Sydney, Australia, is a grand host that welcomes the world to its stage. In fact, the city thrives on the opportunity to show the world what it is: a vibrant, cosmopolitan area with trendsetting international cuisine, stellar architecture—think of the Sydney Opera House—and a spectacular harbor setting.
Sydney is the cultural and financial heart of the Australian continent. Nearly one-fifth of the residents of Australia live there, and they are always on the go. They sail, surf, swim and ferry across the water—or look out at the bay from one of many waterfront cafes.
Located on an inlet on the southeastern coast of Australia, Sydney is a sprawling, low-rise city. Visitors will likely spend most of their time in Sydney's center in the downtown area, which generally includes the Central Business District, The Rocks and Darling Harbour.
The best place to start getting acquainted with the city's layout is Circular Quay, the city's transportation hub. As you face the Sydney Harbour Bridge, to your right is the famous Sydney Opera House with the Royal Botanic Gardens beyond it. To the left, beneath the bridge, is The Rocks, which curves around the bay to Darling Harbour, where you'll find the city's oldest pubs, the Sydney Observatory and other attractions. The tall buildings bordered by Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and Hyde Park make up the Central Business District (also known as the CBD).
A 20-minute walk or a short taxi ride southeast takes you to Kings Cross, with its restaurants and nightclubs, as well as some of Sydney's most hip neighborhoods. Paddington is lined with fine-art galleries, trendy clothing stores and pretty Victorian houses. Darlinghurst is known for its trendy cafes and nightclubs. Oxford Street is Sydney's—and Australia's—gay mecca and site of the famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in February. To the south is Surry Hills, a hipster hot spot full of great dining options.
North of the bridge and easily accessible by ferry from Circular Quay lies Sydney's second most popular beachside area for tourists, Manly and its famous beach. Manly is only the first of a string of northen coastal beach suburbs such as Freshwater, Newport, Avalon and Palm Beach—all spectacular and most never explored by tourists. To the west are a host of grungy inner-city suburbs. Southwest is the Italian enclave Leichhardt. To the east are the iconic harborside suburbs with unbeatable views of Sydney's waterfront, as well as the wealthy eastern suburbs of Woollahra. Beyond that lie Sydney's most iconic beach, Bondi, and the trendy eastern beach suburbs of Bondi.
The Aborigines inhabited the Sydney area for tens of thousands of years before the first European settlers landed there on 26 January 1788. British Capt. Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack and named the city in honor of Lord Sydney, who was then the British home secretary. Phillip's mission was to establish a penal colony at Sydney Cove (today known as Circular Quay) for the boatloads of convicts and troops he'd taken with him.
The reluctant colonists (known as "First Fleeters") were ill-prepared to settle the continent, but after much hardship, the city began taking shape in the area now called The Rocks. Over the next century, Sydney's secure harbor spurred the city's emergence as the country's economic hub.
Sydney didn't shed its reputation as bland and provincial until the mid-1950s, when enlightened leadership led to the construction of such landmarks as the Sydney Opera House. Explosive growth, coupled with a booming economy, helped turn Sydney into one of the world's most attractive, cosmopolitan and multicultural cities.
Sydney is very wheelchair-friendly. The main attractions all have designated disabled parking zones, hearing loops, aids for the visually impaired and wheelchair ramps. All new buildings are required to supply wheelchair access, but older buildings may or may not. Parking spots for the disabled are plentiful, and pedestrian crossings are sound-enabled.
Many of Sydney's attractions are within easy walking distance of one another. In theory you could attempt to see many of them in a single day—though you wouldn't stand still for long. We suggest taking a more leisurely approach by beginning your visit at Circular Quay (pronounced key), where you can catch a morning cruise of the city's harbor. When you get back, head for the Sydney Opera House. Its prominence on the waterfront and its distinctive white, sail-style roof have made it the city's (and Australia's) most famous landmark.
You can stroll along the bay from the Opera House to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which we consider a must-see. The park's gardens and ponds are lovely, and the views of the harbor are spectacular—particularly from Mrs. Macquarie's Chair (actually a rock favored by the wife of an early governor of New South Wales). In addition, you can visit the ornate Government House, take in the artwork at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, or find out what life was like for the city's first felons at nearby Hyde Park Barracks.
