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With its ample supply of sun and water, Sydney is the kind of place where you'll want to spend your entire day outside. I recently visited, and after a few days exploring this dynamic, fun-loving city, I found that these were a few of the best things to do in Sydney:
See some culture. During my visit in spring 2013, I caught an incredible performance of Carmen by Handa Opera staged on a temporary stage on the Sydney Harbour. The grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden were transformed into a Spanish taverna, where sparkling wine, tapas and coffee were served at kiosks and enjoyed on rustic barrel stools and tables before, during and after the show. The performance was outstanding, the setting incredible and the scene festive (guests came dressed to the nines). There is always a show taking place at the city's incomparable Opera House—worth a visit for the pre- and post-show views of the harbor and incredible acoustics alone.
Go to the beach. The ferry ride to the Sydney suburb of Manly is one of the city's cheapest and best ways to view its beautiful harbor. Boats leave every half hour from Circular Quay and drop you a quick stroll to the charming beach town's public beach. You can pick up a beach towel, sunscreen and just about anything you need at the many surf shops lining the town's main drag; in the afternoon, grab a quick lunch of tacos and fresh guacamole at Chica Bonita (Mexican food is newly trendy in Sydney) or take a seat overlooking the water inside the ferry terminal at the upscale Hugo's, where the Neopolitan-style pizzas come in nearly a dozen flavors and the wines by the glass list is extensive.
Explore the Royal Botanic Garden and The Domain. A massive stretch of greenspace that spans the city's central business district and harbor to the wharfs of Woolloomooloo, the Royal Botanic Garden and Domain is a peaceful place to spend an afternoon, with plenty of cafes for grabbing a quick bite. A path runs from the Opera House to Woolloomoolloo and makes a great stretch for jogging. Consider lunch at the Andrew (Boy)Charleton municipal pool—the onsite cafe serves bistro style dishes like burgers and chicken milanese in a contemporary setting overlooking the pool, which in turn overlooks the water. Entrance to the pool will set you back only $6, and provide a unique spot for sunning or lounging.
There's so much to do in this city, but if you only had time to do six things while you're here, do the ones listed below.
Bondi to Coogee Walk: This leisurely 10-km long stretch covers Sydney’s six white sandy beaches, giving you the opportunity to take a dip in the ocean at every beach. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the way for fuelling.
Manly Ferry Ride: This 40-minute ferry ride starts from Circular Quay and gives you the view of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Fort Denison, several waterside suburbs and secluded sandy beaches. Sit on the outside of the ferry for the best views (not if you’re prone to sea-sickness, however).
Harbour BridgeClimb at Twilight: This exciting experience takes 31/2 hours to complete and provides the most beautiful views of the cityscape. You climb over ladders, arches and catwalks under all weather conditions and don't stress, it's extremely safe.
Chinese Garden of Friendship: Located just off Chinatown at the south end of Darling Harbour, these gardens take you on a trip to ancient China, minus the jet lag. There are beautiful pieces of Chinese architecture that blend in with the elements of nature; an experience that leaves you serene and calm.
Spit to Manly hike: A secret amongst locals in the area, this hike starts from the Spit bridge through till the famous Manly beach. This 10-km long hike will give you the chance to discover Sydney’s most quintessentially secret beaches and provide the best lookout points. This hike is not to be missed!
Open-air cinema: This Summer-only activity is perfect for a date night while on a holiday. Imagine a picnic basket, a glass of wine and the latest blockbuster movie on a big screen under the stars. What’s not to love?
Spending the day outdoors in Sydney is the number one thing to do while you're visiting. The city has so much to offer in terms of losing yourself in the different suburbs, basking in the sun while visiting Sydney's many sites, and beyond.
Wander the City
One of the best things about Sydney is how it’s broken up into different districts. Traveling between suburbs is often just a walk down the street or a bus ride away, so you can easily discover and explore. A few blocks from Town Hall, you’ll find Sydney’s Chinatown where you can dine on some of the best (some may say THE best) Asian cuisine outside of Asia. Or hit Sydney’s Inner West where the young, exciting Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Newtown neighborhoods live. Here, the streets are dotted with cool cafes, hip bars and trendy shops.
Dive into Manly Beach
Travel even further into Sydney’s suburbs, and grab a ferry to the North Shore. Hop on at Circular Quay, direction Manly to indulge in a sightseeing trip of the coast as you head to gorgeous Manly Beach for a day. While there, explore The Corso, which features seaside restaurants, gourmet ice cream and bars with a view.
Picnic in the Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens just past Circular Quay are not to miss. From succulents to fragrant roses, wander the paths leading to a variety of gardens and ponds that attract extraordinary birds native to Australia like the cockatoo, ibis and lorikeet. Grab some eats and head to the enchanted gardens for a picnic in the sun.
Sydney has a great variety of bars, and some of the best restaurants in the world. Plan a night out on the town by reserving a table at Marque in Surry Hills or Quay in The Rocks – the top restaurants on the 2013 Australian Good Food and Travel Guide Chef Hat Award winners’ list – then head to the elegant Rockpool on George with its impressive wine list or to the speakeasy-style Palmer & Co. where you can sip on prohibition era cocktails.
There’s no shortage of excitement waiting for you in Sydney. It’s cosmopolitan and features great architecture as well as gorgeous beaches, culture and history. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the best things to do in Sydney:
1. Visit the Opera House. Since it opened in 1973, the Sydney Opera House has become an Aussie icon. But it's more impressive close up, thanks to its sheer size and detail, and the interior is almost as beautiful as the gleaming exterior. The complex actually houses several theaters, showing not just opera but theater, ballet, studio plays, and live music.
2. Tour the Australian Museum. This outstanding natural history museum is well worth a visit. The Aboriginal history section is excellent and deeply affecting, and the biodiversity exhibits are a great introduction to the continent's unique plant and animal life.
3. Stroll the Royal Botanic Gardens. Located downtown on the site of Australia's first farm, these gardens are the oldest scientific site in the country. Nearly 75 acres, the gardens have large ponds, and the trees are home to interesting-to-watch species like the migrating flying fox bats and black-and-white ibis.
4. Relax on Bondi Beach. The quintessential Australian beach, Bondi is packed when the weather is nice as it’s a popular spot for swimming, surfing, and sunbathing. The lifeguards are some of the world's best, and position flags show swimmers where the current is safe for swimming each day.
5. Watch live sports. Australians love sports, and Sydney boasts several outstanding teams. Both league and union style rugby are popular, as are cricket, soccer, Australian rules football, and professional basketball. Sydney sports crowds are a lot of fun, and the quality of play is excellent.