What to Do in Australia Part II: Sydney!

Hi! Welcome to Part 2 of my recap on our summer trip to Sydney! I hope this helps anyone out there who is planning a trip or thinking about going there someday. I can't reccomend it enough! Our entire group of 10 loved it. Do you ever play that game, "If you had to live somewhere other than the USA, where would that be?" We pretty much all decided by the end of the trip our answer to that question is Australia. The weather is great, the country is beautiful, and the people everywhere we went were friendly, kind, and laid back. It also seemed to be a generally healthy country with everyone being very active and outdoor-sy. To read our trip re-cap and tips on what to do in Queensland and the best way to snorkel and scuba the Great Barrier Reef, check out the first post in this Australia series here. Read on to learn my top 15 "must-do's" when you go to Sydney!

1.  Stay at a killer hotel in The Rocks, like the “Holiday Inn Old Sydney”:
You need the perfect base to explore Sydney, and “The Rocks” District is it. It’s a historical district unique with Aussie character & quirks.  It’s my top pick because it’s full of shops, bars, restaurants, on the water, near the Opera House & famous bridge, near the main water taxi hub called “The Quay,” and just a short walk to the major shopping malls and chain stores. I also picked here because it actually wasn't that expensive compared to a lot of other hotels in the city. I felt like we were getting a lot of bang for our buck. There was something everyone in our group found in this district to enjoy and stay entertained.

Ok, I admit it, I did not take the above photo of our hotel roof, but thats really how beautiful it was. My husband Chris did take the photo below from that roof, showing off part of the amazing light show projected onto the Opera House that was going on while we were there as part of the Vivid Lights Festival.

2.  Climb the Sydney Bridge:
Yes, they charge way to much to do this, but it’s not optional. You can’t go to Sydney and not do it. Even Oprah and Daniel Radcliffe did it when they came to Sydney! It was so fun, pretty easy, and held breathtaking views. One of the most memorable and favorite activities from the whole trip. It took about 3 hours, and we had to book our reservation two days in advance for our large group. You may be able to “drop in” if you have a smaller group.

3.  See a live performance at the Sydney Opera House:
This was an unexpected favorite activity from the whole trip. We didn’t know what was in store for us; we just booked the show that was playing the night we were available to go and just figured it would be an experience! We were all blown away by how amazing the whole building and performance was. It will always be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. We ended up seeing an electric orchestra perform the most famous songs by composer/songwriter/producer Giovanni Giorgio Morder, known as the “father of disco.” He wrote and produced songs in the 70’s, like the disco hits “Love to Love You Baby” and “Bad Girls,” and “Take My Breath Away” from the Top Gun soundtrack. Today he is collaborating with the French duo Daft Punk. Check their website to see what’s playing while you’re there!

Chris and me inside the Opera House after the show.

4.  Seaplane tour of Sydney:
You will also get to see its' harbors and surrounding beaches and coast line. We almost didn’t do this, but it only took one “squeaky wheel” in the group to insist, and my dad caved and said we could all go. I’m so glad we did. I’d never been on a seaplane before, and the view was spectacular.

5.  Surf or Paddle Board on Bondi Beach
You can't go to Australia and not check out their most famous beach! It has golden sand, great surf, and an adorable seaside village full of shops and cafes. We didn't plan ahead enough to take an actual surf lesson, so my brothers just rented boards and went for it since they had some experience already. With no instructor and unfamiliar waves, I decided to rent a paddleboard and do that instead. But if you book your lesson at least a day ahead of time with this company herethey should be able to accommodate you.

I promise we really did paddle board and surf, but my family members on the beach were slacking on their photog duties ;) 

6.  Cocktails and Koalas at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo:
You can’t go to Australia without an upclose encounter with a Koala! We went to a private event held just for Rotary one evening at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, and it was here I got my up close and personal experience with koalas. They were so precious, but they did smell!!! One of them kept trying to reach out and touch my brother during our photo session. Located on Darling Harbor, this gorgeous zoo is a must see. As part of the Rotary event, there was a performance by members of Aboriginal tribes, and free wine and appetizers. There was also a raffle at the end of the night to raise money for Koala rescue, and we won! We thoroughly enjoyed our prize of 2 bottles of Aussie wine later that night on the rooftop of our hotel.

7.  Take a double decker bus tour:
This is the perfect way to get acquainted with a new city – I always recommend people do this on the first day of their vacation no matter what new city you are in. It’s a cheap way to see it all. My fave way to sight see is by riding the double decker buses that are “hop on, hop off,” because I like to sit up top, which has the best view, and you are able to get off at any points of interest you see along the way. Usually, passes are good for the whole day, so you can use it as your way of transportation that day. I also love that the tour guide is optional – if you want to hear him speak, you can put the headphones on to listen, but if not, you can just enjoy the ride.

8.  Check out the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium:
I have never been able to pass up an aquarium; I just love all of them. So on our last night there when we had a few open hours, I talked my husband and brothers into going with me. Like the Wild Life Zoo, this is also located on Darling Harbor, so it’s a fun area just to go hang out.  No, this was not the most amazing aquarium I’ve ever been too (really, what is after going to the one in Atlanta and Chicago?), but we still had a great time. I think if you have young children, this would be a great activity to do in Sydney.

