Sydney was one of those places that I've always wanted to visit, but it always seemed too far away and too expensive. However, I decided to go on a whim after finding a cheap plane ticket and I was so glad I took advantage of this opportunity. I instantly fell in love with everything Sydney has to offer, and it's on top of my "I want to come back here" list. Plus, you've gotta love those Australian accents.
It's important to know that EVERYONE visiting Australia needs to apply for a visa - I almost wasn't able to go on my trip because I just assumed that having an American passport would allow me to visit. Luckily, someone at the Qantas counter at LAX was able to get me one on the spot for $50 USD - but you can get it for a lot cheaper. Essentially, you need to apply for an ETA (lots of 3rd party websites do this) for around $10-$15 USD. Plan ahead!
My flight from Tokyo got into Sydney pretty early in the morning, and Sydney is one of the nicer airports I've been to. It was very clean and going through immigration wasn't a pain. I was able to get out of the airport relatively quickly. To get to the city center, you could either take the train (however, there is a ridiculous surcharge if you're departing/arriving at the Airport Station) or take a local bus that goes through Bondi Beach to the city center. I ended up paying the surcharge since it was more convenient and quicker, and I wanted to utilize all the time I could while I was in Sydney. However, the local bus is a less-known secret that you should do some research into. It takes significantly longer, but if you aren't pressed for time I would recommend this option instead to save money.
I would also recommend getting an Opal Card to save money and time on public transportation. Sydney has a pretty extensive subway system (I liked to think of it as a very cheap commuter rail or a very expensive subway) which goes into the suburbs. However, Sydney's fare structure is one of the most complicated I've ever encountered. There are many fare rules and zones where they calculate your fare based on your mode of transportation, how far you're traveling, what time and day you take your trip, along with other factors. Getting the Opal card eliminates this headache because all you need to do is to tap in and tap out. However, I would try to keep track of how much you're spending on public transportation because it's definitely not cheap and adds up very quickly.
My first order of business was to get to the hostel I was staying at for the next few days, which was The Village Kings Cross. It's a little outside of downtown Sydney towards Bondi Beach, but it was easy to reach because it was around a 10 minute walk from the subway stop. I dropped off my backpack for the day, and then I went out again to explore. My friend from UCLA was going to show me around here and there for the next few days, which I was grateful for!
On my way to St Mary's Cathedral, I stopped by Smoking Gun Bagels to get some breakfast. I got the Morning Glory bagel to-go, so I could eat the bagel while taking in the views of the cathedral. This turned out to be the perfect way to eat my breakfast as I saw numerous tourists and school kids going about their day - it also helped that the cathedral was very pretty!
After seeing the cathedral, I took a walk through Hyde Park before I had to meet my friend - I felt that it was smaller than I expected but it was still very nice to walk through the park! You could definitely see the city life from inside the park, which I thought was kind of cool.
After walking through the park, my friend and I met up and we started to walk towards the Sydney Opera House. On the way, we walked past the Royal Botanic Gardens, which was very pretty itself. There was something different every place you turned! Once we got to the opera house, I was surprised at all the little kids I saw (probably on field trips) but the Sydney Opera House was very impressive to me. The architecture is definitely one of a kind, and I wish I had the chance to actually go inside. From the opera house, we were able to see the Harbour Bridge and some people on top of the bridge itself - a little scary for me!
We decided to go inside a nice mall called The Galeries to eat lunch at a restaurant called Grilld, which had amazing burgers. I got one of the sliders which really hit the spot. After lunch, we walked around Darling Harbour and the Queen Victoria Building, which were both amazing sights to see. It wasn't too lively when I went but I feel like on a weekend, there would be a lot of people walking around. At this point, I decided to head back towards my hostel to get some rest, as I had an early day planned the next day.
When I got to my room in my hostel, I was surprised at how small it was - there was barely any room for me to put my stuff (I think the people there were just messy, but the room was still kind of small). But for how much I was paying, I thought this was fair. Before I turned in for the night, I ended up chatting with the German guy with the bed next to mine. I was glad to finally have the chance to meet someone slightly close to my age, as he talked about how he was in Australia on a working holiday visa so he had to find a job to stay here. It was very cool hearing other people's stories! After he left to run an errand, I decided to go to sleep.
I woke up very early to catch the train to Katoomba to see the Blue Mountains National Park. This was something I was really looking forward to after seeing pictures on the internet, so I was incredibly excited. To get there, I left my hostel at around 6:45am to take the subway to Central Station. Then, I changed trains to catch the train on the Blue Mountains Line bound for Katoomba, which is one of the stations closest to the national park. The ride took about 3 hours, where I decided to take a nap - there was a lot of walking ahead of me.
When I got off at Katoomba, I was surprised at how chilly and windy it was. At that moment, I was glad I brought a comfy jacket. The park itself is huge and could easily take you a few days to see all of the best landmarks, but I only had a day so I just selected a few places I really wanted to see. There is a hop-on, hop-off bus you could take, in addition to cable cars and such, but I decided to opt out of all of that because I really just wanted to walk and see all of what the park had to offer. If you get tired from walking in general, I wouldn't recommend this as my feet were pretty sore afterwards but I'm glad I did it.
