Despite the requirement to battle with throngs of fellow tourists, regardless of your travel style you would be kidding yourself if you came to Sydney without wanting to see the icons that make Sydney, Sydney. Some are fairly concentrated, others are a little more far flung but you should be able to knock them all off in 2 days before slowing the pace to seeing what the locals see. But first, this is what to see in your first 48 hours in Sydney.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
To Australians, the Harbour Bridge is iconic Sydney. The best and most accessible view is from the Sydney Opera House or better yet, from the back of a ferry. Walking across the bridge itself is not as silly as it sounds either.
Catch a train to Milsons Point Station (North Shore Line), explore the other side of the Bridge (there are markets on the second and fourth Saturday each month) and make the trek back across. But if you’re happy to admire the bridge from a distance, walk north up George or Pitt street until you can walk no more. You’ll see it.
Sydney Opera House.
Around the corner from Circular Quay is the Opera House, which, let’s be honest, is one of the main reasons you came to Sydney. If you are lucky, you have checked the website and are seeing a show or concert there tonight in the incredible concert hall.
If you were to continue walking past the Sydney Opera House you will see the city greys fade into greens as the concrete jungle becomes an actual jungle. Or at least, a large grassy area with scattered trees and gardens. If you are feeling abnormally energetic walk the entire way through the park, past the Tropical Centre and Fernery, over the M1 and exit through Mrs Macquarie’s Road to St Mary’s Cathedral, Hyde Park and eventually Sydney’s Anzac Memorial. It’s about a 2 km walk. It’s pretty easy to find if you just keep walking south.
Sydney Tower Eye
Formerly known as Centrepoint Tower, Sydney Tower Eye is Sydney’s highest building. It features an observation deck, revolving restaurant, and Skywalk Experience, all with their own admission prices. The cost is steep, but the views are unparalleled due to the height and incredible views of the harbour.
If money is an issue though, don’t feel bad in skipping it because there are other buildings you can go up for free to see the view. I’ve been up the to the Shangri La restaurant and bar before, which is still 36 floors up, it’s closer to the harbour and still offers an incredible view, all you have to do is buy a drink to enjoy it.
George and Pitt Streets.
This is where all the action happens. Businesses, bars and cafes lines George St while Pitt St turns into a pedestrian mall full of big brand shops, boutiques and buskers. You will most likely walk these a number of times while exploring the city on foot. Some of the best buskers in the city can be found along Pitt but you’ll want to avoid if you get claustrophobic in large crowds, as this is the mother of them all.
Queen Victoria Building
The QVB is an ornate Victorian building from the outside and an upmarket mall on the inside. If you exit Town Hall Station in a particular way you will walk through the QVB. But escaping the labyrinth that is Town Hall is challenge for even the seasoned commuter.
If you have taken out a loan there are plenty of places to drop cash and the Tea Palace is a perfect morning stop for the tea lover. The Tea Room also boasts front row seat to the QVB’s enormous clock that celebrates Sydney’s History every hour.
Martin Place is another pedestrian mall stretching east to west from Hyde Park down to George Street. In contrast to Pitt Street Mall, Martin Place is more big business focussed with companies like Channel 7, Commonwealth Bank, and the General Post Office all having flagship presences here.
However, the appeal of the Martin Place to the visitor is the historic buildings that line the walkway. Martin Place has some of the oldest and best preserved buildings in the city; sandstone blocks reaching from ground to sky.
Lastly, Martin Place often plays host to events and promotions, so you never know what you might find. Last time I was there for example, they were giving out free bratwurst hot dogs and waffles. Can’t remember what the event was though. Didn’t care!
On a hot day Darling Harbour will very much make you feel on vacation. Busy restaurants will serve the many ambling tourists as they wander around Cockle Bay. The quantity of restaurants is astounding, especially if you keep walking south towards the Entertainment Centre, so you are sure to find something that tickles your fancy.
Darling Harbour is also host to weekly fireworks every Saturday at 9pm. Get there early with an ice-cream in hand to get a good seat on the southern end for the best views.
I actually remember when they used to do water skiing stunt shows in Cockle Bay; haven’t seen that for many years now though.
Slightly underrated is the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a bicentenary gift from China. A tranquil escape from the hustle and hassle of city life offers shady trees to relax around as well as a Chinese tea room.
Ok we’re out of the CBD now and if you love ferries, a strip mall with touristy shops and classic Australian beach, you will love Manly. An institution of the Manly mall is the souvenir shop yelling at you that they are in the finals days of a closing down sale – and have been since the mid-2000s. Misleading marketing aside, you never do know what you’ll find in there.
Catch a ferry to Manly from Circular Quay, walk through the mall to the beach and hang a right. Keep walking for about 15 minutes to Shelley Beach, a very pretty, quiet beach that is seldom visited by tourists with time constraints. Have a drink and a Burger at 4 Pines Brewing before heading back to the mainland.
If you’ve seen sweeping shots of Sydney during an after school special then you’ve seen Bondi Beach from the air. While it is definitely worth your time, so too is the Bondi to Coogee walk that begins to the South of the beach. Find the path and follow the runners. Be warned though. It. Gets. Crowded.
It can be a bit of a mission to get out to Bondi with the quality of Sydney’s public transport on full display. Catch the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra train line from Central to Bondi Junction and change to bus 380, 389, or 333 to Bondi Beach. Get off where everyone else gets off.
There you have it, the 9 most popular sights that would round out a very busy 48 hours in Sydney. Sydney has some world class sights that is backed by a relaxed and somewhat hipster culture. But as for what to do with the rest of your time in Sydney, that’s an article for another day!
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