What to Do in Sydney!
Updated: Aug 17, 2018
One of my favorite cities in the world! Here are some tips on What to do in Sydney! I loved this city so much that I think this is my longest post so far...
Do you want to know what to do in Sydney? Read on!
To read Where to Eat in Sydney click here.
I had wanted to go to Sydney since I can remember. For those of us who grew up in South America, Australia seems like a world away and it has always been so exotic, but now that I live in Los Angeles, Sydney is just a 15 hour flight from home. Following a VERY disappointing New Year celebration in Los Angeles the previous year, with no fireworks, my husband and I decided to spend New Years in Sydney.
We got the idea to spend New Years in Sydney the 1st of January, 2015. We had no idea if it was going to be possible or how we would be able to make it a reality, but that was our plan. Sometime in August we started to plan the trip and take it more seriously knowing that the earlier we booked the trip, the better accommodations and airfares we could find, specially for New Years since is so popular in Sydney.
I stated doing research about places to spend New Years in Sydney and the best spots to catch the fireworks and I found an awesome blog where the writer described her experience at a New Year’s Eve party with premium view of the fireworks, Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I hit the jackpot. Here is her blog. (Lindsay also has a lot of other helpful posts about Australia and other parts of the world if you are interested).
After reading Lindsay’s post, I decided to register on the website to receive updates on when they would start to sell the tickets to Midnight at the Oasis, to which each ticket cost us $399 Australian Dollars, but IT IS WORTH IT! As soon as I received the email saying the tickets would go on sale, we bought them because that event tends to get sold out.
Then I proceeded to look for airfare and accommodations. We decided to pay the airfare tickets with miles, so I had to look for the best deals and I found out that the best deals were before the 29th of December, returning after the 11th of January, which is a lot of days, but since is a far away trip, is good to stay for more than a week to be able to get used to the time change and adjust properly. With that timeframe in mind, I started looking for hotels/accommodations but all the hotels were super expensive for our budget, specially around New Years, so I looked for a place on Airbnb and found an amazing small flat that was under the main house where the owners live, and looked amazing on the photos. The best part was the price, around $80 per night, which at the end came to be somewhere close to $1,100 for all the days. If you haven’t signed up to Airbnb yet, you can do it here.
So we booked our one-way trip with United Airlines, direct flight from LA to Sydney (15 hours), we booked our one-way trip back with American Airlines, a Quantas flight from Sydney to San Francisco, which we were very excited about since we’ve always wanted to flight on Quantas, and then San Francisco to LA. We booked our Airbnb, we bought our tickets to Midnight at the Oasis and we were ready to go!
Around two weeks before departing, I realized we didn’t have a visa and didn’t know if we needed a visa, which in fact we all need visas unless you are from New Zealand, but luckily for us that have an American passport, the visa application is online, really easy and they approve you right when you hit submit or during the next 24 hours. I got approved instantly and my husband was approved within 24 hours. Apply here for a tourist ETA visa to Australia.
On December 27th we departed for Australia and I was SO EXCITED I didn’t believe I was actually going to be in Australia in just hours. By traveling that way, we lost a complete day so in 2015 there was no December 28 for us, which was kind of cool! We arrived on December 29th with two weeks in Sydney to spare and no plans, just the New Years Eve party. We got there at 8am but getting out from the airport, doing the taxi line, which was quite long, and arriving at our Airbnb, took us around two hours. We were a little bit tired of the long trip but so excited to be there and the day was gorgeous! The climate was perfect, not too hot, not too cold, the sun was out and almost no clouds. So we decided to refresh a little bit and head out to start getting to know the beautiful city. I had just seen some parts of the city from the cab window and I was already in love with Sydney!
