Having a stroll in the city of Sydney feels like a vacation already. Fabulous sunshine. Comforting harbor breeze. Relaxing city vibe. No wonder the city has continuously been voted one of the most livable and beautiful cities in the world. The city is so well-developed yet so close to nature. Sydney’s city center is merely 20-minute away from Bondi Beach and an hour away from the Blue Mountains.
Bondi Beach is an iconic stretch of fine sand and curling waves and one of the world’s most famous beach destinations. Walk along Coogee, where you will see some unique rock formations along the ocean. Apart from Bondi, take a ferry to Manly which is a scenic journey to take in Sydney’s incredible cityscape from the water. To go further, visit Cronulla and Palm Beach, I heard that these are surfer’s paradises.
The Blue Mountains are Sydney’s backyard. Your visit to Sydney won’t be complete without having a hike in the mountains. For first-timers, head to Katoomba and witness the blue haze at the Cahill’s Lookout. Then get close to the mountains at the Scenic World, as you will be able to see Katoomba Falls, Three Sisters, and the incredible flora and fauna by taking the cable car and railway. The Scenic Railway is the steepest passenger railway in the world!
Sydney’s city highlights
In case you are having a short layover in Sydney, there are a few places in the city center that you can explore. Consider the Sydney BridgeClimb as it is some of the few bridge climbs available in the world, and you won’t regret doing so. Here, I am focusing on a few places in the CBD around the harbor, a few “snapshots” that you would at least get to see some of the greatest architecture, and have some fun. Let’s hop on the subway, a ferry, or the Explorer bus and get around Sydney!
Require no introduction; the Sydney Opera House is the most recognizable and well-known architectural wonder in probably the entire southern hemisphere, if not the world. Designed by the Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, the Sydney opera house gained worldwide acclaim for its modern and bold design since its completion in 1973. The opera house looks like a sailboat in the center of Sydney Harbor from afar. In fact, the structure is the focal point and could be seen from any angle of the city, from the air or the sea. So why not start your exploration of Sydney from here?
I always wonder how the opera house would look up-close-and-personal. In fact, the building was very approachable as visitors are welcome to walk up to the platform and touch the white ceramic tiles that paved the roof of the entire opera house. For those who are not watching a show (that could be ballet, opera, concert, drama, or play…), it is possible to see inside the performance halls by joining a guided tour to learn more about the architectural facts and fascinating stories about the building. For more fun facts about this landmark, I shared something that you may not know in my featured article.
I recommend having drinks or even dinner at the Opera Bar. The place has a variety of choices from barbecue and seafood, to Asian-style fusion dishes at a reasonable price. Diners could feel free to sit by the water-side sofa, enjoy and relax in between the two signature landmarks of the city, the Sydney opera house, and the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
George Street and Sydney CBD
Behind the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay is the business center of Sydney. Have a walk at Martin Place and discover the mix of old and modern, this is the business district with lots of banks and offices.
Pitts Street and Market Street are a stone-throw away from the business district, and it is an exciting shopping area with not only modern shopping arcades, department stores, and the Apple Store. However, the most interesting places to me are the historical centers like Queen Victoria Building (QVB) and The Strand Arcade.
On the other side of the Pitt Street Mall stands the Sydney tower which is the tallest observation tower in New South Wales. The Sydney Tower (309 meters) is the city’s tallest structure, and it’s the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere, behind the Sky Tower – Auckland, New Zealand (328 meters).
The observation deck of the tower is called Sydney Tower Eye. However, it has a couple of nicknames or other names like the Centrepoint Tower, AMP Tower, and colloquially, the Flower Tower, Glower Tower, and Big Poke. While I enjoyed the view from the tower, I still find the Sydney BridgeClimb is the best place in the city to have a panoramic view of the city’s skyline, as my pick of “even better” observation decks in the world.
It is one of the best ways to enjoy a panoramic view of the entire Sydney. Visitors might even see the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, and Bondi Beach on a clear day! Daredevils could step onto SKYWALK and appreciate the stunning bird’s eye view of the bustling city beneath your feet!
