Sydney Pictures Guide, Australia
The most famous of all Sydney pictures, the Opera House. Photo by Diliff.
Why visit Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales, is one of the world’s great cities, a spectacularly attractive and lively harbour city with sophisticated dining and drinking options, world famous sights, golden beaches and a constant supply of free events.
Sydney is well-organised and well-developed but still very relaxed with fine green spaces – most notably the cockatoo-frenzied Royal Botanic Gardens.
Australia’s main cities are all designed in the same vein: spacious, attractive waterfronts, plenty of greenery and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks but Sydney hit the biggest seam with the world’s largest natural harbour, and absolutely gorgeous it is too.
However, Botany Bay, Captain Cook’s first landing point, is now an industrial zone about 10kms south of Sydney.
Sydney Harbour, also known as Port Jackson, seen from the air. Photo by Rodney Haywood.
The right side of the photo of Port Jackson is North Sydney, while the left is, of course, South Sydney, the prime tourist target. Darling Harbour is behind the Business District on the left while Luna Park is on the coast just beyond the right end of the Harbour Bridge. The popular must-visit beach suburb of Manly – get there by ferry – is out of shot to the right while the other best beach near Sydney is iconic Bondi, also a must-see, down the coast on the south side.
Behind the Opera House is the beautiful Botanic Gardens and to the right is Circular Quay, the harbour’s main ferry terminal, and the business district.
Sydney, a capital city?
Some deluded folk think Sydney is Australia’s capital, or possibly Melbourne. Not at all, it’s a city in Australia’s south-east that few tourists visit (Bugcrew included), Canberra, purpose built because politicians could not afford to give the title to either of the two serious contenders – Sydney vs. Melbourne – for fear of dreadful sanctions from the great and good of the losing city.
Still, Sydney – aka ‘Sin City’ by locals though we can’t imagine why, the sin side must be well hidden – is unquestionably the city that all tourists have to see, along with Uluru and Cairns for a minimum Australia experience. Melbourne, it’s true, is very pleasant and could be a terrific place to live but it lacks the harbour (tho’ the Yarra River is a pretty fiar substitute) and being further south the climate is cooler – some even liken it to Britain’s dire weather.
Australia’s favourite urban attraction is undoubtedly the city of Sydney. Sydney enjoys one of the most pleasant year round climates and sights to impress even the most jaded traveller, such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, especially when viewed from the lovely, squawking Botanical Gardens.
The city is vibrant and dynamic yet still laid back with shops and restaurants galore, old men in tight shorts and a booming nightlife.
To the north are some pretty vacant coastal sunspots up as far as Palm Beach as well as trendy beaches such as Bondi and Manly with their surfers, swimmers and busy promenades to complete the Australian ideal.
• it is not cheap; expect to pay as much as in some European cities.
• Sydney beach waters are not warm, even in mid summer.
• the suburbs are a bungalow and barbie burntopia stretching forever. . . well, until the Blue Mountains get in the way.
• truly cultural offerings, like opera and theatre, are good but not in big supply.
Cheeky Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos in the Botanic Gardens.
Sydney’s beautiful and peaceful Botanic Gardens, unless you choose to become a cockatoo perch. The Botanic Gardens are just a step away from the Opera House and next to the Business District’s uninspiring modern architecture. The Botanic Gardens offer varied events in the summer time including outdoor theatrical shows for kids and live music.
Although Australian wildlife is not generally as easy to find as one might imagine, bird life flourishes everywhere, not least in Sydney, with ibis as common as pigeons and parrots, fruit bats and cockatoos screeching around the Botanic Gardens, especially towards dusk.
Luna Park, Sydney. Photo by Adam JWC.
And if you’ve had enough sun, sea and sand, you could head for Sydney’s main amusement centre, Luna Park, located at Milsons Point, near the north end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s had a life of ups and downs, undergoing various rebuilds after various issues but is now open year round and easy to reach to by train, ferry, bus or car.
Also on the other side of the harbour, a short and breezy ferry-ride away lies Manly, also relaxed, in fact even more relaxed as it encompasses a superb surf beach, a great view of Sydney’s iconic sights and very little in the way of grey-suited businessmen. . . .
A typical inner suburb of Sydney, Paddington is 3 kms east of the Business District. Photo by Iantomferry.
