In this city, many of the best things in life really are free – from lazing around the beaches or checking out the wildlife, to admiring Sydney’s outstanding art collection.
Hero of Waterloo
Enter this rough-hewn 1843 sandstone pub to meet some locals and grab an earful of the swing, folk, old-time jazz and Celtic bands (Fri-Sun). Downstairs is a dungeon where, in days gone by, drinkers would sleep off a heavy night before being shanghaied to the high seas via a tunnel leading straight to the harbour.
The Sydney Conservatorium of Music
The castellated ‘Con’ was designed in 1817 by convict architect Francis Greenway. It was later converted into a music conservatorium, and has since created five world-class venues that showcase the talents of its students and their teachers. Choral, jazz, operatic and chamber concerts happen from March-November, along with free Weds lunchtime recitals.
Watsons Bay Hotel
One of the great pleasures in life is languishing in the rowdy beer garden of the Watsons Bay Hotel, mere metres from the ferry wharf, with a jug of sangria after a day at the beach. Stay to watch the sun go down over the city and grab some seafood if you’re hungry – fish and chips or a seafood platter with crab, octopus and oysters.
Art Gallery of Nsw
Inside this stately Neoclassical building lies an exuberant collection. Blockbuster touring exhibitions arrive regularly and there’s an outstanding collection of Australian art, including a substantial indigenous section.
Museum of Contemporary Art
A slice of Gotham City on Circular Quay West, the stately Art Deco MCA has been raising eyebrows since 1991. Constantly changing exhibitions range from the hip to in-your-face, sexually explicit and somewhat disturbing. You’ll also find aboriginal art featured prominently. There are daily guided tours.
Wealthy philanthropists are to thank for Sydney’s exciting new free gallery, devoted to cutting-edge Chinese art. There are so many works that only a fraction can be displayed at one time. You might be surprised just how much edgy, funny and idiosyncratic work is coming out of the People’s Republic.
Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
This sandstone rock, carved into the shape of a seat, sits on Mrs Macquarie’s Point, the northeastern tip of Farm Cove and is ideally placed for beautiful views over the bay to the city skyline. Colourful cockatoos disturb the peace during the day, and look out for greyheaded flying foxes at twilight.
Manly Scenic Walkway
This six-mile coastal walk from Manly to Spit Bridge passes multimillion harbourside properties and ventures through Sydney Harbour National Park, where you are likely to spot kookaburras, roaming fat goannas and spiders in bottlebrush trees. Look out for the aboriginal rock carvings near the turnoff to Grotto Point Lighthouse.
Lane Cove National Park
This large protected park is a great place to stretch out on some mid-sized bushwalks. It’s home to dozens of critters, including endangered owls and toads, plus you might spot water dragons sunning themselves. There’s a boat shed on Lane Cove River that rents out row boats and kayaks.
Airlines including Air China, BA, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Malaysia, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Thai fly to Sydney from London Heathrow. If you’re here for a week, a MyMulti1 pass will get you most places on trains, ferries, buses and trams. Trains are reliable and frequent, while buses go where the trains don’t, such as Bondi and the Eastern Beaches. Ferries are an excellent way to see the harbour.
WHERE TO STAY
Mariners Court Hotel offers that rare combination of location, price and a bit of elbow room, not to mention a free hot breakfast buffet. All rooms have courtyards or balconies
A two-minute walk from the beach,
The peaceful retreat of Tara Guest House has four graceful spaces with soaring ceilings and French doors opening on to large verandas. The communal breakfast is a highlight, and rates include airport transfers.
Bondi Beach House offers a homely atmosphere with rustic-chic furnishings, a terrace, courtyard and well-equipped communal kitchen.
In the mid-’90s, a business began renting loungers on Tamarama Beach, offering waiter service. It didn’t last long. Even at what was Sydney’s most glamorous beach, nobody was interested in that kind of malarkey.
For Australians, going to the beach is all about rolling out a towel on the sand with a minimum of fuss. Ice-cream vendors are acceptable; martini luggers are not.
In summer, one of the more unusual sights is the little ice cream boat pulling up to Lady Bay (and other harbour beaches) and a polite queue of nude gentlemen forming to purchase their icy pops.
Surf lifesavers have a hallowed place in the culture and you’d do well to heed their instructions, not least of all because they will be in your best interest.