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9 Things To Do on Your First Trip to Sydney

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TPG Contributor Kathryn Romeyn reveals nine of the most compelling things to do as a first-timer in the photogenic city of Sydney, Australia.

Sydney, Australia, is one of those places that’s perennially and universally alluring. It’s unquestionably beautiful, clean and safe, an English-speaking destination — though not without its own attractive accent and charming slang — and is home to seemingly endless gorgeous beaches and fantastic weather. With the current exchange rate essentially translating to 25%-30% off everything for Americans, it’s a good idea for even the most budget-conscious travelers.

So where should your first trip to Sydney take you, exactly? The city has so much to offer it’s impossible to fit it all into the maiden voyage, but just to get you started, here are nine suggestions that virtually guarantee you’ll start planning a follow-up adventure — your second trip, by the way, should include a road trip to the mountains or Aussie wine country, since driving on the left side takes a little getting used to.

1. See the Sydney Opera House 

It may sound cliché, but you can’t travel all the way to Sydney without experiencing the Jørn Utzon–designed Sydney Opera House, which opened in 1973 after much architectural drama — you’ll get the full, fascinating story on the tour, trust me — and instantly became one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It’s hard to miss from the many vantage points around the city — you might even catch a glimpse of it as the plane lands — but it’s worth spending a little time learning about it or even taking in a show there since the interior is equally eye-catching. Having a glass of bubbly at the outdoor Opera Bar alongside the water is also a must.

A look at Sydney Harbour and the legendary Sydney Opera House.

2. Take Yourself Out to Eat

Melbourne gets a lot of the culinary acclaim in Oz, but Sydney has quite a fantastic food scene as well. It’s anchored by fine-dining favorites Quay, Rockpool, Sepia and The Bridge Room, which are fancy and appropriately pricy but well worth the splurge for gastronomes — the Chase Sapphire Preferred card lets you earn 2x points on travel and dining, so get ready to rake in those Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Countless more accessible and equally memorable meals can be had all over town including at The Apollo, Chiswick (there’s a location at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which is also worth a gander) and Watsons Bay Beach Club, known for its fish and chips. You’ll also find incredible Asian cuisine — modern Cantonese restaurant Mr. Wong, Japanese eatery Cho Cho San and innovative Australian-meets-Chinese hot spot Billy Kwong are three of my favorites.

Dishes at The Bridge Room are as stunning as they are delicious. Image courtesy of the author.

3. Get Up Close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Like Sydney’s monumental Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge — made of steel and opened in 1932 — is an impressive landmark worth checking out in person. You can stroll across it, climb up it — be warned: this is not an activity for the faint of heart or acrophobic — and ferry past, kayak or sail on the calm waters beneath it. The latter are exhilarating ways to experience the scale and beauty of Sydney Harbour and truly get a sense of just how much coastline the city has.

Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

4. Stroll Through The Royal Botanic Garden

Sydney isn’t all steel and concrete. It’s leafy, green, fresh and sweet-smelling thanks in large part to the nearly 75-acre park known as The Royal Botanic Garden, a downtown oasis alongside Sydney Harbour featuring grassy knolls and shady spots for picnics — you’ll also find countless types of flowers, plants, trees and public art installations. You can see why everyone in the city seems so fit, tanned and happy: they get to run around here during lunch.

5. Visit Koalas and Kangaroos

It doesn't get cuter than this. Image courtesy of the author.
It doesn’t get cuter than this. Image courtesy of the author.

On your first visit Down Under, seeing koalas and kangaroos in person should be a non-negotiable. Taronga Zoo is easily accessible via ferry and allows you the chance to ooh and ahh at these adorable indigenous species along with many others (lions, tigers and bears, oh my!). True animal lovers can even spend the night on the grounds in a safari-style tent as part of the zoo’s Roar and Snore program. And speaking of the ferry, Manly Beach, located not too far away in the northern Sydney suburbs, is another fun spot worth checking out.

6. Sunbathe at Bondi Beach

Bondi isn’t necessarily Greater Sydney’s most perfect beach, but it’s easily the most iconic. And with powdery sand and turquoise waters — plus additional parks like cute lifeguards and the much-photographed Olympic-sized swimming pool perched on its south end — it’s certainly not a bad example of Australia’s gorgeous coastline. Plan to spend the day sunbathing, people-watching and seeing the surfers do their thing. Venture over to Tamarama, lovingly nicknamed “Glamarama,” a more intimate, and oftentimes more topless, beach a bit more south.

The scene at Tamarama, aka Glamarama.The scene at Tamarama, also known as "Glamarama."
The scene at Tamarama, also known as “Glamarama.” Image courtesy of the author.

7. Walk from Bondi to Coogee

If you’re a photography fan or enjoy hiking, don’t miss the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, a clifftop path that extends 3.72 miles south from Bondi Beach past stunning sands, bays, rugged rocks and tide pools. There are lots of uneven steps, but overall it’s an easy-to-intermediate-level trek that’s absolutely breathtaking. Fitness junkies can run it and stop along the way to work out on equipment that dots the trail. Pause for a classic Aussie game of bowls (with a pint) at Clovelly Lawn Bowls Club before reaching Coogee Pavilion, a popular restaurant and rooftop pub at the end of the journey.

The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk curves around Tamarama on the way to Bronte. Image courtesy of the author.

8. Make Time For High Tea

Yes, Australia has its own distinct vibe, but it was once part of Great Britain, making traditional high tea a fun tradition to participate in. The Tea Room QVB, located in a former ballroom of the Queen Victoria Building downtown, offers finger sandwiches, petit fours and scones with clotted cream, served daily on tiered silver stands with Royal Albert China. Prices start at about $26 per person for morning tea and range from $33 each for traditional afternoon tea to $48 each for a Champagne afternoon tea.

9. Shop at the Markets

Weekends see food and shopping markets in quite a few neighborhoods like Bondi, where you can purchase passion fruit, artisanal popsicles, fresh-baked donuts, carefully brewed coffee and locally made clothing and jewelry. The cool suburb of Surry Hills also has a market one Saturday per month, and the one at The Rocks — Sydney’s oldest district — is the largest, happening every Saturday and Sunday with more than 150 vendors selling clothing, housewares, art and other curiosities that’ll make for great souvenirs.

A Final Tip

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Prestige cards never charge foreign transaction fees, making them ideal to use on vacations in foreign countries like Australia. Check out this article for more fee-free credit card options.

Have you ever been to Sydney? What other things would you add to this list?

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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