The 2000 Olympics were a coming-of-age ceremony for Sydney, with fifty years' worth of development compressed into four years under the pressure of intense international scrutiny. The benefits are still being felt: Sydney has all the vigour of a world-class city, with the reputation of its restaurants in particular turning the lingering cultural sneers to swoons. It seems to have the best of both worlds: twenty minutes from Circular Quay the high-rise office buildings give way to colourful inner-city suburbs where you can get an eyeful of sky and watch the lemons ripening above the pavement, while to the centre's north and south are corridors of largely intact bushland where many have built their dream homes. During every heatwave, however, bushfires threaten the city, and sophisticated Sydney becomes closer to its roots than it might like.
It's also as beautiful a city as any in the world, with a setting that only Rio de Janeiro can rival: the water is what makes it so special, and no introduction to Sydney would be complete without paying tribute to one of the world's great harbours. Port Jackson is a sunken valley that twists inland to meet the fresh water of the Parramatta River, in the process washing into a hundred coves and bays, winding around rocky points, flowing past small harbour islands, slipping under bridges and lapping at the foot of the Opera House. Sydney is seen at its gleaming best from the deck of a harbour ferry, and a ride on one is an experience not to be missed.
It might seem surprising that Sydney is not Australia's capital and indeed, the creation of Canberra in 1927 – intended to stem the intense rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne – has not affected the view of many Sydneysiders that their city remains the true capital of Australia. In many ways it feels like it and the city has a tangible sense of history, with the old stone walls and well-worn steps in the backstreets around The Rocks an evocative reminder that Sydney has more than two hundred years of white history behind it.
A city surrounded by water, Sydney is a fusion of spectacular architecture and white beaches. Set amongst native bushland and lush national parks, the key to this city's identity is its harbor.
Central Business District
The central business district is a pastiche of quarters and boroughs. The multi-cultural nature of this city and its inhabitants ensures an authenticity that is at the heart of its liberal and embracing spirit.
Circular Quay is the gateway to the harbour. An active transport anchorage, the quay is adorned by architectural and national icons—including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House .
West of Circular Quay, discover the quirkily named Rocks . This is the original site of convict settlement in Australia, and boasts some of Sydney's best restaurants. Above The Rocks is Observatory Hill, a stretch of parkland with an 1858-built Observatory that is still operational. Situated on the south-eastern side of Circular Quay, is the central business district's financial corridor. A mass of multinational conglomerates locate their Asia-Pacific headquarters here. Stately buildings such as the State Library of NSW and Parliament House are found in nearby Macquarie Street.
When locals use the term "the city centre," they are referring to Pitt Street Mall , Market Street and a maze of interlinked arcades. Another central city icon is the architecturally striking AMP Tower (Centrepoint) . The conveniently located Sydney Town Hall , inter-connected to Town Hall Station , allows easy access to the city's rail hub and also offers underground access to the fantastically opulent Queen Victoria Building .
In the southwestern corner of the city, Chinatown is a feast for the senses. This district is home to Market City and Paddy's Markets , where you will find the usual fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as some astonishing bargains.
Built to commemorate Australia's bicentenary, Harbourside is Darling Harbour's signature shopping and entertainment complex. Nearby are the Chinese Garden , the Australian National Maritime Museum , the Sydney Aquarium , the IMAX Cinema and the Powerhouse Museum . Whilst just up the road is the extravagant Star City Casino . Nearby, Cockle Bay Wharf is a sophisticated boardwalk of nightclubs, restaurants and live music venues.
On the Eastern side of Hyde Park is The Domain , an expanse of parkland that hosts the city's calendar of outdoor concerts. This area is full of attractions such Royal Botanic Gardens .
The Eastern Suburbs
Oxford Street is the main artery in this district. This elongated street runs from the central business district in Darlinghurst and works its way into Paddington, past the sprawling Centennial Park to Bondi Junction. The street is famous for its art-house cinemas, cafes, bookshops and designer labels.
