I’ve always had a weakness for seaside cities. Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Reykjavik– it’s definitely a Nordic thing to place important cities by vast water. Of course for historical reasons this has stemmed from a need for an access to trade. These days the seaside cities flourish maybe more because of something very unique that they offer – a feel for space, infinity, unruliness and freedom which often lag from the modern life.
Being by the sea has always offered to me a moment to feel these things and I seek to travel to the sea as often as I can. This is for much amusement of my boyfriend who thinks I should stay away from the sea as I can get sea sick and I’m hopeless at swimming.
Sydney is known to be one of the world’s most glorious seaside cities so I had no doubt that I would love it even before I arrived. I surely wasn’t disappointed. Our 7-day stay in Sydney was fun-packed with beach walks, city sophistication, ferries across bays, foodie finds and the most amazing New Year’s Eve party I’ve ever been to.
In this blog post I’m sharing my Sydney experience and my 10 must dos.
- The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney
What makes the Royal Botanic Garden so special is its stunning surroundings by Sydney Harbour and the Central Business District (CBD). We loved walking through the thirty hectare large greenery spotting magnificent trees, varied plants and interesting architectural landmarks: The Museums & Galleries of New South Wales, the Government House, the distant skyscrapers of CBD, the ABC Pool and, of course, the grand Sydney Opera House, which stands by the Queensgate leading up to the Garden.
- The Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is obviously the most iconic landmark of the city. But not only that, it is also a breathtakingly beautiful building in a superb harbour setting. Seeing for the first time its soaring white roof of shell shaped sails was very memorable. Exploring the building from different angles made us appreciate how multi-faceted construct it is.
It was also worthwhile to take the time for an one-hour tour of the Opera House. We learnt about the history of the architectural triumph: Danish Jorn Utzon designed the complex construct after winning an international architectural competition in the 1950s. The tour took us inside the two main concert halls where we were lucky to witness rehearsals, learn about the evening’s programme and marvel at the interiors which are very quintessentially Nordic. All spaces were very thoroughly thought through with beautiful wooden panelling covering all the walls.
After the tour it was lovely to stop by the Opera Bar for a drink and people watching.
- Harbour Bridge, Pylon Lookout and the Rocks
From the Opera Bar it was convenient to carry on our city tour towards the Rocks which is the oldest part of Sydney. We had a quick bite to eat at the Pancakes on the Rocks, a famous Sydney institution. Then we climbed up to the Pylon Lookout to marvel at the magnificent sea view. I would have loved to do the Harbour Bridge climb but the steep cost of AUD$300 per ticket made the Pylon Lookout a much better option for the purse (entrance is AUD$13). Besides the viewing deck is almost at the same height as the climb takes you.
To get another glance of a magnificent view, we went up the Observatory Hill Park. 360 degree panoramic views of Sydney skyline and a magnificent view of the Harbour Bridge for free.
- Pyrmont and Sydney Fish Market
We stayed in 1888 Hotel in Pyrmont which was a good spot for visiting Sydney Fish Market and ‘Star’ Casino. 1888 Hotel was named by Conde Nast Traveller magazine as one of World’s Best New Hotels 2014 and in our opinion the hotel was very cool with industrial chic decoration, young and friendly staff and tasty brunch menu. Yes, our room was small but in terms of value for money in a big city we don’t think we could have found anything better.
In Pyrmont it was also fantastic to be so close to the Sydney Fishmarket. We managed to enjoy two seafood brunches there. After exploring the various fish counters we picked our choice of a king crab which the market’s chefs prepared for us there and then. Their fresh sushi was also to die for. For once sushi was made with more fish than rice!
Pyrmont is also known for its gambling. We gave a miss to the actual casino but the ‘Star’ shopping centre was worth a visit. I particularly liked Adriano Zumbo patisserie for cakes, Sokyo restaurant for sushi and great cocktails and Antidote café for nice flat whites and cinnamon buns.
Several years ago when a few of my colleagues from my first employer in London moved to Sydney for work, I watched enviously their Facebook updates of daily commutes between Sydney CBD and Manly across the sea by a ferry. Their life in Sydney appeared to be such a contrast to my stressful London existence and daily battles for a seat in the tube. So, when in Sydney I absolutely wanted to experience this ferry.
Manly is worthy of a visit even just for the sake of this ferry ride which passes by the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and the Botanic Gardens after taking off from Circular Quay. Smelling the fresh sea breeze and spotting some of Sydney’s unique attractions such as Luna Park, Taronga Zoo and famous bays like Watsons Bay was enough for me to have also a few thoughts about changing my London scenery to somewhere like Sydney.
When embarking in Manly it is hard to believe that you are only a 15 minute Manly fast ferry ride away from Sydney’s CBD. Joggers and dog walkers enjoy 15 kilometre long coastal walk, surfers catch waves on Manly beach and kids have fun in their swimming lessons or playing in the sand.
