I never expected to like Sydney, let alone love it.
Let this be a lesson learned, folks: Never allow pre-conceived notions, judgments, or opinions to sway you before you even experience something, some place, or someone. I heard 90% negative and 10% positive feedback regarding Sydney from both locals and travelers, and I ignorantly decided that one (ONE?!) day was enough to explore it. After all, I knew I wasn’t a fan of large cities.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Sydney surprised me with its grandeur and brilliance, all in ways I never knew were possible. When I chose to move to Melbourne, I seemed to morph into a Sydney snob (despite the fact that I hadn’t even been there yet). After this big goof, I vowed to myself that I’d never let it happen again. After all, no expectations are always better than any expectations at all.
From the minute I stepped onto my first Sydney train to the last glances I had of the Sydney Opera House glistening in the moonlight, I was mesmerized. I didn’t want to leave. A part of me felt like I was betraying my loyalty to Melbourne for falling in love with Sydney so quickly, but I’m sure it would be a much different story if I tried living in Sydney rather than just traipsing around as a tourist.
Even though I ran around Sydney with little sleep, I was filled with a large adrenaline rush that ran through my veins the entire time I was there. I was amazed by how clean the subway stations were, and how the double-decker (!) trains were also so spacious and modern-looking. Whereas Melbourne is equipped with a grungy, underground scene appealing to youngsters, Sydney has an upperclass glamour to it that I instantly loved. Perhaps that was also why it seemed a lot cleaner (especially if it’s Australia’s gem to all tourists).
I caught my first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge out of the train window, and to say that I was excited would be an understatement. No, I’m quite certain that my jaw was on the floor and my eyes were bugging out as I stared in awe.
I distinctly recall myself telling others before my trip, “I don’t have an interest in seeing Sydney, it’s not a big deal to me.” Well, the Opera House ended up being a downright huge deal to me, especially when I had only seen it on TV and in magazines before. Thus, Sydney was an ultimate deal. It felt like one of those, “WHAT IS LIFE,” type of moments when I finally set foot in Sydney. I was speechless.
There’s something magical about seeing a world-famous landmark in person. No amount of second-hand anecdotes, books, films, or shows will allow you to experience it as you can firsthand (then again, this goes for anything travel-related). The Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge are spectacular – such beautiful, large works of art that truly showcase the wonder of Australia. Sydney was my first opportunity to see world-famous international landmarks, and everything I saw truly left a lasting impression on me.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House are both located along the waterfront, better known as The Rocks. With all of its upscale restaurants, beautiful palm trees, Museum of Contemporary Art, and stunning views, The Rocks obviously became my favorite part of Sydney. I’m such a sucker for all things involving high-end waterfront areas (I blame Wellington; our house had the nicest view I’ll ever have in my life).
I’ve also never felt so small in my life. Even though I already am short, standing underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge was surreal. It basically makes the Golden Gate Bridge look like a toy. As the world’s largest steel bridge, it stands at 503 metres tall and 1,149 metres long. When I’m richer and willing to shell out $300+ AUD, I’d like to climb it someday for sure.
I did, thankfully, walk across it (that’s free) and also got some spectacular panoramic views from Pylon Lookout. It was a bit terrifying to realize that only a short layer of glass surrounding the lookout tower was the only thing that separated you from the ocean below once you stood up entirely. I’ve never been more terrified about my possessions plummeting into the water below, but OH WELL. Such is life, that’s what one does to get nice travel photos.
Since I went on a Sunday, I was fortunate enough to see The Rocks Market. It was similar to outdoor food and crafts markets in Melbourne, but far more clean and upscale. There were plenty of alley ways nearby that seemed to be European-influenced in the architecture, which I really enjoyed as well.
The Museum of Contemporary Art was also a lovely free thing to explore, although the elaborate exhibits seemed far to beautiful to be displayed for free public viewing. Then again, nearly all art galleries in Australia and New Zealand are free, which is awesome.
To see the rest of the surrounding areas around the harbour, I took a ferry to Watson’s Bay, Darling Harbour, and Manly. Perhaps it was because we had spectacular, sunny weather that day, but it was amazing – one of those moments I wanted to bottle up and keep teleporting back to if I was capable.
Watson’s Bay was the site of The Gap, an absolutely stunning view of the South Head of Sydney. I’ve seen beautiful things in New Zealand and Hawaii, but The Gap definitely ranks #1 in my favorite travel views. Stunning blue skies framing the clear, turquoise water below as you watch from atop the high cliffs?! Yeah, that’s incredible. Doyle’s Fish and Chips are also a must-try for anyone in Watson’s Bay. Perfection.
Darling Harbour was a bit much for me, but still interesting. I’d describe it as a ‘Tokyo meets New York State Fair’ type of extravaganza, with people in every square inch of land that you looked. There was a giant inflatable turtle in the harbour (in 2013, they had a huge inflatable duck) which seemed to draw the interest of every kid in that area. With the aquarium and zoo all scrunched next to each other at the docking point, it’s clear that Darling Harbour is another tourist hub. Their playground was quite elaborate, along with a large grassy field I would have loved if a lot less people were there. But I digress… 😉
While ferrying from Darling Harbour back to The Rocks, our captain noted that a large stretch of buildings under construction were for the $30+ million project of new hotels and another casino. F-a-n-c-y.
I didn’t make it to the world-famous Bondi beach – I tried and tried, asking almost every bus driver I knew to point me in the right direction, but to no avail by the time it was dark out. However, I made it out to Manly Beach (which you can see in its glory here, where Ellen sent a few of her writers for some hidden camera fun), a local favorite moreso than Bondi. The waves looked ideal for surfers, even though winter was still in season when I was there. Really, any beach makes my heart happy – the sprawling ocean framed by a beautiful walkway/pathway was beautiful.
I did a couple hours more of exploring Sydney CBD on foot, which was quite enjoyable at night. Sydney CBD is similar to any other downtown area, but with one large difference – everything is on a massive scale. The buildings (beautiful European-like architecture), stores, even the lampposts – it felt like the New York City of Australia. Apparently, it’s incredibly easy to get lost wandering around Sydney, but I was pretty successful in not falling into that trap. I’d like to think it’s because I’m becoming a better navigator after a year, but I could be flattering myself.
As with all places, I preferred Sydney by night even more – all the lights and beauty of the harbour were incredible. Even though one day was just pathetic (I even spent more time in Auckland when I first landed in New Zealand), I’m likening it to the fact that it was a beautiful way to dip my feet in and save the other deeper parts of the city for another time. I can’t even imagine how beautiful the city must be in the summertime!
My last day as a 23-yr. old was spent running around this beautiful city, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Sydney, I’ll be back for you soon! I miss you already…