Having lived in Sydney all my life, I understand that planning a trip here can be daunting… where to start?! Do you want a touristy experience of Sydney or do you prefer to hang out with the locals? Are you cashed up or on a tight budget? Are you a nature lover, foodie, art critic, sports-mad, a shopaholic, have the family in tow or foot loose and fancy free?
Sydney never gets boring for me – the scenery, the lifestyle, the people. As a lifelong local, I think I’m qualified to thrash out some ideas for the ultimate weekend in Sydney. But here comes the disclaimer: these are my recommendations focusing in and around the CBD only. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all itinerary. I like to spend my time outdoors – surfing and hiking mainly. I like history. I like an afternoon beer when I’m on holiday. I don’t mind artsy stuff but I despise shopping. And it’s essential that everything I do is kid-friendly. If this is what you look for in a holiday too, then read on…
9 of the Best Things to Do in Sydney
1. The Rocks
The Rocks has a fascinating history and excellent watering holes to make it even more enjoyable. Click here for a list of attractions in the area. Afterwards have a beer on the rooftop of the Glenmore and grab a gourmet pizza from its neighbour, the Australian Heritage Hotel. Other “must drink ats” include the Forturne of War (Sydney’s oldest pub), Hero of Waterloo and the Lord Nelson Brewery.
2. Walking Tours
Combine exercise with history on one of the walks around Sydney Harbour National Park. My favourite is the Bradley’s Head walk, which takes you past the old gun barracks used in WWII to defend the harbour. Or hook up with an I’m Free Tour. These free walking tours are run by dedicated locals who take you to all the key sights and share the history, stories and secrets of their beloved city.
3. Calm amongst the chaos
The Chinese Garden of Friendship is worth a look and its feng shui offers some respite from the city chaos. It’s also located right near China Town for cheap & cheerful eats.
4. Harbour adventure
For a truly unique harbour experience, head to Cockatoo Island, the largest island in the harbour. There’s plenty of historic features, a cool bar and boat hire. But the best thing about Cockatoo Island is you can stay overnight. I love the glamping option at their waterfront campground.
As a cheap alternative to a harbour cruise, pack a picnic and catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. The Circular Quay-Manly route is the longest trip by public ferry (1 hour return).
5. Best Beach in Sydney
Bondi is busy and it’s not the best beach in Sydney. But it is excellent for people-watching. And also for walking the 6km from Bondi to Coogee Beach, via Tamarama and Bronte beaches (especially when the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition is on). The best beach in Sydney, in my opinion, is Freshie (Freshwater) on the northern side of the city. Sheltered between two headlands, it offers ideal conditions for both families and serious surfers. It also has a 50-metre saltwater pool at the north end of the beach. Beautiful, protected and less touristy than its neighbour, Manly.
6. Shop til you drop
Serious shoppers should head straight to Oxford Street, Paddington. William Street Paddington is where you’ll find all the homegrown fashion. The Paddington markets, held every Saturday, are great for quirky gifts and small local designer wares. But be warned: it’s not cheap.
7. Art After Dark
Art After Hours and Lights on Later are two of the best social and cultural events offered by the Art Gallery of NSW and Museum of Contemporary Art between 5-10pm. Pop-up performances include live music, celebrity talks, film screenings, gallery tours and access to their latest exhibitions. Absolutely free.
8. Cheese Please!
If it’s raining, try the underground GPO Cheese & Wine room in Martin Place (or just try it anyway!)
9. The Bridge
Have you heard of the Bridge Climb? Of course you have! There’s no denying it’s a fabulous way to experience Sydney, but it’s pricey. Did you know you can get a similar view for only $13 (free for littlies)? The Pylon Lookout has multiple levels with exhibits covering the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The top level reaches almost the same height as the bridge and, after climbing its 200 steps, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular 360° views of the city.
So there you have it. A few of my favourite things in my home town. Do you agree? What else would you add?
Matthew Lawson, Managing Director