On another day, tour the Australian Museum and then cut through Hyde Park to the Sydney Tower, in the heart of downtown, for views of the Pacific to the east and the Blue Mountains to the west. You can hop on the Metro Monorail to Darling Harbour and visit the shark tanks at the Sydney Aquarium or take advantage of the huge selection of restaurants and cafes. A water taxi or a ferry will return you to Circular Quay. From there it's an easy walk to The Rocks, the city's most historic area. (If you are taking the BridgeClimb tour, you'll depart from The Rocks. If you're not, consider walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge—the views are almost as good.)
Reserve an afternoon for a visit to the Taronga Zoo, which is on the north side of the harbor. (It's best reached by ferry from Circular Quay.) You could easily spend another day browsing the shops in Paddington, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. Glebe is wrapped in hippie culture and packed with cafes and new-age bookstores—it's an interesting stop if you have some extra time, as is Newtown, filled with colorful backstreet pubs, artists of all stripes and bohemian vibes.
Beach lovers will want to plan a day at either Manly or Bondi beach—better if you make time for both. More than likely, you'll run out of time before you'll run out of things to see and do in Sydney.
Australian Mary Donaldson, now Crown Princess of Denmark, met Crown Prince Frederick at the Slip Inn in Sydney during the 2000 Olympic Games.
The highest temperature ever recorded in Sydney is 114.4 F, and the lowest temperature ever recorded is 25 F.
There are 200 different ethnic cultures in Sydney, which translates to its eclectic mix of traditions, styles, architecture and, most noticeably, food. Immigrants make up 75% of the city's annual population growth.
Sydney's first currency was rum and led to a rum rebellion.
The Sydney Opera House was estimated to cost A$7 million to build, but ended up costing A$102 million.
Famous Australian comedian and actor Paul Hogan used to work as a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The seaside suburb of Manly was named after Sydney founder British Capt. Arthur Phillip's admiration of the "manly" build of the Aborigines.
The penthouse at the recently reinvented Star (a casino, entertainment and dining hub) was designed for Leonardo DiCaprio while he was in Sydney filming The Great Gatsby. It became his home during his Sydney sojourn.
Dos and Don’ts
Do remember that there's a longstanding rivalry between Sydney and its southern competitor, Melbourne.
Do praise the weather, the beaches and the beautiful locals: Sydneysiders love to brag about their city's charms.
Don't forget that Australians use sarcasm as their main form of humor, and poke fun of themselves and others regularly. It's never meant to offend.
Do try to get a few "Strine" slang phrases under your belt before you head to the Land Down Under. "Barbie" for barbecue, "arvo" for afternoon and "mozzie" for mosquito should get you started.
Don't waste money and taste buds on chain-store fast food. Eat quick and cheap sushi, kebabs, burgers, pizza, Thai food and Korean barbecue from local establishments.
Don't drive without a decent map: Sydney is one giant rabbit warren, with a confusing system of one-way streets and San Francisco-style hills to negotiate and they drive on the opposite side of the road.
Do smile and say "g'day" back to friendly locals. Australians are generally very open and approachable, and are likely to start up a conversation with you if they detect an accent.
Don't swim outside the red and yellow flags found on surf beaches, which indicate safe areas without rips or strong currents. Also keep an eye out for warning signs and announcements about sharks or blue bottles.
Today you're more likely to find Aussies dining on Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Turkish, Lebanese or Italian food than on the more traditional fare borrowed from the British. Darling Harbour and Circular Quay are awash with trendy restaurants serving everything from modern Australian to grilled seafood. The neighborhoods of Darlinghurst and Newtown have a concentration of vegetarian and Asian restaurants.
Italian places are found all over, but Leichhardt is particularly renowned: The Italian forum off Norton Street, where dozens of restaurants are lined around a courtyard, has an authentic Italian feel. Other good spots for Italian include Paddington, Woollahra and Darlinghurst. Great dim sum can be had in Chinatown and Chatswood. Manly has a strip of cafes along the beachfront serving meze plates, seafood and modern Australian dishes.
