With a city of almost 5 million inhabitants, a multi-ethnic hub of business and culture, and its sandstone coves and sun-blazed beaches, Sydney really took my breath away.
After spending just under 10 days exploring, catching buses, ferries and going about on foot, here are our top 10 things to do in Sydney.
1. Visit the Sydney Fish Market
The Sydney Fish Market is a mere 4km from Circular Quay, so your best option is either to take the public transport or if running is your thing, to take a jog over. Bus services 501 and 443 regularly depart from the city. Once you arrive you will see the boats docked at the side of the market, and fishermen unloading their fresh catch for the day.
You can choose from a variety of seafood, but I like the oysters best, where you can have them shucked on the spot, and take them out to the dining area outside where the weather and scenery is just breathtaking. Beware of the seagulls as they will fight with you for every last morsel of food!
2. Explore Circular Quay – Harbour Bridge, Opera House and The Rocks
For foodies and photographers, this is a must. Take a nice short stroll, along the waterfront at Circular Quay (built around Sydney cove) to one of the world’s most iconic buildings which took 16 years to complete, The Sydney Opera House, for amazing views and photo opportunities of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Loads of couples can be spotted taking their wedding shots along the Quay. Walk through Sydney’s oldest area, The Rocks , where you’ll find quaint shops, as well as bars and restaurants.
While at the Rocks, we dropped by for lunch at at El-Phoenician, serving contemporary Lebanese cuisine, one of the many international cuisines available in cosmopolitan Sydney.
3. Attend Vivid Sydney
This fantastic celebration of Sydney’s creative artists and their ability to create with lights, is a must not miss. Normally running during the middle of the year (May till June), Sydney is transformed into a spectacular canvas of light, music and ideas when Vivid Sydney colors the city with creativity and inspiration. Spread all around the harbour area including little alley ways are a variety of interactive light installations and exhibitions setup by many Australian visual artists and performers. Seeking out these different exhibits is part of the fun of Vivid Sydney. Remember to bring comfortable footwear!
One of the unusual exhibits: Heart rate is measured on the index finger or earlobe via a pulse sensor then translated to pulsating circular ray of colors
The key highlight of Vivid Sydney is the massive scale, light installations and projections shown the Sydney Opera House’s sails. Grabbing a photo of the animated projections on the sails one of the highlights of this trip. Besides the projections, Vivid LIVE, a variety of performances from local and international musicians and theater groups, held on different stages of the opera house, add musical elements to the festival. The key highlight this year is the legendary German pioneers of techno music, Kraftwerk.
The audio and visual performance entitled KRAFTWERK – THE CATALOGUE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, celebrates and explores eight studio masterworks chronologically across four evenings – Autobahn (1974), Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), Computer World (1981), Techno Pop (1986), The Mix (1991) and Tour de France (2003). Concert goers will watch state of the art projections in 3D Glasses! Unfortunately for us, all performances was sold out.
4. Dine at Aqua
This was our first dining venue in Sydney, and the food made a great impression on us. Situated above North Sydney Olympic Pool, Aqua Dining serves some terrific modern Australian cuisine, with unrivaled harbour views that sweep from Luna Park, the amusement center, to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
Perfect Lamb chops
Head chef, Anthony Redondi uses the freshest Australian produce to create an inventive and contemporary menu, infusing Italian flavours with depth and integrity. We love the wines they serve here, and the Steaks and Lamb chops are a must not miss.
5. Visit the Beaches – Manly and Bondi
With so many beaches and bays close to the city centre, you must visit Bondi and Manly – world-famous with their unique combination of surfing, shopping, beachside cafes and bars. Taking the Ferry from Circular Quay to Manly will set you back by AUD 8 adult/single. Manly is very walkable, but even biking along the beach is a great way to see the place and catch some beach action.
We had lunch at Hugo’s located at the wharf – plenty of eye candy there, and even if the food was just average, the affogato is a must!
A beach volleyball boot camp in progress
A surfer looks back regretting not waiting for the next wave
Bondi on the other hand, is by far, my favorite beach in Sydney. We took the bus (333 from Circular Quay) to Bondi which set us back by AUD18 (return for two). Pristine, powdery white sand, and an amazing surf is what I am talking about.
