Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published April 23rd 2012
The Sydney Opera House
Sydney is Australia's most popular tourist destination, and with good reason. The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House are known throughout the world, and attached to their names in a spectacular act of product placement is the name of their city – the largest city in Australia. If you're travelling overseas, tell a foreigner you're Australian and they'll puff their chest out, adopting a knowledgeable air. "I know about Australia," they'll say. "I've been to Sydney."
Out of the Opera House and the Bridge, the more famous is the Sydney Opera House: an impossible-to-forget piece of architecture and recipient of the coveted Pritzker Prize. Despite being designed by Jørn Utzon, a Danish architect, it's been called a symbol not just for Sydney but for the whole of Australia. The roof, of course, is a series of nested concrete "shells", set on a 1.8 hectare podium, and went through at least twelve prototypes before the engineers found a design that wouldn't collapse, killing most of the almost six thousand patrons the Opera House can seat at full capacity.
Paradoxically, it's one of those buildings that's more interesting (and certainly more famous) on the outside than the inside. While concerts might be expensive for visitors, taking photos from the harbour is free, and totally legal – at least under current anti-terrorism laws.
Visible from the Sydney Opera House is the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, which covers over a kilometre of ground and is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world. In aerial views of Sydney it's probably the most prominent landmark, sitting as it does over the still blue water of the harbour. In typical irreverent Australian fashion, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is nicknamed "The Coathanger".
A picture of the bridge climbers, taken by John O'Neill.
The bridge is a central feature of Sydney's spectacular New Year's Eve celebrations, when it is hung with lights and used in the fireworks display. You can also pay for a unique tour of the bridge, called BridgeClimb, where you mount the southern half of the arch, ascending on the eastern side and descending on the western side. Tours take three and a half hours, and the view from the top of the bridge is predictably good. However, if it's just a view you're after, there are better options, like…
Sydney Tower goes by many names: Sydney Tower Eye, AMP Tower, Westfield Centrepoint Tower, or Centrepoint. It's over three hundred metres tall, and boasts the tallest observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere (although the tallest observation tower is the Sky Tower in Auckland). From the Sydney CBD, it looks rather precarious, since the top sections of the tower are supported by a much smaller central column and a network of spider-like cables.
There's a (very expensive) restaurant, a venue area that you can rent for your corporate event or birthday party if you're incredibly rich, and an observation deck with surprisingly affordable tickets. Better yet, on the off chance that Sydney has some poor weather when you're up there, you'll get a free ticket for the observation deck, to be used within seven days.
Luna Park in Sydney is one of the two Luna Parks in Australia, and it's hard to decide which one is more creepy. The Luna Park in Melbourne has a more creepy entrance, hands-down: the traditional gigantic face (where the mouth is replaced by a door) wears a haunted thousand-yard stare, and its skin is ghostly white. The Sydney Luna Park entrance is manic, with pink cheeks, intense eyes and a top row of even teeth. It's an improvement, barely.
Luna Park has been open since 1935 and, despite a few closures in the 80's and a horrible accident in the late 70's, is still open today. It's got fourteen rides, including a roller coaster, and is open seven days a week during the school holidays. If your children are bored by bridge tours and opera houses, Luna Park is guaranteed to interest them (perhaps at the cost of your sanity.)
This list is by nature incomplete – visiting these four places won't give you an intimate knowledge of Sydney. It will, however, protect you from insufferable fellow-tourists, who will scoff at you on the plane or train back home if you haven't visited the Sydney Harbour Bridge or ascended Centrepoint Tower. If you know a Sydney attraction that's a little more obscure, tell us about it in the comments. There's certainly no shortage of candidates.