A CHEAPISH FEW DAYS IN SYDNEY
You know that person, maybe a friend, who is always “saving money”. They’re the one that brings a six pack to a BBQ and leaves four hours later, having guzzled everyone else’s food and drink, yet insists on taking their remaining three beers with them. This weekend is not that cheap. It is cheap-ish. A cheap-ish few days in Sydney.
If you’re not a slouch, heading to Sydney for a weekend and want to see the sights without breaking the bank, here is an itinerary I use for my visiting friends.
First off, some advice; if you’re using public transport in Sydney, you’ll need an Opal Card. They generally do not accept cash and without an Opal Card you’ll be asked to remove yourself from the bus and left in a cloud of exhaust on the roadside. Details on how to get an Opal Card are here. I tend to use Google Maps to find the best itinerary and the TripView app on your phone/tablet which will give you access to timetables for trains, buses and the ferries.
Secondly, a public service announcement. I’ve been here three years. I haven’t seen a single snake and I’ve done a far bit of walking. I’ve seen a couple of large, but harmless spiders, huntsmen for the most part which are actually really cool, if you can handle their gross hairiness. I haven’t seen a shark and I’ve been diving a few times. You’re more likely to be bitten by ants, which you should totally be careful of. They’re nasty.
BREAKFAST IN CROWS NEST
Why? Mainly because I live 200 metres up the road and it is convenient for me, but also because it is a cool area and relatively easy to get to for the first day. A train to St Leonards and a short walk will land you in the middle of Crows Nest. It was once the intersection of several tram lines and, while there no longer any evidence of trams, it is still a thriving community in Sydney’s Lower North Shore. Also, there is a bus that leaves from outside the Woolworths to get to Spit Bridge.
For food I recommend Small Bar. They do a damn good big brekkie and the coffee isn’t too bad. If you’re a caffeine addict like myself, you may want to try Bean Drinking who fancy themselves as coffeeologists.
SPIT BRIDGE TO MANLY WALK: 4 HOURS
If you are leaving from Crows Nest, the bus stop is outside Woolworths on the corner of Falcon and Alexander Streets. You want to catch either the 143 and 144. Catch any other bus and who knows where you might end up. Some kind of Australian outback hell? Or worse, Canberra?
Get off the bus at Seaforth. The walk starts under Spit Bridge and follows the coast to Manly.
The walk is around 4 hours, shorter if you’re running, and longer if you’re crawling or stopping to take photos of every water dragon you see. There are a number of great beaches and tidal pools you can swim in to cool off if the weather is warm and most of them make for fantastic photo opportunities to send to all your friends who are probably working or doing their laundry.
MANLY BEACH – LEARN TO SURF OR SNORKEL AT SHELLY BEACH
Personally, when I go to Manly, I have ribs. There are two rib joints a few doors apart. I prefer Manly Grill. Some will argue Ribs and Rumps is better. You decide. There are of course other options for those that aren’t interested in eating half an animal for lunch.
Manly is one of my favourite suburbs, and one of my favourite beaches in Sydney. There is a laid back atmosphere in the township and the beach is pretty awesome. Wander along to Shelly Beach for some snorkelling around the rocks, or learn to surf at one of the Manly Surf Schools. Manly is a great place for beginner surfers with relatively gentle beach breaks, so when you get slammed, it will be a nice, gentle slamming.
FERRY TO CIRCULAR QUAY
The ferry building should be relatively easy to find in Manly. Look for the building that has big boats arriving and departing. There are fast ferries or slow ferries. Choose your journey and get on board using your Opal card.
The ferry will take you deeper into the harbour, towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge and directly past the Opera House to Circular Quay. The ferry ride is itself a nice way to see a different side of Sydney. The harbour, and all its beaches are what make Sydney such a great place to live, though I still believe Melbourne has better coffee. There are more struggling hipsters in Victoria and they all need day jobs to support their struggling music careers in indie rock bands.
The Opera House is a short walk from the ferry building and, as one of the iconic Sydney landmarks, you should probably go and look at it. Maybe take a photo. Contrary to the name, the Sydney Opera House is not a single room, but a number of venues, hosting more than just opera. Also the sounds is good, but not magnificent apparently. It will soon be closed for some major renovations.
I enjoy spending summer evenings walking around the waterfront towards the Opera House, stopping to get a drink from Opera Bar, and watching the bats fly over from Centennial Park towards the Harbour Bridge.
TRAIN TO MILSON’S POINT AND WALK OVER THE HARBOUR BRIDGE
Walk back towards the Circular Quay train station, which is opposite the ferry building. Catch the train to Milson’s Point on the North Shore and walk back across the Harbour Bridge. If you time it right, you can get beautiful views of the city lights, or sunset hitting the side of the Opera House. Be aware there are suicide prevention cages on the bridge, so you will need to poke your camera through some gaps. Try not to drop it.
If you don’t mind spending the money, and believe me when I say it isn’t cheap, there is a Harbour Bridge Climb which will take you to the restricted areas on top. As a cheap alternative, you can pay $13 to walk up the bridge pylons. You’ll get epic views of the city and the Opera House, and you won’t have to sell a kidney to pay for it. Check the opening hours here. (Thanks Jake for the tip!!)
