Visiting Sydney, & looking for things to do
January 28, 2004 3:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm headed to Sydney all next week for business, and I'm bringing my 5-months-pregnant wife with me... The problem: we don't know anything about Australia. We're staying at a very nice hotel in the Rocks and won't have a car. With that in mind, can you recommend some things to do? Also, are there any decent online equivalents to the U.S. alt-weekly papers, with current concert, event, and dining recommendations?
posted by waxpancake to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The rocks is a fine place to eat and you're walking distance to all the boats down in the quay. You can take a small boat to any other spot on the harbor for just a couple bucks.

When I was there in 2001, the US dollar was really strong against the AUS one so everything was essentially half price for us. A few things I learned along the way:

- I'd never been outside of north america and learned you're supposed to drop off your room key with the front desk at your hotel, then get it from them when you return. Nice system, though seemed odd.

- People don't dine out all that often in AUS since it is expensive, so people expect meals to take a long time and be a big thing. They also pay their staff a living wage which means one or two waiters will cover a whole restaurant and there might only be one chef. It typically took us 2-3 hours to finish a meal, with courses coming out every 45 min or so. Also you must ask for your check, they won't bring it to you like in the US.

- I ate loads of fish there, some of the best tasting I've had in my life. Even the street vendor fish and chips were superb.

- I loved sydney, it was like a cleaner version of san francisco with nicer buildings. You can take taxis pretty easily but I walked from one end of town to the next several times. I loved the parks within the city.

- The standard things like the zoo, the aquarium, and doing stuff at the bridge are probably too much walking for wife, but are fun things to do.

- the opera house is great to look at, but IMO had terrible acoustics inside when I went to a symphony a few days after taking the tour.

- the observatory was a nice little quiet spot.

- there are internet cafes all over which were only about a US dollar per hour of use for a T-1 line.

- it's summer so take a boat up to the other beach towns like Manly or Bondi

See the rest of the country if you can (spend an extra week?). Cains and Adelaide were fun too, and I wish I had time to check out Melbourne.
posted by mathowie at 3:39 PM on January 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Ouch. I went when the dollar was at its peak against the AUS dollar, a month before 9/11.
posted by mathowie at 3:44 PM on January 28, 2004

There's a Sydney paper "Sydney Morning Herald" (I think) which posts lists of events, etc.
As for things to do, you'll not run out of things to find in Sydney. Catch an Australian Rules Football Game if you can; a very civilised audience, completely incomprehensible, lots of "biffo" and quite good fun. Avoid the rotating restaraunt thing, it's tres expensive & rubbish food. Get a Ferry to Paramatta, and then get a Ferry straight back (Paramatta being rubbish), and a trip to the Sydney Zoo would probably be quite nice/relaxing. (Plus - you get to take pictures of Giraffes with the Sydney Opera House in the background). If you can get a car, a trip to the Blue Mountains is a MUST. On a night, Sydney comes alive. Everyone in Sydney seems to eat out, and the range / quality of restaraunts is excellent. I'll leave the rest of the reccomendations to people who actually live there.
posted by seanyboy at 3:45 PM on January 28, 2004

People don't dine out all that often in AUS since it is expensive
Not my experience at all. Food is cheap, even round that tourist trap which is "The Rocks". Don't know how this compares with the States, but $30 (AUS) could get you a fantastic meal.
posted by seanyboy at 3:48 PM on January 28, 2004

Minus points - Sydney People aren't as nice as popular opinion would expect you to think, and they just don't get sarcasm / good natured ribbing. (People in the rest of Oz are nicer). They are courteous though, and seemed (to me) to be spectacularly non-confrontational.
posted by seanyboy at 3:55 PM on January 28, 2004

Final recommendation: Comedy club at the Fox Studio Thing.
Final Tip: An Oz "Pint" is huge, so if you're ordering beer, ask for a Middy.
posted by seanyboy at 4:03 PM on January 28, 2004

When I was in Sydney 7 years ago, I was also without a car. Public transportation and taxis were much cheaper than I've come to expect in this country.

You might be able to get a tourist bus to the beach -- remember, it's summer there now. Also, sometimes you can get a last minute good deal on Opera House tickets.

Have a great time.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:17 PM on January 28, 2004

Oh! Get yourself a copy of Bill Bryson's book on tape, mp3, or paperback (the apple store might have it or one of those new fangled p2p networks). I read it as I travelled across Australia and wish I had finished the parts about certain towns before I visited them. There are lots of funny stories and great history but he also mentions stuff to do in just about every part of the country.
posted by mathowie at 4:35 PM on January 28, 2004

I was in thrall to the Opera House. There're a bunch of outdoor cafes around the quay and I just sat at a table for quite a while staring at that building and writing bad poetry. Definitely enjoyed the kangaroo (as food), which you don't see much of in the South Bay.
posted by billsaysthis at 4:50 PM on January 28, 2004

I didn't find the people in Sydney to be anything but nice. Maybe they were just in the Christmas/Boxing Day spirit, as this was just last month.

