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More insider guides for planning a trip to Sydney
Although it is on the UK’s ‘green list‘, Australia has closed its borders to tourism until at least 2022. These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making a journey. Note that our writer updated this guide pre-pandemic.
There’s no denying that Sydney is a beach town. From the still waters of the genteel harbour beaches to the rougher surf of coastal beaches like Maroubra, the warmer months are spent stripping off, creaming up and diving in. But it’s not all surf in the Harbour Town. The city is vast and varied, home to grand museums, boutique galleries, cultural walks, high-end shopping, grungy street art and manicured public parks and gardens.
Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of Sydney’s best-known sites; what you may not know is that there are multiple ways to get to the top. A twilight climb showcases Sydney in all its sunset glory. If you’re here in June, try the Vivid Climb. It ends with a dance-off under the stars on a 1970s-inspired dance floor at the very top.
Insider’s tip: If you’re up for a leisurely exploration of the famed steel structure then take in the three-and-a-half-hour Bridge Climb. If speed is more your thing, sign up for the Express Climb, with fewer steps and stops.
Contact: 00 61 2 8274 7777
Opening times: Daily, dawn to night time
Nearest metro: Circular Quay
Join an Aboriginal heritage walking tour
There’s a lot more to Sydney’s oldest district than the story of those who colonised it. Sydney’s indigenous history unfolds on this 90-minute walking tour led by an indigenous guide. The concept of ‘Dreamtime’ (the Aboriginal belief system of the world’s origin, its creation and the story and interconnectedness of all its life fores), traditional plants and objects, and how the culture of Aboriginal people links to the modern Sydney landscape are among the many topics covered.
Insider’s tip: Ask about the Dream Time Identity, a special smoking cermeony in which Dream Time Custodians are invited to watch over participants throughout their time in Australia.
Contact: 00 61 2 8273 0000; bestof.com
Opening times: Daily, 10.30am-12pm
Nearest metro: Circular Quay
Explore the Sydney Tower
The highest point in the city, Sydney Tower stretches 268 metres above the ground, exactly double the height of the Harbour Bridge. The 360-degree views stretch west to the Blue Mountains, north across the Harbour Bridge, east along the headlands and out to the Pacific Ocean, and south to the shores of historic Botany Bay.
Insider’s tip:Those feeling more adventurous should take the 45-minute SKYWALK guided tour along the glass-floor viewing platform outside Sydney Tower (those with vertigo need not apply). Booking tickets online is significantly cheaper than buying at the door and you’ll skip the queues.
Contact: 00 61 1800 258 693; sydneytowereye.com.au
Opening times: Daily, 9am-9.30/10pm (depending on time of year)
Nearest metro: Town Hall
Visit the Australian Museum
The Australian Museum – the oldest in the country – has been at the helm of Australian history, research and education for almost 200 years, with exhibitions about Indigenous Australia, Australian archaeology, Pacific cultures and world culture. The museum is home to 10 complete dinosaur skeletons, eight life-sized models, and Australia’s largest mineral collection.
Insider’s tip: If travelling with children in tow, head straight to level two for the excellent (and gated!) under-fives area. For the ultra keen, check out the museum’s Roar and Snore programme; children and their parents get to spend the night with the dinosaurs.
Contact: 00 61 2 9320 6000; australianmuseum.net.au
Opening times: Daily, 9.30am-5pm
Royal Botanic Gardens
Located right on Sydney Harbour and adjacent to the Sydney Opera House and the Central Business District, The Royal Botanic Gardens is a perfectly placed 30-hectare oasis. The land upon which the gardens are situated was once home to the Gadigal people. This important history is retold through guided tours in which participants are able to forage for, and eat, traditional native bush foods. The new exhibition space, The Calyx, is home to the largest vertical green wall in the Southern Hemisphere.
Insider’s tip: There are free guided walks that run daily, and explore both the heritage of these landmark gardens and the plant varieties.
Contact: 00 61 2 9231 8111; rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
Opening times: Daily, 7am-sunset
The Art Gallery of New South Wales
The Art Gallery of NSW houses an eclectic mix of Western, Contemporary, Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Pacific and Asian art. There are also regular lectures, film screenings and events, and two restaurants to choose from, including celebrity chef Matt Moran’s, Chiswick at The Gallery. Masters of modern art from the Hermitage runs from October 13, 2018 – March 3, 2019 and features works from collections of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
Insider’s tip: The gallery can become very busy when the major exhibitions are on. After 2pm on weekdays is a good time to visit as all the school excursions have finished.
Contact: 00 61 2 9225 1744; artgallery.nsw.gov.au
Opening times: Mon, Tue, Thu-Sun, 10am-5pm; Wed, 10am-10pm
Prices: Free entry for permanent collection
Catch a show at the Sydney Opera House
Hugging the end of Bennelong Point is Australia’s most recognisable building, Sydney Opera House. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon in 1956, the ‘sails’ are created out of over one million white tiles. Catch a show in the Concert Hall if you can to experience the dramatic cathedral-like interiors and superior acoustics. Or take a tour of the house; the tours run for approximately one hour.
