7 Ways to Experience Sydney Like a Local on Your First Visit

So you bit the bullet and booked the flight. What to do when you land? The guidebooks may take you to the usual suspects, but here's an insider's guide to the city that only a local could tell you.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

While summer is winding down for those of us in the US, Australia is just heating up. Since the Southern Hemisphere enjoys summer while the North is battling snow and ice, it's a perfect time to take a vacation to thaw out for a couple of weeks. Add in a tremendously favorable exchange rate for the US Dollar, and there's no better time to pursue your dream of visiting the Land Down Under.

With five airlines now flying direct from Los Angeles to Sydney, competition has never been so fierce, which means great deals. (Pro Tip: Foreign airlines like Virgin Australia and Qantas tend to provide better value for dollar with free booze and nice extras like sleeping kits, something United and other US-based airlines don't provide.)

So you bit the bullet and booked the flight. What to do when you land? The guidebooks may take you to the usual suspects, but here's an insider's guide to the city that only a local could tell you.

  1. 1. Have a Sunday Session on Cockatoo Island
A quick ferry from Circular Quay will take you under the Harbour Bridge to Cockatoo Island. This small island has a history as a prison and boat-building hub, but now it's a great day or overnight trip from the city. The
is a favorite for locals who want to have a 'Sunday Session' (Aussie-speak for Sunday Funday), but come December it's open six days per week. If a day isn't enough, there are plenty of accommodation options on the island. A favorite (which will require advance booking) is the
, where comfortable and surprisingly spacious tents and spotless bathroom facilities make you feel like you're in a five-star oceanfront resort.
  1. 2. Stroll the Sculptures by the Sea
For three weeks from late October to mid-November, the stunningly beautiful Bondi to Bronte coastal walk turns into an art gallery for Australian sculpture artists. The best way to experience this hugely popular exhibition? Go on a weekday instead of on the weekend, and start in Bronte and work your way north to Bondi. You're much less likely to get trapped behind a crowd, which tends to start north and work their way south.
  1. 3. Wake Early for a Great Aussie Brunch
Sydney has picked up on the brunch craze that has been a fixture in US cities for years. There are institutions like
, which now has three locations in the Eastern Suburbs of the city, or smaller but dynamite options like
in Bronte,
in Waverly, and
in Surry Hills. Get ready for the best poached eggs you've ever had, a heavy focus on avocado, and the signature espresso drink of the country, the flat white. You may never be able to stomach a Starbucks again.


  1. 4. Treat Yourself to Five-Star Dinners
Blame culinary politics or the long flight times for the lack of international recognition, but the Sydney food scene is not to be downplayed. While Michelin Stars may not find their way south very often, chefs Down Under could go toe-to-toe with some of the most lauded culinary masters Up Over. If you happen to make your way over in October, you have the good fortune of being able to sample many of the city's best at a reduced price as part of
. Many of the top restaurants offer fixed-price three-course menus for lunch, dinner, or both. Not to be missed no matter when you visit:
, and
  1. 5. Climb the Harbour Bridge for a Fraction of the Price
There is the super-pricy
, but you can experience the same views without the bad case of vertigo at a fraction of the price. The
is reachable by walking onto the bridge along the pedestrian path, and admission is only AUD $13! You will climb several stories safely ensconced in the pylon that supports the bridge, and the views from the top are just as spectacular. This is definitely a hidden gem and a major cost-saver.
  1. 6. Scout a Secret Beach
Sydney is famous for the beautiful beaches within close proximity to the Central Business District, or downtown. In the summer months, many of the more well-known beaches can be so busy it's next to impossible to find a patch of sand for your beach towel. If you want more space, check out Redleaf Beach or Milk Beach, tucked into the Eastern Suburbs. These are harbor beaches, meaning the sand fringes wave-less Sydney Harbour and not the surfable Pacific. If you must hang ten, check out Shelley Beach, Manly Beach's little cousin, or head north to Palm Beach, where the red-tinged sand stretches for over a mile.
  1. 7. Sneak Away for World Class Wine Tasting
Just over two hours' drive north of the city is the Hunter Valley, a fantastic wine producing region with vintages that tend not to make their way into the US. There are day trips from the city, but an overnight or weekend is the best way to experience the area. For accommodation, weekend warriors from the city prefer luxe
or the modern and chic
holiday rentals. Vineyards and tasting rooms to explore include
, and the champagne brunch at
. For dinner,
will not disappoint, and you can finish off with a tasting plate of various desserts at
, but only if you're sure to try a botrytised semillon, a dessert wine made from the grape that put this region on the map.

Sure, you could spend your days eating uninspired food in Darling Harbour and getting lost in the crowds of Bondi Beach, but there is so much more to Sydney than the tourist traps that you wouldn't be doing yourself or the city justice. So nab that plane ticket, bookmark this guide, and, as the Aussies would say, "Get amongst it!"

For more information on things to see and do in Sydney, see this post on my blog!

Go To Homepage