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Europe has always been my dream destination for a honeymoon. Romantic dinners, wine, gondola rides, getting lost in each other’s eyes while sharing a plate of spaghetti… However, when we moved to the West Coast, we realized that traveling to Europe (okay, Italy) was more expensive than traveling from the East Coast. With my dreams dashed as fast as you can say “spaghetti,” we decided to explore options to the west of us and decided on Australia. Our first stop in Australia was Sydney and that was where we really began our love affair with this country.
After traveling 15 hours by plane from LAX to SYD, we took an Uber to our hostel in Sydney’s northern Kirribilli neighborhood. (Quick Travel Tip: We did not get an international cell phone plan for this trip, so we relied on wifi and downloaded offline Google maps. Definitely doable here.) We stayed at the Glenferrie Lodge, a hotel within walking distance to the train and (if you put your walking shoes on) the famous Sydney Opera House. Be careful when booking rooms at this hotel. They offer rooms with shared bathrooms and rooms with private ensuite bathrooms. We did not look closely at this and ended up sharing a bathroom with several others. The bathrooms were cleanly enough. However, I just would have preferred a private bathroom.
Day 1 in Sydney
Sydney Harbour Bridge
We arrived at the hostel in the late morning, so we were able to conquer a few of the main sites on our first day. Within 15 minutes, we walked to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bridge connects the Central Business District (CBD) to the North Shore and is heavily trafficked by vehicles, bikes, trains and pedestrians. The bridge itself is the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge (440 feet from the water to the top of the bridge) and the world’s widest bridge (160 feet). Although the bridge itself is only 0.31 miles long, it felt a lot longer (note: do not wear sandals like the author of this post did). You can walk along the bridge from either side (we traveled south towards the CBD). There is a safety fence, but you’ll still be able to take pictures of the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay just as we did.
Many suggested that we climb to the top of the bridge to get a 360 degree view of Sydney, however we were not very fond of the price.
Once leaving the Sydney Harbour Bridge, there are stairs that take you down to the historic area called The Rocks. This colonial neighborhood with cobblestone streets has some local shopping and restaurants, including some of Australia’s oldest pubs. It hosts The Rocks Markets every Friday-Sunday where you can browse the stalls for local gourmet food and souvenirs/gifts. On this particular day, we grabbed some gelato and walked the cobblestone streets to Circular Quay. Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) is a bustling ferry and cruise ship hub. While it doesn’t boast much more than being a port, it’s certainly a great place to people watch, watch some street performers and catch a ferry. We took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly later in the trip, but there are other destinations, such as Darling Harbour and the Taronga Zoo.
Transportation in Sydney
Keep in mind that if you plan to use public transportation in Sydney (or most of Australia), you’ll definitely need to buy an Opal card. They’re readily available at convenience stores and the entrances of most public transportation.
Sydney Opera House
After people watching at Circular Quay, it’s a quick ten minute walk to the Sydney Opera House, which is even more remarkable up close than in the photos. This iconic building is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a multi-venue performing arts center. The architect of the building, John Utzon, intended the building to have a sail-like look. From afar, the roof of the building looks smooth and white. However, up close, you’ll see that the “sails” are actually covered with over 1 million ceramic chevron tiles. It is truly a beauty of a building!
If you’re interested, tours of the Opera House are available. We did not take one but were able to walk around and browse the gift shop inside. If you’re interested in seeing a performance or concert, there are 6 venues under the sails, so I highly suggest you check out the schedule. Before a performance, you have a choice of 4 restaurants/bars to grab a drink or meal at.
Whether or not you actually see a performance at the Sydney Opera House, visiting the building up close is the #1 thing you need to do in Sydney. It was hands-down my favorite attraction. You definitely won’t want to miss it!
Royal Botanical Gardens
After gawking at the beauty of the Sydney Opera House up close, you can continue to stroll along the harbor to the Royal Botanical Gardens. If you’re a photographer, there are many beautiful views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge, but a very underrated view is the view from the Gardens.
The Gardens itself host events, such as (when we were there) an outdoor musical. If you have the time, I suggest having a picnic with a view of the Opera House or sipping on a coffee from one of the cafes while you stroll. Take your time when visiting the gardens because there is much to see and much to take photos of.
