It seems impossible, right? Packing a decent overview of such an iconic city in such a short amount of time? But with no time off work and a ticket to the cricket it was all the time we had to work with.
So that’s how Mikey and I found ourselves landing in Sydney one warm summer night this year, determined to do as much as possible in our very small window of time. Thankfully I know the city having lived there and Mikey is more than happy to let me boss him around, and so I devised a punishing schedule of fun to show him that there’s more to Australia than the tropics.
Got a few days in Sydney and not sure how to use your time? Read on, my friends, and let Cheskie lead the way…
Drink at the Opera Bar
Come on, everyone that visits Syndey wants to see the Operahouse. Hell, even when I lived there I got a little kick in my tummy every time I saw it. An iconic building like that will always have that effect, like how you can never get tired of seeing Big Ben. It’s just cool to see famous places usually reserved for telly programmes, like seeing an architectural celebrity.
However everyone who sees those lovely white sails for the first time during the day realises that…erm…they’re not actually that white. They look a little yellow, actually, and all the glass is tinted brown. The reaction from most people tends to be: “Oh wow! It’s the Opera House! How cool I can’t believe…hang on. Is it, beige?”
To counter this make sure to visit at night when it’s covered by flattering lighting. Even better, go for a drink at the bar below and sit outside with 360 views of the CBD and bridge (the bridge is SO much better). It’s the most touristy thing you can do, and if something is popular with tourists often that’s because it’s brilliant and everyone wants to do it. You’ll be shelling out $9 for an average glass of wine but, really, you’re paying for the view.
We went for ‘one drink’ and ended up spending about $200 at the bar because we got all giggly and excited and decided that actually $40 was quite reasonable for a dozen oysters.
Totally worth it.
Have a drink in a quirky bar
Obviously here I’m going to say have a whiskey at the Baxter Inn, but really anywhere that’s a bit unique will do (this will become a trend during this post). Since a change in licensing there are a huge amount of bars popping up with less than 120 people allowed and it’s resulted in heaps of new drinking establishments that are a little different to your normal spots.
Speakeasy style boozers seem to be a proper Sydney tradition at the moment and you’re guaranteed to be drinking with locals. For the love of God please do not go to Scruffy Murphy’s. There is an irish bar in every town and this one is just as terrible as the rest.
Breakfast at The Rocks
While Sydney is, at large, a very modern city with skyscrapers and neat, block style streets the area known as The Rocks is a gorgeous slice of history nestled underneath the south side of the Harbour Bridge. Each little street is packed with history and there are lots of tiny museums and shops to explore. There is something rather wonderful about having the towering glass buildings in the CBD framed by what could be an 18th century streets, and every time you turn a corner the bridge just looms above like a watchman.
The Rocks is packed full of cute little cafes, so grab breakfast here and wander around enjoying the sun and soaking up the history. There’s also a great, free, art gallery and heaps of boutique shops and it’s easy to lose a morning here.
Plus it’s perfectly located right next to Circular Quay which is great because another must do is…
A trip on the Manly Ferry
The younger, cooler brother to loud and brash Bondi, Manly is the beach you should choose if you don’t have enough time to visit both. Sure Bondi is always on the telly but I guarantee it doesn’t look as nice as the pictures, you’ll be sharing the sand with 10,000 other people and you definitely won’t bump in to Bondi vet and have him and his Disney Prince chin fall madly in love with you. Trust me.
Plus, getting to Bondi involved the worst kind of public transport: buses. Whereas to get to Manly you hop on the ferry at Circular Quay and then sit back and enjoy your budget harbour cruise. For the best views make sure you get your city elbows ready and hold your place at the front of the queue and bag a seat at the back of the boat.
For bonus ferry views have dinner in one of the many cute little eateries by the beach (or, y’know, burger king if you want) and then take your return trip after the sun has set. Remember how I said the Opera House looks way better in the dark? Well it looks even better in the dark, from a boat. Be warned though that it might just be a little bit tricky to take photos, especially if your balance is already impaired by wine.
A free festival
If there’s one thing cities have in spades, it’s free culture and Sydney is certainly no different. We stumbled upon an outdoor arts event and if you hop on google I’m sure you could do the same on purpose.
One to watch out for is the Vivid festival which happens for a month every year and sees the city turned into an enormous light show. The arts based Sydney Festival attracts a whole host of artists and spawns a heap of free events and installations, my favourite ever being the time they installed a giant rubber duck in Darling Harbour.
Should you find yourself in the city over a weekend they have a massive free firework display every Saturday. It’s better than any of the ones I watched as a child rugged up in midwinter and they don’t even boat about it. Ah, Australia.
