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For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Debbie Emery takes us Down Under, to a city that has blossomed from the first British colony in Australia into a bustling international metropolis, combining stunning natural scenery with a lively cultural scene. We are going to Sydney, Australia.
First established in 1788 as a penal colony for wayward criminals – some for crimes as minor as petty theft – in Sydney Cove, the backbone of the city was created by British and Irish convicts who built roads, bridges, wharves and public buildings. By the 1830s and 40s, ships full of immigrants began arriving of their own free will from the motherland and Sydney was declared the first town in Australia in 1842. The subsequent gold rush led to rapid urban development and by the beginning of the 20th century the population had boomed to over a million people.
More recently, Sydney experienced a modern resurgence with the 2000 Summer Olympics, which cost the city $6.6 billion AUD, although the mass construction of sporting venues that are not useful beyond their immediate function and subsequent infrastructure issues have been a bone of contention with some Sydneysiders.
What to Do
Sydney boasts a rare blend of bustling nightlife and culture with proximity to some of the world’s most exotic wildlife and a gorgeous coastal setting, so even if you are not venturing to the Outback you will still have a chance to get up close and personal with Australia’s native animals.
No visit to Sydney is complete without a trip over the Harbour Bridge, nicknamed ‘The Coathanger’ because of its arch-based design. Stretching from Millers Point in The Rocks to Milsons Point in the lower North Shore, the bridge has a total length of 3,770 feet and a peak height of 161 feet. Construction was completed on the iconic landmark in 1932, and it has since become the subject of millions of tourist snapshots and postcards. Along with crossing by road, bike, rail or foot, a fun way to tackle the structure is a bridge climb, which was made legal for tourists to do in 1998. The best and safest way is to do a tour by BridgeClimb, a group that offers a variety of experiences such as climbs during the fireworks display of the International Fleet Spectacular, dawn or twilight climbs, or for couples really wanting to take the plunge, the Wedding Climb. Prices start at $148 AUD (about $110) and vary depending on time of day and type of climb.
One of Sydney’s many historical gems is The Rocks, northwest of the CBD and on the southern shore of the harbor. Originally known as a slum and then dominated by gangs during the late 19th century, the urban area was redeveloped in the 1970s and has been greatly gentrified, but the valuable heritage sites have been preserved. Today, The Rocks is an eclectic area filled with Aboriginal art galleries, dance theaters, bike tour companies and shops offering everything from souvenirs to fine jewelery made from local rare black opals. The eating options are as expansive as the shopping, and you can choose to picnic under the stars overlooking the bridge or enjoy fine dining at the Altitude Restaurant and Bar at the Shangri-La Hotel. For a lively night out, The Argyle is housed in a historical building that is now a trendy bar.
On Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-5pm, a bustling market fills the area, selling dresses and bags designed by stallholders, one-off jewellery, original artworks and prints. Friday markets are dedicated to foodies, with endless mouthwatering choices from wraps and bread, to BBQ and burgers, authentic Australian produce and delectable desserts such as Mini Monet Cupcakes, Giorgi’s Gelato and handmade chocolates. The Rocks is a short walk from the CBD, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, or you can get a bus or train to Circular Quay.
Another must-do is a visit to the Opera House, whether viewing it from the outside in passing, or inside watching a performance in the Concert Hall, which is home to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Stage productions are also performed in the smaller venues of the Drama Theatre, the Playhouse, and The Studio. Since it opened in 1973, the Opera House has become one of the busiest performing arts centers in the world, hosting over 1,500 performances each year attended by some 1.2 million people. An easier – and cheaper – way to experience the Opera House is at the Opera Bar, located on the Lower Concourse and described as ‘the best beer garden in the world.’ Enjoy a drink or a light meal, soak in the incredible view, and listen to free live music every night.
Sydney’s most iconic beach is Bondi, which is home to many locals and is also popular with ex-patriot Brits and backpackers. Located four miles east of the CBD and stretching almost a mile in length, Bondi Beach has two safety ratings – the northern end is a 4 and deemed safer swimming, while the southern end, also dubbed as the ‘Backpackers’ Express’ because of its proximity to the bus stop and the unwillingness of tourists to walk the length of the beach, is a 7 because of a notorious rip current, and is generally reserved for surfing. There is also an underwater shark net that is shared with other beaches during the summer months.