Public transportation is excellent there and I grabbed a tourist booklet from the airport, which helped me educate myself on how to move around the city. Our Airbnb was in the Vaucluse neighborhood, very beautiful by the way, and we were 20 mins away from Bondi beach by bus, so that’s what we did. We walked to a nearby Newstand store and bought the Opal Card and put AU$40 in it. Then we walked to the bus stop 2 mins away and boarded the 380 bus that left us right in front of the beach. Since we were just planning on going for a stroll and not the beach, we were dressed with pants and a light jacket, but everybody else on that bus was in swimsuit.
And this leads me to our first stop in Sydney – Bondi Beach!
Bondi is one of the most iconic beaches in Sydney and even Australia and now I know why, is a beautiful stretch of beach with huge waves and a colorful surrounding. If you look at the two ends of the beach, you’ll see colorful buildings and houses and some graffiti on the rocks. Right before the sand, there are extensions of park where people seat and have picnics, eat ice creams or just watch people pass by and surfers hit the waves. The bustling street is right behind the park and is lined with shops, restaurants, gelaterias, bars and hotels. There are so many options on where to eat or drink and is busy with beachgoers. It kind of reminded me of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro.
We did a little bit of the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach, but we only got as far as Tamarama (not even to Bronte), but it was still beautiful. I’m sure the rest of the walk has amazing views as well. We had to cut it short because we did that the day we arrived and the sun was setting already and we didn’t want to get lost or go too far away from Bondi because we didn’t know the area very well, but is something we would like to do when we go back to Sydney again. During this walk we had the chance of seeing the Bondi Icebergs Pools up close but we never got in. You can pay a small fee to get in that pool if you want to; it has a gorgeous view and is a salt-water pool.
The day after we arrived we decided to go back to Bondi Beach but this time to enjoy the beach and get in the water, because the day was also gorgeous but it looked like it wasn’t going to stay like that for many more days… So we spent December 30th lounging at the beach, fighting with the waves and tanning at Bondi. The sand is great, it doesn’t get hot and you don’t burn your feet like in some of the beaches I’ve been to in the Caribbean or Miami, but the water is cold. Is not easy to get in the water, specially for people who have lived most of their lives in a tropical climate, but the combination of the hot sun, the temperature and the cold water makes for a memorable and amazing experience. This beach is even better than one of those pools with waves at water parks, the thrill here is real and we even experienced waves that came from the shore and collided with waves coming from the ocean. It was very fun! This is a very active beach where everybody is constantly jumping waves so if you are looking for a calm beach, Bondi is not the one for you.
Overall we LOVED Bondi and spent a good chunk of our days there! And we would definitely go back as soon as we land in Sydney again!
Very close to where we were staying, to the south, is Rose Bay, easily accessible through bus or by walking, which is a beautiful area with a lot of sailboats and people enjoying the water of the harbor.
After lunch we decided to walk to our Airbnb and since this was on New Years Eve, there were a lot of people preparing their boats to head out to the harbor to watch the fireworks that night. That was one of the things I loved the most about that area. Also by walking up the hill, we were able to catch great views of the Opera House and the Harbour bridge and that only got us more excited because in just a few hours we would see these two icons of Sydney in person and very close for the first time.
Rose Bay has a lot of shops, pastry shops and small restaurants along the New South Head Rd and it makes for an interesting walk. There are also parks and small harbour beaches along the way.
Midnight at the Oasis (New Year's Eve Party)
This was the New Years party we went to. A hundred percent worth the money and an awesome experience!
First of all, the party takes place at the Royal Botanic Garden, which is a plus because the park is beautiful. As I mentioned before, each ticket costs AU$399 for December 31st 2015, but the cost is completely worth it. Check out what it includes for dinner here.
They have a dance floor and a DJ playing music all night and of course you have the magnificent views of the Sydney Skyline, Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and all the boats and sailboats that gather at the harbor for the fireworks.
