I feel like I am one of the luckiest people in the world who gets to travel and see all the amazing places, cultures and even various natural habitats in the world.
I’ve spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Australia – or Down Under as some call it. It required a lot of planning as we had must-see locations in mind such as Uluru, Great Barrier Reef and of course Sydney. Considering three of them are in different states in Australia, we had to book a few internal flights and stick with our plan. Australia is a huge country and you cannot just drive around the continent in a short time.
In this post, I will write specifically about Sydney and how to get the best out of it. 4 days were enough to see the main sights of it but you can do more if you want to spend more time on beaches or learn how to surf.
But first of all, here is our itinerary for those who wish to experience the same:
- 4 days in Sydney (New South Wales)
- 1 day in Uluru or Ayer’s Rock (Northern Territory)
- 1 day in Alice Springs (Northern Territory)
- 4 days in Cairns (Queensland)
Located on Australia’s east coast, Sydney is the most populous city of Australia. Despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world, it is one of the most liveable ones.
You will need a visa depending on your nationality/passport.
For application and details, click here.
When to visit Sydney:
Summer starts with December, and thanks to Christmas and New Year’s, December has been the best time to visit Sydney. It attracts many tourists this season but you won’t regret visiting the city during the peak time thanks to the summer joy and lively atmosphere.
Australians are friendly, and the city has a lot to offer to its visitors and residents. Looking for a beach? Select one of the amazing beaches like Bondi, Manly or Coogee. Looking for a place for a Sunday picnic? Head to Royal Botanic Gardens or Chinese Garden of Friendship. Sights? From Sydney Opera House and The Rocks to Darling Harbour, the city itself is a sight!
As it was Christmas time, the streets were surrounded by Christmas trees and people wearing short-sleeved Santa suits and hats. There was a huge Christmas tree in Martin’s Place and Christmas Carols as well as light shows in St Mary’s Cathedral. Even though Christmas was celebrated all around the city, new year’s eve seemed like a bigger deal.
Rules of Sydney
Not only Sydney but the whole country has a set of rules like no smoking and drinking in public areas, parks and beaches. Tobacco is extremely expensive and cigarette sale is done secretly in shops. As we heard, one pack of cigarette is around 25 AUD so it’s better to bring your own if you are a smoker.
Is it expensive?
The city is indeed very expensive. Alcoholic drinks at bars are starting from 8 AUD (for a 0,3 lt beer) and 10 AUD (for a glass of wine). If you fancy a traditional fish and chips, you pay at least 20 Australian Dollars. Speaking of traditional fish and chips, the city and people have such a British influence. People dressing up, girls showing a lot of skin while going out for clubbing reminded me a lot of London streets at nights.
One thing that amazed me about Sydney was the nicely designed cafe and bars, and company office building entrances! There is an impressive architecture with modernist high rise buildings and the mixture of old and new. The city is very easy to navigate and good public transport helps you not to get lost. If you cannot afford travelling around by taxis or Uber, you can get an Opal Card from any supermarket – top it up with 10-20 AUDs and use buses, ferries (not all) and trams.
Where to Stay:
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on transportation to see around, select a hotel from The Rocks area where you can walk around and to Circular Quay where all ferries leave. We stayed at The Grace Hotel which was a bit old but a convenient one. We could walk to Darling Harbour in 10 minutes, to the Circular Quay and The Rocks area in 15 minutes.
So here is what we’ve done in the full 4 days in Sydney:
After taking a 30 minutes bus ride, we arrived at the famous Bondi Beach. The beach is huge but you can swim only in the designated areas as there are surfers everywhere. You may decide to sit on the grass area or on the sandy beach but smoking, eating and drinking are not allowed even though we saw a few people drinking beers and smoking weed.
There is not much to see on the northern end of Bondi Beach, but if you walk towards the south, you will see a huge pool in the Bondi Iceberg’s Club, where people can swim for free. I would suggest passing by the cafe upstairs and having a sip of sparkling while watching the view from the top.
