Sydney 101: What to Eat, See & Do on Your First Trip

Jessica Peterson

Sydney 101: What to eat, see & do on your first trip

The cosmopolitan city of Sydney is equal parts world class and down to earth…

It’s perfectly safe for solo travel, easy to navigate, and incredibly clean. Whether you visit Sydney for food, architecture, or arts, only a miser would refuse to be charmed. I’ve never met a traveler who gave Sydney a bad review.

That being said, if you are American, check the exchange rate because Australia ain’t cheap. During my trip in February 2016, the U.S. dollar was stronger, but I still wouldn’t call this a budget destination. Not to worry, there are plenty of free sights and you probably won’t be thinking about that extra $20 you spent on dinner when you’re staring dreamily at the night lights bouncing off the harbour.

What to Do

Bondi to Coogee Walk

Take a leisurely walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. I only made it to Tamarama Beach, 15 minutes from Bondi, because I was spellbound by the views. This free path is popular with runners, photographers, and dog walkers for good reason. Every turn is more beautiful than the last with intricate rock formations, technicolor waters, and fresh sea air. You will be compelled to hang out on precipitous cliffs and simply take it all in — that is when you’re not admiring surfers riding the pounding waves below. See more photos

Jessica Peterson, Global Girl Travels on Bondi Beach, Sydney, AustraliaRock formation at Tamarama Beach, Sydney, AustraliaJessica Peterson, Global Girl Travels on Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

Live Music at State Theatre

I’m one of those die-hard indie fans devoted enough to travel for a concert. In this case, Sufjan Stevens was touring Australia, the closest option (from Guam) to see him live for the first time. But first, let’s talk about the stunning art deco State Theatre. Just wow. Even the bathrooms are a page out of “The Great Gatsby.” The acoustics could not have more perfectly highlighted Sufjan’s angelic voice. Full review and video to come…

State Theatre, Sydney, AustraliaState Theatre, Sydney, AustraliaState Theatre, Sydney, Australia

What to See

Fishermen on Darling Harbour

I stumbled upon Darling Harbour at dusk and was rewarded with the opportunity to see Chinese fishermen (and women!) cast their lines off the pier. This vantage point affords excellent night views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for long exposure photography.

Fisherwoman at dusk on Darling Harbour, Syndey, AustraliaSydney Harbour Bridge at night, Sydney, AustraliaSydney Harbour Bridge, AustraliaDarling Harbour at night, Sydney, AustraliaFisherman and woman at dusk on Darling Harbour, Syndey, AustraliaSydney Harbour Bridge, Australia

Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House

Some tourist cliches live up to the hype. You can count these two architectural icons among them. The Opera House and Bridge are adjacent, so you can take in both at the same time. Sydney is a very safe walking city, so don’t hesitate to explore the area both day and night. Head to the Wharf just before Golden Hour to grab a bite at a harbour-side cafe. Watch the Opera House turn from white to gold as the sun goes down. Everything is lit up at night for excellent long-exposure photography (just bring a tripod!). Lovers can’t resist strolling Circular Quay and sneaking kisses in the moonlight. An international gaggle of tourists mills the streets, while locals duck into their favorite bars a few streets from the action.

>> READ NEXT:  30 Autumn Mornings on a Savannah Farm

Sydney Harbour Bridge, AustraliaAsian wedding couple taking pictures at Sydney Opera House, AustraliaSydney Harbour Bridge, AustraliaSydney Opera House, AustraliaSydney Opera House, AustraliaSydney Opera House, AustraliaSydney Opera House, Australia

Where to Stay

Finger Wharf Woolloomooloo

I started my Sydney trip by staying in a centrally located Airbnb. Lei, my host, was very sweet and even went with me to the Sufjan Stevens concert. Her loft is located in the ultra chic Ovolo Hotel, which has unlimited WIFI and an excellent breakfast buffet. Equipped with a kitchen and washer/dryer, the loft was the perfect jumping off point for me to explore Sydney on foot. The heart of Sydney is only minutes away by taxi and 15 minutes by foot. I took a lovely walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens during the day and Uber’d it back to the loft at night. Full review to come…

Click here to get a $20 Airbnb credit!

Airbnb Finger Wharf Loft at Woolloomooloo, Sydney, Australia

Adina Apartment Hotel Bondi

I wanted to shoot Bondi Beach at sunrise so I booked a night at Adina Apartment Hotel. I was minutes away from the beach at this clean, modern hotel.

