As with many touristic cities, normally the first time there consists of seeing the popular spots, walking a lot and taking tons of pictures. First time in Sydney will not be different in that way. A very cosmopolitan city, with beautiful buildings, lovely parks, amazing beaches and excellent paths to walk all over.
For most people, Sydney is the first city they visit when coming to Australia, so it somehow acts as an introduction to the country, and it does the job!
Before starting, it is important to note that everything in Sydney goes about the harbour. Also known as Port Jackson, it was the first place the British settlers arrived in Australia, and is now the location of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the view of many of Australia´s nicest houses and a lovely place to walk around or enjoy from the ferry.
So, if everything starts by the harbour, let’s start our visit there. Our favourite way of getting to the harbour is by foot from the east, at Mrs Macquarie’s chair, where we can get the first view of the Opera. And yes, if you have been dreaming about visiting Sydney, this will be breathtaking. Of course, if you are staying in the west, or across the bridge, you’ll probably see the opera first from somewhere else. It is always spectacular!
From Mrs Macquarie’s chair, after taking all the pictures you want walk along the Royal Botanic Gardens towards the Opera. Take some time to stroll around the Gardens as well, they are really nice, and the opera will be there when you finish. Within the gardens, check out the Government house. We do not think of it as a must, but interesting to see the Victorian architecture building.
After the gardens, of course, time to go and see the Opera house!
If you are interested in visiting inside the house, check for the guided tours online . Tours are not the best from our perspective, but if you are keen on seeing the building inside, and can’t find something appealing to see in the venues, this is probably the best option.
After visiting the opera and its surroundings, it is time to go to the oldest part of the city, The Rocks. Just cross Circular Quay walking (remember this place, you will be back there), go behind the Museum of Contemporary Arts and start walking over the place where it all started. Don´t miss the pubs there, and, if you are hungry, look for a place to have a bite. We had some amazing chucrut sausages in the Markets on George St. (Friday to Sunday, check online here).
Now, let´s cross the bridge. You will find the stairs to go up on Argyle Street. As a particular experience that is probably over the Flashpacker budget, you can climb the Bridge. We still have that in our bucket list, maybe you want to check it out. We preferred the easy-free way of walking on the bridge, over the side that has the view of the Opera and the CBD. Great stroll, probably will take 35 minutes. Once on the North side of Sydney, walk to Milsons point for some other views of the bay, and hang a little bit around to see nice houses and some bars. As you are already there, you can take a look at the “Luna Park”. We found that amusement park quite depressing, but it appears in many guides and photos of the city, so you might want to take a look.
Once finished, you can walk back on the bridge, or take the Double Decker train on Milsons Point, and go straight into the city. By that time, you probably want to grab a beer and enjoy the views. One of Sydney´s best spots to do that is Darling Harbour, so, get off at Town Hall and walk north one block on George St (you will see Queen Victoria Building, nice place that we will visit the next day), and turn west on Market, for 10 minutes. Darling Harbour is full of bars and restaurants, and most of them have a nice Happy Hour on Weekdays, enjoy it! We’ll leave dinner up to you, but if you are looking for nightlife, head to Kings Cross, where most of the bars are located. Remember to bring your ID (i.e. Passport), as they will ask for it!
Start by heading to the Anzac War Memorial, in the south of Hyde Park .
You will learn that Anzac is very important for aussies (and kiwis), and the details of their participation in the first World War.
From there, head north-east, to see the pool under the fountain right in front of St. Mary´s Cathedral. While it is not the most impressive catholic church in the world (especially if you have seen cathedrals in Europe or South America), you can take 10 minutes to see inside.
After leaving St. Mary´s, walk north-east onto Art Gallery road to see, obviously, the Art-Gallery. We have never been in there, so I can´t say if it’s worth going in. From there, turn left and head to Sydney Hospital through the park. While of course, a Hospital is not the nicest place to visit, this building is interesting! At least, walk through the patio.
Once you get to Macquarie St., head north a few metres to see the post office, and most importantly, the Library. We love Sydney library. The reading room is really nice. Take a silent look in there.
After the library, get out onto Shakespeare Pl, walk 35 metres left, and, yes, you are in Sydney´s CBD. You can walk around there as much as you want. Don´t miss Customs House, where you can now see a nice display of scale Sydney under the floor and Martin Place, where many public buildings, TV stations, big companies and nice bars are located.
After having lunch, take George St or Pitt St down south, to see all the big retail stores, cafes, and shopping centres.
Ensure to visit Queen Victoria Building (told you about it). The XIX century building is now a very fancy shopping centre. Take a look at the clock on the top floor. It is really nice!.
Right outside the QVB you will see Queen Victoria´s Statue. Interesting story about this bronze statue, it was the last royal statue to be erected in Ireland, and it was displayed in front of Leinster house in Dublin until 1948.
In 1987, after being moved around Ireland, it was given to Australia “on loan until recalled” to be placed in the renovated Victorian building.
Right in front of the Statue, Town Hall can be seen. Another nice XIX century building that clearly matches QVB, and can be visited by donating a few Australian dollars. Details here.
After seeing (and maybe visiting) the Town Hall, walk to Market Street and look for the Sydney Tower Eye, if you are interested in seeing the city from above. Truly, views are not awesome, but it is the highest you can currently get in Sydney, so, if you like those kinds of views, do it!
To finish the day, keep walking east on Market street towards Hyde Park, to see the Anglican St.James Church, the Archibald fountain, and likely, some event in the park.
This is the day you have to decide between the two Sydney most famous beaches: Manly or Bondi. If you have more days, visit both!
If you decide to go to Bondi, which is bigger, more urban, and with a nice path to walk, you have to take the train to Bondi Junction and, from there take Bus 380 that will drop you off in the heart of Bondi beach. Do not miss to have a beer while watching the pools merging with the ocean and the surfers.
Take the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. Walk as much as you like, and when you are tired, look for a bus stop, and take a bus to Bondi Junction and from there, back to the City. If you still want to walk a little more, get off the train at Kings Cross, and go around Potts Point by day.
The houses on Victoria Street are really nice and result in lovely pictures, and if you go down any of the stairs that start there, you´ll get great views of the City.
If you decide to go to Manly, which includes a great journey to get there plus a lovely “little town” vibe, go to Circular Quay (told you to remember it!), take the ferry to Manly (great views of the opera from the Ferry), and, once you get to Manly, quietly walk the Corso towards the beach. Enjoy the beach, stroll around to see some nice houses and the North Head Park, and have lunch overlooking the sea on Marine Parade.
If you have any extra time
1- Visit the beach you did not visit on Day 3.
2- Go to Blue Mountains – hire a tour, for approximately 100 AUD they will take you, show you and feed you
3- Visit Chinatown. Not our favourite Chinatown, but always interesting.