Our table was very well situated, almost in the middle of the party, in section E, but there are a lot of tables everywhere and it doesn’t really matter if you get a table that has a partially blocked view because you can always go to the seawall and the grandstand area, which is what we did anyway. We sat at the grandstand area and had an amazing view of the show both at 9pm (yes there are fireworks at 9pm) and then at Midnight, which are the main fireworks that you see on TV. There is just one word to describe the show: SPECTACULAR!
We had an amazing time at the party and since you sit very close to other people, we had the pleasure of meeting our table neighbors who came from all over the world, Pakistan, Canada, Germany, India and England, and we were the Venezuelan ones. It was an unforgettable night and I recommend everyone to do it at least once, you won’t regret it and won’t forget it!
Watsons Bay & Manly Beach
To the north of our Airbnb was Watsons Bay, which is also easily accessible by bus or walking.
We decided to walk towards Watsons Bay and found a park that was up a hill where The Gap Lookout and the Wreck of the Dunbar are, which was great because we started to walk along the coast and it was a beautiful walk. We saw cliffs, the Tasmanian Sea, a lighthouse, what appeared to be a military bunker, and some beautiful paths along the way, as well as a lot of anti-suicidal messages, which we later learned were put there because there was a time when a lot of people committed suicide from those cliffs, but today there is a fence, all these messages and the government charges fines to those who jump the fence.
After walking along the coast for a while, we arrived at Watsons Bay and headed to the wharf to board the ferry to Circular Quay to then board the Manly Ferry. Unfortunately we didn’t spend a lot of time at the actual Watsons Bay, but saw some people in the small harbour beach next to the wharf and all the restaurants by the harbour were packed so I’m guessing the food must be good.
The ferry from Watsons Bay to Circular Quay was fast and confortable, we used our Opal cards to ride the ferry as well, and the views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are great from the ferry since is a different point of view than from the land. The Manly Ferry was a little bit slower because it was a bigger boat and the journey is farther away. The ferry actually goes through ocean water at some point where the harbour and ocean meet.
Once we arrived at the Manly Wharf, it was like we were inside a mall, there were restaurants, shops, ice cream places, cafes, etc. and there were some kids attractions at the entrance of the wharf, on the street.
After a delicious meal (find out where here), we decided to walk to the famous Manly Beach, which the Australians are so proud of, but to tell you the truth I didn’t really liked it that much. First, the beach reminded me of Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is not bad at all but is just too similar to home (I lived in Miami for 11 years), and the weather was starting to get cloudy and cold so that didn’t help either. But truly the thing I didn’t like at all were the warning signs along the beach, saying that people shouldn’t go in the water for a period of at least 24 hours after continuous rain because of possible contamination, and then I saw big pipes going from the shore into the water, that looked like they could carry sewage water or something similar, so we decided not to go in and just watch the surfers catch some waves. I’m willing to give it another try though, and will choose a sunny day to visit it in the future. Part of the attraction too is a boulevard that’s close to the beach, which reminded me a lot of Lincoln Rd in Miami Beach, it has a lot of stores, restaurants, galleries and ice cream shops.
After a while we decided to go back to the wharf because it was getting dark already and we still had to catch two ferries back to Watsons Bay. Then we took the ferry back to Circular Quay and when we got off the ferry, we saw our bus passing by so we hopped on it and rode the bus back to our place instead of the ferry. The bus left us less than a block away from the house while the ferry left us some miles away and we would have had to take the bus too. So it was a winning situation!
Bike Tour Around Sydney
There are a many bike tour companies in Sydney and they all seemed very good but during my research, I read on a couple of travel blogs about the company called Bonza Bike Tours. The reviews were really good so my husband and I decided to give it a try.
When planning for the activities we would do in Sydney, I always checked the weather because the first days we were there were gorgeous but I heard that rain was on the way so we booked the bike tour for a Tuesday, which was supposed to be raining but we figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. We were right!
