Only a handful of world’s cities compare to Sydney. It may be far down in the Southern Hemisphere, but Australia’s shining urban star has abundant delights for visitors who brave the long trip Down Under. With its fantastic ocean-side setting, inimitably laid-back attitude, stellar beaches, fabulously beautiful people, and eternally sunny subtropical climate that rarely drops to sweater-wearing temperatures, Sydney is rivaled only by San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro, and boasts a small-Aussie-town flavor that makes it one of the most distinctly individual and enchanting cities on earth.
It often surprises visitors that Australia’s most famous city isn’t the country’s capital – that would be Canberra. Even so, Sydney is home to the legendary trio of Aussie icons – the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach. While the city is known for its fun-loving hedonism, it’s not all about the sun, the surf, the sand, and the outdoors. Reminders of its aboriginal and colonial past make for some captivating historical journeys through the cosmopolitan streetscapes.
In recent years, the city has also undergone a major boom, jumpstarted by the 2000 Olympics. The restaurant scene is on the rise, state-of-the-art architecture now graces the ultra-modern downtown skyline, bustling nightlife rocks the city till the wee hours, and the edgy art scene attracts international art bigwigs from abroad.
On a whirlwind three-day visit, you’ll be able to glance at the main sights of this utterly delightful city and hit the beach, while a weeklong stay will ensure some true beach time, as well as a day trip or two to the astounding Australian wilderness and wine country lying just a short drive away.
Sydney’s attractions are quite spread out, so don’t expect to see all of them on a swift visit. The best way to get acquainted with the city’s layout is on an introductory sightseeing bus tour, which we strongly encourage you to with Sydney Day Tours (3.5 hrs, with commentary; daily at 8:30am; $57). For more freedom, hop on and off the Gray Line Tour bus running daily along the tourist trail (look for stops with well-marked signs; $24, valid for the whole day). Once you’ve got your overview, complement your visit with a two-hour architecture walking tour by Sydney Architecture Walks (twice weekly; $25) run by knowledgeable enthusiastic architects.
The next must-do is a cruise around the Sydney Harbour. While you can just hop on one of the regular passenger ferries from Circular Quay, we suggest booking a Harboursights Cruise (3 daily; 1hr–2.5 hrs; $18–$24) or, for a more upscale experience, the Coffee Cruise offered by a Captain Cook Cruises (twice daily; 2hr 20min; $44, with coffee refreshments and live commentary); the same company also offers sunset and dinner cruises which showcase the city brilliantly lit up at night (several daily; $75–$159).
If you’re set on a sightseeing-filled stay, make sure you purchase the great-value SydneyPass ($110 for three days, $145/5 days, $165/week); it will get you unlimited travel on all ferries, buses and trains; three Harboursights Cruises; return transport on the AirportLink buses; plus discounts at many attractions. These are available at the airport, ferry, bus and train ticket offices, as well as the Visitor Center in The Rocks.
The obvious place to start your tour of Sydney is the splendid Sydney Harbor, officially called Port Jackson. Unless you have a month to spare, don’t even attempt to take in every attraction along its vast, 149-mile shoreline and outlying islands. We recommend sticking to the south shore, home to the main attractions of this bustling maritime city, including the following highlights.
There’s no sight in Sydney more iconic than the glorious white-roofed Sydney Opera House (box office Mon–Sat 9am–8.30pm, Sun 2 hrs before performances; (0)2 9250 7111; Bennelong Point), spreading majestically on 4.5 waterfront acres. Yes, this is the Aussie emblem you’ve seen on TV plenty of times, but nothing can prepare you for the splendor of the real thing. While you can admire Australia’s cultural powerhouse from different vantage points along the harbor, we recommend a close-up look at this $102 million organic structure by Danish architect Jørn Utzon that took 14 years – and his resignation –to complete. Catching a performance in one of the five main venues is a special treat (tickets from the box office; 22–$295), but if your budget or time don’t allow, make sure to at least take the informative guided tour (1hr; daily every 30min between 9am–5pm; $23, with a drink; tickets at store on the lower concourse) of the interiors complete with resplendent murals, stately auditoriums, and fine architectural details; a highly entertaining backstage tour (2hrs; daily at 7am; $140, with breakfast; (0)2 9250 7250) will get you behind the scenes.
