Sydney city info
Population: 5 million
Getting around: Many of Sydney’s prime attractions (The Rocks, Darling Harbour, The Opera House) are all located within a relatively small area and are best explored on foot.
Travelers to city will find Sydney’s public transportation welcoming, efficient and economical. Ferries run to 30 docks all along Sydney Harbour, allowing spectacular sightseeing as travelers reach their destinations. The monorail is another exhilarating mode of transportation, but it runs only between the city center, Darling Harbour and Chinatown.
Taxis roam throughout the city to take visitors to outlying attractions; pricey water taxis are also available. A three-day Sydneypass ($60) allows unlimited travel on any public bus or ferry, including the Airport Express Bus, connections to Bondi Beach, and three sightseeing tours. Driving a car around Sydney is not recommended. Road markings are scattershod, Sydney drivers can be fast and intolerant of those learning to drive on the left-hand side, and streets are hilly and curving.
Weather: Since Sydney is “down under,” its seasons are opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere; the city boasts a temperate climate with 340 sunny days a year. During springtime (late October to December) and autumn (late February though May), Sydney is sunny and warm with only a few sprinklings of rain. Even the coldest part of winter (June through August), the average temperature ranges from 48 to 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures in the summer months rarely exceed 80 degrees
- January: The Festival of Sydney, which includes concerts, street theater and fireworks.
- January: The Great Ferry Boat Race
- January: The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race
- February/March: Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
- Spring: The Royal Easter Show
- June: Sydney Film Festival
- August: City to Surf Run
- September: Rugby League Grand Final
- October: Manly Jazz Festival
Brash and beautiful, Sydney sits nestled in the sandstone cliffs overlooking Sydney Harbour, basking in its role as a gateway for travelers, a mecca of culture and a playground for tourists and its 5 million residents alike. Host to the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, the city is feverishly sprucing up, renovating its infrastructure and repairing its image as a rough-and-tumble town.
In some ways, though, the city delights in its “bad-boy” heritage. Though the region was populated for 100,000 years by the Aborigines, captain Arthur Phillips sailed his First Fleet into Sydney Cove in 1788, bearing nearly 1,000 exiled convicts from British prisons. Settled as a colony of the crown and named “New South Wales,” the country grew as more exiled convicts joined free settlers in forming the basis for the community that would become a major financial and cultural center of the Asia-Pacific region.
Today, Sydney abounds with modern interpretations of its colonial past. At waterfront Circular Quay, where Phillips first landed, street entertainers ply their trade along Writer’s Walk, where famous writers’ words about Australia are fixed in the sidewalk with gold medallions.
The Rocks region has evolved in truly contemporary fashion, from the site of Australia’s first permanent European settlement to its current incarnation as a leading shopping venue that offers some of the city’s finest gifts, souvenirs and native crafts. It’s also renowned for great restaurants and cheerful pubs. History continues to abound in adjacent Victorian suburbs, where a stroll through the cobbled streets and alleyways gives a visitor a sense of the former seaport region’s rich colonial past.
Home to the Harbourside dining and shopping complex, the National Maritime Museum and the Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbor invites visitors to meander as they enjoy free music and entertainment on weekends. Outlying beaches stretch for miles, and visitors join locals on the sparkling sand.
Vast and blue, Sydney Harbour is truly the city’s jewel, crowned by the Sydney Opera House. Designed by architect Joern Utzon in 1955, the majestic structure seems to say, “Welcome to Sydney. Prepare to be swept away.”
Things to do
Sydney Opera House
Bennelong Point, Circular Quay
Australia’s most instantly recognized and enduring symbol, the Sydney Opera House appears to sail the harbor on billowing white wings. A world-class cultural center, the Opera House also hosts the city’s symphony orchestra, ballet, dance and drama, and offers free concerts most Sunday afternoons along the outer walk. Hour-long walking tours (A$9 adults, A$6 children) are available on the half-hour, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. More info
Royal Botanical Gardens
Cost: Free except for special exhibits
Hours: Daily 7 a.m. to sunset
Originally established as a farm by convicts transported to Australia by the First Fleet, the Royal Botanical Gardens is a lush grove of botanical wonders situated beside picturesque Sydney Harbor.
