Exploring Sydney Beyond the Opera House

There’s a problem for tourists exploring Sydney: its star attractions are so extraordinary, so remarkable, other attractions live in their substantial shadow. They don’t get a look in.

Sydney’s star attractions

With tourists from every corner of the world, you’ve marvelled at the iconic, architecturally implausible, sails of the Sydney Opera House. Squinted, close-up, at the surprisingly small, not-quite-white, tiles. Nailed the ubiquitous photo – Opera House in foreground, Harbour Bridge in background. Tick.

You’ve walked the sweeping length of Bondi Beach. Observed, almost anthropologically, idiosyncratic local Bondi culture. Oiled up, muscular bodies flexing their pecs at the beachside workout area. Designer pooches.  Egg white omelettes. Power smoothies. Shots of Lemongrass.

From the Manly Ferry, you’ve gasped at the serene, expansive beauty of the harbour. Put your camera down for a mindful moment. Taking it all in. Felt pangs of jealousy that you don’t like in a city of such of such extraordinary natural wonder (I felt that too. I had to come live here).

What next?

Sydney’s is a manageable city. Its iconic wonders are easy to find. But if you leave without exploring Sydney beyond the Opera House then you have missed out. Big time. Dare I say it, you haven’t really seen Sydney.

Follow the five tips below. An insider’s guide. You’ll drink and eat with locals… away from the tourist drag.  Get a taste of the great Aussie bush and, if you’re lucky, meet unique Aussie Fauna in the wild.

1. Exploring Sydney – The Spit to Manly walk

Get that in the wilderness feeling without leaving the city. This 10km walk snakes along the edge of the harbour to Manly. Along the way, you’ll see lush bushland, secluded beaches, ancient indigenous rock carving and lookouts with awe-inspiring views of the harbour. You might even see whales if you’re here between May and November.

At the end, in Manly, reward yourself with a beer and lunch before cruising your way back to the CBD on the ferry.

Bring plenty of drinking water, sunblock, a towel and swimmers. Walking time is up to you. Anything from 3 to 6 hours. Depending on how much time you spend swimming, taking pictures or enjoying the views.

Directions on how to get to the start of the walk are here.

2. Exploring Sydney – Secret, Small Bars

Pull on your boozing boots. Come with me to explore Sydney’s Secret Bars.

A change in licensing laws 4 years ago created alternatives to the big, brewery-owned city pubs you see around the CBD. Small, privately owned, often quirky, bars in unlikely locations. Sydney’s small bars were born.  There are lots of them. But you wouldn’t know it. Signage is almost non-existent.  Research is needed. The Baxter Inn, located in the basement of an old warehouse accessed via a hidden cobbled courtyard, is a good example. The bouncer outside the only clue of what lies beneath.

Three small, secret, bars you should visit:

3. Exploring Sydney – Opera Air Cinemas

If you’re from a cold country, you’ve probably never been to an open-air cinema. Sydney has several.

The fanciest is St George Cinema with, temporary, arena-style seating and catering by high-end Sydney restaurants. At sunset, a fanfare of classic movie sounds tracks blasts from the sound system as the screen rises up into position. Framed by views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Extraordinary stuff. Tickets can be pricey but check out the website for 2 for 1 deals.

St George Cinema.jpg
Exploring Sydney – St George Cinema

Moonlight Cinema, in Centennial Park, is a simple but equally great experience. Buy food on site or bring your own picnic and wine. You can even bring your dog if you choose. Seating is your own picnic blanket or you can hire ergonomically shaped bean bags. Watch the fruit bats flying overhead as the sun sets over the city.

4. Exploring Sydney – Newtown

Newtown is a ten-minute train or bus ride from the centre of Sydney. But a million miles away from body obsessed Bondi. Here, in the city’s Inner West, you’ll find a vibrant diverse community, wondrous murals, cool bars and great restaurants offering food from all around the world (Thai, Italian, Vietnamese, Greek South America, Turkey, Lebanon, Chinese). This is not the Sydney you expected.

A more recent phenomenon is the rise of microbreweries. Half a dozen are an easy walking distance from Newtown Station. Grab a map (your GPS) and crawl your way from one to another. All have a standard Pale Ale but try the fruity, chocolatey brews too. Get serious. Ask for a tasting tray – small glasses with a sample of everything. Don’t peak too early as I often do. It’s all too easy to get comfy in the first brewery you land in..

Young Henrys microbrewery
Exploring Sydney – visit Sydney’s microbreweries

5. Exploring Sydney – Morisset

OK. This one is a cheat. It’s not really Sydney. But it’s such a great secret I had to include it.

You’ve seen some unique Australian mammals in enclosures at Taronga Zoo or Wild Life Sydney at Darling Harbour. But how about seeing wild kangaroos. Up close. You can do this without travelling hundreds of miles into the bush. Just 2 hours North. To Morisset.

I recently took friends. They looked doubtful when we arrived in Morisset.  But as we pulled into the woods surrounding the hospital things changed. A huge herd of kangaroos came into view. These beautiful, elegant, strange creatures were everywhere. They’re wild but used the humans so aren’t afraid come close.  There’s a primal pleasure in silent, trusting contact with wild animals. Don’t miss it.

The Kangaroos hang out in the grounds of a working hospital so be respectful of patients and staff. There are no facilities for tourists.

Directions:  Travel by car or train. Turn right from the train station. Look for a sign for Morisset Hospital grounds.

Be thoughtful: Resist the temptation to feed the kangaroos. What you offer probably isn’t part o their natural diet. They’ll come up close to you even without offering food.

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