Middle of winter but still warm enough for shorts
Bondi: the surfer, the beach sheila, the families and the tourists. The only thing missing? The lifeguard
YES that’s really me!
If you don’t like swimming in currents and waves or with the sharks, there is always the public pool
If you don’t really want to surf, walking along the coastal path is a great way to get some exercise. The Bondi to Bronte Coastwalk extends from Ben Buckler Point to the southern end of Waverley Cemetery.
YES that is me as well
It includes Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte Beaches and a medium gradient cliff-top path from Bondi to Tamarama , with occasional seating and several staircases. There are many cool grassy spots too to stop and have a picnic, observe surfers work the waves, practice hand standing and just soak up the sun!
6. Visit the Sydney Opera House
One of the great things to do, is to catch a free performance at The Opera house. This time, in conjunction with Vivid Sydney, it was Bish Bosch. In this performance where the room is completely pitch black, you will sample the strange and eerie sounds of the enigmatic Scott Walker who has teamed up with British mixed-media artists Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard to create Bish Bosch. Since you are seated in a dark room, there’s an amplification of the sense of sound, so certain parts will really make your hair stand on end, but in a good way!
Yeah, it states VIP Member
Or, another thing to do if you are interested in what really happens behind the curtains, one might just choose to join a guided tour backstage of the Opera House. The best and most expensive visual, sound and lighting equipment is found in this iconic venue. Numerous awards and recognitions have been bestowed on the engineers and soundstages here. The greatest musicians and shows have been performed, recorded and televised here. The guided tour will surely provide great insights.
The beautiful symmetrical interiors of the Sydney Opera House
Kraftwerk’s gear for the next few nights performances
The guide will raise the curtain on what really goes on beyond the spotlight. Revealing industry secrets that you will not hear anywhere else. Walk in the footsteps of legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Pavarotti, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Cate Blanchett, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and the Foo Fighters.
You might even get to stand on the world-famous Concert Hall stage, take up the conductor’s baton in the orchestra pit or get a sneak peek inside the stars’ dressing rooms!
7. Discover the Blue Mountains on Segway & Visit the Three Sisters
The Segway Blue Mountains local guides will take you around the beautiful grounds of The Fairmont Resort where you’ll ride your Segway through the forest, test your new skills on varied terrain and learn about the area, with glimpses of the Jamison Valley.
We were pretty much first timers to the Segway but we picked it up in no time. Even kids would find this a great adventure. We highly recommend it.
Then a quick stop at the Katoomba Cultural Center, located in the super modern Katoomba Public Library.
This cultural center had touchscreen kiosks, animated projections and the map of Blue Mountains on the floor!
Photo moment at Echo Point for the legendary Three Sisters peaks..
Panoramic View of the Jamison Valley and the Three Sisters
Then, stop for a quick lunch at Leura Garage, the area’s most modern restaurant situated in a former car workshop, before leaving for the thrill of a 52 degree incline ride, the steepest passenger railway in the world, the Scenic Railway.
Lunch at Leura Garage .. one of the more memorable meals we had on this trip
Glass-roofed red carriages allow passengers to choose their own adventure like never before, adjusting their seated position up to 20 degrees! Choose an adventurous ‘Cliffhanger’ ride at a steep 64 degree incline, or for those seeking a relaxed journey select the ‘Laid Back’ option. Of course, loyal fans can still ride the ‘Original’ at 52 degrees.
Can you hear the screams?
Our super knowledgeable, multi-lingual and very friendly guide, Andy, towers over many, commanding attention and sharing insightful details of the unique eco-system here and other worldly things
The Railway experience descends 310 metres through a cliff-side tunnel, emerging into ancient rainforest at the Jamison Valley floor. Operating since 1945, the Scenic Railway is an exhilarating ride. Then to return to the top, via the Scenic Skyway.
Hey there, Three Sisters again!
Suspended 270 metres above ancient ravines, the Skyway shows you breathtaking views of the rainforest beneath your feet through the electro-glass cabin floor. Here is where you will get the best views of Katoomba Falls, the Three Sisters, and Jamison Valley stretching to the horizon. Well since the Blue Mountains are a mere 2 hour ride from Sydney, it comes highly recommended – the best way to get away from the city for a bit and just unravel in nature. In our opinion and if you have the time, the best way to experience the blue mountains is to spend the night at Fairmont Resort, so you don’t need to rush through anything.
