What to do in the ‘Harbour City’
Having grown up in Sydney there are iconic things which near all Sydney-siders do. Sydney is a great place to visit and the activities you can decide on are a myriad, enough to engage the interest of all and any visitors. There are however a core of things which Sydney-siders love, ranging from the sublime the simplest. I am sure Sydney-siders can easily add to this list as it does after all come down to personal choice, but here I have listed few iconic things which… if you haven’t done them, then you are remiss in your education. Wanna know what they are… read on.
Sydney and Melbourne often compete, sort of like sibling rivalry actually but there is no denying Sydney Harbour wins trumps down. It is simply breathtaking! Getting in and around Sydney is also the simplest of things, so you can leave the car at home or parked up for most of your visit, because the public transport is the best in Aus’. Firstly get yourself an Opal card, which will cover all public transport around the ‘Harbour City’. Also acquire little free transport app’ for your phone like ‘Sydney Transit’ or ‘Opal Travel’ freely available at your app’ store, this will also help and when you head out to hit the pavement… following are some of the simplest things you can do for some great entertainment.
1. Visit Doyles – Fish & Chips on the Wharf at Watson Bay
You can catch a city ferry from Circular Quay to take you over to Watson Bay. This is on the southern headland of Sydney Heads, the entrance into the beautiful sheltered Harbour. On the wharf there is a small open fish & chip take-away venue where the fish and chips are great… but get there early. I personally love the whiting. Buy yourself a feed and pop either over to the park or around to the sheltered bar and settle at one of the public tables to enjoy your feed on the public wharf, with a lazy light wine or ale. Or you can visit Doyles more formal restaurant a stone throw away on the harbour beach. They have been doing this in Sydney for generations, as Watson Bay is after all Sydneys first seafood restaurant, opened in 1885. The venue is owned and run by the Doyle family empire, and it’s an iconic eatery and tradition on Sydney Harbour.
A short stroll from the wharf, across the park you will also fine Sydney’s infamous ‘drop-off’ point… The Gap. They are very insistent that you now stay behind the high fence and the security camera’s are always watching, but the view of the magnificent sandstone cliff around the entrance to the Harbour is worth the short stroll. From here you can return to catch the next ferry from the jetty, or why not hop on a bus and take the ride back to town via the famous Bondi Beach or on the harbour-side where you can enjoy the glimpses of the Harbour.
2. Taronga Park Zoo – This is a great days outing with kids, or even on your own, but plan for the full day… or even plan a night visit. They Sydney-wise know you begin your visit on the top-side. Even though the ferry drops you bottom side at the harbour edge. From here the Sydney-wise will opt to take the gondola ride over the heart of the zoo up to the top gate, or you can jump one of the busses for a quick sprint to the iconic top gate.
This is a big zoo… but the Harbour views are amazing. Meandering around is my favourite thing and they have a delightful Aussie’ animal corner. Lately they have added to their attractions with climbing path and ropes for the kids and bigger kids, to swing high in the trees in an adventure of their own and it looks like a lot of fun! Be prepared for a lot of walking though so plan for down hill stretches and as few ‘up-hill’ ones as possible, and first thing… check out their feeding and performance times for the residence as soon as you get through the gates. You’ll not regret it.
3. Theatre. Most people equate the theatre with Melbourne and in many instances this is rightfully so. Sydney though has a thriving theatre and performance culture that will take in such stars as the Opera House, and the Bangarra Theatre company and so on. My favourite is to see what is screening at Dendy’s… a Cinema House that pops up all around the country and even reaches into the suburbs, though my favourite venue is at the Opera Quays venue…for a little bit of city flash. Another is the live performances and there are a number of these that vibrate through the city. Keep and eye out for ‘Convict Footprints’, they feature live performance throughout the City and they can be a lot of fun. Keep your ear to the ground and you can find theatre and Sydney truly make a good match.
4. Ferry to Manly & Gelato on the Corso… For beach culture there are two great options that spread out between any visit to Sydney. Manly and Bondi… jewels amongst harbour of gems. Manly is easily reached via the ferry out of Circular Quay and features a few iconic pubs and of course the Corso which stretches between the Manly Wharf (in Harbour) and the open ocean which is Manly Beach.
The attraction is the beach and Sydney-siders will pick up a gelato or fish and chips to enjoy the scenery and perhaps even a dip. But Bondi has often been the beach of choice for visitors. To get to Bondi catch a bus and there are quite a few options and transport combinations, from Ferry + bus, Bus + train and so on. But on hot summer days be prepared for crowds! And maybe consider the other options that dot along the coastline both north and south of the city. Manly is north of the Harbour, and Bondi South… these are the biggest differences between the two. For me… I like the iconic swells of Cronulla with memories of what were once the towering sand hills… now reduced to industrial and commercial wastelands. But this is mostly because it has the home turf advantage… Yet a visit to one of Sydneys beautiful beaches is truly a must do.
