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A Traveling Insider’s Guide to Sydney

Head Down Under for a dazzling show of natural beauty, unique heritage, cuisine and fun-loving Sydney locals. | By Keith Austin | February 22, 2023

Think of Sydney and likely the first thing that springs to mind is the harbor, where the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge accentuate the city’s natural beauty. This modern city is built around one of the most beautiful harbors in the world and has many water-based attractions — whether you’re dining oceanside or riding the waves. Check out our top tips for enjoying an amazing adventure in Australia’s largest city:

  • Get moving: Sydney is a flat city so it’s perfect for walking and cycling

  • Take to the water: Hop on a ferry from Circular Quay to the beachside suburb of Manly for outstanding views

  • Join the locals: Renowned for their good-natured, fun-loving spirit, Sydney locals enjoy outdoor adventures, culture, sports and festivals

Why visit Sydney?

Few other major cities are so prominently peppered with beaches and comfy coves. Whether you’re there to surf, sunbathe or simply soak up the atmosphere, the lure of the beach is quintessential Sydney.

Sun-seeking aside, much of the talk around town is about where to eat. Whether it’s fine dining at restaurants such as Bennelong (located in the iconic Sydney Opera House), Quay, Aria or one of the many trendy culinary finds in multicultural suburbs such as Marrickville, Cabramatta and Parramatta, you’ll want to taste it all.

Get your blood pumping and explore the city’s neighborhoods on foot. Meander the inner-city streets of genteel Paddington (Paddo to the locals) with its Victorian terraced houses; tour the rich history and old hotel bars, cafes and restaurants of The Rocks (home to some of Sydney’s oldest pubs as well as upscale dining with harbor views); or hike the northern shores of the harbor from Circular Quay to Manly, the beachside suburb that stands guard by the harbor entrance.

When is the best time to visit Sydney?

Winter, if you can call it that, sweeps into Sydney between June and August. Expect cool nights and occasional rain but temperatures never fall so much that anything beyond a warm jacket, a raincoat or a scarf is needed. Low season means fewer tourists so, if you don’t mind layering up, this could be the season for you.

The summer high season, when temperatures can reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius), runs from December to February, and occasionally rolls on into March. Expect hot, humid days and balmy nights.

Australia’s fall (March-May) and spring months (September-November) are a little cooler but are still often warm enough for shorts and a T-shirt. Potential crowds aside, Sydney is ideal from mid-October to mid-November when the purple jacaranda trees are in bloom.

Popular local events and festivals include the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, when lively locals line the shores and cliffs to send the boats off with a bang in late December, and the highly anticipated Sydney WorldPride, a 17-day celebration through early March with over 300 events planned across the city, including the exuberant Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, an inclusive and colorful celebration of self-expression in late February. Stop by Manly Beach or Bondi Beach during any time of the year to see local surfers hang 10 or to simply cool off in refreshing ocean waters.

Getting to and around Sydney

A new airport is being built to the west of Sydney and scheduled to open in 2026, so in the meantime, you’ll fly into Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport in Mascot, right next to Botany Bay, where Captain James Cook first landed in 1770.

The international airport is only about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) and it’s well served by major roads and a good train line, which connects to all the major destinations. If you’ve just come off a long-haul flight and don’t want to carry your bags onto the train, then a taxi or rideshare service is probably your best bet.

To explore the city, there is a reliable public transport system of buses, ferries, light rail, Metro and trains that reach nearly every part of the city. All-purpose Opal travel cards can be used to pay for public transport and are available for purchase at train stations, convenience stores and newsstands.

To do your part to keep Sydney beautiful, try a sustainability-friendly bicycle rental to get around town. One note: Be aware that Australia has bike helmet laws, and you can be fined for not wearing one.

Sydney’s cultures and customs

A trip to Australia isn’t complete without experiencing one of the oldest continually living cultures in the world. Aboriginal people have a heritage that dates back 60,000 years. Include Aboriginal art, Dreamtime cultural and spiritual heritage and indigenous food (bush tucker) tours during a visit.

Sydneysiders – a native or inhabitant of Sydney – are a laid-back, fun-loving people, and they live for the weekend. Live like the locals and enjoy a breakfast trip to a nearby cafe for an espresso with bacon, eggs, smashed avocado and sourdough toast followed by a casual stroll through Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

Australians love their sports – you name it, and they’ll cheer it on with passion and a dollop of good humor. They reserve their biggest love, however, for Australian rules football, which is the most popular spectator sport in the country (the season runs from March to September). It’s a fast-paced, high-scoring game that’s a mishmash of rugby, soccer, Gaelic football, wrestling, long-distance running, ballet and the high jump (yes, you read that correctly) — all played on an enormous circular field.

While the natural beauty of Sydney and its surrounding areas will initially draw you in, the fun-loving nature of its people, admirable respect for culture and heritage and year-round good weather, will leave you wanting more.

Keith Austin is a former Sydney Morning Herald travel editor who has crisscrossed the world since the first time he threw on a backpack in his early 20s and flew to Israel and Egypt - and ended up hitchhiking back across Europe to his home in London. Based in Sydney for the past 27 years, he is now a freelance travel writer and the author of three books for young adults.

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