Sydney’s other symbol, the grand Sydney Harbor Bridge, connects the north and south shores of the harbor and, together with the Opera House, provides the perfect city photo-op from many a point along the waterfront. Opened to public in 1932, this 430-ft high and 3,676-ft-long bridge was once the world’s largest single-span bridge. Even though the superlative no longer applies, it’s still a dazzling engineering feat, with eight lanes of traffic, two railway tracks, and several pedestrian walkways.
While you can admire the Coathanger, as the locals lovingly call this 52,800 ton-steel structure, from a distance, we recommend a visit to the brilliant Pylon Lookout & Museum (daily 10am–5pm; $8.50; southeast pylon of the bridge, accessible via the pedestrian pathway at Cumberland St.), in The Rocks neighborhood. Here, three levels of bridge-related exhibits include photos, original 1930s artifacts and stained-glass memorials, and – as the reward for a 200-step climb to the top – an amazing 360-degree city and harbor panorama. Adventure-seekers shouldn’t miss the hugely popular BridgeClimb (Sep–July $165 day & night climbs on weekdays, $185 on weekends, $245 for twilight climbs; July–Aug $169 weekdays, $189 weekends, $249 twilight), an exhilarating three-and-a-half hour climb to the summit in groups of 12; you’ll be briefed for an hour, decked out in space suits you’ll even need to pass an alcohol test – so no beer!), harnessed to a cable system, and then guided up ladders and walkways towards the top, where you’ll be treated to excellent commentary, awesome views and a complimentary group photo to take back home. Less adventurous visitors can instead enjoy a leisurely bridge walk (30 minutes in each direction) to the other shore along the pedestrian walkway on the eastern side of the bridge (reachable via Cumberland Street in The Rocks).
You can’t leave the area without a couple of hours’ stroll through Sydney’s most historic enclave, The Rocks, a picturesque cluster of narrow alleyways, cobblestone terraces, tight-packed cottages and winding stairways. Located right underneath the Bridge, this is Australia’s oldest European settlement, with a dark but beguiling history – it was the colony of tent-dwelling convicts back in 1788, a disease-rife port quarter notorious for gang crime and prostitution in the late 19th century, and almost demolished in the 1920s to make space for the bridge. Renovations started in 1970s and fully revived the area; these days, it’s a hub of tourist activity, with over 30 museums and galleries, and a bevy of rickety olden pubs, tax-free shops and gourmet restaurants.
To get your bearings, we suggest stopping by the Sydney Visitor Center (corner of Argyle and Playfair Streets; daily 9.30am–5.30pm) housed in the heritage-listed Penrhyn House, with a small historical exhibit plus a plethora of maps, brochures and – as an excellent buy for independent types – a self-guided tour booklet ($2.50). We strongly recommend a guided walking tour, however, as the area is a tangled maze of alleyways; our favorite is run by The Rocks Walking Tours (90 minutes; 3 daily tours on weekdays, 2 on weekends; $19; +61 (2) 9247 6678; 23 Playfair St.), but you can also take a thematic tour, like the hair-raising walk through the area’s haunted sites offered by The Rocks Ghost Tours(Tours depart from Cadman’s Cottage, 110 George St.; 90 minutes; daily April–October 6.45pm; daily November–March 7.45pm; $32; www.ghosttours.com.au); or a fun pub crawl by The Rocks Pub Tour (120 minutes; Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat at 5pm; $34.50; 66 Harrington St.), taking you to three historic watering holes, with a free drink and lots of tales in each pub. If you’re in The Rocks on a weekend, make sure you browse through the colorful street fair that sprawls along George Street (Sat & Sun 10am–5pm), with over 150 stalls selling antiques, jewelry and Aussie arts & crafts.
