Sydney Travel Guide


Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach is the grand dame of Sydney's beaches, with a magnificent sweep of sand and a never-ending series of majestic rollers. The foreshore is an eclectic mix of ice-cream parlours, designer cafés, greasy fish and chip joints, kosher shops and surf fashion stores. You can also see Aboriginal rock engravings a short walk north.

Circular Quay
Circular Quay is built around Sydney Cove and is considered by many to be the focal point of the city. The first European settlement in Australia grew around the Tank Stream, which now runs underground into the harbour here. For many years this was the shipping centre of Sydney, but it's now both a commuting hub and a recreational space, combining ferry quays, a railway station and the Overseas Passenger Terminal with harbour walkways, restaurants, buskers, parks, the Museum of Contemporary Art and, of course, the Sydney Opera House.

Darling Harbour
Once a thriving industrial port, Darling Harbour is now a vast harbourside leisure park. Its various venues include the excellent Sydney Aquarium and Powerhouse Museum, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the touristy Harbourside shopping mall and Segaworld amusement park.

It was once a thriving dockland area, but it declined to the level of an urban eyesore before being reinvented as Darling Harbour in the 1980s by a combination of vision, planning, politicking, forbearance and huge amounts of cash. The emphasis is on casual fun and enjoyment of the kind appreciated by families with small children and coach tourists.

The Domain is a large grassy area east of Macquarie St which was set aside by Governor Phillip for public recreation. Today it is used by city workers for lunchtime sports and as a place to escape the bustle of the city. On Sunday afternoons, it's the gathering place for impassioned soapbox speakers, who do their best to entertain or enrage their listeners. It is also the venue for free events held during the Sydney Festival in January and the popular Carols by Candlelight at Christmas. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is in the northeast corner of The Domain. It has excellent permanent exhibitions of Australian, European, Japanese and tribal art, and has some inspired temporary exhibits.

Macquarie St
Sydney's greatest concentration of early public buildings grace Macquarie St, many of them commissioned by Governor Macquarie and designed by the convict architect Francis Greenway. The most impressive are the elegant, two-storey, verandaed Parliament House, Sydney Hospital, the Mint Building, the exquisite Hyde Park Barracks, St James Church and the voluminous State Library of NSW. The Barracks and the Mint are now museums, the library hosts exhibitions and there are tours of both the hospital and Parliament House. Macquarie St is the eastern boundary of the central business district and borders The Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens. It runs from Hyde Park to Circular Quay.

Sydney Harbour
The harbour is the defining characteristic of the city. Criss-crossed by ferries and carpeted with yachts on weekends, it is both the city playground and a major port. Its multiple sandstone headlands, dramatic cliffs, rocky islands and stunning bays and beaches make it one of the most beautiful stretches of water in the world, and the area offers a close-up of Aussie beach culture at its best. Officially called Port Jackson, the harbour stretches some 20km (12mi) inland to join the mouth of the Parramatta River. The most scenic area is on the ocean side of the bridge. The Sydney Harbour National Park protects the scattered pockets of bushland around the harbour and offers good walking tracks. The best way to experience the harbour is to go sailing, but if you're lacking nautical skills there are plenty of ways to enjoy it. Try catching the Manly ferry, swimming at Nielsen Park, walking from Manly to Spit Bridge, having a drink at Watsons Bay, dining with a view at Milsons Point, Balmoral or Circular Quay, or cruising to the heads on the Bounty.

Sydney Opera House
Australia's most recognisable icon, perched dramatically over the sea, may look like sails in full flight but the architect's inspiration was the segments of a mandarin. It's a truly memorable place to see a performance, listen to a free outdoor concert or sit under a cafe umbrella and watch harbour life go by.

The Opera House is so unique that it has been photographed a zillion times, appears on an army of cheap T-shirts and every other Sydney postcard and decorates the frames of Dame Edna's dramatic glasses.

It was built between 1959 and 1973, but was plagued with construction delays and political difficulties which culminated in the resignation of architect Jørn Utzon in 1966. The interior was designed by a consortium of Australians after Utzon quit.

The Opera House hosts theatre, classical music, ballet and film, as well as the seasonal opera performances. There is also a venue called The Studio, which stages contemporary arts events. There is free music on the prow of the Opera House on weekends and a craft market on the forecourt on Sunday.

The Rocks
'Old Sydney town' in the heart of CBD-mania, the once much rockier Rocks (an historic shantytown) is now a sanitised tourist precinct. Its narrow cobbled streets and fine colonial buildings are still evocative and its tea rooms make the perfect lunch stop before an afternoon of souvenir browsing.

If you ignore the kitsch, a stroll around The Rocks can be delightful. Attractions include the weekend market, the Sydney Observatory, and numerous craft shops and art galleries.

But it's the old buildings, alleyways and historic facades that attract most visitors. Try exploring the less developed areas in the contiguous suburb of Millers Point, which has not sacrificed its community life to the tourist dollar. Check out the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel and The Hero of Waterloo, two of Sydney's oldest pubs.

