Why is Sydney one of my favourite cities? Because it’s unashamedly young, fun and full of rum (I’ll explain what I mean by that in just a sec). The capital of New South Wales is a thriving metropolis, wrapped in a beautiful harbour and pearly white shores.
‘It’s unashamedly young, fun and full of rum’
Sydney Harbour, taken from the Harbour Bridge
Sydneysiders are embracing their heritage and history like never before, which has helped tourism reach an all-time high, and is why I fell head over heels in love with the city.
Sydney skyline, taken from Manly ferry
Here’s my top five reasons to visit…
Sydney may be iconic for its shiny and sophisticated surface, but scratch that and you’ll discover its origins and far more seedy and scandalous. Despite being home to indigenous islanders for at least 30,000 years, its story as a city really begins in the 18th century when it was stumbled upon by the British who decided to use the land as a convict colony.
The Rocks, the area where the first colony settled
They sent thieves, fraudsters, and soldiers in their thousands by ship (no murderers as they were usually hanged), and expected them to pretty much fend for themselves. So much so, that when Governor Lachlan Macquarie asked for cash to build a hospital in the 19th century he was told no by politicians, and had to come up with an ingenious way to raise the funds…using alcohol. He offered a contract to rum importers, giving them full monopoly of the trade for a few years in exchange for the building!
The Barracks, Sydney
What I love about Sydneysiders, is the way they talk about their history with their heads held high, and why not? It attracts hoards of tourists every day, who are all eager to learn about its seemingly horrible history. I see it more as a Cinderella city though; a true rags to riches tale. The best place to see this story brought to life is by wandering through the cobbled streets of The Rocks where the convicts were let loose all those years ago.
The Rocks, Sydney
World-class food and drink
If you’ve read any of my other travel posts, you’ll probably know I am a massive foodie. I set a pretty high standard for cafes and restaurants, and Sydney did not disappoint. My favourite areas to chow down were Surrey Hills, Paddington, Darlinghurst and The Rocks. These picturesque suburbs are home to some seriously delicious eats. Our favourite brunch spot was called Philosophy Cafe, where you can enjoy a soft drink and a main meal for $16. Their weekly specials are also incredible.
Philosophy Cafe, Sydney
Our number one restaurant was The Commons Local Eating House, where we tucked into an incredible French dinner three times during our stay. The staff were friendly and informative, and would often give us their preferences for specials, and after a romantic meal you could head downstairs to a cosy bar and watch live Jazz. This place was also smack bang in the middle of the city, a short walk from Hyde Park.
The Commons Local Eating House, Sydney
Finally, if you’re looking for a good watering hole to drink away the fun tokens, then check out The Argyle in The Rocks. This bar/bistro is set in an 1820s building with a sandstone courtyard. It’s noisy and brash but when Happy Hour means $5 wine and beer and $10 cocktails, I’m sold.
The Argyle, The Rocks, Sydney
The Sydney suburbs
The city centre is understandably very popular with tourists, but if you really want to live like a Sydneysider then venture out to the suburbs. Gentrification has had a big impact on these areas, with hoards of Instagramable shops and restaurants popping up. Surrey Hills and Paddington are a short 20-30 minute walk from Hyde Park, but they’re worlds away from the bustling business district. They ooze cafe culture and are dotted with beautiful Art Nouveau architecture. We felt it was a mix of an American suburb and English town; like a Chicago and Southsea smoothie.
Newtown is also a short train ride from the centre, and is a great area for picnics overlooking the city skyline. If you want something more upmarket, there’s no shortage of boutique bars there too. We wen’t to somewhere called Earl’s Juke Joint, which is one of the worst kept secrets in the city. It looks like a butcher’s shop out front, but the bouncer by the door is a clear giveaway.
Earl’s Juke Joint, Newtown, Sydney
Natural beauty isn’t something you’d say if you were playing a word associating game with most cities, but you would for Sydney. The sparkling blue Harbour, achingly beautiful Royal Botanic Garden, and sand fringed shores are rare for a metropolis. Venture further out and you can spend a day taking in the breathtaking scenery at some of the world’s oldest national parks, like The Royal National Park and Kur-ring-gai Chase. There’s vibrant wildlife to seek out and tranquil, secluded bays to go for a refreshing dip.
Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney
We decided to catch a ferry to Manly and do a four hour coastal trek. We couldn’t believe how close we were to the city, because we were in a completely different environment. Another popular walk is the Bondi to Coogee.
Manly Walk, Sydney
One of the greatest natural wonders is the annual migration of thousands of whales along the New South Wales coast. Whale watching is extremely popular along the Sydney coastal walks between May and November and you can even hire a special boat to follow them.
Sydney is a canvas for the weird and wonderful. Iconic landmarks like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge scream creative flare. Look a little closer though, and you’ll see artists have been letting their imaginations run wild all over the city. As part of the I’m Free Tours, we were taken down a seemingly normal back alley to the Forgotten Songs art piece. Empty birdcages are suspended in mid-air to symbolise the species that were once indigenous to the area. It was only supposed to be a temporary display, but people loved it so much the council decided to keep it!
Forgotten Songs, Angels Place, Sydney
The city is home to some of the world’s most impressive art museums, and soon to be one the largest. The expansion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales is an exciting project getting underway, with the vision to create ‘a global art museum for a global city’. We also spent an afternoon at the Museum of Contemporary Art in The Rocks area, which is free to stroll around. It was a little ‘out there’ for us, but it might be your cup of tea.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
The city is also incredibly photogenic, and I’m not just talking about the standard #OperaHouse snaps. Places like Surrey Hills, Observatory Hill, and Sydney Park are just a few of the spots often visited by snap-happy travellers. Find out the 10 most Instagram-worthy spots in Sydney here.
Surrey Hills, Sydney
Here’s a selection of our favourite photos from our time there…