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Destination Guide: Sydney

So you’re thinking of visiting Sydney? Sydney is a great starting place if you’re thinking of visiting Australia. You really can’t beat the relaxed atmosphere, lapping shores at every turn, and jovial locals. Read on for our guide to Sydney for all the tips and must-see places:

When to visit? Weather/climate

Summer (December to February) temperatures can reach as high as 95 degrees with lows of 46 degrees. Humidity can make you feel like it’s a few degrees warmer, and afternoon thunderstorms aren’t uncommon from December and January. Water temperatures are a balmy 73.

Spring is a lovely time to visit where temperatures can range from 50-77 degrees and provide a nice transition from the heat of summer, it can often feel like an extension of summer well into April.

Autumn has a similar feeling to colder mornings and nights. Water temperatures range from 64-68 degrees.

Winter can range from 41-64 degrees with brisk mornings and evenings but is usually sunny during the day. Rain should be expected but usually doesn’t stick around for long. Water temperatures can drop as low as 62 degrees.

Best time to travel:

Any time of the year! You can’t really pick a bad time of year, although there is much more to do when it’s hotter. In autumn Sydney city hosts the VIVID festival of lights which draws big crowds.

March offers a memorable Mardi Gras parade. Spring draws walkers and runners alike for the inaugural City to Surf road running event (8.6 miles).

If you’re into running, it is a fantastic experience, if you’re not – the after-party is just as rewarding. Summer is nonstop: sun, sand, surf rotation of fun.

harbour view

Important cultural insights to know beforehand:

The rocks area is where Sydney (and the European settlement) all begin; it started with a blend of aborigines, British soldiers, convicts, and newcomers.

It’s well worth having a stroll around here or partaking in the nightly free walking tour departing at 6 pm daily. Today it is a walk down memory lane with all of the buildings still intact.

While it was technically French explorers who first discovered Australia’s west coast, Britain founded the east coast to claim their own in 1788.

It’s important to note Australia’s rich Aboriginal culture; the author would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation who are the traditional custodians of the land here in Sydney.

It’s well worth visiting the Australian Visitor Centre in The Rocks for a better understanding of what life was like before 1788. Our history (post-settlement) is still young (only 200 years) but there is plenty to learn if you’re willing and interested.

The Harbour Bridge and Opera house are steeped with history and are notable cultural sites to see, it’s hard to miss them really. Take a walk from Circular Quay (pronounced: Key) along the water’s edge.

Learn about the rum hospital on Macquarie Street, you read correctly. The hospital was built at the hands of many convicts, but the name doesn’t stem from them.

The term of engagement for contractors who built the hospital was the sole importation right of the alcoholic spirit rum to the colony.

To this day the rum hospital still exists within the central wing; the north wing is now Sydney Parliament house and the south wing is now known as The Mint.

You really can’t get more Aussie than having your Parliament house funded from the sale of rum consumption.

How to get there:

Flying into Sydney? You will arrive at either the domestic or international terminal. The easiest way to reach the city is via train from either terminal.

You will need an Opal card (similar to an Oyster card if you’ve traveled through London before) they’re free to buy but you will need to top it up before you travel.

You can purchase these from the airport. The price is $18 one way. The train will take you on the city loop depending on where you’re heading and covers a great deal of ground throughout the city.

If you’re arriving by train or bus, there’s a good chance you’ll be arriving at Central Station. Central Station is a public transport Mecca, you can pretty much get anywhere in the city from here with a possible few connection changes. Or use Uber! You can now use Uber from both airport terminals.

How to get around:

Getting around Sydney is reasonably easy and reasonably inexpensive compared to other capital cities around the world.

If you’re going to be using public transport and/or staying for a few days you’re going to want to get an Opal card. You can purchase them from most supermarkets and convenience stores (Coles, Woolworths, 7-11 etc.) and top up either online using the app or at all major train stations.

You can use the Opal card on all public transport services including ferry, train, bus, tram and soon-to-be light rail! Look out for that in 2020.

If you use Google maps and enter your destination, Google will let you know which bus/ferry/train/tram is the quickest to get there.

Where to stay​​​​​​​:

There are so many great suburbs to stay in and weekend getaways to experience from Sydney. It all just depends on what you’re interested in doing while you’re here. Below are a few you really shouldn’t miss:

  • Newtown – Great live music scene, food, art, and fashion culture
  • Bondi – Hosts Australia’s most photographed beach. Also some great food and wine here.
  • Manly – A relaxed beach-side suburb with plenty of action. Whether you want to try surfing, sip cocktails, cycle the streets or eat some fish and chips, manly has it all.
  • Surry hills – Hip, trendy, and a fantastic ‘pub’ culture.

Where to eat & drink:

  • Chinatown (Sydney CBD) – Dumplings, Peking Ducks, Malaysian street food. You really can’t go wrong.
  • Newtown – Great microbrewery culture and every cuisine you can think of.
  • Surry Hills – A little more up-market, maybe a little pricey for most backpackers but some great bars with great happy hour deals.
  • Bondi – A health food craze has taken over Bondi so except plenty of green juices. Don’t be too alarmed, you can have great burgers here too.
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A few favorite things to do and see:

  • Bondi beach is a must for those looking to see and be seen.
  • Mrs. Macquarie’s chair in the city is the ultimate place to photograph a picture of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the same frame. Also involves walking through the Royal Botanical Gardens which is great to walk around, get a coffee and enjoy the natural sights just minutes from the bustling CBD.
  • Climb or walk (for free!) the Harbour Bridge.
  • Take the ferry to Manly.
  • Go to a gig in Newtown or Redfern.
  • Enjoy a fancy meal in Potts Point.
  • Take a day trip to the Blue Mountains to escape the city.
  • Visit Palm Beach, a beautiful beach on the north peninsula. It’s more famously known as ‘Summer Bay where our local soap opera ‘Home and Away’ is filmed year-round.
  • Take one of many coastal walks (from Bondi to Coogee, Taronga zoo to Balmoral beach, or Spit Bridge to Manly)
  • Learn to surf at Bondi or Manly
  • ‘Glamp’ or Camp (whatever takes your fancy) on Cockatoo Island

So there you have it! Your beginners guide to Sydney. What else would you add?

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