Sydney … vibrant, breathtaking, exhilarating … what a city! As we sailed past the Sydney Heads and the Macquarie Light and entered Sydney Harbour for the first time, we had to pinch ourselves. We were really here and just in time for the holidays and the world-famous New Year's Eve Fireworks celebration.
We learned quickly that there's so much more to Sydney than the fireworks, the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (though you don't want to miss them). Australia is expensive, especially with the soft US dollar at the moment, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself thoroughly. Here are our top 10 picks for fun and interesting things to do in Sydney … even if you're on a limited budget.
1. Ride the ferries.
Buy a day pass and ride all day and well into the night. A unique mass transport system, riding the ferries is the best and most scenic way to get around this historic seaport city and see the sights.
2. Walk across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walk across the bridge for outstanding views. Walk under the bridge and check out the girders and structure that supports one of Sydney's great icons. Sail under the bridge … just take a ferry. You can even climb the bridge if you're brave enough and want to spend the bucks.
3. See the eclectic street art …
for free ... just by walking around. It's like a city-wide scavenger hunt to find the most unusual pieces of art in the most unusual places.
Colorful,cultural and great fun. Chinatown offers just what you'd expect: restaurants, Chinese dragons, Foo dog statues, tiny shops. On your way, check out the imaginative window dressings in the upscale stores along George Street as well as QVB (Queen Victoria Building), the Town Hall and the very gothic St. Andrew's Cathedral.
5. Paddy's Markets
Just across the tracks from Chinatown is eclectic Paddy's Markets. Like a huge, indoor flea market, this long-established market has a zillion little booths to browse through. It's great for fresh fruit and veggies, as well as great low-priced, souvenirs from t-shirts to boomerangs to those clip-on koalas everybody loves.
6. Royal Botanic Gardens
It's not just flowers, plants and trees, it's a whole lot more. Pleasant, shady paths, artwork, outstanding views of the harbor and it's located right next door to the Opera House. Admission to Australia's first and oldest botanical garden is free.
7. Sydney Opera House.
You don't have to buy a ticket or take a tour to get inside although to see behind the stage, you do need to shell out some bucks. The outside is interesting, too. Just climbing the stairs to the entrance is a hoot. I took a close-up shot of the Opera House tiles and use it as wallpaper on my computer. If you've got the time and the bucks, see a show.
8. Take a self-guided historical walking tour
Sydney is an historic city and there are reminders of its history everywhere. From the Welcome Wall listing thousands of immigrants welcomed to Australia's shores (free), to heritage-listed Cockatoo Island (free admission, access is only by ferry), former convict prison and shipyard to the Australia National Maritime Museum (admission charge) to Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a sandstone promontory with great views of the harbor. Well-marked signs and placards enhance your walk and your knowledge of Sydney.
9. Watch the buskers that congregate on the ferry dock.
Get entertained. Watch jugglers, clowns, acrobats, musicians, even Aborigines playing didgeridoos. It's all there and it's all fun and free. If you like the entertainment, it might be nice to make a gold coin donation though!
10. Bondi Beach
Only 7 km (a 15 minutes bus ride) from Sydney and you're walking in the sand and surf at world-famous Bondi Beach. From surfing, to swimming, to “beachie” cafes, restaurants and boutiques, it's worth the trip.
11. Have a pint at Sydney's oldest pub.
Some may argue which pub is the oldest. We bellied up to the bar at the Fortune of War on George Street in The Rocks right downtown. They had 15 beers on tap, the barkeep was friendly and so were the other patrons.
If you go:
Public transportation (bus, ferry, train) is really a bargain in Sydney and gets you virtually anywhere you want to go in the city and the suburbs.
There's so much more to see and do in and around Sydney, but these topped our list and fell within our budget. The Sydney tourist info kiosks provide lots of information and maps plus tons of options for enjoying the city.
Though we had the luxury of having our hotel and restaurant with us and didn't need a room, we noted lots of inexpensive backpacker hostels that were centrally located, reasonably priced and basic. We tend to shop at the fresh markets and local supermarkets for each day's meals which cuts down tremendously on restaurant costs and allows an occasional splurge, like at the pub, for instance.