Many mistake Sydney as the capital of Australia, but it’s not. It contended for it, alongside Melbourne, and both great cities lost to Canberra in the country’s aim to find a neutral ground between the two Aussie greats.
Australia is THE largest island and the 6th largest country in the world. So, it would be awful to talk about Australia in general having only visited one of its major cities. So in this article, allow us to share with you our experience, favorite spots and lessons in Sydney.
All photos are ours and unedited unless otherwise stated.
As a background, Mary and I had to visit Sydney on separate occasions because of a conflict in schedule at work. It is a good thing that she got to go there in June with my best friend, and I visited on the last week of July – both are notorious winter months in the land down under.
My sister also went there for work in August 2014 – also a winter month, and she was the first who told me that in the suburbs, kangaroos are like cats (Philippine setting) or squirrel (American setting) in that it’s very abundant, and some are untamed.
The Central Business District (CBD) of Sydney is best navigated on foot – don’t dare drive around as parking is expensive. Plus, all the landmarks are close to each other. The nooks and crannies are hardly discover-able from a car, train or bus. That being said, it’s best to wear THE best walking shoes you ever owned in your life.
I’M FREE WALKING TOUR
We suggest that you spare less than 3 hours to join the free walking tour to know and understand more about the history of the city. While you can always google these facts, you won’t get insider tips and information from the internet that often. And it’s free, just tip your guide at the end without any commitment or pressure. It starts right at the St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which is the oldest in the country, along George St. As our guide (Jake) mentioned, as long as you can find George St., you won’t be lost in the CBD. It spans from the Rocks area and the Circular Quay all the way south to China Town.
MUSEUMS and OTHER AMUSEMENT PARKS
They surely do not have a shortage of museums and galleries in Sydney. Some are admission-free, and some not. One thing is for sure though, almost all the establishments there open at 10am and close before sunset at 5pm. So if I were you, still start the day early at 7 and start with the parks (they don’t obviously close), churches, and end the day with bars and coffee shops since malls also close at dusk.
Sea Life, Wildlife, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (Entrance Fee applies)
Down at the Darling Harbor, you would see attractions like Wild life, Sea Life, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and the Sydney Aquarium. You can buy tickets online to get them at lower prices, but the best thing to do is get 5 attractions for $72.
Art Gallery of New South Wales (free admission)
Mary and I both vote for the Art Gallery of New South Wales as our favorite museum, not that we’ve gone to a lot. Even resident and high school friend Mae said it is by far, the most beautiful gallery she’s seen – and her dad’s an artist at that. The website’s self-description reads as: Established in 1871, the Gallery is proud to present fine international and Australian art in one of the most beautiful art museums in the world. We aim to be a place of experience and inspiration, through our collection, exhibitions, programs and research. Admission to the Gallery is free, as are our permanent galleries and most exhibitions and events.
Museum of Contemporary Art (free admission)
Located at the Sydney Harbour, it’s really hard to miss this museum. It is also free of admission and Mary did quite a visit there too. Their collection is obviously more contemporary (compared to the classical collection of Art Gallery).
The Royal Botanic Garden (free admission)
It is a HUGE garden at 30 hectares and the oldest in the entire country being established in 1816. It houses The CALYX, also our favorite, and we had the chance to witness the Free Floral Display that ran from May 20th to August 2. They also have a free guided walking tour, and a “tour train” to save your throbbing feet from further anguish – for real! Mary even chanced upon a string quarter concert in the afternoon she went there, again for free! Not only is at an eye feast, it also enriches your understanding of the different flora in the city.
ANZAC War Memorial (free admission)
This is without a doubt, Jons’ favorite. It had a solemn feel to it, honoring the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The memorial itself sat only a block away from the hostel I stayed at. A minute’s walk from the Museum train station. It’s free admission, and when you go there, offer a prayer for those who fought in the wars. It also has a “reflection pool” in front, where mostly ibises and other birds flock.