Once you’ve taken the perfect photograph of the Sydney Opera House from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbour is a lively place to visit with no shortage of restaurants and bars. Every Saturday night, there are also fireworks! You can eat at one of the many Harbour restaurants or go a little further inland to Darling Square. With close proximity to Chinatown, there is a beautiful Chinese Garden of Friendship (need to pay admission) with exotic plants and koi fish perfect for families to enjoy. After a long day of walking, we devoured dumplings, chicken lo mein and beef soup noodles at the Chinese Noodle Restaurant in Chinatown– honestly the best Chinese food I’ve ever had (and I’ve been to China).
Day 2 in Sydney
After a long day exploring the city of Sydney, we decided the next day was going to be a beach day! We had heard incredible things about the Bondi to Coogee/Coogee to Bondi coastal walk. Since Bondi Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Australia, we decided to start at Coogee and end with some beach time in Bondi.
First stop was breakfast in Coogee, and all I can say is “wow.” The food in Australia is exceptional (and the coffee even better). We had our favorite breakfasts, Greek, Chinese, Thai foods and coffees in this beautiful country. For breakfast this day, we ate at Coogee Courtyard which was a really laid back outdoor eatery. Andrew had his favorite breakfast yet: the Irish Breakfast (black pudding, beans, bacon, hash browns, sausage, fried eggs and toast). Breakfast went along perfectly with our favorite coffee to date: a mint chocolate latte. (Fun fact: lattes in Australia come in small glasses as opposed to mugs that we would use in the states).
Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk
With our bellies full, we set out on our coastal walk beginning at Coogee and ending at Bondi Beach. When we actually began the walk, I was under the pretense that it was only a mile walk. (I blame my husband for this). Therefore, I wore a dress and sandals with no support. Let me tell you. The walk one way is actually 3.7 miles (6 km) and around 2-3 hours. So, when you go, make sure you dress appropriately. The trail itself is easy, and there are restrooms and cafes along the way if you need to stop. The walk highlights a few beaches and a coastal cemetery to stop at. My favorite places on the walk were Gordon’s Bay, a small beach oasis, and Waverley Cemetery (bury me here, please). Who wouldn’t want their final resting place to be overlooking the ocean?
Once we arrived at Bondi, we grabbed mango smoothies at Boost Juice Smoothies, rented surfboards at Bondi Surf Co and headed to the beach. Now when we were there in March, the beach was extremely crowded. I can’t speak to the rest of the summer months, but be prepared for a crowd. Also, you can only use foam surfboards at Bondi. It makes sense since you could (and probably will) be dodging people.
Day 3 in Sydney
On our last day in Sydney, we took an Uber from our hostel in Kirribili to Circular Quay. At Circular Quay, where we used our Opal Card and grabbed a ferry to Manly. While you may not find yourself actually needing a ferry on your stay in Sydney, I would highly recommend just for the pictures you can get of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the city skyline. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up getting the best photos because our last day in Sydney was a rainy one.
Once arriving in Manly, we walked the main streets of the town full of coffee shops and clothing stores. After browsing, my husband and I rented surfboards at Dripping Wet Surf Co and set out for the water. The weather itself was drizzly that day, but I highly recommend surfing/sunbathing at Manly Beach if you want a slower and more relaxed vibe than Bondi Beach. Manly Beach is recognized as the birthplace of Australian surfing and hosts the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro.
Sydney Harbour Bridge & Luna Park at Nighttime
After exploring Manly, we headed back to Circular Quay via ferry and went back to our hotel’s neighborhood of Kirribilli. That night, I enjoyed the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten at Thai Fusion in Kirribilli. A short walk from the restaurant will take you to Milsons Point. Milsons Point is a park right next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The location boasts stunning night time views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I highly recommend seeing these two landmarks at night to really take in its beauty and maybe a few long exposure shots. Close by is Luna Park, an amusement park, that would’ve been fun to check out if we had more time.
Unfortunately, we only had three short days in Sydney before we traveled to Melbourne. If I were to visit again, I would stay one more day to explore the city or spend more time at Bondi or Manly Beach. Three days is quick if you are able to pack it in. For a more relaxed time in Sydney, I would recommend four days at least. Next stop: Melbourne.
Book for the Trip
Unless you are visiting from Australia, you are going to have a long flight. I highly recommend Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I couldn’t put it down!