Sydney See And Do
Sydney has 37 ocean beaches, stretching from North Palm in the north to Cronulla in the south. There are also more than a dozen placid harbor beaches, including the nude or "clothing optional" beaches at remote Lady Bay and Obelisk.
Beaches south of Sydney Harbour
Bondi, Australia's most famous beach, is about four miles from the city center. Finding a parking spot among the surrounding cafes and surf-wear shops is nearly impossible, but if you come early you can stake out a spot on the half-moon of golden sand and settle in for a day of the best swimming, sunning, and people-watching in Sydney. Just south of Bondi is the small bay beach, accessible by the coastal cliff walk (and by bus), called Tamarama—known locally as "Glamarama" for its stylish see-and-be-seen crowd. Bronte, just south of Tamarama and popular with surfers, has a dangerous current most times of the year but also a fantastic park-cum–forested valley that's perfect for picnics. A mile or so farther south is Coogee, a sort of mini-Bondi that's increasingly popular with the young, good-looking backpacker set. There's not much surf here, so it also attracts families with young children. Maroubra, about two miles south of Coogee, is one of the longest and best surf beaches on the south side. It has a burgeoning café scene but is really a locals' beach, quieter than its northern neighbors.
Manly, about seven miles north of Sydney via a half-hour ferry ride from Circular Quay or by car from the city center, looks and feels like a holiday resort. The Corso, the main street that connects the beach with the harborside ferry wharf, is lined with boutiques and alfresco cafes. Curl Curl Beach, about four miles north of Manly, is considered the best surfing beach on the north side. It's a picturesque, quiet spot far from the touristy beaches farther south. Palm Beach, about 14 miles north of Manly and known as "Palmie," is locally considered the jewel of the northern beaches. Its beautiful remoteness s the reason celebs have chosen to buy holiday homes here, and visitors tend to be equally flush. Balmoral, about four miles north of the city, is one of the most fashionable harbor beaches in Sydney. It is actually two small beaches separated by an outcropping known as Rocky Point. There's a great view out to North Head and the white lighthouse at Grotto Point. Cute cafes and restaurants line the Esplanade running behind the beach.
It may be the name of Sydney Harbour's busy ferry hub, but Circular Quay also encompasses the wide sweep of foreshore jammed with boutiques, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and a convenient (though ugly) train station. The ferry terminal, with six wharves, is right in the middle and is the place to board ferries to Manly, Darling Harbour, and Taronga Zoo as well as catch the RiverCat to Parramatta.
The state government–owned ferries are the cheapest way to get around Sydney Harbour. In addition to regular commuter services from Circular Quay, there are three daily harbor cruises with sightseeing commentary. The one-hour morning and one-and-a-half-hour evening cruises make a circuit of the harbor, while the two-and-a-half-hour afternoon cruise winds around the bays of the exclusive Eastern Suburbs, explores Middle Harbour, and goes through the Spit Bridge (yes, through it, because it opens up to let water traffic pass) and into little-known bays. Private companies, including Captain Cook Cruises and Sydney Showboats, have a variety of lunch, dinner, and "entertainment" cruises, with offerings ranging from skimpily clad showgirls to opera singers. For a more sophisticated day out on the water, an outfitter such as Flagship Charters offers stylish yachts—there's even a classic Italian wooden speedboat to create a vintage James Bond moment.
Tel: 61 2 9568 8600
2008 marks the 30th anniversary of Australia's foremost gay pride event: For those who marched in the original, it must seem like a thousand years since the first parade, which was staged to commemorate New York's Stonewall riots. Although police broke up the 1978 Sydney event—violently—it was widely hailed as a defining moment for the gay rights movement in Australia. These days it's more of a family affair, with hundreds of thousands lining the streets of inner Sydney to watch the flamboyant array of floats led by the much-loved "Dykes on Bikes." While parents with young children in tow will find the parade wholesome enough (it's always a fun combination of floats skewering hot-button topics and exuberant, over-the-top campery), the dance party that follows is a hot ticket with international visitors wanting a taste of debauchery. Tickets for the dance party tend to sell out quickly, so be sure to purchase them in advance at Mardigras.org.au, where you can also find a schedule of events.
Tel: 61 2 8274 7777
The three-and-a-half-hour climb up and over the bridge, snaking along the girders, is thrilling, but not for the unfitand best avoided on very windy or wet days. If you're not the superadventurous type, it's also possible to walk across the bridge at roadway level, free of charge, and still take in the views.
1 Olympic Drive
Tel: 61 2 9922 6644
The restored 1930s amusement park is back, and entry is free (although the rides themselves will cost you; unlimited day passes are available). Grown-ups can get a rush on the Tango Train or the Space Shuttle, and put the little ones on the vintage carousel. There are also the usual game-of-chance booths, and vendors selling hot dogs and cotton candy (known here as fairy floss). Not gourmet enough? Check out Aqua Dining, suspended above North Sydney Pool between Luna Park and the bridge, for dishes with a uniquely Australian zing—Pacific oysters with lychee and chardonnay, for instance, or seared kangaroo filet (if you can manage to get past the sacrilege of eating the national emblem).
