Sydney For Beginners | Sights, Places & Food Guide
I'm the kind of person that needs to fulfil their crazy ideas as soon as possible. It gets so bad that I feel a physical ITCH in my body and start biting my nails whenever there's something I really want to do. When I went freelance a year ago I knew I had to take advantage of being my own boss and make that Australia trip happen. So I kept thinking about it and on a random evening a few months ago, without giving it too much thought, I booked the tickets! And oh boy, was the 24 hour journey worth it. I'm thinking of writing another post on the cost of a trip like this - I used to think it's ridiculously expensive just to fly to the other side of the world, but with a bit of research and proper planning it's really not that bad. We had 2 weeks in Australia, and Sydney was our first and last stop. In the short time we had on this enormous island we really did the most we could've possibly done - keep an eye out for at least 2 more Australia blog posts & a highlights video!
I've read somewhere that whenever you go to a new place, your mind tries to make connections and associations to figure out where you are (how cool is that!). So depending on our past experiences and memories, every one of us will see a place differently. For me, Sydney was a mix of everything. I saw bits of New York, bits of London, and the beachy parts even reminded me of Miami. It had always been a dream of mine to visit Sydney and I've always had a thought in the back of my mind that this is a place that I'd like to call home someday. After finally visiting it I do love it, but there were other places in Australia that just took my effin breath away.
All together we had 6 days to spend in Sydney, and we tried to do as much as humanly possible in the midst of a heatwave and horrible jetlag!! To keep this short and sweet (ish), here are my tips and highlights. Now, there's probably nothing new here for all of you who spent your gap year in Australia, so I'm calling this a beginner's guide to Sydney!
You can't go to Sydney and not go to a beach.. Even if you're not a beachgoer you'd probably find yourself burning your scalp off on one of them (I sure did). There's so many to choose from and the colour of the water is so beautifully turquoise - just check out the pictures! The trendy Bondi beach is a must-see and there's plenty of space to do a bit of tanning and swimming. We found ourselves there on our first day as we wanted to keep it chill and relaxed after arriving in Sydney at 6AM. Before a little swim & a nap we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a place called Vue Bar overlooking the beach on a nice shaded terrace. We were thinking of doing the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk and you should definitely do it, but we decided to give it a miss this time due to the +38C heat (and we also might have fallen asleep in one of the beach cafes, oops). There's lots of other scenic walks in Sydney so make sure to pack some comfy shoes and some SFP10000000 as you'll be walking under the big ozone layer hole.
Another good spot and Jon's favourite from Sydney is Watson's Bay. We went to a nice little beach, walked past some pretty snazzy houses, and saw Sydney from a really nice viewpoint - which is also where we saw a gigantic spider. I mean, if you don't see a giant spider or a flying cockroach in Sydney, did you even go there? I saw both! We also went to Manly Beach on one of our last days as we wanted to catch some sunrays - I wouldn't say it was my favourite, but the ferry ride there sure was beautiful - we got to see the Opera house, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the pretty skyscrapers of CBD from the water. We only went to these three but there are more beaches to see, so I guess we have no other choice but to go back..
Just remember, any beach you visit in Australia - make sure to check the signs for all the little (and big) creatures in the water trying to sting / eat you. There can also be crazy riptides, and you have to be especially cautious on more remote beaches. If there's flags, make sure to swim between them as these are the areas where a lifeguard can actually help you.
To get that 'postcard photo', take a ferry from Circular Quay and you'll see the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in all its glory. It's cheap and, in my opinion, offers the best views.
Go for a lovely stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens - and if you go there in the summer months, definitely see a film in the open air cinema with the most dramatic backdrop! Right around the corner is the Opera House. Did I mention how small it is in real life? It's still pretty impressive but next to that giant bridge and some insanely huge cruise ships it looks a bit small. There's also a nice outdoor bar with a shaded area to hide from the sun. After taking some super touristy pictures (I don't think I've ever felt so touristy as I did that day - it also didn't help that we were both in shorts, white trainers, white t-shirts, caps and had a massive camera with us), we then made our way down to The Rocks area with some nice pubs and markets on cobblestone streets. We were going to visit Jon's uncle in Lavender Bay, North Sydney that evening so we decided to walk across the Harbour Bridge. It was a really nice walk and the views are stunning - if you're not up for doing the Bridge Walk on top of it, this is probably the next best thing. There's also a little tower bit in the middle of the bridge with a viewpoint that you can enter for a fee.
