Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
This three-storey Art-Deco hotel is a bit of a 'world of entertainment'. Sure, there's drinking at the smooth and snappy lounge, but there are also great DJs on weekends, live jazz and rock music, and even a theatre in the basement (which turns into a nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights). And of course there's an upscale restaurant as well.
The bustling corner locale can't be beat, especially if you land a patio table on the square. Downstairs it's the hard-core manly gay bunch, while on the second floor Gilligan's cocktail bar attracts a fancy mixed crowd of bohemians. The top floor is open weekends only, and definitely worth a stop.
Art Gallery of NSW
With its elegant Classical Greek frontage and modern rear end, the state's main gallery has an outstanding permanent display of Australian art (including a substantial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection), a well-regarded Asian gallery, a Western collection starting from the 16th century, and some inspired temporary exhibits (prices vary).
The frequently controversial, much-debated Archibald Prize exhibition is held here every March, with portraits of the famous and not-so-famous bringing out the art critic in every Sydneysider. There are free guided tours leaving on the hour from to (Tue-Sun), and wheelchair access is good. Look out for Lin Onus' Fruit Bats (1991), a cheeky bunch of critters painted in Aboriginal cross-hatching hanging from a clothes line.
Museum of Contemporary Art
A slice of Gotham City on West Circular Quay, the stately Art Deco MCA has a fine collection of modern art from Australia and around the world (sculpture, painting, installation and moving image) and temporary exhibitions (prices vary) from the art world's superheroes. You'll often find Aboriginal art featured prominently. It's also home to the excellent MCA Store and a classy café.
Royal Botanic Gardens
These expansive gardens are the city's favourite picnic spot, jogging route and strolling venue. Bordering Farm Cove, east of the Sydney Opera House, the enchanting gardens were established in 1816 and feature plant life from the South Pacific and around the world. They include the site of the colony's first paltry vegetable patch. Long before the convicts arrived this was an initiation ground for the Cadigal people.
The Sydney Tropical Centre is housed in the interconnecting Arc and Pyramid glasshouses. It's a great place to visit on a cool day as it's always warm. The multistorey Arc has climbers and trailers from the world's rainforests, while the Pyramid houses Australian natives, including monsoonal and tropical rainforest plants. Other attractions in the gardens include the Fernery and the Rose Garden.
Free guided walks ( Mon-Sun and Mon-Fri) depart from the information booth at the Gardens Shop, and last about an hour and a half. As far as wildlife goes, you can't fail to notice the gardens' colony of grey-headed flying foxes, or the large flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos.
The Gardens' paths are mostly wheelchair accessible, though there are some flights of stairs about. Attractions are well signposted, although the estimated walking times are best described as pessimistic.
Sydney's (indeed, Australia's) most famous beach, Bondi lures people from around the world with its promise of sun, sand, surf and exposed skin, and all just 8km from the CBD. The average water temperature is a pleasant 21°C. If you don't like it rough, there are saltwater swimming pools at either end. You can also see Aboriginal rock engravings a short walk north.
The two surf clubs - Bondi and North Bondi - patrol the beach between sets of flags. These are positioned to avoid the worst rips and holes; don't be an idiot, swim between them. Try not to be one of the thousands of tourists and locals that have to be rescued annually. Surfers ride breaks at either end of the beach and it's a good place for learners. Near the south end of the beach is a popular skate ramp. If posing in your budgie smugglers (Speedos) isn't having enough impact, there's an outdoor work-out area near the North Bondi Surf Club. Coincidentally this is the part of the beach where the gay guys tend to hang out.
Bondi Pavilion has changing rooms and lockers, along with a gelato shop. Ice-cream vendors also strut the sand in summer. At the north end there's a lovely grassy spot with coin-operated barbecues. Alcohol is forbidden on the beach.
Sydney Opera House
Gloriously white and brilliantly sharp, Australia's most recognisable icon sits dramatically at the tip of Bennelong Point. On a sunny day the Opera House is postcard-perfect; its startling curves and points a pinnacle of architectural genius inspired by the segments of a mandarin. It's a truly memorable place to see a performance, listen to a free outdoor concert or sit under a cafe umbrella and watch harbour life go by.
