Sydney, Australia is one of the iconic cities of the world. Mention its name and most people will conjure up images of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It is an amazing city which has intrigued travellers from around the world since 1770 when Captain James Cook first set eyes on it.
Sydney claims the world’s best city beaches and an incredible harbour which is constantly rated as one of the top three most beautiful harbours in the world. It has unique architecture with its Victorian heritage, historic sandstone buildings and modern skyscrapers. The city is also home to a diverse cultural array of migrants making its ethnic neighbourhoods and restaurants some of the best in the world.
So what should you do and expect to see when visiting Sydney? For most travellers the journey starts with a very long flight. But don’t let this deter you. The rewards are well worth the effort. I have spent a lot of time in Sydney over the years and while I have never lived there I will try to give you my perspective on this amazing city.
Firstly, Sydney is a great city to walk. The city centre is quite spread out but if you enjoy walking this is the best way to get around and to explore some of the shops, cafes, architecture, parks and gardens.
Another great way to orient yourself to the city is to take a harbour cruise or for the more adventurous traveller you can opt to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. I loved the experience of climbing one of the worlds most iconic structures. I found that even with my dislike of heights it was very enjoyable experience and provided unparalleled views of the city and harbour. The climb takes about four hours so you have to be prepared to devote a bit of time to the adventure. Have your hotel concierge book well in advance as it is very popular. I recommend doing the tour at twilight in order to get the best of both worlds, the daytime and twilight views which are particularly spectacular.
Another one of my favourite things to do in Sydney is to take the Sydney Ferries service from Circular Quay to Manly. The trip takes about 30 minutes and costs around $15 return. You get all the best harbour views including the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Once in Manly you can enjoy lunch or dinner in one of the many restaurants or just go for a stroll or even a surf at one of the world’s best known beaches. For the more adventurous if you follow the coastline for several kilometers to the west (your right when standing at Manly Pier looking out into the harbour) you will pass a number of apartment blocks and homes before you reach the Sydney Harbour National Park. There are a number of walking trails throughout the reserve. Many Sydneysiders are unaware of the squatters huts at Crater Cove. Now uninhabited these basic stone dwellings have some of the best harbour views around. They are incredibly hard to find as they are down an unmarked path but should you be lucky enough to find them chances are you will enjoy them all to yourself. I have had a couple of quiet and introspective moments in this incredibly tranquil and beautiful place which I shared only with the blue tongue lizards (which are harmless). Russ Grayson has published a good description of how to find this hidden treasure.
Another great walk is the path between the famous Bondi Beach and Tamarama Beach which is affectionately nicknamed Glamorama Beach for its well to do beach goers. This 1.2 kilometre walk is filled with stunning coastline, the famous Icebergs swimming pools and ocean vistas that are second to none. Bondi has a number of great bars and cafes so this is the perfect way to spend a day enjoying the beach, surf, views and walks.
The Rocks is another favourite of mine. One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Sydney stretching from Circular Quay around past the Harbour Bridge to the fringe of the upper end of the CBD. Here you will find many cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and galleries. One of my favourites is the French family owned patisserie La Renaissance on Argyle Street. Originally opened in 1978 the cafe is now run by the families second generation and the croissants and pastries are still some of the best you will find anywhere in Sydney. Another favourite of mine is the Langham Hotel which is a boutique hotel featuring one of my favourite restaurants for afternoon tea. It has an elegant old world charm reminiscent of the grand days of travel. When in The Rocks make sure you take time to visit the Sydney Observatory which has panoramic views from the historic observatory and its gardens.
One of Sydney’s best architectural gems is the Queen Victoria Building now referred to as the QVB. Built in 1898 it has been loving restored and features a number of shops, cafes and restaurants. It is truly an architectural masterpiece and shouldn’t be missed.
Finally my absolute favourite place in Sydney is the Royal Botanic Gardens. The gardens are one of my favourite spots to sit on a bench and watch the world go by. The gardens feature a number of buildings including Government House (the home of the Queen’s representative in New South Wales, the State Governor), the Conservatorium of Music, several garden conservatories and ornamental ponds. The setting is second to none and I never tire of a walk through these magnificent gardens.
My pick for where to stay in Sydney is simple, the InterContinental Sydney. You rightfully could be suspect of this recommendation considering my employment however the hotel gets my vote because of the Club InterContinental. The hotel has allocated a portion of its deluxe rooms and suites for Club InterContinental. Guests staying in these Club rooms and suites have access to the Club Lounge located on the 31st floor of the tower. These rooms include complimentary breakfast and evening drinks and canapé services in the lounge. Club InterContinental has an unobstructed view of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Botanic Gardens and harbour. You can sit inside or outside and enjoy these spectacular views while enjoying breakfast. What a world-class way to start your day. This really is one of the world’s greatest hotel offerings and should not be missed. My pick is to stay in the Club Lounge after the evening’s complimentary service has finished. Most of the patrons depart so you will have the lounge almost to yourself. It’s a perfect way to enjoy this world-class venue with its jaw dropping views.
My tip for anyone wishing to visit Sydney is to ensure that you book a hotel that employs a Les Clefs d’Or concierge. Then ensure you make use of their talents and insider knowledge. They will be able to help you find the best places to go and things to do. They will assist with insider tips on the best restaurants, cafes and bars and can often get you into booked out restaurants and sold out events by utilising their vast network of contacts. A Les Clefs d’Or concierge can make all the difference for your stay!
I hope you enjoy Sydney as much as I do and I hope I have inspired you to make the journey, after all there is nothing like Australia!