It was not my first time to be a tourist in my own backyard. I’ve lived in Sydney, Australia for more than 12 years but got to appreciate it even more when I moved to the Philippines back in year 2000. Since then I’ve been visiting Sydney almost every other year and it still manages to offer me new experiences.
One of the things that still amazes me is how bright the sun shines in this city, literally. If you manage to catch a flight that lands in the morning, don’t forget your sunglasses or sunnies as we call it, you will be blinded by how bright the skies are, even during winter days! This probably explains why Sydney-siders are a happy, friendly and laid back bunch of people with a hearty appetite for the outdoors and barbecues or barbie, don’t roll your “r’s” prolong your “ah’s” and you will instantly sound like an Aussie!
Where to Stay?
There are various choices for accommodations in Sydney and your choice is limited only by your budget. The cheapest accommodation, besides having family to stay with, is a hostel or backpacker hotel. These types of accommodations are popular among the young travelers, especially from Europe or North America. Rates usually start at AUD50 and depending on the season there are some that you can get for as low as AUD30 per night. These are no frills accommodations so do not expect anything more than a bed. Ensuites and televisions come as extras. Backpacker hotels are usually situated near the Central station and offers easy access on foot to Chinatown, Sydney Entertainment Centre, and Darling Harbour. One thing good about these types of accommodations, aside from not blowing a huge hole in your pocket, is you are guaranteed to meet new friends from all around the world to exchange travel stories with.
I personally like the boutique hotels near the eastern side of the city. They are a bit more pricey than the backpacker hotels but it’s closer to the nice restaurants, cafes and bars in Oxford Street. I’ve stayed in Hyde Park Inn along Elizabeth Street, right across Hyde Park. They offer the usual standard and deluxe accommodations but the best room I’ve stayed at is the apartment. I paid AUD275 per night for a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 bathrooms, lounge area, dining area and kitchen facility complete with stove, refrigerator and essential cookware and table ware. Ideal for extended stay and families. The cooking facility is great for saving hefty sums from eating out. The apartment rooms are good for 4 occupants and if you expect to have visitors during your stay. The hotel is right across Museum station where you can easily hop on a train to get you anywhere around Sydney and the suburbs. Buses are also abundant and if you feel like catching the surf at Bondi it’s only a bus ride away.
Where to Eat?
I can write a book on where and what to eat in Sydney. This place is a haven for the foodie and you will never run out of choices to eat. The best restaurants, subject to my discriminating taste, are found in the inner western suburbs. Here are my top 7 places and food to eat:
- My favourite is Thai Pothong along King Street in Newtown, about 10 minutes from Sydney CBD. I’ve seen this restaurant grow from just a hole in a wall to its current size. It’s a bit pricey but worth every penny especially the fish cake, tom yum soup, and the glass noodle salad.
- The most famous Aussie food however are meat pies, sausage rolls, and fish and chips. You can find these practically everywhere. The best meat pies and sausage rolls are those from local milk bars or tuck shops as we call them. Fish and chips are good eaten near the beach so make sure you order these when you go to Bondi, Coogee or Manly beach. They are normally served in news prints with lemon and tartare sauce. Best eaten while watching the surf or in between dips in Sydney’s icy cold beaches. But if you’re after a more fancy fish and chips dining experience look for Doyle’s in Watson’s Bay or simply go to the Sydney Fish Market for brunch over the weekend. For more exotic meat pies look for Janet’s Pies along King Street in Newtown. They have pies with vindaloo, potato and leeks, Thai broccoli, among others. Try the cheese sticks, crunchy outside and soft on the inside.
- My favorite lunch is fresh ricotta cheese, cold cuts and bread bought from any Italian deli. There’s one practically in every corner around town. Just get about 200 grams of cheese, 100 grams of salami Milano, 100 grams of mortadella, a tub of olives and artichoke, 6 baguettes, find a park and you have an instant picnic. This meal will set you back around AUD15.
- A day at the Circular QuayFor Italian food you can try Gioia Cafe along Norton Street in Leichhardt. They have traditional Italian cooking. Their wood fired pizza and tiramisu are to die for! Incidentally, I was taught by the grandmother of the owner on how to make tiramisu and it’s never failed to impress even the most discriminating tastes.