At the lower end of Darlinghurst is Kings Cross , Sydney's 24-hour red-light district. Amongst the crass strip joints and tattoo parlours are intimate jazz clubs, hip cafes and great record shops.
The East's harbourside suburbs of Elizabeth Bay, Double Bay and Rose Bay culminate at Watson's Bay, which offers stunning views of the city. Savour the view from the nearby world famous Doyles on the Beach seafood restaurant. On the other side of this peninsula is South Head, the Southern gate between Sydney Harbour and the open sea. Along the nearby coast discover Sydney's best-known and best-loved beaches, including Bondi , Tamarama , Bronte and Coogee .
The first fleet landed at Botany Bay, and the suburbs between here and South Cronulla Beach include the huge local government area, Sutherland Shire. The character of the south is typified by waterways and gardens, which lead to Sydney's southern boundary—the vast Royal National Park .
The Inner West
Glebe and Newtown are the main suburbs in this district. The inner-west is crammed with restaurants offering international cuisines, new and second-hand bookshops, backpacker hostels, health food shops and traditional pubs.
Further west is Leichhardt, also known as Little Italy. Wander past Norton Street's bookshops, art-house cinemas and delicatessen-shops, which sell a selection of cheese, imported espresso machines and ceramic tiles.
The Greater West
Homebush Bay, the centre of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games is situated in the Greater West. Telstra Stadium and a host of sporting facilities are all close by. Neighbouring Parramatta is the major transport and commercial hub of the west. Between Parramatta and the Blue Mountains (Sydney's western boundary) is Cabramatta—Sydney's Little Vietnam, and it is worth the trip for the great shopping and culinary experience.
The Upper North Shore
Sydney's northwest corner intersects at The Hills District—a semi-rural region that is fast developing into a residential quarter. The leafy Upper North Shore is one of Sydney's wealthiest areas. Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park , situated in the centre, is a beautiful spot for bushwalks or picnics.
The Lower North Shore
Everything below Chatswood is the Lower North Shore. Some of the prettier spots are Balmoral Beach and Blues Point Reserve at the end of Blues Point Road. An essential stop is Taronga Zoo , a scenic animal sanctuary.
The Northern Beaches
From beautiful Palm Beach , down through Whale , Avalon , Bilgola , Newport and Mona Vale Beaches—the northern beaches not only offer great surfing, but great sailing as well. Lush parks and gardens surround million-dollar holiday homes, making for an idyllic setting.
Sydney is a city that enjoys good food and entertainment. The city's restaurants and cafes truly reflect its multicultural influence and diverse population. The choices read like an atlas, so enjoy authentic flavors and cooking styles from across the world.
Traditional Australian fare is reputedly a meat pie and a can of beer, and in keeping with tradition, legendary locations like Harry's Cafe de Wheels provide the best pies. Meanwhile bush-tucker, which reflects the Aboriginal flavors of Australia—is only now featured on a handful of menus. It was not until 1993 that restaurants were allowed to serve Kangaroo meat.
Being a harbour city, seafood is a main dining feature, and the Sydney Fish Market ensures a fresh and plentiful supply of barramundi, snapper, mussels, prawns, calamari and octopus. Restaurants such as Fishface and Five Dock Seafoods Cafe serve only fish. The seafood-serving king Doyles , is not only one of the oldest fish restaurants in town, it also has a fantastic view from its beachside location in Watsons Bay.
The city's booming cafe culture has an overtly Italian influence. To sample some of the best coffee, head for Bondi Beach . Bar Coluzzi , bills , La Buvette and Tropicana are just some of the hip coffee spots. There are some central-city cafes also worth discovering, such as MoS Cafe . If you prefer tea however, then pay a visit to Sejuiced in Bondi Beach and the Tea Centre of Sydney .
The pick of Italian restaurants includes Gelbison and Mezzaluna . Norton Street in inner city Leichhardt, is also known as Little Italy, and if you have a passion for pasta, this is the place to go to.
