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Sydney's secret was revealed to the world at the 2000 Olympic Games. The secret? That Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is one of the most dramatic, sophisticated, diverse, and fun-loving cities in the world. From its world famous Opera House to its pristine beaches, Sydney truly has something to offer everybody.
Sydney is Australia's largest city, with over four million people calling it home. While it covers over seven hundred square miles, it is remarkably easy to get around town. Buses, trains, ferries, taxis, water taxis, and even a monorail are all available to you.
Sydney's cultural highlights include an assortment of museums and art galleries. The Australian National Maritime Museum is phenomenal, as is the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Tourists marvel at the world-renowned Sydney Aquarium, and many have undertaken the challenge of climbing the Harbour Bridge.
The city reveals its true magnificence when the sun goes down. The harbor positively sparkles, and the town crackles with energy. There are plenty of fine restaurants to choose from, and the nightlife gives as much as you're willing to take.
Because you are on such a limited time budget, you probably won't have much occasion to leave the downtown and harbor areas, unless you squeeze in a trip to the beach. If this is your first visit to Sydney, then that will probably suffice. But because there is so much to see and do in Sydney, you'll probably end up plotting your next visit before you leave!
Sydney is Australia's cruise gateway and one of the world's most beautiful ports of call. Indeed cruise demand is booming with the number of cruise ship visits to Sydney close to tripling over the past five years, from just 119 in 2009/10 to the more than 280 currently scheduled for 2014 - 2015. The cruise season peaks each year through summer with 114 ship visits scheduled over the three months from January to March 2015.
In April 2013  opened our new $57 million cruise facility at White Bay, Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT) to ensure its facilities and infrastructure can comfortably accommodate the increasing number of larger cruise ships now visiting the Harbour City.
Both the OPT and White Bay cruise terminals are just a short distance from Sydney's 'downtown' tourist attractions and shopping centres and within 30 minutes of the city's domestic and international airport terminals.
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal (OPT) is located in Sydney Cove at Circular Quay. There is access to the rest of Sydney by road, rail, or watercraft from the port. Mass transit options abound from Circular Quay. Trains (there's a stop across from the terminal) are easily accessed, as is the monorail, which serves downtown Sydney. Buses also serve the city, and many depart from the Quay's terminal.
Taxis line up at the terminal. Most accept credit cards, but make sure to ask first. Rides cost about $1.70 per kilometer, plus a $1.50 booking fee. You can get anywhere within the inner city for less than $10, but expect to pay at least $20 to get to the eastern or northern beach suburbs.
Rental car agencies such as Hertz, Budget and Avis have downtown Sydney locations. Rates start at around $45 per day, but unless you're planning to visit a spot that's not served by the city's excellent mass transportation system (this includes its water ferries), it's really not worth the expense and effort
Sydney has an extensive public transportation system in place. You will have no problem at all getting anywhere that you need to go. Buses are fast, clean, and efficient. CityRail is Sydney's train system, which is geared more towards residents than tourists. The trains neglect some of the city's best sights. The monorail (02/9285-5600) is a scenic way to get from the business district to Darling Harbour. Several taxi companies service Sydney, and the resulting fare wars have left customers as the clear winner. Taxis Combined Services (02/8332-8888) is one of the many taxi companies with a clean reputation. Water taxis (02/9555-8888) operate around the harbor, whisking you to waterfront restaurants and attractions.
Things To See and Do
The Sydney Visitor Centre (106 George St., 02/9240-8788) is a great place to start. The center provides maps and brochures, along with suggested itineraries for your stay in Sydney. One way to introduce yourself to Sydney is by taking a tour. The Red Sydney Explorer Bus runs in a long circle, stopping at twenty-two points of interest in the city. Three buses an hour service each stop, and you can get on and off as many times as you'd like. You can also choose to take a tour of the harbor by water taxi. The Rocks Walking Tour (02/9247-6678) takes about ninety minutes.
