We drove into Sydney on the first of December. The day was dry and hot, traffic was aggressive and we were exhausted. The next morning, we spent a long time trying to find a place to park our van all day for free. It was lunch time when we eventually drove down to Clovelly Beach. Here, you could park all day and didn’t have to pay a cent. It was just a 10 minute drive to Coogee Beach and not far away from Bondi Beach too! It was also conveniently located to bus 339, which takes you straight into the heart of the city in about 40 minutes. This was a great way for us to save on parking costs and avoid having to drive in all the crazy peak hour traffic. A one-way ticket cost $3.50 each, but later, we topped up an opal card so we could tag on and off like the locals.
Aside from the hectic pace and crazy drivers, Sydney is a magical city, full of sandy beaches, great shopping, fascinating history and delicious food. Here are just some of the highlights from the last few days:
Queen Victoria Building (QVB)
I love shopping in this old building. It was built in 1898 and named after Queen Victoria, in commemoration of her Diamond Jubilee. Even though it was extremely busy with Christmas shoppers, I felt like I was stepping back in time, with the old lifts, stained glass windows and elegant festive decorations. All levels were decked out with fairy lights and a tall Christmas tree stood in the centre. We had a successful session of Christmas shopping here, without going too crazy!
Pitt Street Mall
This is a more mainstream shopping mall with the usual chain stores, along with Myer and David Jones department stores. It was nice to shop in this outside mall, rather than being in a big, modern plaza indoors, under all the glaring lights.
The Strand Arcade
The Strand Arcade branches off the Pitt Street Mall and is beautiful inside. It was built in 1891, so again it makes me feel like I am back in the olden days! It has a lovely mosaic floor, stained glass windows and more Christmas decorations!
Glebe Markets were wonderful! We arrived on a Saturday morning, the sun was shining and you could buy anything here, like vintage clothes, jewellery, drums, hand-made soaps, delicious market snacks and home-made lemonade. We sat in the park for a while listening to a busker playing the piano and singing some tunes.
These markets remind me of a quieter and more relaxed version of a market in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam. We bought quite a few gifts here and even got a few bargains by haggling the price (our time in Asia must have paid off)!
Here are just a few of the delicious cafes and eating areas we went to during our stay. Obviously, Sydney is full to the brim of amazing places to tempt your tastebuds. Just be prepared to empty your wallets!
China Town is full of restaurants from Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and so on. Some places are quite pricey (obviously marketed towards tourists), but if you go for somewhere off the main street you’re more likely to get a better deal. We had a tasty Taiwanese meal here.
The Rocks: The Fine Food Store
Whilst wandering around the historic Rocks area, enjoying all the little alleyways and buildings, we came across this cafe, perfect for a coffee and snack. It also had free wifi, which was a bonus for us travellers! There are also some nice looking pubs nearby if you fancy a pint, just like the workers would have enjoyed back in the early days.
Milsons Point: Seafood and Burger Cafe by the Bridge
Just over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the North side, we enjoyed some delicious, reasonably priced halloumi burgers and chips for lunch. This place was just a short walk down to the water, where you get beautiful views of the Opera House and the bridge from a different perspective. Milsons Point is a lot more relaxed than the CBD, which is refreshing.
Clovelly: Pinto Thong Thai
One night, on our way home from the city, we stumbled upon this Thai restaurant just up the road from our car park. Pinto Thong Thai had delicious, authentic Thai cuisine. We got some tasty Pad Thai for around $11 each. The staff were also super friendly and laid-back. We found another Thai restaurant a few nights later too- it was further up Clovelly Road, though I didn’t catch the name of the place, as we devoured the Panang Curry and another Pad Thai!
Glebe: Clipper Cafe
This was a delightful cafe, with good coffee and fresh salads and sandwiches. We enjoyed a long writing session here, listening to Latin American music, as the soft breeze came through the green double doors at the front and the sunlight flowed in. Free wifi was another perk!
The Rocks Museum (and surrounds)
Here, you can explore all the alleys, admire the old buildings and learn lots of information about the history of the area. There is a comprehensive museum (free entrance), along with plaques and photographs outside many of the buildings. The Rocks has really tried to preserve its history, as it was the first area of settlement for many of the original convicts, as well as being home to the Cadigal Aboriginal people prior to 1788.
The Museum of Sydney
This is a small but very informative museum. It costs $10 entrance, but is well-worth it if you’re interested in Sydney’s history and development.
We stumbled across Luna Park as we were exploring Milsons Point, over the bridge. Whilst we didn’t go on any rides, we enjoyed a free walk through the park. We watched some people get dizzy on the Rotor (which has been operating since 1951). This ride spins you, so that gravity holds your body against the wall. Meanwhile, the floor lowers, so you are not standing on anything at all! It made me dizzy just watching! I also loved admiring the colourful carousel, ferris wheel and rollercoaster.
There is something magical about walking through old cities, where history has built a place, rich in stories and architecture. It’s a great way to explore the city for free and see some beautiful views over the harbour. Here are a few of the walks we did when we were in Sydney.
The Botanic Gardens to the Sydney Opera House
There is a pathway that stretches all the way around the water, through the Botanic Gardens and over to the Opera House. It’s easy walking on a sunny day. You can also explore the gardens, the National Herbarium and Government House if you have the time.
Over the Sydney Harbour Bridge
I loved walking through the Rocks and over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where you get some wonderful views of the city. You can pay and exorbitant fee to climb to the top, but walking over the footpath with the local runners and pedestrians is just as good. At the end, you can relax over a coffee in one of the cafes, or explore more of the Northern side.
Through the Rocks
This is worth a walk in itself. Make sure you find all the hidden alleys, even though there are quite a few stairs involved. Visiting the museum will give you an excellent feel for what life was like, back in the day, in this area.
One of the best things about Sydney is its amazing beaches. We were very happy to stay in the coastal suburbs, which have a much more relaxed vibe to the city. Definitely take advantage of the beaches and surf, though beware of expensive parking costs in some of the most popular areas and try to park in the back streets.
This is where we bought ourselves a surfboard! It was a bit of an impulse purchase, but it was a great investment for our fun over the next few months of Summer! I also bought myself a new bikini in one of the surf shops here. We decided to try out the board at a less busy beach, as parking in the local carpark here was $7.50 an hour, not really what we wanted to spend our cash on! We took a while trying to work out how to attach the soft racks to our unique van (which has no back windows), but we worked it out eventually and took off further South.
Again, parking is a bit of a pain here, but its a beautiful beach, with plenty of good eating places. At the far end of the beach is a swimming pool built into the rocks with the ocean water, if you prefer to swim away from the sharks!
This was my favourite beach, partly because it’s where I tried out the new surfboard. The water was a bit choppy and the current was strong, so I wasn’t out there very long, but we made a nice surfer friend called Niki, from Japan. She was also a learner and was finding the ocean a bit rough. Despite the lack of good surf, the sun was hot, the sand was soft and we had a very relaxing time. I would highly recommend a beach day here.
I really love this city. It is in a beautiful location with so much to see and do. If you love beach culture, great shopping and sunshine, it’s definitely worth a visit. We might need to come back some time!