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Sydney, Australia — A Travellers Guide

Even without its Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach and Manly ferries, Sydney would still be the most-visited, most beautiful, most popular city in Australia. Take away the landmarks and you're still left with a harbour of breath-stealing proportions — its the reason they settled here in the first place. Sure, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth have nice rivers, Hobart is pretty, Darwin has that tropical air and Canberra has, well, the national war memorial, but Sydney is in a league of its own. As the birthplace of the nation (and capital of New South Wales), Sydney is revered by the rest of the country and known around the world. It's the economic king of the Southern Hemisphere and it sits on the most beautiful throne of any of its contemporaries.

History of Sydney

Our history of Australia covers much Sydney's early beginnings, but for the un-initiated, Sydney was the landing place for the first fleet of British settlers who arrived in 1788. A motley crew of convicts, adventurous soldiers and a handful of ambitious free citizens who gambled that life in the antipodes would be better than dreary, 18th century England, they had no idea how to start a farm or hunt a kangaroo, but they somehow managed to start perhaps the most successful colony in the history of the world.

Sydney in 1796

It took a few years to become fully self-sufficient, but the first fleet was soon followed by a second, a third and then many more as England realised how much space it could free up in its overcrowded jail system by sending convicts to this new colony on the other side of the planet.

Sydney became the base for exploration into the rest of the Australian continent and as sheep farms and wheat growers established themselves on the plains to the west of the city, the gorgeous harbour became a thriving port, exporting goods back to England. The discovery of Gold in Bathurst (150km inland) in 1851 brough a huge influx of immigrant miners to Sydney (in fact the population grew from about 40,000 to 200,000 in the following two decades) and the subsequent production and need for transportation fuelled Sydney's port and railway system. However, Further gold discoveries in Victoria drew attention away from Sydney and a great (friendly) rivalry with Melbourne began to develop. Nevertheless, Sydney continued to grow with gusto, so much so that it was mooted as the most likely candidate to be the nation's capital when the Australian colonies became a federated nation in 1901(although in the end a new city, Canberra was created so as not to offend Melbourne).

By World War I, Sydney had firmly staked its claim as the biggest and most important city in Australia and by 1925 the population had reached one million. When the great depression took hold in the early 1930s Sydney's morale was kept high by the construction of the giant Sydney Harbour Bridge, which served as a visual reminder that although economies around the world were going backwards, Sydney had something to look forward to.

Waves of immigration followed the depression and post World War II years, which have resulted in Sydney having one of the greatest percentages of immigrants of any city in the world. As other cultures began to have more and more influence on Sydney's society, the city itself started to come of age as an artistic hub in the 50s and 60s, culminating in the opening of the landmark Sydney Opera house in 1973.

Aerial Photo of Sydney Copyright © Tourism NSW
Sydney in 1988

Sydney grew in size, power and influence throughout the 1980s and 1990s as waves of Vietnamese, Italian and Middle-Eastern immigrants (and many other Australians moving from rural areas to find employment) stretched the city limits to the very edge of the Blue Mountains as vast areas of the outer western suburbs, once home to market gardens and hobby farms, quickly became modern housing and industrial estates.

Sydney grabbed the international spotlight in 2000 when it hosted the Olympic Games, which were judged by International Olympic Committee President Jaun Antonio Samaranch to be "the best Olympic Games ever". Sydney's ability to pull off the logistical circus, combined with its charm, friendliness, beauty and gorgeous weather earnt it a lasting respect from around the globe, and since then Sydney has continued to hold an even stronger mantle as one of the world's truly great cities.

What's Sydney like now?

4.3 million people can't be wrong — Sydney is a great place to live and play. Spend a morning sightseeing by the harbour, an afternoon sun-baking on Bondi Beach and a night out at Darling Harbour, and you'll realise that this truly is a modern, fun-loving, proud, tall place to be. You can get authentic food from anywhere in the world, see some of the best live bands in the country, watch brilliant opera, theatre and ballet and best of all, the beach is never far away.

How to get to Sydney

You couldn't say that all roads lead to Sydney, but as Australia's industrial and population epicentre, you probably won't have to ask directions, no matter where you're coming from. You can fly into Sydney from virtually any country in the world with a major airline. Sydney Airport is one of the busiest in the world, interstate trains head in from the north, south and west, and it's a popular destination for major cruise ships heading in from the east. If you jump on highway one and head in any direction from anywhere in the country, you'll eventually end up in Sydney. Virgin Blue, Qantas, Jet Star and various regional airlines all fly in and our of Sydney constantly.

Getting around Sydney

The CityRail train network has underground and above ground lines running in all directions throughout Sydney. An off-peak (purchased after 9am) CityHopper ticket, offering one day of unlimited train travel in the inner city is less than $5.