Open Top tourist bus
Okay, so this is another super touristy thing to do but there is no other way to cover so much ground in such a short space of time. When you’re short on hours to do things a bus tour lets you see the city and learn some history in 90 minutes. Even walking tours aren’t that fast! Plus you can sit on the top unimpaired by a roof, and nothing reminds you of what a gorgeously green city Sydney is than trying to avoid getting thwacked in the face by tree branches for an hour.
Sure, if we were in the city for longer we would probably walk it ourselves but with just a morning free to do some ‘proper’ sightseeing but we were pleasantly surprised by how much we actually enjoyed ourselves. Although, full disclosure, when I lived in London I did once take a bus tour wearing an I <3 London t-shirt, ‘Joey’ hat and flag. Natch.
Day time Kings Cross
‘The Cross’ used to be the ultimate place to go for a night out in Sydney, with legendary pubs and a seriously seedy side. Sadly thanks to inner city lock out laws the vibe has changed totally and most people now party in the outer suburb of Newtown.
But really Kings Cross was more famous for it’s Coca Cola sign, prostitutes and seriously eccentric locals anyway and you can still see all of these things during the day. It’s the ultimate people watching spot, and take this from someone who worked there for three months in a job that involved standing on the street and chatting to people. A crackhead once stole my water bottle, the oldest hooker in town worked the block down from me and we once had to call the police after a local lady of the night started sticking fingers up her ‘wares’ outside the macdonalds next door. At 5pm.
It was always a place that had two very different faces, with hipster coffee shops and whole food markets alongside strip joints and brothels. There’s nothing like sipping on a mocha chai latte while watching the police make a drugs bust.
An ‘arvo’ of cricket at the SCG
Ah, is there anything more Australian than watching a home cricket match in the country’s unofficial capital? For those who think cricket is boring, your preconceptions will be challenged when you add in a shit load of alcohol, fast paced game and 48,000 passionate supporters.
Given the choice I’d go for one of the shorter match styles, an ODI or 20:20, as they are much faster and more exciting with players absolutely smashing the ball for six and often ending with nail biting finishes.
^^^The cup told me what it thought England’s chances of winning were.
If you can, I definitely recommend going to see Australia play someone and choosing to support the home team. I was unlucky enough to witness England get absolutely crushed by the Aussies and there’s nothing quite like cheering when someone in gold and black gets caught out and having everyone around you stare. And then the eventual glee when it becomes clear your side are hopelessly incompetent and destined to lose horribly.
Be prepared to pay over the odds for alcohol or find an especially sneaky way to sneak some in. Scrub up on your beach ball skills too, it’s something of a tradition for people in the crowd to suddenly pull one out of nowhere and start throwing it around. God forbid you hit it the wrong way and send it onto the pitch ready to be confiscated by the universally hated match security.
Because why go shopping in your usual chain stores when you can buy handmade goods and inventively recycled denim? I love the Glebe markets. When I lived in Sydney I worked every weekend – and I mean every weekend – and so could never pop along to the weekly Saturday gatherings. This made me very jealous indeed, because the markets are absolutely amazing!
You can buy everything from pearl jewellery to candles to handmade leather books to authentic asian street food. the vibe is relaxed and the prices are reasonable which means that it’s pretty easy to walk away with a few bargains. I fell in love with a beautiful handmade leather bag and almost fell over when I realised it was only $39. Even if you just go to hipster watch or chat to the stall holders you’ll have a great morning, and you’ll come away with a far nicer souvenir from your trip.
Proper coffee in a quirky cafe
If there’s one thing that surprised me about Australia, it was the amazing cafe culture they have. Although Melbourne might be king of the flat white all the cities and towns down under tend to have some seriously good places to get your caffeine fix.
Avoid the chains. Don’t you dare step inside a Starbucks! My absolute favourite cafe was always the Sappho Cafe on Glebe point road, handily positioned across from the markets. Cleverly disguised from the outside as a second hand bookshop, the cafe is out the back meaning you can choose a title on the way through and settle down to read and enjoy your coffee.
Oh, and if you’re hungry they do the best damn sweetcorn fritters I’ve ever tasted.
What to miss:
– The botanical gardens are nice, but essentially just big gardens framed by skyscrapers. They’re great for an afternoon lounging in the sun but don’t lose any sleep if you can’t find the time to visit.
– Climbing the harbour bridge is a hugely overpriced activity and takes up a huge chunk of time. Save your $300 and if you really want views of the city pay $15 to climb up one of the large ‘pylons’ at either end.
– Bondi. It’s dead posey and actually a bit grim in places. Also did I mention you have to take a bus there? *shudder*
– A show at the Opera House. Because it’s the outside that everyone comes for!