Welcome to Sydney
"Sydney is a place everyone should see at least once in their life.”
What makes a recently-returned traveller make that grand claim? Well, it could be the fabulous weather, the beaches, the restaurants, the shopping, the transport, the culture or the rocking nightlife.
Or perhaps it’s the people - their friendliness (“G’day, mate”), their laid-back lifestyle (dress code is strictly informal) or their can-do attitude that produced one of the most memorable Olympics in history in 2000. Actually, it’s all these things and more that have come together in harmony to push Sydney into many recent Top Tens of the world’s greatest places.
True, it’s a long way away from nearly everywhere, but once you’re sitting admiring the beautiful Sydney Harbour and the unique Opera House with a ‘cold one’ (beer) in your hand, you might just think the mega plane ride was worth it.
Getting to Sydney
You can fly into Sydney from all the usual international points and from all over Australia. Both Qantas (www.qantas.com.au) and Virgin (www.virgin.com) have frequent flights to the world’s capital cities.
The flight to Sydney from London is about 22 hours – most people incorporate a stop-over to break up the journey, usually in south-east Asia. From Los Angeles it’s about 15 hours. Qantas has a flight that leaves New York, stops in Los Angeles and then flies non-stop to Sydney.
For a useful website with tips about flying to Australia, go to www.sydneyairport.com.au/. Sydney’s airport lies six miles south of the city centre. The Airport Link rail service is a fast and convenient way to reach the centre of Sydney. Trains run approximately every ten minutes and the journey takes only 13 minutes.
There are railway stations at both the international and domestic terminals. The fare’s between $AU11 and $AU17 one-way. There are also many bus services that operate to and from the airport. The green and gold Airport Express has a regular service costing $AU7 one-way. Each terminal has its own sheltered taxi rank with supervisors on hand at peak times. The journey in will cost around $AU30-40.
Because Australia is such a vast country, travel between major cities is usually by air. But there are some fabulous, long rail journeys available through the heart of the nation if you have the time and inclination. The Indian Pacific (Perth-Adelaide-Sydney), for example, promises an unforgettable three-night railway adventure with sightseeing stops on the way. See www.gsr.com.au
Avoid driving in central Sydney if you can. The city has an extensive, confusing one-way system, parking is the usual headache, parking inspectors are everywhere and tow-away zones are common. On the other hand, a car is a great way to access the farther reaches of the city and for day trips. Australians drive on the left and the minimum driving age is 18. Overseas visitors can drive in Australia with their domestic driving licences. Seat belts must be worn.
Sydney Travel Tips
English is the official and dominant language in Australia. About 15 per cent of the population speak a different language at home including Greek, Chinese, Korean and Turkish.
Australian English sometimes seems to be a language all of its own; it’s influenced by what comes out of the US and UK, but with many phrases that might baffle first-time visitors. For instance, someone who’s not quite there mentally might be said to ‘have a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock.’ To ‘spit the dummy’ means to get very upset, and something might be described as ‘as dry as a pommy’s towel’ (based on the premise that Poms – English people – bathe about once a month.) If you’d like a more comprehensive guide, just put ‘Australian slang’ in your Internet browser and see what comes up.
Currency And Tipping
The Australians use their own dollar, which is divided into 100 cents. Every denomination note is a different colour and size. You might hear of the orange-hued $AU20 being referred to as ‘a lobster,’ or the yellow $AU50 as ‘a pineapple.’ Tipping is not compulsory in cafes and restaurants, but is always appreciated. The standard tip for good service is 10% and 15% to 20% for something exceptional.
The usual big-city warnings apply to Sydney. Watch out for pickpockets in crowded areas and keep valuables locked in the hotel safe. Check with the front desk at the hotel before embarking on a trip to somewhere off the tourist track.Sexual harassment and discrimination, while uncommon, can occur and shouldn’t be tolerated. If, as a woman you do encounter infantile sexism from drunken louts, the best option is to leave and find a better place. There have been a number of reports recently of spiked drinks at inner-city bars. Don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know or leave your drink unattended. It’s also wise to stick to drinks that are sealed, such as bottled beer.Many tourists do not realise how harsh the Australian sun can be. If visiting the beach or walking outdoors on a sunny day, sunscreen and a hat are a must. And make sure you re-apply that sunscreen every 2-3 hours.
Nearly all visitors to Australia need a visa. New Zealand nationals are exempt and even they receive a ‘special category’ visa on arrival. The type of visa you require depends on the reason for your visit. Application forms are available either from Australian diplomatic missions or travel agents; you can apply by mail or in person. Full details of the requirements for entry can be found on the Immigration Service’s website, www.immi.gov.au
Sydney is comfortable to visit at any time of the year, but summer (December to February in the southern hemisphere) can be very hot and humid, punctuated by the odd torrential downpour. Autumn is delightful, especially around March and April, with clear, warm days and mild nights. In spring (September to November), there’s more chance of rain but it clears quickly. Winter (June to August) is cooler, although the average temperature wouldn’t drop much below 56F (13C).
Sydney’s public transport system consists of buses, trains, modern trams, a monorail, ferries and taxis. The Sydney Explorer is a guided bus tour which takes in a 22-mile circuit of all the major attractions in the city. One-day tickets, available from the driver, allow passengers to board and leave the bus at any of its 22 stops. For comprehensive information on all public transport in Sydney, along with special savers, go to the City of Sydney website.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
It’s one of the greatest bridges in the world and an Australian icon. You can climb it, walk across it or ride a bike.
The Sydney Opera House
The cultural centre of Sydney and one of the architectural wonders of the modern world. If you can’t get performance tickets, try a one- or two-hour tour.
