There is an air of optimism in Sydney. Often mistaken as Australia's capital, the harbor city breathes life into its people and visitors alike. The city boasts clean air, stunning waterways, meandering bike paths and walking tracks, as well as green parklands, sandy beaches, fine dining, great shopping and affordable accommodation. Whether you come here for business, pleasure, to visit friends, ride the waves or wander down Oxford Street for some as-yet undiscovered fashion label, Sydney crosses boundaries with people from all walks of life and all manner of places as easily as crossing the water on a ferry.
British settlers found what they were looking for when they settled here in 1788. A deep, protected harbor, rich soil, hot summer sun, and perhaps inkling that it offered potential far beyond what they had left behind. This was just the start of foreigners investing their lives into Sydney, a tradition that continues to this day. Indeed, today it is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, where almost 30 per cent of its residents speak a second language.
Sydneysiders work hard but are equally passionate about enjoying themselves when they can. Consequently, the city is filled with festivals, entertainment, and a myriad of cultural pursuits. Museums, art galleries, opera performances, ballets, concerts, restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs are thickly spread throughout. So too are sporting venues that most weekends play host to football, tennis, cricket and basketball tournaments.
Sydney also boasts some excellent examples of Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian architecture, and is home to buildings and architectural wonders like the Sydney Opera House (designed by Danish architect, Joern Utzon) and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the world's largest steel span bridge). The former can be visited most days, while the latter can be climbed for an unforgettable experience.
For those who prefer good food to great heights there are almost limitless possibilities in Sydney, with quality cuisine found throughout the city. Degustation Oz-modern menus by the famed Matthew Moran of Aria to Japanese-inspired delicacies from Tetsuya Wakuda are just two that any serious "foodie" should savor during their stay.
Equally as impressive is the abundance and variety of accommodations, which ranges from five-star hotels with rooms overlooking the harbor to budget end backpacker accommodation in the heart of the action-packed suburb of Kings Cross — the renowned "red light" district of Sydney. A popular late-night haunt for visiting seamen and celebrities, Kings Cross is also regarded as a clubbers' paradise.
When it comes to staying in Sydney, options range from high-end five star hotels and spacious apartments, right down to backpacker accommodation. The majority of the high-quality hotels including The Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, The Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney and the Hilton Sydney are centrally located in the Sydney CBD. They not only offer all the amenities you would expect of a five-star property but views of the harbor, and shopping right on your doorstep. The majority of the city's backpacker accommodation is a short bus ride from the center of town, with many located in the Kings Cross or Eastern Suburbs area of Sydney (www.sydneybackpackers.com.au and www.elephantbackpacker.com.au are two examples).
The other thing about Sydney that very few cities in the world can really lay claim to is its relative safety. You can walk sensibly from one end to the other and feel confident that no harm will come to you. Heck, when you're lost you can even ask for directions without being sneered at.
SYDNEY ITINERARY: DAY 1
If you're fortunate enough to be staying in the northern end of Sydney in hotels including The Four Seasons Hotel Sydney or The Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney, you should make your way down to one of the many cafés on the Circular Quay promenade for a hearty breakfast. In-between bites at Bar Bello Café on the corner of Phillip and Bridge streets you can watch commuters alighting ferries and hurrying to work while local buskers prepare themselves for the day ahead. From here, walk to where the First Fleet dropped anchor in 1788 at the historic Rocks, situated on one of the most beautiful stretches of Sydney's foreshore. This area, with its historic buildings, cobbled streets and green parks, is the perfect spot to spend a morning. Make a stop at the Sydney Visitor Centre, located on the corner of Argyle and Playfair Streets. You could spend the whole morning here just exploring historic buildings or visiting the many fine art galleries that focus on Aboriginal and contemporary art. If you're here on a Saturday, The Rocks Markets — filled with local artworks and curios — will be in full swing. The Museum of Contemporary Art offers complimentary tours of its current exhibitions each day. Stroll along the boardwalk at Campbell's Cove and you'll reach a lovely grassy area with park benches where you can contemplate one of the city's most breathtaking views. Enjoy lunch at one of Sydney's heritage pubs or one of the many cafés in the area.