If you want to do a few touristy things:
- go to the top of the AMP (Sydney) Tower and look around
- climb the bridge. I would heartily recommend a night climb, if possible. I went on a midnight climb and was just blown away by the views.
- go to the Opera House, either for a tour or a performance
- walk thru the QVB and do a little shopping
- go to the Aquarium, if just to watch the sharks swim over you

If you want to just sit for a bit, you could go see the stage production of The Lion King at the Capitol Theatre, which I hear is amazing. Or, you can catch an IMAX movie in Darling Harbour. And while in DH, there are so many open patio restaurants that are great, you should try a couple of them. Matt is right, the seafood is great. You can also catch the monorail and take it around part of Sydney for a look around.

The Rocks is a great place to be because of its location, not necessarily what you can do there, but, here is The Rocks Website and it has a list of things going on there next week. On the weekends, there is a street market that runs from the bridge down that is really packed but neat to walk thru.

Make sure to eat some TimTams (mmmmmm.....timtams.......) and some semi-dried tomatoes (mmmm.....sun-dried tomatoes....) (some of which you can get downstairs in the Woolworth's across from the QVB, at the Town Hall train station).

If you want to go to the Blue Mountains, you can take a 2 hour train ride. Make sure you get the Blue Mountains Explorer Link pass. It leaves from Central Station. You can get a bit more information about it at the CityRail website. Also, if it is cloudy/rainy in Sydney, you may want to think twice about going up there that day as it may be worse up there. The day we went it was so foggy/misty that we could not see a single thing. :(

If you want to go to the beach, I would recommend taking the ferry over to Manly Beach. The Corso is fun to walk around and while you could stay at the open Manly Beach, I would suggest walking over to Shelly Beach, a cove off of Manly. It was less congested with people, less hard surf and a neat little restaurant next to it. Do NOT forget your sunscreen, no matter what beach you go to, or you will fry.

Seconding seanyboy, a trip to the Taronga Zoo is lots of fun. You want to get a ZooPass. (They also have all of the ferry and jetcat schedules there, too.) They are doing alot of remodeling right now, building new elephant and lion retreats, so some of it isn't very pretty. But, the bird show is a must see. You get to sit down and just look at the most amazing view of Sydney. You need to get there early for the show to get one of the few seats in the shade, tho.

And, not knowing how active/tired your wife will be, a walk thru the Botanic Garden is very nice and relaxing. Wave to the birds on my island while you are there for me, please. And you can walk quickly past/under the sleeping bats while you are at it. (We took our baseball gloves and ball and played catch with the boy for a while there and were the center of attention for a while.)

No matter what, take good comfy walking shoes, take lots and lots of pictures and just enjoy yourselves. :)
posted by thatothrgirl at 5:45 PM on January 28, 2004

Just wanted to add, that I don't know of an online alt-news for you but wanted to throw in these sites for lists of where to eat and where to go:
Eat Streets at Night
City of Sydney Venues
posted by thatothrgirl at 6:05 PM on January 28, 2004

These are great... Keep 'em coming!
posted by waxpancake at 6:10 PM on January 28, 2004

Or, if you really want to have some fun, you could take a one-hour flight to somewhere much nicer.
posted by dg at 6:31 PM on January 28, 2004

I miss Sydney desperately.

Here's some touristy stuff to do.

If you're staying in the Rocks, you're within walking distance to anywhere in the CBD or public transportation to anywhere. The (elevated) subway station at Circular Quay (between your hotel and the Opera House) will take you anywhere, and the boats leaving from the Quay will take you anywhere the subway doesn't. Walk around Darling Harbour at bit. It's always hopping, and the aquarium and IMAX and some other stuff are there. Check out Paddy's market too, on the weekend.

I highly recommend taking the train (which is what the subway is called) all the way out to the Blue Mountains. Stop at Toowoomba and/or Leura, grab a taxi or walk down to the cliffs. Take the old vertical-train thingy down to the bottom and wander around a bit. About a two hour trip from Central station. Three stops from Circular Quay to Central Station (beside which I lived for a couple of years), change there to get a train to the mountains. It's beautiful.

I recommend getting day/week passes for train/boat/bus. You'll save a lot of money over buying tickets as you go. Taxis can be pretty expensive.

Definitely hang out at Manly - walk across from the ferry terminal to the sea beach side, and walk along the seawall to the east. Gorgeous.

Taking the guided climb to the top of the Harbour Bridge (the Coat Hanger) is something a lot of people do, but 5 months of pregnancy might curtail that a bit. Walk across the bridge, if nothing else.

