Sydney was the 3rd city included in our Australian Tour. We couldn’t wait to experience this iconic city for the first time.
Our Ibis Sydney East hotel was situated in the Darlinghurst area of the city. We had views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from our high floor room, and a lively neighbourhood for dining out options. The King’s Cross metro station was a few minutes walk away, and Sydney’s CBD just over a kilometre away.
We booked a Sydney Greeter for a tour of the hidden aspects of the city. Andrea was a lovely and interesting character to meet. Born in Germany she had emigrated to Australia with her family at 20 years old and since lived there for 51 years.
Not only did we have an insight into the modern city as we see it now, but also some fascinating facts and tales from the past 5 decades.
We started at the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) with a walk through this stunning shopping centre, zig zagging through Sydney’s CBD to take in the architecture and history of the city. Our guide was fabulous at leading us through places just off the beaten track to enjoy exhibitions such as the Forgotten Songs and Underwood Ark. We also gained some local tips which we put to use in the following days.
We purchased an Opal card, this is similar to an Oyster card in London, giving you tap on / tap off access to the public transport system. Opal includes buses, trains, trams and ferries making it easy to navigate around Sydney. We started with $20 each and topped up as required, your balance is displayed each time you tap.
Sydney Opera House
You can’t visit Sydney and ignore this famous building. If nothing else take a walk around the perimeter and wonder at the creation of an extraordinary structure. Both the Opera Bar and Opera Kitchen are very popular for drinks and al fresco dining, especially leading up to sunset. For something a bit more special, reserve a table at the Bennelong Restaurant.
Each evening the Eastern side of the Bennelong sail has the Badu Gili water light show. Chapter 1 is at sunset and 9.30pm. Chapter 2 is at 9pm & 10pm. You can’t see this from the harbour area, you need to stand on the Botanical Gardens side of the building to watch the show.
We had booked a tour of the Sydney Opera House, we went for the 5pm last tour of the day, to follow up with a drink in the Opera Bar afterwards. There’s a sad history to the construction, Danish architect Jørn Utzon beat 200 other entries to win the design competition in 1956. Construction started in 1959 and the architect was forced to resign in 1966, before the building was completed. Sadly he never returned to Australia to see the impressive result.
You can walk or cycle over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The two forms of transport are separated with trains, buses & cars in the middle. We suggest taking the train over to Milsons Point, cross under the road via the station to find the pedestrian access steps.
Then enjoy your walk in one direction, from Kirribilli to The Rocks towards the Sydney Opera House. There is a gap in the fencing to take photographs, just don’t drop your phone / camera! For the brave or fit, there is an opportunity to climb 200 steps at the Pylon Lookout, this section on the bridge costs $19pp.
The Rocks are a collection of historic laneways at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The neighbourhood has a colourful history, founded by convicts, soldiers, sailors and gangs in 1788. These days it’s a thriving area of Circular Quay with quirky shops, bars and restaurants.
Not forgetting the Foodies market on a Friday and the weekend Rocks Market on Saturday & Sunday. Walk through Foundation Park which is hidden away from view. We also visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to dine in their MCA café and sculpture terrace which is open on a Wednesday evening, and a quiet place to enjoy sunset views of the harbour.
Royal Botanic Gardens
We really enjoyed our strolls through the Royal Botanic Gardens, it’s such a peaceful oasis in the heart of this busy city.
Stretching from the Bennelong Lawn by the Opera House, around the cove to Mrs Macquaries Chair and on to Finger Wharf. We spotted some interesting birds as well as fascinating plants during our walks through the gardens. The Choo Choo Express train tour of the gardens is $10.
Bondi to Coogee Cliff Path Walk
This walk was one of our top 3 recommendations to do whilst in Sydney. It’s a fabulous way to get out of the city and enjoy the coastline. Take the T4 to Bondi Junction, then catch one of 2 buses (333 or 380) to Bondi. We didn’t linger and registered approx 10km distance over 2 hours for this walk. There are quite a lot of steps in places where you drop down from the cliff to the beaches and back up again, and not much shade so do take drinking water with you.
From Bondi you have 5 beaches along the way. Most of which have swimming pools, so there’s plenty of opportunity to cool off, if you pack your swim wear. We would hang on to dine at the Pavilion in Coogee before catching the bus (313 or 314) back to Bondi Junction to connect with the train service. There’s a few information boards along the way, with historical details of the beaches and attractions from this area of Sydney.
Sydney Tower Eye
If you love a bird’s eye view of a city you should visit the Sydney Tower Eye attraction. The entrance is via the shopping centre at 100 Market Street.
Take the lift on the left up to level 5 where you will be directed into watch a 4D film before taking the next elevator up to the top.
NB. If you were hoping for a clear view of Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House, you will be disappointed. Interactive screens placed at regular intervals help to identify the key buildings below. General admission $29, or book to include a guided tour around the outside of the tower for $80.
There’s a plethora of restaurants to be found around Darling Harbour, as well as some popular visitor attractions. Here you can find the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Wild Life Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds and IMAX cinema.
We visited the Australian National Maritime Museum where we met some interesting volunteers aboard the HMAS Onslow cold war submarine and HMAS Vampire Daring class destroyer. It’s only a short walk from the city or you can take a ferry service to King Street Wharf.
For outlet shopping head to Birkenhead Point in Drummoyne, this is Sydney’s largest outlet centre. We used the standard ferry service to get there, however this was then a 20 minute walk to the shops.
The Shopper Hopper ferry service is the easiest way to connect from Circular Quay, we used this on the way back, a return ticket is $18.
Chef Nelly & Katy Perry
On our last evening we booked to dine at the Nel Restaurant in Surry Hills on the recommendation of a friend. Chef Nelly, originally from the UK and known as one of Australia’s top chef personalities, creates an innovative 8 course tasting menu which changes every 10 weeks.
At the time of our visit the menu was Australia, priced at $128 with wine pairing at $95. Little did we know that Katy Perry was also dining at this relaxed bunker-esque venue at the same time!
Our time in Sydney had come to an end, the next stop was Melbourne for the F1 Grand Prix.
For more photos and details you can find our Sydney Facebook album here.