Sydney: one of the most photogenic cities in the world. Spanning over 4,750 square miles and with a growing population of 5 million, she is larger than you realized, more diverse than you imagined and more accessible than her peers. For those with 48 hours in the capital, the below will hold you in excellent stead. And, for those with 48 years – well – what a wonderful life it will be.
So. The Sydney top 10, beyond the tourist trail, and in no particular order. Here goes…
1. The ferries
Get up early. Grab a croissant and head out into the harbour on Sydney’s fleet of taxi ferries. Watch the scores of commuters pour into the hub that is Circular Quay, as you push out into the world-famous ‘Port Jackson’.
The ferries circumnavigate the various coastal communities scattered around this inlet in the South Pacific Ocean. There is so much more to Sydney than the CBD and Bondi. For around 9 AUD, jet over to the picturesque seaside towns – that dominate the northern shores. Manly is the gateway to the northern beaches, (far more rugged and exposed than those in the south), and a popular commuter town for those working in the CBD. It is easy to see why, with beaches on all sides, views stretching out across the harbor, sailing, surfing and space. Sitting on the top deck, with the ocean before you, steam past Shark Bay, the Governor’s Residence, Taronga Zoo and Fort Denison.
This city is best seen from the water.
When you are not on a ferry, walk everywhere. Stomp through the CBD, and past the old heritage buildings spread out through the city. Walk around the Botanical Gardens for the best views of the Opera House and the Bridge. Walk through the Rocks along the waterside walkways and towards Darling Harbour. Spend some time in Hyde Park watching the ubiquitous cockatoos and cranes strut along the grass.
With plenty of opportunities to refresh yourself along the way (see 4 and 5 below), pull on some pumps and step out into the sunshine.
For those looking for the extra mile, the Coogee to Bondi walk is a glorious 6 km hike out along the southern coast, winding past hidden beaches and outcrops. Take some time to look out into the surf. Dolphins and seals are frequent visitors to these waters. The Manly to Collaroy hike is a wilder alternative along the northern beaches. An 11 km trek; running there and back is an excellent pre-brunch achievement…
Sydney is awash with public swimming pools. From the jaw-dropping Bondi Icebergs Club, to the multiple salt-water pools built into every beachside. For city-dwellers, head to the outdoor Andrew Boy Charlton Pool, set on the shores of Woolloomooloo Bay, and accessible from the Botanical Gardens.
Last October I braved the cool Manly waters with the Bold and Beautiful Swimming Squad, grappling with breaking surf, a legitimate threat of sharks, and the humility of keeping up with the hardened veteran swimmers. Newcomers are always welcome, and the group assembles on Manly beach, at 7am, every morning. You can’t miss the gaggle of neon pink swimming caps congregating in the shallows. With a 750m cruise to Shelly Beach, and a 750m paddle back – you will never feel so alive.
4. Rock oysters
Sydney oysters. These critters rather speak for themselves. Just try one. In fact, eat and shuck as many as you can, at strategic points around the city.
For the best of the best, catch the ferry (yes, 1 above), to the famous Doyles on the Beach at Watson’s Bay, or the new Pavilion in Coogee – you can even hike there (yes! 2 above). Unreal.
The Australians love to brunch. With an abundance of fresh produce, sunshine and sidewalks, brunch is a Sydney institution.
Skip the tourist strip at Circular Quay and head out to the quirkier parts of town. Surry Hills, Sydney’s ever-booming creative quarter, is full of organic cafes, juice bars and eateries. Tuck into enormous salads, avocadoes and eggs at Reuben Hills, and enjoy a cold-pressed smoothie as you shop along Crown Street.
6. The Opera House
Yes, you will all certainly see the Opera House, take some photographs on its famous steps, toast it from the Opera Bar and pass by it on one of the harbour ferries (do this – again – see 1). But, the Opera House is a working theatre, concert hall and gallery. Go inside, go to a gig, go to a show, head to a play.
It is magnificent from the inside, out. Use it.
7. Heritage and history
The first British settlers arrived in Sydney in 1788. A penal colony on its inception, this capital of New South Wales, and Australia’s international flagship, is now a thriving and independent metropolis.
The city is proud of its heritage, and colonial architecture has been well preserved and restored throughout the CBD. Walk (see 2 above, etc. etc.). From St Mary’s Cathedral to the Australian National Maritime Museum to the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney’s history – for better or for worse – is everywhere. For those in the right place at the right time, the annual open day at Admiralty House, (the official residence of the Governor-General of Australia), should be high up on your agenda. Kirribilli was settled in the early history of the colony, and the site of Admiralty House (and in the latter 19th century, the house itself) has played a significant role in the creation of the nation. Perched on the coast-line opposite the Opera House, and in the shadow of the Bridge, this is a location not to be missed.
For an excellent self-guided walking tour of Sydney, documenting Sydney’s aboriginal journey, the Barani Barabugu guide is highly recommended.
Whether you flirt in the shallows, or brave it at the back – hire a wetsuit, a board and just get in that water. From Bondi to Manly to Maroubra, there are surf-shacks aplenty. Kit hire is cheap, and whilst a graceful A-Frame is (much) harder than it looks, being a ‘Barney’ is not that bad…
Sydney’s effortless summer fashions – sporting long, tanned limbs – float down the boardwalks. With a vast number of homegrown designers, a multitude of independent boutiques and a strong bohemian vibe, shopping in Sydney is a bit amazing.
Escape the rat race congregating at the big city malls, and head to Surry Hills and its fashionable stores lining Crown Street. Paddington and Darlinghurst and the gleaming delights of Oxford Street, William Street and Glenmore Road – far surpass the offerings of the Pitt Street and St Martin’s Place enclaves.
For those seeking beach fashion, surf brands congregate in large multi-brand stores along the beach thoroughfares (Surfection in Manly has an excellent range). Dig deep. Alongside the stalwart international giants – which are all there in spades – Zimmerman, Labyrinth and Anna & Boy offer alternative (and less than neon) intimates. Well worth a gander.
10. Keep it simple
Sydney is an undemanding city. Kick back.
Sit with a pal on the beach, with a bottle of Shiraz. This is what this city does best.