Sydney - Travel Guide

Even without its Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach and Manly ferries, Sydney would still be the most-visited, most beautiful, most popular city in Australia. Take away the landmarks and you're still left with a harbour of breath-taking proportions - it's the reason the British settled here in the first place.

History of Sydney

Sydney was the landing place for the First Fleet of British settlers who arrived in 1788. A motley crew of convicts, adventurous soldiers and a handful of ambitious free citizens who gambled that life in the antipodes would be better than dreary, 18th century England.

They had no idea how to find water or scratch a living in this hostile land, but somehow they made it. Australian history is full of tales of ‘Aussie Battlers' that no matter how bad things got, refused to give up.

Sydney in 1796

Sydney in 1796

It took a few years to become fully self-sufficient, but the first fleet was soon followed by a second, a third and then many more ships as England realised how much space it could free up in its overcrowded jail system by sending convicts to this new colony on the other side of the world.

Sydney became the base for exploration into the rest of the Australian continent and as sheep farms and wheat growers established themselves on the plains to the west of the city, the gorgeous harbour became a thriving port, exporting goods back to England.

The discovery of Gold in Bathurst (150km inland) in 1851 brought a huge influx of immigrant miners to Sydney (in fact the population grew from about 40,000 to 200,000 in the following two decades) and the subsequent production and need for transportation fuelled Sydney's port and railway system. However, further gold discoveries in Victoria drew attention away from Sydney and a friendly rivalry with Melbourne began to develop that still goes on today.

Nevertheless, Sydney continued to grow with gusto, so much so that it was mooted as the most likely candidate to be the nation's capital when the Australian colonies became a federated nation in 1901(although in the end a new city, Canberra was created to end the debate).

By World War I, Sydney had firmly staked its claim as the biggest and most important city in Australia and by 1925 the population had reached one million. When the great depression took hold in the early 1930s, Sydney's morale was kept high by the construction of the giant Sydney Harbour Bridge, serving as a visual reminder that although economies around the world were going backwards, Sydney had something to look forward to.

Waves of immigration followed the depression and post World War II years, which have resulted in Sydney having one of the greatest percentages of immigrants of any city in the country. As other cultures began to have more and more influence on Sydney's society, the city itself started to come of age as an artistic hub in the 50s and 60s, culminating in the opening of the landmark Sydney Opera house in 1973.

Sydney in 1988

Sydney in 1988

Sydney grew in size, power and influence throughout the 1980s and 90s as waves of Vietnamese, Italian and Middle-Eastern immigrants (and many other Australians moving from rural areas to find employment) stretched the city limits to the very edge of the Blue Mountains. Vast areas of the outer western suburbs, once home to market gardens and hobby farms, quickly became modern housing and industrial estates.

Sydney grabbed the international spotlight in 2000 when it hosted the Olympic Games, judged by International Olympic Committee President Jaun Antonio Samaranch to be "the best Olympic Games ever". Sydney's ability to pull off the logistical circus combined with its charm, friendliness, beauty and gorgeous weather earned it a lasting respect from around the globe. Since then Sydney has continued to hold an even stronger mantle as one of the world's truly great cities.

What's Sydney like now?

4.3 million people can't be wrong - Sydney is a great place to live and play. Spend a morning sightseeing by the harbour, an afternoon sun-baking on Bondi Beach and a night out at Darling Harbour and you'll realise that this truly is a modern, fun-loving, proud place to be. You can get authentic food from anywhere in the world, see some of the best live bands in the country, watch brilliant opera, theatre and ballet and best of all, the beach is never far away.

How to get to Sydney

You couldn't say that all roads lead to Sydney, but as Australia's industrial and population epicentre, you probably won't have to ask directions, no matter where you're coming from.

You can fly into Sydney from virtually any country in the world with a major airline. Sydney Airport is one of the busiest in the world, interstate trains head in from the north, south and west, and it's a popular destination for major cruise ships heading in from the east. If you jump on highway one and head in any direction from anywhere in the country, you'll eventually end up in Sydney. Virgin Blue, Qantas, Jet Star and various regional airlines all fly in and out of Sydney constantly.

Getting around Sydney

The CityRail train network has underground and above ground lines running in all directions throughout Sydney. A MyMulti Day Pass will get you unlimited transport on all Sydney trains, buses, ferries and light rail services for the day at only $21.

Taxis are everywhere, though there are the usual queues on Friday and Saturday nights. Even then, you can usually hail a cab fairly easily from any busy street. A fare across the CBD will set you back about $15.

Things to Do

The Manly Ferry

The Manly Ferry -
The world's cheapest boat cruise

  • You simply must get on the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay. It's a cheap harbour cruise with an amazing view of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo and all the other harbour attractions you've heard about.
  • Walk across the Harbour Bridge or, if you've got the cash, fork out the $218 for a bridge climb across the top (prices differ for different times of the day). The view from the top is unforgettable.
  • Check out the Opera House, it's free!
  • Catch some rays on Bondi Beach.
  • Walk around the coastline from Coogee Beach to Bondi.
  • Admire the amazing animals and amazing views from Taronga Zoo.
  • Wander around Darling Harbour and enjoy wonderful food and a dazzling Casino
  • Take a walk through the historical Rocks District.
  • Get on a train and head out into the suburbs, The Rooty Hill RSL Club or Penrith Panthers will show you what the 'real' suburban Australia is like.
  • Watch the up and coming bands in Newtown's classic pubs and clubs.
  • Jump in the car and head south to The Royal National Park with its hidden coves and deserted beaches or west to the Blue Mountains with its giant bluffs and enchanting valleys.
  • Check out even more great things to do in Sydney.

Sydney Restaurant Areas

  • Darling Harbour for good cuisine with an even better view.
  • Crown Street, for amazing Indian food.
  • Circular Quay for amazing harbour side a la carte, as well as some decent pub grub.
  • Bondi for more adventurous stuff.
  • Leichhardt for Italian.
  • Cabramatta for classic Vietnamese food.
  • North Sydney for upper-class dining.
  • Anywhere on the eastern side on the harbour; you'll pay a fair bit, but it'll be worth it.

Sydney Bars

  • The Bank Hotel, Newtown (cheap beer in an expensive city)
  • Bondi Icebergs
  • The Rooty Hill RSL (see the real suburban Australia)

Sydney Accommodation

Where the Movie Stars Stay

  • Park Hyatt Sydney: Is it Sydney's best large hotel? Probably. The service is what you'd expect and the location... well, it's virtually in the harbour (you'll need at least $600 a night to get in the door).
  • Sydney Hilton: It's just had a two and a half year, $200 million makeover and has emerged as a fine, world-class hotel in the heart of the CBD. Rooms start at about $300 a night.
  • Quay Grand Suites: You won't find a better view, right next to the Opera House overlooking the harbour. Rooms are at least $300 a night, but that's a bargain for the location. If it was New York you'd be paying $3000.

Good, reasonably priced hotels

  • Hyde Park Plaza: The hotel has changed hands countless times, and it's starting to age a little, but the rates are always cheap, the location is close to everything (on the bottom corner of the CBD on Hyde Park, at the start of Oxford Street) and the rooftop pool is fantastic.

Backpackers Hostels

  • Wake Up! Sydney Central: Voted the number one hostel in Oceania in 2005 and 2003 on, this place is a little pricey by Australian hostel standards but the facilities are excellent and modern.

Interesting things Nearby

  • Check out the great national parks to the south, west and north (an hour each way by car or train)
  • Go sailing on the Hawkesbury River (an hour north)

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