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When your flight attendant friend tells you Sydney is their favourite city in the world, you pay attention. Having flown around the world for work for the past 18 years, it takes a lot to impress Clover. So of course, I had to go to Sydney to find out what all the hype was about.
I’m usually skeptical about well-known travel destinations because my brain can’t fathom how it could possibly exceed my expectations when so many have been there before and there’s so much hype. This was the case for Machu Picchu but it still blew my mind. I was hoping that Sydney would also exceed my expectations. After all, to get there, we experienced the worst travel day ever and to pile on the stress, our Home Exchange host had to cancel on us last minute due to a family emergency. Luckily, because Home Exchange support is way better than Airbnb’s, they immediately found us a replacement and we barely had to lift a finger (they would’ve paid up to $120 USD/night for a hotel if no replacements were found). They even made sure they met our criteria of being within 5km of a beach or downtown. Thanks, Home Exchange! (By the way, if you want to try out Home Exchange, please don’t go into it with Airbnb expectations. This is a sharing community with no cash exchanged and it’s not for those seeking to pay for convenience or extract a profit. If you want that, stick with Airbnb.)
So, was it worth it? Did Sydney live up to the hype?
Well, the first thing that stood out to me about Sydney was the sheer number of seaside pools! As we trekked for 3 hours along the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, I had to stop frequently to marvel at the jaw-dropping scenery. The windy limestone cliff paths gave me a lot of San Miguel, Azores vibes and I had frequent Portugal flashbacks. Except, in some ways this was even better than the Azores because the facilities were better maintained, and public transport was way more extensive and easier to use.
And because it was so easy to travel by public transportation, after a day of extensive beach hopping without needing to worry about parking, we took the train to the Blue Mountains, a spectacular hiking spot with lash eucalyptus forests and mystical mountain peaks that is only 2 hours from Sydney. No wonder it’s a World Heritage site and the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city (though Sydney has so much nature within the city itself that’s easily accessible that you don’t really need to get away).
We made this a day trip, but given the vast number of trails, we could’ve easily stayed for a week at nearby Katoomba, hiked a different trail every day, and not gotten bored.
Our first trail was the “3 Sisters Echo Point” which, according to Aboriginal legend was named after Wimalah, Meeni, and Gunedoo, three sisters who lived in the Katoomba tribe. After falling in love with 3 men from an opposing tribe, their marriage was forbidden by law (so kind of an aboriginal triple Romeo and Juliette kind of a situation) so their elders turned them to stone to “protect them” and sadly couldn’t figure out how the spell worked to turn them back. Maybe they learned their competence from JetStar (when you’re in Australia, you’ll learn that JetStar is the most hated Airline in the country). So now visitors can admire all 3 of their majestic peaks in their glory:
My favourite thing about the transportation in Sydney (other than how efficient and well connected the network is) is the fact that you can use your credit card directly without needing a special transit card and the price is exactly the same. I’ve been to other places in the world where you can use credit cards, but you always get a discount if you use go through the extra trouble of getting the transit card and then loading it with funds. Sydney, so far has the most convenient payment system for public transit I’ve ever encountered during my last 8 years of travel. And not only that, they have caps of $16.80 AUD/person/day for weekdays and only $8.40 AUD/person/day on weekends so no matter how many metro, bus, or ferry trips you take, you never pay more than that.
Also, nature is right on your doorstep because all the major beaches are so easily accessible that I feel like you don’t ever have to leave the city to enjoy the incredible scenery that Sydney has to offer.
Trains that take you outside the city to hikes are also very convenient and affordable. And since my favourite type of nature is mountains and bodies of water, add to that the ability to get there without driving, this place is my dream come true.
Not sure whether Sydney and Melbourne planned this together, but for those who love being traumatized by creepy clowns, both cities have you covered. Now, admittedly the Luna park in Sydney looks happier than the one in Melbourne, but that might be because he happily devoured some unsuspecting tourists and don’t want you to know about it (I may have watched too many scary clown movies lately). So, if you’re into creepy clowns, definitely check this amusement park out.
Bonus points if you love terrifying rides where you empty your entire stomach contents onto the people below, like this one:
Of course, no trip to Sydney would be complete without visiting its famous Sydney Opera House. You honestly can’t take a bad picture of this landmark, regardless of which angle you look at it. We decided to have dinner with friends by the water at sunset near the opera house and it didn’t disappoint:
Other fun entertaining attractions for those who aren’t vertigo-challenged like me in Sydney is the Harbour Bridge which you not only can walk across to get some nice views but also pay a butt load of money to climb to the top:
We also took a free walking tour, during which the guide told us to not bother with a river cruise but to just take the ferry to Manly beach to be able to get the same view. He was right. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a ferry in a big city as much as this one. And Manly beach didn’t disappoint either, with its miles up miles of soft sand and lots of space to stretch out.
He also gave us the great tip to visit the Hyde Park Barracks, which had free entry. I wouldn’t even have noticed it walking by but this turned out to be one of my favourite museums. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site that was originally built to house convicts but now tells the history of Sydney through the eyes of prisoners, asylum seekers, and aboriginals. The free interactive audio guide was fantastic and I would put this on the same level of story telling as the Solidarnosc/European Solidarity Centre museum in Gdansk, Poland, my favourite museum of all time. I can’t believe it’s free. I would willingly pay an entry fee to visit this museum.
As a major tourist destination and metropolitan city, Sydney had a vast selection of international foods. Our friends took us out for seafood, sushi, and ramen and it did not disappoint.
My favourite thing I ate in Sydney are these massive sushi rolls from Sushi hub that you can grab as a snack when you get hungry walking around and the ratio of fish to rice to seaweed is just perfect. It reminded me of these “fusion food” sushi burritos I had in Toronto but Sydney did it way better.
And of course we had to indulge in that world famous Australian coffee with ice cream by the beach. Now, whenever I drink Starbucks coffee, it just feels like a hate crime against java beans. Thanks Australia, you’ve ruined North American coffee forever for me.
So, was my friend Clover right? Did Sydney meet all my high expectations?
Absolutely. I’d definitely go back and dare I say even live there long term, if only I can manage to get a long term visa. But judging by my experience with the visitor e-visa, suffice to say, that probably won’t be happening any time soon.
So, how much did we spend in Sydney? Here’s the cost breakdown:
Cost in USD/couple per day
Cost in CAD/couple per day
|Since we stayed in a Home Exchange we ended up spending nothing on accommodations, except for the rent back home ($51/day for two people).
|$42.47 ($20.73 eating out, $21.74)
|Eating out was somehow slightly less expensive in Sydney than Melbourne. We also mostly ate out in CBD in both cities so not sure how the suburbs compare. The difference was negligible enough that it might just have to do with the type of food I picked. I did miss Melbourne’s Victoria market grocery prices but there were a lot of reasonable grocery prices in Sydney’s chinatown that made up for it. Overall, we ended up eating out a few times during the 9 days there and mostly cooked.
|Transportation around Sydney was extremely affordable and we took advantage of the price caps on weekdays and weekends to get around, so we never paid more than $5.62 USD/person/day on public transit. Even when we went to the Blue Mountains, which was 2 hours away. The only additional cost was getting to the Airport to fly out from Melbourne and Uber from the Sydney Airport to our Home Exchange. Our flight from Melbourne to Sydney was covered by a credit we had all the back from 2020 when we tried to fly with Jetstar from Bali to Perth. Amortized over 9 days, transportation costs ended up being around $19 USD/day for 2 people.
|Sydney had a ton of free entertainment (like Luna park, the Hyde Park Barracks, Blue Mountain hiking, coastal walks from various beaches), we barely spent anything. All we paid for was the tip for the 2 free walking tours and tickets to the zoo.
|We ended up doing Sydney on the cheap because we didn’t have to pay for accommodations due to home exchange (other than the rent back home of course) and took advantage of the free attractions and the daily price caps on public transport. Overall, I loved Sydney and it’s affordability surprised me. That being said, if you go there like a tourist you can easily blow a buttload of cash by staying in fancy hotels, eating out everyday, paying for shows, and driving everywhere. Since we wanted the local experience, we ended up spending far less than I expected.
What do think? Have you ever been to Sydney? Would you live there?
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