The area’s historic Bondi Surf Bather’s Life Saving Club dates back to 1907 and members are credited for inventing the surf and reel and many other staples of lifesaving. During the winter months they were determined to stay fit so founded the Bondi Icebergs Winter Swimming Club, and their famous – and since updated – lap pools are located on the edge of the ocean. Today, Bondi attracts some of the fittest athletes in Sydney who run, lift, swim, surf or skate around the famous boardwalk.
If you want to enjoy the sights at a more leisurely pace, try the Bondi to Tamarama cliff walk, which begins at the bottom of Notts Avenue near the Icebergs pool and drops down into a waterfront walking track in between rocky overhangs and crossing gullies. Keep an eye out for surviving Aboriginal rock engravings of sharks and whales before the path sweeps around the cove up towards Mackenzies Bay. For two weeks at the end of every October, the path is home to Sculpture By The Sea, where over 100 sculptures by local artists are exhibited along the path creating a natural art gallery that is visited by over 500,000 each year.
A little off the beaten track for some tourists but well worth a visit is Manly Beach, in the northern area of the city. The best way to get there is by boat, and traveling to Manly from Sydney’s main ferry terminal, Circular Quay, takes 30 minutes by ferry. After a day of sunbathing on the wide stretches of sand, take a wander down the Corso, a pedestrian plaza and one of Manly’s main streets for shopping and dining that runs from the ferry wharf across the peninsular. For ferry times, ticket prices, and Jump On Jump Off flexible tickets, visit the Manly Fast Ferry information site.
The WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo centre at Darling Harbour is located conveniently close to many of the major hotels and is home to Australia’s friendliest and most ferocious creatures, from cuddly Koalas and snarling Tasmanian Devils to Rex, a 5 meter, 120 kg saltwater crocodile from the Kakadu Gorge in the Northern Territory. A single visit ticket costs $38 AUD ($33) or book online for $24 AUD ($21.40). The center is open daily from 9am-5pm (last entry is 4pm). The autumn and winter timetable will be in effect until October 5th, 2013, from then until March summer hours are in affect and last entry is at 7pm. You can also buy a combination pass for entry to up to 5 of Sydney’s best visitor attractions on one pass. Attractions included are WILD LIFE Sydney, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Tower Eye, Madame Tussauds Sydney and Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary, save an extra 10% when you buy online. Click here for details. Sydney’s Taronga Zoo is also a great spot to spend a day with the kids and a short ferry ride across the harbor from Circular Quay, with stunning city views and entertaining exhibits and shows.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Sydney (Kingston Smith) Airport (SYD) is one of the oldest continuously operated airports in the world and the busiest in Australia. Another fun fact? The area was originally a bullock paddock.
The latest expansion of the international terminal is currently underway and will continue in phases until 2025, including the construction of a multi-level car park, the expansion of both international and domestic terminals. Sydney Airport’s International terminal underwent a $500 million renovation that was completed in mid-2010. The upgrade includes a new baggage system, an extra 78,577 sq ft of space for shops and passenger waiting areas and other improvements. The International Terminal is separated from the other two by a runway, therefore connecting passengers need to allow longer for transfers, but there is a shuttle service costing $5.50 AUD ($4.90).
Qantas is the main carrier here and flies nonstop from Los Angeles and Dallas and connects to various US cities via its Oneworld partner, American. Virgin Australia and Delta also fly from Los Angeles, and United flies from Los Angeles and San Francisco nonstop. Other international airlines regularly servicing the airport include: Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, JAL, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and more.
The airport is about 10 miles from the central business district and Darling Harbour, taking around 20 minutes. Avis, Hertz, Budget, Thrifty and Redspot all rent from there. Taxis cost approximately $45-55 AUD ($40-49) to the city center. A $3.75 airport toll is payable by all passengers taking a taxi from any of Sydney Airport’s taxi ranks.
To get to the city by train, the Airport Link runs approximately every 10 minutes and the journey and takes only 13 minutes. The international and domestic rail stations link directly to the City Circle which means most city destinations are within a short walk of stations. Single one-way tickets start at $15.90 AUD ($14.10).
