- Sydney Royal National Park
Sydney Royal National Park is a masterpiece situated in the burbs south of the city. If you’re going to hire a car for one day, and one day only, then this is your day trip. The road bends beautifully through the park as it winds deep into forest and resurfaces up high to expose views out over the rolling hills and coastline.
The forest is full of hidden beaches so when you see a sign for one be sure to just take it. Most of the beaches require trekking to get there, so park up at the top, grab your picnic supplies and set off on your adventure. Burning Palms beach is one of the best hidden gems here (seen in above photo) and definitely a trail to take. Trails range from as little as 2k up to 15k, choose which ever path you can handle but make sure to account for the return journey so as not to be stuck miles from the car come nightfall.
After a good trek I recommend jumping back in the car and heading towards Bundeena, whilst most of the park is empty but for tourists Bundeena hosts some civilisation with cafes for a stop off. Finally, Jibbon head is a great location for sunset, if you can time it right you’ll get some great shots out here before heading home and collapsing in an overwhelming wave of day trip exhaustion.
2. Taronga Zoo
Ok so this place is $46 entry for adults and $26 for children but its worth it. The zoo is practically on an island ok and the views alone are worth the money whether you hug a koala or not (in the interest of not misleading you, a koala hug does cost extra). The zoo offers sleep over parties if you fancy bunkering down for the night with the animals too but if you failed to borrow a 5-year-old to gain access to said sleepover, and you’re just the regular zoo man, then head in early for the day. The easiest way to get to Taronga is by boat from Circular Quey or alternatively take a 20-minute drive round.
From here just head on in and enjoy! Make sure to take the strange little cable car rides from one side of the zoo to the other and precariously hover over the elephant enclosure. Also don’t miss one of the spider talks just to re-embed how afraid you should be as to how easily they’ll kill you in your holiday rental.
*side note: if you’re in town on new years eve with kids this is the place to be, the zoo puts on a firework display to watch looking back over the city and the word on the street is – it’s amazing.
3. Fish and Chips at Watsons Bay
Watsons Bay is approximately a 30-minute drive out of the city along a coastline bursting with sea views and stop points. To wet your appetite, I’d suggest parking up and heading over to ‘The Gap’ situated opposite the bay. The Gap is a coastal hangover, part of a coastal walk, and offers a great view out over the cliffs for whale watching. Once you’re done killing time and just straight up ready to eat head back over to Doyles Fish and Chips, arguably the best in Sydney.
Doyle’s does have a restaurant, but it’s ridiculously busy 100% of the time (all of the time) and largely populated by the elderly. Jump into the take-out queue, take your fare grub and head to the beach to dine on the sands (unless you’re actually elderly, then you go get in that restaurant queue and give your feet a rest).
Australia finds it funny to serve plum sauce with fish and chips, mushy peas don’t exist, its plum sauce. Just bin them. Bin them all. Watsons Bbay offers the best view back in and over the city that seriously rivals the one from Taronga. So take a seat on the sands, look out dreamily, and laugh about how you used to do this at Whitby, you were so naive back then, so young.
4. Opera Bar
Situated somewhat to the side of the Sydney Opera House is the Opera House Bar. This is the place to be at sunset, looking out over the harbour with a fantastic view of Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is the classiest joint of the classiest joints. The women lounge around in fitted cream dresses whilst the men point seaward in their linen shorts and pin stripped shirts but it’s the rowdy work rabble, fresh out of the business district, that add the real vibe to the bar.
Get there early because it’s busy all the time, you’ll be hard pressed to get a table, but when you do send someone to the bar and get the cocktails in. The service here is great but it costs a pretty penny with the average cocktail coming in at $17 (I recommend the ‘Dirty Carpet Disco’ or the ‘Summertini’), but again you’re paying for the location and again it’s totally worth it, you’re on holiday.
The Opera Bar offers great food and nibbles but I’d suggest only getting bar snacks, staying to watch the sunset and then heading out elsewhere for the evening meal. A 20-minute walk round the harbour will land you at The Rocks, another affluent area, but with better restaurants. Go back a few streets from the harbour and you’ll find loads of great places to dine. I recommend ‘Appetito’ for great homemade Italian dishes situated on George St.
*Side note: the general rule being the further back from the water the cheaper
Manly is a beautiful little beach bay only a short boat ride out of Circular Queys. If you don’t fancy travelling further up to Bondi this is the place to be right out of the city. With good surf the beach is usually packed as it offers a range of water sports. But you can just chill and read a book and pretend to be impressed at how you were just in the bustling city centre and now you’re covered in sand, thwarting seagulls off and sunbathing.
Manly offers a great strip of shops and restaurants with outdoor seating perfect for summer, and more importantly they do great pizzas so grab a slice while you’re exploring.
