Seven Sydney essentials

by amsterdam

Planning a trip to Sydney but tight on time? No worries, mate! Stick to these picks of the city's must-see sights and you'll be surprised how much you can fit in

You don’t have to be a backpacker with time to spare to experience the Sydney lifestyle - it’s just about possible to fit in the best the city has to offer within a two-week trip. And with airfares currently as low as £400, there’s never been a better time to visit. So why go to the Canary Islands for some winter sun when you could be lounging on Bondi Beach instead? Here are the essential sights and experiences you dare not miss.

Sydney Harbour

Nothing quite beats the thrill of stepping out of Circular Quay station for the first time and seeing the Harbour Bridge to the left and Opera House to the right - it makes the 24-hour flight suddenly seem totally worthwhile. This is the perfect spot for an al fresco lunch in one of the many restaurants, or an ice-cold beer or chilled Aussie Chardonnay at the swanky Opera Bar. Lots of tourists will opt for the Bridge Climb, but save yourself the whopping $198 cost and energy-sapping 200-step climb with a load of pimply backpackers, and head instead to the Blu Horizon Bar in the luxury Shangri-La Hotel. Located on floor 36, this bar has spectacular harbour views, serves great cocktails and, most importantly, has a lift.  If you are looking for a luxurious, contemporary place to stay this hotel should be at the top of the list with its fantastic location and views.

The Rocks

Nestled between the Harbour Bridge and the shiny skyscrapers of the Central Business District, this is Sydney’s oldest and most charming neighbourhood, where the city’s colonial past is still much in evidence - it's a bit like taking a step back in time 200 years. Here, you will find art galleries and small shops nestled between old pubs and modern restaurants. There is a lively weekend market and, in the run-up to Christmas, an atmospheric night-time market. Well worth a visit are Sydney’s oldest pub, The Fortune of War (137 George Street), and the Australian Hotel (100 Cumberland Street), for a crocodile pizza, $16. You’ll also find the rugby store of the shy and modest David Campese; just don’t mention the 1989 Lions Tour to him.

Ferry boat to Manly

Don’t bother with an expensive harbour cruise; instead, take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly (a 30-minute commute), which costs $10.80 return. Manly is many visitors' favourite spot and it's not hard to see why, with its pretty tree-lined boulevards packed full of trendy shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and young people. The beach, a 10-minute stroll from Manly Wharf, is a favourite with surfers due to the breaking waves and, like all of Sydney’s beaches, is immaculately clean. If this sounds a bit strenuous, you can always watch the action from the shade, with a cold one at the Steyne Hotel (75 The Corso). A good spot for lunch or dinner here is the chic and moderately priced Manly Wharf Hotel (Manly Wharf, East Esplanade) - sit outside on the decking and you may even see dolphins swimming in the harbour.


If cookery is the new rock and roll, then Sydney certainly rocks. For the ultimate foodie experience, head to Sydney Fish Market (Bank Street, Pyrmont), a 10-minute walk from Darling Harbour over the Pyrmont Bridge. This is more industrial estate than fancy organic food market, and it's where the serious business of wholesale seafood trading is carried out.

The catch is brought into the port here and auctioned from 5.30 am onwards for several hours - it's much like a stock market trading floor, only wetter. It is possible to see the auctions in action and have a tour of the market every Monday and Thursday; the tour starts at 6.50 am and costs $20. If you don’t want to shell out this much or get up early, it’s worth just wandering around the market stalls to look at the colourful array of seafood on sale or grabbing a bite in one of the many cafes. If you fancy yourself as a budding Rick Stein, you can enrol at the cookery school here; a two-hour session costs $80.

If this all seems like hard work, then you can head to any number of seafood restaurants in the city, the most famous being Doyles on the Beach (11 Marine Parade, TEL 02 9337 2007) in Watsons Bay.  Another classy option is the swish Italian Village (7 Circular Quay West, TEL 02 9247 6111) which does an excellent platter for two at $140 - not cheap, but it contains lobster, crab, scallops, grilled octopus and more, and would easily feed three people. The view of the Opera House is pretty tasty too !!!

Bondi to Coogee coastal walk

If you need to burn off the calories from the battered seafood and beer, this three-mile walk is the ideal tonic. The walk starts from behind the ultra-trendy Icebergs Bar and Restaurant, which is well worth a visit in the evening for a cold one and the view of the awesome sunset over the beach. The walk winds along the coast, with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, and passes through a number of beaches, notably Bronte and Clovelly, and some pretty coves. You may even spot the odd celebrity - this is known to be a favourite walk of actress Naomi Watts.

If you need to find some liquid refreshment at the end, look no further than the Coogee Bay Hotel, with its 500-people-capacity beer garden overlooking the beach and cool Atlantic breeze this bar is a Sydney institution. It's also a great place to stay with a four star boutique hotel and cheaper three star accommodation available and it's just a 15 minute bus ride to the city centre.  Try and book a room with a balcony for great views of the beach and if you go on week nights between 5.30 and 7.30 kids can eat for free if you order an adult main meal from the brasserie.

Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour

This is worth the admission price for the shark tank alone - you don’t see sharks this big in most aquariums. Don’t forget to pick up a visitnsw guidebook; you'll find these in the airport or at tourist offices and they contain lots of discount vouchers, including one that gives you 15 per cent off entry to the aquarium. Say hello to the giant turtle who has to share a tank with the sharks, and watch the sharks being fed (2 pm each day).

Olympic stadium, Homebush Bay

This is where Cathy Freeman struck gold and, more importantly, where Jonny Wilkinson struck his winning drop goal to sink the Aussies in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. A tour of this behemoth of a stadium, renamed the ANZ Stadium, doesn’t come cheap at $28.50, so a better option would be to get tickets to a rugby or football match there. Tickets are much less than you would pay in the UK and can usually be found on or If you fancy yourself as the next Ian Thorpe, a dip in the Olympic pool will set you back $6.80. The stadium can be reached easily by train (30 minutes), or ferry (50 minutes) from Circular Quay.