Famous movie director Baz Luhrmann once said of Sydney, “it has a great acceptance of everyone and everything. It’s an incredibly tolerant city, a city with a huge multicultural basis.” With a population of over 5 million people and biodiversity nearly unrivalled in our entire planet, it’s hard to disagree with Baz. The southeastern coast of Australia is filled with beautiful people from every continent. Some people are visiting for the first time, and some who have come to call it their permanent home. This guide will attempt to reveal what gives Sydney Australia its sense of enchantment.
My name is Kwame and I am happy to introduce you to Sydney, one of my favourite cities. I am a student from Accra, but I have also studied in London and currently live in New York. I have spent many holidays in Sydney.
Read on to discover some of the highlights you can enjoy in Sydney from the beautiful beaches, along with some of the best spots for shopping and food.
Be sure to check out my tips on greetings and personal space in the Customs & Etiquette section. Looking forward to trying out your TV learnt, “G’Day Mate,”…..maybe think again!
Photo courtesy of Belle Co
Things to do and see in Sydney – Top Beaches
Australia is famous for its crystal, clear beaches, and Sydney is a fantastic place to experience warm pacific waters.
1. Bondi Beach
Most tourists will encounter Bondi beach in their Sydney travel. This beach is busy year-round because of its proximity to the Central Business District. Within 15 minutes of travelling from the CBD, Bondi has one of the most reliable surfs and is the point of origin for the Bondi to Coogee Walk; one of Sydney’s most iconic coastal walks.
2. Shelly Beach
Shelly Beach is for people who seek a less crowded, more intimate beach. It’s the only west-facing beach along the Sydney coast, which makes for perfect sunset watching. It also has much calmer waters, which is great for snorkellers and scuba divers who are drawn to Marine life. It is a 25-minute drive from the CBD with a shopping mall, another 20-minute walk from it.
3. Coogee Beach
Coogee Beach, like Shelly Beach, also boasts calm waters. Women who would like some extra privacy and comfort can head to McIver’s Baths, which is a seawater pool reserved for women. Further on, you’ll find Wylie’s Baths, an ideal tidal pool for a calm swim. Surfers sometimes paddle to nearby Wedding Cake Islands on weekends, and divers love to submerge themselves in this area.
Photo of Bondi Beach courtesy of Julian Hacker
Arts & Entertainment
1. Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is near impossible to miss and is one of Sydney’s crown jewels. As it is a multi-purpose performance venue, visitors can expect more than just Opera performances. There are plays, contemporary music performances, and ballet dances, something for nearly everyone. In the late afternoon, there’s nothing like watching the sunset against the Opera house. At night, the light shows can steal your breath.
2. Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary art is not far from Sydney Harbor and is the place to go to enjoy art from modern artists. It has hosted shows from some noteworthy people such as Yoko Ono, and Grayson Perry.
3. Enmore Theatre
The Enmore Theatre is a popular concert venue that usually has an impressive line-up. It has been the venue for performances from the likes of The Beatles and Bob Dylan. It now hosts bands like One Direction and Vampire Weekend, for example. It’s located in the Newton Entertainment Precinct near a plethora of entertainment options and not far from the University of Sydney.
Photo of Sydney Opera House courtesy of DesignNPrint
Ethnic groups and tribes
The original ethnic groups of Australia are the Aborigines. Though not the most populous, they were already in Australia when it was “found” by Europe. The Aborigines of Sydney are known as the Cadigal people. The Cadigal were fishers and mostly lived near shores where men would fish with bone tipped spears, and women would do the same with nets. Though vast populations of the Cadigal were wiped out by smallpox in the late 1770s, they continue to live and thrive in Sydney in somewhat smaller numbers.
Customs and etiquettes
For starters, Escalator etiquette; Stand on the left, walk on the right. Australian people like their personal space to be respected, so there’s no need getting within an arm’ s-length of people unless absolutely necessary. “G’ day Mate” can sound condescending from a foreigner, so keep it simple with a “hey, hello, etc…” Hold forks in your left hand and knives in your right. Show up to parties a minimum of 10 minutes late, bonus points for arriving with a gift for your host, extra points if it’s a good wine. Finally, say what you mean and mean what you say, it’s the Australian way.
