Here are some travel tips I always send to friends heading to Sydney:
Cabs charge you like by the second, so don't use them unless it's night. Besides walking, the trains and buses are great.
Foods you need to try:
- Wedges with sweet chili and sour cream (heavenly... they put sweet chili sauce on everything there)
- Tim Tams... unofficial cookie of Australia
- Kangaroo: tastes like steak
'Light' beer isn't light in calories, it's just lower in alcohol content... so don't bother!
By far my favorite thing to do out on the eastern coast is the Bondi to Coogee walk. It's a 5 km trail along the coast connecting Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Coogee, and all the little bays and beaches on the way. It's beautiful and a nice workout, so take your camera and go... you can start either at Bondi or at Coogee; I always preferred to start at Coogee and end at Bondi with a beer at the Icebergs bar overlooking the beach.
If you're there at Christmas, Bondi Beach is apparently "the" Christmas hangout spot for all the English and Irish backpackers who are there.
Manly is my favorite beach. The ferry ride there gives you great views too. If you can time your return trip during sunset, you'll get some amazing pics of the bridge/opera house, etc. At Manly, don't waste your money going into Oceanworld Manly unless you want to go diving in the tank with the sharks. (I did it, it's pretty touristy but still cool.) The Sydney Aquarium is much better than Oceanworld and there's no need to do both.
Botanical Gardens: go see the giant fruit bats (those big black blobs hanging upside down from most of the trees). Also, in summer there the big outdoor movie theater should be back in action. There is a movie screen that they raise at night and show movies outside with the city as its backdrop.
I never went in the Opera House but apparently it's pretty cool in there (you can pay for a tour and go in without paying for a whole opera). Also, Opera Bar is a great place to sit outside in the evening with a cocktail and watch the sun set on the harbor—and if it's an opera night, watch the people go by all dressed up.
The Bridge: don't waste your money on 'the bridge climb.' Do, however, climb the bridge. There are two ways and I'd recommend both: first, for free, take the walking path along the highway across the bridge. It's a little noisy and your view is a little obstructed by the fence keeping you from falling off into the harbor, but it is still a great view of the city and it's free, so hey! The other option is to climb the bridge pylon. There's a small fee to get to the top... totally worth it though. There's a teeny museum inside, but you can walk around 360 degrees on the pylon and get a clear view of the entire city, harbor, etc. Again, go at sunset and you won't regret it.
Sydney has great markets on the weekends, and each one is different:
- Glebe: very artsy bohemian market, lots of jewelry and clothing
- The Rocks: nicer Sydney gifts/items (not so much tacky tourist things, more like wood carvings and paintings)
- Paddington: I never went, but apparently this is the biggest market, and has lots of stuff, kind of a mix between the Rocks and Glebe, and also can be a little more expensive
- Paddy's Market: This is basically like and indoor version of NYC's canal street, so is a bit touristy
SPORTS! If you have the chance to go to AFL, and the two dif types of rugbies, do it! If not, I thought Rugby League was the most like American football in terms of its roughness and commercialization. Rugby Union is a little slower and more boring, although they play against other countries, so if you can see a game against the All Blacks (NZ) do it! AFL is like a mix between rugby and soccer and football, and it's a lot faster paced, so also a lot of fun. I never went to cricket because I hear games are either 3 or 5 days long and that sounds horrible to me. As for surfing, you can watch that at most beaches!
Blue Mountains: a few hours on the train and you're completely out of the city in basically the mountain/Grand Canyon area of NSW. The little town of Katoomba has a few good hostels, and it offers a great view of the famous 'Three Sisters' rock formations. The Blue Mountains have excellent hiking, scenery, and abseiling (rappelling), and are an easy trip out of city life.
Wine Country: there are a lot of wine tours you can take up to Hunter Valley from the city; they pretty much all involve a bus and wine tastings and vineyard tours. I have heard lots of things about a "wobbly wine tour" in which you do the vineyard thing on a bike, which sounded pretty fun, I just didn't do it.
Jervis Bay: this area supposed to have some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world, and I believe it... also you can swim with the dolphins here. BUT if you go here, rent a car and drive. We took the train and the little towns you stay in are pretty remote, and there is no public transportation to the national park, so I never got to see the famous beaches.
Byron Bay: This was one of my favorite places in Australia. It's just such a cute hippie surfer town, and there are some really fun backpackers bars (think dancing on tables). Hike out to the lighthouse, it's the easternmost point on the Australia mainland.
Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road: If you do have time to get down to Melbourne, it's a very cool city. One must-do while there is to rent a car for a day and drive out of the city down the Great Ocean Road. It's basically this absolutely amazing cliff-side road that takes you along the coast down to these rock formations called the Twelve Apostles. The waves are huge and it's fun to drive on the other side of the road. Plus there's a good chance you'll spot koalas in the trees that hang over the road.