I had one major goal while in Sydney: spend as much time outside as possible. The weather was just too perfect to stay indoors! Thankfully, the Harbor City is tailor made for just such a pursuit. My five day Sydney itinerary was jam-packed with cliff walks, ferry rides, beaches, and parks. Locals seemed to have the same thing in mind, for everywhere I looked Australians were out enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. With the shores close enough to catch a few waves before and after work, who can blame them? I was more amazed to see folks engaged in conversation with friends and strangers alike rather than glued to their phones. One can only hope this trend (aka living your best life) catches on elsewhere. Until then, I’ll just have to return to Sydney. I certainly found enough fun things to do and eat!
Manly Beach and Ferry
When I asked my Aussie friends what I should do in Sydney, nearly every one of them responded with “take the ferry to Manly Beach and eat fish ‘n’ chips.” Check and check! Figuring that sunshine was the best cure for jet lag, I ticked this box on the day of my arrival. The Manly Ferry whisked me from the city center to Manly Beach in thirty minutes, past the Sydney Harbor Bridge and iconic Opera House. From the Manly Wharf, I followed the crowd – many carrying surf boards – to the golden shore just in time for sunset. I got my fish ‘n’ chips fix at Manly’s 4 Pines brew pub, which also turns out some of Australia’s best craft beers. This just might be the quintessential Sydney experience.
Bondi to Coogee Walk
The Bondi to Coogee Walk combines fresh air, exercise, and stunning coastal views for an unbeatable introduction to Australian life. The six kilometer walk is bookended by Coogee and Bondi beaches; I recommend starting in the former so that you can end with a refreshing swim at famous Bondi Icebergs Pool. (Note that it is appropriately named – the water is freezing!) The path has some stairs that can be a little challenging, but the extraordinary scenery will be more than enough to distract you from any exertions. Sprawling cliff-top Waverley Cemetery was a highlight, as was pretty Bronte Beach. As I watched brightly-colored birds flit about the exotic trees and surfers ply the turquoise water, my love for Sydney was confirmed.
Watsons Bay Walk
Another must-do Sydney experience is the Watsons Bay Walk. This one is shorter than the Bondi Walk and less direct, but the scenery is just as marvelous. If you arrive by ferry, head through Robertson Park to The Gap where waves crash dramatically onto the rocks below. Make your way north towards Hornby Lighthouse and the Keeper’s Cottage, both stops on the South Head Heritage Trail that loops around the tip of the peninsula. On the way back down, avert your gaze from the nudity on display at Lady Bay Beach and dip your toes into the velvety sand of Cape Cove. A fresh seafood lunch at Doyles on the Beach makes for a relaxing finale. This family-run restaurant has been in operation since 1885 and has a lovely view of Sydney harbor – though reservations are essential if you want a table on the terrace. (Pro tip: I put my name on the list before starting on the walk and a prime table was waiting for me at the end.)
The best zoos in the world focus on animal conservation and public education rather than profits. Those in Singapore, San Diego, and Washington DC top the list along with Sydney’s own Taronga Zoo. You won’t find animals in cages here. Instead, the magnificent creatures roam free in large enclosures that simulate their natural habitats (minus the poachers and bulldozers that threaten many of the world’s species.) Taronga’s tiger exhibit is impressive, with critically endangered Sumatran tigers frolicking in a recreated Indonesian jungle. An entertaining seal show teaches the public about the dangers of over-fishing and the tons of plastic clogging our oceans. The highlight for me, though, was seeing Australian wildlife including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and emus.
Sydney Opera House
When the Sydney Opera House was opened in 1973, it became an instant icon. Not content to simply admire the landmark (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) from afar, I attended a performance of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to savor the renowned acoustics firsthand. It’s no exaggeration to say that the beautiful music nearly brought me to tears! Yes, it’s a splurge, but I highly recommend treating yourself to a concert when you’re in town.
Queen Victoria Building
Another Sydney landmark is the Queen Victoria Building, or QVB as it’s known locally. Constructed in 1898 as a monument to the beloved monarch, the QVB fills an entire city block. Its formidable stone facade belies the colorful details hidden within, such as stained-glass windows, a soaring glass dome, intricate tile floors, and wrought-iron balustrades. Two whimsical clocks hang from the ceiling and are worthy attractions by themselves. The QVB is home to three floors of shops and cafes; the open design allows visitors on the top floor to watch those walking around at ground level.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens provide a breath of fresh air to the Central Business District. This park is so vast and interlaced with pathways that it’s easy to get lost here for an afternoon. Best of all, it’s completely free! Stop and smell the roses (and likely crash a wedding) in the Palace Rose Garden, rest awhile in Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, and enjoy harbor views at nearly every turn. Just don’t feed the birds or disturb any of the wildlife.
For those who want to wander the narrowest alleys and see the oldest homes, head to The Rocks. This is where European settlers first landed in Sydney. Many 19th-century sandstone buildings still stand, though they are dwarfed by the CBD’s shiny new skyscrapers. There are pubs and cafes aplenty, along with old-fashioned apothecaries and au courant shops to help you while away an afternoon. While the cruise ship passenger terminal is an eyesore that seriously detracts from the neighborhood’s charm, its rooftop does afford great views of the harbor. (Unless a ship is docked, then you are out of luck.)
It is generally accepted that Bill Granger served the first avocado toast at his Sydney cafe in the early 1990s. Since then, the simple dish has taken the world by storm. While I didn’t make it to Bill’s, I did visit several other cafes while I was in town. My favorite version was served at Room 10, a popular spot in Potts Point. (Incidentally, I recommend staying in this neighborhood for its many splendid eateries.) So what made Room 10’s avo-toast so special? Tangy sourdough bread, feta cheese, lots of mint and black pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
When I Googled what foods to eat in Australia, “lamingtons” showed up on every list. What’s a lamington, you may ask? It’s sponge cake covered with chocolate and flaked coconut, often layered with jam filling. As a friend of mine proclaimed, the bigger and messier the better. Never one to pass up dessert, I headed to Flour and Stone bakery who reportedly makes of some of the best lamingtons in Sydney. This jumbo version features vanilla sponge that’s been soaked in pannacotta for a super moist result. I will take one of these tasty treats over Vegemite any day. Hashtag sorry not sorry.
Tell me: What do you think are the best things to do in Sydney?