Before you move on to the city’s other attractions, make sure to take the high-speed elevator to the 1000-ft Sydney Tower, also known as the Centrepoint Tower (Sun–Fri 9am–10.30pm, Sat 9am–11.30pm; $23.50; 100 Market St.), for a bird-eye’s city and harbor view from the turret at the top; on a clear day, you can even discern the Blue Mountains in the distance. While here, don’t miss the thrilling OzTrek (ticket included), a 3D virtual adventure across Australia’s diverse geography and cultural history.
Museums & Galleries
While it constantly vies with Melbourne for the title of Australia’s cultural capital, Sydney offers an abundant repertoire of museums and galleries, and the art scene’s certainly alive and kicking. You could spend days touring its many museums – from masterpiece-filled art institutions and quirky treasure troves to first-class galleries showing the latest contemporary art – or get a quick sampling of the city’s diverse offerings by visiting our favorite venues, below.
Start your museum tour with the outstanding Museum of Contemporary Art (daily 10am–5pm; free, except special exhibits; two guided tours daily; 140 George St.) in a striking Art-Deco building on Circular Quay West, with an illustrious permanent collection, including several Warhols and Lichtensteins, a terrific display of Aboriginal paintings and top-end temporary exhibits of video, photography and sculpture by high-profile international artists.
The next museum not to miss is the first-rate Art Gallery of New South Wales (daily 10am–5pm; Weds until 9pm; free, except special exhibits; Art Gallery Rd.), home to the most extensive anthology of homegrown Aussie artworks; noteworthy displays of European and Asian art; nearly forty temporary exhibits per year and – as the highlight – the marvelous Yiribana Gallery dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, all housed in an elegant Victorian edifice in The Domain.
As our favorite offbeat museum, we highly recommend the fantastic Powerhouse Museum (daily 10am–5pm; $10, two guided tours daily; 500 Harris St.) in Darling Harbour, a converted 1899 power station with 22 permanent exhibits spanning a wide range of themes – from Australian history and society to transport and communications – ingeniously presented through interactive displays and virtual reality 3D theaters; highlights include the Industrial Revolution-era Boulton and Watt steam engine and a reconstructed 1930s Art-Deco movie house, plus a rich program of performances, films and lectures.
If you have kids in tow, make sure to check out the wonderful Australian Museum (daily 9.30am–5.00pm; $10, several guided tours daily; 6 College St.) across from the CBD’s Hyde Park. This natural history extravaganza – and Australia’s first museum established back in 1827 – boasts a vast collection of 13 million cultural objects and animal, fossil and mineral specimens – where else do you get a chance to see an Australian upside-down fly and the hairy cicada? – including 2,000,000 molluscs, an entire room devoted to skeletons, and lots of Aborigine-related exhibits.
Parks & Gardens
Sydney’s cityscape is dotted with parks and gardens – from formal English-style retreats to lush subtropical oases, providing many a peaceful sanctuary from the urban hustle and bustle. If not on the beaches, Sydneysiders love to hang out in these verdant havens, so do like the locals do and wander through at least one of the city’s green beauties.
Start with the extraordinary Royal Botanic Gardens (visitor center in Palm Grove daily 9.30 am–4.30 pm; one free guided tour daily; $20 for an hour-long Aboriginal guided walk once a week, with bookings at +61 (2) 9231 8125), a lush 74-acre refuge first established in 1816 by original settlers at this breathtaking harbor-side location next to the Opera House. With an exceptional collection of native plants – including the extremely rare specimen of the ancient Wollemi Pine found in the Blue Mountains – and the first-rate Tropical Center (daily 10am–4pm; $2.20), with a walkway above the lush canopy of two giant glasshouses, this is the prime place to take in the amazing diversity of Aussie flora.
For a face-to-face look at native Aussie fauna – wallabies, kangaroos, platypus, koalas and Tasmanian devils – we highly recommend taking a 12-minute ferry ride (every 30 minutes from Circular Quay) to Mosman Bay on the North Shore and then a spectacular Sky Safari cable car to reach the 69 beautifully landscaped hilltop acres of the superb Taronga Park Zoo (daily 9am–5pm; $30 admission only; $35-$155 for guided tours; www.zoo.nsw.gov.au), home to over 340 species (including non-native animals like Andean condor and West African pygmy hippos) in faithfully recreated natural habitats; the rich daily repertoire of free events includes bird shows, seal playtimes and zookeeper talks.
