One of the countries I have been lucky enough to extensively travel and experience is Australia. This once distant island (yes it is an island), in recent years has become a mecca for backpacking, holidaying and even in numerous cases migration; is arguably the world’s most popular destination. The reasons behind Australia’s rise to fame are numerous but include; a strong economy, high standard of living, world class beaches, great weather (but not always), abundant wildlife, true wilderness and of course iconic cities.
At the centre of the tourist boom which Australia is experiencing is one of the world’s most iconic cities, Sydney. I called Sydney home; for 8 months in 2006 and 3 weeks in 2010. The city itself is so popular now, that I thought I should share a little knowledge on the city I called home.
Sydney is huge, and similar to London or LA, sprawls across numerous suburbs. I have had the pleasure of living centrally on the border of Redfearn and Strawberry Hills, and the incredible suburb of Manly. The city itself boasts great transport networks, with extensive, easy to use train, bus and ferry networks; e.g. a trip from the International or domestic airport to the city centre is around 20 minutes by train.
The city centre is very easy to walk/cycle friendly with many of the top tourist attractions all located in close proximity of one another, making it very easy to navigate. Most people’s first stop will understandably be Circular Quay, where the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge are located. This area is at the north end of the CBD and although accessible by train, I prefer to walk it from Town Hall or Wynyard (2 other stations). The reason behind this is it builds up the anticipation of your first glimpse of the icon structure – esp. if you’ve never seen it before – it is an unforgettable experience.
Visiting the Opera House couldn’t be easier; you can literally walk up to the iconic building and explore its outside structure free of charge. Interesting fact is that although it looks white from the outside the Opera House is actually a grey colour. If you get the chance go and see a show in the venue itself; it’s well worth the experience, even if your not an Opera fan..
Negating the influence and draw of the Opera House, Circular Quay’s primary use is actually of a Ferry port, which provides residents and tourists alike transport to other suburbs of Sydney. The one we usually used it for was the ferry yo to Manly, Taronga Zoo, or just simply a book a cruise around the harbour.
As suggested, Circular Quay offers more than just access to the Opera House; it is also home to a historical district called ‘The Rocks’ which is on the opposite side of the harbour; this area houses some of the reminisce of Sydney’s earliest settlement. This trendy district is full of windy streets, hidden staircases, small quaint shops, market places, historical buildings and above all some great restaurants and bars – fantastic on a nice sunny day. The Rocks district also borders the staircase that leads to the Harbour Bridge, an experience I view as unmissable on every visit.
I suggest a walk at dusk, where the city shimmers behind you, the view on and off the bridge is sensational – both the cityscape and the Opera House are lit up and become even more photogenic at night. Of course this walk is also good during the day, and a visit to Sydney’s mini theme park ‘Luna Park’ is tacky but enjoyable. There is also an option to climb the outside of the Harbour Bridge, which gives unsurpassed views of the whole city and is truly a once in a lifetime experience (you don’t realise how high this Bridge is until you climb the outside!). In my opinion it is pretty pricey for the experience at over $200, but again that is personal opinion – click here to find out more).
Circular Quay also provides direct access to Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens (although there are other entrances this is the most prominent). Now, I am not usually a fan of Botanic Gardens (as every city seems to have one!), but this is actually one of my favourite places in the entire city. It is extremely well maintained and is home to many Australian bird and animal species, incl. Parrots, Ibis’s, Kookaburra’s, Fruit Bats, and Possums etc… It’s the perfect spot for a picnic on a nice warm day. The sea wall walk from the Opera House entrance which ends at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is also not to be missed. The view from here is one of the best in Sydney, with the inlet in front of you, the Opera House just behind the bay and the Harbour Bridge behind the Opera House (this view is in such demand that they charge up to $400 for New Year’s here – but it is worth every penny). One of my favourite Sydney experiences is here at dusk, when the resident bats all emerge from their homes and flock into the sky – you’ll be surprised at how many there are!. It’s a sensational site and not something you expect so close to the city center.
