If you’re planning a holiday to Sydney, it’s a good idea to do some research before you go. This massive city is too big to tackle in one go, so you’ll need to figure out what activities you want to do, what places you want to visit and which restaurants you want to dine at.
That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to exploring it. We know you probably don’t have time to spend hours reading dozens of different articles, so we’ve done it for you. Where to visit, what to do, where to eat, where to stay, when to travel … it’s all here.
What are you waiting for? Get reading!
Overview of Sydney
As Australia’s most populous city and the capital of New South Wales, Sydney is arguably Australia’s biggest urban attraction.
This sprawling metropolis is a diverse blend of cultures and identities – here, Indigenous Australian heritage stretching back tens of thousands of years coexists with the site of the first European landing, and, since 1770, successive waves of immigration have transformed Sydney into a rich, vibrant destination. Over 5,300,000 Australians live in Sydney, speaking over 250 different languages.
Sydney is also home to a variety of incredible attractions. From manmade icons like the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge to natural spaces like Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the Blue Mountains, the city and its surrounding regions hold a trove of offerings for tourists to explore.
For roughly 30,000 years prior to European arrival, the Sydney region was inhabited by Australia’s First Nations. There were 29 different clan groups who called the Sydney metropolitan area home, with language groups like Darug, Dharawal, Darginung, Guringai and Gundugurra. These clan groups are collectively referred to as the Eora Nation, with the City of Sydney recognising the Gadigal of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of Sydney.
In 1770, Lieutenant James Cook landed at Botany Bay with the crew of the HMS Endeavour. Eighteen years later, based on Cook’s favourable assessment of the area, the First Fleet arrived with over 1,000 settlers, establishing Australia’s first British colony – the foundations of modern Sydney.
Over the next decade, Sydney’s European colony grew with the arrival of convict fleets, ex-soldiers and free settlers. Towards the end of the century, the colonists and First Nations tribes became involved in a series of guerrilla conflicts, including the Battle of Parramatta and the Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars, which concluded in 1816.
The militaristic colonial rule also chafed on Sydney’s convict population, who, in 1804, led the unsuccessful Castle Hill Rebellion. Four years later, the Rum Rebellion – a military coup instigated by Sydney’s ‘Rum Corps’ – saw two years of total military control, before a new British governor managed to restore order.
Despite a brief economic hiatus in the 1850s, due in large part to the Victorian gold rush, Sydney quickly proceeded to cement its reputation as Australia’s largest and most prosperous city – a distinction it continues to enjoy to this day.
Places to Visit in Sydney
When you holiday in Sydney, you can pick a point on the map and find an iconic attraction, significant location or historic monument. Unfortunately, though, a shorter vacation might mean you don’t get to visit everywhere you want to, so we’ve simplified things by compiling the top five locations to explore in the Sydney area.
The Blue Mountains
Are the Blue Mountains technically in Sydney? No, they’re not, but you’ll want to visit them anyway. Riddled with history and packed with a host of family-friendly activities, these towering ranges get their name from the blue haze which seems to wreath them; modern science theorizes that this unique appearance is caused by chemicals emitted from the mountains’ endemic eucalypt populations.
In addition to the breathtaking views and natural species (the Blue Mountains’ biodiversity has earned them a World Heritage listing), you can also explore attractions like waterfalls, hikes, cable cars, glow worm tunnels and the Warragamba Dam.
Sydney has many faces, and Paddington exemplifies one of them – upscale and deeply on-trend, populated by queer bars, hip restaurants and Victorian architecture, with the retail-oriented Intersection at its heart.
Paddington might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this historic suburb is definitely worth a visit if you like good food, great wine and even better style. Dive bars and hole-in-the-wall coffee houses sit side-by-side with white-table restaurants and Old World-y inns, affording visitors a chance to dive head-first into a world of vibrance and energy.
Bondi was popularised by the hit reality TV show Bondi Rescue, which cast the suburb has a haven of sun-bronzed abs and daring maritime rescues, and has become emblematic of Australia’s beach culture. Love the idea of hitting the surf in one of the country’s most popular beaches? Bondi might just be for you.
If you like your ocean swims a bit quieter, though, there are still plenty of reasons to visit. The laidback, health-conscious lifestyle embraced by locals is evident in the plethora of chilled-out cafés and upscale breakfast joints – this is where Sydney comes to relax, to recharge, to escape the rat-race of the CBD. That means everything you think it does: acai bowls and gelato and craft beer and farmers’ markets, all coming together to form the perfect holiday experience.
