If there is a more welcoming country than Australia, I haven’t experienced it yet and the gateway city many of us will experience Australia is Sydney. The weather, people, and iconic landmarks like the opera house and harbor bridge make Sydney easily recognizable for even the casual traveller. Here are some tips to really experience what I would consider to be my favorite city to visit.
Australia is big. Very big. You cannot expect to hop on a train and go from one coast to the other in a span of a couple hours. You have to fly so unless you’re going to be there for a reasonable amount of time, don’t expect to be able to visit every city there.
Getting there – Arriving in Sydney is a challenge not because the airport is difficult but because you’ll more than likely be jetlagged like never before. For many parts of the world, you’ll have to make a stop somewhere along the way (like Dubai, Hong Kong, LA, etc.) to reach your final destination. This makes the journey pretty much a 24+ hour affair and you’ll feel it when you land. I typically like to fight jet lag as much as I can but for someone who doesn’t sleep very well on airplanes, this made for a very long first day.
Metro – Very easy to navigate and pretty much fool proof. Just know that to enter and exit the international terminal, you do have to pay a fee. From the airport, grab the metro and get to the nearest major hub to get on the correct line. When in doubt, Circular Quay will spit you out on the water right next to the harbor. From there, you can get your bearings and hop on the correct line if you’re lost.
Along with the regular fare for the metro, you can get an Opal pass which is a reloadable card that allows you to tap and play. The fares are determined by zones but I imagine for most tourists, you won’t venture further than zone 2. They also offered a weeklong pass with pricing dependent on the zones but that may not be available now.
Sydney can be expensive. Luckily, a lot of what Sydney has to offer is outside and free so if you’re on any type of budget, I’d take full advantage of that. Take a stroll around the vast area around Government House. Climbing the harbor bridge costs money (but you can’t beat the views and it’s really fun…) but it doesn’t cost a dime to just walk across the bridge to get your photos.
Remember that many people take the ferry to work every day. One of the best is to take the ferry to Manly beach around dusk. The town itself doesn’t offer much but the ferry ride back at night offers the best views of the city in my opinion. Also, hop on the many ferries that go around to the stops in the harbor.
If you’re in town for rugby match (especially if they’re playing New Zealand), go to a pub and just cheer wildly with the locals. I personally don’t understand how rugby is played but I was fortunate enough to be in Sydney when the Wallabies were playing the All Blacks. I happened to stumble across the Lord Nelson Brewery and it felt like the entire city had packed into this tiny pub to watch the game. I met some great people and the atmosphere was nothing like any NFL game I’ve experienced.
General lesson learned – One of my first “ah ha!” moments was actually in Sydney. I was trying to find a place to eat lunch that wouldn’t cost me a ton of money when I realized I was in the middle of downtown Sydney surrounded by working professionals who also have to eat. So instead of wandering aimlessly to find a cheap eatery, I just followed a random group of people who were clearly going to lunch. I followed them to a massive food hall that I would have NEVER known about or ever would have found on my own.
One thing to remember about the weather. Remember that the seasons are switched between the northern and southern hemispheres. It seems obvious but it does get fairly cold there at night if you’re there in July.
This is a city I can’t wait to go back to. I always feel like if there is ever a destination I’d like to revisit, this would be first on my list.