a swimming pool with people in it with Bondi Beach in the background

Don’t even think about saying “G’day, mate”…

Some places make you seriously consider your life choices, and Sydney is one of them. The city feels almost too good, with its laid back lifestyle, beautiful surroundings, high end food, cheap beer and constant hum of buzzing excitement. With so many coves, there’s a neighborhood for everyone, and within hours, it’s impossible not to wonder if a move to the bustling metropolis is just what you need in life. But not everyone gets to experience all the magic of Sydney. As usual, tourists miss out on far too many gems. Even if it’s your first time, here’s how to tackle Sydney like you own the place, or at least know it…

a bridge over water with a city in the backgroundIgnore The Opal

Opal is the “Oyster” or “Metro” card for the mass transit options of Sydney, and it should be your first stop upon arrival. Sydney offers fantastic train linkage between the Central Business District (CBD) where most tourists stay – and the SYD airport terminals. An Uber ride from the airport will run at least A$40, and often more like $55, whereas a quick, dependable 20 minute ride on the train is a mere A$17.38 or less. Unless you’re splitting the fare, getting an Opal card topped up and taking the train will save you money and often, time. You can use Opal on trains, ferries, busses and just about any other transit system.

Only Do Bondi

Bondi is awesome. It’s beautiful, the people are too and the walk from Bondi to Coogee is a classic. You’ll love the rugged rock formations, sandy beaches, gnarly surfers, big waves and people with interesting choices in “swimwear”. But again, like many of the best things – it’s busy. Rent a car and make your way up the coast to places like Jervis Bay if you want something really special, or if you want to stick to the Sydney area, at least consider Bronte or Manly too.

a wooden bridge over a beachStick To Central

For first timers, the Circular Quay (CBD) areas are going to satisfy your camera cravings, with easy access to “The Rocks”, Opera House, Bridge Climb and waterfront area. Go there, stay there, enjoy it – it’s all good, and there are fantastic hotels. It’s a buzzy spot, but especially on weekends, it’s entirely designed for tourists, since it’s also where cruise ships park. If you want to instantly expand your Sydney footprint, head to areas such as Balmain, Darlinghurst, Double Bay, Potts Point, Surry Hills or Bondi Beach. These areas are easy to reach by ferry and make for perfect day or night trips, even if you stay in the CBD.

The Bridge Climb

Sorry, some people love shelling out hundreds of dollars to do manual labor to achieve the same view that riding in a car could, but we’re just not on that boat. The Bridge Climb is insanely priced and forces you to wear a blue jumpsuit. The city is beautiful from any vantage point near or under the bridge, so there’s no need to sweat your ass off in the middle of the day while parting ways with enough money to buy a bottle of Penfold’s Grange, or at least a fantastic meal.

a bridge over water with palm trees and a city in the backgroundUnderestimate The Sun

You can strike this one up as common sense, but it’s easy to spot which flights just landed from Australia. Australia has some of the most intense sun on the planet, and that’s a scientific fact. If you think you’re one of those people that “doesn’t burn”, we sincerely hope you enjoy the 15 hour flight home covered in sunburn. Bring sunblock, wear it, reapply it and stay hydrated. Beer flows far too easily and the Sauvignon Blanc hits the spot during a lovely lunch, so make sure you keep the non alcoholic fluids in rotation.

Miss Blue Mountains

Too many people come to Sydney and hear about the Blue Mountains on their way home during an airport ride. The Blue Mountains are an insanely beautiful mountain range with crazy caves and dramatic vantage points, perfect for a day trip, since they’re only an hour or less away. If Sydney is your only stop in Australia (it shouldn’t be), you’ll be so glad you got out of town and saw a bit of the rugged terrain the country is so famous for. You can take tours, or go self guided, you really can’t go wrong – unless you get lost.

a large building with a bridge in the backgroundHarbor Tour Over Harbor Ferry

Harbor tours are expensive and really unnecessary. Of course, we won’t hold it against you if you choose to pay a fortune to share the evening with 250 other dinner cruise guests, but you could just pay a few bucks for a harbor ferry, bring your own wine (we won’t tell) and some canapés and get basically the same experience, and equal amount of sightseeing for a fraction of the price. Harbor ferries take Opal, harbor cruises take your cash.

Buy Expensive Australian Wine

Australia is home to the juiciest, most supple Shiraz, amazing Cabernet and lovely Sauvignon Blanc’s and Chardonnays. You’d think that like most countries, the best place to buy high end Australian wine would be in Australia, but it’s actually not. Unlike Spain where all the best wine hardly ever leaves the country, and is incredibly cheap, Australia charges a 29% tax on Aussie wines sold in country, but the tax is dropped for export. It’s actually probably cheaper in the US, UK or wherever you are. The more expensive the bottle, the more true this…

a wall with graffiti on it and people on the beachStick To Sydney

Sorry, but you’ve probably come all the way around the world, and seeing just one city is highly inefficient. Melbourne is one of the best foodie cities on the planet, Queensland is full of amazing beaches, Margaret River is home to some of the world’s best wine – and of course, nearby New Zealand is no slouch either. Flights can be reasonable using cash or points, and Aussie road trips are classic so get the map out and plan a side trip…

Pay For Hotel Breakfast

A hotel breakfast is quick and easy, and that’s a lot to love in the hours before 9am. But Sydney, much like Australia as a whole is passionate about coffee, pastry and cafe culture. If there’s ever a place to pass on the inflated price to lock in breakfast, it just might be here. From the hipster cafe’s of Potts Point to the darling cafe’s of Darlinghurst, there’s something for everyone. Oh, and it’s going to be a lot cheaper than any hotel. Iced latte, anyone?

What’s your favorite thing to do in Sydney?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. “Margaret River is home to some of the world’s best wine”

    You should probably edit this to state the Barossa Valley is home to some of the world’s best wine instead of Margaret River.

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