Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is probably our favourite city in Australia. Its harbour, home to some of the world’s most iconic and recognizable structures, is absolutely stunning. I mean, who doesn’t know what the Sydney Opera House or the Sydney Harbour Bridge look like? Sydney is more than its famous harbour though. Take a stroll through its green parks, work on your tan on its beaches, catch some waves, and don’t forget to explore the city by night. You won’t be disappointed!
We have to admit Sydney was the first stop on our road trip through Australia, so you might think we are slightly biased. It was our last stop as well though, and even after seeing Australia’s other big cities (Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane), we were still impressed the most by Sydney. During both of our stays we explored the city from two different AirBnB apartments, one in Redfern and one in Darlington.
Take your camera to Sydney Harbour
Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s most photographed locations, and rightfully so. With the and the Sydney Harbour Bridge as main features, the view is jaw dropping. You can walk all around Circular Quay (basically the area you cross when walking along the water from the Sydney Opera House to the Sydney Harbour Bridge) for views of both landmarks from different angles, both during the day and at night. When we passed through on a Saturday we stopped to see a street artist at work. She was pretty amazing, with some help from Brecht and a couple of other guys. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. When we like the performance, we always give at least the amount the street artist mentions as a fair price. We think this lady put it nicely: “I hope I was more entertaining than your cup of coffee this morning.”.
For a great view over Sydney and its harbour, make sure you have a window seat when flying in or out of Sydney Airport. Another option is the BridgeClimb, where you climb the arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Depending on how high you wish to go, prices start at $158 to over $373 per person. We opted for the slightly cheaper but probably less impressive viewpoint: the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. For only $13 per person (adult) you can climb the southeast pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After about 200 steps you’ll be rewarded with a stunning 360° view over the harbour and its surroundings! We’ll let you judge based on the photos if this view will satisfy you or if you’d prefer spending some more money. Notice the humongous cruise ship that happened to be anchored in Sydney Harbour at the time of our visit.
Apart from the world class view you can learn a lot about the design, construction, and history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge while climbing up to the Pylon Lookout. Spread over three levels you’ll find plans, photos and other artifacts. Oh, and of course there’s a gift shop as well. Before you leave the pylon you’ll pass through a small theatre. Take your time to enjoy the 8 minute video of black and white photos made during the construction of the bridge, and sky views from the Sydney Harbour from 2003. To get to Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon lookout, climb the Bridge Stairs in Cumberland Street, situated in The Rocks, and take the pedestrian pathway to the pylon. We were bummed the lookout closes at 17h (last entry at 16h45), so no sticking around for a view by night!
Wander through Sydney’s green parks
There are tons of parks in Sydney, big and small. We visited only a couple of them during our visits to the city. The first couple of days we were especially impressed by all the cool animals (mostly birds) you can find in those parks. Back home we’re used to pigeons and a couple of small brown birds, nothing special. In Australia though there are white ibises, rainbow lorikeets, sulphur-crested cockatoos, and bush stone-curlews. All exotic looking to us Belgians. The rather big Australian white ibis seemed to be in everywhere in Sydney’s parks. Other cool Australian animals are kangaroos, koalas, and cassowaries. You typically don’t find them in the city, but when wandering through at night, we did see possums for the first time. Look out for large-looking squirrels with glowing eyes.
We’ve been to Hyde Park as well, where they have a big chess board and again lots of white ibises. Our favourite park was the Royal Botanic Gardens though. There are lots of birds, all kinds of trees, flowers, and plants. If you’re patient, you may even spot a slimy fresh water eel in the pond. In summer there’s an open air cinema on the edge of the water with the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the backdrop: awesome! Unfortunately we were too late to try and get hold of two of those much-desired tickets. Check out the St.George OpenAir Cinema website for more information. The Royal Botanic Gardens not only make for great views of Sydney Harbour, but of the CBD (Central Business District) as well, so bring your camera!
Discover the beaches along Sydney’s coastline
Sydney has a lot of beaches, with Manly Beach and Bondi Beach being the most popular ones. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Manly Beach, but it’s supposed to one of the best surf spots in all of Australia. We did make it to Bondi Beach though, on a bus stuffed with tons of other beachgoers. Before starting the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, we ate fish and chips from Bondi Surf Seafood. Seagulls were impatiently waiting all around the picnic tables for people to leave behind some scraps. If one of them gets ahold of some food, you’re in for a bird fight.
With bellies full of fish and chips we started the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk at the graffiti wall along the edge of Bondi Beach. At the end of Bondi Beach you’ll pass one of the most popular photo spots along the Coastal Walk, and probably even of Sydney: Bondi Icebergs, with its pool overflowing in the sea. From there the coastal walk really starts, winding along the coastline, passing several beaches and amazing views. You can bring your swim and snorkel gear for a refreshing dip or some tanning. You’ll pass Clovelly Bowling Club as well, where we took a rest and watched people playing Barefoot Bowls for a while. Looked like fun!
We searched for (but didn’t always find) a few geocaches during this 5.5 km coastal walk, but the one at was quite the challenge. The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk goes up along the road, but for this particular geocache we had to climb the rocks along the water. If you like a bit of adventure, we recommend to go for the rocks. It was kind of fun (Brecht loved it), until I scraped my knee while conquering a particularly challenging part. In my defence, I was wearing a dress. Granted, Brecht wore slippers, but still. He has longer legs! Thank God we found the cache, or my scar would have been in vain. Not much later we reached Coogee Beach. I forgot to note how long it took us, but you can easily fill a whole afternoon with it, definitely if you pause for a nap on one of the beaches.