It is easy to believe that the lifestyle in Manly is very good. For residents and visitors it offers a breather from Sydney’s city life, opportunity to enjoy a beach day or to have a fun afternoon or evening in one of Manly’s fine drinking establishments. Just remember to catch a ferry back to the mainland as a taxi or bus from Manly takes a lot longer than you think.
- Surry Hills
On one of our first mornings in Sydney we made our way to Surry Hills for breakfast at Bills. Everything about this place was spot on for a brunch/breakfast experience. Varied brunch menu without forgetting the basics, great selection of healthy juices (‘greens’ anyone?), smiley service and a breezy breakfast room. Maybe it was the bright sun getting into my head but I don’t think avocado, lime and chili flakes never tasted any better.
I have since been to Granger & Co in London which is Bills founders’ London venture. I think there is some truth to the notion that the environment defines largely your foodie experience. Without the sunshine, Granger & Co in London doesn’t quite reach the excitement I had for the place in Sydney (although it’s still very good)!
Surry Hills was a great neighbourhood – cool, relaxed place with numerous shops, cafes and restaurants to keep you enjoying yourself and wanting to come back.
Talking about cool neigbourhoods, I also very much enjoyed visiting Paddington, a home to a cool shopping area, grand Victorian era terraces and upmarket restaurants. Take a turn to Queens Street, too, which is a quieter road with several art galleries, cafes and a further set of interesting shops.
- Bondi Beach and Coastal walks
I got immediately hooked into the lifestyle of Bondi Beach. We stayed one night in the area in Adina Appartment Hotel which was a good spot for living a moment of Bondi’s lifestyle of health, yoga, surf and chill.
The coastal walk from Bondi to Googee was one of the highlights. The views were incredible as you were able to marvel at picture perfect beaches from top of cliftops and watch daring surfers catch big waves that hit the shore forcefully.
Being close to the sea also meant that seafood restaurants were never too far. We particularly liked a place called North Bondi Fish.
9. Nielson’s Park walk
One of my favourite days in Sydney was the coastal walk we did from Rose Bay to Watson’s Bay. The walk took us past several beautiful and quiet beaches such as Nielson’s Park and provided amazing viewing spots to marvel at Sydney’s impressive skyline.
We finished our walk in Watson’s Bay where we found one of the best places for a pint of prawns and a refreshment – Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel. The restaurant was spilling of Sydney glamour – a sandy shoreline of Watsons Bay, unobstructed panoramic views of sparkling Sydney Harbour from a quiet, exclusive enclave, timeless furnishing, beautiful people and delicious but simple seafood dishes. We could’ve easily spent the entire afternoon just there.
10. NYE Party
Many people say that the New Year’s Eve is pointless as it forces everyone to party just for the sake of it. I couldn’t disagree more. The way you start your year in some level defines the tone for the next 365 days.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been dreaming about a glamorous New Year’s Eve, and most importantly about a hot one! The idea of being able to dress up nicely and slip into high heels just feels a lot more appropriate for an end of the year party than spending it in spitting rain in London or in deep snow in Finland. That’s why, I was so happy that we were able stretch our stay in Sydney over to the New Year’s Day.
NYE in Sydney was going to be one of my once in a lifetime experiences, so not just any party would have done it. After a lot of looking around we found a party called NYE At The House which was organised not anywhere else but in the Sydney Opera House!
Tickets to the party did cost an eye-watering amount but we definitely got what we paid for. Our glasses were full of champagne at all times, tasty canapés were served in abundance, music was sophisticated with some live performances, too. The best of all was the venue. The party spilled into one of the terraces of the Opera House looking over to the Harbour Bridge and as such was the best place one could hope for to witness the New Year’s 9pm and midnight fireworks. I have always liked fireworks and it was like a dream come true to see this world famous display live.
My eternal romance with seaside cities has been now accompanied by a new entrant, Sydney. Memories from the beautiful city are going to take a while to fade away. If only this city wasn’t so far from Europe, so our long distance relationship could develop to something much more…
What about you? Is there a type of city that you always keep back to?
139 Murray St, Pyrmont, Sydney, NSW 2009
Tel: +61 2 8586 1888
Pancakes on the Rocks
4 Hickson Road, The Rocks, Sydney
Phone: +61 2 9247 6371
Bank St & Pyrmont Bridge Road, Sydney, NSW 2009
Adriano Zumbo Patisserie
The Star, Shop 1, Cafe Court, 80 Pyrmont Street, Sydney, NSW 2009
The Star, Shop 1, Cafe Court, 80 Pyrmont Street, Sydney, NSW 2009
359 Crown Street , Surry Hills, NSW 2010
Tel: + 61 2 9360 4762
Adina Apartment Hotel
69-73 Hall Street Bondi Beach , Sydney New South Wales 2026, Australia
Tel: +61 2 9300 4800
Watson’s Bay Hotel
1 Military Road, Watsons Bay, Sydney
North Bondi Fish
120 Ramsgate Avenue, North Bondi, Sydney
Tel: +61 2 9130 2155
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