The boat ride to and from Manly offers possibly the best views of the Sydney Opera House and this is your photo op. From land you’re stood too close to it, you’re underneath it, or you can’t fully see the architecture. But by boat out here you have ample time to take snaps from every possible angle as you ride back into the Quays.
6. The Ivy
330 George St is a huge complex called Merivale. It gets confusing and you shouldn’t try to understand it because you wont and, quite frankly, neither do I. But the Merivale has lots of inside quarters with different houses, areas, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and venues. All you need to know is dress smart, super smart and bring all your monies.
One of the venues is called ‘Ivy’ and this is where the magic happens. On an evening you’ll be walking down George Street and here music blasting from somewhere you can’t fathom, but you’ll see a gap in the wall and you’re through into a courtyard full of security guards and bouncers, flash your ID and act like you know what you’re doing. Climb the stairs and you’ll end up in one of many bars. Don’t worry they’re all fabulous.
After you’ve got over the initial awesomeness and finished spinning, arms flayed, (gawping skyward) you need to find a lift. Go find this lift, I don’t remember where it was or how we got in it but just get in a lift, any lift. Then press all the buttons because you’re going to want to peer out at every floor and see what takes your fancy. Each stop will be mesmerising, especially ‘The Den and The Terrace room’ (Google it).
What you’re climbing upwards toward is the Pool Club. This pool club is on the level of Los Angeles Roosevelt hotel pool clubs. It’s up there, its for only the best, and you’ve got in, so blend in and be cool you’re at a rooftop pool party. There’s deck chairs and beach huts and weirdly palm trees that you’d quite frankly like to know how they got up here? Don’t fall in and keep your eyes out for celebrities.
* Side note: the ivy can be ridiculously expensive around $40 entry, but Thursdays are free so who are we kidding.
7. Sydney Eye Tower
The Sydney Eye Tower is Australia’s Empire State Building, it’s a must do. The tower is situated off Market Street near Hyde Park and again, like most of Sydney’s buildings, it’s set inside a complex shopping mall. Just once again, get in a lift, any lift, and go as far up as you can. Eventually you’ll be at the Eye Tower complex, pay your entry and run along to the 3D welcome screening.
They offer the normal viewing, or a Skywalk package, where I believe you hang off the building side or something crazy. But with that you can’t really take pictures, because like I said, you’re hanging off a building side or something crazy.
As with any skyscraper you plan to climb for a career defining landscape picture you’re absolutely ridiculous not to head up for sunset. Get there a good hour and a half before sunset, that gives you half an hour to climb up, crawl through security, pose for a superimposed picture you don’t want and then fight the crowd at the top. This will leave you about 45 minutes to catch the normal day time skyline, the sun going down, actual sunset and then the night skyline. It’s like you’re cheating the system because you’ve only paid to come up once and you’ve just got 4 different shots. We win, you lose Sydney tourist board, you lose.
8. ANZ Stadium
The ANZ Stadium is set in the Olympic Park area just out of the city. The stadium hosts some of the biggest state rugby union games known. If you’re in town for State of Origin get yourself here. You support New South Wales (not Queensland, dear god not Queensland) so cover yourself head to toe in baby blue and head out. I mean it, not a single person doesn’t have a blue wig on and blue face paint. They really take it seriously out here.
State of Origin takes place between June and July, you’ll probably have bumped into the players down at The Rocks or on that day trip to Bondi you took calling in at Coogee, but you wont have known because you’re not local, you fail to recognise such local stardom. But I can guarantee you’ll have brushed shoulders with about 3 rugby players. Never mind.
If you’re not in town around this season then head here anyway, any game at the stadium is going to be great, the whole vibe is brilliant and the sheer size is dumb founding. Enjoy.
*Side note: COME ON YOU BLUES, maybe, I’m not 100% this is a chant.
9. Bondi Beach
Bondi is the beach of all beaches, and it’s here you’re going to learn how to surf. Or you should take out a lesson, or at least watch everybody else being extremely professional at it. There’s multiple surf schools lining the beach so get on it. It’s custom out here for most kids to have surf parties for their birthdays so there will be a 7-year-old shredding the waves that’ll intimidate the heck out of you. (This would be an entirely different story if Sydney had a Wacky Warehouse).
Australia airs a programme called ‘Bondi Rescue’, completely foreign to us non natives but its filmed here, surprise surprise, on Bondi. That means the lifeguards are somewhat famous, that means if you see one come out of the lifeguard hut and jump on the quad then you should be pumped, and also interrupt to ask for a picture – subject to him not being on his way to save a life – your call.
If you’ve not planned ahead enough to bring a picnic and a cooler (get yourself together) then head to the North Bondi RSL club on the north side of the beach to grab lunch and a few bevys whilst looking out over the surf.
Finally I’d suggest walking down to the Bondi Skate Park on the south end of the beach. This bowl of concrete is filled with some of the most talented skaters you’ll ever see, the drops are petrifying and there’s kids about 8 successfully hurling themselves into it. It’s only a matter of time till somebody definitely breaks a bone or two so make your viewing quick, unless you’re an unstoppable risk taker and can handle such a seen.
10. Argyle Bar, The Rocks
If you go to one bar in Sydney, and one bar only, then it has to be Argyle. With an affluent air of debauchery this place is the bees knees. It’s the celebrity hot spot and you feel like queen. You think of your friends back home in Spoons and you laugh at their expense whilst you lean back with Hugh Jackman and a mason jar of delicious mix. This place serves a magnificent concoction called the ‘Honey Bee’. It was here I learnt of Honey Jack Daniels and I haven’t looked back since, thank you Argyle, truly.
Once again, its Sydney, its on the Rocks, its expensive. Roughly $20pp entry fee unless, low and behold, you head here Thursday nights, once again FREE. It’s going to be packed so be prepared to queue. The bouncer will see you in and you’re away, the red carpet is literally rolled out for you and you walk down it into a vibrant courtyard. I’ll tell you here and I’ll not tell you again, underneath the red carpet is cobbles, the cobbles are still cobbly even through the red carpet, tread very, very carefully in your heels. Speaking of which, the dress code is smart, i’ve already told you Hugh Jackmans inside so don’t turn up in your flip flops and board shorts ok.
The courtyard holds and outside bar, upturned barrels as tables and parasols for the early drinkers suffering sunburn. Inside are 2 more bars, the one on the ground level bends round to vast expanses of luxurious tables and rustic furniture. But you should be upstairs, so go upstairs. Up here you’ll find a DJ hanging in a glass box from the ceiling playing the latest and upcoming beats. If you’re wanting Shania Twain and golden oldies (and later you will) head over to the Orient round the corner which is hilariously like your local pub come Spoons on a Saturday night. Also make a stop in at Lowenbrau Keller to dance on the tables and clank steins.
Anyway back to Argyle, take your mason jar to the dance floor and be prepared for some Australian toff to invite you and your friends into his area for drinks. It’s great and everyone is beautiful and friendly and the toilets are pods. And did I mention Hugh Jackman?
*Side note: yes you may recognise the exterior from that one episode of Modern Family where they go to Australia and Cam and Mitch flaunt in here with paparazzi.
*Side note (2): I’m in no way affiliated with Hugh Jackman
11. Blue Bar on 36, Shangri La Hotel
This is for us cheeky so-and-sos who most definitely will not be taking out a second mortgage to pay for one night in the Shangri La Hotel. No oh no, we instead will just be borrowing your bar for a few hours thank you gladly. And that you can do, head into the lobby of the hotel and take the lift up (everything good ever will always be at the top of the lift), hit the ‘blue bar 36’ button and await your future.
You’ll step out and someone will greet you to ask your name whilst looking down the reservation list. You tell them that you’ve not booked, nor are wanting, a table you’re just here for a few drinks at the bar. You’re in. Once again, this is ridiculously expensive. But once in a lifetime thing. You might find empty window seats if you’re lucky so take them and sit back and relax. The view is incredible, it gets in everything important about Sydney and you can sit and watch the tiny traffic for hours. But like I said drinks are expensive so you’ll have one, drink it slowly, drag it out and then politely leave.
Obviously, it’s a privilege to be in here without being a member of the Shangri La or even having paid for a room, so be sensible and respectful and as always dress smart.
12. The Boathouse, Palm Beach
Ok this one is for the roadies with a car and psyched for a road trip north. Only an hour out of the city is one of New South Wales’ most famous sands, Palm Beach (not to be confused with Floridas own). On the route up you should have your windows down and head out because there’s many a views and many a stopping points. Stop and view. Everything is picturesque and you’ll consider shipping your life out here and starting a family in the hidden neighbourhoods of Whale beach.
Palm Beach is the home of filming Home and Away, it drags tourists up here regularly for a glimpse of the cast, but never mind them you’re here for the Boathouse. The Boathouse is the quaintest, daintiest, sea side cafe you’ll ever encounter in your miserable little life. Set on the west side beach of the strip, hidden back through the palm trees and bushes, is this miraculous hot spot. Walk straight in and it screams organic. The decor is beautiful, mason jars/ bunting type feel with rustic furniture. Head straight out the back door and grab a table outside whilst perusing the menu. Food is served on a wooden board and milk comes in the glass bottle (hello, sold) and it is all quite literally to die for. I’d suggest you stay here forever, and then meander back around the area guessing the house prices of each mansion set up into the cliffside. Enjoy.
* Side note: on any road trip that requires your head out of the window you should be doing it whilst listening to Cold Chisel – Khe Sanh