If you’re heading down under and you’re looking for things to do in Sydney, look no further than my tidy little (or not so little) list below. Having visited a few times for two or three weeks at a time, I feel I’ve got a grip on this gem of a city, and it helps that my brother lives there too (always handy for a cheap room!). OK here we go…
1. Visit the Opera House
Starting with the obvious, if Sydney Opera House isn’t on your list of places to go, where the bloody hell have you been? It’s most definitely one of the best things to do in Sydney.
Symbol of Australian pride since 1973, the Opera House stands 65m tall and has more roof than you can shake a stick at! Admire this beauty from Circular Quay, then walk past it, through the botanical gardens and admire the view from Mrs Macquarie’s Point. Check out what’s on in advance and book tickets for a show for another awesome view of this immense structure.
2. Climb the Harbour Bridge
Again, a slightly obvious one, but to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one not to be missed. With prices starting from AU$198 though, it’s certainly not cheap.
Once you’re in your grey and blue boiler suit and strapped to the railings (there’s no stone unturned when it comes to safety here), then you’ll feel like you’re conquering the world. On a clear day you can see the coast to the east and the Blue Mountains to the west. Tip: Take a twilight walk to see the city by day on your way up, watch the sun set and see the lights flick on all round the city as you come back down Priceless.
3. See the beaches of the east
Over in the eastern suburbs lies a little place called Bondi Beach. You may have heard of it – it’s where the beautiful people (i.e you) go to soak up the strong Ozzie rays (sunscreen essential) and watch the world go by.
Bondi is just one big sandy crescent of joy, and my favourite place to stay in Sydders. Once you’ve had your fill of strutting your stuff, take the coastal path south towards Coogee. On your way you’ll find the smaller local beaches of Tamarama, Clovelly and Bronte (the grassy area here is great for a picnic), as well as some cool sights like a cliff top graveyard, the ‘sculpture by the sea’ and a boules club.
The walk takes a couple of hours but is well worth the effort, especially if you reward yourself with Chish and Fips at the end!
4. Go shopping in The Rocks
The Rocks, just south of the Harbour Bridge are an awesome place to wander around, with the feel of old England. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Brighton. On Fridays there is a foodie’s market right in the heart of this bustling area, and on Saturdays and Sundays the grub is replaced by one-off jewellery, souvenirs and individual pieces of art.
5. Take the ferry to Taronga Zoo
If you want to kill two birds with one stone (please don’t actually kill any birds), you can get the ferry from trusty Circular Quay for just 12 minutes and see both the city from the water and the city’s zoo.
Not just any zoo, Taronga is some kind of pimped up mega-zoo. See all the big-hitters like big cats, elephants and gorillas, and also have the chance to get up-close to cuddly koala bears. A personal favourite of mine is the giraffe enclosure where you can watch the long-necked beasts eat to a backdrop of Sydney’s famous opera house and bridge – it really is surreal.
6. Get out of the city and visit the Blue Mountains
Just an hour and a half’s train journey or drive will get you into the heart of the Blue Mountains, a rolling landscape of red and blue coloured rocks with probably a week’s worth of things to do.
If you’ve only got a day, I’d recommend getting a train ticket which includes travel on the Explorer bus so you can travel around this area all day. Don’t miss the Three Sisters – one of the more famous landmarks in the area.
7. Venture north
There is so much south of the harbour (the main city, the beaches, etc) that it’s tempting to stick to what you know. Don’t make this mistake. There are some beautiful beaches north of the border – some of my favourites are Balmoral, perfect for a lazy brunch along the seafront, Manly – a long sweeping powder white beach with tons to see and do, and if you’re up for a bit of a drive, you can’t beat Narrabeen for over 3km of sandy beaches, and less crowds than the city.
It’s not just the beaches to see; Kirribilli is a small area just north of the bridge with a village feel and great views back over the city.
8. Soak up the drinking culture
Much like the UK, the Ozzies’ culture is centred around a good old fashioned pint. Except in Australia they call it a ‘Schooner’ and it’s not really a pint at all. More like ¾ if you’re lucky. In any case, there are some top class watering holes in this fair city so I’ve listed my favourites below.
Best for views: The Opera Bar is situated on Circular Quay and has views of both the opera house and harbour bridge.
Best for clubbing: Ivy – One of Sydney’s best clubs, if you turn up early and wear your best smile (sorry boys this only applies for ladies), you may be lucky enough to get into the VIP area. This cool bar has an open air dancefloor (great when it’s not raining, still pretty spectacular when it is), and a roof top pool.
Best for beach views: Icebergs – Part of a local swimming club, this is a great place to have a couple of drinks before you head out into Bondi for the night.
Best for travellers: The World Bar – Stuffed full of international travellers, expect raucous times and cocktails served from teapots. Fun indeed
Best for rooftop: The Glenmore – Head straight upstairs in this unlikely looking pub for views across the harbour. With the new installation of a retractable roof, this is now good in any weather.
Best for gay friendly: The Beresford – Straight and gay crowds always flock to the Beresford but on Sundays this kooky pub / bar is filled to the brim with gay guys and gals (mostly guys) all day. The massive beer garden is a real draw, as is the huge oval shaped bar and upstairs club.
9. Have brunch
Nowhere else on earth does brunch like Sydney. Eggs and coffee are like currency here and each restaurant is judged purely on these two things alone. I could write for hours on this subject so I’ll keep it brief. If you have just one brunch in Sydney, make it Brown Sugar, in Bondi Beach. For some other places, check out this great Time Out blog.
10. Learn to Surf
For me, Bondi is the only place to learn to surf. They teach people to surf every day and have seen it all before so if you’re a complete beginner and afraid of falling off, don’t worry – you’re in good hands.
Bondi also has a very strict lifeguard system so you can’t go too far wrong there! Choose from one of the surf schools at the north end of the beach. Bondi Beach Co and Let’s Go Surfing are both good, and STA Travel often have deals on where you can save up to 50% on lessons.
Insider tip: If there are more than 2 of you planning to travel to Sydney, it might be cheaper to rent an apartment or flat.
Bondi Beach Rentals have some beautiful places, or if you want to try a homestay, try the notice board on Aquabumps. Run by a local art gallery, this is a local noticeboard which not many foreigners know about. This is where I found my apartment in Bondi Beach the first time I visited. We stayed in someone’s house while they were away for Christmas and New Year, and we saved about 50% on what we would have paid in a hostel at the same time of year! Worth a try!