For Sydney’s most scenic nature walks, head to the Sydney Harbour National Park, a protected area comprised of pristine pockets of bushland along the harbor and five outlying islands, all packed with Aboriginal rock art, incredible lookout points, splendid beaches, historic buildings and subtropical patches of forest. While you can enjoy plenty of self-guided walks in the park (maps are available from the Park Office in The Rocks (Mon–Fri 9.30am–4.30 pm, Sat & Sun 10am–4.30 pm; +61 (2) 9247 5033; Cadmans Cottage, 110 George St.), we recommend one of the ranger-guided tours (book through the park office), ranging from two-hour bush food tours (once a month; $13.20), three-hour nighttime ghost walks in the Manly Quarantine Station (four weekly; $27.50) and three-hour boat trips to Fort Denison island (two weekly; $47, with ferry ticket and brunch).
You needn’t be a beach bunny to fall in love with Sydney’s golden stretches of sand. It is, after all, one of the world’s most vibrant surf destinations, with over 50 beaches dotting the coastline – from brash Bondi and intimate Clovelly to long-favorite Manly and up-and-coming Coogee. No visit is complete without at least a couple of sun-splashed hours on one of these, even if just for a look at the tanned, bikini-clad sun-worshippers and toned-up lifesavers. Sydney’s excellent transportation network makes it easy to visit any city beach; within an hour, you can arrive from Circular Quay to any the favorites we highlight below. Frequent public buses ply the 45-minute to one-hour route to the eastern suburb beaches (see website schedules and fares), while Manly is only a 30-minute ferry ride away (or 15 minutes, if you take the fast Manly JetCat; see website for schedules and fares).
A couple of words of warning before you dive in. Make sure you always swim between the red and yellow flags, which mark safe areas for swimming; outside of these, strong dangerous currents, known as rips, often occur. And do remember that the southern hemisphere sun is particularly harsh and stick to the local slogan – Slip, Slop, Slap (i.e. put on a shirt, sun block, and a hat).
If you can only afford a couple of hours on a beach, make it Bondi. This much-photographed 0.65-mile strip of sand in the eastern suburbs is Sydney at its most quintessential, at the top of the world charts as a happening sun and surf mecca. Whether you want to indulge in serious people-watching; hit the waves; play a game of golf by the ocean; catch a concert or an exhibit at the 1920s Bondi Pavillion Cultural Center; down a cold beer paired with fish & chips along the buzzing Campbell Parade; or just soak up some sunshine, this is the beach to hit. If time allows, make sure to stroll the scenic coastal walk to Coogee (3.5 miles; about 2 hours); it starts at the legendary Bondi Icebergs Club – with a gorgeous saltwater pool and a top-notch restaurant – at the southern end of the beach and takes you through glamorous Tamarama, family-friendly Bronte, pretty Clovelly, and past the historic Waverly Cemetery all the way to Coogee. On the beach itself, you’re likely to come upon various waterfront competitions and surf carnivals, which seemingly take place every weekend in summer.
As you’d expect from Sydney’s most touristy beach, beach services are second to none here. For wannabe surfers, we recommend a two-hour intro class offered by Let’s Go Surfing ($69-$75; 128 Ramsgate Ave). You can rent just about any watersport equipment at Beached at Bondi (352 Birrell St.), from flippers to sun umbrellas and boogie boards. Golfers can get some tee time in at the ocean-side Bondi Golf Club.