Sydney’s inner suburbs away from the sea have minimal interest for tourists, in fact the bungalow sprawl extends about 70 kms (43 miles) out from the harbour. Some inner suburbs are delightful, such as Manly, Mossman, Woollahra and Lane Cove, but most are either dull or not particularly safe.
Arts and Culture
Classical Music: at the Opera House
Dance/Opera: Sydney Opera Company and Ballet at the Opera House.
Live Music & Clubs: All over the place but especially Manly for Jazz Festivals, Oxford St and Paddington for the popular clubs and pubs and gays.
Check The Metro section of Sydney Morning Herald and free weeklies for info on live music.
The Maritime Museum and Powerhouse Museum in Darling Harbour are worth a visit.
January 8-30, Sydney Festival, a solid arts event though lacking the mad, bad Fringe that makes Edinburgh so bizarre. Very little street action, regular theatres mainly.
Jan 26, Australia Day, nationwide but especially lively in Darling Harbour, with free outdoor shows, regattas and a lively night spectacle.
1st Friday of February-early March, Sydney Mardi Gras. A huge and deservedly famous celebration of gaiety in all artistic spheres. Fun for straights too!
June, 1st Saturday/Sunday, Manly Food & Wine Festival.
October, 1st Saturday, Sleaze Ball. An unbelievably queer event.
November 1-14, Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney. An extensive display on Bondi’s gorgeous coastal path.
Dec 26, Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a great harbour spectacle.
Dec 31, New Year’s Eve Fireworks. Also Sydney Pride, New Year’s Eve Party.
Short Trips Out
The most convenient way to get around Sydney’s outlying attractions is to rent a car as public transport is limited and roads are usually empty so it’s easy and pleasant to scoot around, take time when you feel like it or disappear in a cloud of dust if the sight is a dud.
– The Blue Mountains and its weird rock formations, caves and waterfalls are an hour or two away by train/car, though don’t expect many kangaroos to come bouncing up to you. Possible activities include hiking, climbing, white-water rafting, and canyoning.
Mountainous Katoomba is one of the Mountains’ best tourist targets, offering views and activities galore. 2 hours from Sydney. A paddle boat runs through the Nepean Gorge of the Blue Mountains from Penrith.
– About thirty excellent beaches are within the metropolitan area, including Manly, a lovely ferry-ride across Sydney Harbour.
– Beach lovers who wonder if there is life after Bondi should walk a while south on the delightful coastal path to Tamarama, Clovelly, Bronte and Coogee where they’ll find the answer is ‘yes’.
– The Royal National Park (30kms/19mls) is a massive old park offering varied activities from bird-watching to surfing.
– Botany Bay National Park (50 mins drive) is much smaller than the Royal (above) but provides excellent walks, beaches and sea views.
– Gosford, 65km (40mls) north has an ‘Old Sydney Town’ with actors and street theatre, 200 year old Aboriginal engravings at Bulgandry and some superb surf and schools a mere 15kms away.
Skiing in the Snowy Mountains and Mount Kosciuszko National Park from July-Sept and hiking, fishing, golfing in the summer. Roughly equidistant between Melbourne and Sydney, about 5 hours drive.
Australia wine buffs will enjoy visiting Hunter Valley’s 50 wineries and their free tastings, about 2 hours north of Sydney. Don’t drive back!
Coffs Harbour is good for markets, beaches and rainforest; close by Oz standards but at 640kms (400mls) is not exactly a morning’s drive away.
From Sydney to Melbourne on a direct route is 963 kms (600 miles), taking about 9 hours. Alternatively choose the beautiful coast road, with endless views of beaches, lakes, national parks, wildlife and some cute little resort towns en route. This is 1160kms (719 miles) long and takes about 14 hours.
On the way some of the best sights are Croajingolong National Park; the southernmost point of Australia at Wilson’s Promontory – with attendant wildlife and panoramic scenery; the Phillip Island Penguin Parade at dusk when thousands of the little chaps head for their burrows. It’s a hoot.
Sydney to Brisbane is 1010 kms (672 miles), taking about 11 hours.
to Canberra is 288 kms (178 miles), taking about 3 hours.
to Cairns is 2730 kms (1, 695 miles), taking about 32 hours.
to Alice Springs is 2850 kms (1, 770 miles), taking about 32 hours.
to Darwin is 3991 kms (2, 478 miles), taking about 43 hours.
to Perth is 4110 kms (2, 552 miles), taking about 44 hours.