Just a few streets west from Circular Quay is a neighborhood that seems frozen in time, with a 19th-century pub on nearly every corner. The oldest preserved convict precinct in Australia, The Rocks gained its name from the natural sandstone rock ledges lining Sydney Harbour. A rough area in the late 18th and 19th centuries, today the foreshore is home to a cluster of upscale boutiques, restaurants, and hotels housed in restored wharves and warehouses. Be sure to have a drink in the Lord Nelson or the Hero of Waterloo.
Mrs. Macquaries Road
Tel: 61 2 9231 8111
This undulating series of gardens wrapped around the southeastern edge of Sydney Harbour was the site of the city's first farm. Today it's an oasis where massive Moreton Bay figs tower over picnicking office workers and joggers, and where the junglelike Palm Grove shelters a colony of fruit bats. Exhibits include the mysterious Wollemi Pine, one of the rarest plants in the world, which was thought to be extinct until its discovery in the Blue Mountains in 1994. On show in the hothouse—otherwise known as the Tropical Centre—is a display that plots the life of an orchid, enticingly entitled "Sex and Death." There are several entrances along Macquarie Street, Mrs. Macquaries Road, and near the Opera House.
Open November to February 7 am to 8 pm, March and October 7 am to 6:30 pm, April and September 7 am to 6 pm, May and August 7 am to 5:30 pm, June and July 7 am to 5 pm.
Tel: 61 2 8251 7800
Giant stingrays, sharks, huge turtles, and thousands of fish swim right over your head as you walk through this aquarium's feature attraction, an underwater glass tunnel. You could easily spend a whole day here checking out the building's resident fur seals, penguins, saltwater crocodiles, and sharks. If your trip to Oz isn't going to allow you a trip to the actual Great Barrier Reef, there's a wonderful replica here with tons of Technicolor fish.
Open daily 9 am to 10 pm.
Tel: 61 2 9250 7250
Are those soaring roof peaks more like giant shells or sails? You can decide for yourself when you take a behind-the-scenes tour and get up close to one of the most recognizable buildings on the planet. You'll learn about its controversial design (architect Jørn Utzon has famously never returned to see his creation after a falling-out with government officials) and the outrageous expenses that were run up during the years of its construction. A cutting-edge array of musical and dance performances are on view at the six indoor theaters. Most shows tend to sell out, so be sure to purchase tickets in advance (61-2-9250-7777). Or if you time it right, you might catch one of the occasional free rock or pop concerts at the outdoor performance venue set against the stunning backdrop of the harbor.
Tours daily, every 30 minutes between 9 am and 5 pm; backstage tour daily at 7 am.
100 Market Street
Centrepoint Podium Level
Tel: 61 2 9333 9222
It's been dominating the skyline for a quarter of a century, as both the highest point in the city and the highest observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere. And it only takes a 40-second elevator ride to bring you to the top for views that can stretch for more than 50 miles on a clear day. For those that really want to test their fear of heights, there's the SkyWalk, a newly built platform that lets you walk around the tower's golden turret 880 feet above the city. (Just don't say we didn't warn you—it's dizzying.)
Open Sundays to Fridays 9 am to 10:30 pm, Saturdays 9 am to 11:30 pm.
Bradleys Head Road
Tel: 61 2 9969 2777
Arriving by ferry and then being whisked by cable car high above the animals is the way to make an entrance to this sensational harborside zoo. You can check out the Wild Asia enclosure, where 200 Asian rain forest animals like tapirs, otters, and brightly colored birds make their home. You can also see why the giraffes have the best harbor views in town, or drop into the daily talks and animal shows. There's also a photo op with a koala—although on a busy summer's day you may have to wait a while for your chance to get up close and personal.
Open daily 9 am to 5 pm.
Sydney Olympic Park
Edwin Flack Avenue
Tel: 61 2 8765 2300
A new interactive tour of the biggest stadium in Olympic history lets you relive highlights from 2000—from the Down Under perspective (cheer Cathy Freeman in the 400m!). If the Games aren't your thing, though, you'd do better to visit the stadium when there's a music concert (big-name bands such as U2 play here regularly). Or, if you want to observe Aussies at their most sport-crazed, go when there's a rugby match on.
Tours daily at 11 am, 12:30 pm, 2 pm, and 3:30 pm.
Sydney is one of the world's great walking cities: Its famous coastal tracks are the perfect way to catch the waterfront sights. If you're not a power walker, you can try the mile-long (one-way) Hermitage Foreshore Walk; it starts at Nielsen Park in the harbor suburb of Vaucluse and includes a rock platform with superb views of Sydney Harbour and nearby Shark Island. Slightly longer (about two miles each way), the Bondi to Bronte Coast Walk hugs the foreshore, winding south from Bondi Beach past rocky outcroppings, intricately eroded sandstone, Aboriginal art, and native plants. This is the city's most popular walk, particularly in October and November, when it plays host to Sculpture by the Sea, an exhibition of 3-D art by both national and international artists; the work ranges from the out-there to the sublime (www.sculpturebythesea.com).
A newish route is the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach Walk, which winds through native bushland and past historic military sites and affords dazzling harbor views. If you're up for a more strenuous trek, the 6.2-mile Manly Scenic Walkway takes between two and four hours one-way. You'll see the lovely Reef Beach and Forty Baskets Beach, the striking Grotto Point Lighthouse, a red gum grove, and bays where hundreds of yachts are moored.