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This post is part of our Australia/New Zealand Series. You can find the rest of the series here.
After departing Queenstown, NZ, we spent three days in Sydney. Unfortunately, two of the days were rainy, but the sun did finally show up for our final day. We couldn’t plan the weather, but we didn’t let it hold us back! With our raincoats zipped to the top, we ventured out into the sprawling city to explore, climb bridges, walk through gardens, and sample some fantastic food.
- Air Travel/Transportation – How we got there and how we got around
- Accommodations – Where we stayed
- Adventures – Write-ups of the activities we enjoyed during our visit
Virgin Australia – ZQN-SYD – 6,900 Etihad Miles + $48.51/ea
On our final day in Queenstown, we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast at the Hilton, and walked around the property a bit. In the early afternoon, we drove over to the airport to catch our Virgin Australia flight to Sydney. At just 6,900 Etihad miles, I think this is an absolute steal! Just like our flights between CNS-BNE-ZQN, we got an in-flight meal. This time, the plane was only half full, so we got an exit row to ourselves!
Park Hyatt Sydney – 3 nights/3 Chase Hyatt Free Night Certificates
The Park… Hyatt… Sydney!! One of the elite hotels in Hyatt’s portfolio, and widely regarded as one of the top hotels worldwide, the Park Hyatt Sydney had a lot to live up to! I’m happy to report that we absolutely LOVED our time there. (Full Review here.) During our stay in early December, the cash price for rooms at this hotel was nearly $900 per night! We cashed in three free nights from our Chase Hyatt cards for an incredible redemption value.
The hotel itself is very nice, but the location is even better! It sits on the Sydney Harbor, directly across from the famous Opera House. As Hyatt Diamond members (before World of Hyatt was a thing), we enjoyed full buffet breakfasts every morning. We also ate a 6-course dinner with wine pairings on our first night at the hotel, which was an absolutely incredible experience!
As I mentioned in the intro, our first two days in Sydney were gray and rainy. With only three days in the city, we couldn’t let that deter us! Despite mother nature’s efforts, we had a great time exploring and having adventures around Sydney.
Free Sydney Walking Tour
If you’ve followed us for long, you probably know that we’re huge fans of free walking tours. Any time we arrive in a new city, we like to seek out a group like this and take their tour. It gives us the lay of the land, some solid recommendations, and a bit of history from locals who love their city.
We decided to take the first tour that we could – the 10:30am Sydney Sights Tour. The starting point for this tour is between Town Hall and St. Andrews Cathedral, an easy 20 minute walk from our hotel. The tour lasted nearly three hours and covered a ton of sights. The most memorable for us were:
- The Queen Victoria Building – Historic building renovated for shopping
- Underground Shopping Malls – Tunnels run all over the city underneath the streets, full of shops and food courts
- The “Rum” Hospital
- Hyde Park/Archibald Fountain
- Laneways (especially the one with birdcages)
- Customs House – Check out the replica city map under the floor!
The tour literally ended at our hotel. Our tour guide said something like, “We end at this point near the harbor for the best opera house views. If you really have some extra cash to spend, this hotel – she points to Park Hyatt – has the best views in the city!” We chuckled, tipped her, and headed inside to rest our feet for a bit.
Sydney Opera House Tour
After a brief rest, we walked around Circular Quay, past the ferry docks, and around to the Sydney Opera House. We marveled at the impressive exterior, and checked to see if any of the shows sounded interesting. None of them did, so we decided to take a guided tour of the inside.
The tour took us through three different theaters, up and down a few winding staircases, and up to an event space near the top of one of the “sails.” We learned about the history, design, and construction of the opera house. We also got extremely lucky, because the Australian Ballet was practicing in one of the theaters during our tour. Our guide paused for about 10 minutes to allow us to watch the show rehearsal… pretty cool!
One of the activities we had been looking forward to most was the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb. We booked this well in advance, because we wanted to lock in a time on our first day. The bridge climb tours run in all weather, except for severe storms or lightening. We didn’t want to risk missing out due to really bad weather, but unfortunately, we had moderately bad weather and a rainy trip up the bridge.
If you take this tour, be prepared for a lengthy experience. You have to leave all of your personal belongings, including cameras behind and put on special “bridge climb suits.” These suits are basically giant onesies with harnesses. We also got coats and raincoats. After suiting up, we got our radio headsets and did a few practice runs along a set of stairs and platforms. This all felt a bit unnecessary, but I’m sure they do it for liability reasons.
