Is Sydney worth a visit? I stayed in Sydney for about 5 days during my last trip to Australia so I got a rather thorough idea about the city. Sydney is not just the Opera House! Let’s find out what to see, what to eat, and how many days I recommend to spend visiting the city.
Some facts first: the city has about 5 million inhabitants, is the biggest city in Australia as well as in the entire Oceania! Sometimes it is mistaken as the capital of Australia (the small Canberra is) but it is instead only the state capital of New South Wales. British settlers arrived here in 1788 led by Captain Arthur Phillip, and Sydney was a penal colony at the beginning. However things have changed during the centuries. Now the city is one of the best in the world for quality of living (ranking 10th worldwide!) and multicultural integration.
Sydney: Landmarks & Historic sites
The Opera House is undoubtedly the most famous attraction in the city. And I must say that the fame that surrounds it’s well deserved. I spent literally hours photographing it from every possible angle! The entire port area is truly remarkable, with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House marking the fantastic city skyline.
Other attractions in the surroundings of the city are the Taronga Zoo and Bondi Beach which I do NOT recommend if you’re staying in town for 1-2 days. The Taronga Zoo, as well as being very expensive, requires the purchase of the ferry ticket to be reached. Described by many as a wonderful place to see Australian animals, it didn’t impressed me.
It doesn’t require an entire day as described in the guidebooks, a morning will suffice. Many animals live in narrow, ugly and bare places. Others are difficult to observe. One of these is the koala, clinging to a tree at a very large distance from the passage reserved for visitors and therefore impossible to see.
Bondi Beach is nice but I can’t account it among the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in Australia.
What I do recommend is to take a nice walk around the so called “The Rocks” area. It is located on the southern shore of Sydney Harbour nearby Argyle Street. It was a dangerous and nasty place back in the days but now it’s where you want to go if you fancy a cocktail on Saturday night. Don’t miss the absolutely lovely Hero of Waterloo pub (81 Lower Fort St).
Sydney: Urban Charm
I will be sincere. Architecture-wise I was quite disappointed on my first day in Sydney. The overall look of the city lacks greatly in personality. You wouldn’t say “hey I’m in Sydney!” walking down the streets of the city. You can feel it borrowed a lot from the American towns. However when I finally reached the Opera House I partially changed idea: it’s really a wonder that leaves you breathless. The entire Circular Quay’s surroundings are actually very nice especially at night.
The rest of the city as I said is quite plain. Sydney’s architecture is the same you can find in many other American cities and does very little to be original.
No complains about that. The city itself is not huge (at least compared to Chinese ones) and easy to navigate. You can actually walk across the various areas and if you feel tired just hop into a bus. The public transports are efficient and reliable. There isn’t a proper subway but a light rail system is active. I didn’t use it because I didn’t need to. I took the bus a couple of times and just walked for the rest of time. What is really essential it to purchase the OPAL card as soon as you arrive. The Card is valid for bus, rail, light rail and ferry services that operate in Sydney. It can be purchased at many convenience stores around town.
I love to try all the delicacies of the places I visit but I never expect much from the Anglo-Saxon countries. No offence. I lived in London, I travelled to the US and I learned to appreciate burgers, sauces and pies. Sydney is not different. All the local food you can get, especially if you’re on a budget like me, are burgers, salads, fish and chips. Being a metropolis expect to find a multitude of Chinese restaurants, Koreans, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, Italian and so on. But if you’re looking for local specialties don’t expect much.
In addition to this, the food is VERY expensive and you can’t get much for 15-20$. Almost nothing with 10-15$. Drinks are expensive too and actually the whole city is.
Sydney: When to go
I visited Sydney in August which is not the preferable time to explore the city. The best months go from November to February. When I went there it was quite chilly from time to time but I wouldn’t say too cold.
Sydney is a nice city, and if you’re travelling to Australia almost surely you will arrive or depart from here. Spend a couple of days wandering around the harbour, take pictures of the beautiful Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Have a drink at The Rocks. If you want to relax go down Pitt Street and enter the Strand, have a coffee and plan the rest of your trip. Museums are not unmissable (I visited the Australian Museum and it was alright), historical sites are very few since the city is so young.
If you feel like you want to spend 4-5 days in the area (as I did) then consider a 1 day trip to the AMAZING Blue Mountains. Avoid the Taronga Zoo as you can get much better chances to see the Australian fauna in other part of the country. Same for the beaches: Bondi and the others are nice but nothing special. If you’re a beach lover (and even if you’re not) go to Queensland, you won’t be disappointed.
Note on accommodation
I Stayed at the Nomads Westend Backpackers (412 Pitt Street). Accommodation price is quite high in Sydney, so I opted for this hostel which is quite cheap, all things considered. The location is the biggest selling point: 5 minutes walk from the train station, 15 from Hyde Park and Oxford Street. My room wasn’t that nice actually, pretty basic, with a en suite bathroom and tv. The service at the reception can be a bit of a hit and miss. The hostel features a communal kitchen and a guest laundry. There’s a 7/11 just next to it which is a good thing. The Thai restaurant downstairs serves good meals if you’re in a hurry. All in all it was ok, certainly not the Hilton but decent enough if you just need a bed. (I have no agreement whatsoever with this hotel, just my opinion about the place).