Honorable mention: “Yeah, Nah” Vs. “Nah Yeah.” The first means no, the last means yes
Family systems in Australia, for the most part, operate the way systems do in Western countries like England and the United States. Independence is highly valued, people leave their nuclear families to form nuclear families of their own. Extended families are likely to remain a valuable support system for financial and emotional support, finding employment & opportunities… from a distance.
Photo of a market in Sydney by Jeremy Keith
Kangaroos are considered to be one of the nation’s cutest animals. But would you believe that the world-famous marsupial is also considered a past by locals? Most people with an adventurous tongue will be happy to know that they can be served up a portion of pro kangaroo meat while in Sydney. This is done to curb the Kangaroo population, which can wreak havoc on local ecosystems and farms if not kept in check. Try a famous Kangaroo steak at the Clovelly Hotel or a Kangaroo sausage at bars all across Sydney. For those horrified by the idea of feasting on an adorable Roo, not to worry! Sydney is a cultural melting pot that boasts cuisines from all corners of the earth. There are many vegan and vegetarian options, although the typical Aussie does not enjoy a meal without meat.
As Sydney is a multicultural city, choices abound when it comes to food. Instead of telling you my favorites, I will be talking about where to find food of every style on every budget. Chinatown is a great place to start if one is looking for cheap eats. Many Asian restaurants here serve lunchtime specials and have meals under $15. Newtown also has a lot of affordable cafes and eateries, convenient for students of the nearby University of Sydney (expect a younger crowd).
Those who enjoy dinner with a view are better off going to Darling Harbour. There are high-end restaurants all along the waterfront with cuisines. Some say that when eating here, you’re paying more for the view and for the quality of food. For some, this is entirely worth it.
As you get closer to the Bennelong Point (near the Sydney Opera house), you find the most expensive, but the most salt after restaurants. Celebrity chefs like Neil Perry show off their chops here (find Neil in Rockpool at the Rocks).
Most authentic handcrafts in Australia are aboriginal in origin. Men and women make detailed cloths that are made for ceremonial purposes. These cloths are status symbols. They are also used in the trade of goods and the maintenance of socio-political relations. Other aboriginal handcrafts include bark painting, pendant crafting from shells, and wood carvings.
Markets and shopping
1. Paddington Markets
This is an accessible location for finding clothing, designs, and art. There are some famous regulars, such as the bonsai tree sellers and the espadrille shoemakers.
2. Southeast Aboriginal Arts Markets
By shopping here, you can support the indigenous artists of Australia. A large percentage of aboriginal art sold to foreigners is foreign made. Buying here makes sure that you get authentic works and in doing so, support local aboriginal communities.
There are usually about 60 stalls, which leaves a lot to choose from, and you will most likely be interacting with the people that made the art you want to buy.
3. Glebe Markets
If you’ve been bitten by the nostalgia bug, you will feel at home here. Glebe markets boast vintage clothes, new, locally designed clothes, jewelry, and accessories.
4. Northside Produce Markets
So you’re craving salted caramel meringues, or maybe some fresh egg pasta. Hit up this market in North Sydney. As this is a produce market, You’d expect it to be better suited for foreigners staying in an Airbnb that they can cook in. But this market truly has something for everyone. Most stallholders have no problem cooking up the produce that they sell, which is excellent for you.
5. Bondi Farmers Market
If you’re having breakfast on the same list barn the beach, maybe you should try pho instead of your usual sausage and eggs. At Bar Pho, take a sip of the beautiful marriage between basil, beef, and star anise. There is a Raclette Shack nearby for lovers of cheese, and a Fritter house too for those that can’t get enough of corn fritters. This is just a summary of the abundant options that you’ll just have to discover for yourself.
