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Learn about Sydney, Australia, by reading Exploring the "Great Down Under" - Sydney, Australia by Rich Vallaster, WTA member and leisure traveler. It features all you'll need to know to plan your trip including how to get there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

Exploring the "Great Down Under" - Sydney, Australia

by Rich Vallaster, WTA Member and Leisure Traveler


Sydney Harbour and Opera House

Whether you are looking for arts and entertainment – history and culture – surf and sand – adventure or fine dining and shopping – Sydney has it all. Each year since 1996, Travel and Leisure Magazine rates the World’s Best Cities, and for the fourth year in row Sydney has topped the list with good reason. It has much to offer for the young and old adventurer alike.

As foreign countries go, you will enjoy the ability to quickly blend in and speak English. You will certainly learn “Aussie talk” and their laid back approach to life and living – enjoy it or “no worries mate” as they say. Sydneysiders enjoy the average of 342 sunny days a year. The mild climate and access to beaches, surfing, and sailing is a way of life as is its clean and friendly environment. With a very strong U.S. dollar (typically $1 USD to every $2 AUDs) tourist dollars go a long way.

The history of Australia is a short one. Australia celebrated its first 100 years since Federation in 2001.Ironically, convicts, the soldiers who kept them, and the original settlers founded the country. Also unique to Australia is the Aboriginal history that dates back to some of the oldest humans on this earth. Its unique history and eclectic blend of people make the city and country what it is today.

Sydney is the largest city in Australia with a population of almost 4 million people. It is simple to navigate and walking is the best way to get around; it's safe, too. The subway, overhead rail, ferries, busses, as well as cabs are also reliable means to navigate the city. Each are also very inexpensive and simple to figure out.

It is best to orient yourself to Circular Quay (pronounced key) as this is the center of activity and leads to all points of interest. The Quay is where you can catch the ferries to beaches, the zoo, Darling Harbour and other points around Sydney. You will find the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the historic “Rocks” district all around the “U” shaped Quay.

The area known as The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney. Here you will find a collection of quaint shops, galleries, pubs, sandwich cafes and during the weekends an outdoor market for artisans lining the main street. This is a must see! Along the edge of the water are great restaurants with spectacular views of the opera house. Taking the historic tour of The Rocks is a wonderful way to learn the brief yet colorful history of Australia and Sydney itself.

For the best views of the city and the Sydney Opera House you must venture onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can walk across the entire span of the bridge at no cost. For $5 (AUD) you can climb to a bridge museum and look out the first bridge tower. For those more adventurous, the $120 (AUD) three-hour bridge climb takes you to the very top arc of the bridge ( It's an incredible view and a group photo is included in the fee.

Tours are available for the Sydney Opera House and are your best bet to see the entire huge complex complete with three stages and a massive concert hall. A must is taking in a play, opera or concert. Tickets are available from their website ( and can be purchased through it before you leave for your trip.

As you work your way around the Quay past the Opera house you will find the Botanical Gardens, a lush oasis on the edge of the city with spectacular views of the city and harbour.

Catch a ferry to Taronga Zoo ( to enjoy a day at a world premiere zoo or pack a daypack and head to the beaches. Bondi Beach is the best known beach and is recommended in the tour guides, but a nicer and more accessible beach is Manly Beach. With a beautiful ferry ride out to Manly Harbour you can really see Sydney the way it is meant to be seen – from the water. Once your ferry docks, you will walk along a long promenade of shops and restaurants to meet the white sand beach and blue ocean. Bondi Beach is a must see if time permits but does take a little more effort. This mile-long beach capped with huge rock formations is probably Sydney’s best known young “hip” beach.

To venture through Darling Harbour, walk a few blocks from the Quay through the Sydney Business District. You'll find some of the Olympic Games sites, a casino, aquarium, museums, and huge shopping malls and restaurants. This is a great place for nightlife without having to venture to Kings Cross. For the most memorable experience whether you are a novice or sailor you will want to head to Sydney By Sail at the Australian National Maritime Museum and rent a sailboat with a skipper and enjoy a few hours out in the harbour. This experience is one you will never forget.

Along with the sites mentioned above, Sydney is dotted with other points of interest like the AMP Tower where you'll want to have a meal and take in the best view of all of Sydney in its revolving tower. Patty’s Market on the edge of China Town and near Darling Harbour is great for cheap souvenirs, but is only open on the weekends. Kings Cross is considered the red light district of Sydney and hosts nightlife like non-other. The downtown area is great for shopping in all of the brand name stores.

If you are looking to get out of the city for a day the Blue Mountains ( are a must see. Here the sightseer to the serious hiker can find something to do. The Blue Mountains are best described as the Grand Canyon with a tropical rain forest. You can ride the world's steepest incline to put you in the depths of the rain forest or take the hike to the Three Sisters to climb the Great Stairs.

Also outside the city are the main Olympic venues. To get into the main stadium where most of the events were held you can take the $30 (AUD) tour. With the Olympic torch only extinguished a short while ago, the spirit still lives on.



Getting There:

Your airline choices are Air New Zealand and Quantas Airlines. Plan to spend $1,500 for a ticket from the east coast, and $900-1,000 from the west coast for Pacific Class (coach) seats; $10,000 for 1st class. Most of your expense for the trip will be spent on getting there. The coach seats are fairly comfortable with footrests and adjustable headrests, and reclining seats. 1st class accommodations offer full reclining beds with your own television and other amenities. Regardless of travel class, all drinks (including alcoholic ones) and movies are free. Your Visa is included in the plane ticket, too. Good travel deals can be found as Australia wants to recoup their Olympic Games investment through the tourist trade. It's a 15-hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles and the flights leave at 8 or 9 p.m.

Time Zone:

Australia is 15-16 hours ahead of US time depending upon whether it's Daylight Savings Time or not in the US.


Australia's summer is during our winter, so the best time to go is December, January or February. The summer weather is typically sunny and dry without high humidity. Temperatures are warm at 85-98 degrees in the summer. In contrast, July and August temperatures are in the 50s.


The exchange rate is typically $2 AUD for every $1 USD. An example of their currency is $1 and $2 coins and $5 bills. Your best bet is to carry American Express Travelers Checks and then exchange these for currency. You get your best exchange rate through them and there are no service fees if you exchange at American Express offices.

Where to Stay:

If you're traveling during Aussie holiday season which is January when everyone takes off the whole month, you need to book early, 4-5 months out, to get the best deals. The most expensive properties are in the historic district of the Rocks and the Business District of Sydney. The Park Hyatt is here and overlooks the Sydney Opera House. The major hotel chains have properties throughout Sydney and you can locate them through Sydney's visitor bureau website, The Rocks area will be the most convenient for you. Your rates will average $100-150 AUD ($50-$75 USD) per night in the Sydney area and then go up as you get closer to the Opera House. The less expensive area is in China Town and surrounding area. Here you can find "traveler's hotels" that cost $86-110 AUD ($43-55 USD).

Where to Eat:

Doyles Restaurant - offers the best view of the Opera House. It features seafood and is excellent. Plan on spending $20-30 AUD ($10-15) for a meal. A "booking" or reservation is recommended.

Try out the restaurant at the Opera House.

In The Rocks area, the G'Day Cafe is a terrific sandwich shop. Average lunch will be $6-8 AUD ($3-4 USD). Also, the Orient Hotel is good and is a sit down restaurant.

Reference the tour guides including Fodor's for other recommendations.

Getting Around:

Walking is the best way to get around and is very safe. Sydney doesn't typically pose travel security problems. Circular Quay is where the ferries and train stations are. Cabs and busses are also good alternatives to walking and are not expensive.


Shopping throughout Sydney is unbelievable. Patty's Market (near China Town and Darling Harbour) is a good bet for cheap souvenirs. Downtown Sydney is where you'll find the brand name stores. You will find most things very affordable considering the exchange rate. Opals are especially a good deal in Australia.

Notice: This information is current as of March 2001. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.