If you do not want to stay the night, you might opt to return the same day to the city. We returned back to Sydney’s Woolloomooloo area for dinner at Aki’s, a great venue for Indian cuisine. Aki’s is a good choice if you’ve had enough of western cuisine and have a hankering for some spicy Northern Indian served in a contemporary setting. Our South East Asian tastebuds certainly needed the familiar spices and chili. The mango lassi whipped up here is a must!
8. Browse and stroll along Surry Hills
Surry Hills is home to a melange of off-beat designer and vintage clothing, homewares, fabrics, collectables and designer furniture alongside quaint cafes and restaurants. The high-density zone was once known as a slum. Nowadays the main image is “chic” and “metro” but Surry Hills still covers the whole socio-economic range from poor to wealthy and is known for a strong sense of community.
Kamilaroi aboriginal artist, Reko Rennie’s geometric pink, blue and black diamonds on the T2 building at Taylor Square. The text ‘Always was, always will be’ references to this area being part of the historical Gadigal county.
It is great fun exploring these neighbourhood stores, grabbing a coffee at a sidewalk cafe, soaking in the atmosphere of the hotels and restaurants, or just browsing the merchandise at the retail outlets and markets.
9. Roam the Centennial Park & the Royal Botanic Gardens
Centennial Park has a great active vibe about it, as you will see, loads of people with their families, out and about, and playing catch in the sunshine, or just having a picnic. With adjoining Moore Park and Queens Park, the three parks are readily accessible by foot, bicycle, horse, motor vehicle and public transport. Centennial Parklands Dining, set in the heart of Sydney’s Centennial Park, has a great view of the park – the restaurant is just one large contemporary dining space that lets in loads of natural sunlight. The food in our opinion is just average with the exception of the mussels, but the ambiance and views of the rolling green lawns is just breathtaking.
What a great day out!
horse riders at the Centennial Park
The Royal Botanic Gardens are an excellent place to escape the noise of the city and are situated quite close to some of the major city hotels around Hyde Park. They open daily at 6.30am and close at sunset. Entry to the gardens is free.You can lose yourself here for hours. We wandered around it’s winding, undulating pathways, strolling around the water’s edge from the Sydney Opera House and through beautifully manicured gardens and ponds that fill the area of land between the harbour and the eastern part of the central business district. We watched the locals working out, tourists exploring the rich botanic information, picnickers enjoying the weather, and even two wedding functions on its grounds.
The Royal Botanic Gardens – a green lung so close to the city
Staring down a lion at the Royal Botanic Gardens!
10. Have a ‘Sydney’ night out
I am talking pre-dinner drinks at the Sydney Opera House (Opera Bar), then dinner at Nicks Seafood Restaurant Darling Harbour, club hopping first at Kings Cross, then at The Ivy on George Street, and finally, wrap it all up with late night supper of meat pies at Harry’s.
King’s Cross has for a long time been infamous for being Sydney’s redlight district.. Most folks who have visited Sydney at one time or another would have wandered through the Cross, if only for a look at how the “other half” live and play. In recent years, however, this sleazy pocket of Sydney has started to evolve, and has cleaned up a lot. There are strip joints etc, but there are also less sleazy clubs to party at. The music still leaves a lot to be desired but one can have a pretty decent night out, especially since you might find some cheap booze deals around.
working girls.. doing that thing they do..
The crowd goes wild but the bartenders stay focused.. very focused
Packed to the rafters – Kings Cross – music leaves a lot to be desired though
After Kings Cross, we head to Ivy on George St. The crowd is rocking.. both on the floor as well as in the pool, but honestly, the music is only just so-so..
Wrap up your night with the iconic Harry’s (cafe on wheels) meat pie and know that you can now cross Sydney off your list, as one of the places you’ve visited and enjoyed thoroughly !
Don’t mess with a hungry Ciki!
meat pies – chunky, slightly gross looking ,but pretty tasty when you’re starving!
This trip had been sponsored by AirAsiaX together with Destination New South Wales for the annual lights festival, known as Vivid Sydney. However, CCFoodTravel.com maintains full editorial control of the content published on this blog.