Insider’s tip: Get the most out of the house by seeing a show there. Arrive early, get some dumplings from Miss Chu, a glass of Riesling from the Opera Bar, and perch along the harbour’s edge, with The Bridge to your left and The House to your right.
Contact: Box Office: 00 61 2 9250 7777; Tours, 00 61 2 9250 7250; sydneyoperahouse.com
Opening times: Tours: daily, approximately every hour, 9am-5pm
Nearest metro: Circular Quay
Watch a film at the Golden Age Cinema
This 60-seat Golden Age Cinema used to be the screening room in the old Paramount Building and has been artfully refurbished with dark green walls, mahogany seating all its original Art Deco curves. The cinema shows both current arthouse films and golden oldies and the bar is worth coming to even if you don’t have an old-school movie stub in your pocket.
Insider’s tip: Choctops are made by local ice cream legends Messina and the popcorn comes in three flavours: sriracha and lime, sea salt or chocolate. There is live music in the bar on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Contact: 00 61 2 9211 1556; ourgoldenage.com.au
Opening times: Tues-Fri 4pm till late; Sat-Sun 2.30pm till late
Nearest metro: Central station
See the city with Culture Scouts Walking Tours
Culture Scouts was born when two art-minded friends got together and decided there should be a new way to see the behind-the-scenes hotbed of art and culture of Sydney’s inner-city. Designed for both locals and international visitors, these tours weave their way on foot through back streets incorporating galleries, boutiques, cafés, bars and restaurants with stimulating conversation and insider secrets along the way.
Insider’s tip: Wear comfortable shoes and ask lots of questions. Culture Scouts are about to launch a new foodie tour, showcasing the great culinary spots in this inner-city suburb.
Contact: 00 61 2 9016 5531; culturescouts.com.au
Opening times: Vary
Ride the ferris wheel at Luna Park
Luna Park occupies prime harbour frontage, situated in picturesque Milsons Point and snuggled under the north tower of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Be sure to have your camera out if you’re heading up the ferris wheel. Bring a packed lunch and snacks; the food offerings are low-quality hot dogs and fish and chips, and you’ll be fighting the seagulls off for exclusive rights to your lunch.
Insider’s tip: Buying tickets online will save a few dollars and afford some exclusively online deals such as free unlimited rides after 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Visiting on a Monday (during the school term) will save 27 per cent off the usual price.
Contact:00 61 1800 258 693; sydneytowereye.com.au
Opening times: Vary depending on the time of year
Nearest metro: Milsons Point
Get out of town – to the Blue Mountains
Once a genteel escape for wealthy colonial types fleeing the summer heat, the Blue Mountains remain a major drawcard for those who love the great outdoors. It’s a 55-mile (90 km) journey from Sydney and easily accessible by train and bus. The range of mountains, escarpments, plateaus and valleys is home to waterfalls, swimming holes, bushwalking, hiking tracks and the famed Three Sisters rock formation.
Insider’s tip: Stop off at The Norman Lindsay Gallery In Faulconbridge; this is where the Australian artist and enfant terrible lived and where much of his work is displayed. Lindsay courted controversy throughout his life and Sirens, the 1994 biopic that immortalised him, was shot here.
Contact: 00 61 2 4751 1067; normanlindsay.com.au
Opening times: Daily, 10am-4pm
Hop on a Sydney Harbour ferry tour
A day out on Sydney Harbour is non-negotiable and the ever-reliable ferries are the best way to explore the many pockets. Captain Cook Cruises’ Hop On Hop Off rocket ferry offers a flexible two-day pass which includes a 90-minute guided cruise featuring eleven stops. From Taronga Zoo to Watson’s Bay, Barangaroo, Fort Denison and Shark Island; jump on and off to explore many of Sydney’s best-known attractions.
Insider’s tip: If your visit falls between May and November consider the Whale Watching Cruise. In partnership with Taronga Zoo, the tour consists of a day at the zoo followed by a trip out of Sydney Harbour to watch the annual migration.
Contact: 00 61 2 9206 1111; captaincook.com.au; transportnsw.info
Opening times: Hop On Hop Off ferry: daily, 8.30am-6pm, from Circular Quay or Darling Harbour, every 45 minutes
Nearest metro: Circular Quay
Ah Bondi, the queen bee of Sydney’s beaches. Take a stroll along the promenade, grab an ice cream, find a spot on the sand, and stretch out. The north end is popular with young families, mainly due to the enclosed rockpool, and there’s a great view of the entire beach from up on the grassy hill. At the south end of Bondi you will find Bondi Icebergs Club, home to one of the best-known ocean lap pools in the city. An entry fee of AUD $7 (£4) will give you all-day access to the pool and sauna and unlimited people watching – this is where you’ll see Bondi’s best bods on parade.
Nearest metro: Bondi Junction