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Sydney has a ton of things to offer tourists and travelers. I actually lived in Bondi Beach for a summer (really a winter) and got to work and go to school in Sydney a couple of years ago, so I’m pretty familiar with some of the attractions offered in the city. Here are 8 things to do in Sydney if it’s going to be your first time in the city.
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1. Take a ferry ride through the harbor
One of the first things I did when I arrived in Sydney was board a ferry for a ride through the harbor. It’s a perfect way to get acquainted with the layout of the harbor areas and capture some fantastic views of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the skyline of the city.
2. Pet some kangaroos and koalas
This is obviously a pretty touristy thing to do but how can you go to Australia and not pet a koala or kangaroo? A good place to do both of these is the Wildlife Sydney Zoo. It’s an interesting wildlife center where you can see a lot of the famous Australian creatures known for their deadly bites and stings, including some of the most deadly snakes, spiders, and jellyfish. The kangaroos there are known as “red kangaroos” and are the largest species in Australia. My first time seeing them walk in real life was a bit trippy. It’s hard to explain, but their so large and their body movements are so different from anything that you’ve seen that they kind of resemble aliens at first glance.
Nowadays they only let you gently pet the koalas due to some tourists getting too rough with the koalas and fracturing their fragile ribs. So just be a little careful with these furry little animals and you’ll get some great photos. If you’re lucky, one might actually come out of its slumber and open its eyes for your photo op. There’s a pass you can get to access to the zoo and some of the other attractions like the aquarium and the Sydney Tower so that you can save a little bit of money.
It’s a bit pricey bit if you have the extra cash and the sense of adventure you can take the ferry over to Manly, Australia and actually enter their shark tank. It’s a really cool experience and one that I’ll never forget about.
3. Day trip to the Blue Mountains
My only regret is not planning for a full day trip or possibly staying overnight in the Blue Mountains. Still, even if you only can book a tour to go through the area for a few hours you’ll still enjoy the experience. There are multiple waterfalls pouring off sheer cliffs topped with lush vegetation, rainforests, and towering sandstone spires that can be admired from a suspended cable car (the steepest and largest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere). If you go with the right tour group, they’ll also take you past some ancient petroglyphs and even allow you to encounter some kangaroos in the wild.
4. Check out Bondi Beach
When I lived in Australia, I actually stayed at Bondi Beach so it will always be a special place to me. The beach scenery is absolutely beautiful with its clear blue waters and constant breaking surf. There’s a number of different restaurants lining the main street of the beach so you can grab some grub. I had plenty of great Thai food while living there so be sure to try some out while you’re there.
Bondi Beach is a hotspot for surfers year-round but you’ll want to be careful if you’re trying surfing here for your first time because the swells and the rip currents can be something serious. We’d been warned about venturing out into the waters during a severe swell but we decided to “test-the-waters” anyway. To say that we were manhandled by the ocean that day would be putting it lightly. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and a hell of a way to get an into to surfing.
Apart from the surfing, there are often other activities going on in the area. In the middle of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, they set up an ice skating rink on the beach for Christmas in July and it’s a pretty cool little set up. Don’t forget to look into exploring the rocky tide pools and discovering all different kinds of wildlife that can be found between the rock cracks. At low tide, you’ll be amazed with what you uncover.
The nearby Icebergs bar is a great way to relax while not missing the views through their see-through walls and the pathways winding along the coast are an amazing sight to experience the rugged headlands. If you have a couple of hours to spare then consider the extremely scenic walk to Coogee.
5. Visit the Sydney Opera House
You’ve seen it in countless movies and brochures and it’s one of the most famous buildings in the world. While you can always catch a show inside, just walking around the area and exploring the nearby grounds of the Opera House is a worthy attraction and can be very romantic at night if that’s something you’re interested in. Also, the botanic gardens are right next door and are a beautiful area to check out on your way to or from the Opera House.
6. Walk across the Harbor Bridge
I have a slight fascination with walking across some of the iconic bridges around the world (Golden Gate, Tower Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.) so I would recommend walking across the Harbour Bridge to anyone. It offers great views of the Opera House and the surrounding buildings and you can often catch spectacular sunsets on the bridge. If you’ve got the extra cash, aren’t afraid of heights, and looking for a little adventure you can book a tour walking across the top of the bridge. This looked like it would’ve been a lot of fun but I personally got turned-off by the price tag of this adventure. At $150 AUD for the cheapest, middle of the week time-slot it just seemed to be a bit much.
7. Check out a rugby or Australian football game
It seemed that some of the rugby fans looked down on Australian football a little bit, supposedly because Australian football doesn’t require the same toughness and ruggedness of rugby. That’s probably true but it didn’t stop us from catching a game there. I must admit that I knew zilch about Oz football so I was pretty clueless about what was going on. Still, it was pretty fun to have a couple of pints and try to mesh with some of the locals and experience how they do sports down under.
8. Whale Watching
Sydney was actually my first place to ever go whale watching out on a boat. We weren’t too lucky in that we didn’t have the best showing of whales that day; however, we didn’t completely strike out and we did come across a few of them. I quickly realized how difficult it is to photograph whales (at least when they’re being shy).
I managed to get a few decent shots but the experience of seeing humpback whales for the first time was still a lot of fun. Just don’t forget your motion-sickness pills — roughly half of the boat seemed to get sea sick while we were out and I quickly realized what all the little baggy things were for that I set around the seats.
These are only 8 of the many things to do in Sydney. While most of these are pretty touristy things to do, I still recommend you giving them a go on your first trip to Sydney.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.