Sydney Travel Guide
Although not its capital, Sydney is Australia’s largest city and along with Melbourne one of the two most important commercial hubs of this forward looking country. Sydney’s position is outstanding and as cities go, I think that it has one of the most picturesque waterfront locations on earth. The labyrinth of twists and turns on the Sydney harbor front has produced some of the most desirable real estate to be found anywhere on earth. I discovered some stunning walks within the city and suburbs. Sydney’s location, the friendliness of the local Sydneysiders, and an enviable climate surely make the city a desirable stop upon any Australian visitor’s itinerary.
How to Reach Sydney
Most overseas visitors will arrive at Kingsford-Smith International Airport. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the Central Business District (CBD) by taxi. Australia is very aware of some of the problems associated with the import of foodstuffs and you will be asked to declare any food or plants you might be carrying. Taxies from the airport are frequent and there is an orderly queue outside the arrival terminus. You have to pay a small airport surcharge so your eventual fare will be a few dollars more than that shown on the meter. Many cruise ships stop at Sydney’s famous Circular Quay, and of course, there are long distance trains and buses from other major Australian cities.
Getting Around Sydney
There is an efficient train service which serves the many Sydney suburbs, as well as a comprehensive local bus network. I think that the best way of getting around though is to use the Sydney Ferry System. Ferries shuttle to and from numerous destinations all around the harbor and nearby beaches. They are clean and efficient and the staff friendly and welcoming. If you are planning to stay for more than a few days, it is worth getting an Opal card. This is a prepaid card which you can top up at stations or newsagents. You merely touch it to the reader when getting on and off buses trains and ferries. Taxies are plentiful but for long journeys, I found them quite expensive.
Language and Currency
Of course English is the language in use throughout Australia but Aussies have added their own colorful idiosyncrasies. Sometimes a common word is shortened and an o added (this arvo – this afternoon). Some words are unique (stubby – a small bottle of beer) and others reflect the famous Australian sense of humor (ankle–biter – a small child). I think it is great fun to engage with the locals and listen to some of their argot. There are even books on the subject!
Australia was one of the first countries to introduced plastic coated banknotes and the notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. Oddly the two dollar coin is smaller than the one dollar. Other coins are for 50, 20, 10 and 5 cents. At the time of writing one Australian dollar is the equivalent of US $0.81.
Sydney weather. What to expect
Sydney has a warm temperate climate, with mild winters and hot summers. The winter months between June and August can get cool at night (10 degrees Celsius) but are often in the twenties during the day, with bright sunshine. The summer months between December and February can be uncomfortably hot and temperatures are often in the late thirties. June is the wettest month, but the city does get steady rain throughout the year. I found the light in this part of Australia to be especially clear, as many local photographers and painters will testify.
Top Places to Visit in Sydney
Sydney’s CBD is fairly modern and contains numerous skyscrapers, although there are some existing old buildings and churches. Just a short walk away from the CBD, however, is the historic and interesting Circular Quay. I found this an excellent starting point to discover some of the city’s highlights. The Quay itself is a hub of activity with ferries and cruise ships coming and going. Along the foreshore are various street entertainers, shops, and restaurants. Small bronze markers show where the original waterfront used to be, before reclamation. Also below you, as you walk along Circular Quay are pavement plaques commemorating famous writers who either lived in or wrote about the city, alongside some of their famous quotes. At the end of the Quay, you cannot fail to notice the iconic Sydney Opera house with its bizarre curved roofs.
Beyond the opera house is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and exotic botanical gardens in the world. The Royal Botanic Garden stretches for over 30 hectares. Last year it celebrated its bicentenary. Some of the trees in the gardens are both huge and magnificent and date from its foundation. The Garden authority positively encourages you to walk on the grass and touch the trees. Its setting beside the harbor is a haven of peace and tranquility for visitor and locals alike and adjacent to the busy metropolis. There is a café at the center of the gardens which sells delicious coffee and snacks. Do not leave your food unattended, however, or one of the very bold ibis birds will steal it from you.
If you walk in the opposite direction along Circular Quay you will get a worm’s eye view of one of the most recognized bridges in the world -the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Locals call it the Coat Hanger for obvious reasons. It was completed in 1932 and transports pedestrians, motor vehicles, and trains.
If you are very adventurous can pay a fairly step fee to be roped to a guide and climb across the tallest arch of the bridge. Although safety is paramount in this adventure, I would not recommend it for the unfit or those who suffer from a fear of heights.
Near the foot of the bridge is the ‘Rocks’ area. This is where the first settlers arrived, including convicts transported from Britain. I would highly recommend the Rocks Guided Walk. It is where a very knowledgeable local will take you to some of the haunts of the early settlers. This tour will give you some semblance of how hard life was in the late 18th Century when the city was founded as the new capital of the British colony of New South Wales.
Sydney is a cosmopolitan city where you will find people from all nations. There is a wealth of choice of restaurants and all the usual cuisines are well-represented. There are high standards of hygiene and restaurants are regularly inspected to maintain this. If you want authentic Australian food try one of the pubs, and the home cooked pies. Ice cold beer is always readily available and Australian wines are renowned. Sydneysiders are coffee lovers and you will get freshly brewed coffee all over the city. You will soon get used to the local names for different options – flat white, long black etc.
I found Sydney to be a friendly, easy to get around and picturesque city. It is well worth a visit – but beware it may break the bank really quickly!