Sydney Guide: The Best Places to Eat, Sleep and Sightsee on a Family Holiday

A three-day itinerary in Australia's most famous city. | By Shubhda Khanna Nag

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One of the nicer ways to see Sydney’s famous beaches is to do the Bondi to Coogee Walk, a six-kilometre coastal stretch that weaves past empty coves, bustling restaurants, and surfers riding the sparkling waves of the Pacific. Photo: Coolr/Shutterstock

Sydney’s icons are known the world over. The famous Opera House, massive Harbour Bridge, buzzing Darling Harbour and the gorgeous beaches of Bondi and Manly—there’s plenty of sightseeing to do. What I love most about Sydney though, is its enthusiastic yet easy vibe. Monuments apart, the city has a thriving cultural scene. There are colourful parades, street performances, music concerts, and open-air theatres so there’s never a dearth of things to do, no matter what your area of interest.

Into Town

Taxis charge approximately AUD45-55/₹2,225-2,720 for the 20-minute journey from the airport into the city. Another option is to take the Airport Link train that runs every 10 minutes, and connects to major stations in and around the city (AUD17.50/₹865 AUD 14/₹690 for children between 4 and 16; children under 4 travel free). For a family of four, however, a taxi is a better bet. If you intend to drive around Sydney, book a car in advance at Budget or Avis and pick it up from the airport. Rentals start from about AUD80/₹3,955 a day (budget.com.au or avis.com.au). Once you are in the city, it’s easy to get around. Most attractions aren’t more than a 30-minute walk from each other. Tickets for buses, trains, and ferries can be purchased from stations, bus stops, news agencies, and convenience stores. If you’re planning to use multiple modes of transport, an Opal Card is a good investment. The pay-as-you-go card gives travellers access to all modes of transport in the city.

Australia Sydney Opera House

Circular Quay is probably the most photographed part of the city and is home to the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Julian Love/AWL Images/Getty Images

Sleep Easy: Hotels

Sydney has upscale, boutique, as well as budget accommodations. Ovolo at Woolloomooloo Wharf is a nice luxury business hotel. It checks all the boxes when it comes to style and elegance, and affords views of the Royal Botanic Gardens (6 Cowper Wharf Road; +612-9331 9000; www.ovolohotels.com/en/hotels/sydney/ovolo-woolloomooloo; doubles from AUD559/₹27,636). For a more budget-friendly option try the Aspire Hotel in the quirky suburb of Ultimo, a 20-minute walk from Darling Harbour (383-389 Bulwara Road Ultimo; +612-9211 1499; www.metrohotels.com.au; doubles from approximately AUD179/₹8,850). For adventure and a history lesson, camp at the UNESCO Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island, erstwhile shipyard and prison. It is budget-friendly and the kids will love it (15-min ferry ride from Circular Quay; www.cockatooisland.gov.au; from AUD50/ ₹2,472 if you bring your own tent). Camping at Taronga Zoo is another option. The zoo has a package called the Roar and Snore, which includes a night safari and tented accommodation with glittering views of Sydney Harbour (taronga.org.au/taronga-zoo/accommodation/roar-snore-more-information; from AUD335/₹16,562 for adults; from AUD215/₹10,629 for children between 5 and 17).

Day 1

Bay Watch at Circular Quay

No matter which part of the city you decide to stay in, head to Circular Quay on the first day of your holiday. Sydney’s tourist hub is full of things to do, and home to the city’s most iconic structure—the Opera House. The best way to explore it is to attend a show (tickets from around AUD45/₹2,224 for adults; cheaper for children depending on the show). Alternatively, take a guided tour (adults AUD37/₹1,829, children between 5-15 years AUD20/₹990) or simply walk around and up the stairs; the views of the Royal Botanic Gardens from there are amazing.

Right next to the Opera House is the famous Harbour Bridge, affectionately known as the Coat Hanger because of its shape. Adrenaline rush-seekers might consider the Bridge Climb: an activity that involves climbing on top of the Harbour Bridge in a harness. Though expensive, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that provides an unforgettable, panoramic view of Sydney. It’s thrilling, but not very demanding, and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. Views are best at dawn and dusk (www.bridgeclimb.com; from AUD288/₹14,328 for adults; AUD188/₹9,295 for children; rates vary according to time of day).

