From the orange-segments shaped Opera House, the Harbour Bridge off which fireworks dance on New Year's Eve, and, of course, Bondi Beach, Sydney is Australia's most instantly recognisable city.
It's not Australia's capital, but it could be, such is its energy, verve and, some would say, its brashness. It's the top city in the Asia Pacific region for quality of life. With its climate, beaches, parks and gardens, shopping and world-class dining, not to mention the underpinning of any great city, an efficient transport system, Sydneysiders know how to live well.
Sydney is Australia's oldest city. Most of the historic buildings stand in Macquarie Street including Hyde Park Barracks (constructed by convict labour), the Mint Building, Parliament House and Sydney Hospital. At the northeast end of the botanic gardens is Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a ledge carved out of sandstone so that Mrs Macquarie, a former governor's wife, could enjoy the views.
Beyond the city, Sydney is within easy reach of the Hunter Valley vineyards, the Blue Mountains, the beaches and resorts of the east coast, and, for those seeking cheap flights to Sydney during the winter months, the ski slopes of the Snowy Mountains, Australia's winter playground.
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Sydney has a temperate climate with more than 300 sunny days a year. Winters are more cool than cold. June to August are the coolest, and the daytime temperature can drop to 7 degrees (Celsius). Summers are humid with occasional downpours. Temperatures are usually in the upper 20s but can go over 37. Sea breezes cool the hot days, and evenings are balmy.Autumn and spring are delightful with clear, warm days and mild nights.
When to fly to Sydney
The Sydney festival starts just after New Year’s and runs through January. The beaches are busy and plentiful — there are more than 20 beaches along the oceanfront and more around the harbour.
The summer Surfing Carnivals bring crowds on Sydney flights to watch the surfing and other water-sport competitions. There is yacht racing on summer weekends, and the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is on Boxing Day (26 December).
Comfortable to visit any time of year, Sydney is particularly enjoyable in autumn and spring. There is a greater chance of rain in spring, but it usually clears quickly.
Getting around Sydney
Sydney is a city built around its harbour, and that’s where you will find some of the best sightseeing. The public passenger ferries are run by Sydney Ferries and you can board a monorail down to Darling Harbour. There are plenty of ways to get around the city. The By Sydney Explorer and By Bondi Explorer buses stop almost anywhere you’d want to go in the city and around the harbor and beaches. Take the light-rail tram line to Chinatown, Paddy’s Markets or Darling Harbour. You don’t need to drive, and the one-way streets and lack of parking will eat up your time. Taxis are all over and easy to hail on the street. Adventurous travellers who don’t fear heights can join the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb, which walks across catwalks and ladders across the arch of the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Sydney insider information
- Lots of tourist activities in Sydney are all about the views such as climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are panoramic views from Mrs Maquarie’s (wife of Governor Macquarie) Chair, in the Royal Botanic Gardens (free to enter). The Open Air Cinema is close to the Chair. The big screen has the Sydney City Skyline, Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge as a backdrop.
- Taronga Zoo was opened in 1916 and sits on high land along the waterfront overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Cove and the Opera House. The zoo is just 12 minutes by ferry from the central business district. The Sky Safari cable car runs between the zoo wharf and the top of the zoo.
- The Rocks is Sydney's oldest preserved colonial area. It is where the first settlers from England landed in 1788. Today, having undergone a makeover, it is a thriving area of galleries, museums, restaurants, cafes and shops. Staying with settlements, Fort Denison was an unhappy place of punishment and confinement … for the convicts. It’s part of Sydney Harbour National Park and is open for guided tours.
- Take the Manly Ferry. Hop on at Circular Quay and cruise the seven nautical miles (takes about 30 minutes each way) to Manly, the suburb by the sea. There’s a lot to do there apart from going to the beach: several heritage walks, galleries and museums, regular festivals and more than 80 restaurants.
- For a view of the city and beyond, visit The Sydney Tower, 250 metres (820 feet) above the streets. High-speed double-decker lifts rocket up to the observation desk in just 40 seconds.
- And beaches. Don’t forget the beaches: Bondi, Manly, Coogee, Balmoral, Tamarama and Palm.