There’s always a big push for people to visit Sydney – it’s showcase sights (the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, etc.) are really what we think of when Australia is mentioned (if you’re super-alternative and think something else, well aren’t you wonderful) – but having been to the cultural Melbourne and the beauty of the East Coast, I found the city a bit dull and corporate. I’m sure someone would be offended, but if I’m honest, I was over the city by the time I left.
I think it’s best summed up by one observation someone (I forget who) made: “It’s like they’ve seen how people respond to the cultural stuff [yup, technical term] and decided to try it here. Only problem is that it’s either run by the council or a bank, next time they should let the fun police have a go, it couldn’t make it any worse!“
It’s not entirely fair to paint the city with that brush, of course, but it also really is. So let’s talk highlights, because otherwise this will be boring for all of us. Here are the six parts of the city I enjoyed the most:
1. Take in the sunset
It turns out the Museum of Contemporary Art has a viewing deck and bar, it’s got probably the best view of the city’s monuments you could wish for. I went there as the sun was setting, and I recommend you do the same. Get a glass of something local and enjoy the rays light up the opera house and harbour bridge.
2. The Rocks
Brushed over by many, this is where the convicts were put when Sydney was first settled. It was pretty much barren and inhospitable, but they made the most of it and it’s where I think some of the most underrated history and stories are. Today it’s in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge (which flies over the middle of the area, nicely framing the Opera House), but it’s full of human stories and beautiful buildings. It’s also a really controversial part of town as the government is selling off most of the area. Well worth learning about this area’s residents, past and present.
A short ferry ride from Circular Quay (see below), Manly is like Sydney’s cooler little brother. It’s an area of beaches, cafes and houses that may have once been affordable; it’s now surfing competitions and where the city hangs out at the weekend.
Come here on a Sunday and the ferry will be super cheap: the city’s transport cards have a daily cap of $2.50 AUD on Sundays. Even if you don’t want to go to Manly, the ferry offers brilliant vistas and photo opportunities of the city, bay, Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
4. Circular Quay
As you may well guess, it is not in fact circular – as that would make it rather useless as a quay. Turns out the original name was ‘Semi-Circular Quay’, but that’s not exactly catchy and it’s ‘Circular Quay that’s stuck.
Home to the ferry terminals to all around the bay, the foot of the Harbour Bridge, the Rocks, the Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Botanic Gardens and the edge of the CBD, it’s the beating heart of Sydney and where everyone is. It’s also hideously over priced, so go a few streets back if you want to eat.
It’s also here you want to go to take all those selfies of you and the Harbour Bridge. For me it was also where I spend an hour or so listening to ‘Disney Under the Stars’, which was a concert on the steps of the Opera House which you could pay many dollars to get in to or, like most people, sit on the wall just outside the barriers and enjoy for free.
5. Darling Harbour
I only discovered Darling Harbour properly on my last day and that was a shame, because I think I would have a different view of Sydney had I spent more time here. It’s the city’s regenerated dock area, and they’ve done a brilliant job of it. Plenty of space for events, nightlife and those expensive yachts we all don’t have, it’s got a lot more life than the rest of the city. And the world’s largest IMAX – who knew?
6. Bondi Beach & the Coast
You can’t come to Sydney and not go to Bondi Beach, right? So I did.
It’s a bit of a touristy hot spot, but it’s Sydney’s main beach suburb and is alive with people all of the time. I opted not to surf, but paddled a little in the edge of the crashing waves before going to eat a kangaroo burger and watch the world go by.
As a total side note, I had a great conversation with the waitress as the bar also served a ‘Crest Pizza’ (it has kangaroo and emu on it, like their national crest); she was asking everyone around whether or not they’d eaten the animals of their national crest, and clearly thought I was taking the p…proverbial when I responded “Eating lion is a little frowned upon; unicorn’s a little tricky.”
My recommendation here though is the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Path. It’s a stunning collection of cliffs, coves and crashing waves. Well worth the bizarre stripe of sunburn I got across the top of my arm (no, I’ve no idea how I managed it either).
Honourable – possibly dishonourable – mention goes to the architects of the city and cathedral, who after designing the city’s cathedral and started building it changed their minds on what would be the main road and as a result the spires and main doors face a side street, as the whole cathedral is built ‘the wrong way round’. Well, everyone loves a cock up, don’t they?
When it comes to food, Sydney is a paradise if you love chain restaurants or pies (Aussies REALLY love pies, and that’s not even a bad joke). But once you’re out of the centre or in China Town, then food is improves rapidly. My highlights were a great chicken and beetroot burger in a bar that brews its on beer on site, The Lord Nelson in The Rocks, and an avocado, walnut and honey brunch in a hipster green grocer’s in Surry Hills (it’s the current hipster/gentrification-central part of town). I also highly recommend kangaroo, if you get the chance – it’s really flavoursome and surprisingly lean.
So, Sydney. If you have plenty of time to explore its outer areas or have your heart set on the city then totally visit. To me though, there are much better places to spend time in Australia; come to tick a view travel bucket list boxes and then move on. Which is exactly what I’m doing, and getting to the main reason I’m travelling in the first place: I’m off to visit New Zealand!