For years Sydney was a secret. Those who stumbled across it were astonished to find one of the most beautifully situated cities in the world. (Only Rio and San Francisco can match it.) They also discovered that Sydney had a lifestyle as sunny and easy going as California. But this lack of, attention also meant that Sydney retained a somewhat inward-looking attitude. Beach-life and beer were the main pastimes of Sydneysiders (as they like to call themselves). Sophistication was an ugly word.
To this day, Sydneysiders retain an essentially down-to-earth view of life. But that famed easygoing attitude, which resulted in a peculiarly restrictive mateyness, has now blossomed into a remarkable liberalism and broadness of taste. Nowadays, Sydney is renowned throughout the world as a great metropolis. The gayest city in the western Pacific (in every sense of the word), it also has a varied and sophisticated cultural life. Not for nothing is the city’s proud symbol its Opera House Sydney (www.sydneyoperahouse.com) which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Sydney is a big city, with a population of over 4 million. If you can, allow at least a week to explore its best places to visit including the beaches – and to recover from its hectic nightlife.
Sydney’s airport, Kingsford Smith Airport, is 8 km south of the city centre. A taxi into town, from the airport to the centre or to Kings Cross, costs around A$35 – 40, journey time around half an hour. It’s worth paying the extra if you’ve just endured a long-haul flight.
There are shuttle bus services available at the airport that should be booked in advance. The Airport Link train runs to Central Station and Circular Quay in central Sydney, tickets prices start at around $15 for one-way adult.
Buses run into town regularly No. 400 runs to Central Station and Circular Quay, 350 runs to T1 International and T3 Domestic Terminals. There is a regular shuttle service between the domestic and international terminals, which are at either end of the airport.
The sprawling city of Sydney is divided into two by the wide waterway known as Port Jackson. The two halves are linked at the city centre by the Sydney Harbour Bridge and by the Harbour Tunnel. The main sights, such as Opera House and the historic district known as The Rocks, are on the south shore in the centre of the city.
The best way to get around central Sydney is by bus (www.sydneybuses.info). Train services from Central Station and Circular Quay are the best way to see the suburbs.
If you want to see Sydney Harbour, head for Circular Quay, the terminal for all the main ferry services. These run to the north shore, to Darling Harbour and to many other shoreside destinations. You can also choose from a range of attractive harbour cruises starting at Circular Quay (www.transportnsw.info).
Sydney has the wide range of accommodation you’d expect, from top-of-the-range luxury hotels to backpacker hostels. Luxury accommodation is as good, and as expensive, as in any major metropolis. The backpacker hostels can look as if they were designed for the original convict arrivals. In between, prices tend to be rather higher than elsewhere in Australia, but in most places you can expect the usual friendly welcome and honest standards of accommodation. Prices rise during the summer, but there are often bargains to be had out of season.
The main focus for mid-and lower-price accommodation in central Sydney is Kings Cross and the nearby suburbs of Potts Point and Woolloomooloo. Be careful about choosing bargain accommodation in Kings Cross, as some of the cheaper spots can be a bit grim.
More reliable cheap accommodation is to be had in the suburbs. Try the seaside suburbs along the north shore, which are the most pleasant and least distant from the town centre. Bondi Beach, to the south-west of the city centre, also offers a wide range of seaside accommodation.
Neighbourhoods to avoid
Sydney is generally a safe city, but like any sophisticated metropolis it has its unsophisticated elements. A veneer of streetwise savvy is recommended.
Kings Cross is the wildest district in Sydney, with all kinds of entertainments. Inevitably, it’s a magnet for certain iron-heads.
Gay and racial abuse are not unknown, but are not the norm. Heavy drinking is a popular local hobby. Make sure that you know what you’re doing (and who you’re doing it with) before you get involved.
The main central tourist areas are safe at night, but avoid wandering off the beaten track. Just use common sense, and you’ll be fine.