Sydney for beginners
January 28, 2023 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in Sydney, Australia, for work for six weeks in March-April. What should I do on the weekends? Recommend me parks, boats, museums, day trips by train, bookstores, distinctive foods, or anything I absolutely can't miss while I'm there!
posted by zeptoweasel to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Definitely spend a weekend up in the blue mountains.

Take in an opera at the opera house.

Explore the botanical gardens.

Eat dinner down at the quay.

Climb the Sydney harbor bridge if you’re into that.

Go to manly beach and get some fish and chips with barramundi. So good.

Go to bondi beach and and then walk along the coastline on the trail. I’d recommend at least 3 to 5 miles.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 9:13 PM on January 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You might be in town for the tail end of World Pride!
posted by creatrixtiara at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Both the Harbour Foreshore and Hermitage Foreshore walks are beautiful and I never get tired of them.

When going to Manly be sure to take the Ferry.

As per TestamentToGrace Bondi to Coogee walk is a classic and great to do on a weekend.

Have a drink at the Opera Bar after seeing a show at the Opera House (note - they do much more than Operas!)

Katoomba and Leura in the Blue Mountains. Lots of spectacular walks around there will more than occupy a weekend. Ideally stay overnight to get the most out of it, but very possible to go up and back in a day.

Cockatoo Island often has a bar or music on over summer.

I would say Mardi Gras Parade should not be missed but is in late Feb so might be a bit out of your time frame.

If you want restaurant suggestions feel free to DM me and I am sure I can make some suggestions you may like. Sydney has a huge variety of different cultures and foods!

Hope you have a great time!
posted by NeatBeat at 10:09 PM on January 28, 2023

Best answer: Great suggestions from others! In terms of bookshops:
City: Kinokuniya, opposite the Queen Victoria Building, both worth a look. A wonderful record shop nearby is Red Eye Records
Inner west: Gleebooks and Sappho Books - walking distance from each other
Inner east: Title (music/film books) in Surry Hills, or Berkelouw Books, Ariel Booksellers, The Bookshop Darlinghurst (gay bookshop), all in Paddington

You can find reviews of bookshops in other locations in Time Out. Another place to look to find a review or get a feel for a place - bookshop, restaurant, bar, cafe, shop - is Broadsheet.
posted by happyfrog at 10:38 PM on January 28, 2023

Best answer: If you want restaurant suggestions feel free to DM me and I am sure I can make some suggestions you may like. Sydney has a huge variety of different cultures and foods!

One of the best meals I’ve ever had came from The Malaya. do not miss the szcheuan eggplant.
posted by coriolisdave at 11:16 PM on January 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Big yes to everything above as well!!

Great time to visit weather-wise and the ocean will still be warm from summer.

Carriageworks is an art space with performing and visual arts along with other events including farmers' markets on the weekends.

Bring a swimsuit and goggles and go for a swim at Clovelly and look at all the fish. Some days it is like swimming in an aquarium.

While you're at it, check out some ocean pools: Mahon Baths, Wylie's (has a $6 entrance fee but it's worth it, especially if you can plan to spend the day there), Bronte Baths. These are all in the Eastern Suburbs. Lots more north of the bridge on the Northern Beaches.

The Hermitage Foreshore Walk follows the coastline along the harbour and takes you to Shark Beach in Nielsen Park. The beach itself is closed for repairs at the moment but the walk is scenic and varied and includes views of the bridge.

You can take the train from Sydney to the Illawarra, about 1.5 hours south of the city. There is a paved off-road bike/walking trail that follows the coast from Thirroul to Wollongong, about 15 km with lots of spots to stop for a swim or a coffee or lunch along the way.

Alternatively you can take the train to Otford (same route at Thirroul/Wollongong) or Bundeena and hike around (Royal) National Park a bit.
posted by lulu68 at 11:21 PM on January 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The art gallery recently opened a new space with lots of new artwork to check out, and no-one has mentioned it yet. Sydney also has some neat little museums; I particularly enjoyed the Justice and Police Museum. I always recommend international visitors take the ferry over to Taronga Zoo, because a) presumably you want to see some Australian wildlife, and b) while doing so, you may as well get excellent views of the city and harbour.