As Australia’s oldest, largest and most urbane city, beautiful Sydney has something special to offer every visitor. Broad sandy beaches and scenic cruises make the Harbour City the perfect holiday destination for travelers looking for fun on the sand and sea. First-class dining, shopping and cultural institutions like the iconic Sydney Opera House beckon those searching for an enriching travel experience. A compact city surrounded by national parks, Sydney serves as a convenient base for adventures in Australia’s diverse natural environments too. Whether scaling the heights of the Harbour Bridge or delving into the history and lore of the Aboriginal people, as a travel destination, the capital of New South Wales never disappoints. An overview of the top tourist attractions in Sydney:
Taronga Zoo
Located in Sydney’s Mosman neighborhood on the harbor’s hillsides, the world-class Taronga Zoo gives visitors a close-up view of Australia’s indigenous creatures as well as animals from all over the world. Highlights include the zoo’s Roar and Snore experience, which lets visitors stay overnight to observe nocturnal fauna, and the Nura Diya tour, which features guides who share stories about Aboriginal life. Although the zoo can be reached by car or bus, most visitors opt for a short ferry ride to the nearest wharf. From there, the entrance to the zoo is accessed by short gondola ride. Zoo tickets are available that cover ferry and gondola fares.
Australian National Maritime Museum
Australian National Maritime Museumflickr/craigcullum
The premier attraction in Sydney’s recently redeveloped Darling Harbour, the Australian National Maritime Museum is best known for its historic seafaring vessels, which include the 19th-century tall ship James Craig and a full-scale replica of Captain James Cook’s Endeavor. The museum’s seven main galleries cover the nation’s maritime history, from the discovery of the Land Down Under to the country’s naval defense in World War II and beyond. Tickets are available that include entrance to the museum as well as tours of several of the vessels moored outside.
The Rocks
Situated between the Harbour Bridge and the northern edge of Sydney’s Central Business District, The Rocks is the city’s oldest neighborhood. Named after its rocky shore, The Rocks was Australia’s first permanent European settlement and the place where the country’s convict history began. By the late 1800s, the area had degenerated into a slum filled with taverns and brothels where crime ran rampant through the narrow streets. In the 1970s, the city began a huge restoration project to save the district’s historic homes and warehouses. Today, the redeveloped neighborhood is a popular tourist destination packed with art galleries, chic boutiques, trendy restaurants and souvenir shops.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Founded in 1816, the Royal Botanic Gardens is wedged between the Sydney Opera House and The Domain public green space. Overlooking the harbor, the urban park contains more than 7,500 species of plants, many of which are native to Australia. Standout collections include the Tropical Centre, which features plants housed in pyramid-shaped greenhouses, and the Rare and Threatened Species Garden, which includes an ancient Wollemi Pine, a genus of tree that dates back 200 million years. There is no entrance fee to the park, and free guided tours are available as well.
Darling Harbour
Once home to Sydney’s industrial docks and wharves, Darling Harbour was redeveloped during the 1980s with culture and tourism in mind. Situated immediately adjacent to the Central Business District, the neighborhood is now home to some of the most popular tourist attractions in Sydney, including the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Sydney Aquarium, the Aboriginal Centre and an IMAX theater with the world’s largest screen. The kid-friendly Harbourside Shopping Centre boasts a bowling alley, laser tag facility and a jet flight simulator. The east side of the waterfront features upscale shops, bars and restaurants.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge is both the main method of crossing the harbor and a travel destination for adventurous visitors. Completed in 1932, the bridge features an arch that stands 134 meters (440 feet) above sea level and spans 503 meters (1,654 feet). In 1998, the city opened a Bridge Climb attraction that allows hardy visitors to ascend to the top of the arch. Participants are equipped with protective clothing and secured to a wire lifeline during the three-and-a-half hour climb and descent. For those who want a less-adventurous view from the bridge, the Pylon Lookout Museum is a popular attraction. The museum is accessed from the footpath that runs along the eastern side of the bridge.
Sydney Tower
Soaring 1,073 feet above sea level, the Sydney Tower is the city’s tallest structure, offering 360-degree views of the compact metropolis, harbor and surrounding countryside. Designed by architect Donald Crone, the building opened to the public in 1981. Standing 260 meters (850 feet) above ground level, the building’s Sydney Tower Eye features an enclosed viewing platform that fully encircles the structure. The tower has three dining facilities, including the revolving restaurant 360 Bar and Dining. The latest addition to the Tower is a “4D” cinema, which enhances the theatrical experience with special effects like wind and bubbles.