Hyde Park (free admission)
The Hyde Park has a European feel to it. But of course, the original park is in London. The ANZAC War Memorial is inside Hyde Park, and in the middle of it, the dramatically placed Archibald Fountain, which can serve as your foreground against the majestic St. Mary’s Cathedral. I will get to that in a bit. Anywhere from Hyde Park you can see the Sydney Tower – which most locals call the golden bucket. Back to the Archibald Fountain, it was designed by a French sculptor but it had Greek and Roman mythology characters such as Apollo, Diana, Theseus and the minotaur.
Without a doubt, the St. Mary’s Cathedral is a stand-out. Weddings held there will see the bride contend with the facade of the building for everyone else’s attention (probably except that of the groom’s). It is a Christian statement of grace and beauty. It is an inspiring English Gothic building right in the heart of Sydney and my favorite building – although a lot of buildings in CBD Sydney are made of sandstone. It is slightly inspired by the Notre Dame of Paris accentuated by its pinnacles and spires.
St. Andrew’s located along George St (and yes, the walking tour rendezvous) is the oldest church of the country. It is not as huge as St. Mary’s but it is also one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. Once you enter it from across the Town Hall though, you’d be surprised that the entrance you took was the one near the pulpit. As our guide pointed out, the church actually faced away from St. George.
Sydney Opera House (free photo outside)
Known to the rest of the world as that opera house with shells as its design and sits on the edge of the city, the SOH was in fact designed by a Danish architect Jorn Utzon after a world-wide competition was held to find the artist they can commission for this project. It is one of the most expensive projects in the country, but also holds different kinds of performances there. Outside, there are pricey restaurants and a big area where families and kids watch the sunset and spend the night.
Across it is the Sydney Harbour Bridge that people actually pay Au$378 (PhP 15k) to climb in the sunset. It is one of the longest arch-bridge in the world much like that of the Hell Gate Bridge in New York. The bridge and the opera house can be seen from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair at the end of the Royal Botanic Garden. You can take a photo of both icons in one frame, plus some sailboats and birds if you’re lucky.
OTHER NOTABLE BUILDINGS
The General Post Office
Yes, it is a post office that is entirely a landmark on its own. It’s located in Martin Place (one of the famous streets in CBD), and showcases Victorian Italian Renaissance Style architecture. You can also find another ANZAC cenotaph when facing the center of the building.
Town Hall Center (Guided Tour donation $5/adult)
Yet another Victorian building right beside the St. Andrew’s Cathedral along St. George St., the Sydney Town Hall still serves official functions. However, recently it has been used mainly to host performances, like that of Lady Gaga’s in 2011.
This is your local “tsangge” where shirts and other trinkets you find in the souvenir shops would be 200% lower in price. It is right across the China Town where you can dine at your favorite Sino-dishes.
Queen Victoria Building
Nicknamed the QVB, and named after the queen, this building functions as (take a guess)… a mall! It is topped with a big central dome, and smaller ones surrounding the central dome. Right outside the building, a statue of the queen in grey stone plinth is seen and her favorite companion known as Queen Victoria’s dog “Islay” is resembled in bronze. The interior is also very stylish, notwithstanding the posh boutiques and shops, it is still a beauty to reckon with. Look up and you will also see mechanical clocks with dioramas that play on the hour every hour. Sadly, this mall also closes at 5pm.
Westfield Building (Sydney Tower entrance fee applies)
It’s a modern building, nothing sandstone about it but it’s important to note that this is where you enter if you want to go up to the tower for an overlooking view of the city.
If this does not convince you that walking is your key to a successful and efficient tour of the Sydney CBD, then let me give you an idea how you can fit all of these landmarks in 2 days or less, just by walking. Below you will see the maps of Sydney CBD and the places we walked around on. One advantage would be to choose your accommodation within the center and not anywhere outside. I saved on time, energy and precious dollars just by walking around. Note that I am checked in at the Downing Hostel very near the Museum train station.
Sydney is expensive, but as Filipinos, we always find a way around that. I hope this article helps you think of ways you can save money and time too.
The next blog will come right after this, so please watch out!