The second-most-popular beach, and a place not to miss for the scenic 30-minute ferry ride that gets you there, is Manly, on the North Shore. Its catchy slogan, “7 miles from Sydney and 1000 miles from care” is wonderfully appropriate for its series of splendid sand strips with abundant watersport and activities; Manly Boat and Kayak Hire, on the wharf, offers sea-kayaking ($15/hr for a single) ; you can also tour northern beaches on a speed boat ($59 for a 30-minute tour), courtesy of Epic Surf. On land, you can browse Manly Wharf, a two-level waterfront retail and entertainment complex. Of the many coastal walks around Manly, our favorite is the three-hour Manly to Spit Bridge walk through unspoiled bushland; the best of the short walks is the fifteen-minute Cabbage Tree Bay Eco-Sculpture walk to Shelly Beach that starts at the Manly Surf Club on the south end of the beach and takes you past sculptures illuminating the local history and marine, plant, and animal life.
Eastern suburb beaches beyond Bondi
With Bondi and Manly under your belt, head for the less touristy beaches in the eastern suburbs, such as the flourishing surf and backpacker spot of Coogee, with two swimming pools at the southern end of it, a bustling café and restaurant scene, and excellent snorkeling; snug Clovelly, with the best diving spot nearby at Gordon’s Bay boasting a startling underwater nature trail; scuba dives are organized through Deep 6 Diving); and the off-the-beaten-path Maroubra, recently voted as the top surfing beach in Sydney and complete with a café pavilion and some pretty serious waves.
Sydneysiders love shopping, and you will, too, when you discover the colorful offerings of Southern Hemisphere’s shopping mecca. Whatever your consumer style and preference, you can shop till you drop here. For excellent duty-free outlets, head to The Rocks. Fashion slaves shouldn’t miss the funky boutiques in other neighborhoods, especially so Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, or the homegrown designer stores in Paddington. If you want to check out Sydney’s one-stop shopping malls and high-end department stores, the CBD is the place to go.
Souvenir shopping is particularly fun in Sydney, with Aboriginal handicrafts and mementos of Australiana at practically every step. Note that many of these ‘hand-made’ items are actually fakes; you can get the real goods at our top stores. You can pick up a hand-crafted didgeridoo at The Rocks’ Didj Beat Didgeridoos (Clock Tower Square,). For traditional Aboriginal boomerangs, and even a lesson at throwing one, head to Duncan Maclennan’s Boomerang School (224 William St.), in Kings Cross. The Sydney Antique Centre (531 South Dowling St.), in Surry Hills, is an excellent place to browse antique bits of Australiana, while contemporary Aussie arts and crafts can be found at the trendy Saturday market in Paddington (10am–4pm; Oxford St.). The best place to buy precious gemstones and designer jewelry is in The Rocks, at Opal Fields (190 George St.); quality Australian leather goods, including sheepskin and crocodile products, are sold nearby, at The Sheepskin Shop (139 George St.).
Don’t leave without a browse through a couple of local designer shops. The most high-profile, and much loved by celebs, is Paddington’s Collette Dinnigan (33 William St.), with gorgeous embroidered and beaded outfits. Also worth checking out in the neighborhood are the stylish creations at Scanlon & Theodore (443 Oxford Street, Paddington). And don’t forget to pick up a traditional Akubra hat, that Aussie icon you’ve seen in Crocodile Dundee; the best specialist store is in CBD: Strand Hatters (Strand Arcade, 412 George St.).
NIGHTLIFE & ENTERTAINMENT
You won’t be strapped for choice in Australia’s prime hedonistic playground. For low-key entertainment, we recommend touring the city’s beer haunts, swank cocktail lounges and beachside bars, while nightlife hawks can party till the wee hours at the city’s many happening clubs. High-profile entertainment options abound, too, from first-class theater and classical music to opera and ballet. To help you pick and choose, we’ve listed our favorite venues below.
Pubs, bars & clubs
Sydneysiders have a reputation for liking their beer, so a crawl around a couple of the city’s historic pubs is an absolute must. Most of these drinking holes can be found in The Rocks, our picks being the Australian Hotel (100 Cumberland St.) with weather-beaten interiors and a wide choice of local and imported beers; Hero of Waterloo (81 Lower Fort Street; +61 (2) 9252 4553), a well-worn 1843 sandstone pub with live music on some nights and plenty of ambience; and Mercantile Hotel (25 George Street; +61 (2) 9247 3570), the city’s most popular Irish pub, with beautiful tile-work and arguably the best draught Guinness in the Southern Hemisphere. Many of the pubs offered accommodation at some point in the past, and some still do; hence the locals still refer to these drinking holes as ‘hotels’. Note that most pubs stop serving by 11pm (midnight at the latest), and even earlier – by 10pm – on Sundays.