Queen Victoria Building
More commonly referred to as the QVB, the Queen Victoria Building is a five-story shopping center that fills an entire city block and houses nearly 200 retailers. Built by architect George McRae in 1898, the building was designed as a marketplace and concert hall. Later tenants used the building for office space, and the structure began to fall into decay during the Great Depression. QVB has now been restored to its original glory and purpose. A beautiful example of the Romanesque Revival style popularized during Queen Victoria’s reign, the QVB features a large glass dome sheathed in copper, ornamental cast-iron railings and numerous stained glass windows.
Bondi Beach
Located just minutes away from Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD), Bondi Beach is a mile-long sweep of golden sand lined with red-tile-roofed homes, apartments and green spaces. A promenade adjacent to the sand runs the length of the crescent-shaped beach. Popular Bondi Beach attracts swimmers, surfers, sunbathers and body builders. Because the roughest waves and strongest rip tides are at the south end of the beach, that area is generally reserved for surfers. Swimmers and sunbathers tend to favor the north end next to a stretch of grass with coin-operated “barbies.” The well-patrolled beach is equipped with changing rooms, and the nearby neighborhoods are packed with cafés, bars and shops.
Sydney Opera House
Perched on the waterfront of Bennelong Point, the Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most famous buildings. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the structure’s sloping white roofs make the performing arts center appear as if it’s a giant ship setting out to sea. The complex was completed in 1973 after 16 years of construction and a cost of more than $100 million. A 2004 renovation added walls of glass to the reception hall, offering visitors views of the harbor. In addition to the 1,500-seat opera house, the center features a concert hall and three other theaters as well as multiple bars and restaurants
The Sydney Opera House (Bennelong Point, 02/9250-7111) is one of the world's most recognized attractions. Of course, any visit to Sydney should begin or end here. The opera house is home to five performance areas, including a Concert Hall, Opera Theatre and Playhouse. Guided tours are provided every day and generally last for about an hour, longer if you get a particularly avuncular tour guide. You can also stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens (02/9231-8125), which are adjacent to the Opera House.
Crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge looks like more of a challenge than it really is, and you should definitely take the time to undertake the crossing. The views from the bridge are among the best in all of Sydney. If you're particularly adventurous, you can undertake the Harbour Bridge climb. BridgeClimb (5 Cumberland St., 02/8274-7777) organizes safe climbs to the top of the main arch of the bridge.
The Darling Harbour area is full of interesting sights. Sydney's best museum is the Australian National Maritime Museum (2 Murray St., 02/9298-3777). The museum offers hands-on learning experiences. You can see some of Sydney's best art on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Art Gallery Road, 02/9225-1744). The world-class Sydney Aquarium (Aquarium Pier, 02/8251-7800) features underwater walkways and a section of the Great Barrier Reef.
Beaches and Water Sports
Sydney is home to some of the finest beaches in all of Australia. Most famous of all is Bondi Beach, due east of the city center. A fantastic trail winds along the cliffs on the coastline, taking you to Tamarana, Bronte Beach, and eventually, Coogee. Of course, there are plenty of other beaches in Sydney that adventurous travelers will discover on their own. If you are into snorkeling or scuba diving, Pro Dive (27 Alfreda St., 02/9264-6177) organizes dive excursions for experts and novices.
Eating Out
Sydney's dining scene is as varied and diverse as the city's people themselves. Sydney's multicultural makeup has yielded a wide variety of tastes to excite your palate. A new food genre, Modern Australian, has taken root here, combining traditional Australian dishes with Asian and Mediterranean spices.
Sydney is a gourmet paradise, with some of the world’s best chefs. Asian and Mediterranean cooking have had a major influence on Australian cuisine, with spices and herbs finding their way into most dishes. Immigration has brought with it almost every type of cuisine, from African to Tibetan, Russian to Vietnamese.
Sydney is a great place to try the Australian style of contemporary cuisine, which emphasizes fresh ingredients and a creative blend of European styles with Asian influences. And because there’s no doubt in my mind that a really great meal will stick in your mind long after your visit to Australia is over, I’ve included some of Australia’s top restaurants in these listings. The prices may be high but are almost always well worth it, especially if you are looking for an experience rather than just a meal. Breakfast is big in Australia, a favorite time of day to meet friends and linger over a hearty repast (albeit often a late one). As for coffee, Australians favor a range of Italian-style creations. Ask for a coffe latte if you just want coffee with milk.