Off the Beaten Track

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park covers 150 sq km (60 sq mi) of sandstone bushland at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, 24km (15mi) north of Sydney. The park has over 100km (62mi) of shoreline, plenty of forest and wildlife, a number of walking tracks and some magnificent Aboriginal rock art. Elevated parts of the park offer superb views across Pittwater towards the northernmost suburbs of Sydney.

Royal National Park
The Royal National Park, 30km (19mi) south of city, is the oldest gazetted national park in the world. The sea of low scrub, which covered the sandstone plateau in the north of the park, was devastated by the 1994 bushfires, but the forested river valleys and the beaches were unscathed. The park is dissected by the Hacking River and there are riverside picnic and boat hiring facilities at Audley. There's a spectacular 26km (16mi) coastal track stretching the length of the park, which is accessible from Bundeena. It passes the lovely lagoon beach at Wattamolla, and the popular surfing spot at Garie Beach. The best views are from the southern boundary of the park overlooking Bulli from the edge of the Illawarra escarpment.

Other Australia Attractions

Canberra is often described by Australians who haven't been there as a boring town, full of politicians, bureaucrats - and not much else. But those who go there find a picturesque spot with beautiful galleries and museums, as well as excellent restaurants, bars and cafes.

As Australia's capital, Canberra pulls out the big guns when it comes to sightseeing. Souped-up national versions of art galleries, war memorials and libraries come extra-large and with lashings of grandiose gravitas. The city's impressive sights are ringed around its focal lake.

When the early colonists arrived and began building Adelaide they used stone. They wanted to build a solid, dignified city, a civilised and calm place, with a manner no other state capital in the country could match. Nowadays, much to the wowsers chagrin, pubs and nightclubs outnumber the churches.

The 'city of churches' has a superb setting, with a centre ringed by green parklands and a backdrop of hills. Bouncing between its musuems, fine galleries, metropolitan beaches and historic houses will keep you busy, and then there's daytrips into the Mt Lofty Ranges.

Brisbane has shucked its reputation as a backwater and emerged as one of the country's most progressive centres. It has several interesting districts, a good street cafe scene, a great riverside park, a busy cultural calendar and a thriving nightlife.

Brisbane is known for its showiness - think artificial beaches and tourist arcades - but it also has gracious architecture and tranquil parks. Its galleries and musuems are legendary, and if you need a break from the built environment it's refreshingly close to bushland and wildlife.

Cairns shines with the carnival atmosphere of travellers all year round and the city is positively booming. In 2003 the foreshore was given a Hollywood makeover, with lagoons and the spanking Pier Marketplace, equipping Cairns to be a truly international tourist destination.

This juicy chunk of far north Queensland will bamboozle you with its awesome natural beauty both on land and sea. With its lush rainforests and stunning reefs, Cairns' attractions can suit the coddled tourist and the intrepid outdoor types alike.

The 'capital' of northern Australia is closer to Jakarta than it is to Sydney, and closer to Singapore than it is to Melbourne, so it should come as no surprise that it looks outward to Asia as much as it looks inland to the rest of Australia.

When Cyclone Tracy levelled Darwin in 1974, she took with her a lot of its streetscapes, but there are still a few colonial buildings to give a feel for what went before. The city's musuems focus on everything from pearling to crocodiles to the night Tracy came to town.

Great Barrier Reef
One of Australia's greatest assets is the magnificent reef that runs along virtually the entire coast of Queensland. Considered one of the world's natural wonders, it is the most extensive reef system and the biggest structure made by living organisms on earth.

Great Ocean Road
This route along the south-western coast of Victoria is one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world. It winds around ragged cliffs, windswept beaches and tall bluffs, passing through lush rainforest and towering eucalypts.

Hobart is Australia's southernmost capital city. The fact that it is also the smallest is the key to its particular charm. A riverside city with a busy harbour, its mountain backdrop offers fine views over the beautiful Georgian buildings, numerous parks and compact suburbs below.

Many say that Hobart's history as a demonically harsh penal colony and the site of some of Australia's worst massacres of indigenous people lingers in the form of melancholy ghosts, lending an eerie chill to the idyllically peaceful honey-stoned colonial buildings and Irish-looking landscapes.

Melbourne is dubbed marvellous for a reason. Healthy hedonism masquerades as high art: Melburnians are equally passionate about football and ballet, nuts for fashion, munchy for restaurants, ravenous for music and hot for theatre. It's a smorgasbord of a city that invites you to take a bite.

Melbourne's easy-going pace is perfect for enjoying its gracious Victorian architecture, its green wealth of parks and gardens, and its many cultural highlights. Most of the city's main sights are just a short walk or tram-hop apart, with plenty of latte pick-me-up opportunities on the way.

Perth is a vibrant and modern city sitting between the cerulean Indian Ocean and the ancient Darling Ranges. It claims to be the sunniest state capital in Australia, though more striking is its isolation from the rest of the country - Perth is over 4400kms (2750mi) from Sydney by road.

Desert the cluttered rectangle of the city centre and go looking for the beauty that makes visitors fall for Perth: Indian Ocean beaches, hillside hideaways, romantic Fremantle, cosmopolitan Subiaco and the select, comfortable suburbs which fringe the Swan River.

