Clients will miss out if they don’t extend their stay in Sydney. Here’s how to assemble a stopover for all tastes and budgets. By David Whitley
World class city break? Or lazy beach holiday destination? Sydney’s tremendous strength as a turnaround port is that it can be both. Strong on culture as well as natural wonders, cruise passengers flying in only the day before departure will get to see disappointingly little of what should be one of the voyage’s highlights.
So whether it’s sold as a few days to get over jetlag, get a proper introduction to Australia or tick off a few bucket-list items, it’s worth building extra time in Sydney into the start of an itinerary. The good news for agents is that most activities can be booked in advance. Some cruise lines pre-package hotels for cruises starting in Sydney – Cunard and Regent Seven Seas, for example – while Regent is also particularly strong on pre- and post-cruise packages in Australia. But agents can easily tailor-make a short stay, too.
Where to stay
For visitors, the hive of action is Circular Quay on the harbour at the northern edge of the city centre. This is one of the main docks for cruise ships. Next to it is the Rocks historic district, around which the city grew up, now full of market stalls and atmospheric old pubs.
The once-in-a-lifetime blowout option is the harbourside Park Hyatt (sydney.park.hyatt.com), with its pool on the roof under the shadow of the Harbour Bridge. Elsewhere at luxury end of the scale, the Four Seasons (fourseasons.com/Sydney) has an ideal location right on the edge of Circular Quay. The Establishment (lehotels.com/establishment) has more personality –all complimentary cookies, yoga mats and freestanding baths – and is a bit of a celeb-spotting spot.
The best value option around Circular Quay is the distinctively turreted Russell (therussell.com.au), which has had a stylish makeover to add to its bucketloads of 19th century heritage charm.
Mid-range options around the city centre include the family-friendly Novotel (Novotel.com) on Darling Harbour and the spacious, apartment-style Adina Harbourside (tfehotels.com). There’s also a fresher-looking and more laidback Adina at Bondi Beach.
Local mini-chain 8hotels (8hotels.com) does a nice line in affordable hotels with their own individual character. The Pensione near Central Station is usually the cheapest of these, although rooms aren’t for cat-swinging enthusiasts.
Where to eat
For a lavish blow-out feed overlooking the harbour, Quay (quay.com.au) is consistently rated amongst the top fine dining spots in the country. Tetsuya’s (tetsuyas.com.au) has less of a view, but its immaculate Japanese fusion tasting menus are some of the best on earth. Equally good for both a harbour views lunch and a treat dinner, the modern Australian fare at Café Sydney (cafesydney.com) is matched by a swagger-packed, buzzy vibe.
Sydney has a strong café culture too, with lazy brunches being a particular local obsession. Despite stiff competition among Bondi Beach’s abundant coffee and eggs benedict spots, Trio (triocafe.com.au) on Campbell Parade stands out.
For cheap eats, Sydney does a tremendous line in Thai food. Spice I Am (spiceiam.com) on Wentworth Avenue is notably authentic.
Top sights and how to book them
The two harbourside icons are the postcard stars. It’s possible to go to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the Bridgeclimb – more of a walk along the arch than a climb, and surprisingly unstrenuous. Book via Attraction World (attractionworld.com) from £132.
The Opera House backstage tours are packed full of quirky stories about people who have performed there. Do Something Different (dosomethingdifferent.com), sells them for £86.
Attraction World (attractionworld.com) sells numerous harbour cruise options, including a £28 highlights ride.
The cheap alternative is to take the ferry from Circular Quay to north shore beachside suburb Manly. See transportnsw.info for public transport journey planning.
On the cultural side, Intrepid Travel’s Urban Adventures offshoot (urbanadventures.com) sells commissionable walking tours delving into lurid tales the gangsters who once ran the Kings Cross area (£21), plus the convict days in the Rocks (£47).
The Hyde Park Barracks (sydneylivingmuseums.com.au) is the city’s best museum, with often grim, sometimes inspirational tales of the convicts sent to the other side of the world.
Sydney’s best beaches are the long, golden stretches such as Narrabeen and Dee Why in the northern suburbs. The L90 bus from Wynyard station in the city centre connects most of them. Palm Beach at the end of the route is most glorious – and it’s where the soap Home And Away is filmed.
Visitors don’t tend to get that far, though. Bondi is the most popular beach, as it’s closest to the centre. It’s also a surfing hotspot – Let’s Go Surfing (letsgosurfing.com.au) runs two hour lessons for £50. Take the 380 bus from the city centre.
There are few better ways of spending a day than beach hopping along the 8km Bondi to Coogee clifftop coastal walk. The 372 bus will bring you back from Coogee.
Tours out of Sydney
The classic day trip is out to the Blue Mountains, where the staggering chasm lookouts over the Jamison Valley combine with the world’s steepest funicular railway at Scenic World (scenicworld.com.au). Anzcro (anzcro.co.uk) sells a day tour for £106.
The Sahara-like dunes of Port Stephens are ripe for bumpy 4WD tours and whizzing down the giant sandy hills on waxed boards, or taking a camel safari. This is easily combined with a dolphin-watching cruise. Grayline (grayline.com.au) has day tours for from £90.
Vinophiles may prefer the Hunter Valley wine region to the north of the city. Austravel (austravel.com) sells day trips there from Sydney, including sampling sessions at numerous wineries, for from £147.