“Relax on sun-drenched beaches, dine at award-winning restaurants and take in some shows on your trip to Sydney.” Australia.com
Sydney, the highly populated coastal city where nature and the city co-exist. Look beyond the obvious yet iconic tourist spots in Circular Quay and discover sandy coves, national parks and an abundance of native wildlife to discover.
When you think of Sydney you inevitably picture the Sydney Opera House, the huge sail-like white performing arts venue that dominates the harbour’s skyline. This world heritage building designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon (who never visited the site in person) hosts many performances of all different genres every year. We took a backstage tour and sipped sundowners in the famous, so therefore super busy, waterfront Opera Bar.
I’m not a fan of the touristy hop on, hop off city buses but have to adhere to the fact that it’s a great way to get around if you don’t hire your own transport. Big Bus Sydney is an easy way to explore and see all the sights including Bondi Beach, Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo (get off here for a bite to eat at Finger Wharf, an old cargo dock with trendy harbourside dining options). Honestly this was a more boring tour of mainly government buildings and parks but the harbour tour included in the price was an excellent way of seeing the whole bay from the water. The Uber service in Sydney is excellent with lots of drivers and fares cheaper than regular taxis.
Like most major cities these days helicopter tours are one of the top attractions, an awesome experience with unbeatable aerial views. We were lucky to be gifted a tour and flew across Sydney harbour then across the bay to Bondi Beach and beyond, an amazing experience and well worth the expense. No denying it’s pricey and weather dependant (was cancelled on my birthday) but definitely something to remember.
The Rocks, an historic cobbled area, is a must visit. It’s home to Sydney’s oldest pub and offers plenty of places to dine to suit all tastes and budgets, with more than fifty cafes, restaurants and hotels with fine dining options alongside the more casual options. Try Endeavour Tap Rooms with its micro brewery for beer tasting and bites, popular German bar Munich Brauhaus for a mini Oktoberfest experience with pork knuckles and steins of beer, Aslan Speciality Coffee Roasters for a quick caffeine fix and Aussie cafe Bakers Oven for breakfast or a pie.
Looking for a rowdier night with live music, then check out the Irish pub, The Mercantile Hotel for a authentic taste of the Emerald Isle. Plenty of local and designer shops to browse too such as art galleries and iconic Australian skincare brand Aesop (there’s also artisan weekend markets). For a more cultured experience visit The Museum of Contemporary Art.
Sydney is all about being outdoors. Coastal walks are a popular pastime, we did the 6K from Bondi to Coogee, totally worth the time and effort but take a hat, plenty of sunscreen and water. Reward yourself at the end with some pizza and beers at Coogee Pavillion. We walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge (and back again) to North Sydney which is home to Luna Park, a vintage style amusement park akin to the one featured in Tom Hanks iconic movie, Big. Those with a taste for a challenge can climb the bridge with BridgeClimb Sydney and ascend the inner arch to get the best view in the city. Bangaroo and Darling Harbour are within walking distance from Circular Quay too offering waterfront bars, restaurants and more mainstream touristy attractions.
Bondi Beach, probably the most famous beach in the world, is a box ticker and so famous there’s a TV show dedicated to its rescue team, Bondi Rescue. Icebergs, located at the south end of the long stretch of golden sand, is a Sydney landmark and home to the ocean pool (famous swimming club founded in 1919) with views over Bondi’s crashing waves. Non-members are welcomed to dine in the different restaurants, we had an Italian inspired lunch and drinks at Icebergs Bistro on the upper outdoor terrace with panoramic views of the beach below.
A short ferry trip from CBD across the harbour are the areas of Watson’s Bay and Manly. Everyone raves about visiting Doyles, the traditional fish and chip shop but we were disappointed with their deep fried options which I swearwe thought were frozen. The Watsons Bay Walk is a scenic hike around South Head that offers views of Sydney Harbour, the city skyline, North Head and Hornby Lighthouse.
From first glance, Manly appears to be just a tree-fringed stretch of beach (famed for surfing) but after just a short walk along the promenade and we found ourselves in the beautiful sheltered cove of Shelly Beach. Stop off at The Boathouse located here for food, drinks and beach views. Lots of beachside cafes and restaurants along the main drag and plenty of places to sit and watch all the surfers, the 4 Pines Brewing Co serves its own craft beers opposite the wharf and there’s a small shopping area too.
Manly, like Bondi, seems to be the place for backpackers with plenty of budget friendly accommodation. Friends have reliably informed us that there is also a nudist beach in this area if that is of interest. The Manly to Spit Bridge walk is a 10k hike through native bushland, inner harbour beaches and bays offering panoramic ocean views.