- I am also a big fan of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese foods. The best places I’ve tried are Isteki’s in Newtown for Greek – great moussaka – Abdul’s for Lebanese along Cleveland street in Surry Hills – fantastic falafel and dips – and Saray’s along Enmore road in Enmore – beautiful Turkish pizza or pide and bread!
- For Vietnamese food the are 2 places to go – Thanh Huong along Illawarra road in Marrickville and Pho 54 in Cabramatta. Thanh Huong is great for sit down dinners and lunch, my favorite being the spicy salt and pepper prawn and the game meats like venison, frogs, ostrich and snail cooked stir fried or curry style. Pho 54 is best for beef noodle soup and they teach you the proper way of eating these or you get a chopstick spanking on the knuckles! Walk along the streets of Marrickville and Cabramatta and you will see the Vietnamese pork roll – freshly baked baguettes filled with pork patties, liver pate, coriander, cucumber, onions and chilli for only AUD3.50.
- And if you are in for a spicy treat that is sure to stuff your belly for under AUD20 look for Tamana’s Indian eatery along King Street in Newtown. For 20 bucks you get a choice of 3 curries, rice and naan that’s good for 2 already. Choice of curries include vegetarian and meatcooked either mild, medium or spicy. Beware of the vindaloo, they sting!
What to Do?
So much to do in Sydney but I will cover my top 5 favourite things to do.
- Interesting finds in flea markets. The weekend flea markets in Glebe, The Rocks and Paddington are best places to find interesting items like handcrafted jewelry made from precious gems and recycled materials, clothing made by local designers or imported from Thailand, or leather goods like bags and book covers made from recycled materials like old sofa and jackets. The weekend flea markets also has food and entertainment so even if you are not buying or unlucky enough not to find anything you can just sit and watch the performances.
- Sydney also has a lot of independent bookstores that sell hard to find books, second hand books, eclectic and new world collections. Be sure to visit Gleebooks along Glebe Pt road in Glebe, Modern Times bookshop along King Street in Newtown, and a dozen of small bookstores along Oxford St in Darlinghurst and Pitt St in Sydney CBD.
- Of course a visit to Sydney would be incomplete if you don’t go to its famous beaches like Bondi and Coogee in the East and Manly in the North. These beaches have fantastic surfs, beautiful sands, and lots of places to buy fish and chips. Parking is expensive so transport us to these places instead.
- A trip to the famous landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour is also a must! The Opera House is uniquely Australian and frequented by tourists and locals alike for plays, opera and concerts. Darling Harbour is sure to be a bit for kids for its wide open spaces where they could interact with sculptures, chase sea gulls, or go inside the Sydney Aquarium.
- Another big hit with kids and those who are kids at heart is Luna Park in Kirriibilli. You can see this from the Opera House and the only amusement park in the City. Try the roller coaster, it’s fun as it dodges the buildings.
City Explorer’s Tip
I find Sydney to be very tourist friendly in terms of transportation and entrance fees to amusement places. You can get a city explorer pass which is roughly 20-30% cheaper than normal fares and this allows you to take the train, bus and ferry for the day without costing an arm and a leg. There are also family day passes to the Sydney Aquarium that works out to be real value for money. Maps and schedules for trains, buses and ferries are also freely available allowing the traveler to maximize the efficient transport system and become very mobile. Don’t bother hiring a car if you are only within the city area, parking is every expensive not to mention the cost of petrol.
A Day Off the Beaten Path
My day off the beaten path would be fishing along the wharfs around town. My favorite places are Balmain wharf and Greenwich point. There’s nothing more relaxing, of course second to scuba diving, than casting a bait, hearing the sound of the reel and watching the bait touch the water, sinking to the bottom and waiting for that big bite, hoping to score a big one. I would almost always end up not catching any but watching the still waters while drinking beer gives a feeling of content, no worries as we say it, even for just a few hours. The goal is not to catch a fish but to feel the stillness of life while reflecting on your achievements and planning your next steps, even your next holiday.
I am planning another trip in August this year and who knows I might find the urge to stay there longer and start a new life once again. I’d be your local tour guide so give me a holler whenever you are in town after August! Oh and don’t forget to greet Aussies “g’day” and “how’s it going mate,” you will instantly sound and feel like a local.