Sydney Guide

After spending a week in Sydney, most first-time visitors come to the conclusion that Sydneysiders spend the majority of their time outside. This could not be closer to the truth! Give a local half a chance and he’ll want to spend all his time outdoors; and why the hell not? The climate fluctuates between ideal and perfect, (the obscene amount of sunny days the city enjoys every year is criminal), the city is practically drowning in nature (bar a few rather nice looking modern buildings), the culture is all about fun in the sun (and all that) and the city offers more choices of outdoor entertainment and dining than most European countries. Combined.

Sydney Bridge

Want to eat the best…whatever? No worries! Sydney has reached a kind of culinary superstardom which, to be honest, no-one could’ve envisaged 20 years ago. Gone are the days of shrimps and snags on the barbie, boiled spuds and charcoaled to death rissoles! They’ve been replaced by world-class beef, succulent seafood, the best pizzas outside of Italy, authentic (insert any Asian country) fare and a caffe’ culture which would make most Roman baristas blush with envy. Let’s not even bother mentioning the beers.

Sydney offers plenty of brawn with her brains too. This isn’t just a city with substance; this is the most beautiful city in the world. Not the most historic, not the most artistic, but crikey is she a beeuudy mate!

<Sydney Harbour

Surely there must be a downside to all this Utopian perfection!?  Well yes, namely one horrid pain in the butt: the ‘peak hour traffic’. Much like the coveted happy hour in South America, Sydney’s peak hour can last anything between two and 24 hours, start and end at totally random times and has become such a BIG problem, that locals fear it will soon claim independence, and start printing its own currency. Oh, speaking of which, printing your own currency would also come in rather handy because, ironically enough, Sydney’s second biggest downside is its exorbitant expense. Recently, the city along with her sister-hub of Melbourne, has been gallantly placed in the top 10 most expensive cities in the world indeed Sydney’s prices may appear utterly insane at first glance. At second and third glance too.

View from the Botanic Gardens

View from the Botanic Gardens

The best of Down Under may come at a price, granted, but the only thing we can just about guarantee is that the moment you take but a single glance at that harbour you’ll be so blinded by the spectacle, you’ll forget all about that credit card bill which will await your return home.

Here’s a breakdown of Sydney’s hubs to help you best decide where to base yourself on your trip.

Sydney Guide – Sydney City Centre

This section includes all the places in the heart of the city and nearby, which could easily be reached on foot. Well, with flat heeled shoes at least. The CBD has gone through a major personality change over the decades and is now even busier on week-ends than during the week day, when office dwellers are replaced by shoppers and diners. City centre accommodation is, unsurprisingly, the most expensive choice in Sydney. Shop, eat, drink and be merry while you meander your way from the Queen Victoria Building to Pitt St. Mall and up the Centrepoint Tower for sweeping views of the city and its metropolitan areas all the way to the Blue Mountains.

The stylish Queen Victoria Building

The stylish Queen Victoria Building

From here you have three options: you can either head to Hyde Park, the most popular lunchtime retreat for busy city workers, Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay, the dining and bar-hopping hub of the city or, if you can’t wait any longer, head straight down Pitt St until you reach Circular Quay, the harbour side promenade home to the Sydney Opera House and the Botanical Gardens to the right and the Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Rocks to the left. An easy 10 min walk will see you reach the heart of Oxford St, home to the city’s best gay clubs, as well as Paddington, the trendy dining & shopping hub in town. Tough choice, we know.

<h2″>To the North

North Sydney is the second-largest CBD in the whole Metropolitan area, but you won’t find too many nouveau riche yuppies here who have made their money from the arts, if you know what we mean. The ‘newest’ area of Sydney has seen an insane increase in popularity over the last two decades as many businesses have relocated here from the much more expensive city centre.

Nowadays, the northern Sydney suburbs are home to major corporations, pharmaceutical companies and banks, and are the address of choice of some of the country’s up and coming elite. This area is clean, leafy and almost a tad too tree-hugging-obsessed, being the first in the country to introduce smoking bans on public streets (seriously).

For the tourist, of course, this spells out gorgeous looking and ultra modern yet nature-drenched suburbs, ease of access to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (the most breath-taking harbour viewpoint of all), Manly Beach (the true Aussie surfer’s mecca), Palm Beach (where Home and Away is filmed) and the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, an absolutely stunning reserve of rainforests, eucalyptus-filled woods and vertiginous rocky cliffs. This is by far the northern side’s most appealing feature…a protected natural haven merely a few minutes’ (or hours, depending) drive from the centre of the city.

Palm Beach

Palm Beach

The northern suburbs are relatively well serviced by Sydney Rail and Buses, but distances in Sydney are all relative so if you do want to base yourself here count in much travel-time, and the inclination to stay on this side of the bridge.

To the East

Home to Sydney’s ‘old-money elite’ here is where you’ll find mansions going for stupid-million-dollars in Point Piper and Rose Bay, incredibly posh boutiques and, just a few kilometres out, the ridiculously beautiful Watsons Bay promontory. These parts are so aesthetically greedy they make the northern suburbs look almost ordinary. Pffff. Suburbs here look a little more ‘lived in’ with heritage listed historic mansions adorning almost every second avenue.

