The largest city in Australia hosts millions of tourists each year and although many Australians consider Sydney to have a hectic pace of life, it is still a much more relaxed atmosphere than most cities of a similar size, with large parks and sandy bays everywhere.
The Sydney Opera House is one of the most instantly recognisable and widely photographed buildings in the world. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is rightly held up as a wonder of modern architecture. You can go on a variety of tours around the magnificent concrete-sailed structure to investigate the five performance halls, reliving its conception and enjoying the vast number of shows it holds each year.
There are also opportunities to go backstage and take a peek at what members of the audience never get to see. While on the tour you are invited to take up the conductor’s baton and wander through the changing rooms, taking a look at where some of the most famous names in opera, including Luciano Pavarotti, have prepared themselves before taking to the stage.
A short walk from the Opera House is Circular Quay, from where you can take ferry rides around the harbour and to nearby attractions and places, such as Taronga Zoo and Manly, which has a number of excellent restaurants, in particular Blue Water, and a beautiful beach.
Throughout the day, the area surrounding the ferry terminal is buzzing with buskers and street performers of all shapes and sizes keeping the hordes of passers-by entertained.
Straddling the water is Sydney’s other most famous landmark – the Harbour Bridge. Built in 1932, it has become an icon of the city, and the country, and the more daring can climb to the very top of the steel structure – 134 metres above the water. It is definitely not for the faint hearted.
As you climb in your safety harness, the guide talks through a headset, explaining some of the history of the bridge and exactly what you are seeing. The panoramic views from the summit, of the Opera House, harbour and across the skyline are a sight to behold.
However, there is a lot more to the city than the harbour. A short walk up George Street from the water is the Pitt Street Mall home to hundreds of stores and is the heart of the central shopping area.
The three-level Strand Arcade just off it, built in 1892 and a city centre landmark, also houses a number of chic Australian designer boutiques, jewellers, beauty salons and espresso bars. Among the most popular are Dinosaur Designs, which sells all manner of resin bangles, necklaces and other jewellery, the Corner Shop, which offers men’s and women’s fashion, and exclusive Australian shoe brand Gary Castles.
For more boutiques, street cafes and clothing stores head east to the Paddington/Oxford Street area. The streets here are filled with shoppers trendier than the Pitt Street Mall crowd and if you investigate some of the side streets there are some hidden gems to be found. You will find a number of cutting edge homegrown Aussie designers whose clothing is not available overseas and is well worth a look.
However, if you want to just kick back, there is no better place to do so – there are beautiful beaches everywhere. From the Southern Beaches, the likes of Bondi and Bronte, to the Northern Beaches of Manly and Freshwater, you really can’t go wrong. There is also the opportunity to take a walk along the headlands at Bondi around the coast to Coogee, which is always extremely popular as it offers unbeatable views of the Pacific Ocean and surfers battling the crashing blue waves below.
You can even take the opportunity to try to surf yourself with lessons on offer at many places, although don’t expect to pull off anything like what you see the more seasoned pros doing – it takes a lot of practice. Luscious white sands and beautiful clear waters can be found pretty much everywhere, one of the major attractions of the city.
Sydney can be loud and action-packed, or as chilled out and sedate as you like, but one thing is for sure – it’s always fun.
Overlooking the Opera House and the harbour, and a 15-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, is Taronga Zoo. Opened in 1916, the zoo continues to enthrall and entertain with its mixture of indigenous and exotic animals.
You can stroll through parts of it stroking the kangaroos and watching the sleepy koalas while enjoying the stunning views of the harbour side. Altogether there are almost 3,000 animals roaming the spacious enclosures, and the free talks from keepers and regular feeding times allow you to see some of the magnificent beasts in action.
The zoo is built on quite a steep hill, but thankfully once you have spent hours wandering around taking pictures and reached the bottom, there is the option of taking the cable car back up to the top.
-Taronga Zoo is open every day of the year from 9am-5pm.
HOW TO GET THERE
Emirates flies direct to Sydney from Dubai every day, while Etihad flies daily from Abu Dhabi.
Once there, use the Airport Link train to the city centre, which takes about 15 minutes.
WHERE TO STAY
The luxurious InterContinental Sydney is situated in the heart of the city centre, a stone’s throw from the Harbour Bridge. With a façade that was built in 1851, views of the Opera House and its proximity to downtown Sydney, it is in a perfect location.
FOOD AND DRINK
Whether you want Lebanese, Japanese, Italian, Thai or a traditional Aussie BBQ, you won’t be disappointed.
In the tourist-heavy area of The Rocks (close to Circular Quay), the streets are lined with outlets offering you the chance to cook your own steaks on the BBQ pits. Simply select your meat and get sizzling.
On Stanley Street in the east of the city is Trovata, an excellent value-for-money Italian restaurant that is always busy. But for more classy Mediterranean try Otto, where you can feast on a range of sumptuous dishes by the water at the Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo.
Sitting alongside this are Nove Cucina, which is the cheaper little sister of Otto, Manta Ray seafood restaurant, and Kingsleys Steak and Crab House. One must-visit is The Ivy. Situated on George Street in the centre of the city, it features, among others, a high-class Italian, Teppanyaki and a New York-style grill. There is also The Den, The Lawn, with its relaxing garden furniture and open terrace, and the most glamourous of the lot – Pool Club. Lounge by a plush swimming pool, surrounded by beautiful people – it is like being at a Hollywood star’s beach-side retreat and should not be missed.
There is also Opera Bar below the Sydney Opera House on the waterfront. Sit outside to soak up the stunning views of the harbour, particularly at night when everything is illuminated.
A League of its own
Sport is a huge part of the culture across Australia and in particular in Sydney. There is rugby union, cricket, tennis, football; you name it they’ve got it.
But the main sport is rugby league – it is an obsession, with nine of the 16 top teams based in or around the city.
The Sydney City Roosters, which is part-owned by Russell Crowe – play at the impressive 45,000-seater Sydney Football Stadium, about 20 minutes from the city centre and are definitely worth a look. Tickets can usually be bought at the ground, but for bigger games it is always worth booking in advance.