Sydney is not just about the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. There’s more to it than fine architecture and sun-kissed skins. It is a city faraway from its equals yet equally bustling. It has paved hills and flat mountains, laid back beaches and raging falls, high-end opera shows and outdoor movies. People from everywhere gather to surf its waves, meet its kangaroos and koalas and just have a feel of its relaxed atmosphere. For 2 days, we walked around Sydney and took bits and pieces of it as much as we can.
Armed with the Official Sydney Guide I took from the airport half a year ago when I first arrived here in Australia, the scorching afternoon heat and chilly evening breeze didn’t stop us to walk around Sydney for 2 days, without taking any form of public transportation. We decided to take 2 walking tours for each day as proposed by the guidebook. It was easy to follow, with maps and photos and brief descriptions of each site. So if you just landed at Sydney airport, don’t forget to pick up this guidebook. It also has discount coupons in its last pages giving mostly 20% off for entrance fees to various tourist spots, tours, cruises, etc.
1. First stop is none other than the iconic Sydney Opera House. Opened in 1973 after 15 years of construction and tensions between its architect Jørn Utzon and the client, this sail-shaped performing arts centre is now listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and often cited as one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of the 20th century.
2. After the obligatory photos around Bennelong Point where the Opera House is located and with the Harbour Bridge at the background, we followed the signs leading to our next destination, the Royal Botanic Gardens. It is a 30-hectare public park with magnificent views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It seems that this place is a popular spot for wedding pictorial as we saw a lot during that day. Sunbathe, feed the birds, or just read a book under a tree to get a feel of local Sydney.
3. Within the gardens is the Government House, the official residence of Sydney governor since its completion in 1843. It is open to the public with free guided tours. It closes at 4pm so we were not able to get inside.
4. From the Royal Botanic Gardens, we walked a good 15 minutes along the waterfront until we reached Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. Dedicated to Gov. Lachlan Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth, the natural sandstone was carved by convicts to form a bench. Centuries back, this is the same place where Mrs. Macquarie had an amazing view of the harbour, minus the modern elements it has now.
5. We followed the Mrs. Macquarie Road, which eventually turns into Art Gallery Road, to see the vast collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It showcases artworks of different forms (paintings, sculptures, installations), both classic and modern, from different parts of Australia and the world. They have a Monet, Picasso and van Gough paintings among others.
6. We capped off our first walking tour and continued the following day to visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hyde Park Barracks. Now a museum, this is one of the convict sites around Australia that has been listed by UNESCO. It educates visitors about the life of the convicts in the past. I read that Australia used to avoid topics related to this part of its history but now it has been accepted that the convicts who sailed the seas centuries ago had formed the foundations of Australia’s modern society.
7. Close to the Barracks is St. Mary’s Cathedral, a grand gothic church from 1868. You won’t be able to miss its massive structure and pointed towers. Like all around Sydney, the cathedral has several sculptures installed around it. Feel free to go inside and just admire the overwhelming decorations of the ceiling and altar, if you don’t hear mass.
8. Right beside the church is the famous Hyde Park. It’s a good resting point where you can just lie on the lawns or check out the ANZAC War Memorial. You will see a lot of locals having picnics or just strolling around.
9. From any point at the park, you will be able to see the Sydney Tower Eye. At 309m, it is Australia’s second tallest free-standing structure and has become a prominent feature of Sydney’s skyline. If you’re not afraid of heights, it would be a good experience to go for the Skywalk tour and marvel at Sydney’s views from its Observation Deck and experience its 4D Cinema.
10. Close to the tower is the Queen Victoria Building or QVB. Finished in 1898, it is now a modern shopping centre inside but with beautiful romanesque architecture.
11. We skipped the Sydney Town Hall and headed straight to Chinatown for some snacks. We also skipped the Chinese Garden of Friendship, Powerhouse Museum, Australian National Maritime Museum and went directly to Darling Harbour to check out the Wild Life Sydney, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and Madame Tussauds. We were contemplating at that time if it’s better to see this area than go to Featherdale, which is outside the city centre. Good thing we decided to choose Featherdale for a different day (details for the next post) and to just stroll around Darling Harbour.
12. The last stop for our 2-day walking tour is the Customs House located at Circular Quay. This is historical building which served as headquarters of Customs Service for this vibrant port city until 1990. Built in 1845, it is now a venue for exhibitions and events.
Sydney is a haven for historical buildings, sculptures and other art installations. I have to say that it is a creatively inspiring place to visit. There are surprises at every corner. I hope you enjoyed this virtual walking tour with me. Next post will be about one of Sydney’s famous beaches.