City views from Watsons Bay

City views from Watsons Bay

From here, you can just keep following the coast around until it meets with trendy Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama beaches, where the city’s pretty youth converges en masse to sun bake and frolic about. All of this…merely 10kms out of the city’s centre.

To the West

For many years, Sydney’s west was a rather run-down grunge-fest, and as we all know this in inevitably what ends up being re-christened the ‘trendiest’ part of any town. Closest to the city centre is über-trendy Newtown with its infinite array of ethnic eateries, cool pubs and wacky shops. Head to Leichhardt, Sydney’s Little Italy, for the most authentic pizzas, or venture out to Petersham for the best charcoaled chicken outside of Lisbon. In the inner-most inner-west is where you’ll find leafy Glebe and Annandale, both home to gorgeous B&Bs, restaurants and a plethora of outdoor cafes too. These areas are teeming with backpackers, small boutique hotels and lots of above-pub rooms for rent for that real authentic Aussie experience.

Newtown street art

Newtown street art

To the South

The southern fringe of Sydney, out toward the airport, is probably the least interesting to visitors, even though it is the gateway to some great day-trip destinations like Wollongong, Kyama and Jervis Bay. Head here to watch dolphins frolic off the coast, visit charming seaside villages and spend the day hiking and swimming in the simply stunning Royal National Park. If you want to save on accommodation during your Sydney stay, then we suggest you look up suburbs like Brighton-Le-Sands and Cronulla; they have decent beaches and somewhat good public transport links to the city.

Sunning it in the Royal National Park

Sunning it in the Royal National Park

 

How to get into Syndney:

Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith International Airport is merely 6km from the city centre and, being the major hub of the whole country is serviced by all major international airlines. The ultra-modern airport is certainly busy enough to be operated 24hrs/day yet its close proximity to the city has made this an impossibility due to suburban noise-level restrictions.

You can reach Sydney via non-stop flights from Asia and the Middle-East and overnight (usually one-stop) flights from Europe and the Americas. Once here, you can also reach every corner of the country, but do keep in mind due to the sheer size of it, domestic flights in Australia can be expensive when compared with most other countries around the world. Just to give you an idea, a Sydenysider is likely to score a cheaper flight to Bali, Indonesia, then some of the remotest hubs of Northern Queensland.

If taking a domestic flight from Sydney, do check your ticket closely as some domestic flights depart from the International Terminal T1 which, which not only is quite the hike from the Domestic Terminals, but also requires a much longer check-in process.

Sydney Airport has direct train links to the city’s Central Station (along the south-western lines), from where all the suburbs can be reached. Don’t have a coronary once you realize the short train ride to the city will cost you almost AUD16! Sydney’s not that expensive just yet, but a special Airport-line levy means the price of a standard ticket is almost quintupled.

You can also hop aboard the Shuttle Bus which will deliver you to the door of your city centre hotel. Tickets can be purchased from the arrivals terminal, and cost as much as the train so may be well worth your while.

How to get around Sydney:

There are a few ways to get around Sydney: by train, light-rail, (the soon to be defunct) monorail, bus, car and ferry. Generally, any kind of movement in the city tends to be faster on foot, even though there are many buses which ply the route up and down George St, and at least half a dozen train stations exist within the CBD.

Out of the very central area, due to the traffic ‘issue’, the best way to get around Sydney is via CityRail even though buses tend to enjoy their own private, special little lanes. There are a few things to consider, however. Some places, like infinitely popular Bondi Beach, can only be reached by bus from the closest train station, in this case, Bondi Junction.

Other places, like Manly Beach for example, are infinitely easier to get to via the swift Sydney Ferries’ service from Circular Quay. Although the following places can be reached by either bus or train, it is faster, easier and infinitely nicer to reach them via ferry from CQ: Darling Harbour, Balmain, Luna Park, Watsons Bay, Olympic Park and Taronga Zoo and Parramatta. The first two ferry routes will see you zoom right under the Harbour Bridge, for that extra-kitsch tourist experience.

Sydney’s Light-rail runs along a 7km route from the city centre to Darling Harbour, passing the Casino, Pyrmont, Central and Lilyfiels. By and large, this is possibly the most useless and unnecessary form of transport around this area, although if planned extensions do come into fruition it will certainly have some potential benefits.

The monorail was always meant to be a ‘tourist attraction’ more than a bona-fide means of transport, and it even seemed to flop in that regard. Turns out looking into office buildings in and around the city is not nearly as much fun as looking at the harbour. Go figure. The monorail will bid its final farewell in June/July of 2013. Bye bye.

Renting a car to get around Sydney is about as smart as packing a bikini for a trip to Antarctica. Pack it all you want…you’re never gonna use it. Between the congestion, the crazy parking fees and traffic fines (for mistakenly getting into those precious special bus lanes), it may end up being the most expensive thing you do here.

 

Photos:

Karl Blackwell via Flickr

Brian Dearth via Flickr

Kevin Gibbons via Flickr

Kevin Gibbons via Flickr

Kevin Gibbons via Flickr

Jeremy Keith via Flickr

Kyle Taylor via Flickr

 

 

 

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