First of all, their shop is on one of the oldest buildings in Sydney, which is on The Rocks neighborhood, very close to Circular Quay. That was a cool fact to learn. Second of all, our tour guide Pat, was awesome! We arrived and signed the waivers and then picked what we wanted to have for lunch (because is included in the 5 hour tour), then Pat gave each of us a bike and helmets and since that day was raining, he offered some rain coats they had there but we brought our own. They also provide sunscreen and a pouch to put on the bike so you can carry some stuff with you like wallet and sunglasses. Then we went off to start the tour.
We got to ride the bike all around Circular Quay, The Rocks, Darling Harbour, over the Harbour Bridge and back, all the way to Luna Park, Kirribilli and China Town. We got to see the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from a different perspective than usual. The experience was different for us and we loved it, even though we were completely soaking wet at the end of the tour, but it was a lot of fun and we got to take some cool pictures. We even got to see where Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise used to live and where Leonardo DiCaprio stayed while he filmed The Great Gatsby in Sydney. The ride was challenging at times on some of those Sydney hills, but I would repeat it again when I go back and I will certainly look into doing more bike tours in other destinations!
Oh and we got a tip from Pat that Sydney’s Paddy’s Markets had lots of souvenirs for much less than the more touristy places in Sydney and that saved us A LOT of money!
Circular Quay, The Rocks and Darling Harbour
One of the most important areas of Sydney is Circular Quay. As I mentioned before, this is where all the Ferries arrive from and depart to all over the Sydney Harbour, as well as where the cruise ships arrive when visiting Sydney, and EVERY DAY there is a new cruise docked there, so this area is always filled with tourists!
This is also where pretty much all the buses in the city go through, so the chances are very high that you can find a bus that will take you to the area you are staying at, or you can also take the train, which has a station right in the middle. There are gelaterias, restaurants, even one of the very few Starbucks in the city is here and there are other local cafes too. You can also find a lot of souvenir shops and some currency exchange services, although be warned that prices here are higher because this is where all the tourists from the cruises are.
To one side of Circular Quay is where the Sydney Opera House is. There are a lot of restaurants and bars, and to the other side is The Rocks, which is the older part of Sydney and is more quite, but it still has a lot of restaurants, bars and cafes.
As I learned from several of the tours we did during our time in Sydney, Darling Harbour is one of the touristiest places in the city and has the largest IMAX Theater in the world! When we went, Star Wars was playing there and of course, my husband had to go because he couldn’t miss it, so I obliged and we went. The screen is truly HUGE and even though it was our third time watching the movie, it was a great experience.
They have fireworks every Saturday but we didn’t get to see those during our stay. Darling Harbour is also the most kid friendly place in town because that’s where you find the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Powerhouse Museum, Madame Tussauds, Laser Tag, a children’s playground and other attractions. You can also come here by ferry and is a very beautiful place to spend a day or more in Sydney.
Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House had been part of my bucket list for a very long time. THIS IS A MUST DO while you are in Sydney because not only is this the most iconic building of Australia but it also has such an interesting history and is such a great masterpiece of modern architecture, that you HAVE to visit and go inside and tour the place!
The first day I saw the Opera House was on New Years Eve when we were at the New Years Eve Party. It was spectacular and I couldn’t believe my eyes, but of course we were planning on going inside and maybe doing one of the tours later on during the trip. Then the day we went to Manly was the first day we walked around Circular Quay and got to see the Opera House from way closer. I have so many pictures of the Sydney Opera House from different angles and perspectives because I couldn’t help my self from taking pictures of it whenever I could see it.
During our bike tour around Sydney we got a bit of history from our tour guide, Pat, who told us more about the architect and how the government had a lot of saying on how they built the Opera House, so there was some drama there, which is leading to a major renovation that will happen in the next two years and will cost millions of dollars to complete. Very interesting and I didn’t know any of this before coming here.
