Sydney is a vibrant, multicultural city surrounding one of the world’s largest natural harbors. Unlike other metropolises, this easy going city is known for its idyllic beaches and rugged national parks as well as its lively food scene and culture. There are so many things to do and see in Sydney, that we had a very packed schedule during our 5 day stay. Our goal was to see as many things as possible, from the sandy beaches to the mountains to the city. Here are the highlights of some of the places we visited in Sydney:
1. Botanical Garden – The Royal Botanic Garden located right in the heart of city is a short walk from the Sydney Opera House. The sprawling garden, with its many exotic plants sits right on the water’s edge with a great view across the harbor. The winding walkway along the waterfront is a popular place for lunchtime walks or jogs. It’s a quiet place to escape the noisy city. For the best vantage point of the Sydney Opera House and the Bridge, head to Mrs. Mackerie’s chair right at the Eastern edge of the garden.
Cost: Free (Bonus – All parks, including botanical garden and national parks are free in Australia)
2. Sydney Opera House – Walking from the botanical garden we came upon one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. The iconic opera house is Australia’s widely acclaimed architectural treasures, with its soaring white roof sitting at the edge of Sydney harbor. The steps leading up to the building are always filled with people enjoying the view. We were disappointed that we couldn’t catch a performance and have a chance to enjoy the perfect acoustics inside the the Opera House.
3. Circular Quay – The quay (pronounced: key) located about a 5 minute walk from the Sydney Opera house is the founding site of Australia. This busy place is a hub for all the ferries leaving from central Sydney to different parts of the harbor. Along the cove there are a number of small outdoor cafes making it a great place to grab a drink and people watch.
4. Manly Beach – From Circular Quay, you can take the ferry and head over to Manly beach. This laid-back northern beach town is where locals go on the weekend. The 30 minute boat ride gives you a stunning view of Sydney harbor from the water. Make sure you are outside and at the top of the ferry for the best views as you leave the dock. When we were there in December, the beach was beautiful but the water was still ice cold. It was enough to just sit back on the sand and stare out at the water for a while, enjoying the tranquility of the scene.
Cost: $14.5 AUD for return ferry ticket
5. The Rocks – This historic neighborhood down by the pier is a good place to explore. It’s filled with free museums, shops, and galleries making it a popular tourist attraction. On the weekend, the outdoor Rock Market opens with stalls selling souvenirs, crafts, and other knick-knacks. When you are tired, there are many trendy restaurants and historic pubs where you can stop in and grab a pint or bite to eat.
6. Pylon – While most people will recommend that you climb the Sydney Harbor bridge, I think visiting the Pylon lookout is a better alternative. The pylon lookout is the best kept secret in Sydney. For a fraction of the cost, it offers the same panoramic view of the city, the Opera House, the harbor and the bridge itself. Even though the climb might be thrilling and something I would have liked to try, I ultimately decided against it because they did not allow personal cameras on the excursion. What’s the point right?
Open daily from 10 to 5, the Pylon is a museum and a lookout point. As you climb up the 200 steps there are many exhibits, artifacts and pictures on display walking you through the history the bridge construction. Stepping out at the top of the stairs, you’ll get one of the best views of Sydney. We were there early and had the whole place to ourselves with plenty of opportunities to take pictures.
Cost: $13 AUD
7. Hyde Park – This sprawling park is the oldest public park in Australia, located right in Sydney’s city center. Famed for its spectacular fig tree lined avenues, this picturesque area is filled with many couples posing for their wedding photos. It’s a great place to spend a lazy afternoon on the lush green lawn or the well-appointed benches located throughout the park.
8. Darling Harbor – If you’re looking for bright lights and loud music, head over to Darling Harbor. This lively entertainment district is a short 10 minute walk from Sydney city center. There are wine bars, funky lounges, and restaurants along the square serving up fine food and late-night dancing. To add to the festivities, every fortnight, there are fireworks. The boardwalks are always filled with hip people in their towering heels.
9. Enmore – This inner-city suburb is only a 5 km trip from the Sydney core area, but has a completely different feel from the bustling city center. This quaint area is the Williamsburg of Sydney with its thrift stores, cafes, and bohemian hipster vibe. The old buildings along the main road look like something from an old Western movie. Weave your way through the smaller streets and alleyways, you’ll come face to face with many beautiful graffiti murals that this area is famous for.
Cost: $8 AUD – return train ticket to Enmore from Central
10. Bondi – This world famous beach is only 30 minutes away from downtown Sydney. The clear blue water and the white sand draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. People come here to surf, sunbathe, and frolic in the water. When you go to dip your toes in the water, be careful that the tumultuous waves don’t knock you off your feet. After you’re tired of the lazing around the beach, you can go for a walk along the cliffs and check out the beautiful views.
11. Blue Mountains – If you have an extra day or two, Blue Mountain National Park is a great place to go for a day trip. This designated World heritage site, located 95 km from Sydney is the home of many walking trails. We choose to hike the National Pass trail that took us into the heart of the rainforest, passing many cascading waterfalls along the way. The majestic landscape and the breathtaking views made the walk very enjoyable.
Cost: Free, transportation cost
Length of Stay: 6 days
Hotel: Westin Sydney – 64,000 SPG points with no fees or taxes. That comes out to 12,800 SPG points per night for a hotel with approx $300/night rates.
Air: Itihad Airways – 150,000 points and $29 pp for 1 way first class ticket from NYC to Sydney.