Enjoy sweeping city views with BridgeClimb or graze the streets of King Street Newtown, urges Chris Pritchard.
The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest precinct, is a picturesque British-colonial convict settlement of 19th-century sandstone buildings at downtown’s edge. Amble anytime amid shops, restaurants and old pubs with names such as Hero of Waterloo. Far better, however, are on-foot evening ghost tours. You probably won’t see a ghost but these entertaining two-hour rambles are a fun way of learning tavern-of-the-seas history while hearing colourful tales of spectacular crimes and eerie experiences. A Rocks Ghost Tours experience costs around US$24, tel 61 2 9247 7910, www.ghosttours.com.au
While Bondi and Manly are most popular among Sydney’s many beaches, Coogee – south of Bondi and a 20-minute cab ride from downtown – rates highly among residents. With its broad curve opposite the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Coogee is popular for sunbathing, swimming, surfing and snorkelling. Pacific-hugging trails beckon nearby; less strenuously, an alfresco ale awaits at the Coogee Bay Hotel’s beer garden across from the sand. The area boasts a rich mix of restaurants.
Residents regard King Street Newtown (10 minutes by taxi from downtown) as Sydney’s prime food strip. About 200 restaurants pepper this multi-ethnic mix, with a Thai majority and even three African specialists. Few King Street eateries expect reservations. Stroll and graze. A good starting-point: an Aussie pub called the Marlborough Hotel, 145 King Street, tel 61 2 9519 1222
Smell the (mostly native) flowers
Aim for the Opera House (perhaps pausing for a tour) and just beyond it is the Royal Botanic Gardens’ harbour’s edge entrance. With a free morning, walk through the gardens to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and, further ahead, the Australian Museum. But the gardens themselves merit pausing to smell the flowers – many of them indigenous Aussie varieties. Peek at the Wollemi Pine, an ancient Australian tree and one of the world’s rarest. Only three adult stands exist, growing in outer-Sydney’s Blue Mountains, but the gardens house the first tree successfully planted out.
City at your feet
There are options in plenty showcasing city panoramas, but the Blu Horizon Bar on level 36 of the Shangri-La Sydney (176 Cumberland Street, tel 61 2 9250 6000) outclasses its rivals. Sleek and sexy (tip: aim for a window table), it offers a vista of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and water traffic encompassing cruise liners, freighters, ferries and yachts. Add spectacular Blue Mountain sunsets, downtown high-rises, parkland and suburbia plus splendid cocktails from show-pony bartenders who compete with the view for attention from locals and visitors. Smooth recorded jazz plays in the background.
Wok on the south side
Go any day of the week but on weekends, Sydney’s Chinatown, at downtown’s southern end, is particularly vibrant. Crowds wander along Dixon, Sussex and Hay Streets. While Paddy’s Market (with souvenirs and fresh produce) and the tranquil Chinese Garden of Friendship attract crowds, most people come to eat. Choose from 60-plus restaurants or cheap-and-cheerful food stall complexes. A prime lure is yum cha (residents never say they’re going to eat dim sum). My favourite for yum cha is ever-bustling Golden Harbour (31 Dixon Street, tel 61 2 9212 5987) where alfresco tables enable eyeballing of the passing parade. Still, service inside is snappier.
Feel the steel
It’s touristy – but the hottest ticket in town, with two million climbers since BridgeClimb (that’s how they spell it) launched eight years ago. Most travellers want to experience it, even as they complain about high prices (from US$126.86 on weekdays; dawn climbs cost US$221.46).
The word “climb” is clever marketing. After three short ladders at the start, it’s mostly a steep but undemanding walk on steps crossing 1,500m of steel. Groups up to 14-strong – breath-tested for alcohol and clad in supplied overalls to stop items falling – are attached to cables to explore the world’s largest (but not longest) steel-arch bridge, opened in 1932. Stops enable guides to relate bridge and city history.
Climbers enjoy sweeping views of the harbour, Opera House, city and suburbia. Photographs are taken (included in ticket prices) at the summit, 134m above the harbour. Midway across the bridge, a walkway leads to the other side from where climbers head back down. I managed to spot no famous faces but I know this three-and-a-half hour adventure attracts almost every celebrity visitor. A 100-year-old woman recently completed the climb. Tel 61 2 8274 7777, www.bridgeclimb.com