We had a week pre-cruise in Sydney in February and March. I hope this trip review will give others ideas on what to do in Sydney. We had a blast! From our experiences, Sydney is one of our favorite cities so far.
Day 1: We flew into the Domestic Terminal from Cairns where we did a 4 day live-aboard cruise around the Great Barrier Reef.
From Airport to CBD/Darling Harbor
There was a short walk from the Baggage Claim area to the Uber pick up area, but there were good signs pointing the way. We took an Uber (AUD $56) to the Adina Apartment Hotel on Shelley street in Darling Harbor. The route took us via the Cross-City tunnel, a toll road, so the toll cost was added to the uber bill. (There’s probably an airport fee, too,) (The Uber ride back to airport was only AUD $35 from the Hyde Park area).
We had 6 days in Sydney before catching our 10-day cruise to New Zealand on the Sun Princess. As our ship would be berthed at the White Bay Terminal, there was no need to stay in the Rocks near the OPT. We decided to stay in Darling Harbor, because of the walkable access to public transportation i.e. ferries, and train. The area is upscale with lots of restaurants and bars and it is less hectic and less touristy than the Circular Quay area. We highly recommend this area as an alternative to the CQ area.
Adina Apartment Hotel
Because we were in Sydney for a week pre-cruise, we wanted an apartment style accommodation. Plus, there were three of us. Brother in law decided to join us in Sydney, so we needed an apartment style place. This apartment had a small kitchen w/ refrigerator, laundry facilities and a separate bedroom from the living/dining area. There was an additional cost for a hide a bed per night. Our room had a view of Darling Harbor which we paid extra for. So, there was no noise problem from the roadway on the East side of the building. The hotel was not cheap, but well worth the expense. We recommend staying in this area if you are not catching your cruise ship from the OPT.
Our first night, we had nothing planned in order to recover from the flight. But BIL surprised us with Australian Relatives who drove over an hour to meet us. We had dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant with views of the harbor and we walked around the harbor area and across Pyrmont Bridge to sight see that area. My Aussie relations were impressed by the huge Australian Flag flying from the Maritime Museum flagpole.
We had breakfast at Modina Café and Bar, which is in the same building at the corner of King Street and Lime Street. Later, we would find a grocery store at Wynyard station where we bought breakfast stuff and topped off our Opal cards. We walked to Town hall Square on George street along the pedestrian walkways that cross over the A4 freeway to Druitt Street. As the walk took only 30 minutes, we had about an hour to kill before our 10:30am free walking tour, so we wandered through the Queen Victoria Building, to see the clocks, the interior of the building and the Royal Wishing Well that has a statute of a dog that talks to you.
Free Walking Tour of Sydney CBD
We like the “Free tour” business model, or rather tours that rely on tips at the end, and we have taken free tours in several cities around the globe. So far, the guides on every free tour we’ve taken has earned their tip. We usually tip $20 for the two of us. For a three-hour tour, the money tipped was well worth it.
There were so many people that showed up, that the owner of the business came in to help the other two tour guides and made it three groups of twenty people. We took her tour and she was an excellent guide, story teller and speaker. She toured us from the Town Hall, through the QVB, through Hyde Park to the Archibald Fountain and then past Hyde Park Barracks, then to St Martin’s Place, showing us sites, art work, and monuments we never would have found on our own. The tour walked to Circular Quay and ended near Cadman’s Cottage in the Rocks Area. We liked the tour so much, we decided to do the 6pm Rocks Tour, later that day, with the same company.
We had lunch on the top floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art, (free entry) with window seating and great views of the Opera House, before walking over to the Opera House. We decided not to do an expensive one hour tour of the Opera House, as we had tickets to see La Traviata, in a couple of days. After taking too many pictures of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, we walked over to Macquarie Park. Our plan was to take the Choo Choo express over to Mrs. Macquarie’s chair, but the route was closed due to a concert, and while we could have walked it when the tram stopped at the Royal Botanical Garden, we realized that tram was full and nobody who was waiting for a return trip to the starting point could re-board. There just weren’t any empty seats. So we did the round-trip tour back to the Opera House.
Free Walking Tour "The Rocks"
We souvenir shopped, read the plaques in the bricks along the harbor, and people watched, and took countless more photos, until the 6pm free Walking Tour of the Rocks area starting at Cadman Cottage. We got the owner as our tour guide and again she did an excellent job again, showing us the highlights of the Rocks Area, and telling us stories of the area. This tour had a lot of uphill and stair walking, but once at the top of the hill, the views were incredible. Our tour guide showed us the stair access to the walkway across the Harbor Bridge, which we did on a different day. She ended the tour on Arygle street, near pubs and restaurants, and gave her non-pushy reminder to tip what you think the tour was worth. We gave $20 for the three of us. This was the first time, I actually saw people just walk away without tipping. The owner didn’t make a fuss or say anything. We had dinner at Ribs and Burgers, before catching the hourly F4 public ferry from CQ to Barangaroo. Lucky for us we bought our Opal cards earlier at a Tobacco shop we passed by in the morning. We didn’t have to wait in the long line of tourists in the ticket line at the dock. We tapped in with our Opal Cards, boarded the ferry for a spectacular night ride under the Harbor Bridge, over to the illuminated Luna Park, and then to Barangaroo Wharf and then tapped out at our destination. There is absolutely no need to take a private, expensive Harbor Cruise when the public ferry does the same route hourly until 11 pm.