Sydney is lousy with excellent gelato: you'll find Gelato Messina in a few places now, and they're always good, but the standard is pretty high (Cow and the Moon has one particular flavour that's world-class, I'm told). Avoid Gelatissimo, they're a big chain that's been pretty thoroughly out-competed.

I find Kinokuniya has a smaller selection than I'd expect (unless I'm looking for comics or Japanese-language stuff, in which case they're perfect). I actually have pretty good luck with Dymocks a couple of blocks down.
posted by Merus at 12:52 AM on January 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you are into necropolis walks, I highly recommend a few hours, if not days, exploring Rookwood Cemetery, the largest cemetery in the southern hemisphere; vast amounts of land filled with flora and fauna. Definitely bring water. There are other cemeteries around Sydney, but Rookwood is the best in quality and size.
posted by jadepearl at 12:53 AM on January 29, 2023

Ferry to Taronga Zoo
posted by Thella at 1:11 AM on January 29, 2023

Seconding the ferry to Manly, and train to the Blue Mountains.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:00 AM on January 29, 2023

Best answer: First off: sign up for the Sydney editions of Urban List, Broadsheet and Time Out to keep up with what's on, what's new and what's good.

You're from North America/the US, yeah? Then you really, really need to eat some Malaysian food while you're in Sydney. Great cuisine, it's everywhere in Australia and darn near impossible to get in the US. Here's a good guide.

A couple of local food institutions you must try:
bills for brunch. In many ways they created the modern brunch scene in Sydney.
Spice I Am is considered to be one of the best Thai restaurants outside of Thailand. It also serves up authentically Thai levels of spice so be warned!
Gelato Messina is amazing and I miss it terribly.

Get a flat white. Get ten. A flat white in Australia is delicious and nothing like the Starbucks drink called by the same name.

One of the museums that really impacted me was the Hyde Park Barracks. It's small, but it tells a lot of stories of the uncomfortable history of Sydney.

One thing no one has mentioned: Australian sunscreen is better than the US kind because US sunscreen uses chemicals that are about 30 years behind the times. Bring back a big vat of Cancer Council sunscreen. (Their tinted moisturizers, BB creams, etc. are good too.) I road-tested it at Burning Man against a US sunscreen with allegedly double the SPF, and the Cancer Council sunscreen's performance massively exceeded the performance of the US sunscreen.

Get Tim Tams, Australia's answer to Oreos. Try vegemite at least once. I personally like it on my avocado toast. (And on lots of other things.) It is not sweet; it's like if someone turned soy sauce into a spread. If you know that going in, it can help adjust your expectations and you may find you like it too. (Spread it thin like butter, not thick like cream cheese.)

No one has mentioned Bondi Icebergs. It's a club with a swimming pool right next to the ocean - sometimes the waves actually crash into the pool. Iconic photo spot. There are lots of other great ocean pools if that's the sort of thing that interests you.

If you can, take a weekend and go to either Melbourne or Brisbane. Their vibes are very different to Sydney and it can be an interesting compare and contrast.
posted by rednikki at 7:13 AM on January 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

Bondi Icebergs recently re-opened, they went through a big refurbishment, but will probably be less buzzy in March. I assume you'll probably go to Bondi Beach because it's a famous beach, but you can probably go to literally any Sydney beach and have just as nice a time.
posted by Merus at 8:15 AM on January 29, 2023

Two hikes/walks I enjoyed:

Coogee Beach to Bondi
Spit to Manly Beach

Both pretty different, but worth doing.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:45 PM on January 29, 2023

Take the tour of the Opera House. Amazing architecture and story.
posted by billsaysthis at 7:42 PM on January 29, 2023

Best answer: Sydney's harbour is definitely one of the most unique things about the place, and I'm glad to see that a bunch of the recommendations build on that. My specific thoughts:
  • If you don't want to pay the big bucks to do the Bridge Climb*, still do the walk across; the view from the deck is still delightful. Start from Milson's Point and walk southbound. For $19AUD you can get into the Pylon Museum and Lookout if you want to get a higher vantage point, otherwise keep walking around to Circular Quay (the Cahill Walk - more info about the Bridge Walk and the Cahill Walk here.) Take the elevator down to near the wharves and continue walking around to the Opera House. Others have extolled the virtues of Opera Bar, which is a great spot with an amazing view of the bridge. If you were open to more walking you could continue around to Mrs Macquarie's Chair in the Botanic Gardens.
  • Ferry to Manly, as suggested elsewhere, and you can linger at Manly beach or walk around to Shelly Beach. The lookouts nearby also have really spectacular views.
  • The advice to see the Blue Mountains is good, and if you can swing it, Jenolan Caves (about an hour further on) are stunning. (I've never been without a car, admittedly - I think you can get a coach from Katoomba, though you'd want to investigate this in advance.)