5. Queen Victoria Building –
For the Shopaholics there is no better ‘City’ start, than the beautiful Queen Victoria Building and her subterranean malls. The Queen Victoria Building is an icon in its own right and the beautiful architecture and wonderful central clock is a sight to behold. The subterranean malls though are a good stop and are most easily accessed from Town Hall station. The branch-off in seemingly all directions, linking into major shopping halls and buildings which then stretch on into places such as Hyde Park. There are some great eateries to be found, choices of coffee venues and my all out favourite stop… Victoria’s Basement. The place draws me every time I get into Sydney and it is truly one of my first stops to binge in a little bit of shopping.
6. Paddy’s Market – Another one for the shopaholic. Paddy’s has been around for yonks but has developed over the decades through a number of evolutions. Today it is an Asian superstore for the tourist, with a sprinkling of some interesting venues or stalls for the locals. Venture upstairs also and you will find a few of the larger discounted brand stores and some great eateries.
For me Paddy’s is on the ‘shopaholic’ list and it is generally a day I couple with exploring Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay. The iMac theatre can be found here too, along with the Maritime Museum and the Powerhouse and so on… make use of the light rail which edges the precinct and you can couple this with the Ferry’s at the Harbour end for easy access. It’s a day out with the older kids and often a lot of fun with a water park smack in the middle of Darling Harbour with is entertainment for all.
7. The Rocks – Argyle Cut. For the History buffs The Rocks is a must explore. Beginning in Circular Quay and stretching through the tortured streets and lanes of The Rocks, you will find all manner of intriguing things. Delve into the history and you will take away much more of what is the feel of Australia and the early days of the Colony. The Rocks now spills out into Barangaroo Parklands… as the Opera House spills into the Botanical Gardens. Prepare for walking and take your time to explore. Check out the Museums with their free film clips along the way and the Information Centre is a great place to start. From there you can sink into the days of ole’ and the life and times for the greatest harbour City in the world.
8. Opera House and Botanical Gardens. Ok… this is a photo opportunity. If your lucky enough to enjoy a performance you will come to understand more the wonder of the place but for most it is an iconic Harbour must, and a great photo opportunity. You really can’t miss this thing… anymore than you can refrain from a shot of the Harbour Bridge.
For me… it is a personal favourite as it opened on the day that ‘The Man’ and I were married. And it was nice of them to put on the fireworks for us. So it all holds a special place in my heart. For the ‘First Australians’ though the centre of attention is the adjoining Botanical Gardens, The Domain (even now a place for the people) and Hyde Park… that then spills into Central and Redfern districts in a march down George Street. Many tribal battles, ceremonies and fights were held in these places, though the scars these days are buried in the City. In this time Sydney, as a city, morphed into an identity from the ancient ceremonial grounds of an ancient place in its time of passing. This is an ancient touchstone for history, sitting patiently on the southern shores of the beautiful Sydney Harbour and it is a hidden and quiet thing. Watch out for the ‘city chickens’ tho… they are very friendly around the gardens and are always on a hunt for a feed.
The Botanical Gardens was a traditional ceremonial grounds and you can still feel the vibration of something ancient as you walk along the paths… even today. With the arrival of the penal settlement, the place became ‘Farm Cove’, which provided substance and education during the painful birth of our Nation. The Eora and Gadigal tribes either moved on or were swallowed by the City, as the tribal people were always a large part in the birth of our Nation. The Squatocracy and their inflated place in their own world had very little to do with it all, until MacArthur and others emerged as advocates for the British System of cronyism, which was the core of the Rum Corp’s infamous and illegal activities. Some of our worst colonial crimes were born of their antics. I touched on this metamorphosis of our City in the books of “The Spirit Children”, in trying to touch on a hidden history… and yet what today is still our world.
14. The Harbour Islands – Cockatoo Island. There are several islands in Sydney Harbour, or Port Jackson as it is broadly known, and a few can tell a tale of infamy. Some were used as punishment for intractable convicts and kids, where they were abandoned or chained to rocks as a consequence of the inability of the early colony to deal with them. While others were retreats or places of parlay. The most easily reached and explored is Cockatoo Island which has witnessed both the growth and troubles of the early settlement. From bushrangers to school girl antics, from fiefdoms to the birth of industries. You will touch on the poverty and emergence of this great city, where the homeless and criminal found sanctuary in the auspice of the government. You will also find many hidden tales of the Cities emergence and a history akin to Port Arthur Penal Settlement found in deep south of in Tasmania.
The island has changed much since the time of Settlement. What was once a pinnacle and a popular meeting place, al-be-it one without natural water; Cockatoo Island was chipped, shipped and moulded into many things… from a prison to a city retreat, a school to a dockyards and training grounds and onto now what is a city campgrounds for glamping. It has a fascinating history and a history well worth exploring. Take a day out and venture down its historic tunnels and meandering tracks, its old dockyards and the pinnacle which moved from a girls dorm to a prison. Prepare to walk and compete with the sea-gulls for a footstep and I promise you, you will be as fascinated as you will be entertained. Don’t forget to acquire yourself one of the ‘audio tour’ handsets for a few $ from the information centre and prepare for a full days adventure.
Jan is a Traveller and an Author. You can find out more about her books on travel on the page dedicated to Oldies at Large, where you will also find a list of her blog postings in topic.
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