Photo of Australia War Memorial facing Parliament Buildings by Simon Yeo
Some of my favorite bands, like Tame Impala, or Hiatus Kaiyote, are from Australia, although sadly not from Sydney. That being said, Sydney is a hotbed for talent. The world-famous rock band AC/DC was formed in this city. The best place to see live performances is the CBD. The CBD is exempt from Sydney’s strict lockout laws that prevent bars from serving alcohol beyond 1:30 am and staying open beyond 3:00 am. In other words, the party keeps going over here. As mentioned earlier, the Enmore Theatre’s line-up is usually legendary. However, bars around the University of Sydney will often host live performances.
Vivid Sydney is an annual festival attended by over 2 million people. This three-week festival started as a smart light festival for energy efficiency and has grown into a massive light, art, and music festival. In May, it is usually ushered in by light displays on the Sydney Opera House. In Circular Quay, you’ll find projections on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. At the Royal Botanical Garden, there is a symphony of light and sound that you can participate in. To see it all in every precinct, you’ll have to visit a couple of places each night, so be determined!
Landscapes outside the city
Deserts occupy a fifth of Australia’s land, the remainder boasts stunning coastlines, vineyards, and national parks. Royal National Park near Heathcote is a beautiful example. Its foliage supports over 300 exotic bird species, such as the Australian Pelican, which has the longest bill of any bird in the world. About two hours north of Sydney, you’ll find the Hunter Valley Vineyards. You’ll see rows and rows of the vine and smell the fragrant air that is typical of landscapes inland of the North-South Wales area.
Day trips from Sydney
Canberra, the capital of Australia, is an entirely planned city. It boasts Australia’s parliamentary houses, the national museum of Australia, Mount Ainslie lookout, and more. A personal favorite of mine is Mount Ainslie’s lookout because of its impressive views of the rest of the city.
2. Blue Mountains National Park
There’s a lot to love at Blue Mountains National Park, which spans around 600,000 acres. Just a short 3-hour drive northwest puts you amid an enchanting rainforest, beautiful waterfalls, and a range of exotic Australian species of animals. Be sure to look out for the waterfalls Leura Cascades, they’re perfect for an Instagram photo op.
3. Hawkesbury River Cruise
If you’re bruising for cruising on the Hawkesbury River, this guide has some tips that can help you figure out which cruise to choose. The Riverboat Postman is a popular pick. The skippers make it lively by entertaining with stories and trivia. What makes this cruise better is that they serve some food, and if you want to buy some booze, you can just ask the crew. If a weekend cruise is more your speed, you can spend your Sunday on the Hawkesbury. They tell you the history of the Seven Islands, and since they’re run by Hawkesbury Cruises, you’ll have service you can rely on.
Photo of Grose Valley in Blue Mountains National Park by Miro Bonne
What is important to the local people
Australians are big on cricket and BBQs, a smaller percentage are enthusiastic about surfing and diving. However, Sydney-siders are similar to us Americans and Europeans in many ways. People dream, live, love, and work, in different combinations and sometimes all together.
English is the national language of Australia, in case you didn’t know. For the more linguistically-inclined, there are many aboriginal languages that you can attempt.
Most Sydney-siders rely on the train system that is quite affordable, although not as frequent as they would like. When you arrive at the airport in Sydney, you will be able to buy an Opal card with which you can access the trains and buses. Otherwise, people with contactless cards or interfaces on their phones will be able to access this system all the same. Beyond that, transport operates as it does in the rest of the West… Taxis, Ubers, and rentals abound.
Cost of living
Painfully, Australia has the 12th highest cost of living in the world. For a budget traveler the average daily cost is AU$71, with meals for 1 day making up for AU$17 and accommodation making up for as low as AU$41. A luxury traveler can expect a whopping daily budget of AU$ 589 for the same with AU$ 117 on food and AU$385 on accommodation daily.
Airport and travel
Sydney’s main international airport, the Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport is a hub for Qantas Air, Virgin Australia and Jetstar Airways. Most major airlines, from Air Canada to United Airlines, make a stop in Australia. Some making many stops, very few flying directly. From London, one can expect an average flight price of $1200, and From New York, that figure jumps to $1600.