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Sydney

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Sydney Itineraries

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Sydney’s Grand Pacific Drive

Australia's harbour-side playground

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Australia’s largest city, Sydney, is a city that lives on the water’s edge – no surprise, really, given it encircles one of the biggest natural harbours in the world.

Sydney’s harbour contains more than 240km of foreshore and extends over 55 square kilometres. Harbourside real estate is the preserve of the rich, famous and well-heeled, although Sydney Harbour National Park protects numerous quiet bays and most of the Harbour Islands, including Fort Denison, a former convict prison known as Pinchgut that is now open for tours (ferries leave from Circular Quay).

Take the ferry to Manly and stroll down The Corso to the surf beach, or head further north winding though the string of beautiful beachside suburbs to Palm Beach.  To the east of the city are the world-famous beaches of Bondi, Bronte and Coogee, linked by a spectacular cliff-top walking trail.  Inner city suburbs such as Kings Cross are famous for their night-life and restaurants and to the west, the areas around Glebe, Newtown and Leichhardt are popular for their range of cafes, restaurants, eclectic boutiques and cosmopolitan urban village atmosphere.

The city also boasts a string of beautiful New South Wales beaches to the north and south, and to the west rises the magnificent wilderness of the Blue Mountains.


Start with these Sydney Itineraries

Sydney for Free … Best budget bets
Sydney in 3 Days … A first-timers guide to Australia’s Harbour City
Sydney’s Grand Pacific Drive … THE best one-day Sydney road trip


When To Go

Sydney is blessed with a temperate climate and a range of year-round events, which means that there is no really bad time to visit.

How Much Time To Spend

If it’s your first time in Sydney you really need at least three full days to see the highlights, and even then, you’ll only be scratching the surface. If you have five days or a week to spend in the Emerald City even better, because then you can tick off all the must see and do things, like cruising Sydney Harbour, wandering around The Rocks (the city’s historic quarter), visiting Bondi Beach and walking along the cliff tops to Bronte, catching a ferry across to Manly (there’s three days gone) and have time to explore some of the inner city precincts (Surry Hills and Newtown, for starters).

High and Low Season

Beyond New Year, when everyone wants to be in Sydney, there’s not a great deal of difference between high and low season, although winter time (May through to September) is generally cheaper than summer, especially the six-week holiday period between mid-December through to the end of January. School holidays (Easter, late June-early July and mid-Sept-early Oct), will also push prices into peak season brackets.

Sydney’s Australia’s most important financial and business centre, so mid-week rates in most city hotels are more expensive than weekends.

Weather and Climate

Summer – November through to March – can be humid and sometimes quite rainy, while winter – June, July and August – can be quite cool at night but most days are sunny and mild – if you are used to Northern Hemisphere winters you’ll find the locals moaning about ‘freezing’ when temperatures (which are measured in Celsius, not Fahrenheit) occasionally slip into single figures, quite amusing.

The average summer temperature, which is often tempered by sea breezes, is in the mid to high 20s (high 70s-low 80s in the F scale); winter averages are usually in the mid teens (60-65 °F).

Events and Holidays

National Holidays

January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26:  Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day

Almost everything is closed on Christmas Day and Good Friday.

On all other major public holidays – New Year’s Day, Australia Day (Jan 26), Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day (Apr 25), Queen’s Birthday (second Monday in June), Labour Day (first Monday in Oct) and Boxing Day (Dec 26) – banks and businesses are closed, but larger stores and some tourist attractions may remain open.

Events
Sydney’s New Year celebrations are legendary, the annual fireworks display is one of the largest free public events on the planet, and involves more than 3,000 kg of explosive devices; approximately 11,000 shells, 10,000 shooting comets, and a total of 100,000 individual pyrotechnic effects exploding above Sydney Harbour Bridge and around the harbour. There’s usually two shows, one at 9pm for families, then the big one at midnight.

The city is at its most relaxed and laid back in January, when most of the locals are on summer holidays so traffic is lighter and the Festival of Sydney – a three-week feast of music, theatre, dance and free events culminating in Australia Day celebrations on January 26 (another excuse to light up the sky with exploding firecrackers) – is in full swing.

Other celebrations worth joining in summer include the Chinese New Year Festival (late Jan-early Feb), the largest Lunar New Year celebration outside Asia and the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras when Sydney becomes the centre of the gay universe during the month-long festival (mid-February to mid-March) that wraps up in spectacular fashion in a parade of costumed dancers and decorated floats down Oxford Street.

Two other only-in-Sydney events worth noting in your travel plans include the winter time (May-June) Vivid, an amazing music and light festival that includes luminous art installations around the harbour foreshore and city streets, and stunning light projections that paint the sails of the Opera House in a kaleidoscope of colours, and Sculpture by the Sea, a three-week outdoor exhibition featuring more than 100 artworks on the 2km-long Bronte to Bondi cliff-top walk (Oct-Nov).

Time Zone

To check the local time in Sydney, click here.

Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.

All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.

What To Pack and Wear

Sydney’s a casual city, so within reason, you can wear what you like, although wearing swimming costumes (bikinis, etc) more than a block away from the beach is not recommended.  All pubs and restaurants demand that shoes be worn (some will not allow thongs, which most other nations call flip flops) and shirts rather than singlets (tank tops), although the latter mostly applies to men rather than women.  Very few (although there a handful) require jackets and ties. That said, Sydney is a city that is full of people who like to look good, so make sure you have some ‘smart casual’ in your case if you are planning a night out on the town.

Sydney’s weather is changeable, with southerly breezes turning broiling hot days cool within minutes, so even in summer you’ll need to pack a light jacket or jumper (sweater).  A raincoat and umbrella is mandatory, year round.  In winter you’ll need a fairly decent coat or jacket, just in case you’re here on one of those days when the mercury slips below 5 degrees.

What it Costs

There is no way of hiding it, Sydney, the Australian capital of conspicuous consumption, is not a cheap destination – with median house prices above the million-dollar mark (harbourside or beachfront real estate is the stuff of fantasy for most locals) it has the most expensive real estate in the country, and you wont have to look all that hard to find $50 cocktails on upmarket bar menus, often in establishments that do not think twice about charging $960 a head for a degustation menu.

But for those of us with real-life budgets, you can expect to pay a minimum of around $400-500 or so for a standard four or five-star harbour-view room, although if you head away from the waters edge you can pick up a reasonable room for $300 or a little less. Anything under $150 a night (other than a shared dorm in a backpackers) is an absolute bargain. Most hotels are pretty good and usually very clean and even the most basic hotel room will include tea and coffee making facilities, a fridge and TV; wi-fi should be free, but sadly, seldom is.

In terms of eating out, most of the classy eateries that have a view will set you back $40-$50 for every main course, which may or may not include extras like vegetables or salad and you wont find many (if any) bottles of wine on the list for less than $50, but if you eschew the view you can usually eat well in most mid-range eateries for around $30-$35 per main course (what North Americans call an entree – it is easy to get confused, because Australians call appetisers entrees, go figure!). Neighbourhood pubs offer great value, with hearty simple food (think steaks, schnitzels, pastas and salads) for not much more $10-$15.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $AU.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $205-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $35-$80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ’em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates.  It currently operates in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation – About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical – Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption – For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay – Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage – Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework – check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions – Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance – If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes.  Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.

Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out.  In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.

Most major bank branches offer currency exchange services. Small foreign-currency exchange offices are clustered at the airport and around Circular Quay and Kings Cross. Most larger hotels will accept travellers cheques, although they are becoming increasingly rare, and they may be very difficult to cash at stores and restaurants.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, and some, especially in the city centre, are open from 9.30am to 12.30pm on Saturday.

ATMs

ATMs are everywhere and most use global networks such as Cirrus and PLUS. Australian ATMs use a four-digit code, so check with your bank and make sure you change yours before you leave home.

If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia.  Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping

Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.

Other costs

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Blue Mountains of the Great Diving Range to the west, Sydney’s suburban sprawl covers more than 1687 square kilometres (651 square miles): the inner city alone 25 square kilometres (10 square miles).  That said, most of the main attractions are easily accessible either on foot or by public transport, although having your own set of wheels if you want to explore beyond the city limits is handy.

The city is well serviced by bus and train, and an ever expanding light rail network is currently under construction. Ferries criss-cross the harbour and a web of motorways fan out of the city to the north, south and west, and on the whole, motorists are a fairly well-behaved bunch who mostly adhere to the road rules. If you do drive, remember, Aussies drive on the left!

Getting There

Airports & airlines: Sydney International Airport is 8km from the city centre. There are three terminals: T1 is the international terminal; T2 is home to a number of domestic and regional airlines including Jetstar, Virgin Blue, Regional Express, Aeropelican, Tigerair and Qantas flights QF1600 and above; T3 is the terminal for domestic Qantas flights QF0400-1599.

A taxi from the airport to the city centre costs $45-$55 depending on traffic conditions.

The Airport Link train, which runs approximately every 10 minutes connects the international and domestic airports to the city circle stations (Central, Museum, St. James, Circular Quay, Wynyard, and Town Hall) and takes around 15 minutes. You’ll need to change trains for other Sydney stations.  Trains run approximately every 10 minutes, the journey into the city takes 15 minutes and a single fare from T1 to Central costs $17.80 adult; $14 kids. It can get crowded during peak hour (approximately 7-9am and 4-6.30pm) and the trains do not have dedicated luggage racks. If you have lots of luggage and you’re travelling into the city at these times, it’s probably best to take an airport bus (see below) or a taxi.

Airport Connect coaches operate to the city centre from bus stops outside the terminals every 15 minutes. This service will drop you off (and pick you up) at hotels in the city, Kings Cross, and Darling Harbour. Pickups from hotels require at least three hours advance notice, and you can book online. Tickets start at $15 one-way.

Cars: If you’re driving you’ll enter Sydney from the north on the Pacific Highway/M1 Motorway, from the south on the M5 and Princes Highway, and from the west on the Great Western Highway. All of the major freeways in and out of the city, as well as the Harbour Bridge, Harbour Tunnel and Cross City Tunnel have road tolls and are not payable with cash. You can get an E-Toll pass at www.rta.nsw.gov.au or call 13 18 65 before you travel or up to 48 hours after you travelled. Be mindful of T2 and T3 transit lanes; you must have two or three people in the car respectively in order to travel in these lanes.

Trains: Central Station is the main train station. All interstate trains depart from here, and it’s a major hub for suburban trains. Many city buses leave from neighbouring Railway Square.

Buses: All major regional and interstate bus services arrive and depart from the Sydney Coach Terminal, which is on the corner of Eddy Avenue and Pitt Street, next to Central Station.

Cruise ships: Cruise ships dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks (opposite the Sydney Opera House) or from the White Bay Cruise Terminal in Rozelle.

Getting Around

Cars & traffic If you are just exploring the city don’t bother with a hire car. Most of the major sights and attractions in Sydney are readily accessible by public transport, and parking in the city centre can be problematic and expensive – expect to pay $25 per day or more at most hotels and there is virtually no free parking in the city centre; parking meter rates vary depending on the time and location and City Rangers keep an eagle eye on the few metered spots and will issue a fine to anyone who parks over time or illegally – the minimum fine is around $80.

While Sydney’s road network is extensive, it can’t quite cope with demand, so if you do drive try to avoid the two peaks (6.30-9.30am and 3-7pm) when roads in and around the city are clogged and traffic slows to a crawl.

Taxis & Uber: all taxis journeys are metered, although some trips attract a surcharge, including a trip across the Harbour Bridge or through the Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Distributor from the airport, and all fares are 20% more expensive between 10 pm and 6 am. An extra 10% will be added to your fare if you pay by credit card. Taxis line up at stands in the city, such as those opposite Circular Quay and Central Station. They are also frequently found in front of hotels. You can also hail a taxi in the street: a yellow light on top of the cab means it’s vacant. Cabs can be hard to get on Friday and Saturday nights and around 3pm every day, when cabbies are changing shifts. Passengers must wear seatbelts in the front and back seats.

One scam to watch out for is at busy taxi queues, when drivers may try to cash in by insisting you share a cab with other passengers in line at the airport. After dropping off the other passengers, the cab driver will attempt to charge you the full price of the journey, despite the fact that the other passengers paid for their sections, and you will have had a longer than normal ride in the process. If you are first in line in the taxi stand, the law states that you can refuse to share the cab.

Uber is increasingly popular and often up to 40% cheaper than hiring a taxi, but at the time of writing is still officially illegal, although that doesn’t stop thousands of people from using the service each week.

Trains & light rail: Sydney’s subway, train and light rail system is a quick way to get around, although timetable information should be used as a guide rather than gospel and it’s not the safest option late at night, particularly if travelling to the outer suburbs. The main station is Central, although you can also pick up most trains at Town Hall and Redfern as well.

Bus: Buses cover a wide area of metropolitan Sydney and are usually frequent and reliable. Most routes are prepay only, which means you can’t buy your ticket on the bus so you’ll need to buy an Opal Card (see below).

Ferries: Ferries are a great way to get around Sydney, and fun as well – no trip to Sydney is complete with at least one trip across the harbour and through the heads to Manly – it takes around 30 minutes and is one of the best value harbour cruises around. Almost all ferries leave from Circular Quay. Ferries run from 6am to midnight. Bicycles are permitted on all ferries free of charge.

Bicycles: Sydney is not a bicycle-friendly city.  There are very few designated cycle lanes, which means every journey on a bicycle involves dicing with death in the traffic (and sadly, Sydney motorists seem to lack any patience when it comes to sharing the road with cyclists), and no swipe-and-ride bike hire scheme that you find in practically every other developed city in the western world.

Transportation Hubs

Central Station is the main hub for suburban (and country/interstate) trains, although Redfern, one stop to the south, also connects to every line. Across the road from Central is Railway Square, a major hub for inner-city buses . Circular Quay is, of course, the hub for ferries, but you’ll also find that a majority of buses servicing the eastern and inner western suburbs depart from here. If you’re heading across the (Sydney Harbour) Bridge to the north shore and beyond, most buses depart from the interchange opposite Wynyard Station on Carrington and York streets (bordering Wynyard Park).

Discounts and Passes

The MyMulti DayPass ticket allows unlimited bus, train, light rail and ferry travel for 1 day. Tickets cost $24 for adults and $12 for kids. The pass is available at all bus, train, and ferry ticket outlets.

Tickets

If you are planning on using public transport, particularly buses, for more than one or two days you’ll need an Opal card (similar to London’s Oyster card).  The card can be topped up when needed and covers all public transport in and around the city, including buses, trains, light rail and ferries. They are available from newsagents, convenience stores, train stations and ferry wharves.

Background

Sydney is Australia’s oldest, largest and most beautiful city, (although folks from Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart or Adelaide may argue that last point, but what would they know!), with a wealth of national parks, some of the world’s best beaches and a rich seam of World Heritage-listed history that lies just beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered.

But before there was Sydney, there was Warrane, Wahganmuggalee, Dubbagullee, Tumbalong and Tar-Ra, just some of the original names for the bays and coves of Birra Birra or modern-day Sydney Harbour.

The Eora lived, hunted and celebrated on the shorelines and river banks of the place we now call Sydney for more than 40,000 years before the white men came (and they were men: there were very few women in the early days). They belonged to many clans (Gadgial, Wangal, Burramattagal, Wallumattagal were just some of the 29 cultural groups) and spoke many languages, and had a culture rich in art, tradition and dreaming stories.

Despite more than two centuries of dispossession, that culture is still strong today, although as a visitor you’ll have to seek it out: good spots to start include a guided walk with an Aboriginal elder through The Rocks, a visit to Cadi Jam Ora (the First Encounters Garden) in the Royal Botanic Gardens, listen to the voices reciting the Koori names of places that have been swallowed up by the modern city in the past 225 years in the ‘forest’ of 29 sandstone, wood and steel poles outside the Museum of Sydney, visit the collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of NSW or take a Tribal Warrior cruise on the harbour for a look at Sydney through Aboriginal eyes.

History

The Eora’s world changed forever 18 years after James Cook claimed the eastern half of the land mass known as New Holland for Britain in 1770, when Captain Arthur Phillip, along with the first fleet of 11 English convict ships, sailed into Botany Bay and established a struggling penal colony on the shores of Sydney Harbour, then called Port Jackson.

Things could have been different though: we could have been French. On the shores of Botany Bay is Frenchmans Bay, a beach named for one of the great could-have-been moments in history. French explorer Comte de Lapérouse landed here just days after the First Fleet in January 1788.  Lapérouse stayed for six weeks in the area now known as La Perouse, building a stockade and establishing a small garden, before setting sail again for the south seas, never to be seen again. There’s a monument on the headland and the museum in the historic 1881 Cable Station tells the story of the expedition, its encounter with the First Fleet and the mystery surrounding its disappearance.

The first free settlers arrived in 1793 – by 1850 there are enough non-convict citizens to pressure England to stop transporting felons to NSW – in total more than 80,000 were transported NSW. Back then Sydney was a man’s world: less than 15% of transported convicts were women.

Despite almost starving to death in the early years, and weathering the only successful armed takeover of government in Australia’s recorded history when the Governor William Bligh, of mutiny on the Bounty fame, was ousted by the NSW Corps in the Rum Rebellion (rum was the colonial currency), the penal colony prospered, and Sydney was declared a city in 1842.  And in case you’re wondering, Sydney was named after Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, who was the British home secretary in 1788, and the man responsible for the plan for the convict colony in Australia.

Fast forward a terquasquicentenary (175 years, give or take) and the city is home to almost five million people, plays host to more than 2.5 million international visitors each year and the metropolitan area’s ocean coastline stretches for 60km. Historic highs and lows along the way include an outbreak of bubonic plague in The Rocks in 1900; the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932; the bombing of Sydney Harbour in 1942 when three Japanese midget submarines snuck in and one of them fired a torpedo which hit HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21; the completion of the Opera House in 1973 (it was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007); the first ever gay mardi gras marched down Oxford St (originally a protest march; 53 of the marchers were arrested) in 1978 and the 2000 Olympics.

Etiquette

In general, the same rule of good manners applies in Sydney as it does anywhere else in the western world, even if Australians can seem, to a first time visitor, more casual than people on the other side of the world. We always (those of us with manners, at any rate) say please and thank you to staff, servers, drivers etc, give a firm handshake on greeting and look people in the eye – although if you are talking to an indigenous person, they will consider it rude to make eye contact.

When travelling on escalators or moving walkways stand to the left, and when walking on busy streets you should also try to keep to the left.

Smoking is banned in all enclosed public places, including public transport, offices, hospitals, hotels, bars and restaurants. Some hotels have outdoor sections where smoking is permitted, often called “beer gardens”. It is also illegal to smoke in cars carrying children under the age of 16.

For tips on tips, see Tipping & Costs That Add Up

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