A Tropical Center features the exploits of the Venus flytrap and other intriguing tropical plants that live in the glass-house environment (A$5 adults, A$2 children, A$12 family). Pungent plantings populate the Herb Garden. More info
Campbell Parade, Bondi
Pronounced bon-die, this magnificent stretch of sand is Sydney’s most famous beach, the place to see and be seen either from the sand or from one of the many hip cafes across the street. Prepare for a carnival atmosphere as tourists and locals alike flock to Bondi for an anything-goes frolic in the sun.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Cost: Free, except for special exhibits
Hours: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Featuring some of the finest Australian works, the museum is particularly proud of its display of Aboriginal art. The permanent collection also includes European, Asian and contemporary art and photography, as well as ever-changing special exhibits.
The Australian Museum
6 College Street
Cost: A$5 adults, A$2 children, A$12 family
Hours: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This natural history museum traces Australia’s rich culture over tens of thousands of years. Its Aboriginal section explores the impact of white society on the first Australians. Other exhibits feature the flora and fauna of Papua New Guinea, native insects and fossils. More info
The Australian National Maritime Museum
Darling Harbor (west)
Hours: Daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Australia’s history is vitally linked to the sea, and the museum explores those connections with its exhibits of antique racing yachts, WWII destroyers and an America’s Cup champion. More info
The Powerhouse Museum
500 Harris Street
Cost: A$8 adults, A$2 children
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Housed in the shell of an enormous, abandoned power station, the museum presents more than two dozen exhibits themed around applied art, science and technology. Here, find a whole floor dedicated to steam engines, airplanes, computers and decorative arts. The museum also includes a NASA space station and a 1930s cinema exhibit. More info
Sydney Harbor Bridge
Cost: A$2 adults, A$1 children for Pylon Tower
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Completed in 1932, this bridge remains an engineering feat even today. At 1,650 feet, the bridge is the city’s most-revered landmark after the Sydney Opera House. Affectionately called “The Coat Hanger,” the bridge contains 8 vehicle lanes, 2 railroad tracks, a cycleway and a walkway. The southeast column of the bridge contains a museum that documents the bridge’s construction; walk 200 steps up the Pylon Tower for a magnificent view of the harbor and cityscape beyond.
The Sydney Aquarium
Cost: A$15.90 adults, A$8 children
Hours: Daily 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Home to the most extensive collection of Australian marine life, the Aquarium features crocodiles, seals, fairy penguins and platypuses, as well as an enormous collection of sharks that lurk in its Open Ocean exhibit.
Taronga Park Zoo
Bradley’s Head Road
Hours: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $15 adults, $38 families
One of the world’s great zoos, Taronga lets its guests visit nearly nose-to-nose with some of Australia’s most spectacular and exotic creatures – native koalas, of course, but also kangaroos, dingoes, Tasmanian devils and wombats. Scary creatures crawl through their Reptile House habitat. A Zoo Pass includes unlimited passages on the scenic gondola that meanders the 75-acre compound. More info
Oxford Street, Paddington
Hours: Daily, but hours change seasonally
A prime spot for athletes and nature-lovers alike, Centennial Park’s 550 acres boast a wealth of wildlife that coexists beside miles of walking, cycling and horse trails. Visitors can picnic while they watch classic films shown at the amphitheater during summer months.
Hours: Rides open weekends and school holidays; call for seasonal hours
Cost: $20-25 adults, $12-17 children for rides
Built in 1935, modeled after Coney Island’s Luna Park and set against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour, this is a loud, brash, in-your-face amusement park that features a variety of classic rides. Visitors enter beneath the ghastly, grinning face of a painted clown, who has evolved alongside the park’s collection of attractions.