SYDNEY CITY GUIDE

Sydney shows world-weary travelers how to take it easy on The Wander Sauce’s first ever city guide.

A cosmopolitan city bonded to the hip by a vast harbor, Sydney has mastered the art of balancing urbane sophistication with the love for adventure and the great outdoors.  Here, an early morning surfing session is as much part of daily life as crunching numbers back at the office — no worries!  It comes at no surprise then that on a recent study, Sydney is among the world’s least stressful cities; and as one of National Geographic Traveler’s best destinations in the world, it looks like tourists want a piece of that peace too. So how do you chill-out in Sydney as the Sydneysiders do?  Read this city guide and find out.

Sydney architecture and city art
Look Up! (Left: The Italian Renaissance architecture of Sydney Post Office’s facade; Right: The art installation “Forgotten Songs” at Angelplace.

 Walking is Free

There is no such thing as a free lunch but in Sydney, there is such a thing as a free city tour.  Operating daily, I’m Free Tours offer what their name suggests with no marketing ploy, no sketchy fine prints and definitely no detours to shady “souvenir” shops– just be kind enough to tip the guide after the whole thing. Unlike your usual bland organised tours, you’ll actually learn something oddly useful on this one, like how the impeccably-designed, mid-century style restrooms of the Sydney Opera House is open for public use—even if you don’t buy any tickets to see a  show— so you could have one of the fanciest toilet breaks in your life (which we all know means taking advantage of the sophisticated lighting and taking a selfie on the full-length mirror).

Bondi Beach
A Sunday afternoon walk along Bondi Beach’s promenade

Easy like a Sunday (and Saturday) Morning

In Sydney, the weekend market is as much a place where one stocks up on weekly groceries as they are where you meet friends over coffee —or cure last night’s hangover— at.  It is a weekly tradition among Syndeysiders, and there is one for whatever food/style/neighborhood you might fancy.  If you want well-curated, organic and biodynamic foods produced by Australia’s best farmers and producers, the renowned Carriageworks Farmers Markets at Everleigh (Saturdays, 8am – 1pm) should be on your itinerary.  Housed inside the magnificent and historic venue of Everleigh Railyards, a visit to this market guarantees an enriching experience to the senses.  For a more community market feel, there’s the local favourite Kings Cross Organic Markets (Saturdays and Sundays, 8am to 2pm) at Potts Point.  Set against the backdrop of  Fitzroy Gardens , the vibe here is more relaxed and casual— the perfect ambiance to buy organic produce and afterwards, enjoy the most delicious egg and bacon rolls served at Bowen’s. In search for one-of-a-kind collectibles and art pieces? Ride the ferry to the sleepy bohemian neighbourhood of Balmain and get yourself a souvenir that is not a kangaroo keychain at Balmain Markets (Saturdays, 8:30am – 4:00pm ). If clothes and accessories are more up your alley, head on over to Bondi Beach Public School — just across that relatively unknown beach —where Bondi Markets (Sundays, 9am – 4pm) features stalls of stylish vintage clothes and original pieces by Sydney’s up and coming designers.

The Rocks Sydney Guide
Mute down the city noise in The Rocks neighborhood. (Left: Walking the cobbled laneways; Right: Al fresco lunch at Atherden Street)

Slow it Down at The Rocks

Located just a stone’s throw away from the hustle-and-bustle of the CBD is the historical neighborhood of The Rocks.  Blessed with cobbled laneways and colonial style buildings, The Rocks certainly has an old-world charm ideal for an easy afternoon walk.  Start with a free entry to The Rocks Discovery Museum to know more about its colourful past, then walk along the laneways and discover heritage-listed sites such as Susannah Place and Cadman’s Cottage, although every quaint corner in this neighbourhood certainly has its own story to tell— and many Instagram posts to allow.  Afterwards, take a break and grab a late lunch of Bangers and Mash paired with house-brewed beer at any one of Sydney’s “oldest” pubs— The Lord Nelson, Fortune of War and The Hero of Waterloo, to name a few.  On Fridays and well into the weekend,  treat yourself to some Turkish gozleme or maybe some kangaroo meat skewers — or both– bought at one of the stalls over at the The Friday Foodie Markets (Fridays, 9AM to 3PM) and The Rocks Markets (Saturdays and Sundays, 9AM to 3PM).  The location of this open-air market near Circular Quay suggests a lovely picnic by the harbour, but it won’t be hard for you to miss the quiet little alley of Atherden Street— dressed for the weekend with colourful iron chairs, a backdrop of ivy-covered stone walls, and, if you are just that lucky, a serenade from folksy street musicians— and know that it is the best seat on the block.