But there’s more to Sydney than beer and pubs. If you want to sample exotic cocktails conjured up by a professional mixologist, head to Longrain, in Surry Hills (85 Commonwealth Street; +61 (2) 9280 2888), a chic converted warehouse with Thai-fusion cuisine and an excellent signature cocktail – the Bloody Longrain; or try The Victoria Room in Darlinghurst (235 Victoria Street; +61 (2) 9357 4488), a dark colonial-style lounge with modern Aussie cuisine and fabulous drink concoctions. Our favorite oceanside bars include the snazzy Bondi Icebergs Club in Bondi (1 Notts Ave; +61 (2) 9130 3120) where hipsters imbibe while admiring marvelous ocean views; and the stylish Cushion Bar, in Coogee (242 Arden St; +61 (2) 9315 9130) dishing out tasty tapas and cocktails.
For night howls in search of some afterhours action, the place to check out is CBD’s ArtHouse Hotel (275 Pitt St.), an 1836 School of Arts Building with four ultra-trendy bars, regular exhibits, a top-rated modern Aussie restaurant and a Saturday club night with the dance floor rocking until 6am. Even more happening is Sydney’s star of a mega-club, the long-running Home (Cockle Bay Wharf), in Darling Harbor, with various bars and chill-out areas spread over three floors, and regular appearances by celebrity DJs. For detailed listings of all club events in Sydney, browse the 3D World Magazine online or pick up their free weekly magazine available all over town.
High-brow entertainment options aren’t lacking either. You can catch one of the classical music concerts, operas or ballets at the Opera House (see above for information); a play by the Bell Shakespeare Company; or a performance by the leading Sydney Theatre Company in their new state-of-the-art theater on Walsh Bay. To get up-to-date schedules of all events, check the Saturday Entertainment section of the Sydney Morning Herald. Tickets for most events can be purchased at Ticketek, or, half-price on the day of the show at Halftix (91 York St.; +61 (2) 9261 2990).
Sydney could take weeks to explore, but if time allows, we strongly urge you to get out of town for a taste of Australian wilderness. We’ve highlighted two of our favorite destinations in the vicinity, the spectacular Blue Mountains and vineyard-rich Hunter Valley, both easily accessible by car or organized excursion from Sydney.
If you have time for only one day trip, make it the majestic Blue Mountains. This UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site, with its dreamy landscapes of eucalyptus forests, untouched bush, rare flora and fauna, picturesque villages, dramatic cliff drives, and limestone caves, lies just a two-hour car or train ride to the west of Sydney. While it’s possible to take in the main beauty spots by public transport (regular trains run from Sydney to the main town of Katoomba), we highly recommend renting a car or joining a guided day tour from Sydney. Of the many providers, our favorites include: Oz Trek Adventure Tours, with a range of trips, from bushwalking ($54) to overnight horse-riding packages ($209) and cave tours ($179); and Activity Tours, offering a day trip ($74) that includes a tour of the Blue Mountains’ highlights and a cruise back to Sydney Harbor along the Parramatta River. If you’re exploring the area independently, make sure to visit the Blue Mountains Information Centre (daily 9am–5pm; Echo Point Rd.).
Wine lovers should visit Hunter Valley, a picturesque wine region that’s home to over 100 wineries, just a two hours north of Sydney. Public transport involves too many transfers to make this a feasible independent trip, so we recommend joining an organized outing from Sydney – with the added advantage of having a driver. The top-rated agencies include Aussie Wine Tours (daily half-day tours, with a visit to 3–4 wineries; $45 on weekdays, $50 on weekends) and the more upscale Wine Country Tours (day trip for $150, with gourmet lunch, vintage wine tastings and other treats).