Adina-Apartment-Hotel-Bondi-room

Photo via Adina

57 Hotel in Surry Hills

This darkly romantic hotel has tiny, clean rooms and is centrally located. You’ll get Art Deco vibes and free coffee and pastries in the morning.

57 Hotel, Sydney, Australia

Photo via 57 Hotel

What to Eat

Lobster at Bondi Surf Seafood – $

Unlike its posh neighbors, Bondi Surf Seafood is a deli as authentic as they come. You’ll be greeted loudly and expected to order quickly and I promise you won’t mind the lack of proper tables when you’re scarfing down a buttery lobster and hot chips.

Bondi-lobster-H

Mushroom Gnocchi at A Tavola – $$

Too busy savoring every creamy bite to check my camera settings, I cannot produce evidence of said gnocchi. Nevertheless, Lonely Planet was right to describe this Bondi restaurant as a haunt with sexy waiters and trendiness to spare. Bonus, the food is incredible too. I don’t like mushrooms, but with a tiny menu, I took my chances and now I highly recommend it!

A Tavola, Bondi, Sydney, Australia

Photo via atavola.com.au

Mango Pash at Aki’s Indian Restaurant – $$

Aki's Indian Restaurant, Mango Pash, Australia Aki's Indian Restaurant, Saag Paneer, Australia

Dine Woolloomooloo Wharf-side at this upscale eatery, but make reservations if you’re planning a special night out. Aki’s Indian Restaurant is all-class and the prices are reflective. Start your meal with the Mango Pash, a cocktail with vanilla vodka, mango, passionfruit and blueberries. For dinner, go all in with the classics — saag paneer, saffron basmati rice, and garlic naan.

Photos of me by Mike Selva

What’s your favorite part of Sydney?


Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island. Jessica is currently on the Great American Roadtrip in her Airstream trailer.
Jessica Peterson
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  • Jene Persinger

    Don’t forget t mention the green bus is free.

  • Vyjay Rao

    Sydney is one of my favourite city. So comprehensive and perfect guide for Sydney. The architecture at state theatre is so fascinating. The beach and deep blue water looks so captivating. Great pictures.

  • Fiona Mai

    Really love your photos! I see from your photos not a touristy Sydney as often depicted in tourism promotion materials, but a very unique city with a lively culture. I used to live in Australia for 5 months and never bothered venturing to Sydney. Now you’re making me feel regretful 🙂

  • Luxurybackpacking

    I actually live in Sydney, and its pretty embarrassing as I haven’t done all of these things! I also highly recommend visiting Darling Harbour on Sunday evening for fireworks and taking a trip to the Blue Mountains on a Sunday for cheap travel day!

  • Kathy James

    A great post about the highlights of Sydney. I didn’t see the Chinese Fishermen, I would have loved to have seen them. I did however do the walk from Bondi Beach.

  • Stacey Gilkes

    Wow I’m dying to go back and visit Sydney. I feel like I missed out on some stuff. I really loved the harbour and Opera house which was stunning. One day soon I’ll be back though

  • Smidge

    Love this! My sister lives in Sydney and I can’t wait to go back to visit her. I like the bars in the Rocks area under the bridge. This is even where she got married and I love the photos of us here!

  • Sasha

    I’m from Sydney and feel pretty pleased that I have done all the sights you mention above, though I definitely need to hit up some of the restaurants you mentioned, Mushroom Gnochi sounds divine. Your photos are absolutely stunning also.

  • We’re hoping to head to Sydney at the end of the year so this guise is really helpful! The food looks amazing and oh that lobster!

  • Seems like you had an amazing time in Sydney! I do agree, it’s not a cheap destination and I can also say that living here is a tad bit expensive too. The salary is good though and gets me alot further than living in London did. I havent been to these restaurants yet, but I might check some out on the weekend! Thanks for sharing!

  • I’m hoping to go to Australia (including Sydney) this April, so I’ll definitely make a note of these! The Bondi to Coogee walk sound and look gorgeous, I’ll add it to my list. I do agree that it’s not a cheap place, though – even hostels are so much more expensive than other countries I was looking at!

  • Sonia Sahni

    I am hungry looking at the food pictures…
    how much should I budget for a one week trip? How expensive is the city?

    • Hi Sonia. Sydney is pretty expensive by international standards. I stayed in an Airbnb to save a bit on accommodations. Depending on your activities (tours & entertainment) and how well you like to eat, I would budget about $1,800 for a week (food, transportation, accommodations).