Ask any Sydneysider and they’ll tell you that Sydney is the best city in the world. It’s hard to argue with them when you consider the incredible scenery, the iconic landmarks and architecture, the ridiculous number of beaches, and the lifestyle that comes with it all. After visiting Sydney three times, I was completely charmed by the city, the harbour, and the people I met along the way. Should you find yourself with an opportunity to visit, here are 14 things you need to check out during your stay.
1. Circular Quay, The Opera House, & The Royal Botanic Gardens
Circular Quay is arguably the busiest, most exciting place to visit in Sydney. It’s a great area to explore by foot. In one fell swoop, you can see great views of the Harbour, the Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Walking the pathways along the water and next to the Opera House is a great spot to take it all in and snap some photos. I found myself drawn to this area because you can sit and relax while enjoying views of both the Bridge and the Opera House. Sometimes you’ve just got to pause and soak in Sydney’s beauty!
2. The Rocks
The Rocks is a historic neighborhood in Sydney’s central business district (CBD) that is perfect for exploring by foot. Located just two minutes walk from Circular Quay, I found myself completely charmed by the old buildings and cobblestone streets. While you’re in the area, stop by the Art-Deco styled Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. If you’re visiting on a weekend, be sure to check out The Rocks’ bustling street market.
3. The Glenmore Hotel
The Glenmore Hotel is a three-level pub with gourmet food and cocktails (they have my vote for best Chicken Parma in all of Australia). It’s been my favorite restaurant/bar in Sydney since my first visit. Hidden within the cobblestone streets of The Rocks, The Glenmore boasts so much character from the ground floor all the way up to the incredible rooftop beer garden. The views from the top are stunning (especially if you’re sitting down to dinner/drinks in the evening) and the energy is unbeatable. Prices are pretty standard for a night out in the city (dinner and drinks averages out to approx. $50AUD per person). Check out The Glenmore’s social media accounts for events throughout the year.
4. Surry Hills & Hyde Park
Surry Hills is a vibrant inner city suburb located just south of the CBD (read: hipster central). There are endless options here if you’re looking for a variety of slightly off-the-radar bars, cafes, galleries, and studios. Crown Street is where all the energy is, as it’s packed with people, restaurants, and shops. Be sure to check out The Clock Hotel for dinner and drinks (think: indoor/outdoor Aussie pub-style, approx. $50AUD per person). If you walk from the CBD to Surry Hills, plan your route to cut through Hyde Park. You’ll find the ANZAC Memorial Building and reflection pool there, as well as monuments, statues, and greenery. The park is buzzing with tourists and locals. And it made me feel like a local as well!
5. The Sydney Opera House
We all know the Sydney Opera House is the iconic image of Sydney (and Australia as a whole, for that matter), so why not see it from the inside and learn about its history on a guided tour? Be sure to check out what’s on at the Opera House – you might be able to catch a show while you’re there! If you visit at night, get a bit dolled up and stop by Opera Bar for a swanky drink and gorgeous Harbour views.
6. Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a bit of a splurge activity, but it’s something I’d do again in a heartbeat. Not only do you get to learn a little history about how the bridge was built, but you also get to see it from the perspective of the men who braved the heights to build it. At the top of the Bridge Climb you get breathtaking, panoramic views of the city and the harbour. On my last trip to Sydney, I did the bridge climb on a cool, rainy night and I got to see the city below, glowing with life. Best decision I made. As we reached the highest point of the bridge, our guide took pictures for each of us and we were treated to a surprise fireworks display.
7. Walk Across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
If you’re not into heights, you’re not looking to splurge on a touristy activity, or you want another view of the city without being strapped in and camera-less, simply walking across the bridge is a great alternative to the Bridge Climb. Not only is it free, but you’re also able to stop and go as you please to take in (and excessively photograph) the views. On your way across, pop up into the Pylon Lookout – it’s free, open 7 days a week, and has historical exhibits on the way up.
8. The Taronga Zoo
Adults and kids alike love The Taronga Zoo. I don’t know what it is about this zoo, but it’s one of the best I’ve ever been to. The number of exhibits isn’t overwhelming, it’s got incredible views of Sydney (seriously, I’m jealous of the view the giraffes have), and it’s a fun environment. Hop on a ferry across the harbour for sweet views on your way to/from.
9. Kirribilli & Luna Park
Kirribilli is a suburb located across the Harbour from the CBD and is a popular, slightly cheaper alternative to staying in the city centre during a visit to Sydney. Stop by the 1930s-themed amusement park, Luna Park, for dining and entertainment (or, if like me, you’re simply looking to be slightly creeped out by the clown-faced entrance).
10. Darling Harbour
A ten minute walk from the CBD, Darling Harbour is a lively spot that’s perfect to visit for dining, shopping, and attending events/exhibitions. The nightlife here is bustling, with a huge assortment of bars and nightclubs to keep you going.
11. State Library of NSW
This beautiful library is located on the edge of the CBD and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Stop by to check out the architecture and any public events or exhibitions being held. You can’t beat a free activity (whether it be a photography exhibition, guided tour, or movie screening) at a historic venue!
12. Manly/Bondi Beach
A trip to Sydney wouldn’t be complete without visiting one of its many iconic beaches. Take a ferry across to Manly or hop on a bus down to Bondi and spend the day relaxing, eating too much gelato, learning to surf, or walking the coastline. You can’t go wrong, whichever beach you choose!
13. George Street, Pitt Street Mall, & Strand Arcade
There are so many options for shopping in Sydney, but I really enjoyed walking along George Street and Pitt Street. Pitt Street Mall is always active – both with shoppers and buskers (a personal favorite of mine). The Strand Arcade is an incredible Victorian-style Arcade located perfectly between George Street and Pitt Street Mall, packed with Australian designer labels. Even if you don’t shop in here, it’s a cool spot to see.
14. Angel Place
This is my personal all-time favorite gem in Sydney. Angel Place is an alleyway that’s actually the home of a concert venue located just off Martin Place. But the reason I love this spot is that around the corner, there is an art exhibit installed overhead – a collection of empty birdcages, meant to serve as a symbol of the birdlife that once inhabited the area. Both during the day and when illuminated at night, it’s a beautiful and haunting piece of Sydney’s history.
Kim Conway is a twenty-something writer from Chicago, IL who earned her BA in English Writing from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2012. When she’s not writing and organising, you’ll probably find her fangirling about her current favorite song, baking (arguably) the world’s best soft pretzels, or daydreaming about travel. She plans to someday move to Australia. You can read her blog, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.