Sydney, the Harbour City - sunny, welcoming familiar - and why wouldn't it be with all those famous icons. The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, that soaring skyline. Yet for all its attractions you never lose the feeling that Sydneysiders (as the locals are known) are busy people - commuters outnumber visitors at Circular Quay, after all. Breathtaking views, world-class shopping, cutting-edge dining, and vibrant nightlife - there's no shortage of things to see and do in Sydney.
Sydney's core is the Circular Quay, with its great views of the harbor, the bridge, and the Opera House; the historic Rocks; and the Central Business District (CBD). You can cover much of this in a day, and you have several options for getting around. It's eminently walkable, though you may want to let someone else do the work. One of the most popular modes is the Sydney hop-on/hop-off bus tour , which from the open top of a double-decker bus gives you a nice panorama. For a different perspective, try a Sydney cycling tour (those hills should give you a workout) or sailing on the Sydney Harbour - the views from the harbor are unsurpassed. Or just splurge and circle the city by helicopter. For heaps of good deals on tours, museums, zoos and more, along with hefty discounts on over 100 places, try the Smartvisit Card.
Perhaps the city's most famous icon is the Opera House - it has after all been nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. And who doesn't yearn to see what's inside those sweeping rooflines (modeled, it's said, on segments of an orange)? There are several ways to find out: first, there's your basic walking tour of the Sydney Opera House, which takes you to places you'd normally need a ticket for; then there's the more exclusive backstage tour of the Sydney Opera House, which starts early before the places fills up with stagehands and prima donnas, and includes breakfast. Finally, when the ballet is in season, you can combine a guided tour with dinner and a dance (by ballerinas, that is).
When you've exhausted yourself with sight-seeing a bit of retail therapy doesn't go astray does it? Many districts and suburbs have funky shops - vintage clothes in Darlinghurst, surf gear in Bondi, knickknacks in Newtown. Sydney's got shopping centers and chi-chi boutiques, but the queen of them all is the Queen Victoria Building, a domed 19th-century temple of commerce and worth a visit on its own.
You may not have thought of Sydney as an adventure-travel destination but there is a surprising number of options for thrill-seekers. It's not your imagination - those are actually people crawling their way across the top of Harbour Bridge during the Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb. You can also fight vertigo atop the 268m (879ft) Sydney Tower if you do the Sydney Skywalk (those who prefer to take their views from on high safely behind glass can take an elevator to the enclosed observation deck). If G-forces float your boat, why not do high-speed doughnuts in a jet boat on Sydney Harbour? And if that isn't enough for you, combine it with a seaplane ride over Sydney. Or simply cheat death and dive with the sharks .
Radiating outward from the Circular Quay are Sydney's suburbs and beaches, at once bohemian and bronzed. You can go bargain hunting in Paddington, dining in Darlinghurst, or surfing in Bondi. If you don't mind a bit of grit and grime with your glitter and glam you can have a pint in King's Cross and take in a drag queen show. Or you can get the ferry to Manly where you can start with a tour, and watch the surfers on the ocean beach while tucking into some fish and chips.
Get up close and personal with the local fauna. The Taronga Zoo is minutes from downtown by ferry and features platypi, echidnas, kookaburras and other Australian natives, and you can get a personal tour from an expert guide. If you prefer your creatures wet, slimy and/or scaly, check out the Sydney Darling Harbour Aquarium and Oceanworld Manly .
One thing you will not want for in Sydney is good food. You can't swing a cat without hitting a trendy new bistro, trattoria, or noodle house. Start the day with some of the best espresso this side of Rome in Newtown, or heavenly corn fritters in Darlinghurst. Pack a picnic or nosh on nori at the Fish Market, or stuff yourself with fried dumplings in Chinatown. When dinner rolls around you've got no shortage of restaurants, though you might consider taking advantage of Sydney's fine waterfront location and take a dinner cruise on the Sydney Harbour. Or, if you don't mind going in (slow) circles while you eat, admire the view from the Sydney Tower Restaurant.
Sydneysiders have both a penchant for dressing up and throwing a party - or just holing up at their local bar and sipping a postmodern cocktail. There are hip bars and pubs all over town, though perhaps the most unique is the Minus5 Ice Lounge, which is as frigidly cool as it sounds.
Day 3: Excursions
As strong as Sydney's pull may be, there are many places beyond the city limits to tempt you. One of the most beautiful of these is the Blue Mountains, about 50 miles (80km) west-northwest of the city. Heavily forested and teeming with wildlife, a Blue Mountains Day Trip is an excellent way to spend your time. You can also visit the Jenolan Caves, or tool around on a four-wheel drive explorer trek.
Australia is justly famous around the world for its wine, and one of its best regions is the Hunter Valley. This is shiraz and chardonnay country, though you can fine delectable semillon. You can do a Hunter Valley Day Trip to a few local wineries, or spend some time soaking up the local history on the Hunter Valley Wine and Wilderness tour. If you're pressed for time and have the cash, why not take a helicopter to luncheon in the Hunter Valley?
The foregoing should give you an idea of what to get up to in Sydney; for more tips check out Viator's complete list of things to do in Sydney. If you want to extend your trip to other parts of Australia, it's a big country, so you've got lots of choices. You could go north to Brisbane and the Gold Coast and find out why it's called 'BrisVegas'. Or keep going to Far North Queensland and test your mettle with the crocodiles and cassuaries.