After over an hour of climbing and prep, we finally clipped our harnesses onto the bridge line and started our ascent. It took about 30 minutes to reach the top via ladders and a staircase along the upper portion of the arch. During the climb, our guide told us the history of the harbor bridge, including tales of misfortune during the construction. When we reached the top, we posed for some pictures with the city and opera house in the background. The wind at the top was pretty intense!
The whole experience was honestly just “ok.” Many of the reviews I read raved about how wonderful it was. At a price of $288 per person, it’s simply too expensive. Perhaps the rainy weather impacted my experience. Don’t get me wrong, being on top of the bridge, overlooking the city was great. Our guide had a lot of energy, but the prep time was long and a bit frustrating. If you do decide to take the tour, I definitely recommend taking the 4:05pm “Day Tour,” for $288, instead of the 4:55pm “Twilight Tour” for $353. Since the prep time takes so long, you’ll nearly be at sunset by the time you get on top of the bridge.
As a much cheaper alternative to the Bridge Climb, you can climb one of the bridge pylons for only $15! If you already did the bridge climb, the pylon climb is free. On our final day in Sydney, the sun decided to show up. We wanted to get a nice picture of the harbor, and I wanted to compare the pylon view to the one from the top of the bridge. We climbed up the 200 steps to the top of the pylon and got some great pictures. The view isn’t quite as good, but for the price difference, and the much smaller time commitment, I definitely recommend the pylon climb!
Queen Victoria Building
On day 2, Brooke and I had planned to take the ferry to Manly Beach, but the rain put a damper on that. Instead, we decided to revisit some of the more interesting spots from the prior day’s walking tour and spend a bit more time there. First stop on our list was the Queen Victoria Building (QVB to the locals). We browsed through some shops, included a Dr. Seuss art shop, and we checked out the famous clock. Every hour, the clock shows tales from Sydney’s past, including a beheading!
Saint Mary’s Cathedral
The tour walked by this 17th century, Gothic Cathedral on the edge of Hyde Park. We wanted to take a look inside, so we came back on day 2. The inside of the cathedral is massive, with high ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. It is definitely worth a visit.
Royal Botanic Gardens/Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair
Leaving the cathedral, we wandered through the underground tunnels in the general direction of the 74-acre Royal Botanic Gardens. We strolled through the peaceful gardens, marveling at the massive, old trees and colorful flowers. We also learned that a few of the ponds in the gardens have large eels living in them! If you get close enough and wait patiently, you may even see one or two. They were super creepy looking.
One of the landmarks in the Botanic Gardens is Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, at the tip of the peninsula, with panoramic views of the harbor bridge and opera house. The chair itself is a sandstone rock, cut into the shape of a bench in 1810, and engraved in honor of General Lachlan Macquarie’s wife. She was known to visit the area to sit and enjoy the views of the harbor.
The Australian Heritage Hotel – Coat of Arms Pizza
The Australian Heritage Hotel is a bit of a Sydney landmark. We heard about it from quite a few locals, who told us we simply MUST try the “Coat of Arms Pizza!” If you’re not familiar, the Australian coat of arms features their two national animals, the Kangaroo and the Emu. In true Australian fashion, where nothing is sacred, the Australian hotel serves a pizza – half emu and half kangaroo!! I must say that the pizza was DELICIOUS! I highly recommend stopping in here for a true Aussie pie.
Park Hyatt – Six Course Tasting Menu w/ Wine Pairings
If you’re staying at the Park Hyatt, especially if you’re staying for free, take a look at the chef’s tasting menu dinner. Executive Chef Etienne Karner offers an incredible 6-course meal with matching wines. You can enjoy this high-end cuisine in the waterfront dining room, with the glowing opera house in the background.
Frankie’s Pizza – Pizza & Craft Beer
According to our walking tour guide, Frankie’s Pizza is one of the best craft beer bars in Sydney. Located underground, this dive bar/pizza joint features graffiti-covered walls, old-school arcade games, and yes, a fantastic selection of local craft beers. The menu features thin crust pizzas and a variety of toppings to choose from. We grabbed two slices: a fancy one with mushrooms and truffle oil (Stugot), and a classic staple covered with meatballs (Wogball). On tap, we found a selection of local craft beers, including some that featured New Zealand-grown hops, which are very hard to get in the states.
Do we wish the rain had held off during our time in Sydney…? Of course we do! But we still had a great time exploring this major international city. Our first full day was incredible, with a full city tour, opera house tour, harbor bridge climb, and the coat of arms pizza for dinner! Thanks for the memories, Sydney… now onward to the final city, Melbourne.