To be able to really experience the Opera House, we bought a basic tour, although I’ve heard that the Behind the Scenes tour is amazing, but we couldn’t do that one, so we settled for the basic one and it was still very good. We got to go on the two main theaters and got to see the views from inside the Opera House, which were beautiful. Some parts create the visual illusion as if the Opera House was on the water so it was very cool. We also got to see an opera called La Bohème and it was an amazing experience, knowing that you are actually attending an opera at the most famous Opera House in the world. If you can, attend an opera so you get the whole experience.
One of the things that surprised me the most was the lively atmosphere that exists underneath the Opera House. There are several bars and restaurants and during the weekend and even during some weeknights, it gets packed with people having beer, cocktails, appetizers or dinner. They have tables under the roof and just outside on a patio, with a great view of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. There is also a bar and a restaurant inside the Opera house that you could try before or after watching an opera.
The Blue Mountains & The Featherdale Wildlife Park
When we were planning our trip to Sydney, we wanted to see Kangaroos and Koalas of course, and I was looking for a tour that took us to see them and I happened to find an amazing one with a company called Blue Diamond Tours. I highly recommend them!
We were told to meet with our tour guide/van at the Starbucks on Circular Quay at 7am. Our driver/tour guide picked us up and we started our journey through the city while the tour guide gave us some info on some of the buildings and areas we were passing by. He also took us to see the Olympic Stadiums where the 2000 Summer Olympics took place, and he told us some information about some residential neighborhoods we were passing by. Then he played a video about the Blue Mountains and their history and he talked further about that.
We arrived at a café already up in the mountains where we had some coffee and scones with butter and jelly. Then we kept heading up the mountain until we reached our first stop, Scenic World. We rode the Skyway, Cableway and the world’s steepest incline railway, we got to hike a little bit of the mountains and see the Katoomba Waterfalls and other smaller waterfalls from up close, and of course the most famous icon of the Blue Mountains, the Three Sisters.
Then we headed over to the most famous lookout on the Blue Mountains called Echo Point and got to see the Three Sisters from up close and had the best view of the mountains. Is incredible to see the beauty of nature and very easy to see why this became a World Heritage. After spending some time there, we got in the van again and headed over to a restaurant that was going down the mountain and we ordered our lunch, which was included in the tour and came with an Australian beer as well.
After lunch we headed to the Featherdale Wildlife Park where we were able to finally meet the Koalas! Wow, what great and interesting creatures. I couldn’t believe I was actually touching a Koala and I identify with them on a deeper level because I LOVE to sleep and can sleep a whole day if life lets me =P. The Koalas were sooooo cute, so soft and most of them were sleeping but some of them were surprisingly very active. I think I spent half of the time where the Koalas were just watching them and taking pictures, and we got to take a picture with one as well. Then we saw some Kangaroos, Wallabies, Emus, the Tasmanian Devil, which apparently could become extinct in the coming years :(, and a lot of other really cool animals they had there. This is one of the most popular zoos in Sydney because it has pretty much only native wildlife, being very exotic for the rest of the world!
After our time at the park, we headed down to a wharf where our tour guide gave us a ferry ticket and boarded us on one towards Circular Quay. We got to see Cockatoo Island where they’ve filmed several movies such as Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, and that apparently is where Hugh Jackman’s home is.
This was a great tour filled with many things to see and learn from Australia and is a very diverse experience to have in one day. I loved it and if you have enough time to spend a day at the Blue Mountains, do yourself a favor and do it. You won’t regret it!
What I also liked about this tour company was that the tours were small so it has a more personalized vibe and is very early, which is convenient to beat the crowds at the different stops.
As you’ve read in the lines above, my experience in Sydney was excellent! I had an awesome time and got to check off another place from my bucket list. I loved every moment of it and the city is just gorgeous everywhere. There is so much to do there that you won’t get bored! If you’ve never been to Australia, go to Sydney and spend some quality time there because is amazing! I look forward to going back and exploring some other places in Australia!
Thanks for reading and G’Day Mate!
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