Surrounding a vast harbour with beautiful beaches, Sydney is a thriving multicultural city with lively neighbourhoods and spectacular landscapes. It has much so much to offer anyone looking for downtime, cruising time, or an adventure.
Australia’s most populous capital city Sydney, has a long and fascinating history. When the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay in 1788 (having sailed from Portsmouth, England), there was an estimated 5,000-8,000 Aboriginal people living in the Sydney region, of which about 2,000 belonged to the inland Dharug people: 1,000 between Parramatta and the Blue Mountains and 1,000 between what are now Liverpool and Campbelltown. The first people called the area where the Opera House now sits on Bennelong Point ‘Djubuguli and ‘Cadi’ is the Indigenous Australian word for all of Sydney Cove.
There is plenty to learn during your visit to Sydney, and also plenty of fun to be had.
Sydney saw huge growth in the mid-to-late 1800s due to an increase in packed housing in the suburbs. The typical style of abode back then was known as a terrace house because most of the houses had terraces with intricate cast-iron railings. These charming multi-level homes were based on the Victorian or Edwardian homes of London and Paris, and today there are endless suburbs in which to explore rows upon rows of them in tree-lined streets with beautiful gardens – some rundown and others wonderfully renovated. The most well-known of these inner-city suburbs are Darlinghurst, Kirribilli, Petersham, Surry Hills, Glebe and Paddington, and if you’d like to see some of the very first terraces in Old Sydney Town, make sure you visit Susannah Place in ‘The Rocks’ and explore its heritage-listed former grocery store and workers’ cottages.
The city then became a financial and trading hub after World War II and benefited greatly from its prestigious role of hosting the Summer Olympics in 2000.
Sydney’s iconic attractions
The site where Sydney Olympic Park now stands was once an industrial wasteland. The decision-makers tasked with developing the iconic site made a point to focus on sustainability and longevity of the facilities by using renewable energy such as solar, as well as developing spaces for business to work in beyond the games. Today, you can visit the grounds and attend a variety of sports, concerts and festivals hosted in the various precincts and stadiums.
With more than 10.9 million visitors a year, Sydney’s most easily recognisable building is undoubtedly the Sydney Opera House, jutting out into the harbour with its distinctive white sails. More than a thousand shows are performed here every year. Built in 1959, the Sydney Opera House has been recognised as an architectural wonder of the world. The roof was designed to resemble the sails of a ship, although some critics argue it looks more like a stack of dishes in a drying rack, and some even draw comparisons with a sliced apple. Light shows are often projected onto its gleaming white surface which is made of more than a million tiles.
Out and about in Sydney
For a lengthy stroll and a chance to see some of Sydney’s gorgeous coastline, the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk is a must for nature and outdoor lovers. The six kilometre trail is perfect for an all-day adventure, with plenty of chances to enjoy beaches and shady coves en route.
Enjoy the gorgeous views atop cliffs and stop for a bite in one of the local cafes on the way. Book in for a surfing lesson at Bondi Beach, grab your snorkel and go exploring in Gordon’s Bay or simply bob about in the calm waters of Coogee Beach. Many wrap things up with a cooling beverages in one of the many bars at either end of the walk!
An essential stop for keen gardeners and those who love to exercise in the great outdoors, is the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, which is just a short walk from Sydney’s iconic Circular Quay. As the oldest botanic garden and scientific institution in Australia, it’s teaming with native and exotic plants that are meticulously maintained by expert botanists, groundskeepers and volunteers. You can learn about the rich Aboriginal culture of the traditional land owners of Sydney – the Gadigal people – on a guided tour throughout the gardens, or take a break from walking and hop on the Choo Choo Express train where a tour guide will share interesting facts about what’s growing in the garden.
While you’re in the area, head over the the Museum of Contemporary Art, located by the ferry terminals, and near the entrance to Sydney’s historical harbour suburb, The Rocks. Formerly this area of the harbour was known by the Gadigal people as Tallawoladah.
This beautifully modern building was opened in 1991 after a bequest by Australian expatriate artist John Power (1881–1943). He left his personal fortune to the University of Sydney to inform and educate Australians about international contemporary visual art. The gallery has much to offer both inside and out, as its surrounded by lovely gardens and has many spots to sit and enjoy a continual stream of talented buskers.
Discover new works from modern artists whose mediums range from small sculptures to full room experiences. With over a million visitors each year, this diverse showroom has an array of pieces that are displayed throughout the year as well as rotating thematic exhibitions. Through it’s up-and-coming artist program and local community initiatives, the museum strives to nurture creativity both in the admirers and future artists. It also boasts a light-filled rooftop cafe and bar where you can take in some of the best harbour views in the world.
A visit to Sydney is not complete without a trip around the harbour. You could opt for the ferry, stopping in at Cockatoo Island or zipping over to the Northern Beaches. But why not do it in style in a stylish Scandinavian sports cruiser? Picture yourself, Champagne in hand, cruising around the harbour, stopping in at a secluded cove for a dip, snorkelling in a sheltered nook of the bay and settling down on a quiet beach for a private picnic. The team at MySydneyBoat will treat you to an utterly luxurious day of Mediterranean-style cruising as you soak up some of the most extraordinary views Sydney has to offer.
Where to stay in Sydney
The Rydges Sydney Harbour is a housed in a grand dame of a 1920s building in The Rocks, but has been modernised to create a perfect balance between old and new, offering leisure and business travellers a central place to rest their head in the thriving heart of Sydney. The rooms are well appointed and the rooftop pool has excellent views over Sydney Harbour. Be sure to peruse the boutiques and cafes dotted around the precinct.
For an upscale stay, The Fullerton Hotel Sydney is a true winner. This five-star hotel rests in Sydney’s financial and fashion district, conveniently located close to the Sydney Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The refurbished General Post Office building invites guests into a realm of historic elegance with state-of-the-art rooms. Take advantage of the hotel’s fabulous restaurant and bar to rewind from an adventurous day.
A few of our other favourites are Vibe Darling Harbour – the rooftop bar and pool area is always pumping during the weekends – and the gorgeous Crowne Plaza in Coogee Beach.
Restaurants to try
For a meal with a view, you can’t look past O Bar and Dining, which is perched on level 47 of the famous Australia Square building – with a rotating bar offering a complete 360-degree views of the city. Chef and owner Michael Moore and his team create fresh dishes that reflect the rich flavour Sydney has to offer, including a smoked crème fraiche and butter poached cod fillet. With your dinner, choose a drink from the 400-strong spirit collection as you are gently moved (its barely noticeable if you didn’t see the view changing!) around to enjoy the city from above.
Three words that describe Firedoor’s cooking are “experience, patience and instinct.” Here, chef and owner Lennox Hastie honed his skills at Michelin Star restaurants in Europe and has brought his expertise and flair down under.
Firedoor offers a five-course menu that changes daily, carefully curated by the expert team. All food is cooked using fire produced from either a wood-fired oven, a grill or a wood-burning hearth with different timbers used to bring out different flavours. With the open layout, you can watch your food being prepared, feeling like a part of the cooking experience.
For a casual bite and a coffee, head to Cornersmith – a family-run cafe in the inner suburb of Annandale. The café is renowned for its coffee and pickled products with its ingredients sourced from local farms. It prides itself on reducing food waste and creating new recipes – you can even get some of its recipes from its cookbooks or website. The combination of sweet community and tasty food makes this a perfect place to experience the more personal side of Sydney’s food scene.
Want to find other things to do in Sydney? Check out our 10 favourite rooftop bars in Sydney or explore a kids-eye view of Sydney.