Sydney’s lodging options have expanded greatly in recent years and you can now pick and choose between luxurious five-star properties, swanky boutique hotels, charming beachside inns and a slew of backpackers haunts. Accommodation prices reflect the hotel’s location – the priciest ones are found in the city center – and most include taxes and complimentary breakfast. To help you decide where to stay, we’ve rounded up our favorites in each category, from budget to luxury. Note that most of the hotels in Sydney run regular specials, so do inquire before booking.
If you want to stay in the city’s urban core, our favorite luxury hotels include the fashionable Establishment Hotel, a snazzy designer property in the CBD, with ultra-smart accommodations and a string of stylish bars and restaurants. For beachside lodging, the top pick is the all-suite Swiss-Grand Hotel, right across from Bondi Beach, with unbeatable ocean views and all the luxe bells and whistles.
Of the moderate hotels in Sydney, we particularly like The Russell, a delightful historic 29-roomer smack in the heart of The Rocks, with ambience to spare, a series of cozy rooms and a rooftop terrace. Another property we highly recommend is the friendly Sullivans Hotel in trendy Paddington, a privately run charmer where guests are treated to all sorts of perks and creature comforts – including a swimming pool in the garden.
If you’re looking for budget accommodation, your best bet lies in the Newtown neighborhood, where the Victorian-style Billabong Gardens, offers cheerful interiors, comfy rooms, a pool-graced tropical garden, and a friendly, communal vibe. The best beachside cheapie is Noah’s Bondi Beach, a popular backpackers’ haven right on Campbell Parade, with a rooftop deck, spick-and-span rooms and dorms and stunning ocean vistas.
Sydney’s restaurant scene is on the rise, now featuring a cosmopolitan offering of eateries to suit any palate and budget. Highlights include modern Australian cuisine and sensational seafood, showcasing native catch like fresh Tasmanian scallops, South Australian tuna and barramundi, but you’ll also find top-notch Asian (from Burmese and Thai to Nepalese and Lao) and just about any European strand of cuisine, including ‘Oz-talian’. Note that many restaurants are BYO, so check in advance if you want an alcoholic beverage with your meal.
Our favorite destination restaurants include Tetsuya’s (529 Kent St; reservations required; +61 (2) 9267 2900; dinner Tues–Sat, lunch Sat only), in CBD, where Sydney’s star chef of the same name conjures up Japanese delights with a French twist ($180 for a ten-course menu). Out in The Rocks, the multi-award-winning Rockpool (107 George St.; +61 (2) 9252 1888) is a big draw for its innovative and super fresh seafood – try the Six Tastes sashimi and the lobster tagine –created by the celebrity chef Neil Perry.
For more restrictive budgets, we recommend the following mid-range eateries. The best Asian fusion can be sampled in the swanky oceanfront interior of Darling Harbour’s long-running Malaya (39 Lime St., King Street Wharf; (+61 (2) 9279 1170), while Surry Hill’s chic Alio (5 Baptist St.; +61 (2) 8394 9368) dishes out fine ‘Oz-talian’ dishes composed of native ingredients with an Italian twist. The latter neighborhood also finds the stylishly decked out Red Lantern (545 Crown St., Surry Hills; must book at+61 (2) 9698 4355), which offers a brilliantly flavorful combo of French and Vietnamese.
The best cheap eats in town include the cozy, but often crowded, Nepalese Kitchen, in Surry Hills (481 Crown St.; +61 (2) 9319 4264), where excellent curries and other Nepalese treats top the menu, and the Chinese Noodle Restaurant (8 Quay St; +61 (2) 9281 9051), a hole-in-the-wall Chinatown spot where you can savor delicious homemade noodle dishes. Seafood fans shouldn’t miss the Sydney Fish Market, next to Darling Harbour; stalls sell excellent fish-and-chips and fresh oysters; it’s an amazing sight on early mornings (auction at 5.30am; market open 7am-4pm) when the daily catch of over 100 species is up for grabs.
