Sydney is best known for one thing: the Opera House. This iconic building gets most of the attention for the city. Its image is on postcards, calendars, shirts, caps, shot glasses, and key chains (of course, all of these souvenirs are made in China). It certainly is stunning and a “must see” while in Sydney. However there are other things to experience in Australia’s first city.
Sydney sprawls across countless bays and the entire metropolitan area is enormous. The highlights are mainly in or near the city center, called the Central Business District (CBD). Four days are the right amount of time to see these sights.
Head straight to the Opera House. Tours are available for those interested in the architectural design details or the inner workings of an opera house or a symphony hall. If you’re like me and that’s too much information, simply walk around the building and stare at its magnificence. How did the architect come up with this?
From the Opera House, watch the sailboats go under the Harbour Bridge. If you’re adventurous, tackle the bridge climb that sends people walking over the top of the bridge. For a more sedate experience, go next door to the Royal Botanical Garden. It’s a large park with excellent views across Botany Bay. See the old eucalyptus trees and Mrs. Macquarie’s chair. Mrs. Macquarie was the wife of an early governor of Australia. She used to sit on a chair on a point overlooking the bay and watch the ships sail in.
Stroll back into the CBD and head to the shopping district. Take a ride up the Sydney Tower for a nice meal, a drink, or just to enjoy the view over the city from a revolving restaurant. Before the chain stores and well-known brands took over, there were two distinctive shopping buildings in old Sydney. The Strand Arcade is Victorian style shopping building built in 1891. The Queen Victory Building is Romanesque style building completed in 1898. Don’t ask me to tell you the difference…. Each building is filled with interesting shops. My favorite was the Bon Bon Chocolate store in the Strand.
For dinner choose from two very different but adjoining areas. If you like Asian food, go to Chinatown. Sydney’s Chinatown is small compared to San Francisco or New York, yet it has every kind of Asian food. I saw Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian restaurants in the neighborhood clustered around Dixon Street. If you like seafood, go to Darling Harbour. The harbor front is a nice place to walk in the evening. It’s full of seafood restaurants and upscale wine bars. A nearby stretch of Liverpool Street is the home of a half dozen Spanish restaurants, if tapas and paella is more your style. Then go back your hotel and rest your aching feet.
Go to Circular Quai in the CBD and catch the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Circular Quai is the place in the CBD where the ferries leave for other parts of Botany Bay. I think the Taronga Zoo is the best zoo in the world. The Zoo is built on a hill overlooking the bay and the city of Sydney. The views are spectacular.
Ride the cable car to the top of the hill to the Zoo’s entrance, and take your time walking downhill through all of the animal exhibits. The animals in most of the zoos I have been to are usually sleeping. Not at this zoo! There was a lot of activity. In one instance I saw a large, irate gorilla launch himself in a body slam against a Plexiglas wall right in front of a visitor. I was glad the Plexiglas was strong!
When back at Circular Quai, walk over to the Rocks. The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney. Explore the narrow lanes and back alleys, and have dinner at a traditional Australian pub.
If the weather is good, go to one of the nearby beach towns, either Manly or Bondi. For Manly, take a ferry from Circular Quai for the thirty minute ride across the scenic bay. For Bondi, a bus across the city will get you to the world famous Bondi Beach. Find a spot to soak up the sun and walk along the shoreline trails.
On the last day, catch a tour to the Blue Mountains. This is a world heritage site about two hours west of Sydney. The tour I took was a full day affair that made several stops. First, after fighting our way through the horrendous Sydney traffic, we had tea and a snack in the picturesque mountain village of Leura. Then we rode the steepest railway in the world (a 52 degree incline) down to a forest walkway at Scenic World, followed by a ride back up in a cable car. After lunch at an eco-lodge, we visited Featherdale Wildlife Park for up close looks at koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and other animals. The tour finished with a drive through the 2000 Olympic site and a cruise on the Parrametta River back to Sydney.