Sydney, you is my woman now!
**UPDATED with more locals’ tips**
How to spend five perfect days in the world’s most generous global city
Sydney reminds me of a beautiful country girl who moved to the big city and is still unaware aware of her incredible power.
It’s a world-class city with all the adornments, the trimmings, the taut features, the parts it keeps hidden and that surface at short lapses in poise. It wears beautiful colonial buildings, stately homes, sculpted parks, bustling harbours. It has scraggly bourgeois corners, artsy bistros, steamy pubs.
And yet, it lacks that pointed haughtiness of cities that have long ago joined the league of global burgs, or of urban belles who receive daily reminders on being lusted after. No, the city gives generously of itself. Signs ask you to “please step on the grass” and to also “smell the roses, hug the trees.” Coastal walkways tug your gaze from both sides, one from the ocean, the other from sculptures of its maritime wildlife creatively embedded in stone walls.
The trees lining Hyde Park curve inwards and form a refuge from the sun.
The harbour has a spiralling water fountain carved into the ground where children cool off, totally impractical, evidently expensive, but absolutely delightful. Downtown is scattered with oversized public art, like a metal-cutout pipe-smoking man, which spare its core from the curse of genericness.
It’s a laid-back coastal city that’s also a stylish, jet-setting metropolis. The beaches are just far enough to be a bit of a trip. You won’t see shirtless surfers in its main streets, and along its shores work stress is outlawed.
Sydneysiders aren’t disturbed by the male body, as evidenced by the multiplicity of Speedo-clad lads, and some young women feel free to sunbathe without a top, among the little naked children, unconcerned with disapproving or lecherous glances.
It’s a city that hot-wires the miserly judgment of the budget traveller. Though it is perfectly possible to enjoy it on the cheap, its numerous eateries and gelato joints and premium museums dupe visitors into thinking debts are just fine.
It’s a city that entreats you to stay a little longer, makes you feel guilty if you don’t, all without words but with the naive brightness of its young smile.
Here is how to spend five perfect days in Sydney:
Day 1: Devour downtown
Get the touristy stuff out of the way. You can’t avoid them and nor should you.
Start at the Darling Harbour. Learn about Australia’s naval heritage and Aussies’ love affair with water at the National Maritime Museum, which occasionally offers free entry. Treat yourself to a visit to the submarine, the pontoon or the tall ship that float on the pier.
Have what is reputedly the city’s best laksa at Malay-Chinese Takeaway on Hunter St. and Pitt. Stroll down the Pitt Street Mall and marvel at the shopping at the Strand Arcade and the Queen Victoria Building.
Head to Circular Quay but resist the Opera House. Instead, go the west side of the harbour, to The Rocks on George St., and check out the historic storefronts. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Now you can walk around the ferry wharfs to the Opera House. Make sure it’s close to sunset. Watch the immense bats emerge from the nearby Botanical Garden and fly around the landmark.
If you want to party, pick any thumping club on Oxford St.
Day 2: Downtown redux
Stroll through Hyde Park and lean about Australia’s military heritage at the ANZAC memorial, which honours the dead from World War I.
Go back to the other side of Darling Harbour and check out the shark feedings at the Aquarium or the snakes, crocs and kangaroos at the Wildlife Centre. Now head to the Woolloomooloo wharf and have a real meat pie floater (meat pie topped with mashed potatoes, mashed peas and gravy) at Harry’s Café de Wheel’s, a Sydney institution.
Walk south through Woolloomolloo to Kings Cross, the red light district that’s rather tame by European standards. Walk up and down Darlinghurst St. to Victoria St., where lots of designer restos. Pick one. Gelato at Gelato Messina.
Day 3: The beach.
Head to Bondi Beach. That’s all you need to know.
Oh, take the coastal walkway from Bondi to Coogee.
Day 4: The hip ‘burbs
Take the 431 bus from George St. to Glebe and have breakfast in one of several cafés or bakeries in this university neighbourhood that looks like a hippie college town. Walk down Glebe Point Rd. to the waterfront at the end of the road and enjoy a different view of the Sydney skyline.
Cross the University of Sydney campus south to Newtown, the funky bohemian neighbourhood with tons of curious stores. Veer off the main road to see the colourful old-style homes on the residential streets. Pick a cafe, pick a Thai or South Indian joint, pick a pub.
If you want more, end the night at Surry Hills, just south of the city center. Locals say the best mixology bar is Toko on Crown St.
Day 5: Beach redux
Take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. Enjoy the beach, have some grilled barramundi with fries. Walk the coastal track to Shelly Beach and snorkel for miniature manta rays and giant groper fish. The ferry trip back is amazing at night.
Do a day trip to Hunter Valley, where shiraz is king, and visit the wineries.
If you have a car, take the three-hour drive to Canberra, Australia’s capital, and ponder the immaculate modern symmetry of Parliament and the National War Memorial.
Tourist traps to avoid:
The Sydney Tower
The Blue Mountains (according to locals, it was once nice until all the tour buses and campy shops took over).