Sydney Top Attractions

It’s hard to believe that my time in Australia is over, I guess all good things must come to an end. I wanted to wrap up my travels in the land of Oz on a high note (not that there were any bad notes on this journey) so I picked Sydney to be my final destination. This city is the perfect ambassador for Australia. It embodies the dynamic free spirit of this nation. It’s rich in history and culture, and even though you’re in a big city your only a drive away from amazing national parks and natural wonders.

To help you plan your time in Sydney, below is my list Sydney’s top attractions that you must visit.

 

Opera House & Sydney Harbour

I’m pretty sure there’s a law that says all must-do lists for Sydney have to start with the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour. These are the two most famous landmarks in the country. Every year on New Years the Opera House and the Harbor are projected to the world as the first place on earth to celebrate the start of the new year (sorry New Zealand somehow you don’t count).

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most famous (and photographed) buildings in the world, and for good reason. Completed in 1973, the Opera House has a distinctive white shell exterior that dominates the Harbour’s skyline. It’s recognized as one of the greatest examples of modern architecture and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Even though the name suggests a single venue, it’s actually composed of many venues and hosts over 1,500 performances annually which are attended by more than 1.2 million people.

Enhancing the Opera House’s beauty is the amazing Harbour. This great attraction can be enjoyed in so many different ways. Take a leisurely stroll on walking trails on either side of the harbour, ride a ferry or boat on this amazing waterway or (even better) kayak along it, get panoramic views by climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge or walk across it for the same incredible views for free!

This is one of my favorite destinations in the city which I found myself returning to time and time again. I never got tired of the views here.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

Walkbout the City

Sydney is a very walkable city, don’t believe me? Google walking tours in Sydney and stand back from your computer ….  further …. further …. too far.

Best part, a lot of these tours are free (my favorite word). Personally I love walking around in new cities. It’s the best way to get to know a town, popular areas you should visit include:

  • Circular Quay: This is a great place to start your tour of the city. It gives you access to Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour, Royal Botanical Gardens, the Harbour Bridge and The Rocks district. It’s a vibrant, bustling place with ferries leaving for Manly, Watson Bay, Mosman and Taronga Park Zoo.
  • The Rocks: This is one of the most popular districts with tourists and it’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It has many preserved colonial buildings that speak to the history of Sydney; because of this architectural history The Rocks is referred to as an outside museum. There are lots of bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from and on the weekends there’s usually free outdoor entertainment.
  • Darling Harbor: This is another popular destination offering a number of attractions including a maritime museum, the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife World, King Street and Cockle Bay Warf, Sydney Entertainment Center and Dixon Street (the historic heart of Chinatown).
The Harbour's true beauty shines at night
Darling Harbour’s true beauty shines at night

 

Coastal Walks

I love coastal walks, nothing beats the serenity and natural high you get from walking next to seaside cliffs, past beautiful forested areas while enjoying a breath of fresh air. It’s very addictive and Sydney is blessed with having a large number of coastal walks for you to get hooked on. Popular walks include:

  • Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk: This is most famous and accessible coastal walk most tourist do. It takes you past beaches, rockpools, parks and spectacular coastal views. It’s a 6 km walk that’ll take you 1 – 2 hours to complete at a leisurely pace.
  • Manly to Spit Bridge Scenic Walk: This is another popular trail that offers bush and ocean views. Very beautiful and scenic.
  • Bradley Head to Chowder Bay Walk: This 5km walk begins at Taronga Zoo and ends at quaint Chowder Bay. This path gives you a bird’s eyeview of Sydney Harbour, the Opera House and the city skyline. Once you make it to Chowder Bay you can reward yourself with well deserved lunch.

Just so you know what I’m talking about check out below video from a coastal walk I did in Noosa.


Hunter Valley

Since I’m coming clean with addictions, I have another. I love my wine, and there’s nothing better than going on a wine tour to chug, errr … I mean sip and appreciate, as much of the good stuff as my greedy little paws can grab.

Besides wine, Hunter Valley also has specialty gourmet stores, spas and other stuff  ….  but lets be honest with each other (we’re drinking buddies) …. no one cares about that stuff here. It’s all about the wine.

Hunter Valley has lots of wineries with open cellars. If you go with a group make sure there is a designated driver (I know no fun), otherwise do a tour and drink to your hearts content.