Most moderate and inexpensive restaurants in Sydney are BYO, as in “bring your own” bottle (wine only), though some places also have extensive wine and beer lists. More moderately priced restaurants are also introducing corkage fees, which mean you pay anywhere from A$2 to A$8 per person for the privilege of having the waiter open your bottle of wine. Very expensive restaurants are usually fully licensed and don’t allow you to BYO.
Sydney’s cheap eats congregate in center-city areas such as Crown Street in Darlinghurst and Glebe Point Road in Glebe. There are also inexpensive joints scattered among the more upscale restaurants in Kings Cross and along trendy Oxford Street.
Some restaurants add a surcharge on public holidays and Sundays, usually around 5% or 10% per person. Restaurants argue that it’s difficult to get staff to work on these days, so they need to provide a cash incentive. In Australia, waiters rely on their wages rather than tips.
Smoking is banned in all Sydney restaurants, except at some with sidewalk tables or courtyards.
Guillaume at Bennelong (Bennelong Point, in the Sydney Opera House, 02/9241-1999) is at the forefront of the Modern Australian movement. A meal here is an absolute must, especially if you are seeing a show at the Opera House. The desserts here are just as good as the main courses, if not better. MCA Café (140 George St., 02/9241-4253) is in the Museum of Contemporary Art. The restaurant's location makes it one of Sydney's hot spots, with panoramic views of the harbor. Rockpool (107 George St., 02/9252-1888) specializes in interesting menu items. The choices change regularly, but the quality remains exceptionally high. Shiki (Clock Tower Square, 02/9252-2431) serves up the best Japanese food in town. Ampersand (Cockle Bay Wharf Complex, 02/9264-6666) is a relatively new entrant to the distinguished list of best restaurants in town, but it only takes one bite to understand why. The Boathouse (Ferry Road, 02/9518-9011) offers a tantalizing three-course meal at affordable prices.
Sydney's nightlife offers options for everybody. Of course, you should do all you can to see a show at the Sydney Opera House (Bennelong Point, 02/9250-7111). Don't despair if you can't get a ticket for a show here, as there are plenty of other theatre options available. If you would prefer a more active night, visit Blackmarket (111-113 Regent St., Chippendale, 02/9283-5555) for an all-night dance party. A more upscale crowd congregates at Byblos (169 Oxford St., 02/9331-7729). If you just want to curl up with a beer, try the Hero of Waterloo Hotel (81 Lower Fort St., 02/9252-4553).
You can get some really good food with a glass of wine or a schooner of beer on the side in several city pubs. Among the best is The Four in Hand, 105 Sutherland St., Paddington (tel. 02/9326 2254; www.fourinhand.com.au), which has a great restaurant and also does good bar meals, including slow-roasted lamb shoulder and confit pork belly, with all main courses less than A$25. Harts Pub, corner of Essex and Gloucester streets, The Rocks (tel. 02/9251 6030; www.hartspub.com.au), has a great range of craft beers and gourmet and pub grub offerings for A$18 to A$25. In Darlinghurst (Kings Cross), head to The Local Taphouse, 122 Flinders St. (tel. 02/9360 0088; www.thelocal.com.au), where you can delve into a massive beer list and graze from the extensive menu; on Sundays, a roast’s on offer from 1pm. Another gem in Darlinghurst is The Darlo Village Hotel, 234 Palmer St., Darlinghurst (tel. 02/9331 5457; www.darlovillagehotel.com), serving steak and ale pie, bangers and mash, and more, with main courses from around A$18.
In Manly
Manly is 30 minutes from Circular Quay by ferry. The takeout shops that line the Corso, as well as the pedestrian mall that runs between the ferry terminal and the main Manly Beach, offer everything from Turkish kabobs to Japanese noodles. You’ll find better restaurants along the seafront (though there’s a road between them and the beach).
You’ll find plenty of places to keep your credit cards in action in Sydney. Most shops of interest to the visitor are in The Rocks and along George and Pitt streets (including the shops below the Sydney Tower and along Pitt Street Mall). Other precincts worth checking out are Mosman, on the North Shore; Double Bay, in the eastern suburbs, for boutique shopping; Chatswood, for its shopping centers; and various weekend markets.