Go on a day trip to the Blue Mountains
About 80 km northwest of Sydney you can find Blue Mountains National Park. It was our first visit to a national park in Australia, and we recommend you to go and have a look as well! You can decide to hike through the Blue Mountains like we did, drive up to some viewpoints, or pay $35 to take the scenic skyway, walkway, cableway or railway. In our blogpost about hiking the Blue Mountains you can find some pictures and a description about the loop we hiked in 4 hours. The views are absolutely amazing and The Three Sisters are really impressive!
Join the celebration on Australia Day
Australia’s National Day is called Australia Day, and is celebrated on January 26th. Big events are organized throughout the country to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being an Aussie. We happened to be in Sydney on this big day in 2016. We were surprised to see everyone dressed up in Australian flags (from socks to hats, and even tattoos), some of course more than others, all celebrating, happy and proud. I’m one of those people that’s just happy with having the day off on our National Day, but I’m pretty sure we don’t run around partying dressed in Belgian flags. We keep that for when our Belgian soccer team plays in the Euro or World Cup. Fun tradition though!
The weather that day was finally beautiful and sunny after a couple of days of rain. Luckily, because all events were outdoors: a market, free concerts, and street artists, all situated at Circular Quay and The Rocks, around Sydney Harbour. Australia Day ended with amazing fireworks over Sydney Harbour. We watched it with awe from our picnic spot at the tip of the Royal Botanic Gardens, near Mrs Macquarie's Chair.
Explore Sydney on foot (and public transport)
To get around in Sydney, you should buy yourself an Opal Card. It’s a smartcard ticket you can top up to travel on public transport. Simply tap on and off when getting in and out of the bus, train, or ferry. You can buy and top up your Opal card at most convenience stores, news agencies, and gas stations. Fun fact about the trains in Sydney: the seats are reversible, genius! Check out this short YouTube video if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Public transport can’t take you everywhere, so we did our fair share of walking through Sydney as well. Best way to explore a city, we believe. We loved the view from Beare Park over Elizabeth Bay filled with boats, and were impressed by the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf. This giant construction is a former wool dock, which now houses a five star hotel, residential apartments and several restaurants. If not for the locals, it would have been demolished in 1991. We didn’t know it at the time, but apparently you can explore it from the inside as well.
While wandering through Sydney’s CBD, our gaze was drawn by a bunch of tourists with their cameras out. They were taking pictures of an artwork of birdcages called “Forgotten Songs”, at Angel Place. What you’ll hear are the sounds of birds that once were heard in central Sydney, but driven out by European settlement. A little further down George Street, you’ll find the Queen Victoria Building, also known as QVB. This majestical building was built as a monument for, you guessed it, Queen Victoria. Originally it housed a wide variety of tradespeople, and it still does. It’s a beautiful building, especially from the inside, definitely worth a visit! Although we were there to admire the beautiful craftsmanship, it’s also great for a day of shopping. It’s hands down one of the fanciest shopping centres we’ve been to!
On Australia Day we were wandering through The Rocks, near Sydney Harbour, and ended up in The Rocks Discovery Museum. This small museum tells the history of The Rocks, starting before the European settlement, through artefacts. It’s free and worth a quick browse. A bit more up my alley was Sticky, a candy shop. Watch them make the rock candy from scratch and have a taste. You can buy their creations or order custom made candy to make your special occasion extra special. I wonder if they ship to Belgium. Another must do in The Rocks are The Rocks Markets, an open-air market where passionate people sell their designs. From handcrafted jewellery to homeware, and from art to beauty products, you’ll definitely find something you like! I fell in love with the lasercut leather jewellery from Doury. This cosy market is opened every Saturday and Sunday from 10h to 17h.
Enjoy Sydney by night
In Sydney we went to one of our first comedy shows together. When walking through the streets you’ll notice that tons of bars host comedy shows of all kinds: big or small, free or not, upcoming or established talent. As we don’t know any local comedians, we went with a comedy show hosting a bunch of comedians instead of just one: Tudor Comedy. This show is held every Thursday in the Tudor Hotel in Redfern, starting at 19h30. When we were there in January it was an open mic comedy show. Everyone who had the guts to go on stage just had to sign up and got a shot. Now they changed the format to one half with a known lineup and a second half open mic. It’s a small room upstairs, but entrance is free and we had a lot of fun! Check out the Tudor Comedy Facebook page for more information.
For views of Sydney by night, we have some tips as well. First you have the classic: Sydney Harbour by night. We’ve seen the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge up close by night, but definitely go see them from the Royal Botanic Gardens as well. The view near Mrs Macquarie's Chair is absolutely amazing by night, both with and without fireworks. My mom has a relative living in Sydney and he took us to another great spot: Blackwattle Bay. We walked along the water and enjoyed the nice view over the city and the Anzac Bridge. Thanks, Jos! And last but not least, a tip we haven’t checked out ourselves: almost every Saturday night fireworks light up the sky above Darling Harbour. Probably a bit touristy, but who doesn’t love fireworks? Check out their website for more information.
We loved our stay in Sydney, the city that has it all: beaches, impressive buildings, and a waterfront skyline. The city is always alive with laughter and fun of locals and tourists alike. Must be a great place to call home! My favourite day in Sydney was Australia Day, my favourite spot The Rocks, and my favourite view Sydney Harbour as seen from the Royal Botanic Gardens. I have a favourite restaurant as well of course, but more on that in one of our next blogposts.
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