Sydney is big, beautiful, colourful, and exhausting. We spent several days in the city, walking around and trying to see as much as possible, but we still didn’t see everything. We’d always run out of steam and head back to base. But our time in Sydney wasn’t just about sightseeing, we met up with friends and family and got stuck in the thick of it.
Perhaps our favourite Sydney activity was going to the pub to watch the State of Origin Decider with our mates. A few records were broken by that third decider match – the most painful being the huge 52-6 victory for Queensland, which is the largest winning margin in Stage of Origin history. By half time, most the patrons of the pub had left and there were lots of unhappy faces. Juz was secretly siding with Queensland – her team choice was purely based on the average temperature of each state. And considering it was a chilly winter night in Sydney, Queensland was a clear winner on all fronts.
We saw heaps of stuff – beautiful days, fog so thick you couldn’t see 100 metres in front of you, rain and lightning, bikie busts, homeless people, and of course two of Australia’s most recognisable landmarks – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. We also got to spend some time with friends and family, including Dave’s uncle and Juz’s old colleague, Gareth.
- Sydney is located on the world’s largest natural harbour.
- Residents of Sydney are called Sydneysiders.
- The population of Sydney is over 4 million.
- A town plan of Sydney was submitted in 1790 but was rejected by the colony leaders, and this is why the layout of Sydney is so disorganised.
The region where Sydney is located has had occupants for thousands of years, but the first Europeans came in 1770. All the kids learn at school how the heroic Captain James Cook sailed into Botany Bay on the Endeavour and liked what he saw. The First Fleet arrived 18 years later with over 1000 settlers and the British colony was established on 26 January – what we now call Australia Day.
Not all passengers were free – there were 778 convicts on board and they were put to work to build the colony and expand farming. Over the next few years, more boats full of convicts arrived, but due to sickness, many of them died. In the meantime, aboriginals were dying because their food sources were depleted and their immune system was no match for introduced diseases like measles and small pox.
Sydney officially became a city in 1842 and as always, the discovery of gold in Bathurst in 1851 caused a massive population boom from around 40,000 people to over 200,000 over 20 years. This rapid growth meant that infrastructure needed to be upgraded, like railways and ports, but the boom was stolen away by the Victorian gold rush. People started to flock south to Melbourne and this was the beginning of the rivalry between these two cities.
In 1901, when the colonies were united to become the Commonwealth of Australia, both Sydney and Melbourne applied to be the capital of the country. The dispute was settled with the creation of a new city – Canberra.
In 1942, Australia’s involvement in WWII stepped up a notch when Sydney Harbour was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Three midget submarines entered the harbour and two of them were detected and attacked before being scuttled by their crews – who all perished. The third sub fired a torpedo that killed 21 people aboard a converted ferry. It then disappeared until it was found in 2006 just north of Sydney by some amateur scuba divers. Though damaged, the two scuttled submarines were quickly recovered and one complete vessel was made and put on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
In September 1993, every Australian was glued to their TV, watching with anticipation for the announcement of the next host of the Olympic Games. The IOC President at the time, Juan Antonio Samaranch, then said those famous words:
“The, the winner is Syd-a-ney, Australia…”
Sydney went on to host the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Australia came in 4th overall and won 58 medals – 16 gold, 25 silver, 17 bronze, with the majority of them coming from the swimming pool. Interestingly, all of the bronze medals handed out during the Games were made at the Royal Australian Mint from melted down 1c and 2c coins.
Points of Interest
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Affectionately known as the Coat Hanger, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built over 9 years and completed in 1932. It’s a masterpiece of forethought, as back in the 1930s, there was only a handful of registered cars, but these days it’s the busiest road in Australia. While we were in Sydney, we drove across it, walked over it, caught a train across it, rode the ferry under it and Dave even climbed it.
Sydney Opera House
You can’t get more iconic than the Sydney Opera House. Located at Bennelong Point and sometimes called the Dish Rack, the performing arts centre was opened in 1973 and is one of the most popular attractions in Australia. The nearby Opera Bar is a popular place to hang out and have a beer.
Sydney’s Luna Park
Located on the opposite end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is Sydney’s Luna Park, a theme park that’s been operating since 1935. This retro, Coney Island inspired playground is free to enter and is seriously fun.
The place where the original convicts were sent to live, the Rocks has transformed into an area full of beautiful heritage buildings, cafes and shops, charming alleys and cobblestone laneways and tonnes of history. To learn more about the area, you can either go to the Discovery Centre, or visit the Sydney Harbour YHA to see the original foundations. On the weekends, there’s a cool market that runs from 10am to 5pm.
