Sydney, spectacularly draped around its glorious harbour and beaches, has visual wow factor like few other cities. Scratch the surface and it only gets better.
Sydney’s face is recognised around the world by its three major icons – spectacular Sydney Harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House. Admire the city’s natural beauty on a ferry ride or explore the harbour and its hidden coves on a yacht or cruise.
Some of the world’s best restaurants are also here, many with breath taking views over the harbour.
Sydney is a great city for shopping with a range of top-brand boutiques, sophisticated stores and international designers. The Queen Victoria Building is a grand building dating back to the 1890s and today, one of the city’s premier shopping destinations.
For a bird’s-eye view of Sydney, head to the summit of Sydney Tower Eye or to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge on a Bridge Climb. From here, you’ll enjoy views stretching across the city centre, out to the Pacific Ocean and west to the Blue Mountains.
On the Wild Side
National parks ring the city and penetrate right into its heart. Large chunks of harbour are still bush-fringed, while parks cut their way through skyscrapers and suburbs. Consequently, native critters turn up in the most surprising places. Clouds of flying foxes pass overhead at twilight and spend the night rustling around in suburban fig trees; oversized spiders stake out corners of lounge-room walls; possums rattle over roofs of terrace houses; and sulphur-crested cockatoos screech from the railings of urban balconies. At times Sydney’s concrete jungle seems more like an actual one – and doesn’t that just make it all the more exciting?
After a lazy Saturday at the beach, urbane Sydneysiders have a disco nap, hit the showers and head out again. There’s always a new restaurant to try, undercover bar to hunt down, hip band to check out, sports team to shout at, show to see or crazy party to attend. The city’s pretensions to glamour are well balanced by a casualness that means a cool T-shirt and a tidy pair of jeans will get you in most places. But if you want to dress up and show off, there’s plenty of opportunity for that among the sparkling harbour lights.
Making a Splash
Defined just as much by its rugged Pacific coastline as its exquisite harbour, Sydney relies on its coastal setting to replenish its reserves of charm; venture too far away from the water and the charm suddenly evaporates. Jump on a ferry and Sydney’s your oyster – the harbour prises the city’s two halves far enough apart to reveal an abundance of pearls. On the coast, Australia ends abruptly in sheer walls of sandstone punctuated by arcs of golden sand. In summer they’re covered with bronzed bodies making the most of a climate that encourages outdoor socialising, exercising, flirting and fun.
Brash is the word that inevitably gets bandied around when it comes to describing the Harbour City, and let’s face it, compared to its Australian sister cities, Sydney is loud, uncompromising and in your face. Fireworks displays are more dazzling here, heels are higher, bodies more buffed, contact sports more brutal, starlets shinier, drag queens glitzier and prices higher. Australia’s best musos, foodies, actors, stockbrokers, models, writers and architects flock to the city to make their mark, and the effect is dazzling: a hyperenergetic, ambitious, optimistic and unprincipled marketplace of the soul, where anything goes and everything usually does.
Parks & Gardens
Royal Botanic Garden Well-tended lawns, interesting botanical collections and ever-present harbour views add up to Sydney’s most beautiful park.
Hyde Park A shady avenue of trees, lit with fairy lights at night, makes this an inviting place for a stroll.
Chinese Garden of Friendship A traditional arrangement of streams, ponds and paths to soothe the city’s stresses.
The Domain The extensive lawns are used for large-scale public gatherings, while Mrs Macquaries Point offers unforgettable city views.
Centennial Park Formal bits, wild bits and a whir of joggers, cyclists and horse riders circling the central avenues.
Nielsen Park A tucked-away, leafy, harbourside park with a blissful shark-netted beach.
Australian Museum The grand dame of Sydney museums, with a refurbished collection, dinosaur gallery and excellent Aboriginal section.
Australian National Maritime Museum Half the museum is moored outside; clamber through a submarine and into the hold of a tall ship.
Nicholson Museum This university museum of antiquities is such a hidden gem that most Sydneysiders have never heard of it.
Chau Chak Wing Museum The Nicholson and other university museums will be incorporated into this new attraction in 2020.