Local seafood, from calamari and smoked trout to rock oysters, Tasmanian salmon and the much-respected but pricey barramundi, is served just about everywhere.
Be sure to try some of Australia's native specialties (called "bush tucker"): warrigal (a spinachlike green), kangaroo (tastes like venison but contains less fat) and emu. For sweet desserts, try wattle-seed ice cream; lamington, a sheet cake coated with a chocolate spread and dipped in coconut; or pavlova, a soft-crusted meringue served with kiwi, passion fruit and strawberries and topped with whipped cream.
Australians have embraced coffee culture. Espresso drinks, including macchiatos, cappuccinos and other variations, are very popular. If you prefer the kind of filtered coffee that's common in North America, visit McDonald's or Starbucks.
Otherwise, you will only find it at a hotel buffet breakfast.
Australia's wines are winning international gold medals, and samples of the country's renowned vintages are widely available. Excellent beers and liquors are served at most dining establishments, too. Some restaurants allow you to take your own alcohol, which can be found at bottle shops (liquor stores), often located next to pubs and hotels. A corkage fee of about A$2 is usually charged. Establishments that are classified as "fully licensed" serve alcohol.
General dining hours are 6:30-10 am for breakfast, noon-2:30 pm for lunch and 7-10 pm for dinner.
Sights—The architecturally stunning Sydney Opera House; the historic Rocks district; the view of the skyline from the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge or Sydney Tower; the peaceful Royal Botanic Gardens; the view from North Head, Manly.
Museums—Early Australian, contemporary and Aboriginal art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales; contemporary pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art; natural and cultural history at the Australian Museum; the temporary exhibitions at the State Library of New South Wales; the city's history at the Museum of Sydney; the early days at the Rocks Discovery Museum.
Memorable Meals—A plate of fresh oysters; Chinese food in Chinatown; the sheer artistry of food presentation in itself.
Nightlife—A night of opera at Sydney Opera House; live jazz at The Basement in Circular Quay; enjoying the view and libations at Cargo Bar & Lounge on King Street Wharf; dancing at the super-hip Hemmesphere; the Friday-night buzz around the more casual pubs of Taylor Square in Darlinghurst; drinks overlooking Coogee Beach at the rooftop Coogee Pavilion.
Walks—A walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens; a breezy stroll across the Sydney Harbour Bridge (preferably from the north to the south side at sunset); a saunter down Oxford Street, from Paddington to Darlinghurst; the Manly Scenic Walk; the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk; the two-night luxury Zoo2Q walking adventure from Taronga Zoo to the historic Quarantine Station.
Especially for Kids—Taronga Zoo; the Shark Reef Snorkel at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium; the interactive exhibits at Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary; interactive science and design exhibits at the Powerhouse Museum; cuddle a koala at Featherdale Wildlife Park; the fair and rides at Luna Park.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports and an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which substitutes for a visa. The ETA is free and available through travel agents and airlines. (Most people get them on the inbound flight.) Contact the nearest Australian embassy for more information. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Predominant Religions: Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic).
Time Zone: 10 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+10 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the first Sunday in October to the first Sunday in April.
Voltage Requirements: 240 volts, 50 cycles AC. Appliances that do not include converters will require a transformer. Those with converters will require an adapter with a three-pronged plug.
Telephone Codes: 61, country code; 2 city code;
Expect warm, humid summers and mild winters. The hottest months are December-February, when temperatures can reach into the 100s F. Evening temperatures are cooler—usually in the 70s F. Rainfall is heaviest February-June, with March and June being the wettest months. During the winter months (June-August) expect temperatures in the 50s-60s F. September-November (spring) are the driest months.
What to Wear
When sightseeing, it is recommended that you wear a hat and apply a strong sunscreen to avoid sun exposure. Light, natural fibers are the most comfortable.
Sydney's mild yet unpredictable climate demands clothing that can be layered—winter days can be warm; summer nights can be gusty. Take a sweater no matter when you're going. If showers are forecast, be aware that in Australia this can mean a torrential downpour.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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