The Rocks is Sydney’s oldest suburb. In fact, this precinct sits on the bones of the first convict settlements built in 1788, and it’s hard not to feel the weight of history pressing down on you as you wander through cobbled laneways framed by towering stone buildings.
Luckily, you don’t need to explore The Rocks on your own. There are plenty of walking tours and well-informed guides to help you make the most of one of the city’s most fascinating areas. Discover old-style pubs, boutique retail stores and, of course, the famous Rocks Markets.
Travelling with kids? Give Kings Cross a pass. This small locality is the churning underbelly of Sydney: red-lit clubs and teeming pubs, riddled with rampant drug and alcohol use, boasting a long history of crime and bohemianism.
But don’t let that put you off. It’s also one of the most interesting parts of the city, and is slowly metamorphosing into something more gentrified, making it the perfect place to enjoy a cautious adventure in the company of your partner. Sydney’s 2014 lockout laws have played a big role in quieting the Cross – the strict alcohol curfews resulted in an estimated 40% drop in foot traffic, culling many of the area’s biggest hospitality venues.
You can still get rowdy at the surviving nightclubs, but you’ll also be able to enjoy a more laid-back experience at the smaller, quality-focused restaurants and bars that have sprung up in the last six years. Either way, spending an evening in Kings Cross is definitely something that should feature on your Sydney itinerary.
Most Popular Things to Do in Sydney
Wondering what to do in Sydney? You’re spoiled for choice. Here’s our top five most iconic Sydney attractions.
Visit the Sydney Opera House
It’s Australia’s most famous manmade attraction. Go here.
Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Climb it, walk it or photograph it. Just make sure you experience it.
Discover Taronga Zoo
Taronga is Australia’s largest zoo, with over 4,000 animals. If you have kids, they’ll want to visit.
Explore Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Get out in nature and learn about First Nations culture at this 37,000-acre national park.
Relax in the Royal Botanic Garden
It’s beautiful, it’s close to the CBD and there’s plenty of fascinating things to do here. Why wouldn’t you go?
Where to Eat in Sydney
As a city with a long history and diversity of cultural influences, Sydney has plenty of incredible places to eat. That’s why we’ve covered them in another article – The Top Sydney Restaurants and Eateries of 2021. Go and check it out, and then come back to this page.
When to Visit Sydney
Like so many of Australia’s top destinations, Sydney has something to offer you year-round, but there are definitive advantages to visiting at the best possible time.
Summer (December to February) and winter (June to August), which coincide with major school holidays, are the city’s peak seasons; unless you need to time your vacation with those two seasons, we recommend visiting during spring or autumn instead.
You can expect relatively mild temperatures year-round, with the warmest month, January, clocking in at a comfortable daytime average of 26ºC, and June, its coldest, dropping to an average of 16.4ºC. February to June are typically the rainiest months, with September the being the driest, while July and August offer the most number of clear-skied days.
Conclusion: late winter/spring is the best time of year to visit Sydney, as long as you’re not going for the beaches.
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Sydney. From tiny hostels in in the outlying suburbs to palatial five-star hotels in the CBD, travellers have an incredibly diverse range of accommodation options.
For sheer high-end convenience, though, it’s hard to beat Club Wyndham Sydney. Positioned on the corner of Goulburn Street and Wentworth Avenue in the Sydney CBD, the building’s ground floor features essential amenities like a convenience store, a café and an ATM. Short stay or long stay, everything you need is just an elevator ride from your door.
Step into your room, and you’ll find the standard Wyndham accoutrements, like a kitchenette, a Juliet balcony, an LCD TV, Foxtel, free Internet access and high-powered air conditioning to filter out the traffic fumes. Choose a cosy studio perfect for romantic getaways, or go big with a family-sized apartment.
The hotel’s communal facilities are also excellent. A shared laundry, 24-hour reception, a tour desk to help organise your Sydney adventures, a gym to get toned for Bondi and a Thai massage centre to help you relax – what else could you ask for?
Oh, and that trip to the Blue Mountains you were planning? CW Sydney also offers limited undercover parking, making it easy to store your hire car off the street. However you choose to explore Sydney, Club Wyndham Sydney will help make it happen.
We can’t cover everything about Sydney in this article, but we hope that you’ve managed to learn something about Australia’s biggest and most famous city.
If you’re looking to explore Sydney in person, get in touch with our team, and we’ll guide you through the booking process.
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