Sydney is Australia’s largest city. Its urban area spans 651 square miles, including the 10 square mile city center. It is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, with over 250 languages spoken. One third of its nearly 5,000,000 inhabitants were born overseas.
Sydney has one of the largest and best protected harbors in the world. Within its 21 square mile area, it features hundreds of miles of coastline serviced by an extensive fleet of passenger ferries which are an integral part of the city’s excellent public transportation system. With but one opening to the ocean and its numerous ferry routes, it is like a combination of San Francisco Bay and Seattle’s Puget Sound.
Sydney is one of the business and financial hubs of the Asia Pacific region, with a larger gross regional economy than Singapore or Hong Kong. Located at 31 degrees south latitude it has a sub-tropical climate with great beach weather in the summer and mild winters. It has about 140 rainy days a year with annual precipitation of 50 inches.
Life in Sydney centers around its Central Business District or CBD. After World War II, Sydney enjoyed a booming economy that led to the construction of many modern office towers. But the crusty head of the local building trades union refused to let his workers tear down any more of the city’s historic old buildings from the colonial era and so today the city center offers a charming cross section of new and old architecture.
Circular Quay (pronounced Circular Key) on the north side of the CBD is where all the city’s bus, train and ferry lines come together. It also where the beautiful Sydney Opera House is located. Just across Macquarie Street to the east lies the Royal Botanical Garden, which is almost as large as Central Park in New York City and next to that the beautiful grounds of Hyde Park.
Australia was once a British colony and so tributes to the monarchy are plentiful. One of the most important is the magnificent Queen Victoria Building just a few blocks south of the CBD. This enormous 4 story edifice takes up an entire city block with hundreds of shops and dozens of restaurants. It was built as a tribute to Queen Victoria to mark her first royal visit to the Sydney.
Getting Around: Sydney has an excellent public transportation system. The visitor can purchase a comprehensive travel pass that provides access to every bus, ferry and train for about $60 a week. The train service extends to cities up to 2 hours away, including Newcastle to the north, Cronulla to the south and the Blue Mountains region to the west. The trains are quiet, clean and punctual.
Things to do: A visitor can get to several excellent beaches by bus or ferry. The suburb of Newtown south of the CBD has a myriad of restaurants serving cuisine from all around the world. The Opera House is not to be missed. Across Sydney Harbor is Taronga Zoo and the quiet suburbs of Kiribilli, Neutral Bay and Mosman, all reached by ferry from Circular Quay.
Getting there: Most major airlines offer daily non-stop service from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Bring plenty of books. The flight takes between 12 and 13 hours, depending on headwinds. Be prepared to lose a day when you cross the International Date Line on the way.
Currency: Australia uses the Australian dollar as its unit of currency. Check with your local bank for current exchange rates. Your US credit card will work in Australia. Prices in Australia are about 20% higher than you are used to in the US.
Photos by the author.