Finally, don’t miss a meal or a glass of wine in one of the several restaurants at the Opera House. Our favorite is the stylish Opera Bar (), with its delicious fusion cuisine and top-quality Australian wines. For serious, and seriously pricey, gourmet fare, book a table at the award-winning Guillaume at Bennelong (closed Sunday; +61 (2) 9241 1999).
When To Go
Don’t forget that the Southern Hemisphere summer is our winter, and it happens to be Sydney’s peak tourist season, lasting from December through February. It’s the time of many festivities, with a rich annual program of outdoor festivals and beach events including the three-week Sydney Festival (in early January with a series of mostly free events such as classical concerts and outdoor film screenings; the month-long Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, between early February and early March, celebrating all things gay with concerts, films, exhibits and a huge parade along Oxford Street at the end of it all; and the patriotic Australia Day, on January 26, that commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, with tall ship races, regattas and concerts by Aboriginal artists. If you’re there in summer, catching an international game of cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground is an absolute must, and very quintessentially Sydney experience.
With its temperate subtropical climate, Sydney has pleasant weather year-round, save sticky summer days and an occasional thunderstorm during the rest of the year. To avoid summer crowds and get the best bang for your buck, we recommend visiting in spring (September to November) or fall (March to May). During this time, the best events include Bondi’s kite-flying Festival of the Winds in September; the ten-day Manly International Jazz Festival in October; Sculpture by the Sea in November; the agricultural Sydney Royal Easter Show, when country comes to city for two weeks in late March/early April; the high-profile Sydney Writers’ Festival in late May.
You’ll get the biggest savings if you go in winter months (June–August); just bring a jacket for chilly mornings and nights, and don’t expect much swimming as the sea temperature goes down considerably after mid-May. One plus, though, on even years, the international art extravaganza known as the Biennale of Sydney also comes to town, from early June to August.
Best bang for your buck: September–November & March–May
Sydney really is far Down Under in the Southern Hemisphere, 14 hours ahead of New York and 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. While there are several daily direct flights from Los Angeles (East Coast and Midwest getaways usually connect in Los Angeles), offered by all major airlines, the flight is a long – and pricey – 14 hours (20 from New York). The best deals can usually be found on Qantas and Air New Zealand. You’ll get the best rates in North American summer (when it’s winter Down Under). Check current deals or, if you know your dates already, plug them into QuickSearch to find the best prices.
Note that all visitors need a tourist visa to enter Australia; Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visas, valid for multiple entries over one year, can be obtained online, from the Australian Government website, for $20.
For the best bargain city breaks in Sydney, we recommend Go-Today, United Vacations, and Pacific Delight World Tours. Globus and Abercrombie & Kent are the best purveyors of escorted luxury vacations to Australia.
Getting Into & Around Sydney
You’ll fly into Sydney Airport, 7 miles southeast of the city. The airport has excellent connections to the city center, the best and fastest of which is the AirPortLink train (a 13-minute ride every 10 minutes from the domestic terminal; $11 one-way, plus $4 for transfers between terminals). The cheaper but slower option is the Sydney Airporter which offers door-to-door service ($9 one-way, $14 round-trip, with $4 for transfer between terminals; every 15 minutes). A 30-minute taxi ride to the city center will cost you around $27.
As for getting around Sydney, it’s quite a breeze with the city’s sophisticated public transportation system that includes buses, ferries and the suburban CityRail as well as two privately run transport options – the Metro Light Rail (from the city to Inner West; and the elevated Monorail that does a six-station loop around the CBD and to Chinatown and Darling Harbour. An excellent buy is a DayTripper pass that allows unlimited travel on all buses, ferries and suburban CityRail services for $15/day; a BusTripper (for buses only) is cheaper, at $10.90.
Once you arrive, we recommend stopping by one of the two centrally located offices of the Sydney Visitor Centre (daily 9.30am–5.30pm; 106 George St., The Rocks; 33 Wheat Rd., Darling Harbour) for any additional tourist information. We also suggest a visit to one of the branches of the Sydney Australian Travel Specialists (Alfred Street and Jetty 6 in Circular Quay and the Harbourside Shopping Centre) who serve as the main booking agent for all tours and cruises in Sydney.