First off, let me save you some time by saying that this was one of my favorite parts of my trip to Sydney - simply because the scenery, the viewpoints, and the hikes were absolutely beautiful. I wish I had the chance to spend a few days here to really see everything. Although it was cold, it was a great way to really immerse myself in nature and it's one of the most picturesque places I've visited. On the day I went, there were barely any tourists at all, so it would just be me walking on the trails for a good 3/4 of the time! This made my visit that much better.
I started the day by walking to The Three Sisters, and then I made my way towards the Cliff View Lookout and Katoomba Falls. I then did a double take and saw Echo Point, the Giant Stairway, and ending my trip at Bridal Veil Lookout, which is close to Leura Cascades.
Before heading back to downtown Sydney, I stopped in Leura to eat lunch. Leura is a very small town, which I thought was very cute. I ate a place called Loaves and the Dishes, which I then got the Kangaroo Burger since I was feeling adventurous. For $20 AUD, it honestly just tasted like a regular burger to me, but I thought it was delicious (maybe because I was drained from all the walking). After lunch, I took the train back to Sydney, but stopping at Featherdale Wildlife Park along the way.
I was also very excited to visit the wildlife park after doing lots of research online. Luckily, the wildlife park was close to one of the stops on the train and then a short bus ride away. I went to the park towards closing time, but I was still able to pay a small fee to buy some food to feed the kangaroos! This is definitely an experience I would recommend, as there is no wall between you and the kangaroos. If you put food in your hand and reach it out towards a kangaroo, other kangaroos will swarm around you. One of the kangaroos grabbed my hand and put it closer to its mouth where it began to eat the food out of my hand (their hands are very sharp). You could also walk around and see other animals or put a koala on your shoulder (for a fee, but it was closed so I couldn't do it). I would try to budget at least half a day here if you can!
After petting the kangaroos, I went back on the train back to Sydney to meet up with my friends from when I was studying abroad at the London School of Economics. I was also very excited to see them since it was almost a year since I've seen them. We went to a place called Seoul Ria, which was near the Town Hall subway station. One of my friends comes here quite often so she handled all of the ordering while I enjoyed the food (which is what I do best anyways). It was all amazingly tasty, but I would recommend coming with a group of people because some of the dishes are very big. After dinner, my friends took me to a local supermarket because I wanted to buy some special Australian snacks for my friends back home. Then we all parted ways and I went back to my hostel to take a much-needed rest.
I started off the day by furiously packing, as my flight was leaving later at night. My friend from Day 1 and I were meeting up again later in the day, so I ate some breakfast at the hostel, dropped off my bags in the hostel's luggage room to pick up later, and then I went to the first stop of the day, Barangaroo Reserve.
First off, the park is in a up-and-coming area in Sydney surrounded by construction (based on the last time I was there) and when you're inside the park, you don't feel like you're inside the city even though everything is man-made! There wasn't a lot of people when I visited, so I had the chance to really take in the peace and quiet, as well as the views of Sydney from the edges of the park. I would definitely recommend going early in the day!
To kill some time before meeting with my friend, I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art which has lots of very interesting exhibits. I definitely wished I carved out more time to fully explore the museum.
My friend and I met up at Circular Quay to take the ferry to Manly Beach. I was actually so distracted in the museum that we almost missed the ferry - it only leaves at set times during the day. However, the ferry ride was a really great experience! You could see a lot of Sydney from the ferry, and it was great to feel the nice ocean breeze.
After about 30-45 minutes, we got off the ferry and started to walk towards the beach. In between the beach and the ferry stop, there's a small boardwalk where there's restaurants and shops but we didn't really stop there since I really wanted to see the beach.
When I first saw the beach, I was instantly blown away at how clean it was. For such a big beach, I was expecting there to be more people and more trash around but it was pretty much spotless. It didn't feel like there was too many people because the beach was so vast, and the water was practically crystal clear. Everyone says California has great beaches, but I'm sorry to say that so far, Australia takes home 1st place on this one. The beaches at UCSB don't even come close to Manly in terms of beauty.
We walked along the beach and ended up eating lunch at The Boathouse. The atmosphere of this restaurant was very laid back, and you could either sit inside or outside where you could see the beach! We opted to sit inside since the outside seats were full, and I loved the setup and decorations of the restaurant. Just a warning, this restaurant is not cheap by any means but the food was spectacular. I was feeling particularly sophisticated that day so I got the Trout Board which was very tasty. After lunch, we made our way back to the ferry that would take us to Circular Quay.
I decided to try to catch the sunset at Bondi Beach and do one of the famous walks before I had to go to the airport for my flight. However, I could have planned this a little better because there is so much to do and admire around Bondi Beach. I felt a little rushed as I was exploring and I regret not staying here longer - 3 days is NOT enough to really enjoy Sydney, even though I saw most of the major sights.
Bondi Beach is incredibly pretty - even in the evening, there were still lots of surfers and families on the beach. I opted to do the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk, which was one of the most amazing walks I've ever taken along a beach. The view is amazing, and you could really take in how the locals live as they pass you jogging, or by walking their dogs (I saw a lot of dogs). If I had more time, I would have walked all the way to Coogee.
After the walk, I had to hightail it back to my hostel to pick up my bags and then to the airport. Sydney Airport has one of the most effective immigration process I've ever seen by making it most of it automated - technology these days! I was able to get in some relaxation time before my flight to Tokyo. Until next time, Sydney!