Written by Kat Mackintosh
Sydney born Kat serves up this taster of Sydney to take you onto the harbour, into the bush and the mountains, to a couple of Sydney's best beaches, fills you up on top seafood and feeds you a bit of local culture as well - and all in just five days.
Sydney is a pretty attractive city all over, especially on the kind of perfectly bright, sunny day it's famous for, but there's just no way you can resist the charm of the harbour for much longer than it will take you to unpack your luggage. It has to be the first port of call, if you didn't actually arrive at Sydney Harbour's port.
On the train map you're looking for Circular Quay, the ferry terminal. Alight here and to your right you'll see the glorious sails of the lady Opera House, and to your left the industrial arch of the Harbour Bridge and the beautiful old stone storehouses and docks of The Rocks. It's up to you which way you walk first but past the Opera House is the green gardens, grass and Moreton Bay fig trees of The Domain, and you'll probably want to explore all four harbourside attractions, and possibly see Lady Macquarie's Chair and the Art Gallery of New South Wales before embarking on a harbour cruise – the only real way to see the harbour.
You could pay quite a lot of money for one, but you don't need to – for the best boat ride around hop on the Manly ferry. It leaves from Circular Quay but get to the right pier early and wait by the barriers so you can get a seat outside, for the best views. The Manly ferries are pretty big but you still get a bit of rocking on the way past the heads, the harbour mouth. Manly will be your first Sydney beach stop – and if you want to take a dip you have a choice of the calm inner harbour by the ferry pier, or the ocean side which you walk across a pedestrian shopping precinct to get to. Along the ocean side is Cabbage Tree Bay. It's a nice walk to get there and there's some really good snorkelling, as well as a rather flash restaurant. Grab a dinner of fish and chips and make sure you sit on the dock side of the ferry on your way back into Circular Quay so you get the best view of the Opera House sails, hopefully lit up in a 70's eye-shadow package of colours by the setting sun.
Bondi is probably Sydney's most famous beach. It's certainly pretty, lying at the bottom of a hill which like the curve of a rainbow first has coloured houses, then boutiques, then cafes and bars then a steeply sloping grassy park then the sand and finally the sea. But it's probably not Sydney's best or even prettiest beach. Do a bit of a comparison by beginning your second Sydney day on Coogee Beach, and walking along the cliffs past Tamarama to Bondi. It's about a two hour walk but there are plenty of shops selling ice creams on the way and the views are spectacular.
If it's a Sunday you can peruse the Bondi Markets at the end of your walk, or if it's a Saturday you could visit more upmarket Paddington Markets, which are only a short bus ride away by one of Sydney's most boutique-lined shopping streets. If it's not even the weekend treat yourself with a trip to Max Brenner's Chocolate Cafe, as a reward for your walk – it's also at the Paddington end of Oxford Street. From Paddington it's about a 40 minute walk into Sydney's CBD past Hyde Park, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the art deco stylings of the Queen Victoria Building if you're still in the mood to shop.
Sydney Tower is more something to do if you're in the area than a must see Sydney sight, but if you like looking at things from a great height by all means go up. If you like eating on the move or eating the locals you'll be pleased to hear that there's a revolving restaurant serving kangaroo and emu – the animals on Australia's coat of arms.
A friend of mine visiting Australia for the first time thought he'd be able to hire a car and drive from Sydney to Alice Springs in a day or two – you can't – this is country on a grand scale. To see just a corner of its grand landscape the Blue Mountains is a much more achievable destination if you're based in Sydney. You can get the train to Katoomba in a few hours and see the green grey side of the southern Australian bush, admire the stark rock formations of the Three Sisters and see why they called them the 'blue' mountains. You can even go on a 'my-first-bush-walk' type walk or explore the Jenolan Caves depending on how adventurous you're feeling.
After your adventures on the edge of the Australian bush you'll be ready to get back on the tourist trail in Darling Harbour which has the casino, lots of bars and restaurants, but more importantly is near the Sydney Fish Markets. Sydney's harbour isn't just beautiful, it can also be tasty, or at least the fresh fish and seafood coming out of it can be, and the fish markets is the best place to get a cheap, fresh and fantastic feed. On the wharf, if you get there early enough you can see the boats bringing in their catch as you sit out on the picnic chairs and tables with your freshly cooked spread or else take up residence in the local Doyles restaurant.
Depending on your sensitivities you should plan a trip to the Sydney Aquarium before or after your meal.
Darling Harbour has a few other attractions to consider seeing – a Chinese Garden of Friendship, a Maritime Museum and the Powerhouse Museum or design and technology, my personal recommendation.
You can catch a ferry from just outside the Aquarium over to Balmain and then to Luna Park and from there you could walk back over the Harbour Bridge to the Rocks and maybe do a bit of duty free shopping if you fancy it, or if it's the weekend have a wander though the Rocks Markets.
The furry, finned and feathered locals are part of Australia's appeal and by far the best place to see them – assuming you don't have time for a full blown trip into the outback – is Taronga Zoo. Built into the harbour the zoos residents famously had million dollar views – though with inflation their views are probably now worth a lot more. Get the ferry over from Circular Quay and ride the cable car up to the top of the zoo then walk down the hill. You can walk amongst kangaroos and wallabies, have your photo taken with a koala, see the unusual looking platypus and watch the bird show and the seal show before visiting the rest of Noah's menagerie scattered around the park. After your final ferry trip back to Circular Quay wander along to the Opera Bar underneath the Opera House's sails and have a cool bevy and listen to some jazz and say goodbye to the harbour city in proper Sydney style.
If you want to stay in Sydney longer check out Sydney properties on Nestoria Australia.
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