DINNER AT THE ROCKS
The end of the Harbour Bridge walkway takes you to The Rocks, a great place for food and drink at the end of a long day. Originally The Rocks was a rather dodgy area, dominated by visiting sailors, prostitutes and arriving convicts. Unfortunately, this has all changed and the area is now home to a mundane collection of great restaurants and bars.
If you want something cheaper and don’t mind a walk, try Lee’s Malaysian on Hunter Street. It’s a bit further into the city, but one of my favourite cheap eats in Sydney.
SUNRISE ON THE EASTERN BEACHES
If you’re a sunrise lover, try get to Hornby Lighthouse near Watsons Bay for sunrise. While it isn’t the easiest place to get to, it is a great place for the dawn of a new day. There are buses and a ferry, however the ferry usually arrives inconveniently after sunrise, depending on the time of year.
If you can’t make it there, sunrise around Bondi is nice as well. Wander along the beach until you find yourself a spot to watch the dawn.
HANG OUT IN BONDI
A trip to Sydney probably wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of the eastern beaches and Bondi is easily the most well known. In the early part of the twentieth century, many New Zealand migrants would settle in Bondi. This is still the case today, which easily explains why it is such a vibrant, cool and popular place with travellers and locals alike.
Be careful of being caught in the Bondi Bubble, a phenomenon known to ensnare visitors, who are occasionally heard from, but never again seen outside of the Bondi area. I have lost a number of friends to the Bondi Bubble. Sometimes I think it may be better to give in and join them.
BONDI TO BRONTE WALK
If you haven’t had enough of walking, the Bondi to Bronte trail is a great walk along the coast. This has been boarded and staired with more great views of the Tasman Sea. A word of warning: watch where you are going or you may be run off the cliffs by middle aged power-walkers and their small, furry companions.
CHINESE GARDEN OF FRIENDSHIP
Catch a bus back to Bondi Junction, then a train back into Town Hall. From here, walk down to the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Darling Harbour. The garden is a traditional walled Chinese garden and a perfect retreat from the noise and bustle of the city. At $6 entry, it is a nice place to stop relax away from it all.
The garden was designed and built by Sydney’s Chinese sister city, Guangzhou. Paths twist and turn between well maintained greenery, leading to beautiful ponds, grottoes and pavilions. And of course it wouldn’t be Chinese without tea. Once you’ve recharged a little, head down to China Town for some food.
Aptly named, China Town is the area of Sydney known for its heavy Chinese influence. There are a lot of cheap eats here, as well as more traditional yum cha. Try East Ocean or Marigold. Both do great yum cha thus they’re also popular so get in early. Also expect to have your food thrown at you as the trolleys hurtle past. The food is worth it though.
Once you’ve been thrust from the restaurant, satisfactorily full, go for a wander through the stores of China Town. There are also markets on Friday night if you are around.
The original aboriginal inhabitants called this area Tumbalong, which means the Place of Seafood. When the British arrived, bringing with them the gifts of smallpox, measles and influenza, they found the area littered with dead aboriginals and thousands of years of collected shells, leading them to call it Cockle Bay.
There was an attempt to change the name to Long Bay, however Cockle Bay stuck until 1826 when the newly appointed New South Wales Governor decided, in the nature of newly appointed governors, to name the area after the thing he loved the most, himself. And thus Governor Ralph Darling mark his mark on the history of Australia.
Now, Darling Harbour is a central hub for restaurants and bars, with new areas still being developed. There is also some family entertainment at Strike Bowling, with bowling, karaoke, escape rooms and laser tag. Wander from Kings Street Wharf over the Pyrmont Bridge to Pyrmont. You may notice this is a swing bridge. I did not for the first three years I lived in Sydney.
DARLING HARBOUR FIREWORKS
During the summer months, public holidays and any other special occasions, such as whenever Australia does any good at sportsing, Darling Harbour puts on a fireworks display. They must spend a fortune on fireworks, so if you are in the area, head along for some free sparks and booms.
It would be easy to spend days exploring the Blue Mountains. From ancient limestone caves to Australian forest and bush to majestic scenery. Not to mention the wildlife. While Australia has a reputation for things that will kill you, there are a huge number of less scary, yet equally as interesting animals. Wallabies, roos, tiger quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider and the long-nosed potoroo to name a few. If you have never heard of the lyre bird, you should do some research. They’re remarkable in their ability to mimic sounds, both natural and artificial.
Check out the Jenolan Caves, the Three Sisters, Echo Point and as many of the trails as you can. Be careful though. The Australian country can be harsh…and hot.
ROYAL NATIONAL PARK
Another of my favourite places in the Sydney area, the Royal National Park has walking trails and beautiful beaches all within a short distance from the city. There are a few ways to get there, but the easiest is definitely by car. If you have access to wheels, then drive down and go for a wander, or hang out at the beach.
There is a BBQ area and a kiosk at Wattamolla and from there, some short day walks will take you along the cliffs where you can watch for migrating whales.
For those after something a little longer, there is an overnight walk from Bundeena to Otford, called The Coastal Trail. There are some more details here.