Starting off my series of blogs on a recent visit to Sydney is this first post on the city itself. This was my first time to Sydney and expectations were high. After all, the Harbour City has consistently been in Mercer’s Top 10 Most Livable Cities of the world for many years running.

Getting into Sydney

Let’s start off with getting into the city from the airport as this would be the main entry point for most visitors. There are various modes of transportation from the airport to the city, and your choice would really depend on your preference for comfort and time saved.

Taxi- This is probably the most expensive option short of private limousines. Taxi fares to Sydney’s CBD range from AUD45-55 and takes around 20 minutes in light traffic.

Train- The Airport Link train service connects the airport to Sydney Central Station in less than 15 minutes. This is really convenient if your hotel is nearby the station. Otherwise, you can take the train to Central  Station and catch a taxi or bus to your hotel from there. However, you will need to purchase an Opal card (transport stored value card similar to our Easylink card) to take the train. The train fare is a minimum of AUD18 depending on where you get off.

Shuttle Bus- There are many private companies running shuttle bus services to Sydney and they do stop (door-to-door) at many hotels and hostels. Fares range from AUD16-25 depending on company. The trip can be rather long since the bus will stop at several stops to let passengers down at their respective hotels. It can take up to 1 hour or more just to get to your hotel. If you are not hard up for time then this option is quite economical for a single traveller. This was the option I took since they did stop at my hotel directly.

Airport Shuttles
The waiting area for shuttle buses is a long walk from the International Arrivals building. Check your voucher when you book your shuttle bus as different companies will use different numbered bays. Domestic terminal has it’s own shuttle bus pick up area.

For more information regarding getting from Sydney airport to the city, click on this link.

Getting Around Sydney

Depending on where you stay, getting around Sydney is pretty easy. If you are staying in  the CBD, then walking is probably your best and cheapest option. It took me 15 minutes to walk from my hotel near Martin Place to Circular Quay. Hyde Park and Darling Harbour were also short walks away.

Otherwise, get an Opal card and use it to take the train, buses and ferries. When you first purchase the Opal card, you will be asked how much you want to top up the card. Top up amounts are in steps of AUD10. When you have exhausted your card amount, you can top up the card at machines located around the train stations and Circular Quay.

Opal Top up
Top up stations like these are used to top up your Opal card.

Just note that as a tourist it’s not possible to refund any unused amount in your Opal card when you leave (Opal card refunds can only be made into an Australian bank account). So don’t top up too much money into the card and top up amounts are in increments of AUD10. Only top up what you need to spend.

Sydney Central Business District

Long before Singapore had an inkling of an idea to turn Marina Bay into the bustling bay front lifestyle area that it is now, Sydney was already rocking it. Most of the attractions in Sydney are centered around Sydney Harbour and Darling Harbour. Because of this, Sydney has earned the name of the Harbour City.

From it’s early days as a penal settlement, Sydney’s CBD has been the city’s center of commerce and now comprises both historical buildings intermixed with modern sky scrappers. It extends from Circular Quay southwards for about 3km and comprises several suburbs too. Sydney is Australia’s main economic and financial center and some people mistakenly think that it’s also the capital city of Australia. So do you know which city is the capital of Australia? Hint: It’s not Sydney or Melbourne or Perth.

Sydney CBD 1
You will find many historical buildings in Sydney’s CBD. Here is Martin Place with it’s clock tower and ANZAC Cenotaph.
Sydney CBD 2
Another historical building that is now Radisson Hotel.
Sydney CBD 3
A statue of Queen Victoria in front of the aptly named Queen Victoria Building. This houses a high end shopping center.
Sydney Eye
A very prominent building is the Sydney Tower Eye. At 309m tall, it is the tallest structure in Sydney. You can see the whole of Sydney and even the Blue Mountains from the observation deck. I didn’t get to go up there, so it has to be the next visit.
Circular Quay
Circular Quay is the start of the CBD and also where everyone goes as it’s central to the cruises which stop here. The train and most of the bus services also stop here. The bridge and Opera House are just walking distance from Circular Quay.

Hyde Park

No, this is not London’s Hyde Park, but a park in central Sydney named after the original in London. It’s the oldest park in Sydney and covers 40 acres.

Archibald Fountain
Archibald Fountain was donated in recognition of Australia’s contribution to France in WW1. It is found at the northern end of Hyde Park.

St Mary’s Cathedral

Located at the northern end of Hyde Park is St Mary’s Cathedral. Although the church started construction in 1868, the building was not finished until recently in 2000.

St Mary 1
The front of St Mary’s Cathedral with it’s imposing twin spires.
St Mary 2
The huge hall inside the church building. A peaceful respite from the crowds outside.

Royal Botanic Gardens

This is located between the CBD and Opera House with a stunning view of Sydney Harbour. Opened in 1816, the Royal Botanic Gardens is the oldest scientific institution in Australia. It’s free to enter the  gardens but it closes in the evenings. I found that this was a great place to relax with nature after touring the Opera House area.

Botanic Gardens 1
The Royal Botanic Gardens is just next to the Sydney CBD and within walking distance of Circular Quay and the Opera House.
Botanic Gardens 2
I found quite a lot of birds residing in the Botanic Gardens and it is a good spot for photographing the native Australian birds.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Easily the most recognizable landmark in Sydney besides the Opera House is the huge steel bridge that connects Sydney’s CBD to the northern suburbs. The mammoth structure carries vehicles, rail, and pedestrians. On top of that, you can also climb the bridge, which will bring you 134m above the waters of Sydney Harbour.

