“Ron and his wife are coming to Sydney in December,” Peter said in reference to an acquaintance from Philadelphia. “They’d like some suggestions on what to do and where to eat.”
“Sure. How long do they have?” I asked.
“Whaaat?!” was my incredulous response. “Are they serious?”
Sydney and “two days” are an oxymoron. It happens to be the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis embraces the world’s largest natural harbor. With over 4 million people, 1.5 million of which were born overseas, this city is one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
“Vic, I hear you, but that’s all the time their cruise has allocated for Sydney,” Peter explained. Mercifully, the location of their hotel was at Circular Quay, which meant they’d already be close to all the action. So here was my response:
“Hey, Ron. Great hotel location. With your limited time frame, here is what I’d suggest for you:
Day 1 - This is a day for stretching your legs and the chance to view some of Sydney’s iconic sites. The Harbour Bridge and the Opera House are right at your doorstep, as is the historic district of Sydney called The Rocks. Established shortly after the colony's formation in 1788 and renown for being a slum frequented by sailor's and prostitutes, this gentrified area is now brimming with heritage buildings in local sandstone (hence its name), filled with quaint shops, arcades, and a plethora of places to eat. There's a great pub in the area called Phillip's Foote. A heritage listed building, they’re known for their casual dining menu and good steaks, which you can enjoy in their sunny courtyard over a few cold beers. Another interesting place at The Rocks is the Lord Nelson Pub. Known as the oldest pub in Sydney (built in 1836), the building is an expanse of convict-quarried sandstone. Their chef offers a more refined, innovative and eclectic cuisine, accompanied by an expansive wine list. Next to the Opera House you have the Botanic Gardens, a lovely and tranquil place to stretch your legs.
In the afternoon, grab a water taxi* to Darling Harbour, where you'll find the Powerhouse Museum (a diverse collection that spans science, technology, decorative arts, engineering, architecture, fashion and contemporary culture) and the Chinese Garden (a walled Chinese garden with pavilions, exotic plants, ponds, waterfalls and a teahouse). While you’re in these necks of the woods, why don’t you enjoy some authentic Asian cuisine in Sydney’s Chinatown. Our favourites are Golden Century, Emperor’s Garden, Mamak, and Red Chili. When you’re done, your hotel is only a short taxi ride away.
* Sydney water taxis are painted yellow, not unlike the cabs in the US. They’re a little more expensive than a normal taxi but so much more fun!
Day 2 - As Sydney is renown for its harbour, I suggest you take a Harbour Cruise. I know, you've just spent time on a cruise so the last thing you may want to do is to get on another boat. But the Harbour Cruises I’m talking about allow you to “hop on and hop off” at key destinations. These cruises are approximately $40 per person for the day and they enable you to cover various areas without the hassle of driving there. You can buy tickets to these cruises on Circular Quay itself.
Regarding the destination on your harbour cruise, I’d “hop off” on Manly Beach and Watson’s Bay, unless you have children with you that insist on seeing a zoo (Taronga Park Zoo) and amusement park (Luna Park). Both Manly and Watson’s Bay have a great vibe. Apart from the breathtakingly beautiful coastline called “The Gap” that you can stroll to from the wharf, Watson’s Bay has a great pub called the Watsons Bay Hotel. Right on the water and located close to the wharf where you’ll get off, you can enjoy some great seafood in the courtyard, accompanied by some great beer or Aussie wines, as you gaze at the water and soak up the sunshine. During the Summer weekends, this pub gets pretty crazy so go mid-week, if possible. If you prefer to dine at Manly Beach, then book Hugo's Restaurant ahead of time. It’s known for its fabulous modern Italian cuisine, by Chef Pete Evans.”
Having sent off the email to Ron, I received the following response two days later:
“Vicky, thanks a million for all of your great suggestions! It's obvious you really know Sydney. The itinerary you sent offer sounds like a lot of fun. If you ever consider coming to the east coast (Philadelphia) please contact us. Again thanks for so much.