See the Harbour, the Opera House and other sights from the water.
A bustling centre of sand, sun, surf and fun. Try a cliff/beach walking tour.
Has been transformed into a major tourist site, with a convention and exhibition centre, aquarium, maritime museum, Imax theatre and Chinese garden of friendship.
Royal Botanic Gardens
One million plant specimens in a quiet and beautiful setting; also great views of the Harbour from the hill.
Sydney’s oldest preserved colonial district, now a vibrant area of cafes, restaurants, tourist shops and stalls amid Old World charm and historic buildings.
Take an elevator to the observation deck for a glorious panoramic view of the city or register for the annual run/walk up the 1,504 steps, or (if you’re really brave) take the white-knuckle sky walk.
An adventurous way to get a bird’s-eye view of Sydney. http://www.seaplanes.com.au
‘seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.’ Take a ferry or a scenic drive to find a long sandy beach, art gallery, museum and unforgettable sunsets. http://www.manlyweb.com.au
The See Sydney and Beyond Smartcard is a 2, 3 or 7 day card that offers free admission at top attractions, as well as offers and savings at a selection of restaurants and shops. There’s also a 144-page guidebook. http://www.sydney.com.au/smartcard.htm
Eating and Drinking
Sydney has forged its way into the big league in dining. In the past twenty years the restaurant scene has gradually picked up momentum to the point where it is now one of the world's top cities for interesting, exciting, leading edge dining experiences.Sydney has more than 3,000 restaurants, brigades of world-class chefs and a rich array of fresh local foods. These include some local delicacies which might be new to your taste buds, such as kangaroo, barramundi, emu and crocodile. As well as excellent food there are great national wines with which to wash it all down.
Oysters and wine
As a general rule you will find the most lauded of the fine dining establishments that specialize in ‘modern Australian cuisine’ in and around Circular Quay, The Rocks, the Central Business District and Darling Harbour. However, pockets of international speciality abound, from Chow Mien in Chinatown to pasta in Paddington.
Sydney’s thriving café culture is centred on the suburbs of Darlinghurst, Glebe, Newtown and the eastern beaches of Bondi and Bronte, which are also perfect locations for a congenial Sunday brunch. Choose from seafood and views from Doyle’s on the beach in Watson’s Bay, a cruise of the menus one evening along Newton’s King Street (full of character), a night out overlooking Darling Harbour (very modern) or a leisurely breakfast at Bondi or Bronte.The cheapest eateries in Circular Quays are to be found around the ferry terminals but unless you’re desperate or want to put your cholesterol levels off the scale, these are best avoided. Vegetarians should perhaps avoid Chinatown restaurants since they’re not shy about displaying various sea creatures in squalid tanks prior to being boiled alive for your gastronomic pleasure.
Glebe is home to many laid-back cafés and good pubs and in many ways the same applies to Newtown, except that King Street also has no end of attractive little restaurants offering everything from curry to charred emu. If you have time, a night cruising the menus of King Street is an experience in itself. Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo offer eclectic choices, from the fast food outlets of Kings Cross to the chic and expensive options to be found along The Wharf at Woolloomooloo.
Sydney’s citizens love to shop, with many locals seeing it as a recreational activity and in some cases as a competitive sport or a full-time job. The proliferation of weekend markets bears witness to this fact and the increased flexibility of opening hours has enabled Sydneysiders to hammer their credit cards every day of the week.
Shopping in Sydney can be fun, frantic and frivolous and service is generally reasonable, although visitors from the US might find customer relations a lackadaisical concept. The cramped Central Business District is full to the brim with department stores, pedestrian shopping strips such as Pitt St Mall, shopping centres (many with food courts), chain stores, small boutiques and the lion’s share of the international luxury brands (at King Street, Castlereagh Street and Martin Place).
Much more relaxed are the inner-city shopping strips like Paddington (although Saturday is crazy), Glebe and Newtown. If it’s Australian-specific goods you’re after, head for The Rocks. You can find everything there – Aboriginal art, opals, footwear and trinkets – and there’s a market held every Saturday and Sunday.
Among the other markets are Paddy’s (there are two – open on Saturdays and Sundays), Balmain (Saturdays), Bondi (Sundays), Glebe (Saturdays), Kirribilli (monthly, 4th Saturday) and Paddington (Saturdays).
There are great pubs, jazz haunts, rock venues and nightclubs in most quarters of the city - from Darling Harbour to Kings Cross, Oxford Street to The Rocks.
Dance music is huge in Sydney and you’ll find beats of almost every description if you’re prepared to hunt them out. Sydney has some truly great local DJs as well as touring internationals from overseas.
If it’s clubbing that’s drawn you to Sydney, then look no further than Oxford Street, where you’ll find plenty of people – gay and straight - parading up and down before entering one of a bewildering range of late-night venues. Darling Harbour and Kings Cross are also popular destinations for clubbers.
Things keep going until about 0500 at weekends. Pubs and bars dominate Sydney’s social scene and music (both traditional pub rock and DJ-spun sounds) is often thrown into the bargain. One of the novel things you can do in Sydney is to have a drink at Minus 5°, the very cool new vodka ice lounge near the Opera House at East Circular Quay.
Everything at Minus 5° is made completely from ice - the whole room, the bar itself, tables, chairs, stools - even the curtains. You’ll probably last only 30 minutes inside, even with the parkas, hats and gloves they lend you at the door, but it’s an experience. One of the best sources of ‘what’s on’ information is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Metro section. It’s published on Friday and lists happenings for the week ahead, including gallery listings, film reviews and music and theatre interviews.