Sydney Jewish Museum An affecting little museum tracing the history of Judaism in Australia but mainly devoted to the Holocaust.
Rocks Discovery Museum A warts-and-all primer for Australia’s first proper neighbourhood.
Susannah Place Museum A reminder that history is as much about the people who lived in slum houses as those who lived in palaces.
Art Gallery of NSW Where the state stashes its greatest treasures; locals are well represented.
Museum of Contemporary Art Bringing edgy art to the heart of the city.
White Rabbit A fascinating private collection of contemporary Chinese art, free to all.
Australian Centre for Photography Not limited to traditional photography, the ACP displays digital, video and multimedia work as well.
Artspace On the bleeding edge (sometimes literally – ew) of Sydney’s art scene.
Vaucluse House William Wentworth’s Vaucluse mansion is a rare surviving colonial estate on the harbour’s edge.
Elizabeth Bay House Another harbourside home, built in a gracious Georgian style in the heart of Lizzie Bay.
Hyde Park Barracks Museum Convict architect Francis Greenway’s beautiful prison, housing a fascinating museum.
Old Government House Part of a cluster of important remnants of the early colony lingering in Parramatta.
Queen Victoria Building The most unrestrained and ornate survivor of the Victorian era.
Martin Place A stretch of grand bank buildings and the High Victorian former General Post Office, the most iconic building of its time.
Elizabeth Farm Sydney’s oldest colonial house is incorporated into this early farmhouse.
Susannah Place Museum These Rocks tenement buildings give great insight into historic life there.
St Mary’s Cathedral Beamed in from Gothic Europe, the grand Catholic cathedral is awash with colour when the sun hits its stained glass.
Great Synagogue A mismatch of architectural styles, maybe, but a beautiful one.
St James’ Church Francis Greenway’s elegant, understated church is perhaps his crowning achievement.
Mary MacKillop Place A humble final resting place for Australia’s only Catholic saint, with a small museum to her life.
Garrison Church Regimental flags brighten the cool interior of this pretty sandstone church.
Sydney Opera House One of the world’s most recognisable architectural treasures enhances the beauty of the harbour.
Sydney Harbour Bridge The city’s favourite coathanger, the bridge manages to be simultaneously practical, sturdy and surprisingly elegant.
Australia Square In 1968 this distinctive tower block raised the city’s skyline to new heights.
Anzac Memorial Art-deco sensibilities lend grace and beauty to this solemn monument.
Rose Seidler House Off in the northern suburbs, this shows what an architect can do for his mum.
Zoos & Aquariums
Taronga Zoo A thoroughly modern establishment, housing its animals in spacious enclosures with million-dollar views.
Sydney Sea Life Aquarium Well laid out and fascinating, with giant sharks, rays and, most unusually, dugongs.
Wild Life Sydney Zoo Bringing the outback to the heart of Darling Harbour.
Featherdale Wildlife Park Meet iconic Australian fauna at this park in western Sydney.
Sydney Harbour National Park Preserving the wild side of the city on numerous headlands and islands.
Blue Mountains National Park A vast blanket of forested wilderness guarding the city’s western flank.
Royal National Park Secluded rivers and beaches amid bush and heath, to the city’s south.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park This large untamed area to the north completes the circle of wilderness enclosing the city.
Lane Cove National Park Encircled by suburbia but rich in wildlife nonetheless.
Art Gallery of NSW A fantastic gallery behind a neoclassical facade.
Sydney Harbour Bridge You can pay for the climb, or wander along it for free.
Museum of Contemporary Art A showcase for Australian and international contemporary art.
Sydney Observatory Observatory Hill, atop which this Italianate observatory sits, is worth a visit in itself.
Rocks Discovery Museum Enhance your appreciation of the Rocks by learning a bit about the area’s history.
White Rabbit Showcases contemporary Chinese art.
Mahon Pool An idyllic rock pool with surf crashing over the edges at high tide.
Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s favourite picnic destination, jogging route and snuggling spot.
Sydney Harbour National Park Walking tracks, scenic lookouts, Aboriginal carvings, beaches and a handful of historic sites.
Nicholson Museum A must-see for ancient-history geeks.