 

The Beaches

I have a love/hate relationship with beaches in Australia. This country is blessed with some truly amazing surf. Unfortunately, when you go to a famous beach like Bondi you have to fight the crowds, swim between two flags, stake your claim on piece of valuable sand real estate, bake in the sun for a couple of hours and then bugger off.  Kinda sucks all the enjoyment out of it.

Even with all those negatives, Bondi beach is an amazing beach to see in person. It attracts hordes of sun worshipers for a reason. There’s also plenty of activities to keep you busy around Bondi including surfing, markets and an outdoor cinema that runs during the summer months.

If you’re looking for alternatives beaches there are plenty to choose from including: Manly beach, Bronte beach, Tamarama beach and more.

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

 

Outdoor Movie Watching

Apparently in Sydney, summertime triggers a mad rush to the beaches to enjoy the warm summer sun AND desire to watch movies in outdoor cinemas under the balmy night skies.  I was surprised to find a wide range of options when it comes to outdoor cinemas. Below are some of the more popular ones:

  • Ben & Jerry’s OpenAir Cinema: Right off the Bondi, this is a great place to enjoy summer night movies while you enjoy a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. An added bonus, there’s usually live music playing between showings.
  • St. George OpenAir Cinema: The most famous of the open air cinemas, situated right across from the Sydney Harbour and the Opera House, giving this cinema a one-of-a-kind backdrop.
  • Starlight Cinema: Another open air cinema that’s accessible by public transport whose film selections tends towards the blockbuster and occasional golden oldies.

 

Blue Mountains

Australia has more than its fair share of incredible National Parks that are listed as World Heritage site. Honestly, it borders on selfish for one country to have so much beauty 😉

The Blue Mountains are (another) amazing park that has dramatic scenery, steep cliffs, eucalyptus forests, waterfalls and villages. It’s a great day trip from Sydney, but it’s best explored over a couple days at a slower pace. The most famous site in the Blue Mountains are the Three Sisters which are three rock formations that (according to Aboriginal legend) were siblings who were turned to stone.

Aborigines named this rock formation the "Three Sisters" believing they were three siblings turned to rock by a witch doctor.
Aborigines believe these rocks were 3 sisters turned  to stone by a witch doctor so it was named the Three Sisters

Events And Festivals

Which city is better, Melbourne or Sydney? This has been an ongoing conflict that has torn at the Australia’s cultural fabric for ages, almost as long and as bad as the Middle East conflicts. Almost …. well …. maybe not as bad.

Still ask that question to someone from Melbourne they’ll thump their chest and tell you their city has the best cultural and sporting events. Way better than anything Sydney has to offer. While I can’t judge (I stay out of family affairs) Sydney has some pretty cool events that run throughout the year. Some highlights include:

  • New Year’s Eve along Sydney Harbour: Sydney’s most famous event happens right at the start of every new year. The annual fireworks show in front of the Harbour and the Opera House kick off the New Years celebration across the world – and it’s LEGEND (sorry New Zealand I keep rubbing salt into the wound).
  • Sydney Festival: Taking place during the month of January with over 1 million visitors, making it the biggest cultural event in Australia. It’s Sydney’s answer to Melbourne’s cultural significance. The whole city  turns to a summer wonderland with lots of fun things to do every night.
  • Sydney Harbour Regatta: Held during march, this popular event showcases over 300 yachts and over 2,500 crew members.
  • Mardi Gras: No, it’s not the Mardi Gras you’re thinking of. This is the Sydney LGBT festival that kicks off in Feburary with month long events such as Bondi drag races, Harbour parties, queer thinking events and climaxes with the colorful parade in March.
  • Vivid: During the winter time the festival season cools off. Vivid is the rare winter festival whose motto is “lights, music and ideas”. During this time the Opera House is colored with psychedelic lights  and every year the showcased events change based on the vision of the organizers.
  • Event Search Resources: Want to know what is currently running in Sydney? Checkout the below resources.
    • Opera House Events: A good place to start with is the Sydney Opera House. Going to a performance there should be a bucket list item.
    • Sydney.com: A great place to check online is Sydney.com for ongoing and planned festivals and events coming into Sydney.
Opera House lit up during Vivid Festival
Opera House lit up during Vivid Festival