The Bakers Oven at 121 George St. is a popular option. Their vegetarian pie is a specialty of the house, and there is plenty of variety for the sweet-toothed traveler, with a selection of cakes and pastries that will have you salivating. The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel at 19 Kent St. is another lunchtime option. This historic pub has a bar downstairs and dining upstairs — The Lord Nelson Brasserie. The venue brews six 100 percent natural ales to help wash down your meal.
After lunch, consider a visit to the Sydney Opera House or the Harbour Bridge, both only a short stroll away. Thrill seekers may want to do the famous 3 1/2-hour BridgeClimb. Suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, BridgeClimb gives participants one of the most unique views of Sydney from high above the water. BridgeClimb now offers three different climbs, so if you really enjoy your first attempt then you can have a completely different experience the following day or on a return visit. Another option is to walk down to Circular Quay, follow Writers' Walk to Bennelong Point, and take a tour of the Sydney Opera House. For those with the time to spend, it offers packages that include a tour of the Opera House, a performance and a drink or meal.
Holders of the Sydney Pass can board one of the red Sydney Explorer buses ($AUD39 for a daily ticket) at the foot of the Opera House steps and then alight at Mrs. Macquarie's Chair (Stop 5) for another panoramic view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Jump on again, this time getting off at the restored Queen Victoria Building — dubbed "the most beautiful shopping center in the world" (Stop 14). Here, right in the center of Sydney's prestigious shopping precinct, you can browse and shop for the rest of the afternoon in the chic boutiques of George and Castlereagh Streets and the beautiful Strand and Imperial Arcades. Right around the corner is Pitt Street Mall, chockfull of fashion, food, buskers, bookstores and more.
Don't forget to stop for coffee at Martin Place in one of the cafés in the monumental General Post Office building. Built in 1865 in the Italian Renaissance style, it was totally refurbished and converted into a mega food emporium in 1999. Check out the stylish Westin Hotel, which shares its lobby, lobby bar and café with the General Post Office building. The Sydney Town Hall at 483 George St., built in high Victorian style of local sandstone with its wood-lined concert hall and impressive pipe organ, is another of Sydney's best loved icons and well worth a visit.
For those who enjoy flashing their plastic but don't know where to start, a Chic in the City guided shopping tour (www.chicinthecity.com.au) may be just the ticket. Tours by limousine or on foot through the streets of Paddington, Woollahra, Surry Hills and Sydney's CBD take participants to some of the coolest designer boutiques in town.
Later, have a drink at the Orbit Lounge Bar (open from 5 p.m.) at The Summit. At this revolving restaurant on the 47th floor of the Harry Seidler-designed Sydney Tower, you can enjoy a 360-degree bird's eye view of the city. If you can't drag yourself away from the spectacular vista you might want to stay for dinner, which comes highly recommended by some of the city's leading restaurant critics. The Summit's menu has been designed to marry the lofty heights with authentic tastes provided by celebrated chef Michael Moore. Alternatively, you might like to catch a cab (about $15) to trendy Surry Hills and Billy Kwong restaurant (355 Crown St.) that delivers modern Chinese cuisine with fast-paced ambience to match. Chef Kylie Kwong is another local celebrity chef. Through her restaurant and her latest television series My China, Kylie shows a passion for the food of her traditional homeland that is hard to beat. There are no bookings taken at this restaurant unless you have a party of six or more. For those who want to kick-on after dinner, Surry Hills is just the place.
Here, night owls can groove till the early hours of the morning in one of many pubs, bars and clubs — the Basement at Circular Quay, the Bridge Hotel on Victoria Road in Rozelle or the cool Soho Bar on Victoria St. Kings Cross. The Establishment Bar on George Street is always pumping, while The Argyle in The Rocks has five bars to choose from. For those who want to experience the sights and sounds of trendy Kings Cross, check out the cocktail lounge, deck bar, supper club and disco at The Lincoln (36 Bayswater Rd).
* Watsons Bay Sydney Harbour image by Hamilton Lund/TNSW
(Updated: 09/17/12 DL)