9.  See the view from the Sydney Tower Eye & Skywalk:
This is another quick activity to get your bearings in this city. It’s the highest point in the city and gives you 360-degree view of the city, the surrounding harbor, and the mountains.

Above: selfie bombing my little brother's pic at the Sydney Tower Eye. Below: normally we never buy those cheesey photos that tourist places make you take in front of a green screen, but this one was too cheesey and hilarious to pass up. 

10.  Walk the city!
It can be tempting to only take mass transportation in bigger cities while on vacation so that you can get to your destination quicker, but you miss out on so much! Pack some comfy walking shoes and get out and explore on your own two feet. You will get to see all the stuff in that city that happens between the touristy stuff, i.e., real life! You may also stumble upon something really cool you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It’s also the best way to work off all that extra vacation food!  We walked a lot while in Australia, and one night in particular was memorable when we decided to walk all the way from the Darling Harbor District to a neighborhood on the other side of the city to meet some local friends for dinner. It ended up taking almost 2 hours but we loved it!

11.  Go Shopping at The Strand Arcade and the QVB:
I always like to make time to go shopping everywhere we go, and Australia was no exception. The Strand is this gorgeous, glamorous Victorian building in the heart of Sydney that was built in 1891. It’s full of high-end fashion and jewelry shops as well as café’s. The Queen Victoria Building (known here as the QVB) is another historical shopping arcade; this one much bigger and majestic. Even if you’re not interesting in buying anything, it’s worth checking out the building inside. Be sure to get some of the handmade chocolates at the shop near the entrance!

Above left, the QVB. Above right, my mom and her happy pose that we are finally shopping at The Strand.

12.  Eat amazing food & wine:
Yes, try the kangaroo! Other Aussie must-try foods include barramundi (thier local fish of choice), fish and chips, meat pies, seafood, and BBQ . Eat some fancy, some casual.  Some of the amazing places we ate at and would highly recommend are Pancakes on the Rocks and several places in The Rocks claiming to be the oldest pub in Sydney like the Fortune of War. For a fancy meal, you can’t beat the food and view of the Opera House from ARIA Restaurant (It’s literally right next to the Opera House!) We ate here before going to see the show at the Opera House, and it was incredible. While at Bondi Beach, we highly recommend eating at the Bucket List ,and my brothers claim they may have had the best ribs of their life at Hurricane’s Grill. Hemingway’s on Manly Beach was really awesome as well, a great bar to hang out at for drinks and appetizers.

Above: the outdoor patio at The Bucket List on Bondi Beach.

13.  Take a Water Taxi:
It’s just too fun to travel by water! This is actually a great way to get around the city, especially to the nearby beach. It’s also a really cheap way to get a boat ride on the harbor and be able to see the beautiful views of the city from the water. We took a water taxi one evening to a wine festival that happened to be going on in Manly Beach when I snapped the above photo from the boat of the Opera House. P.S. They do have bathrooms on board! They depart on a regular schedule, and the main hub is the wharf called Circular Quay, which is where The Rocks, The Opera House, and the Sydney Harbor Bridge are located.

14.  Embrace local happenings:
Once you get there, keep your eyes and ears open for what’s going on in the city that might be fun to attend. Your hotel concierge is always a great source of info! It turned out we where there for a food festival that was going on right beside our hotel, a wine festival at a nearby beach called Manly Beach, and then this major thing called the Vivid Light Festival.  That turned out to be this lively event that started every night where they shut down the roads in The Rocks district, and a bunch of crazy interactive light shows start, most being projected onto buildings. There was music everywhere, vendors selling foods and trinkets, and basically the whole area from the Opera House and Circular Quay to buildings in the Rocks and the Sydney Bridge was transformed into this delightful madness every night for 2 weeks each year


15. Buy Souvenirs:

  • Australia Starbucks Coffee Mug
  • native art magnets for your fridge
  • Bondi beach towel
  • Bondi beach surf t-shirt
  • Bondi beach tote (by far the cutest store for this gear is Between the Flags; they have stores in Bondi Beach and in Sydney.)
  • a photo of yourself with a koala
  • Uggs (not the same brand that they sell in America that are made in china, but real Australia Uggs that are made in Australia - read the tag- and are a lot cheaper. We brought back several pairs of slippers as gifts for friends and some amazing boots in a design I had never seen before in the USA brand)
  • Hello Kitty wearing an Aussie flag shirt and holding a baby koala as a thank you for our dog walker
  • opal earrings (stone native to Australia; I bought mine for about $80)
  • sheepskin rug (You have probably seen these in every interior design photo in magazine and blogs right now. Well, these are the real deal; not the $20 version for sale at Ikea. They even sell them at the airport if you want to wait until the last second since it’s pretty bulky to haul around in your suitcase.)

Top Image via here.

Have you been to Sydney? Which of these activities have inspired you to put this amazing city on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook page