Recently, we spent a week in Sydney, Australia. Of course, we did a lot of reading about Sydney and Australia, but we really didn’t know what to expect. Our visit began with a late-night arrival at the airport and then a taxi ride to our hotel: the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay. From the moment we got to our hotel room we fell in love with Sydney and here are a few reasons why:
Reason 1: The Circular Quay
First off, Quay is pronounced “key”. We learned that the hard way when we tried to tell our taxi driver at the airport that our hotel was near the Circular “Kway”. The driver then proceeded to give us our first lesson in Aussie talk! No matter how you pronounce it the Circular Quay is the center of attention in Sydney.
Our first morning we walked two blocks from our hotel down to the Quay. In spite of its circular name, the quay is a huge semicircular harbor and it’s a very busy place. We were amazed at all the water ferries zooming in and out of the docks. The ferries always were going so fast it seemed as though they would crash at the dock, but somehow they always stopped just in time.
Looking directly across the harbor you can see North Sydney which is where a lot of those ferries were going. Looking to the left, you first see The Rocks, which is where Sydney began. Then there is the iconic Harbour Bridge with a cruise ship docked below. Looking to the right you’ll see the beautiful Sydney Opera House and adjacent to that is the Royal Botanic Garden. That’s a lot to see in a small space
Along the quay are all kinds of shops and restaurants. Most of the shops appear to cater to tourists. However, the restaurants run the gamut from fish n chips take out stalls to high end fine-dining. There are also plenty of street performers scattered along the quay. Our favorites were the ones playing the didgeridoo which gave a unique ethereal Australia air to our strolls along the quay. Click here to hear the sounds of a didgeridoo:Didgeridoo Player on the Quay
The Circular Quay ended up being the “headquarters” of our Sydney visit. We were there every day and every day there was more to see and do. We can’t wait to go back!
Reason 2: The Harbour Bridge
I’m a bridge geek and walking across the top of this bridge has long been on my bucket list so it was incredibly cool to have a view of the bridge from our hotel room. Early on our first morning we headed to the quay, walked through The Rocks and then headed to the bridge. However, we weren’t up for climbing to the top of the bridge, so instead we chose to walk across the bridge on the pedestrian walkway. It may not have been as exciting as walking across the top but this was the next best thing…and it was free!
It’s a noisy walk because you’re alongside the traffic lanes, but the views are incredible. You can see all the ferries zooming in and out and all kinds of boats passing under the bridge. Also, the views of the Sydney Opera House are incredible!
Since we didn’t walk across the top of the bridge we decided to climb up the South Pylon of the bridge. It cost $13 (Aus) and is well worth it. The views are incredible and you can spend all the time you want up there. And, you can take your own camera up there which you can’t do on the top-of-the bridge walk.
Inside the pylon, there are several exhibits on how the bridge was conceived, designed and built…very interesting! And at the end there is a ten minute movie with pictures of the bridge throughout its history. This is an incredible bridge and it’s even more amazing when you consider that they built the bridge back in the early 1930s without modern tools and without modern engineering.
Our trek across the bridge, the return and then up to the top of the pylon took about three hours, almost all of it walking and climbing stairs. By the end of our bridge visit my knee was aching and I was limping, but I was happy. It’s hard not to be happy after you’ve visited one of the most iconic bridges in the world!
Reason 3: The Food
When you think of Australia probably the only food that comes to mind is shrimp on the barbie. The reason for that is that Australia doesn’t have it’s own unique food style like France or Germany. Instead, Australia is a blend of foods from all over the world; brought here by all the people who have immigrated here.
That being said, there is a decidedly British flavor to the foods in Sydney. Fish N Chips seems to be available on most menus; whether it’s fine dining or a small take-away stall on the quay. At our hotel’s breakfast buffet there were always grilled tomatoes, bangers, and beans….very much reminiscent of our breakfasts in England.
As in England, meat pies are widely available in Sydney and the best one we had by far, was the Tiger at Harry’s Cafe De Wheels in the Woolloomooloo district. Harry’s is another Sydney icon and it’s a little stand near the Navy wharf. There you order your meat pie and sit on a bench to eat it…all the while keeping an eye out for a sighting of Russel Crowe who lives in the area and who also loves the occasional Tiger at Harry’s. The Tiger is a meat pie topped with mashed potatoes mashed peas and gravy and it is decadent! (Thanks Wendy for the recommendation!)
I can’t have a food section without mentioning two uniquely Australian foods: Kangaroo and Vegemite. Yes, we tried the kangaroo meat on a pizza and we liked it. However, our Aussie friends said it’s not a common food and it’s mainly for tourists. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Vegemite. It’s a very common Aussie food and most tourists don’t like it. The “proper” way to eat it is to spread a very thin layer of it on top of buttered toast. At first I didn’t like it…at all…but after about three weeks of trying I finally got to appreciate Vegemite…a little.
Reason 5: The Rocks
The Rocks is the original part of Sydney and part of the original prison colony of Australia. Many of the original buildings are still standing and you can see the marks on the buildings’ stones made by the convicts’ picks and chisels as they carved the building blocks out of the native stone. Today the buildings are filled with homes, shops and restaurants and the streets are filled with a mix of locals and tourists.
The Sydney Visitor Center is here as well as The Rocks Discovery Museum where you can read lots more information on Sydney’s history, including details on the convicts’ lives as they struggled to make a new home and country.
Each weekend, the Rocks Market is here, with about 100 stalls selling everything from opals to coffee to boomerangs. We had a wonderful morning strolling through the stalls and browsing for souvenirs.
Reason 6: The Royal Botanical Garden
We had researched the first five items above but had never heard of the Royal Botanical Garden. That changed when we decided to walk to meet a new friend (Wendy) in the Potts Point area. Our walk route took us right through the gardens and we were so pleasantly surprised! Yes, The Royal Botanical Garden is like other major parks around the world with lush grass, lots of trees and plenty of birds but remember this is Australia, so the wildlife here is not like back home.
The first bird we saw was a huge cockatoo in a tree. We felt sorry for the owner who must have lost this beloved pet. Imagine our surprise when we encountered an entire flock of cockatoos who were also enjoying the park. One of them even tried to open my backpack! Turns out that cockatoos are native to Australia (who knew?!) and they are common here as are several other species of birds that were new to us.
Another new animal for us were the eels in the ponds. We were watching a little boy feed the “fish” and the water churned as he threw the fish food in. We walked up to him and saw the water was teeming with eels. We’ve eaten many eels but we’ve never seen any outside of sushi bars!
The Royal Botanical Garden is beautiful and it’s obvious that the people of Sydney love it. There were people having picnics, playing football, feeding fish/eels, birdwatching and just strolling. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people there and it wasn’t crowded at all. We ended up strolling along the water, ending up at the Sydney Opera House. What a wonderful way to spend a day!
Reason 7: The People!
Virtually everywhere we travel we meet great people and make new friends. That being said, in our opinion Aussies as a whole, are among the friendliest people we’ve ever encountered. Starting with the very first person wet me on The Circular Quay (Paij) to Wendy waving goodbye to us as our ship sailed from Sydney Harbour; we found Aussies to be genuinely friendly and proud of their country.
What struck us most was how Aussies were always willing to tell us about the history of the city and the country. We learned so much more about the country from our new friends than we ever could have by reading books. They also were eager to share and to teach us the important Aussie words and terms like: snag (hot dogs & sausages), G’Day Mate, brolley (umbrella), stone the crows (you’re kidding), fair dinkum (honestly) and so many more.
Saying it simply: The people of Sydney made us feel at home. Can it get any better?
There is so much more we have to say about Sydney and Australia but it will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, we encourage you to visit Sydney and especially now while the currency exchange rate is so favorable for Americans
Here’s a link about foods to try when you’re in Australia: Australian Foods to Try
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