For those who don’t like walking, or sitting on a tour bus – consider a bike tour to visit all the classic tourist spots in the Sydney city center. The Bonza Bike Tour offers different routes that take visitors to the main attractions along the waterfront and beautiful beaches. At night, explore the Rocks in a different way by joining The Rocks Ghost Tours which includes spooky, strange, and mystery stories and antidotes wandering in various streets of the oldest district in the city.
Oxford Road, Paddington & Surry Hills
While the CBD is the area of important businesses and landmarks. Oxford Road, Paddington, and Surry Hills are the areas for shopping and fun. Paddington is only about 3 kilometers east of Sydney’s CBD, and Oxford Street lies within the area. Enjoy a day of the shopping spree in Paddington or Surry Hills as both neighboring areas that stretch along Oxford Street has lots of boutiques, cafés, and designer stores that are full of unique character and style.
Bloggers, designers, and small businesses need time to build their businesses and establish their names. The Paddington Market is a stage for startups to gain exposure until one day they become “somebody”!
Paddington Market is somehow the cradle of local designers before they could open a boutique store on Oxford Street, local designers like Collette Dinnigan, Lisa Ho, Von Troska…. started up in the market, so you would never know if you have discovered a future star in the fashion world.
The Paddington Markets open on Saturdays with about 200 stalls set up with fashion, accessories, artworks, paintings, and home products that were produced with each designer’s heart and soul. Customers usually would get to “meet the designer” as they tried to explain the design concept behind their products.
The area has a number of landmarks worth a visit while you are in the area. For example, Paddington Town Hall is a symbol constructed in 1890 when Paddington was a separate municipality, the clock tower is 32 meters high and is on the ridge of Oxford Street.
The Victoria Barracks is another historic building from the 19th century, with a museum open to visitors about the military past. Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) can be accessed from Morre Park Road as well as the Football Stadium. Paddington Reservoir Gardens is an important location for the water supply of the city. The Cupcake Bakery after your shopping spree – it’s a popular Cupcake bakery with freshly baked cupcakes in different flavors, from mint chocolate, lemon cheese, strawberry yogurt to carrot.
Darlinghurst & Kings Cross
Just a little bit further south from Paddington, go out for some nighttime fun at the Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. The two districts are connected by Oxford Road. Between Darlinghurst and the CBD are the Central railway station, Hyde Park, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and the Domain.
What was once a shady neighborhood has turned itself into a range of small bars, art galleries, and respected theaters that make the exploration of the district full of surprises! It is an exciting area for the kooky and wicked. the Darlinghurst end is well-known as the hub of Sydney’s gay community, where the yearly parade of Sydney Mardi Gras takes place.
Along Darlinghurst Road, there are tattoo parlors, nightclubs, lottery stores, old videotape rental places, and adult stores. One night we were walking along the street, and we headed to a burger place later we found that there was a tranny bingo to get free drinks!
Where are the other landmarks to explore in Darlinghurst?
The Sydney Jewish Museum is a hidden gem as it showcases the history of the Holocaust, the history of Jewish people in Australia, and human rights issues in Australia. The Australian Museum is located on William Street and it’s another heritage-listed museum. Being the oldest museum in Australia, it is also the fifth oldest natural history museum in the world. Today it’s one of the most important institutes in the city. In the district, check out the Fire Station, the Courthouse, and some other historic buildings.
Dixon Street & Haymarket
Sydney’s Dixon Street is a funky Asian town (a.k.a. China Town) that was like Taipei’s night market or Hong Kong’s Woman’s Street. Here, bilingual street signs are up in Chinese and English. Hong Kong Diners, Asia Food Court, Chinese Hot Pot, Karaoke Lounge, Foot Massage, Nail parlors, Chinese Supermarkets with all sorts of dried seafood, and Chinese sauces and condiments could be found in the area. The Taiwanese dessert and Thai food were exceptional, and it gets better during the weekends when food stalls are set up with Asian novelty snacks, small bites, and souvenirs, the funniest thing to me was the long queue outside the “Emporer’s puff”… selling Hong Kong-style egg waffles.