A pedestrian mall in the heart of the city, it’s home to several Australian banks, Martin Place Railway Station, the Seven Network news centre and the glorious GPO building. It was also the site of the Sydney Siege in late 2014, where 18 people were taken hostage in the Lindt Café. It was a shocking event and to pay our respects and get a bit of sticky beak action, we visited the café and bought some chocolate.
The oldest public parkland in Australia, Hyde Park is a splash of green in the grey of the city. Within the park is the Pool of Reflection and Anzac War Memorial, but the centrepiece is the Archibald Fountain, which was designed by a Frenchman as a ‘thank you gift’ for Australia’s contribution to the First World War.
We also found a giant outdoor chessboard, some enormous seven metre tall bullets that pay tribute to indigenous servicemen and women, and a man entertaining some kids with bubbles. Next to the park is St Mary’s Cathedral, the longest church in Australia – 107 metres.
Kurnell & La Perouse
These words might not mean much to you, but they are important locations in the history of Australia. Kurnell is on the southern headland of Botany Bay and it’s where the seamen of the Endeavour first stepped onto Aussie soil way back in 1770. There are monuments celebrating this event, and the best way to see them is on the Burrawang Walk, which starts at the Kurnell Visitor Centre. The walk passes Captain Cook’s landing place and acknowledges the other members of his team like Isaac Smith, who was actually the first Englishman to set foot on Australia, and Forby Sutherland, the first Brit to die in Australia. There’s also an obelisk that commemorates 100 years and 200 years of Cook’s Landing.
The northern headland of Botany Bay is named La Perouse after the French explorer Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse (what a mouthful!), who landed there on the 26th of January 1788 with two ships, the Astrolabe and Boussole. According to history, La Perouse was coming to Australia to claim it for the French. Unfortunately for him, the First Fleet from Britain had arrived a week earlier on the 18th of January, so they were there to meet him and his crew. The French stayed in Botany Bay for six weeks before continuing their adventure to New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, where the two ships disappeared, never to be seen again.
To the South
To the south of Sydney are a few notable landmarks. Bondi Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world and in true ONA fashion, as soon as we arrived, it started to rain. Further south along the coast is Coogee, the place of the infamous poo poo ice cream incident a few years back. It seemed appropriate to seek out a sundae for our visit but for some strange reason, the only eatery in the area still selling sundaes was McDonald’s.
Further south still is the Sutherland Shire, named after Forby Sutherland, the first British man to die in Australia. This is where Dave’s uncle lives so we got to spend a few days hanging out with family. Dave and his uncle even went and had a look at Royal National Park, the first national park in Australia.
To the North
The northern beaches start at Manly, a seaside suburb that was named after the ‘manly’ indigenous that lived there when the First Fleet arrived. The Manly Wharf is a popular spot for a feed, with a few fancy restaurants and cafes, or you can catch the ferry from Manly Cove to the Sydney CBD.
Further north is Pittwater, a valley estuary that separates Sydney from the Central Coast. At the entrance of the estuary is Palm Beach, a hilly area stuffed with big houses perched on cliffs with decadent views of the coast.
While you’re in the north, take a detour on the Mona Vale Road to the Bahá’í Temple, one of seven in the world. The temple was built in 1961 and welcomes all faiths. It’s almost 40m high and has nine sides with nine entrances, which represent unity. When you visit, please note that it is a quiet zone so turn your phone off and shush.
Eat & Drink
There are so many great places to eat and drink in Sydney. Just close your eyes, spin around 10 times and order something from the first place you bump into. Here is our post on the yummy places that we ate at.
We sniffed out a few breweries in Sydney, only missing out on one in the Rocks. They all had a great selection of beers but our favourites were Young Henry’s in Newtown and Batch Brewing Co in Marrickville. Check out our post about Sydney Breweries here.
Information & Accommodation
The public transport system in Sydney is pretty straight forward. There are double decker trains, insanely fast buses and relaxingly slow ferries, and you can either buy a single ticket, a multi ticket, or save yourself the confusion and get just an Opal Card. Opal cards can be picked up for free from certain outlets and you just put money on it and touch on and off to travel.
For accommodation, there are several YHA locations, including Bondi, Sydney Central, Sydney Harbour, Glebe and two up the northern beaches. We stayed at Glebe Point YHA so that we could have somewhere to park the Troopy and still be close to the city, but we also checked out the Sydney Harbour YHA too.