Stay sweet in Sydney

If we’re talking about Australia and desserts, it is easy for Pavlova or Lamington cake or even Fairy Bread to come up.  But if you ask any Sydneysider who is worth their sweet tooth, they’ll be quick to add the macaron at Zumbo and the gelato at Messina.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find an Aussie who doesn’t know Zumboboth the pastry shop and its namesake founder of Masterchef Australia fame. The popularity is well-deserved judging by his version of the macaron— Zumbarons, they are called— of which there seems to be an endless array of rather inventive flavours.  Be sure to get the Passionfruit and Basil and Salted Butter Caramel on Toast maca- er, Zumbarons if you ever get overwhelmed by the choices.  Bold flavours are also not in short supply at Gelato Messina.  If you love a good gelato like I do, you’ll be tempted to try them all.  And maybe you could try them all, I suppose — no judgment here.  But for starters, have a go at Poached Figs in Marsala or Pear and Rhubarb.  The servers would also gladly give you recommendations as to combinations with other flavours if you ask.  Because the only thing better than a gelato is two gelatos… or three…or…

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains
Magnificent views at Blue Mountains

Get into the Blue (Mountains)

A bit farther from central Sydney— approximately two hours by train— is the World Heritage-listed region of the Blue Mountains. Here, the altitude is higher, the air a bit cooler and the mountains, well, a little bluer— thanks to the abundance of Eucalyptus trees which by some weird science creates a blue tinge when it mixes with the mists and the sunlight.  The town of Katoomba serves as the jump-off point to  most of the attractions in the area, starting with an amazing vista of the Three Sisters at Echopoint lookout. After, you can head over to nearby Scenic World to ride the world’s steepest inclined railway that takes you deep into Jurassic rainforest; then get on the glass-floored cable car that passes between clifftops and over a gorge, giving you breathtaking views of Katoomba Falls, Three Sisters and Jamison Valley. 

When you get famished from all the sight-seeing, make a pit stop at the town of Wentworth Falls for lunch or tea— and inevitable takeaways— at local institution Conditorei Patisserie Schwarz (2 30 Station St., Wentworth Falls).  This German bakery serves a variety of hand-made breads, cakes and pastries but if you must choose, you can’t go wrong with their salt-topped pretzels, jam-filled strudels and the crowd-favorite (and your new favorite) Poppy Seed Danish.  Köstlich!

Surry Hills scenes
Shop, Walk, Eat. Repeat.  Fall in love with the cool neighborhood of Surry Hills (Top right, clockwise: Stationery and more at Paper2; terrace houses fringed by trees makes a picturesque afternoon at Surry Hills; artisan bread on display at Bourke Street Bakery.)

Stroll around Surry Hills

Densely-packed with restaurants, cafes and specialty shops, the effortlessly cool and creative suburb of Surry Hills should be on every traveler’s list while in Sydney.  Grab a spicy tuna roll for takeaway in Ichibang (614-618 Crown St.) to eat in nearby Shannon Reserve where Surry Hills Markets is held every first Saturday of the month.  While in Crown Street, check out the  eclectic mix of shops selling anything from hard-to-find vinyl records, stylish fashion finds and quirky tchotchkes. If all the shopping gets you hungry again, down the road and bordering Darlinghurst is a little eatery called Mr. Crackles (Oxford St., Darlinghurst) specialising in Banh Mi-style pork belly sandwiches for your indulgence. 

Circle back to ‘Surry’ and continue your fill of vintage shops, little art galleries and Victorian terrace houses, but don’t dare miss Bourke Street Bakery for a fill of sweet and savoury artisanal breads and pastries. If you ask the guy behind the counter what’s good at this Surry Hills institution, he’ll simply say “Uh…everything?!” with a bewildered smile on his face, like you just asked him something you should already know.  And so goes the same for this neighbourhood, where everything is sure to be a pleasant experience.

Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk
Locals enjoy a breezy walk along Bondi to Coogee

Bondi Beach and Beyond

You couldn’t really say you’ve been in Sydney without going to Bondi Beach— it’s as synonymous to Sydney as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. The kilometre-long, white-sand beach is the ideal playground for locals and tourists and surf breaks from the novice to the experts are aplenty– you’ll be sure to have a good time frolicking the sand and the waves. But don’t just stop there.  A free coastal walk to Coogee is also in store for your wandering feet and at 6 kilometres, is also a good way to burn down the carbs you’ve been eating the past few days. 

Start at the famous Bondi Icebergs, where you can take a swim in the salt-water pool and relax in a sauna for only $6.  Then, make your way to the guided footpath atop the sea cliffs and enjoy the knockout ocean views as you pass by the coastal towns of Tamarama, Bronte and finally, Coogee.  The magic hour— that window of precious light just before sunset— is the ideal time to do this walk, so you can reward yourself at the end with Sydney’s gorgeous sunset.  During the summer, Sculpture by the Sea runs from Bondi to Tamarama, featuring an exhibition of sculptures from Australian and international artists, adding another element of awesome to this already amazing coastal walk.

Sydney Opera House in Sydney Harbour
Sydney Opera House

Walking is Free part 2

If the AUD200 Harbour Bridge Climb price tag seems pretty steep to you, don’t be disheartened for there is literally a way to walk around it.  The bridge walk may not involve you actually climbing atop the bridge, but it can still get you resplendent views of the Sydney Harbour and the Opera House. Perhaps the best thing about it is that you can bring a camera with you and take photos— something that is understandably restricted in the Bridge Climb.  From Circular Quay, you can take a flight of stairs to Cahill Walkway to take you to the bridge.  Alternatively, the walkway can also be accessed via a lift from the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Another point of entry is at The Rocks area, where you can take the sheltered stairway near Cumberland Street to access the bridge’s southern end then walk north-bound to  Milson’s Point.  The walk should take you half an hour but since you are not on a tour and you have your camera with you, take time to enjoy the view and take as many photos as you would like. Did I forget to mention that you wouldn’t be paying for this experience so you are still $200 richer? You’re welcome.

Luna Park at night. (Photo: wikipedia commons)

Magic Ferry Ride

Just across the Harbour from central Sydney are neighborhoods with lots of attractions for you to enjoy.  All you need to do is hop on the ferry and experience one of the best commutes in your life. Get in touch with the wild side of Australia when you hop off the Taronga Zoo Wharf at Mosman.  In just 12 minutes from Circular Quay, you’ll be on your way to getting close with Kangaroos, Wallabies and Koalas— all with a view of the Sydney Harbour.  Still all about wholesome fun, a visit to Luna Park in Milson’s Point will sure make you feel like a kid again with its old-school amusement park rides.  Open till late at 10PM, ride the Ferris Wheel at night to get a gorgeous view of the city skyline. 

If Bondi Beach suddenly seemed a bit crowded for you. Do as the locals do and jump off in Manly Wharf and to the laid-back vibe of Manly Beach.  Enjoy a lazy day by the beach or surf to your heart’s content and when you’ve had enough of that (which you never really do), walk along the avenue of Corso where you’ll find plenty of shops, pubs and cafes to spend the rest of your day in.  This beach-side town is also the gateway to exploring Sydney’s northern beaches— such as surf havens Dee Why and Curl Curl and beautiful Palm Beach of TV’s “Home and Away” fame —if ever you want to change your occupation to Professional Beach Bum.

Drink in the Stunning Skyline

Sydney comes even more alive at night with its bars and pubs across the city and within its neigborhoods.  But one thing you should not miss out on is a drink on one of the bars by the waterfront of Darling Harbour.  Towering buildings lit up against the dark velvet sky— dreamily reflected on the Harbour’s inky black waters on which boats and yachts bob gently while anchored by the docks.  It’s a killer view, and one you should definitely be sipping your negronis with.  Be there at Happy Hour to enjoy $10 cocktails and even $5 beers on popular bars like The Loft, Cargo Bar and the always buzzing Pontoon Bar.  

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