You can also get a SydneyPass, allowing unlimited travel in Sydney on the entire public transport network (including the must-see harbour ferries) is $110 for an adult for three days, $145 for five days and $165 for seven days, but quite frankly, you'd have to be travelling non-stop the entire time to get the full value, you'd be better off doing a bit of walking and buying your train or ferry tickets as you need them.

Taxis are everywhere, although there's the usual queues on Friday and Saturday nights. Even then, you can usually hail a cab fairly easily from any busy street. A fare across the CBD will set you back about $10.

Things to Do

  • Manly Ferry, Image Copyright © Tourism NSW
    The Manly Ferry — The World's Cheapest, best boat cruise
    You simply must get on the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay. It's a cheap harbour cruise with an amazing view of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge Taronga Zoo and all the other stuff you've heard about.
  • Walk across the Harbour Bridge, or if you've got the cash, fork out the $245 for a sunset climb across the top, the view is unforgettable.
  • Check out the Opera House, it's free
  • Catch some rays on Bondi Beach
  • Walk around the coastline from Coogee Beach to Bondi
  • Admire the amazing animals and amazing views from Taronga Zoo
  • Wander around Darling Harbour and enjoy pretty decent, but over-priced food and a dazzling casino
  • Put on your leather underwear and head down Oxford Street
  • Buy some over-priced souvenirs in the otherwise gorgeous and historical Rocks District
  • Get on a train and head out into the suburbs, The Rooty Hill RSL Club or Penrith Panthers will show you what the 'real' suburban Australia is like.
  • Watch the up and coming bands in Newtown's classic pubs and clubs
  • Jump in the car and head south to The Royal National Park with its hidden coves and deserted beaches or west to the Blue Mountains with its giant bluffs and enchanted valleys.

Sydney Restaurant Areas

  • Darling Harbour for typically good, but kind of over-priced, not-that-special cuisine
  • Crown Street, for amazing Indian
  • Circular Quay for amazing, expensive, harbourside a la carte, and some decent pub grub
  • Bondi for more adventurous stuff
  • Leichhardt for Italian
  • Cabramatta for more-Vietnamese-than-Vietnamese (don't wander too far from the main street though, it's the heroin capital of Australia)
  • North Sydney, for upper-class dining
  • Anywhere on the eastern side on the harbour, you'll pay lots, but it will be worth it

Sydney Bars

  • The Bank Hotel, Newtown (cheap beer in an expensive city)
  • Bondi Icebergs (if you can get in)
  • The Rooty Hill RSL (see the real suburban Australia)

Sydney Accommodation

Where the Movie Stars Stay

  • Park Hyatt Sydney: Is it Sydney's best large hotel? Probably. The service is what you'd expect and the location... Well, it's virtually in the harbour, and you'll need to hold your breath when you hear the price (you'll need at least $600 a night to get in the door)
  • Sydney Hilton: It's just had a two and a half year, $200 million makeover and has emerged as a damn fine, world-class hotel in the heart of the CBD. Rooms start at about $300 a night
  • Quay Grand Suites: You won't find a better view, right next to the Opera House overlooking the harbour. Rooms are at least $300 a night, but that's a bargain for the location. If it was New York you'd be paying $3000

Good, reasonably priced hotels

  • Hyde Park Plaza: The hotel has changed hands countless times, and it's starting to age a little, but the rates are always cheap, the location is close to everything (on the bottom corner of the CBD on Hyde Park, at the start of Oxford Street) and the rooftop pool is fantastic. For what you pay (about $117 a night), you won't find much better or cheaper (and you even get your own kitchenette). Ask for a room on the upper floors to avoid traffic noise.

Cheap and Cheerful Accommodation

  • Sydney Central on Wentworth: Located right in the city, it's a no-frills hotel, but you can also get a room for under $50, which is pretty much un-heard of anywhere in Australia these days, let alone the heart of Sydney

Backpackers Hostels

  • Asylum Sydney: Sounds crazy, but they have bathtubs, fireplaces and views. Availability is limited, but it's one of the highest rated hostels in Australia (according to Dorm rooms are about $20 a night. It's in Kings Cross, which is pretty close to everything, although slightly dodgy.
  • Wake Up! Sydney Central: Voted the number one hostel in Oceania in 2005 and 2003 on, this place is a little pricey by Australian hostel standards (10 bed mixed dorms from $24 a night) but the facilities are excellent and modern.

Interesting things Nearby

  • Check out the great national parks to the south, west and north (an hour each way by car or train)
  • Go sailing on the Hawkesbury River (an hour north)

Sydney is mentioned in the following travel stories:

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