We are not zoo advocates but with its many awards for conservation, Taronga Zoo offers visitors the chance to interact with native Australian wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos and wallabies. We bought the boat and zoo pass from Captain Cook Cruises and as suggested online booked a Koala Encounter (additional cost) as soon as we arrived for later that day (totally recommend doing this to avoid disappointment as slots are limited). It’s illegal to hold a koala in NSW but you can get up close and personal with these cuties and grab some photos (complimentary professional photo included in the encounter price). Once you have seen all the native species check out the gorillas which were our favourites. Fancy an exciting adventure? Stay overnight at the zoo in a safari style tent with their Roar and Snore package.
Sydney is a foodies heaven awash with fabulous restaurants and bars, many of which originate from Melbourne. We had pre-booked tables at the delightful Mode Kitchen and Bar (Four Seasons Hotel – click HERE to read more), chef Neil Perry’s contemporary Italian, Rosetta (Grosvenor Place, CBD) and his modern Chinese restaurant, Spice Temple (Bligh Street). Both venues were high-end, Rosetta offering delicious Italian classics paired with creative cocktails and an extensive wine list while the Spice Temple menu is filled with aromatic and fragrant, regional Chinese dishes with lots of spice. The outright favourite for meat eaters in the family was Longrain (Surry Hills) for the caramelised pork hock with five spice and picked chilli, which was so I’m told the best dish either of them have ever tasted (so good in fact that we tried to book to go again in Melbourne).
We also visited Mejico (Pitt Street), a fun modern Mexican with great food (very good guac), cocktails and the most tequila I’ve ever seen in one place! For a more casual experience and live music, try Frankie’s Pizza (Hunter Street), buy pizza by the slice washed down with Aussie beer, enjoy the daily popular happy hour (4-6pm) and different bands of all musical genres playing every night. For a more in-depth guide to Sydney’s dining scene visit www.theurbanlist.com/sydney/.
Take a break from the city with a trip to to the Northern Beaches, bit tricky if you don’t have a car but there are some buses. Lucky for us our friends in Sydney took us for a trip along the coast to the surf beaches of Dee Why, Narrabeen, Newport and Avalon with a stop for a traditional Aussie pie along the way. We stopped in the scenic Palm Beach (where TV series Home & Away is filmed), a less populated strip of sand edged by a golf course where I enjoyed tea and scones on the deck of the beautiful Boathouse restaurant (sister venue to the one at Shelly Beach) while the rest of the party walked up the cliff to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse.
Alternatively you can catch the seaplane from Rose Bay to Palm Beach (lands at The Boathouse jetty) if you fancy a scenic flight from the city along the Northern Beaches – visit sydneybyseaplane.com for more information. Stop off in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park for some breathtaking scenery, outdoor activities and if you are lucky spot some wild kangaroos.
If you like to shop then Sydney has all your needs covered as most big cities do. Fashion, designer stores and souvenirs galore from Ugg boots and slippers to boomerangs and local art and everything else in between. Pitt Street, which is easily accessible on foot from CBD, is a concentration of shops, cafes and restaurants and home to a huge Westfield Mall (there is another standalone giant Westfield at Bondi Junction), The Strand Arcade is also nearby and for a more traditional experience try the Queen Victoria Building (QVB). The Rocks, as already mentioned, is home to a small designer mall and lots of individual traders.
We fell head over heels with everything Sydney had to offer even with its unpredictable weather, freak storms with pouring rain one minute, the biggest hail stones we’ve ever seen and intense sunshine the next. So much to do and see and well worth a return visit.
- Book tables online at popular restaurants before you travel in busy months to ensure you don’t miss out.
- Venture off the tourist trail and see what else the city has to offer like the Northern Beaches and National Parks.
- Try the Sydney Bus Tours and boat tours for a convenient way to get around (book consecutive days if you think you will go more than once as it’s cheaper)
- Book a two-day Captain Cook Cruises boat ticket with zoo access that gives you a return trip from Circular Quay to the zoo plus entry as well as a hop on, hop off access to Darling Harbour, Watson’s Bay and Manly
- Download the Uber app if you don’t already have it as it’s a convenient way to get to and from the airport as well as the city
- Check the Sydney Opera House events calendar before you travel if you want to see a show
- If your budget allows take a helicopter flight – we used Sydney HeliTours
- Leave room in your suitcase for some retail therapy
We stayed at the Four Seasons Sydney for two nights followed by the Marriott Sydney for a further six nights. We travelled from Abu Dhabi to Sydney with Etihad Airways and onto Melbourne with Virgin Australia.
Read more about Australia in previous posts HERE
All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2018. All rights reserved.