To the west of the city centre is Darling Harbour (and Cockle Bay), again home too many restaurants and bars; this area has become ever popular. It is home to Sydney’s IMAX, Chinese Gardens, numerous Museums and Galleries, and increasingly it has been hosting a lot of events, like Music Festivals, Firework displays and even Theater productions. My favourite activity in this area is the Aquarium and Wildlife World – brilliant if you are not heading up out of the city or into the more rural parts of Australia. This is the place to go to see a host of Australia’s most fascinating creatures, like Jellyfish, Penguins, Kangaroos and Koalas. A combo ticket is available for both attractions but can be pretty expensive. Personally I thought it was great, and if I was visiting I would want to see the countries wildlife. One of my favourite funny wandering memories of Darling Harbour was entering McDonald’s and being greeted by an Ibis (which I had never seen before) eating a burger off the floor actually in the restaurant, a surreal and unique experience! To the Far south of this location is a shopping market called ‘Paddy’s Market’ which offers cheap souvenir and clothes shopping (a cheaper alternative to the CBD shops). Speaking of the CBD, this part of the city contains the shopping hub (along with the skyscrapers), with outdoor malls, cafes and everything you expect from a world class city. The main tourist attraction within the CBD is Sydney Tower, which houses a revolving restaurant. I must confess I cannot review the attraction as I have never spent the money to go up the tower. I can however say that I think there are countless ways of experiencing a great view in Sydney and this just didn’t appeal to me (esp. at the price). The other attractions worth mentioning in the CBD are St Marys Cathedral and Hyde Park. On the eastern side of the CBD is the well-known district of King Cross. This area offers a great night out, and a hub for backpacking accommodation and cheap food stalls. I have visited this area on numerous nights out and had great fun, I also recently had the pleasure of staying at a new family run backpackers, called the Jackaroo Hostel, and I have to say I was impressed!
Sydney’s eastern suburbs are a simple 10 minute train/bus ride from the city, and are home to a whole host of gorgeous beaches; including the world famous Bondi Beach. The easiest way to get here from the city is the train to Bondi and then a bus to the beach itself. I spent a great deal of time at the beach swimming, surfing, BBQ’ing shopping; lying in the sun… the possibilities are endless. We did however once have the shock of the summer while swimming at Bondi when the shark alarm sounded and we were told (via loud speaker) to exit the water. And to make the situation even scarier a helicopter was bought in! Luckily no one was injured and the sharks passed by. As I have got a little older Bondi has lost its appeal, as it is uber busy and on warm days is more like a shopping mall than a beach. This is how I discovered one of my highlights of Sydney, the Pacific cliff walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee beach. This walk is well known to many tourists but I have to say I believe it to be one of the BEST experiences in the whole city. The walk passes many lesser known beaches like Bronte and Clovely, which offer a drastically different experience to Bondi. The coastline is also spectacular to see, be it crashing waves or dolphins/whales playing in the distance, there’s always something to see. Coogee is smaller than Bondi and although popular it offers a great alternative to the sprawling mass that is now considered the most famous beach in the world. My recommendation here is after the walk; find a nice spot on the beach and enjoy some ‘Chish and Fips’ from the little Fish shop of the same name in Coogee. Returning to the city is easy on either bus or taxi which run frequently and into the evening. This walk is one of my favourite things to do in Sydney and it could be raining or nice and clear, the experience is different every day!
So the other renowned city beach is located a short ferry ride away from Circular Quay at the town of Manly. Manly town offers everything you could need for a day trip out of the city with a small trendy parade with countless surf shops and cafes. The beach itself can get just as crowded as Bondi, but get there early and experience the true beauty of Manly. Here you can have a surf lesson, soak in the sun, or do the other renowned walk from Manly to the Spit along the shore of the harbour. Personally I think no Sydney trip is complete without coming out to Manly; as it shows you the more relaxed side of the city and for the cost the ferry ride is worth it alone. I previously stayed in Manly and find it one of the most pleasurable locations that the city offers. Oh and if you do visit Manly and have a surf lesson – let me know how you got on because I was shocking! I have never drunk as much sea water in my life.
Other notable locations around the city include Botany Bay, Parramatta, Palm Beach, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley to name a few – all worth a visit and I will try to review some of them in due course. I am always happy to talk about ‘my home away from home’, give advice on hostels, transport, what to do, Working Holiday Visas, Finding Work etc… I also have experience throughout Australia having traveled a vast majority of its tourist locations – So if you have a question – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
I’ll leave you with some New Year images…
Check out my other blogs from Australia, there’s a LOT more to come…