Sydney Opera House
Like the shimmering white sails it resembles, the Sydney Opera House seems to billow over this city’s stunning harbor in an image that takes away the breath of tourists and locals alike. It’s easily one of the world’s most compelling and original buildings. Slip into the bar and restaurant at its side, called Opera Kitchen, and have a meal or just sip an Australian sauvignon blanc while soaking in the views of the harbor bridge and the boats. You can take a tour of the building itself and also catch a show.
Bennelong Point; sydneyoperahouse.com
This magical stroll takes you from the Sydney Opera House through the Royal Botanic Gardens, hugging the water and going past Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a historical chair (actually, more of a bench) carved out of a rock ledge for the wife of Colonial-era governor Lachlan Macquarie so she could gaze at the harbor. Keep going and you will end up at the Boy Charlton Pool, perched on the edge of land overlooking the suburb of Woolloomooloo and the Finger Wharf, where actor Russell Crowe has a penthouse. Have a swim in the salty pool before lunch in the café upstairs, which overlooks the water and Navy ships.
Go to the St. George OpenAir Cinema at Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Sit watching a recent movie with the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and city skyline behind the screen erected on pylons in the water. This year Opera Australia staged La Traviata on a giant outdoor stage in the same place in April, and they’re planning to do the same thing with Carmen next year.
The ferry from Circular Quay to Manly is the city’s most iconic ferry ride. The 30-minute trip sweeps you across the harbor, giving you priceless views of Sydney for a handful of dollars. Get off at Taronga Zoo and ponder how the animals scored such a prime spot overlooking the harbor. When you get to Manly, catch a cab to the sumptuous Pilu at Freshwater restaurant, overlooking the ocean.
manlyaustralia.com.au/information/ gettinghere.asp; piluatfreshwater.com.au
A magnet for tourists and good for those who think vertigo is for wimps. Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a perfect 360-degree view of Sydney, the harbor, and even the distant Blue Mountains. It’s a steady but safe ascent to dizzying heights with groups of fellow thrillseekers. Along the way you can admire the giant steel monolith you are climbing on and put your camera to good use capturing the stunning views.
Jonah’s Restaurant and retreat is perched upon the cliff top overlooking Whale Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches. A favorite haunt of celebs, it is a 50-minute drive from central Sydney. But why drive when you can take a seaplane there from Rose Bay in 15 minutes, flying over some of the city’s best beaches before splashdown and lunch?
69 Bynya Road, Whale Beach; jonahs.com.au/restaurant
Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art
The museum just had a multimillion dollar makeover and is beautifully located on the bustling ferry terminal of Circular Quay. Once you’ve had enough, have lunch out on the front patio while watching the world go by or on the sculpture terrace upstairs overlooking the Opera House.
140 George Street, The Rocks; mca.com.au/visit
Sydney Theatre Company
If you haven’t had your fill at the Sydney Opera House, then catch a show at Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett’s Sydney Theater Company, which is headquartered on an atmospheric old pier in Walsh Bay. There is a bar at the end of the STC wharf that's a great place to have a drink and meal while overlooking the harbor.
22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay; sydneytheatre.org.au
A walk through the cobblestone streets and old colonial buildings of The Rocks gives a taste of the place where white settlement of Australia began in 1788. Sample the noisy local pubs and gaze at the harbor. Learn more of the darker side of Australia’s convict history—the murders, the hangings, and the floggings—with the Rocks Ghost Tour or the Rocks Discovery Museum.
It might be touristy, but let’s face it, how can you come to Sydney without seeing a shark? This the place to visit if you want to look into the mouth of these huge beasts swimming inches away from you as you walk through the famous shark tunnel. If you want a closer look, you can go diving with them, and they probably won’t hurt you. If you want a more realistic encounter, go surfing.
1-5 Wheat Road, Darling Harbour; sydneyaquarium.com.au