Vivacious and vain, breezy and blithe, posing around its shimmering harbour. Sydney is a sun-kissed show-off with a whimsical grin
The Brit (or Pom) is a unique kind of visitor to Sydney. To us, Sydney doesn't feel like the other side of the world at all, but simply a different version of our own homeland. It's as if we had demolished Britain, moved it somewhere warm and started again, shunning nervous understatement in favour of bold, brash, iconic symbolism.
It's probably this unspoken bond that makes British visitors appreciate just how wonderful a city Sydney is. How do I know this? Because I am myself a Pom, who for six months of my life, became a Sydneysider. I worked here, played here, ate and drank here and now I give you my version of why every Pom simply must experience spectacular Sydney for themselves.
Nothing has a hold over the Australian soul like the beach, and surf-mad Sydney is teeming with them. Tourists flock to Bondi Beach with tunnel vision, like they have no choice in the matter. On a busy day, Bondi accommodates more than 40,000 people slotted in like jigsaw pieces. Why be amongst them when Sydney has over 50 urban beaches to choose from? Here are my favourites:
Tucked away on the Harbour side of South Head, easily reachable by ferry or bus. It comes complete with beautifully kept parkland, seafood to die for (at Doyle's restaurant), and a breathtaking walkway along the South Head cliffs above the crashing waves below. The beach itself is tourist-free and incredibly calm, boasting outrageously good harbour views towards the glittering towers of the CBD.
If it's waves you want, then head to Manly, a surfers Mecca famous for its carefree vibes and slow pace of life. The streets are lined with modern cafés and eateries and the long beach features a skater littered promenade and some impressive waves, even on a calm day. Oh, and the ferry ride in from Circular Quay is quite unforgettable.
Sydney's spectacular ferry rides could easily be mistaken for tourist attractions, but are in truth an integral workhorse of the public transport network. It's hard to comprehend this when you associate commuting with traffic jams and grinding bus journeys through grey, drab streets. Ferries carry commuters all over the harbour, and the definitive one is the one to Manly.
En route you pull out of Circular Quay, the unnecessarily scenic public transport hub of Sydney, where bus, train and ferry all converge. As you drift away from the pier, you pass the Sydney Opera House on one side, and the towering iron hump of the bridge on the other. Boats are everywhere you look. Ferries, pleasure craft and cruise liners all effortlessly share the worlds largest natural harbour. On the seven mile cruise you can't help but stare at the relentless beauty of the sandstone headlands, immaculate urban beaches and multi-million dollar mansions of the harbour shore before bobbing over the rough waters across the heads and into Manly.
Cosmopolitan Café Culture
The local café is an obligatory morning stop off for any true Sydneysider and there is a refreshing, airy, glass fronted option on pretty much every corner of the CBD.
Chains like Starbucks are surprisingly uncommon and are very unpopular with the crop of coffee snobs that Sydney has spawned in recent years. They much prefer their independent, Australian owned café with the barista who knows them by name. My favourite is Café Newtown, opposite the train station in the edgy inner suburb of Newtown.
Look at Sydney like a recipe and you're clearly onto a winner. It attracts the very best talent from all over Australia and, indeed, much of the rest of the world. Add to this the spectrum of influence from the melting pot of culinary styles and techniques brought by settlers from all over Europe, the Middle East and south-east Asia. Add into the mix the fact that the freshest highest quality ingredients are abundantly available right on the doorstep. From the sublime strawberries grown in the cool climbs of Tasmania, to the melt in the mouth calamari locally caught off the crisp, unpolluted coasts. From surf to turf Australia's food produce is the envy of the world.
I must give these a mention, for Australian cuisine started here. To partake, there is really only one place to go; Harry's café de wheels at Wooloomooloo bay. It is but a cart on the pavement, and has been feeding sailors, drunks and businessmen alike, day and night since the Second World War. So pull up a milk crate, order a tiger (pie, peas, mash and gravy layered together) and be part of an Australian institution. It's real man's food 'grrrr'.