The European influence does not stop with Italy. Bistro Moncur and Sel et Poivre offer some excellent French cuisine whilst Mykonos on Crown and Capitan Torres reflect the Mediterranean flavours of Greece and Spain, respectively. Sample Eastern European cuisine with a visit to Corner 75 .
Asian cuisine is also very popular in Sydney. Chinatown in Haymarket, and the newer version in Chatswood, ensure a constant supply of excellent Chinese eateries. From massive yum cha (dim sum) restaurants such as Marigold Restaurant , to the Chinese Noodle Restaurant , aficionados of chop suey and roasted duck are spoilt for choice. Sydney's Asian cuisine also includes Malaysian, Thai, Singaporean, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Filipino, Indian, Iranian and Cambodian, to name but a few. Establishments such as The Malaya , Chinta Ria , Lebanon & Beyond and Blue Elephant offer oodles of noodles, a suffice of rice, free tea and flavors to be savored.
Then there is Japanese…with well-established trade links, Japanese food has a long-held tradition in Sydney's eating culture. Sushi, sashimi, noodles, tempura and teriyaki—it is all here. Sushi Suma , Shimbashi and Raw Bar are some of the recommended venues.
Restaurants Per District
In terms of restaurants per district, this is the basic rule—the western suburbs offer plenty of Cambodian and Turkish, whilst in the south, there is Greek and Lebanese. Head north for Indian, African and Japanese, and east for Indonesian and European. Dine with a view at The Boathouse , Catalina , and The Summit . Go vegetarian at Govinda's or Harvest, and be seen in the trendiest spots like Bayswater Brasserie Restaurant and Hugo's . To top it all, unique features such as Bring Your Own wine (BYO), cook your own steak, milk crate seating on the pavement, and harbour views, simply add to what is already an exceptional dining experience.
In accordance with the New South Wales Smoke Free Environment Act 2000, smoking is prohibited inside Sydney restaurants.
Rulings in the late 1990s, allowing gambling in drinking establishments, have seen many pubs stripped of their traditional identity. Some pubs do, however, manage a mixture of everything, for example the Golden Sheaf in Double Bay offers gambling, pool, live music and a great outdoor drinking and eating area. There are still some traditional pubs, as well as some very trendy, modern ones. Also note—many pubs are called hotels—some offer accommodation, others are just drinking establishments.
Hotspots in Sydney
For a taste of traditional drinking visit Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel , as well as the Fortune of War Hotel , The Dry Dock and Mercantile Hotel . Whilst Scruffy Murphy's , and Cock 'N' Bull are testament to the fact that Irish pubs are everywhere. A city centre favourite is Jackson's On George . Many pubs also serve great food. The Slip Inn has a noted restaurant, as does The Australian Heritage Hotel .
Something For Everybody
There are pubs dedicated to sport and pubs with beer gardens and beach or city views like The Coogee Bay Hotel . There are bars in swanky hotels, like the Lobby Bar at the Swiss Grand , and modern, gleaming bars with harbourside locations such as Pontoon . There are live music venues, such as Bat & Ball Hotel, lesbian bars like the Lava Lounge and pubs for lounge lizards including Burdekin Hotel . For that extra something, sip a margarita at the 25th Floor Cocktail Bar or enjoy some of the best Australian wines in the Grace Wine Bar .
So the list is endless, and whatever your poison—however you like to drink it, the Sydney scene offers a liquid for all tastes.
As you enjoy all that Sydney has to offer, catch a glimpse of Sydney's skyline at sunset to complete your stay. The breath taking views may lead you to consider relocating down under.