The Opera House is so unique that it has been photographed a zillion times, appears on an army of cheap T-shirts (and every other Sydney postcard) and decorates the frames of Dame Edna's dramatic glasses. The construction was itself truly operatic - it was even dramatised as The Eighth Wonder, performed here by Opera Australia in 1995. The interiors don't live up to the promise of the dazzling exterior, but if you're curious to see inside there's an informative, hour-long tour (9250 7250; Guided Tours Office, Lower Concourse; adult/concession around
It was built between 1959 and 1973, but was plagued with construction delays and political difficulties culminating in the resignation of architect Jørn Utzon in 1966. The interior was designed by a consortium of Australians after Utzon quit.
You won't be disappointed in the always-evolving dishes at this modest eatery overlooking Bondi beach. Sean Moran and his team work hard to whip up complex dishes like preserved duck with potato cake, cabbage and pickled cherries. Sidewalk tables offer (sometimes windy) views; the ocean's charm makes your Barossa milk-fed lamb taste all the sweeter.
Some of Sydney's finest food is produced at this sleekest of Neil Perry's restaurants, which has been tingling diners' culinary senses for over 15 years. The award-winning seafood is exceptional, with filtered tanks keeping critters fresh until the very last minute. Your cheque will be astronomical, but Rockpool remains a quintessential Sydney experience.
There's something wonderfully egalitarian about top restaurants where queuing's required - perfect for travellers who don't have the luxury of booking weeks ahead. Chef Kylie Kwong serves up a tempting seasonal menu made from the best organic, sustainable, fair trade ingredients available.
Chef Kylie Kwong is so cool she's got her own cookbooks.
In what used to be a funeral parlour, this Taylor Square institution has come back from the dead more times than we can recall. The downstairs is all Deco stylings (spot the chapel), while Middle Bar upstairs is chic, modern and popular with the cocktail-swilling bright young things. It has the best balcony in town and a bitchin' lesbian night (Bitch) every Friday.
Sydneysiders have both a penchant and a talent for throwing a little glam on the glitter, saluting the moi and testing the bounds of legally sanctioned partying. From brightly clad jogging enthusiasts to naked Mardi Gras lovers, this city knows how to kindle up the fireworks and put a bang into celebrations.
It all kicks off with the huge Sydney Festival, which takes up most of January. It's the umbrella for a number of events from open-air concerts in the Domain to street theatre and fireworks, the Great Ferry Boat Race celebrates Australia Day. Indie film festival Tropfest takes place in February, as does the spectacular Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. The more traditional 12-day Royal Easter Show brings the country to the city in March/April. The Sydney Writers Festival brings international scribes to the city in May, and hot on its heels is the Sydney Film Festival, reeling in the crowds in June.
Around 20,000 people compete in the annual 14km (8.5mi) City to Surf Run in August. And sports fans are in for a treat with the Rugby League Grand Final in September. The Manly International Jazz Festival tunes up in October. The city's 'Christmas orphans' traditionally gather on Bondi Beach on Christmas Day, drinking up a storm and keeping the life-savers and police busier than they would like to be on a public holiday. After a short nap, they do it all over again on New Year's Eve. Those scared of the water usually do their end-of-year hellraising in the Rocks or Kings Cross. The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race starts in late December and continues through to January.
Australian-style plug with two flat angled blades and one vertical grounding blade
March-April or October-November are a delight, with clear, warm days and mild nights. Sydney is blessed with a temperate climate and averages summer temperatures of around 25°C (77°F). It can get up to 40°C (104°F) on a hot day, and high humidity can make it oppressive, but torrential downpours often break the heat between October and March. Winters are cool rather than cold. Beach lovers unperturbed by the hazards of lizard skin and melanomas should come between December and February.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
Because Australia is one of the oldest land masses on the globe, its pre-European history is a bit vague and woolly. What appears certain is that the first humans came from across the sea, between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago, from Southeast Asia. These nomadic tribes spread across the continent, following fairly prescribed tribal paths. Around what is now Sydney there were three main tribes - the Ku-ring-gai, the Dharawal and the Dharug - who, although sharing some dialects and traditions, all possessed their own unique language, rituals and stories, and occupied different nomadic paths that only occasionally overlapped. Indigenous Australians were the first to make polished, edge-ground stone tools, to cremate their dead and to engrave and paint representations of themselves and animals. They had, and to a degree still retain, a sophisticated culture that integrates religion, history, law, art and codes of behaviour into complex ceremonies.
