I’ve recently had more than a dozen friends from overseas ask me about Sydney as they are planning to visit. I won’t suggest that their sudden urge to visit/relocate has anything to do with Brexit or the election of Trump because that would be mean. Instead, I thought you might be interested in what I shared with them (based on a week long visit), because after all, it really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Firstly, however, 15 things you may not know about Sydney or Australia generally:
- Kangaroos do not bounce down Sydney’s streets.
- We do not put Vegemite on everything. In fact, some of us prefer Marmite.
- Some of our suburbs have names that take a little getting used to. Woolloomooloo springs to mind.
- There is no such thing as a drop bear. Or is there?
- We do not “slip or throw shrimps on the barbie“. Instead, with precision and innate skill, we BBQ prawns to perfection and serve them with an Asian salad, some steamed jasmine rice and a cold glass of Hunter Valley semillion.
- You will be hard pushed to come across anyone vaguely resembling Crocodile Dundee in Sydney.
- Australia is spelt AUSTRALIA, not AUSTRIA.
- Hardly anyone in Australia watches Neighbours.
- Budgie smugglers are an actual thing. Google it.
- Koalas are not bears, nor are they cute. They are noisy, grumpy and vaguely smelly creatures.
- You are highly unlikely to be bitten or attacked by any of our famously dangerous or poisonous creatures. The last fatal shark attack in Sydney was in 1963. I’ve seen one Funnel Web spider in my entire 25 years of living here. Red Back spiders are more common but less toxic. Although, I would definitely avoid swimming in Northern QLD during the warmer months unless you want to bump into this charming fella. I have never seen a snake in urban Sydney. But that said, I always look down when I walk because you never know…
- About 70% of the world’s 300+ species of marsupial call Australia home.
- Number 12 includes the beautiful Kangaroo. And this is interesting ~ it is featured with another Australian animal, the Emu on the Australian Coat of Arms. They were included in the design because neither of them can walk backwards, symbolising a country that is always moving forward. Neat huh?
- Down Under by Men at Work is not our National Anthem. Although sometimes I wish it were.
- Hardly any Australians share the same fondness for crocodiles and snakes as the late Steve Irwin.
The current CBD of Sydney is located on the land of the Cadigal people, the original indigenous owners. It is part of the greater Eora nation. The CBD sits on Port Jackson, our main harbour, and this is where you’ll find the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Although the land area of Greater Sydney is enormous, spanning some 12,368 square kilometres. It derives its name from the then British Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney. The current population of Sydney is somewhere around the 4.4 million mark.
You will love being in Sydney over summer. There’s always so much going on, including the Sydney Festival which gets better each year.
The first thing to know about Sydney during summer? It is hot. Whilst the weather bureau will tell you that the average temperature is a beautiful 23°C with loads of sun, Sydney-siders know that more often than not the days can climb to over 40°C and be horridly humid. They are forecasting summer 2016/17 to experience above average temperatures so be warned. Make sure you pack lots of cool clothes, your bathers and LOTS of sunscreen as you’re bound to want to cool off at a beach during your stay. Of course Bondi is our iconic beach, so a visit there is probably in order. Although I much prefer Harbord, Freshwater and Queenscliff beaches.
Starting at the Botanic Gardens walk around to the Opera House. This is well worth doing as the views are quite the thing. From the Opera House you can walk past Circular Quay (which is the main terminal for all our wonderful ferries) to The Rocks area which is the oldest part of colonial Sydney. It’s a bit touristy but worth a look. The Museum of Contemporary Art is in The Rocks and has just celebrated its 25th birthday so they might have some good exhibitions on. Then wander up through the CBD itself (which I think is awful and boring) and do a bit of shopping. Head for the Sydney Tower and go to top. The views are something else. This is a long, but not hard walk. Probably 2 hours round trip.