Don’t miss the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), on the corner of Market and George streets. This Victorian shopping arcade is one of the most ornate in Australia and has around 200 boutiques—mostly men’s and women’s fashion—on four levels. Here, you’ll find fashion-statement stores featuring the best of Australian design, including Oroton, Country Road, and the fabulous woman’s clothing designer Lisa Ho. The arcade is open 24 hours, but the shops do business Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm (Thurs to 9pm) and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
The Strand Arcade (between Pitt Street Mall and George St.) was built in 1892 and is interesting for its architecture and small boutiques, food stores, and cafes, and the Downtown Duty Free store on the basement level. Labels to look for include Third Millennium, Allanah Hill, and Wayne Cooper.
On Pitt Street Mall you’ll find a few shops and a Westfield Shopping Centre full of fashion boutiques. Oxford Street runs from the city to Bondi Junction through Paddington and Darlinghurst and is home to countless stylish clothing stores. You could spend anywhere from 2 hours to an entire day making your way from one end to the other. Detour down William Street, once you get to Paddington, to visit the trendy boutiques Belinda and Corner Store (cutting-edge designs), and Pelle and Di Nuovo (luxury recycled goods). You’ll find the boutique of celebrated international Australian designer Collette Dinnigan on Caledonia Street.
For Aboriginal artifacts and crafts, head to Original & Authentic Aboriginal Art (tel. 02/9251 4222; www.originalandauthenticaboriginalart.com) at 79 George St., The Rocks, which has quality Aboriginal art from some of Australia’s best-known painters. Artists include Paddy Fordham Wainburranga, whose paintings hang in the White House in Washington, D.C., and Janet Forrester Nangala, whose work has been exhibited in the Australian National Gallery in Canberra.
The two big department store names in Sydney shopping are David Jones and Myer. David Jones (tel. 02/9266 5544; www.davidjones.com.au) is the city’s largest department store, selling everything from fashion to designer furniture. You’ll find the women’s section on the corner of Elizabeth and Market streets, and the men’s section on the corner of Castlereagh and Market streets. The food section offers expensive delicacies. Myer (tel. 02/9238 9111; www.myer.com.au) is similar, but the building is newer and flashier. It’s on the corner of George and Market streets.
Nearer to Circular Quay is Chifley Plaza, home to a selection of the world’s most famous and stylish international brands. For really trendy clothing, walk up Oxford Street to Paddington or head to Surry Hills, and for alternative clothes, go to Newtown.
If you are looking for trendy surf- and swimwear, the main drags at Bondi Beach and Manly Beach offer plenty of choices.
For gifts and souvenirs, the shops at Taronga Zoo, the Sea Life SydneyAquarium, and the Australian Museum are all good sources for gifts and souvenirs. Many shops around The Rocks are worth browsing, too.
Sydney has many good markets worth a look for quirky gifts or souvenirs and to soak up the local vibe, especially on weekends.
Closest to the city is The Rocks Market (www.therocks.com), held every Saturday and Sunday (with a smaller “foodies” market on Fri). This touristy market has more than 100 vendors selling everything from crafts, housewares, and posters to jewelry and curios. George Street in The Rocks is closed to traffic from 10am to 4pm to make it easier to stroll around.
Paddy’s Markets (www.paddysmarkets.com.au) are a Sydney institution, with hundreds of stalls selling everything from cheap clothes and plants to chickens. It’s open Wednesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm. Above Paddy’s Markets is Market City, which has three floors of fashion stalls, food courts, and specialty shops, and a huge Asian-European supermarket. Paddy’s is at the corner of Thomas and Hay sts., Haymarket, near Chinatown.
Balmain Market (www.balmainmarket.com.au), held from 8:30am to 4pm every Saturday, has about 140 vendors selling crafts, jewelry, and knickknacks. Take the ferry to Balmain (Darling St.); the market is a 10-minute walk up Darling Street, on the grounds of St. Andrew’s Church.
Bondi Markets (www.bondimarkets.com.au) is a nice place to stroll around on Sunday and discover upcoming young Australian designers. This market specializes in clothing and jewelry, new, secondhand, and retro. It’s open Sunday from 9am to 5pm at the Bondi Beach School, Campbell Parade.
Paddington Markets (www.paddingtonmarkets.com.au) is a Saturday-only market where you’ll find everything from essential oils and designer clothes to New Age jewelry and Mexican hammocks. Expect things to be busy from 10am to 4pm. Take bus no. 380 or 389 from Circular Quay and follow the crowds. It’s held in the grounds of St. John’s Church, Oxford St., on the corner of Newcome St.

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