Sydney Opera House
The most famous of Sydney's icons, the Sydney Opera House , offers Opera House Guided Tours . Known as a masterpiece of late modern architecture, it is no wonder why this opera house is a symbol of both Sydney and Australian culture. The Sydney Opera House has superior acoustics, light-filled spaces, and contains the Utzon Room to honor its esteemed architect. In addition, the opera house is featured on the World Heritage List as of 2007 for its creative design, earning Utzon the Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest award.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Get ready to set your eyes on a fantastic view of the harbor. Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge , with BridgeClimb —bookings are essential. Centrepoint spire also offers guided tours of its 360 degree panorama. There are also two revolving restaurants at the top.
For those on a budget, a good option is to climb to the top of the South-Eastern Pylon of the Harbour Bridge to the Pylon Lookout for an exhilarating view. Alternatively, you can walk across the bridge on the railed-off pedestrian lane or head down to Circular Quay and take your pick of harborside ferry destinations. Manly is the most popular, but other routes, like McMahons Point/Balmain or Rose Bay/Watsons Bay are just as scenic. Peak hours will allow you to share the deck with thousands of commuters who travel to work by water.
For a crash course in Australian politics, visit the Parliament of New South Wales . Free public tour are conducted on the first Thursday of each month. Learn about the Legislative Assembly and the role of Parliament within the democratic government of Sydney. The tour will also lead you to historic parts of the building, including the restoration of the old Surgeon General's Quarters.
Sydney has some beautiful historic houses such as Elizabeth Bay House , Rouse Hill Estate , and Vaucluse House . You can purchase the "Ticket Through Time," which includes entry to 11 properties including the Museum of Sydney , Hyde Park Barracks Museum and the Justice & Police Museum . Tickets are valid for three months and available from any Trust property.
Walking through the regal, glass-domed 19th century Queen Victoria Building (QVB) , provides an alternative form of retail therapy. Guided tours depart daily from the customer service desk on the ground floor. Also, be sure to check out the sandstone columns of the Art Gallery of New South Wales guard paintings by Australian masters Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Sidney Nolan. Guided tours are a great way to learn more about the gallery's local and international collections; and they are free.
Sydney Fish Market
Sydneysiders really do "throw shrimp on the barbie," and the Sydney Fish Market is where they go to buy their seafood. Guided tours of the market and the docks are available, where you can watch thousands of fresh fish be unloaded.
Sydney's Fox Studios is the location for the filming of such blockbuster hits as the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix trilogy. There is plenty to see at Fox—a fabulous collection of shops and cinemas, restaurants and cafes, and a great weekend market.
Whether you walk, fly, sail, or drive around Sydney, you are bound to experience Australian culture at its best.
The Rocks Walking Tours ( +61 2 9247 6678/ http://www.rockswalkingtours.com.au/ )
Easy Rider Motorbike Tours ( +61 2 9247 2477/ http://www.easyrider.com.au/ )
Murrays Canberra Day Tour (http://www.murrays.com.au/)
WonderBus (+61 2 9630 0529 / http://www.wonderbus.com.au/)
Explorer Bus Services (+61 2 9245 5644 / http://www.sydneybuses.info/tourist-services/sydney-explorer.htm/)
Fly Over Sydney
Sydney Harbour Seaplanes (+61 2 9388 1978 / http://www.seaplanes.com.au/)
Cloud 9 Balloon Flights (+61 1300 55 5711 / http://www.cloud9balloonflights.com/)
Great Australian Pub Crawl (+61 2 9637 4455 / http://www.sydneyhelicopters.com.au/tours-pubtours.html/)
Captain Cook Cruises (+61 2 9206 1100 / http://www.captaincook.com.au/home.asp/)
Bounty (+61 2 9247 1789 / http://gtvideo.com/australia/sydney/bounty/index.htm/)
Hawkesbury Riverboat Postman (+61 2 9985 7566 / http://www.hawkesbury.net.au/activities/442.html/)
Imagine, Port Stephens (+61 2 4984 9000 / http://www.imaginecruises.com.au/ )
Worldwide Shopping Tours (http://www.worldwideshoppingtours.com.au)
Get Out of Town
AAT Kings Sydney Day Tours (+61 2 9700 0133 / http://www.aatkings.com/us/)