Modern Australian ('Mod Oz')
This blanket term has sprung up over the past decade or so, and encompasses a glamorous new era in Australian cooking. It is a fusion of styles from southern Europe and south-east Asia, and has been sharpened by a new generation of innovative Australian chefs. Mod Oz restaurants are concentrated around Circular Quay and The Rocks district of the city centre. The best of the bunch in my opinion is Aria, at the north-eastern corner of Circular Quay. The unsurpassed views are classic Sydney. The bridge and quay, with ferries drifting in and out and of course the glowing iconic opera house too.
As expected, sport is a hugely important part of everyday life here, and the sport of choice in Sydney is rugby league (or 'footy' as it is called by the locals). If you're here for any length of time, then you must pick a team and support them vigorously, or else you'll never make it as a budding Sydneysider. Cricket matches are often played at Centennial park too.
Green Gardens and Weird Wildlife
Not content with a simple park, the people of Sydney have put together 30 hectares of idyllic, peaceful botanic gardens to the east of the CBD, right on the harbour front. There are a few surprises to be found around the Royal Botanic Gardens (and elsewhere) that serve to remind us Poms that Australian wildlife is quite different to our own.
Approaching the pond in the middle of the gardens you admire the ducks as they splash about in the water. But then, as you get up close, you notice dark shapes shifting under the surface. These are gigantic freshwater Eels that wriggle beneath the unsuspecting ducks, waiting to take a fluffy duckling at the first opportunity. They are here to stay too, as they slither out of the harbour and into the pond overnight.
Walking among the trees, you'll see strange objects hanging from the branches high overhead. You don't give them a second thought, until dusk comes and they sprout wings and fly away. You're looking at the massive population of Bats that have set up camp to gorge on the plentiful fruit that the gardens provide. The wardens hate them, but they too cannot be shunned.
A far more friendly resident of the gardens is the rowdy Cockatoo. These comical birds will literally sit on your shoulder if you offer them a snack. All you have to do is sit on the grass for a while with food in front of you and they will come and find you.
Standing amidst these lush, green surroundings makes the bustling CBD seem much further away than it is, and stirs up the feeling that the people of Sydney have always known that they have something very special here. The talons of infrastructure and industry seem to have taken a back seat in this town in favour of preserving its momentous natural beauty, whilst at the same time making nature feel accessible and touchy. Just look at the dramatic cliff-top walks, the vast ranges of unspoilt urban national park, and the heavenly beaches and public gardens, you'll see what I mean.
In the summer months, the open air-cinema (St. George OpenAir Cinema) is a must. That's right; it's a cinema, in the gardens, in the open, overlooking the opera house and bridge. Do they know how to live or what?
Doyle's Restaurant 11 Marine Parade, Watson's Bay Tel (02) 9337 2007 (www.doyles.com.au)
Café Newtown - 146 King St, Newtown Tel (02) 9550 5747
Harry's Café De Wheels Wooloomooloo Bay (www.harryscafedewheels.com.au)
Aria Restaurant Circular Quay Tel (02) 9252 2555 (www.ariarestaurant.com)
Harbour Ferries (www.sydneyferries.info)
Bus Timetables (www.sydneybuses.info)
Sydney Cricket Ground Centennial Park (www.sydneycricketground.com.au)
Footy info (www.nrl.com)
St. George OpenAir Cinema Royal Botanic Gardens (www.stgeorgeopenair.com.au)
Where to stay
The best value hostel in town. A great location – right next to Central Station, clean rooms, large kitchen, plenty of showers and computers, free lockers in each room, laid back party atmosphere, great café and bar on site.
A stone's throw from Circular Quay, this hotel represents remarkable value, with its plush rooms and suites, on-site spa, pool and gym as well as a convenient restaurant and bar.
Luxury at its most extravagant. This 5* hotel enjoys a unique prestigious location on the western tip of Circular Quay, it has a rooftop pool, and every amenity you could ask for.
Long term rental
For those in it for the long haul, check out the rental section of www.realestate.com.au and also look at www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/Tenants_and_home_owners/Renting_a_home/Renting_guide.html for help in navigating Sydney's minefield of a rental system.