*I won a ticket years ago, and it was good but not worth what they're now asking IMO.
posted by Cheese Monster at 10:43 PM on January 29, 2023

Best answer: I'm an American who lived in Sydney for a few years and here are my favorite things / the most quintessential things imo:

1) If you are into wildlife, take the train to Blacktown and go to the small zoo called Featherdale. You can see (and feed and pet!) little kangaroos and wallabies, and pet the koalas. It was one of my favorite places to take visitors, since it's a fantastic spot to see and interact with these marsupials unique to the region. It's also a manageable size - you can spend a couple hours here and feel like you've seen it all.

2) Beaches: Sydney has 70+ beaches. I've traveled all over the world but the best beaches are in Australia, in my opinion. Bondi is iconic but obscenely crowded. Do the Bondi to Coogee walk, it's outstanding - you'll see a bunch of Eastern beaches that way. Some of the Northern beaches are gorgeous and can be quieter. Balmoral Beach is a favorite. Some of the beaches (including a couple of the Eastern beaches - Bondi and Bronte) have ocean pools (pools in the ocean) which are pretty cool and unique! Someone mentioned Icebergs which is a good place to get a drink with a view of the ocean pool. I believe you can buy a day pass to Icebergs and go in the pool, but some of the other ocean pools are free to just go in (this is the case with the one at Bronte I believe and most/all of the others). Manly Beach is fun, you can take the ferry and rent snorkeling equipment and snorkel at Shelley Beach.

3) Drinks at Opera Bar. Enjoy the views of the harbor, opera house, and bridge.

4) Food: others have mentioned Sydney's outstanding Southeast Asian food and brekkies (breakfast food). The food item I miss the most, which I have a hard time finding elsewhere, is meat pies. Go to Bourke Street Bakery (multiple locations) and order a lamb pie or sausage roll (or both) and eat with the little pack of tomato sauce (ketchup). Yummmmm. There were mentions of gelato - I honestly found that generally ice cream / gelato in Sydney was not great - the Messina chain is everywhere and the flavors are fun but it's not actually very good gelato. Cow and the Moon is a lot better. But there's nothing special about the gelato in Sydney vs other places so I would focus on what they do best imo which is Southeast Asian food, breakfast food, and meat pies. For brekkie, find a well-rated cafe (which will be tons of them - you can find great breakfast food in lots of places) and enjoy a delicious breakfast and coffee. For Southeast Asian food, check out Thai and Malaysian restaurants (there is some great spicy Thai food if you like spice). Hopefully Mamak (Malaysian restaurant in Haymarket) is still awesome.

5) Spice Alley: related to food above, but also just a cute little series of alleyways lined with Asian eateries. To me this always felt like leaving Australia and being transported to somewhere in Asia. Similarly (and located near Spice Alley), Chanoma Cafe has tons of Japanese green tea soft serve/drinks/desserts and is located into a tiny little shopping center that's all Japanese shops and eateries.

6) Take the ferry to Watson's Bay (or add it onto your Coogee to Bondi walk and make it a really long walk! - it's north of Bondi). Eat fish and chips at the expensive but classic Doyle's. Check out the Gap for views all the way back to the city.

7) If you're into wine, the Hunter Valley is a couple of hours from Sydney.

8) Speaking of drinking, the CBD has a bunch of hidden-away bars and speakeasies with expensive but delicious cocktails.
posted by whitelily at 6:25 AM on January 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A great way to spend a cheap day in Sydney is to buy a day pass for the ferries. You can just hop on the first one that comes along and get off wherever you want, then get back on and go wherever. make Manly one of your stops for a fish-and-chip lunch.

Don't rule out the rest of the country, though, if you can get away for weekends or a long weekend. For some contrast, fly north to Cairns and hire a car to drive up to Cape Tribulation. It's a whole different world and that time of year won't be unbearably hot.
posted by dg at 3:53 PM on January 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

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