With a boom in tourism and an emergence of multi-ethnic culture, Sydney has evolved incredibly over the past couple of decades. Coupled with an enviable temperate climate, Sydney enjoys the charm and vibe of many cosmopolitan cities from across the globe. Little surprise that today it is one of Australia's most popular international tourist destinations.
Following a friend's request, I asked Sydneysiders what they thought were the 10 best things about their city. Based on their views and votes, here's a random list of the most popular things and places that make Sydney unique:
A great way to explore Sydney's world-famous harbour is to take a ferry or cruise ride. Ferries run to and from Darling Harbour/Balmain East, Parramatta River, Woolwich/Balmain, Neutral Bay, Mosman, Rose Bay/Watsons Bay, Manly and Taronga Zoo. Ferries operate from morning to late evening so you can enjoy rides in sunshine or under the stars. Sydneysiders recommend it is the first thing all tourists must do. Why? For a touristy ride along.
The Sydney Opera House is arguably the most iconic structure in the city. It is listed as a World Heritage Site and forms the most popular performing arts centres in Australia and also the world. The Opera House is surrounded by water on three sides and sits at the edge of the central business district. It houses various performing art venues (the Concert Hall, the Opera Theatre, the Drama Theatre, the Playhouse, the Utzon Room, The Studio et al) and other facilities (recording studio, retail outlets, restaurants, cafes and bars). Why? To do what the city's cognoscenti do.
Harbour Bridge Climb For over a decade, the Harbour Bridge Climb has wooed thousands of adventure-seeking tourists. The tours are guided and run from morning to night. Bridge Climb is also an envy of other international cities as many popular bridges around the world (read the Golden Gate Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge) do not have this feature. If your health (and weather) permits, you must attempt this climb at least once. It'll be an out-of-this-world kind of an experience. Why? For the thrill and uniqueness of the experience.
Beaches Sydney enjoys the luxury of many fantastic beaches. The two most touristy beaches are Manly and Bondi. Jump on a ferry at Circular Quay to reach the Corso, a pedestrian street plaza adjoining Manly Beach. This popular beach is a haven for locals and tourists seeking to enjoy water sports or just hang around for fun. Famous for its surf, Bondi Beach draws thousands of tourists and locals to its shore every year. People-watching is as big an attraction for most as giant waves are for the surfers. Topped with the dazzle of chic bars, and swank restaurants (a few footprints from the shore) and eclectic streets, Bondi is one the coolest places in Sydney. The nearby Bondi Iceberg Swimming Pool is an absolute do-not-miss. Some of the other famous beaches include Coogee, Bronte, Tamarama (alias Glamarama) and Shelly. Why? No one needs a reason to hit the beach.
Panoramic views There are many ways to enjoy panoramic views of the city. A good way is to visit the Sydney Tower for a bird's eye view of the skyline. At the Skywalk, you can experience the thrill of walking at the highest roof top in the city. 'Walking in the air' couldn't get more literal than when you step on the glass-floored deck in the company of experienced guides. Another option is to visit the enclosed Observation Deck. It offers a 360 degrees view of the city and quaintly also houses southern hemisphere's highest working post box. For a more adventurous way to explore the city, take a scenic flight/helicopter ride. Check online for a competitive quote. A cheaper yet equally good option would be to take a ferry ride to or from Darling Harbour. Refer to the map to plan your trip. Though there are many lookout spots and locations that offer a good view of the skyline and city landmarks, Mrs Macquarie's Point is one of the most visited places for this reason. The lookout area offers a good view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Why? For a postcard image of Sydney.
Kiddie delights Sydney has a number of wonderlands for family fun. The three most popular places include: Taronga Zoo In 2009, Taronga Zoo was under a major media glare when an Asian elephant gave birth to the first Australian-born calf Luk Chai. Even today, the elephant is a major tourist attraction. The zoo dates back to 1916 and today it houses over 2500 animals. It is spread across 21 hectares and is one of the largest in zoos in the world. A trip to Taronga is recommended for people of all ages and sizes. Sydney Aquarium With over 11000 aquatic animals, it is a very popular family attraction. Explore the wonders of marine life behind glass walls. Walk into a glass tunnel and see sharks and countless varieties of fishes move around you. It is home to numerous bizarre yet delightful creatures, many rescued animals and dedicated exhibits. It is a wonderful place to enjoy the beauty of underwater fauna. Luna Park
Sometimes adults can become kids. Luna Park is one such place where the grown-ups shriek with delight as much if not more than the kids. Located across the harbour, this is one of the oldest amusement parks in the country. There are various rides designed for people of different age groups and adventure levels. Why? For unadulterated family fun.
The Strand Arcade
This late 19th century structure is part of Sydney's shopping centre history. The tinted glass ceiling, Victorian style architecture and dιcor have been tastefully restored to keep the olde worlde charm intact. While some stores have given way to new retail outlets, others like the Nut Shop and Strand Hatters have been trading for decades. The wide range of Australian designer outlets and specialty stores result in a unique shopping orbit. More than a century later, the Strand Arcade is a welcome change in the bustle of the modern city centre. Why? To explore Sydney's historic shopping centre.
Sydney Fish Market
If Anthony Bourdain considers this place a gem of Sydney's food culture, there must be something about it. SFM is one of world's largest seafood markets, retailing over 100 varieties of fresh seafood daily. It also serves as a venue for a range of food festivals and degustation events all year round. To try your culinary skills, head to the Sydney Seafood School (part of SFM) where you can enjoy cooking demonstrations and later be a MasterChef in your own like by recreating the dishes under expert guidance. Why? For the love of seafood.
Food at Spice I Am
Spice I Am
Let me drift a little from my thus far unbiased listing to mention a place that has earned the appreciation of many leading international reviewers, chefs and food critics. So no matter what you do, do not miss this super-popular Thai restaurant. The establishment started with a modest diner in Surrey Hills; gained immense popularity in a rather short time leading to the opening of a more refined restaurant in Darlinghurst the city's best Asian food zone. This is one of those places which take culinary experience to an entirely loftier level. Why? For lip-smacking Thai food.