If you have few days to spend in and around Sydney I have a few suggestions of some of my favourite things to do. There is a slight bias towards walking and food, two of my great loves! I hope you find inspiration and joy from your visit!
Botanic Gardens and the Opera House
Start by finding your way to St. James train station. This station, located in Hyde Park is one of the original underground stations on the Sydney rail network and has retained some of it's vintage charm.
Once out of the station head in the direction of the park, towards the large Archibald Fountain. This is a personal of mine for it's vomiting turtle fountains. From here, head towards the cathedral and the road diagonally towards signs for ‘The Domain' and the NSW Art Gallery (worth a visit if inclined). This sets you on the path for a nice walk through the Botanical Gardens. The gardens are well signposted. I would highly recommend the garden’s gift shop which has some really excellent Aussie made wares. I don’t recommend the café in the gardens, the bin chickens (ibis) are super aggressive and will attack you if they sense fear/food is present! If you don’t know what a bin chicken is please watch this video:
If you are looking for a great photo opportunity, head towards Mrs Macquarie’s chair. It’s a bit of a walk but This will afford you great views of the opera house and the bridge in the same shot. After you’re finished, follow signs for the opera house and circular quay.
At the opera house you can walk all the way around it and go inside. There are tours you can book too if you want to see more of the insides. If it’s lunch time and you’re feeling cashed up Bennelong restaurant is excellent and highly recommended, its housed inside the cute little baby opera house in front of the big one. The 8 textured chocolate cake is the same as from Quay restaurant across the water. It is life changing.
The rocks is a pretty touristy part of town but that doesn’t really detract from it’s charm. It is the site of some of the earliest European settlement in Sydney and has some interesting history. I recommend just wandering among the alleys and laneways, walking up random stair cases and through archways…you never know what you’ll find! Here is a pretty good self guided tour suggestion. If you are visiting on a Saturday or a Sunday the Rocks markets will be on, with stalls scattered around the place. Word of warning though; sturdy shoes are best in the Rocks because the surfaces are a bit uneven and slippery at times and there are lots of inclines and steps.
Susannah Place museum is a really interesting way to see early European life in the area. They run tours on the hour and you can buy tickets from the museum. The YHA across the road is also pretty amazing. It is the site of an archaeological dig and can be walked though underneath.
The Sydney observatory. For a bit of science fun and for a great view, walk up to the Sydney observatory. They have tours which are excellent (some amazing science education at work by post grads!) You can also watch the daily ball drop at 1pm!
Food in the Rocks
You can’t visit Sydney and not have a Messina icecream! There is a shop opposite the circular quay train station (other side of the construction site for the light rail!). Flavours I recommend are: Salted caramel and white chocolate, Chocolate fondant and Pistachio praline.
If you’re looking for a café, La Renaissance has good coffee and superb cakes with a little courtyard out the back to sit where you’ll likely be visited by their resident rainbow lorikeets, careful the cheeky things pinch your sugar packets!
Arguably the best Devonshire tea in Sydney can be had at the Tea Cosy. It has an Irish theme and all teas come with their own unique tea cosy. The best jam is the rhubarb, strawberry and vanilla one, hands down!
If the markets are on, the Gozleme stall is hard to beat. The stall owners are super friendly. My favourite is the beef, spinach and feta version!
The Fortunes of War is a classic pub (the oldest in Sydney too!) with surprising good food. They have a gallery of all of the ships which were in the first fleet, and the eagle eyed among you will notice a similarity of the names of these ships and our little ferries. My favourite is Sirius.
The Bridge and Kirribilli
If you keep walking up the hill you will find the bridge stairs which will take you up to bridge level. I recommend walking at least to the first pylon where there is a look out and a fantastic museum which is right up the top of the pylon. You get a great view and a really detailed history of the bridge. If you keep walking across the bridge you will end up in Kirribilli (where I live!) which is a nice place to stroll around, this is where the official Sydney residences are for the Prime Minter and Governor General. From here you can also walk back down to the harbour and along the boardwalk past or through Luna park. If you keep walking along the board walk you can find Wendy’s secret garden which is a little slice of quiet paradise and a lovely place for a picnic or a rest with lots of hidden nooks and crannies to explore.
Newtown and the Marrickville markets
The Marrickville markets are held on Sundays. The 428 bus leaves from Newtown train stations and stops right outside the markets. They are a really chill, mainly organic food market with a few second hand and craft stalls. Overall it has a great bohemian vibe. There are lots of great lunch options to enjoy, though I really recommend the Gozleme from the team of Turkish ladies. There is also an amazing second hand ‘junk’ shed on site (very large shed!) that is a sight to behold, I love rummaging through it to find treasures. When you take the bus back to Newtown make sure you get off a bit before the station and head to Hakiki Turkish ice cream shop…some say Messina is the best icecream in Sydney but my money is on these guys, especially their Turkish delight flavour!
Newtown itself has lots of great little shops and places to explore with plenty of classic Aussie pubs.
Watsons Bay and The Gap
Take the F4 ferry to Watsons bay from either Pyrmont, Barangaroo, Milson Point or Circular Quay. It is arguably the best ferry trip to take as it takes in most of the middle harbour but doesn’t have the crowds of the Manly ferry. Stay on the ferry until the last stop at Watsons bay. This is the site of the famous Doyle’s seafood restaurant, if you are on a budget you can get the same fish and chips for a lot cheaper at their takeaway on the wharf! From the wharf, make your way through the park up to the gap. The gap is a high cliff face looking over the pacific ocean. If you are super lucky you my just see some humpback whales breaching! There is a nice walk along the coastline here that loops back to Watsons bay. From the gap you can either head back to the wharf and take the ferry back to town or jump on the 380 bus to Bondi beach! If you still have energy at Bondi, I recommend the famous Bondi-Coogee coast walk, even the shorter walk to Bronte is worth doing!
The Blue Mountains
Public transport maxes out at $2.60 all day on Sunday so it’s a great day to go far and wide on the extensive opal network.
The Blue mountains about 2-2.5 hours by train. The two towns to head for are Katoomba and Leura, both have train stations.
The day trip I like best has me on the 8.30 or 9am train out of central (hint: aim for one with 8 carriages and walk toward front of train…it can get a bit busy on Sundays) you will arrive at Katoomba just before lunch. So you could find food in Katoomba (Old City Bank Brasserie is good or the Pomegranate cafe) there but I’d suggest sourcing some food in Sydney and aim for a picnic in the bush instead. Once you’re in Katoomba you can get the bus 686 to Echo Point (where the actual views and nature is). Your opal card will get you on the bus.
Echo point is where you can look over the amazing Jamison valley and see the three sisters. From echo point you can either head back to Katoomba and take the train to Leura or, and I really recommend this, walk to Leura via the Leura cascades. It is such a nice walk. About 4km with some ups and downs but not really difficult. Details including a map and walking guide can be found here
Once you get to the Leura cascades you’ll walk up to Leura village along the road. Leura is super cute and worth spending your time in (Katoomba not so much). After your long walk you’ve earned a reward and I recommend a hot chocolate a Cafe Madeleine (187A Leura Mall), and a trip to Josophan’s chocolates
If you like tea pots and Devonshire then tea, Bygone Beautys with it’s hilariously random teapot museum is also a fun stop. After you’ve explored the town you can head back to Sydney from the Leura train station.
If you do plan to go to the Blue Mountains visit, please pack warm clothes it is actually pretty cold up there and it can be a little windy.