Our plan for today was to take the ferry to Manly and then take the ferry tomorrow to the Taronga Zoo. Because we planned ahead, we found that the private Captain Cook Ferry System had a package deal that included 2 days of rides on their ferries plus a discounted Zoo ticket. When we did the calculations, this was cheaper than taking the public ferry to these two destinations and buying a separate zoo ticket. Plus, the Captain Cook ferry had a direct ferry to Manly from Kings Wharf and a direct ferry from Kings Wharf to the Zoo. There would be no need to change ferries at CQ on either journey. The Captain Cook ferries are modern and fast and we enjoyed our ferry rides up top with the sun and wind blowing on our hair as we took lots of pictures of Sydney from the water. Do the calculations and if it works out cheaper for you, this is the way to go.
At Manly, we walked the Corso over to the Ocean and then along the Beach Walk to Shelly Beach where we had lunch at the Boathouse and walked up to the Headlands before walking back. Someday we’ll return to visit Sydney Harbor National Park -North Head. The timing of the bus to and from North head wasn’t convenient, so we skipped it. We took the 4 pm Captain Cook ferry (the tickets are not valid on the public ferry or the other private ferry company) back, but it was a local and made a stop at Watson’s Bay, and CQ before heading back to Barangaroo.
Pub Quiz with the locals
The plan for the evening dinner was to walk across the Pyrmont bridge to go to the Quarryman’s Hotel for dinner and trivia. But I called to make a reservation and found the trivia night was the night before. Their website was wrong. I quickly did a Google search and found that a local pub catering to business locals called “The Office” was within walking distance, so we walked over for a decent pub dinner and first trivia night outside the US. The place was packed with trivia teams, but the waitress gave us a table near the trivia host when it became available. We did not expect to do well, as the questions were geared to Australians (example: Name the state flowers of each Australian State,) and we came in last. I did learn that I could order a beer smaller than a pint, called a schooner, but I kept calling it a “middy” (the term in Queensland), and it would be unmanly for me to order a shandy (half beer and lemonade.) We did win a $10 gift card for a totally random game called heads or tails.
We took the first Captain Cook express ferry from Darling Harbor Pier 26 to the Taronga Zoo.
At the dock, we followed the dock hand’s instructions to take the Sky safari up to the top to the zoo entrance and then walk downhill from exhibit to exhibit. We were only interested in seeing the Australian animals. So we skipped all the shows and had lunch at their average café. We were there for 4 hours and caught the ferry back at 3 pm because we had opera tickets that evening.
Back at our apartment, we dressed up, suit and tie, and fancy dress and took the Captain Cook ferry (we had the two-day ticket) back to CQ. We had dinner the Portside Restaurant, which offers a pre-opera dinner. The food was bland and not memorable. Eat here for the views and the convenience of being steps away from the opera house, not for the food.
Sydney Opera House- interior
We entered the Opera House downstairs and took the escalators up to the main lobby to pick up or tickets at will-call. I was looking forward to seeing what was so special about this place, and I was in for a big disappointment. The lobby was made of blasted concrete, like a modern underground subway station, with no embellishments or refinements. Frankly, I was not impressed with the opera hall itself or the layout.
So IMHO, the outside is iconic and eye-candy. The interior is blah, humbug, I’ve seen better. Not worth the price of a one-hour tour to see this cold interior.
The opera, itself, was average. We went because my B-I-L is a big opera fan and La Traviata is his favorite. They had English sub-titling on screens, so I understood the plot. But just between you and me, by the second act, I was wishing Violetta, would die already, so we could go home.
The opera ended at 10:30 pm, and we rushed to the ferry dock only to find it had closed for the night. Not sure why it the schedule said the last ferry was at 11:00. But fortunately, we had a Plan B, and that was to take the train from CQ one stop to Wynyard Station. At that time of night, there were still lots of people on the train. At Wynyard station, we walked 15 minutes along the well-lit Wynyard walk that goes underground from the train mezzanine and then over the freeway to exit a few blocks from the Kings Harbor area. The area is well-lit and we felt very safe at night along this route.