Also, if you do find yourself wandering around Lavender Bay, you can catch some stunning sunset views over Sydney's Central Business Disctrict and the Harbour Bridge. If you're lucky enough (like me), maybe you can feed some lorikeets too! Another gorgeous place to wander around at sunset is Darling Harbour.
On one of the last days, after our roadtrip from Brisbane back down to Sydney (more on this later), we decided to keep our rental car for an extra day to go to the Blue Mountains. They're about 2 hours drive from the city centre. We drove to Katoomba, parked our car and went on to explore for a good few hours. Lots of gorgeous sights but the main viewing points are quite touristy - it's definitely worth the visit if you're willing to do some hiking and get a bit sweaty!
WHERE TO STAY / EXPLORE
Throughout our trip, we stayed in different AirBnbs. Honestly, this is what saved us the most money on the trip. For the first few days in Sydney we stayed in Bondi Junction which was the perfect spot to commute from, and we also wanted to stay closer to the beach for the weekend. There are loads of cafes & shops (and a massive Westfield), and Oxford Street with even more shopping is right around the corner too.
For the second weekend in Sydney we stayed in the oh so trendy Surry Hills, and the flat was just oh sooooo cool, made even better by the fact that the hosts have the most beautiful husky named Dimitri. I'm gonna insert some real adorable pics of him giving us some TLC in the evenings! Here is the link to the AirBnb - I would go back again & again & again. The area was super central, packed with trendy food spots, bars and boutiques.
If you haven't tried AirBnb yet, just give it a go on your next trip. It's so much nicer staying in a space that actually feels like home away from home. Book through here and that will give you £30 off your booking :)
Being vegetarian - sometimes pescatarian if there's no other option - I found Sydney super easy. I love eating nice food and checking the reviews of every restaurant beforehand (who wants to waste a precious meal on something crap?), and there was so much choice - even too much choice! We were spoilt with loads of healthy breakfast choices, I had an acai bowl and a smoothie pretty much every day, there's heaps of asian food and burger places - and most of them have vegetarian and even vegan options. I found that it was super easy for me to find delicious veggie meals and not eat fish, which is not always the case when travelling. I didn't note down all the places where we ate, but here are a few that stood out to me:
The O Bar - a revolving bar / restaurant on top of a tall building in CBD. Jon took me there for an early Valentine's dinner and we absolutely loved it up until dessert time - which is when we both started giving in to our jetlag. Go there for sunset time and enjoy the changing views as the room slowly spins around - and the food is amazing too.
The Brunch Lady - I loved this takeaway breakfast / brunch / lunch place at Bondi Junction. Yummy smoothies and acai bowls, and Jon really enjoyed their breakfast sandwiches. Good for vegetarians & meat eaters.
Bangkok Bites - good Thai food in Bondi, comes in massive portions so make sure to share!
Just to warn you, food in Sydney is fairly expensive (and by food I mean something somewhat healthy). Sydney in general is expensive. I thought living in London was pricey and now after five years I'm finally used to it, but Sydney definitely felt like a step up from that.
- CITYMAPPER - my favourite app for navigating through any big city. I use this daily in London and wherever I can when travelling, I find it much more accurate than Google Maps and more useful at giving multiple route options and realtime information.
- TRANSPORT - the public transport system is really good and easy. The trains aren't as frequent as London though ;) but at least they have proper air conditioning. Get an Opal card (just like an Oyster in London) and top it up - travel on trains, buses and ferries. And it's always useful to have the Uber app on your phone as most of the time it's much more convenient and cheaper than taking a taxi.
- CHECKING REVIEWS - as mentioned before, don't waste your meals on mediocre food. It's one of the greatest pleasures in life so do yourself a favour by doing a quick search about the area or a specific restaurant on Google Maps (the only reason why I'd pick this over Citymapper).
- RENTING A CAR - I'll write more about our Brisbane to Sydney roadtrip in another post, but in terms of Sydney we found that this was the easiest way to venture out of the city. You don't really need a car in Sydney, you can get everywhere via public transport and it'll save you lots of money and energy, but it's a good idea to rent one even just for a day if you want to go see the Blue Mountains.
I loved Sydney, and it was a great place for the start and end of our Australia trip. Have you been? Any tips for my next trip there?
Keep your eyes peeled for more upcoming posts & videos about the rest of our trip! High-five if you've made it all the way to the bottom. You're the best.