Bridge 1
Sydney Harbour Bridge with the International Cruise Terminal in front. Beside the bridge is the area known as The Rocks, a historic area from which the early settlers set up shop.
Bridge 2
The best time to view Sydney Harbour Bridge is probably sunset. A good spot is the Opera House itself which is directly opposite the bridge.
Bridge 4
Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunset. The sun sets early in winter (5pm) and gave a nice twilight colour.
Bridge 3
A company organizes climbs on top of the bridge. There are several timings but the most popular (and most expensive) times are sunrise, sunset and night climbs. The prices are pretty steep (pun intended) at more than AUD200 for the full climbing experience. I decided I would save the money and just take a picture. If you want to do the climb, you have to be reasonably fit as it is quite exhausting.

Sydney Opera House

The other landmark that has probably come to symbolize Sydney is the Opera House. No other city has the iconic look of the bridge and the sail like structure of the Opera House.

Opera House 1
The iconic Sydney Opera House is a symbol of Sydney just as the Effiel Tower is a symbol of Paris.
Opera House 2
The area in front of the Opera House is filled with bars and restaurants, making for a fantastic harbour front dining experience.
Opera House 3
Climbing the stairs to the Opera House will bring you face to face with the sail like structures that make up the roof of the building. Surprisingly, the surface is not smooth but actually covered by granite tiles imported from Sweden. More than 1 million tiles cover the Opera House.
Opera House 4
Visitors can’t enter the Opera House unless you have a ticket for a performance. But you can join the Opera House tours that tell you about the history of the building and also an opportunity to go backstage. We were lucky to catch an opera rehearsal during our tour.

Darling Harbour

This is another smaller harbour adjacent to Circular Quay. It is a major entertainment area with attractions like the Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife World, Madame Tussauds, Maritime Museum, casino and shopping centers. This would be the place to go if you are traveling with kids and want to them to be entertained.

Darling Harbour 1
The Australian National Maritime Museum with a real warship to visit.
Darling Harbour 2
A pedestrian bridge that connects the eastern side of the harbour to the western side.

For myself, I didn’t spend much time in Darling Harbour as I was passing through it to get to the Sydney Fish Market.

Sydney Fish Market

Sydney is not just about the bridge and Opera House. It has also come to be known as a foodie’s paradise. Being by the sea, seafood is one of the main attractions of coming to Sydney. And nowhere is it better to eat fresh seafood than at the Sydney Fish Market.

Fish Market 1
Almost as famous as other seafood markets like Tsukiji and Fishermen’s Wharf.
Fish Market 2
Seafood galore at one of the shops inside the market.
Fish Market 3
Nothing beats fresh oysters and these were the size of my hand.
Fish Market 4
Al fresco dining is available but it was just too cold for most of the visitors today. I guess summer would be nice to sit out here and feast on fresh seafood. Just look out for seagulls that swoop in and snatch unattended food.
Besides the Seafood Market, many restaurants also serve seafood and you will find them all around Circular Quay and the CBD.

Harbour Cruises

Besides being stuck on land, you can take cruises and ferries for sight seeing or getting around. I decided to book a harbour cruise with Captain Cook Cruises. No particular reason why since there are several cruise companies that operate from Circular Quay. Of course the fact that they offer free cruises if you sail on the week of your birthday did play a big part in choosing them (Yes, I’m a sucker for freebies).

Harbour Cruise 1
Getting a free cruise for my birthday was a treat.
Harbour Cruise 2
The harbour cruise takes around 2.5 hours and takes you past sights like Fort Denison which was built to protect Sydney Harbour in earlier years. You can visit this fort in the middle of the sea and there is a restaurant on it.
Harbour Cruise 3
It takes you as far as the mouth of Sydney Harbour where you can see the open ocean.

Ok, you don’t want to spend money on a cruise (it can be expensive if you have a family) and it’s not your birthday so you can’t get a freebie. But you want to experience sailing in Sydney Harbour. No sweat! Take the public ferries with your Opal card. This is probably the cheapest way to cruise and see the sights from a boat.

Ferry 1
Taking the public ferry from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay is one way to see the main sights of Sydney Harbour. Just tap in with your Opal card when you enter the wharf area.
Ferry 2
The public ferries travel to all parts of Sydney including some of the northern suburbs. Check the timetables for ferry schedules.

I took a public ferry from Barangaroo (next to Darling Harbour) to Circular Quay and it cost me AUD5+ for a 10 minutes ride which brought me under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House.

Night Scenes

When the Sun goes down and the lights come on, Sydney does take on a magical appearance. There are places where you can get that iconic postcard shot of Sydney all lighted up.

Night 3
The area beside the Opera House facing the Sydney Bridge is one of the best spots for bridge photographs. Wait till the sun sets and the lights come on. The twilight on the horizon makes the scene a lot brighter.
Macqueries Chair 1
If you want to photograph the bridge and Opera House in one single photo then you need to take a walk to the area past the Royal Botanic Gardens known as Mrs Macquaries’ Chair. It’s a pleasant evening walk from the Opera House but take note that after sunset the gates to the Botanic Gardens will be closed and you have to exit by another way towards Hyde Park.
Macqueries Chair 2
There are some rocks here and a stone jetty where you can take some low level shots and long exposures with the waves.
Night 1
The classic postcard shot that has come to symbolize Sydney.
Night 2
Not forgetting that the night scene of Sydney’s CBD is equally stunning.

That’s all for my first post on Sydney and I will be publishing several other posts on what else you can do in and out of Sydney. So stay tuned.

7 thoughts on “Sydney

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