If you fancy a bit of colonial history, again, start at the Botanic Gardens but this time head away from the harbour (up Mrs Macquarie’s Road) and visit the Art Gallery of NSW, NSW Parliament House, Hyde Park Barracks and you can end up at St Mary’s Cathedral and the Australian Museum. This is maybe an hour or two round trip. The Art Gallery has a great exhibition on at the moment called Nude. Essentially, artworks from around the world (including Rodin’s “The Kiss”) exploring how our bodies have been represented through art over the ages.
Walk over the harbour bridge from the CBD. On a nice day this is well worth it. Once you reach the other side, you’ll be in my part of the town. You could wander down to Luna Park, have a swim in the Olympic Pool or do neither of those things and instead have lunch at Aqua Dining which has stonking views back over the harbour into the city with the bridge framing the view. On the north side, there’s a sweet little garden created by the late Brett Whiteley’s wife Wendy, unsurprisingly called Wendy’s Garden. Well worth a look if you find yourself in Lavender Bay. And Kirribilli is also worth having a look at. You’ll find some nice little cafes and knockout views over to the CBD.
Walk along the ocean cliff tops from Bronte to Bondi. Even better if Sculpture by the Sea is on when you visit. Finish your walk with a meal at anyone of the 100s of funky Bondi eateries.
Walk from Spit Bridge (North Shore) along Middle Harbour’s foreshore to Manly. This is about a 2.5 hour walk (one way) but absolutely stunning, so I’d highly recommend it if you have the time.
From Circular Quay, catch a ferry to Manly. You’ll go straight up the guts of the harbour and end up at Manly wharf. Manly itself I think is pretty awful and junky (many would disagree), but you could walk from the ferry stop across to the main beach, admire the view, have a swim, buy some fish and chips and fight with the seagulls ‘Finding Nemo’ style and catch the ferry back again. You could also visit Shelly Beach which is quite delightful and there is a lovely restaurant called The Boathouse nearby.
From Circular Quay, travel to Taronga Zoo Wharf and visit our world-famous Zoo. Not only will you get up close and personal with our fauna, it has the most amazing views back across the city into the harbour. Many people say the elephants and giraffes have the best views in Sydney. I tend to agree. It will be jam-packed with families, screaming children clutching dripping ice creams and the like, but still worth a visit. If you are travelling with children, it’s a must for them. As is Nutcote, the home of May Gibbs, author of an Australian classic children’s book, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Closest ferry stop is Hayes Street at Neutral Bay. For the ultimate list of things to do with kids in Sydney, check out my mate Seana’s website Hello Sydney Kids.
From Circular Quay, catch a ferry the other way up the harbour to Parramatta. There’s nothing to see there, (many will disagree with me) so just do a round trip. Although you could visit Old Government House. Heading up the harbour this way also offers some great vistas and it’s the true working part of the harbour. I actually find it far more interesting.
Catch a ferry to Darling Harbour. It’s the entertainment precinct of Sydney where you’ll find the Sydney Aquarium, Entertainment Centre, IMAX theatre and Strike Zone amongst others. I really don’t like Darling Harbour but it does cater very well to tourists looking for mementoes of their time in Sydney. You’ll find many, many shops selling everything from didgeridoos, opals and stuffed koalas through to high-street fashion.
Catch a ferry to Cockatoo Island. It’s a good way to learn a bit more about Sydney’s convict past. You can also spend the night there.
Catch a ferry to Watsons Bay. Go to the Watsons Bay pub, buy some fish ‘n chips and enjoy the view back down the harbour.
Visit Cabramatta. It’s home to a large Vietnamese community and is a vibrant, colourful and culturally interesting suburb. I’ve visited several times and am yet to eat a better Pho anywhere in the world. Check out my mate Thang Ngo’s website Noodlies for more info on what to do in “Cabra”. In fact, what he doesn’t know about eating out in Sydney isn’t worth knowing. You should visit his website regardless of whether you come to Australia or not. Another Sydney food website worth taking a look at is Inside Cuisine.