Today we had nothing planned. My spouse and BIL spent the morning at the Maritime Museum before taking a train south to visit the relatives and to swim in their ocean set-aside swimming area. I decided to walk to Paddy’s Market, and shop for souvenirs, visited Chinatown, and had dim sum from the bakery, photographed the Frank Gehry designed Chau Chak Wing building at the University of Technology Sydney (an oddly designed building) and discovered an underground pedestrian mall that the students used to get to Central Station. From their I took the train to CQ, visited the Customs house, to see the city model beneath a glass floor, and then found the staircase up to the walkway across Harbor Bridge to the center for some pictures.
Free Tours Bus Tour
Today, we walked 30 minutes from Darling Harbor to Hyde Park, where we met the tour for the free Tours Sydney bus tour. This tour works differently, in that you pay $18 cash per person for the bus transportation, but then you tip the guide what you think the tour was worth. We decided to do this tour mainly to be able to comment on it and we knew we could get off at Bondi Beach and not return with the tour back to Hyde Park. There are cheaper ways to get Bondi Beach if that’s your only destination. The bus tour sold out and latecomers were out of luck. The bus drove us out to Mrs. Macquarie’s chair, where we were able to get those iconic pictures of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge in the background. Since we weren’t willing to walk the distance earlier, this method of getting there was well-worth the money. From here the bus went through the neighbors of King’s Cross, Woolloomooloo, Rose Bay, and Watson’s bay along the shore line with a stop at The Gap, where we got out to take pictures, before stopping at Bondi Beach. From there it heads back to Hyde Park via the bohemian sections of Paddington and Darlinghurst. We tipped the driver and told him we were ending the tour, so he wouldn’t wait for us and got off at Bondi Beach. As it was Saturday, sunny and warm and Gay Pride Weekend, the beaches were crowded. We sat on the beach for a while, ogling the muscled-men and skimpily clad women before heading for lunch at the North Bondi RSL club.
North Bondi RSL Club
This member only club has a restaurant and outdoor balcony on the second floor with fantastic views of Bondi Beach. The RSL club is a private club but the restaurant is open to out-of-towners for lunch. We were assured by locals that we could eat here. We had to sign in, and show some ID. We paid non-member prices for food and drinks. The food is nothing special, but it’s cheaper than the expensive fish restaurant one floor down. But the views are fantastic! We recommend this place over all the food joints at Bondi pavilion.
South Head Lighthouse walk
From here, we walked up to the Bus stop and used our Opal cards to take the bus #380 to Watson’s Bay. The last stop of the route is at the Gap, so we climbed the stairs to see this geological site, before heading down through the park to Watson’s Bay. We continued our walk out to South Head to visit the lighthouse. Along the way is Lady Bay beach, a nude beach, where we got a different view of Sydney-siders.
Doyle’s Restaurant at Watson’s Bay
We walked back to Watson’s Bay, just in time for Doyle’s restaurant to open and had dinner there. What a disappointment. Come here for the view and the history and to say you’ve been here. The food was bland and overpriced. I had better food at the trivia pub earlier in the week and it was half the price. So at least we can say we ate at Doyle’s. Once in a lifetime experience, but never again.
Doyle’s did have a memorable sunset view of Sydney, but so did the public dock. We took the last public ferry from Watson’s Bay to CQ, just as the sun was setting and then another night time ferry ride from CQ to Barangaroo under the Harbor Bridge.
We checked out and left our bags at the hotel to wander around before catching the White Bay Ferry to the White Bay Cruise Terminal. We thought we could board at noon, but we got an email stating that because of illness on the Sun Princess, they were cleaning it and nobody could board until 3 pm. So we took the train from Wynyard to Central Station and walked to Paddy’s market for more souvenir shopping and had lunch at the Queen Victoria Building to see the clocks again. AT 3 pm, we gathered our bags at the hotel, said goodbye to the B-I-L and walked the short distance to the White Bay ferry dock and rode the ferry over to the ship. Lots of other cruisers were doing the same thing.
White Bay Ferry
I like the idea of taking a ferry over to the ship. It was convenient and a short walk from our hotel. The cost was AUD $9 per person, so $18 for both of us. The downside is that from the dock, because of the fences, you have to walk with your luggage 200 feet out to the road, then walk 300 feet along a busy road with not very good sidewalks, to get to the Terminal Building Drop off area. Only later did I find out on our return trip that the cost of an Uber from the terminal to our Hyde Park hotel was $20. So the extra $2 would have been worth the door to curbside service. Live and learn.
I hope our experiences help other people decide what they want to see and do in Sydney. We had a great experience and can’t wait to go again.
On our return trip, we stayed at the Hyde Park Inn, across from Hyde Park, we also took the train for DIY overnight in Katoomba to visit the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves. We also visited the Hyde Park Barracks on a rainy day. We took the cheaper public bus from Hyde Park out to Bondi Beach for a return visit and swam in the kiddie’s ocean pool. The Uber ride back to the airport from the Hyde Park area was AUD $35, so it wasn’t cost saving for us to take the train to the airport.