Imagine a glimmering, youthful city like San Francisco or Cape Town, built around water, with hundreds of bays and 37 beaches – that’s Sydney. And add a cosmopolitan vibe, sophisticated, athletic, loveable Aussies, safe bike paths and a world class culture to the mix. Let me share my recent discoveries of how to visit Sydney on a short time frame.
Go Climb a Bridge – One of the World’s Top Adrenaline Rush Experiences
Literally, you may never have the chance again to climb four flights of stairs, on a walkway that is an open grid that lets you look straight down to traffic and open water below. I found that I was compelled to look down-so there was a certain rush of recklessness walking along. And I loved it. From the highest point, at 440’ above Sydney Harbor, you have the best birds-eye view of all the bays, sliding sailboats and the iconic Opera House.
But I was not alone. In the 15 years since it opened, 3.2 million dare-devils have climbed the largest single arch steel bridge in the world. In fact, four thousand couples have become engaged on the bridge and there have been twenty weddings. Although extensive safety precautions are taken, and you are roped in, it’s not for the faint of heart or those with vertigo.
Your two feet or a bike are the best way to navigate the city. I stayed at the historic Harbour Rocks boutique hotel, built of wood and bricks and decorated with leather in the historic Rocks neighborhood. Next door I rented a bike for a half day tour with a personable and knowledgeable guide. The tour gave me a great overview of the city. We pedaled by the Sydney Harbor next to the yachts, the Opera House, Darling Harbour, the Royal Botanic Gardens (including the Flying Foxes), Hyde Park, the Anzac War Memorial, Chinatown, Sydney Tower, Parliament House, Queen Victoria Building and the Museum of Contemporary Art. We only rode on streets with traffic about 10% of the time, and I was amazed how “bike-friendly” Sydney is.
Bondi Beach is the most famous of Sydney’s 37 stretches of sand. And it’s certainly one of the best – a mecca for surfers, sun-bathers, and as of late, café-goers. Bondi has recently morphed into a hotel and restaurant hotspot, with restaurants like North Bondi Fish providing a perch for some of the world’s best people-watching. I also highly recommend a ferry ride to Manley, world renown for surfing championships. “Move over Malibu” was my thought as I goggled at the luxury, modern homes along the beach and in cozy, quiet neighborhoods.
A Bit of Culture
No doubt you’ve laid eyes on an image of the Sydney Opera House – a waterfront theater topped by semi-circular domes that jut dramatically into the Sydney sky. The opera house is a World Heritage Listed Building, for good reason. I waited too late to get tickets because, here’s the glitch: tickets to performances here can be very hard to come by. Shows routinely sell out.
The Backstage Tour is a must for anyone interested in or associated with theater. At 7:00 am. I joined a small group and learned all the fascinating intricacies – like trap doors and scenery changes – of back stage logistics. I stood on the grand stage where Bocelli sang to a full house of 1,500 admirers who, all paid $800 a ticket. I visited the dressing rooms where stars from Joan Sutherland to Byonce prepared to go onstage.
As we meandered through the back hallways we passed dozens of hanging tutus, bags of ballet slipper and grand pianos. On a wooden panel next to the entrance to the stage we saw lipstick kiss marks – left for good luck– by stars such as Liza Minnelli as they awaited their cues to go on stage. And I waved the conductor’s baton and led an imaginary orchestra standing at the podium in the tiny orchestra pit. We finished the tour with breakfast in the Green Room as our guide entertained us with true stories about the stars and mishaps of the theaters.
To get tickets to the opera, ballet, jazz, and classical musical performances – all of which take place here – my best advice is to buy your tickets even before you book your flight to Australia.
The food and wine scene in Sydney is sophisticated and sensational. Read here about my favorite food finds.