Doyles fish cafe Watsons Bay Sydney Australia

Like most big cities, Sydney’s highlights span many interests. Seafood fiends will be tummy-happy with the catch at Watson’s Bay. Photo: Oliver Strewe/Getty Images

For a lesson in urban renewal, make time for The Rocks, once a naval port and prison, now a bustling neighbourhood lined with cafés. An artwork by Bud Dumas featuring a soldier, a convict, and a family, clues passers-by of the area’s tumultuous past. Photo: Glenn van der Knijff/Getty Images

For a lesson in urban renewal, make time for The Rocks, once a naval port and prison, now a bustling neighbourhood lined with cafés. An artwork by Bud Dumas featuring a soldier, a convict, and a family, clues passers-by of the area’s tumultuous past. Photo: Glenn van der Knijff/Getty Images

Situated on the harbour, Circular Quay is full of water-facing cafés and restaurants. Seafood lovers can hop on a ferry headed toward Watsons Bay (AUD11.48/₹568 return ferry ticket) for a meal of fish and chips at the famous Doyle’s on the Beach. Try to get there a little before lunchtime so you don’t have to stand in a long queue. Try a little bit of everything with the seafood basket, which has fried fish, calamari, prawns, scallops, and chips. Doyle’s has two branches, one a restaurant and the other a takeaway place. Get your food packed and find a nice spot in the garden right across the beach (meal for two AUD80/₹3,955).

Past and Present: Convicts and Contemporary Art

When the ferry drops you back to the Quay, walk over to the historical area called The Rocks, one of the first European settlements in Australia. The cobblestone laneways and old buildings hark back to Australia’s early days. While today it’s full of lively gelaterias, bars, and flea markets, The Rocks actually has a rather grim past with stories of convicts and hangings, murders and violence. A great way to explore the history of this neighbourhood is to sign up for a ghost tour where a guide walks you through landmarks while narrating interesting stories. You are unlikely to see a ghost, but you will get goosebumps (www.ghosttours.com.au; adults from AUD40/₹1,978, children AUD30/₹1,483).

Next, hop over to the Museum of Contemporary Art nearby, to look at some thought-provoking exhibitions (entry free). From here, walk into the beautiful, leafy Royal Botanic Garden. During January and February, you can go to the adjacent St. George’s Open Air Cinema where your screen is set against the backdrop of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge after sunset. It’s an experience not to be missed (tickets AUD39/ ₹1,928; stgeorgeopenair.com.au).

Among the many monuments packed into this tourist hotspot is the Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Jeffg/Alamy/Indiapicture

Among the many monuments packed into this tourist hotspot is the Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Jeffg/Alamy/Indiapicture

Royal Botanic Garden Sydney Australia

Garden nurturers might like to spend a few hours at the Royal Botanic Garden. Photo: G M Price/Age Fotostock/Dinodia

 

Get out of the Botanic Gardens on Mrs Macquaries Road and keep following the signs towards the Domain, to reach the Art Gallery of NSW, one of the most popular art museums in the country. It has a great collection of Australian and Aboriginal art as well as European and Asian paintings. Grab a bite at the gallery’s café on the first level or the restaurant on the ground floor, which has soothing views of the gardens and the sea (daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; entry to permanent exhibitions free; www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au).

For dinner, make your way to Woolloomooloo Wharf, a 10-minute walk from the gallery. China Doll serves fruit cocktails and Asian food in a sleek setting (Shop 4/6 Cowper Wharf Roadway; 02-9380 6744) while Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse has earned a reputation for its steaks, mud crabs, and terrace views (10/6 Cowper Wharf Roadway; 1300 546 475). A meal for two at either will set you back by about AUD80/₹4,000. The more budget-conscious can try the popular and reasonably priced Harry’s Café de Wheels (the famous beef pie is around AUD5.20/₹260) and then gorge on hazelnut torte at Flour and Stone (AUD5.50/₹272 for a slice).

Day 2

Deep Water: Bondi Beach and Beyond

Sydney has beautiful beaches and one of the most popular of those is Bondi (pronounced bon-die). Take one of the many buses headed there for a scrumptious brekkie by the beach at Chapter One Coffee and Wine Room (Shop 3, 34 Campbell Parade Bondi Beach; 02-9130 1651; chapter-one.com.au; cost for two AUD40/₹2,000). Book lovers must swing by the adorable Gertrude and Alice Café Bookstore for their cornfritter stack with bacon, followed by any of their indulgent chocolate desserts, all in the company of 25,000 books (46 Hall Street, Bondi Beach; +612-9130 5155; www.gertrudeandalice.com.au; cornfritters and dessert for two AUD60/₹2,966).

Also highly recommended is the six-kilometre Bondi-Coogee coastal walk. The two beaches are connected by a beautiful cliff path overlooking the water, with gorgeous views of the beach, parks, and cliffs. The walk itself is not too difficult, but it does have a few steep paths and staircases on the way, and takes about two hours to complete. There are many spots and cafés to stop at, catch your breath, and soak in the area’s natural beauty. Wear comfortable shoes and carry sunscreen and shades (bonditocoogeewalk.com.au).