The arrival of the British First Fleet in the 18th century made a significant impact on the Aboriginal communities. The Aboriginal people's egalitarian social structure hampered their attempts at resistance to the new settlers, and the British refused to recognise their legal rights to the land. Many of Sydney's Aboriginal residents were either driven away, murdered by the settlers or killed by unfamiliar diseases. The fleet, which landed at Botany Bay in January 1788 on the recommendation of explorer James Cook, who had visited in 1770, carried 730 male and female convicts from Britain's overcrowded jails as well as an assortment of military personnel under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. The settlers eventually established themselves at Sydney Cove, north of Botany Bay, and this is where the city of Sydney grew.
Over the next few years the second and third fleets showed up, despite the fact that the new settlement was on the brink of starvation for most of its first 15 years. In the last decade of the 18th century there was a huge influx of military settlers, the 'Rum Corps'. Rum became Sydney's main currency and the military, rather than the governors, ran the joint. In 1813 the Blue Mountains, which had previously hemmed in the town, were broached by explorers, and Sydney was linked with the western plains of NSW. When gold was discovered in Victoria and to Sydney's west in the 1850s, settlers poured out of the town in search of wealth and Sydney's importance diminished dramatically.
Australia's states achieved federation on 1 January 1901 - New South Wales became a state of the new Commonwealth of Australia, and Sydney became NSW's capital. Australia went to war in support of Britain in 1914, and the economy boomed until the late 20s, when the Great Depression hit - in 1931 around a third of Sydney's workforce was unemployed. But in 1932 wool prices rose, the city's building industry took off and Sydney once more became the most special city in Australia. The Harbour Bridge was also opened in 1932. There was quite a kerfuffle at the opening of the bridge, when a sword-wielding chappie by the name of de Groot stole the limelight from NSW premier Jack Lang by slashing the opening ribbon before the premier could give it the official chop.
Sydney suffered little during WWII, although several Japanese midget subs were captured in the harbour. After the war, European immigrants flooded into the city, and Sydney spread rapidly westwards, gaining a bunch of pizza places in the process. It also picked up one of its most famous landmarks - in 1957 architect Jørn Utzon won a competition to design the Sydney Opera House. In 1966, before the completion of the Opera House, Utzon resigned in frustration at compromises to his plan. Another architectural team took over, and the Opera House was opened in 1973.
During the Vietnam war, Sydney became a major R&R stopover for US GIs, and the city started tasting of Coke and burgers, while Kings Cross developed a fine line in sleazy entertainment for the visiting lads (a speciality it maintains to this day). Throughout the 70s, NSW went against the national trend by voting Labor, and longstanding premier Neville Wran oversaw much of Sydney's building boom. The bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the massive Darling Harbour redevelopment project boosted the city's morale, and today the economy is doing reasonably well.
After winning the bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, Sydney poured vast amounts of money into renovating and prettying itself up. Though the Games were declared the 'best ever' by IOC head opportunist, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and the follow-on Paralympics were well patronised, visitor numbers were well down on early estimates and changes to Sydney's infrastructure haven't necessarily improved the lot of those impoverished locals who couldn't afford a ticket to the synchronised swimming. It will be some time before the final ledger decides whether the city ended in the black or red - history favours the latter - but at least it gained a few much-needed roundabouts and overpasses (and an excess of darling little bijou wine bars that weren't really needed at all). Still, Sydney's sense of itself as a city fit to take on the world continues to expand.
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