Water taxis on the harbour are fun, but expensive.

Eat some 'roo, croc, emu and other oddities. There are a few restaurants that specialize in native game and flora. Can't remember specific names (the Red Something was one).

Go up to the observation deck of the Centrepoint tower, above the main shopping arcade area connected to Grace Bros on George St downtown. Incredible views.

Stand outside Town Hall station and wave at the office tower beside Town Hall itself, where I used to work, and where presumably some of the my old compatriots are still slaving away. Eat a doner kebab at the food court there, and say hi to the friendly folks who helped me gain like 10kg from my lunches.

Drink some Hahn Premium, which some poopoo as not premium at all, but which I loved with an intemperate passion.

Man, I miss Sydney.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:56 PM on January 28, 2004

Final Tip: An Oz "Pint" is huge, so if you're ordering beer, ask for a Middy.

As a sydney local and orstrahleeyahn native, ask for a "Schooner", middies are for wusses (or designated drivers). Pints are around 1.6 schooners I think.

Minus points - Sydney People aren't as nice as popular opinion would expect you to think, and they just don't get sarcasm / good natured ribbing.

Seanyboy, you must smell or something.

Good resources:
Sydney City Search
Sydney Morning Herald Online
If you are a nocturnal party animal with a desire for gigs or djs: SPRACI

Also, a printed gig guide called "SLM" is found within every wednesday's Daily Telegraph (sydney's tabloid paper). There's also a good "Metro" section in the 2-tonne broadsheet Sydney Morning Herald of a saturday/weekend.

If you are going to the beach, hit the northern beaches (eg Manly) by ferry from the city, Bondi is over-populated and over-rated at this time of year, but has plenty of good restaurants. Sydney is a city to dine out in, especially at this time of year! Definitely try to get to the Blue Mountains if possible for a true aussie wilderness adventure.

If you want any more local tips feel free to email me :)
posted by elphTeq at 6:59 PM on January 28, 2004

Stop at Toowoomba and/or Leura, grab a taxi or walk down to the cliffs.

I think you mean Katoomba, stavros - Toowoomba is a country city in queensland :)
posted by elphTeq at 7:10 PM on January 28, 2004

I'm an American that's been living in Sydney for two years. I wouldn't advise that you spend a lot of time looking for Aussie Rules or Lion King tickets. The footie season won't start for some time and Lion King is booked out for months in advance. :)

(You might be able to swing tickets for "Dance of Death" starring Ian McKellan though. It's running for another couple of weeks.)

Personally, I'd advise you to get the heck out of the Rocks. It's all overpriced tourist tat. Have a beer in the Fortunes of War (Sydney's oldest pub) and get your picture taken at the Opera House, but then catch a bus or ferry out of there. For eating, head to Newtown. If you like Thai food, you'll be in heaven. It's not expensive and the meals won't take you three hours. You may have to rub shoulders with some feral hippie types, but that's what vacation is all about, right? I also highly recommend Asakusa for Japanese, Burgerlicious for a real Aussie burger (be sure and get the beetroot!), and Mama Maria's for cheap-but-filling Italian. If you're determined to splurge on a big dinner, Rockpool is the best. It was hands-down the best meal of my life. Bennelong (in the smallest shell of the Opera House) is almost as good but has views.

If you like shopping, by all means walk through the QVB and admire all the pretty expensive things but don't be tempted to buy any souvenirs. Instead head to Chinatown and go to Paddy's Markets. They'll have all the cheesy T-shirts and stuffed koalas and kangaroo scrotum coin purses you need but much cheaper than in the CBD. The Glebe Markets can also be good for secondhand clothes and funky craft type stuff.

In terms of touristy things, I'm not sure they'll let her do Bridge Climb if she's five months pregnant. It takes three hours and there's a lot of climbing ladders and ducking under iron beams. It's not difficult and it's not scary - I had several retirees in my group when I did it - but she might find it a little tiring. Also, by all means go to the AMP tower but don't bother plunking down the extra money for the "Skytours" thing if you can help it. It's one of those silly rides where your chair shakes and swoops around sickeningly while a giant crocodile menaces you from a movie screen. (I'm pretty fearless with amusement park rides, but that "attraction" made me wanna barf.) The zoo is really good but it's built on the side of a hill so avoid if walking is difficult. The Sydney Aquarium is really cool though, especially the tube you can walk through under the shark tank. I haven't been on one of the Harbour Dinner Cruises mainly because every single local advised against it. (I don't think the food's very good.) I highly recommend the ferry to Manly, but be careful. All the tourists rightly want to sit in the (open) front of the boat, but after about five minutes I realized I was freezing cold, wet, and becoming seasick from the waves. She might be more comfortable with a nice seat inside. (Note: We're currently having some sort of crisis with the ferry ticketing system at Circular Quay so you may hit some delays there. Just don't say I didn't warn you.)