After the beach, head back to Darling Harbour, the heart of Sydney (www.darlingharbour.com). It’s always buzzing with activity and street performances. Walk along the harbour starting from Cockle Bay Wharf and stop for dinner at Baia for beautiful bay views and delicious Italian food (114 Cockle Bay Wharf; +612-9283 3434; baiatheitalian.com.au; three-course sunset dinner for AUD69/₹3,411 per head). If you skip dessert or just want an extra indulgence, stop at Lindt Café, barely five minutes from Baia, for freshly made chocolate waffles, or walk to Star City Casino’s Gelato Messina on the other side of Darling Harbour. The gelateria’s whimsical creations include a cake called Dr. Evil’s Magic Mushroom and a sundae named Anti-Yoga (www.gelatomessina.com.au; from AUD4.8/₹237 for sundaes).

Day 3

All in the Family: Luna Park

Toronga Zoo Sydney Australia

Located in the heart of the city, Toronga Zoo offers close encounters with fuzzy wallaby babies, kangaroos, and graceful giraffes, along with views of the harbour and its towering skyscrapers. Photo: Ralph Lohse/Age Fotostock/Dinodia

For your third day, I suggest an early departure for Circular Quay to catch a ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Spend half a day with Australian animals like kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas, and get stunning views of the city. The food at the zoo isn’t great so carry sandwiches or burritos and have them at one of the many sea-facing benches there (+612 9969 2777; taronga.org.au/taronga-zoo; adults AUD46/₹2,274, children AUD26/₹1,285).

Luna Park is another hit with the kids. To get to this amusement park from the zoo, catch the ferry back to Circular Quay and get on another one going towards Milsons Point Wharf. The park’s rides are fun (even for adults) and you can easily spend a couple of hours here (1 Olympic Dr, Milsons Point; daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; opening hours vary seasonally; +612-9033 7676; www.lunaparksydney.com; unlimited rides pass between AUD 22-48/₹1,088-2,373 if bought online and AUD22-52/₹1,088-2,570 if bought at the park; ticket prices vary according to height).

Shoppers Stop: Queen Victoria Building

Back in the city, if you are ready for some shopping, walk straight from Circular Quay on Pitt Street to Pitt Street Mall, 15 minutes away. There are multiple shopping centres here such as Myers, Westfield, or Midcity, selling clothes, bags, shoes, accessories, and housewares. Sydney’s shops shut relatively early (by about 6 p.m. on weekdays except Thursdays when they are open until 9 p.m.). At some point, make time for the divine hot chocolate at Max Brenner, one of the city’s best coffee shops. Little ones can order a Babycino (AUD5.90/₹291 for a classic hot chocolate and AUD2/₹99 for a Babycino). In general, Sydney has superb cafés, but for a cheap, hot coffee on the go 7-Eleven sells a decent one-dollar cappuccino.

Another good place to shop is the heritage Queen Victoria Building (QVB), a five-minute walk from Pitt Street Mall. It is a pleasure to browse through and also has great designer stores. For cheaper buys Chinatown is the place. If you reach before 5 p.m. go to Paddy’s Market in Haymarket, which sets up shop from Wednesday to Sunday and sells fresh fruits, vegetables, and a lot of interesting touristy knick-knacks including aboriginal art and boomerangs. Above Paddy’s Market is the Market City mall with several factory outlets of popular brands.

Dine at Emperor’s Garden (96-100 Hay Street; +612-9211 2135) or Chat Thai (20 Campbell Street Haymarket; +612-9211 1808) to savour some of the authentic, delicious Asian food for which Australia has become well-known (meal for two AUD50/₹2,472).

Appeared in the May 2015 issue as “Sydney Sojourn”. Updated in December 2016.

This is National Geographic Traveller India’s handy guide to Sydney, Australia, for a three-day holiday for a family of four (two adults and two children). We’ve suggested a range of activities and dining options along with prices so that you can pick what suits your budget and preferences. While Sydney is ranked one of the world’s most expensive cities, this insider’s guide provides enough tips for you to plan a mid-level holiday within ₹1.3 lakh (excluding airfare). To make your trip simpler, download apps like Urbanspoon (iTunes and Android) for restaurant reviews, TripView Sydney Lite (iTunes and Android) for real time updates on public transport, and the official travel guide from www.sydney.com/holiday-planners for a comprehensive overview of the city and its attractions.

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