out some of the cheaper food at the food court located in the Harbourside Mall. This area is also home to the Sydney Visitors Center so stop in an browse brochures or ask an agent what to do if you’re still having a hard time deciding.
Head through the Darling Quarter and past the Chinese Gardens and you’ll find the Sydney Entertainment Center and Paddy’s Markets. The markets are the place to go for food, fashion and everything in between – so go ahead, add a little more junk to your life!
Just to your east lies Sydney’s Chinatown along Dixon Street. Take a quick stroll through and browse the shops or stop in for a delicious lunch at one of the dozens of eateries.
By now you’ve explored Sydney’s main thoroughfares and it’s time to get out of the city. Truly, your options are endless, but most people chose from one of two ‘getaways’: the famous Bondi Beach or Manly Island. If it’s an eclectic and alternative vibe you’re looking for, there is no better place than Bondi. The beautiful beachfront is lined with funky cafes and restaurants and unique boutiques. You’d be surprised how quickly a day can pass whilst you bask in the sun and exploring the local shops. To get to Bondi you’ll have to catch the 333 bus from the Bondi Junction Interchange.
If you’re looking to get farther out of the city to catch a few waves, a great meal and decent shopping, Manly is the destination for you. Tall pines tower above a white sand beach filled with sunbathers and surfers. Shops and take-away fish n’ chips joints line the street that curves around the beach and the nearby pedestrian mall is filled with surf and souvenir shops. To get to Manly catch either the Manly Ferry or the Manly Fast Ferry from Circle Quay platform 3 downtown. The 30 or so minutes and 14.50 it takes to get there and back (slower ferry) is worth it.
If you’re still itching for more of what Syndey and its surrounds has to offer – try exploring some of the unique ‘burbs or escape the city altogether and catch a tour of the beautiful Blue Mountains south of town. Just know not matter what you do the exciting city of Sydney will leave you wondering what’s around the corner until you’ve sufficiently explored every avenue.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Sydney Opera House
The Harbor Bridge
Downtown Shopping District
Manly or Bondi
Surry Hills or Inner West