A few things nobody's mentioned yet: Star City! I didn't know it when I arrived, but Australia has more slot machines per capita than just about every other country on earth. Star City is the big Sydney casino and it might be good for a laugh. They also have shows and cheap food, I'm told. It's also near Darling Harbour, which I recommend. Full of restaurants, bars, and attractions (though a bit pricey). Also has great views of the city and the Anzac Bridge. Plus there are always things going on this time of year.

For movies, I'd say avoid the big multiplexes on George Street. We're not going to have anything that wasn't out six months ago in the U.S. If you're like arthouse stuff though, you can't beat the Dendy. There's one in Newtown and one at Circular Quay. They often have stuff that you can't see back home. Be sure to have a Choc-Top when you go... They're the best. :)

One last thing - DON'T TAKE THE MONORAIL. It's ridiculously tiny and it doesn't go anywhere useful. It's also expensive. The only people on it are tourists. I've only ridden it once - against the will of my partner - so I could sing the Simpsons Monorail song.

Good grief, I think this is my longest Metafilter comment ever. Is that enough? E-mail me if you have any other questions.

On Preview: I think the restaurant Stav was thinking of (that serves emu and roo) is Red Kangaroo in Newtown. Unfortunately they've changed names and ownership recently. (Can't remember the new name; it's some generic Thai thing.) I do know that the Aussie Hotel in the Rocks serves gourmet crocodile pizza though...
posted by web-goddess at 7:11 PM on January 28, 2004

Oh god, I forgot about the Tim-Tams! I brought back a suitcase of Tim-Tams (lasted for months afterwards) and a couple giant containers of lemon squash (Solo). Why is it that I can't find a nice mellow lemon soda in America that's anything like squash in Oz? Everything here is too sugary.
posted by mathowie at 7:57 PM on January 28, 2004

If you're a sports fan, you could catch the second final of the one-day Tri-nations cricket tournament at the Sydney Cricket Ground on February 8. It's pretty easy to grasp the basics and seeing a match live is SO FUN. Just like baseball except it lasts eight hours, you have to get up to fetch beer, and everybody eats meat pies instead of hot dogs.
posted by web-goddess at 8:07 PM on January 28, 2004

I really enjoyed the Powerhouse Musuem while I was there. It is a pretty good science musuem. I also enjoyed the art musuem down near the water at Sydney Harbor. The name escapes me right now. You definitely don't need a car, public transit is mighty fine.
posted by mmascolino at 8:56 PM on January 28, 2004

I think you mean Katoomba, stavros

Heh. Yeah, you're right, sorry. I was off in a swoon of nostalgia, there, and not fact-checking myself. Also, a bit further into the mountains are the Jenolan Caves, which are way cool. Tourist bus thingos will get you there, no problem.

Oh god, I forgot about the Tim-Tams!

Yes, yes, yes, glorious, chocolately Tim-Tams! Some hate 'em it's true, but sweet lordy, I love 'em. Along with the beer and kebabs, Tim-Tams fattified me something awful when I lived there.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:19 PM on January 28, 2004

As a sydney local and orstrahleeyahn native, ask for a "Schooner"
My mistake. I meant a Schooner. "two schooies of Tooeys New Please".
And - Definitely with the Tim Tams. For that extra chocolate hit (and I mean EXTRA), nibble off a 5 mm sized corner off the opposite ends of the Tim Tam, place one nibbled corner quickly in a cup of Coffee, and suck the other nibbled corner until you get some coffee in your mouth. Then place the entire Tim Tam in your mouth.
Chocolate Explosion.
posted by seanyboy at 11:17 PM on January 28, 2004

giant containers of lemon squash
If you like that, you would probably love the nectar of the gods even more.

glorious, chocolately Tim-Tams
There are some who say you have not lived until you bite both ends off a Tim Tam and use it like a straw to drink a cup of coffee through.
posted by dg at 11:19 PM on January 28, 2004

Sailor's Thai is an awesome restaurant in The Rocks. A bit pricey, but I assure you it is worth it if you want to splash out one evening. The walk from Bondi to Bronte beach is also spectacular.

I definitely second heading to China Town for shopping, and Yum Cha (you might call this Dim Sum in the US, not sure ... the Silver Spring restaurant is very good).
posted by arha at 2:38 AM on January 29, 2004

I've come in a bit late here.
Some other spots worth a look.
King St Wharf,Sydney Fish Markets,Top of Oxford St Paddington & Double Bay for fashion.
Great restaurants .... Pier and/or Catalina @ Rose Bay
Becasse @ Surry Hills or search for eats by cuisine etc
I'm a local,email for more.
(available for schooners)
posted by johnny7 at 3:36 PM on January 31, 2004

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