Sydney Buses has a timetabled service, route 400, between Bondi Junction and Burwood with stops at both International (T1) and Domestic (T3) Terminals. Clearly marked bus stops are located on the arrivals level outside each of these terminals. For information on prices and timetables, click here.
Radisson Blu Plaza: This five-star boutique property features a distinctive 1800’s sandstone facade. The property has 336 guest rooms and suites with flatscreen TVs, WiFi access and either granite or marble bathrooms. Guests who reserve a Business Class room have access to the Business Class lounge which is located on the 10th floor and features a complimentary hot buffet breakfast, daytime refreshments as well as canapés and drinks in the evening. Guests have access to the 15-metre indoor pool, spa, steam room, and fitness center. The hotel’s main restaurant is Bistro Fax Restaurant & Bar, which is open for breakfast lunch and dinner. Room rates start at $265 AUD ($240) per night in September. This is a Carlson Category 6 hotel and requires 50,000 Gold Points for an award night.
The Radisson Hotel and Suites Sydney is another Club Carlson property and requires 50,000 Gold Points for an award night.
Hilton Sydney Hotel: Located in the heart of the central business district, this 577-room hotel features in-room WiFi for a fee, flatscreen TVs, MP3 players, complimentary coffee and tea, and large work desks. The Relaxation Room category and a range of suites boast additional rest areas, plasma TVs and a luxurious bathroom with walk-in shower and spa bath – usually with amazing city views. The LivingWell Health Club is one of the largest hotel gyms in Sydney and features high-tech Precor cardio equipment, Spin, Yoga, Pilates, Zumba and Les Mills classes, as well as a 25m swimming pool with spa, saunas and steam rooms. Alysium Day Spa offers massage, facial and body work treatments. The five dining options include Glass Breakfast offering views of the Queen Victoria Building from a vast floor to ceiling window, and Glass Brasserie featuring local fare from celebrity chef Luke Mangan. Room rates start at $339 AUD ($306) per night in September. This is a Category 8 property requiring 60,000 HHonors points for a free night in September.
Park Hyatt Sydney: Following an extensive transformation, the recently reopened Park Hyatt boasts beautifullyh designed guest rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that open onto private balconies overlooking the Rocks and Sydney Harbour. The hotel is located in the historical Rocks district and houses work by Australian artists including sculptors, painters and photographers. The 155 redesigned guest rooms feature naturally-textured fabrics, plush carpets, designer lighting and technology such as WiFi, a 40-inch flatscreen TV, Bose sound system, Nespresso coffee maker and round-the-clock butler service. The spa is home to five intimate treatment rooms, relaxation room, steam room, rooftop heated pool, cabanas and spa, and a fitness center. The simply-named restaurant options are The Dining Room, The Living Room and The Bar. Room rates start at $820 AUD ($737) per night in September. This is a Category 6 requiring 22,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points.
InterContinental Sydney: Overlooking Sydney Harbour, the 509 guest rooms and 28 suites at this IHG property feature WiFi at a fee of $25 AUD ($22 – expensive, but typical for Australia), cable/satellite TV, bathrobe and slippers, and a work desk with lamp. Executive rooms also have a wraparound outdoor terrace and views of the Harbour, breakfast, all day light refreshments and twilight drinks. The hotel features a business center, Odyssey Health Club with a heated pool and sauna, and the Odyssey Massage spa with a variety of treatments including relaxation, remedial, deep tissue, sports, reflexology & shiatsu. The Meat and Wine Co serves African-inspired cuisine, Cafe Opera has a French inspired a la carte fine dining menu or a buffet option, and Cortile is a sun-lit courtyard lounge that is perfect for tea. Room rates start at $339 AUD ($306) per night in September. This is a Category 9 property requiring 50,000 points for a free night.
Other IHG properties in Sydney are, Holiday Inn Darling Harbour, a modern property on the southern end of Sydney’s entertainment precinct, as well as Holiday Inn Potts Point Sydney, Holiday Inn Old Sydney, Holiday Inn Sydney Airport – which has easy access to the airport’s international terminals, Crowne Plaza Norwest and Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach.
Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay: Overlooking the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour, this property features 518 rooms and 45 suites. Guest rooms feature all the modern amenities such as 42-inch flatscreen televisions and in-room internet access. Executive Level guests have access to the executive lounge which serves a complimentary continental breakfast, hors d’oeuvres, dessert, and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. Dining options include the Icons Brasserie, which features a seafood buffet, Customs House Bar, and the Macquarie Lounge. There is an indoor pool located on the fourth floor as well as a fitness center and sauna for guest use as well as a boutique spa. Room rates start at $249 AUD ($225) in September. This is a Category 7 property and requires 35,000 points for an award night redemption.
There is also the Courtyard North Ryde which is a Category 4 property and requires 20,000 points for an award night redemption.
The Westin Sydney: Located in the CBD and minutes from the Sydney Opera House, Darling Harbour, NSW Art Gallery, and Sydney Harbour, the 416 rooms at this Starwood property are divided between the classic Heritage Rooms in the General Post Office Building and the modern Tower Rooms, each of which have the Westin Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Bath amenities. Standard rooms offer a 37-inch flatscreen TV, Bose sound system, deep soaking tub, WiFi (for a fee of $20 AUD/$18 per day), and a tea and coffee maker. The historic GPO building also houses the Endota Day Spa, exclusive designer retail stores such as Rhode and Becketts and Calleija Jewellers, and the GPO food emporium, with 14 restaurants and bars. There are two additional dining options inside the Westin Sydney, the Mosaic for modern Australian cuisine such as snapper fillet with crab meat or a pork trilogy, or the Bar, Lounge and Room for lighter fare. Room rates start at $340 AUD ($308) per night in September. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints for a free night.
Sheraton on the Park: Offering views of leafy Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral, this property has 557 contemporary guest rooms and 48 suites, featuring WiFi (for a fee of $20 AUD/$18 per day), Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed, plantation shutters and black-out blinds on the large windows, DVD player and CD player, coffee and tea maker, and a marble bathroom with a full size bath tub. Other hotel amenities include an indoor pool with glass roof, a state-of-the-art fitness center, On the Park Rejuvenation and a business center. The Gallery Tea Lounge serves afternoon tea, or the Conservatory Bar and Feast restaurant round up the dining options. Room rates start at $299 AUD ($270) per night in September. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints for a free night.
The Four Points By Sheraton, Sydney Darling Harbour is another the other Starwood property in Sydney.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
Four Seasons Hotel Sydney: Located just a block from Sydney Harbour, the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney boasts breathtaking views of the Opera House and the iconic bridge. The 531 rooms feature down pillows, terry bathrobes, WiFi, and a coffee and tea maker. Suites include comfortable lounge rooms and guest powder rooms. The Four Seasons is home to two restaurants, The Woods, which specializes in Australian cuisine cooked in a wood-fired over by chef Hamish Ingham, and Grain, where the focus is on local draught beers from specialist brewers and a largely organic and biodynamic wine list. The well-equipped property also has a holistic spa, fitness center, outdoor pool, and a business center. Room rates start at $330 AUD ($296) per night in September.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Shangri-La Sydney: This 563-room hotel is located in the heart of the city with picture-perfect views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Guest rooms are the largest by square footage in the city and feature contemporary furnishings, triple-glazed soundproof windows, plush duvets and signature bed linens, along with views of Observatory Hill, Pyrmont Bay and northern Darling Harbour. The hotel is one of the only luxury properties here to include complimentary WiFi, while the other room amenities include flatscreen TVs, marble bathrooms with Shangri-La toiletries, and a separate bath and shower. The hotel’s health club has a fully equipped gym, indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sundeck, while the CHI spa offers treatments inspired by traditional Asian healing philosophies in luxurious private spa suites. Guests can enjoy an all-day international buffet at Cafe Mix, a casual meal in the Lobby Lounge, cocktails at Blu Bar on 36, or fine dining with a view at Altitude Restaurant. Room rates start at $310 AUD ($277) per night in September, or can be redeemed with 3,750 Golden Circle points.
Other Visa Signature hotels are the Park Hyatt Sydney, The Sydney Langham, Sheraton On The Park, and The Darling. The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.