After resting at the Iceberg’s, we headed to the cliff top coastal walk (6 km) which took us through stunning views, beaches, parks, cliffs, bays and rock pools. Walking around 2 hours, we reached The Coogee Beach after passing through Tamarama and Bronte Beaches. The boardwalk also takes you past Waverley Cemetery, the most scenic burial ground in the world and it is impossible to be impressed by the views of it.
When we reached The Coogee Beach, we had fish and chips at The Coogee Pavilion and had some drinks on the terrace. When it started raining, we headed back to the city centre.
It was the day to see Australian animals! We were so excited!
Taronga Zoo – the city zoo of Sydney is located on the shores of Sydney Harbour. The 28-hectare zoo is home to 4,000 kinds of animal species but you get to see them only if they are awake or if they decide to show up. All Australian animals were present but seeing only a few koalas was a bit disappointing. As we were informed, touching Koalas is prohibited by law in The New South Wales. So we thought the spectacular views of beautiful Sydney Harbour from the zoo was more impressive than the zoo itself.
Transportation to the zoo is not very difficult. All you need to do is to arrive the Circular Quay and catch the ferry to Taronga Zoo wharf.
Tip: If you are planning to celebrate your birthday at Taronga Zoo, have yourself registered on Taronga Zoo’s website and enter the zoo for only 1 AUD. You will receive a birthday batch at the entrance but don’t expect more than this.
After we went back to the city centre, we changed and headed to dinner at The Bennelong Restaurant at The Opera House. Bennelong Restaurant offers lunch, pre/post theatre, supper and dinner menus. We had the pre-theatre menu as there was no availability for dinner time but the food we had was AMAZING! I probably had the most delicious food I’ve ever had in my life! So here are our favourites for the 3-course pre-theatre menu:
Entree: Grilled Tasmanian Octopus
Main: Macleay Valley suckling pig confit
Dessert: Five textures of Queensland mango or chocolate cake.
When we were done with our dinner, we moved to the bar and continued with drinks, and ended the night. If you are planning to dine at Bennelong Restaurant, make sure to make your reservation weeks-even months before so that you can enjoy your food at the time of your choice.
Day 3 was another day full of walking and discovering the city. There is so much to see in Sydney and you can’t get enough of it.
After leaving the hotel, we walked around The Darling Harbour, then headed towards The Rocks area. The close proximity to Circular Quay and the views of the iconic Harbour Bridge, as well as the historic nature of many of the buildings, makes the Rocks very popular with tourists. The Rocks Market operates each weekend, and you can buy some Australian arts and souvenirs from there.
Following the way from The Rocks area, we entered in The Contemporary Art Museum. You have to pay to see some of the exhibitions but don’t miss the view from the terrace.
After the museum, we walked to The Royal Botanical Garden to rest a bit and headed towards Pitt Street for some shopping. In Australia, streets with shops are called ‘malls’, and “Pitt Street Mall” of Sydney is Australia’s busiest shopping precinct.
After a long day walking, we went to see the Christmas Carols in front of St Mary’s Cathedral in The Hyde Park. We sat down, listened to the chorus and watched the amazing light shows on the cathedral with hundreds of other people.
We spared the last day for Manly Beach. To reach Many Beach from The Circular Quay, you have 2 options to take. The fast ferry costs 8,60 AUD and it takes 20 minutes while the normal ferry costs 7,50 AUD and it takes 30 minutes to get there.
After arriving at the Manly Wharf, walk towards the beach from the shopping street full of surf and sports clothing shops. If you are hungry, eat in one of the restaurants on the coastal road and then head to the beach to relax. The sea was cold and there were surfers so we didn’t swim.
For the evening, we had dinner at Jamie’s Italian which didn’t meet our expectations at all. The food was Italian interpretation rather than real Italian. It wasn’t very expensive (60 AUD for 3-course dinner on Christmas) but it was not at international star chef level. Not recommended, but make sure to make a reservation online if you are willing to have dinner there.
Next morning, we flew to Ayer’s Rock which was another adventure. Due to heavy rains, they closed the national park for the first time in years. I will write about this in another blog post. Stay tuned! 🙂