Australia Travel Guide: Two Days in SydneyMay 3, 2009
How to do Sydney properly:
First, get Bill Bryson’s brilliant book, Down Under (also published under the title In a Sunburnt Country). It’s not a guide to help you decide where to stay or eat, but it will help you get to know Australia, including all the bitey things that can kill you here. His hilarious explanation of cricket alone is worth the price of the book.
Next, stay in Sydney for at least three months, preferebly six or more so that you can enjoy Spring and Summer.
No, that doesn’t help you much if you really only have a few days, but at least think about it. My first trip to Sydney was as a student ambassador with People to People. We spent a couple of days there, then spent three weeks going up the coast, but it was enough to make me want to go back. So much so that when I had the opportunity, between jobs after college, I got a working holiday visa and spent three months in Sydney and another three months traveling around.
That still wasn’t enough, so I applied to the University of New South Wales and spent a year living in Sydney and earning a Master’s in English. So yes, I really love it here.
Knowing how much Sydney has to offer, it’s really difficult for me to narrow it down to just two or three days of sightseeing. But that’s what I did for my friend, Elizabeth, who came to Sydney with me from Christchurch, and if that’s all the time you have, here’s what I recommend:
The Opera House at Circular Quay– Sometimes, when you see something in person after seeing it in books and movies your whole life, it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. The Mona Lisa, for example, made me say, “Sooo… that’s it? Kinda small, isn’t she?”
The Opera House is not one of those things. With any luck you’ll get to see it on one of Sydney’s sunny, sparkling days. Aside from the strange beauty of the building itself, you have the charming Harbour Bridge as a neighbor, and a bay full of ferries and other boats surrounding it. I love to grab a drink or an ice cream and sit and watch the whole scene.
Royal Botanic Gardens– Right next to the Opera House, the Gardens are a wonderful place to get lost in with a book, some postcards, or a picnic. Walk out to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair for another view of the Opera House.
Luna Park (North Sydney) – You can hop a ferry over to North Sydney, or walk over the Harbour Bridge. Even if you don’t want to play any games or try the rides, the view of Sydney from here is worth the trip. Check the ferry schedulesand from here you can also get to Taronga Zoo, Balmain or other suburbs worth checking out.
The Rocks – This is the oldest part of Sydney, just across from the Opera House. The Museum of Contemporary Art is here (and it’s free), and there’s an outdoor market that’s fun to walk around. Some of the pubs here have been around for more than 100 years and are a great place to start a night out.
Darling Harbour– This area got a nice polish when the Olympics came to town in 2000 and it’s still a great place to catch a cultural festival or an IMAX film, shop, eat, go to the Japanese Gardens or hands-on Powerhouse Museum, and enjoy the nightlife, as you might have seen when MTV’s Real World called this place home. Some of the city’s coolest bars are around here (pontoon, Bungalow 8, Cargo Bar), so dress to impress and don’t expect to find any happy hour deals.
Oxford Street – This is where you’ll find most of Sydney’s gay bars, as well as boutiques, cafes and my favorite place, Max Brenner’s Chocolate Cafe. (Try the fondue for two, even if there’s just one of you.) Every night feels like a weekend here, so bring your best dancing shoes.
Bondi Beach– If you only have time for one trip to the beach, Bondi is where everyone goes. There are lots of cafes and shops on the main strip and plenty of hostels if you want to be just a few steps from the sand.
Coogee– You can avoid some of the crowds, and a lot of the English backpackers, by choosing Coogee beach over Bondi. Or, do the Bondi to Coogee walk and see all of the beaches in between.
Weekend Markets– If you’re around on the weekend, head to Glebe, Manly, Paddington or the Rocks to shop for handmade goods, arts and crafts and souvenirs. There are also lots of food options for lunch.
Nightlife– Everywhere. Backpacker bars can be found on Queen Street (Scruffy Murphy’s is infamous), but if you want to go where the locals go, try the more low key scene in Newtown (Marlbourough Hotel, the Bank) or Surry Hills. A few streets over from trendy Darling Harbour, on Pitt Street, try Art House.