Visit Barangaroo. It’s Sydney’s latest recreational space and shopping precinct. The foreshore walk is lovely and the Australian native plantings inspirational. I’ve not visited the restaurants yet but everyone raves about them. I think there’s a cultural space somewhere within the park which would be worth a visit.
If you don’t mind heights you could do the harbour bridge climb. You essentially don very ugly grey suits, are clipped onto the bridge and climb its span. People rave about it but I’d rather stick pins in my eyes, such is my fear of heights.
Visit Balmoral. Have lunch one day at either The Bathers Pavilion or the Public Dining Room at Balmoral Beach (Mosman). This is a beautiful little harbour beach, the views are delightful and both restaurants are good. I think my preference would be Bathers (which has a formal restaurant and an adjoining cafe ~ I don’t think you can book ahead for cafe). If a restaurant is not your thing there’s also a fab little fish and chip shop but be warned, it is stonkingly expensive for what is a simple meal. If you want to splash out, hire a water taxi to take you to Balmoral. Otherwise it’s a bus trip. Or, because the Zoo is also in Mosman, you could combine your visit there followed by a short bus ride over to Balmoral for a meal and a wander. Don’t forget bathers and a towel if you fancy a swim.
If you really want to splurge, catch the sea plane up to Palm Beach (for British fans of Home and Away, this is where much of it is filmed) and spend the day there. The views of our coastline from the plane are something else. There’s a great little restaurant called The Boathouse at Palm Beach. The Beach itself is also great for swimming but stay within the flags.
Visit the Sydney Opera House. There’s always something going on there and going to at least one performance is highly recommended. At the very least just go to the Opera Bar, have a glass of champagne and enjoy the views.
Sydney restaurants I recommend to tourists (some with fabulous views) include:
- Lucios (Italian) Paddington
- Bistro Guillame (French/Australian) CBD
- Mr Wong (Asian). You can’t book but it has a good bar while you wait. CBD
- Aria (contemporary australian) down at Circular Quay
- Quay (contemporary australian) at Circular Quay
- Apollo (Greek) in Potts Point
- Chiswick Gardens (seasonal Australian eating) Woollahra
- China Doll and Otto at Woolloomooloo Wharf
- Cafe Sydney at Circular Quay
And finally to NYE if you plan to be here then. What many visitors do is set themselves up at the end of Mrs Macquaries Road (next to the Botanic Gardens) and have a picnic at Mrs Macquaries Chair which is at the end of the point. When I say many people, I mean 1000s and 1000s and 1000s. You’d need to get there very early (some people get there a day ahead) to find a spot and be prepared to stay there all day. You’ll need to do that for any public viewing point which includes around the opera house and circular quay, the botanic gardens (not the gardens themselves but just outside them) or under the bridge over at Kirribilli, Lavender Bay and McMahons Point. If you want to view from a restaurant/hotel, (many hotels and restaurants on the harbour offer NYE specials) you should book them a year ahead of your visit. Note that wherever you end up, the harbour bridge is closed from around 4.00pm 31st until at least 1.00am on the 1st. You can’t drive or walk over it until then. As are many other bridges and roads. The harbour tunnel is the only option if you’re driving or Ubering/taxi-ing (which I might add, can be impossible to secure on NYE). For more information, look here.
Another option is to hire a private boat and just float around the harbour and watch the fireworks from there. It is certainly THE way to see them. The harbour becomes so crowded with sea craft I’ve often felt you could walk from boat to boat from one side of the harbour to the other. It certainly is an amazing thing to be a part of. If you google “Rent a private boat for sydney NYE”, many companies come up. I’m sorry, I can’t recommend one over the other.
Well that’s it. Some recommendations and ideas to ensure you enjoy your time in Sydney.
And yes, I’ve used the word Sydney over 40 times in this post…
Are you planning a visit? If you live in Sydney, what else would you recommend?
Until next time…