We were super excited about exploring Sydney. Both Martin and I had been there almost 20 year ago, before we met, and in my head, it was one of the coolest cities in the world. Would Sydney live up our expectations this time? Now as a full-time traveling family with two boys 9 and 12 years old.
Sydney from Up Above
We did get a great start to Sydney. Arriving by plane from Melbourne, we flew directly over the city on a beautiful day with a clear blue sky, and we got a good view of the city, the Opera House and Sydney Habour Bridge from the plane… we were even more excited now.
We quickly made it to our rented apartment, located in China town between the Central Station and Darling Harbour. A great place, where we could walk to most places or easily take the light rail (tram) or train. We have also learned that we like to have a two-bedroom apartment with living room/kitchen when we are staying in a place for more than a week. Since we like to start the day getting some work done and the kids doing a bit of homeschooling, it’s nice to have some space, as opposed to a hotel room. And for the obvious reasons, that we can cook a bit and generally be more comfortable.
The first evening we just explored our neighborhood right across from Paddy’s Market (with stalls selling everything from fruit/veggies to clothes and cheap tourist stuff and gadgets) and just about 500 meters from Darling Harbour! We were so happy with what we saw, and we couldn’t be more excited to get back out and continue exploring Sydney.
We spend our second day walking around all of Sydney. In a few minutes we were on George Street, walked down this central street, exploring some side streets and eventually ended up in the Rocks, where there was a food market in the streets. After a few little stops here and there, checking out the mall in the pretty Queen Victoria Building (QVB to the locals) and the huge underground maze of streets connecting the different streets underground, trying some yummy food, doing some people watching and coffee drinking, we walked underneath the impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge and down to one of the best vista points for the architectural masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House, by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon. One thing that we quickly learned… Sydney Harbour is frequently home to huge cruise ships incl. all passengers, completely blocking the view of the Opera House, so to have a full view along the Circular Quay was such a joy.
In the next days we went on a free guided walk with a very knowledgeable guide, sharing lots of history, interesting and fun facts as well as her own experiences in this awesome city. We went through different areas of the city, the spectacular Botanic Gardens, we were guided this time through the endless underground mall and streets and once again ended up in the Rocks this time checking out a new chess stand… for hours. Even though it was a long walk with a lot of information the boys really enjoyed it (most of the time) and we all learned so much about Sydney, its buildings and history.
Now, the Sydney Opera House was something we were all super excited about. Not only because of its beauty, but also because of its Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who was a neighbor of Martin’s grandmother and the boys thought that was extra cool. We decided that we had to experience the Opera House from the inside, so we got tickets for a show called Opera Hits. The boys got to choose the performance and we were all very happy with the choice. “It is an opera house after all” as they said, so that was what we went with. It was 15 of the most classic and famous pieces of Opera, so the boys did at least recognize some of the pieces. It was such a special experience and we all enjoyed it tremendously. To finish off the day, we celebrated our experience with oysters, drinks and kangaroo burgers on the Sydney waterfront.
Back home in our apartment the boys created new and every day more and more sophisticated caves – moved all furniture around and did their homeschool inside their cave – fun, creative and they were kept busy before we went exploring for the rest of the day.
Food in Sydney
There is so much good food to be eaten in Sydney, but it’s not always cheap. We did, however, find a couple of the best Thai, Malay and Vietnamese restaurants just 2 minutes from our apartment in Chinatown – the dumplings, tofu, soups, roti, curries… we had them all and more, and in Chinatown the food was cheap – so we quickly became regulars at a couple of the restaurants. Another place we came back to a few times was a restaurant chain now found around the world, but it was a favorite family restaurant 8 years ago, when we lived in Stockholm, Sweden. Now, years later it felt nice and well-known to walk in the doors of Vapiano – same restaurant same menu (more or less) but this time in Sydney, Australia, far far away from Stockholm, Sweden.
Another place that cannot be missed in Sydney is The Domain, at the tip of the Botanic Gardens. This is the place to watch the sunset, get an incredible view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge and just breathe the fresh Sydney air right on the water. Just know that you probably won't be by yourself out here at the tip of the park, but it doesn't really matter, you will still get an awesome experience. Walking back through the park in the dusk we saw lots of flying foxes that were out for their evening meal of insects.
Bondi Beach was another place we were looking forward to. We went there by train and bus and spent all day having fun in and out of the water. There were also lots of nice places for good coffee, organic food, fresh juices and smoothies etc. As with all beaches in Australia, you only swim within the lifeguard flags. This is clearly not for no reason – even though it seemed like a pretty calm day, the lifeguards were kept busy all day getting people out of the water. At one point we spoke to them, asking why certain places were dangerous for swimming, as it wasn’t obvious. We learned so much from him – and I can tell you, we will not be swimming outside the flags! We finished the day with a drink and a spectacular sunset.
Darling Harbour Playground
Just a few minutes from our apartment was a huge and super cool playground at the Darling Habour. This was a place we ended up walking by many times during our time in Sydney,
much to the boys excitement. This was also a place we went on days where we wanted to get out, but not necessarily sightseeing. It’s a huge playground with something for little kids as well as the oldest kids like ours at 9 and 12, and lots of shade and water play for hot days.
SEA LIFE Experience
During our time in Sydney, we had one rainy day, and decided to head to the really cool SEA LIFE museum. There was lots of learning going on here, on sea life and the research of it. We of course saw lots of fish, little and big ones. It’s a bit pricy, but at the airport you can pick up a tourist brochure with lots of coupons – and that’s something Danish people (read: me in particular) love. While there we happened to meet another Danish traveling family, and we ended up spending the rest of day and evening together for some Danish “hygge” in Sydney.
Manly Beach by Boat
We spent our last few days going on boat excursions. As we truly enjoyed exploring Sydney this way. We went out to Manly Beach on a cooler and slightly windy day, so after an hour on the beach we went for a nice walk around the town and along the coast. The highlight, though, was the boat ride back and forth. Especially, coming back to Sydney passing the Opera House and going under the Harbour Bridge.
More Boating to the Olympic Park
The following day and our last day in Sydney, we jumped on a boat again, this time heading in the opposite direction to Sydney Olympic Park. We had a beautiful day spending a couple of hours taking in the beautiful surroundings of greater Sydney from the waterside and some hours walking around the Olypic Park. Honestly, there isn’t much to see, other than an new rising area of great Sydney, but it was nice to just walk around and taking it easy with a good coffee and some awesome Aussie baked goods – which there’s lot of in Australia.
Still Sydney Fans
We are still huge fans of Sydney this time around and I think it’s safe to say that our children are as well. There is so much to see and do, people are very sweet and friendly, and the words that describes best the feeling we have had while traveling in Australia is the laid back, relaxed and very welcoming attitude towards life and us as foreign travellers.
We are huge fans of not only Sydney, but the Aussies and Australia in general, their wildlife and incredible nature. I’m confident that we will be back some day – there is still so much for us to explore in this incredible country, and if you are curious about what else we have been up to in Australia, check out our blogposts on our amazing homestay in Melbourne, our motorhome trip on the Great Ocean Road, our road trip in a 4WD with rooftop tents from Western Autralia to South Australia or maybe Perth is more your read.
Next up… New Zealand.