Uluru is a site of deep cultural significance to the Anangu Aboriginals and the most famous icon of the Australian outback. The 3.6km (2.2mi) long rock rises a towering 348m (1141ft) from the pancake-flat surrounding scrub. It is especially impressive at dawn and sunset when the red rock spectacularly changes hue.

Alice Springs
'The Alice' is a pleasant modern town, smack in the middle of Australia and built on the banks of the usually-dry Todd River. At first appearance it's so civilised that it can be a real disappointment to those expecting saloons on every corner and colourful bush characters, but stick around and explore the area and you'll begin to appreciate the flavour of this desert community. The town was founded as a staging point for the overland telegraph line in 1870, although its growth has occurred only in the last 30 years. The road south to Adelaide was only fully sealed in 1987.

Barossa Valley
The Barossa Valley is arguably the best-known wine-producing region in Australia. It's a beautiful, well-tended area with over 50 wineries, most of which encourage casual visits for tasting and cellar sales. To fully appreciate the area, get off the main road and take the narrow backroads between settlements.

The gently sloping valley was settled in 1842 by German settlers fleeing religious persecution in Prussia and Silesia, and its distinct Germanic flavour remains.

The central town is Tanunda. Adelaide is just over an hour's drive to the south-west. Note that the least scenic time to visit is between July and October, because the vines are heavily pruned during the winter months. The busiest months are from March to May when the grapes are harvested.

There are several other wine-growing regions in the state, notably the south-eastern corner around Penola, Coonawarra and Padthaway; in the Clare Valley, north of the Barossa; and around McLaren Vale on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

This old pearling town's languorous pace, cosmopolitan atmosphere and easy-going tropical charm have made it a popular travellers' centre and a favoured spot for alternative lifestylers and urban burnouts. Broome has a distinctly Asian feel, partly because of its history as a pearling centre and partly because Perth, the state capital, is twice as far away as Indonesia. Nearby Cable Beach is now one of the most famous beaches in Australia, and the upmarket tourism promoted here has saved the town from the crasser Australiana flotsam that swamps most WA tourist towns. The major attractions in Broome are the small Chinatown, the 80-year-old open-air Sun Pictures Cinema, the Japanese cemetery, and the dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point. Broome is also popular with bird-watchers, with the Broome Bird Observatory on Roebuck Bay rating as one of Australia's top non-breeding grounds for migrant Arctic waders. Swimmers should beware of stinging jellyfish in the water between November and March.

Flinders Ranges
Rising from the northern end of Spencer Gulf, in the east of South Australia, and running north for 800km (500mi), the Flinders Ranges are, to many seasoned travellers, the epitome of outback Australia. It's a superb area for bushwalks, wildlife and taking in the ever-changing colours of the outback. In the far north, the mountains are hemmed in by sand ridges and barren salt lakes. The best-known feature of the range is the huge natural basin known as Wilpena Pound, which is ringed by 1000m (3280ft) high cliffs. Other attractions include Alligator Gorge in Mt Remarkable National Park, Brachina Gorge, and the ironstone capped ridge known as the Great Wall of China. Winter is probably the most pleasant time to visit, but the ranges are greenest and carpeted in wildflowers in spring. The most convenient towns are Quorn and Hawker.

Freycinet Peninsula
On Tasmania's beautiful east coast, the peninsula is part of the Freycinet National Park and features secluded beaches and coves, rare plant, bird and animal life and excellent bushwalks. A particularly popular walk is the return trek to Wineglass Bay. The park has several camp sites and lodges.

Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is one of the natural marvels of Australia. It encompasses a variety of superb landscapes, swarms with wildlife and has some of Australia's best Aboriginal rock art. This vast reserve is on the World Heritage list both for its natural and cultural importance.

Snowy Mountains
The Snowy Mountains are the highest section of Australia's Great Dividing Range. Kosciusko National Park covers most of the mountains and includes all of the state's ski resorts, rugged alpine scenery, caves, glacial lakes and forests. Although renowned as a winter playground, the park is also popular with bushwalkers in summer.

The ski resorts include Thredbo, Perisher Valley, Smiggins Hole and Mt Blue Cow. Mt Kosciusko is the highest peak at 2228m (7308ft). The main town in the region is Jindabyne, situated just outside the park boundary on the edge of a beautiful lake.

The Kimberley
The rugged Kimberley is one of Australia's last frontiers. A little-travelled and very remote area of great rivers, oases and magnificent scenery. It's the quintessential Australian landscape of red earth, rock, gumtrees, crocodiles, wallabies and blue skies. Attractions include the spectacular gorges on the Fitzroy River and Bungle Bungle (Purnululu) National Park.

Halls Creek is the largest town in the Kimberley. Derby, 220km (136mi) away at the mouth of the Fitzroy River, is a useful base for excursions into the area. The most popular time to visit is between April and September. Although the Wet (the rainy season in the north) offers ethereal thunderstorms and a magic carpet of wildflowers, rains make many roads impassable.

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