A budget-friendly guide to Australia’s largest city.
Venture just a little beyond the heart of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, and you’ll find that this modern metropolis—with over a hundred beaches!—is primed for an array of outdoor activities. And you won’t have to burn a hole in your pocket to experience it all.
*USD; hotels, airfare and spontaneous brunching not included
Day 1: Start at the city’s beginning
Bordered by the Sydney Harbour Bridge on one side and the Sydney Opera House on the other, busy Circular Quay, the harbor’s hub, is close to where European settlement first began on the Australian continent. But before that, this naturally formed harbor had been a gathering place for Aboriginal clans for thousands of years. Once the key port where sailing ships docked to unload passengers and cargo, Circular Quay now links trains and buses with ferries travelling up and down the harbor.
On your first day, board the Manly ferry at wharf number three at 8.30am. A scenic half-hour ride (US$5.40) will take you to Manly, where you’ll be able to choose from a selection of swimming spots. Manly was named for the “confidence and manly behavior” of its male Aboriginal inhabitants, as noticed by the first colonial governor of New South Wales. Take it easy in the gentle waves at the beach near the ferry wharf, or swim between the flags (for safety’s sake) at Manly’s surf beach, a short walk away along The Corso, a main cross street that is mostly a pedestrian walkway.
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- Getting around. Buy an Opal card (US$7.20 stored value) and top it up as needed to cover travel on Sydney’s trains, buses, ferries and light rail. On Sundays, there’s a capped charge of US$1.95 for the day. Bike-sharing services Mobike and Lime are also low-cost transport options. Download the apps to locate available, pay-per-use two-wheelers. Lime has more bikes available and is a little bit cheaper: US$0.70 to unlock each bike and US$0.17 for every minute of riding. Pro tip: To keep costs down, make a few stops along the way to your destination and change bikes each time you set off again.
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After a leisurely dip, dry off at the changing areas and stroll through the back alleys leading from The Corso to find lunch. Try Fika’s Swedish Kitchen, which serves good espresso coffee (US$2.50) and Scandinavian dishes like the Silly Susan — made up of eggs, herring and sour cream on rye bread (US$9.35). Then, stroll back toward the southern end of the wharf, where you can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (US$17.95 per hour) from Manly Kayak Centre to flex your watercraft skills. Or cruise around on a bicycle from Manly Bike Tours (US$17.25 for two hours). If you’re keen, you can cycle to Manly Dam to tackle the mountain bike track there.
If you’re tired out at this point, catch a ferry (US$5.40) back to Circular Quay and stroll through the nearby Royal Botanic Garden. But if you still have energy to burn, head off on the 10km Manly to Spit Bridge walk (download a map from wildwalks.com). This easy-to-follow walk through native bushland and scenic harborside trails takes around three to four hours to complete. From Spit Bridge, you can catch a bus back to Sydney’s CBD and refuel with Malaysian food at Malay Chinese Takeaway on Hunter Street. Laksa, a coconut-based broth with rice noodles, is their specialty (from US$8.25).
- Day 1 costs: Fares US$10.80; Meals US$20.10; Equipment hire US$17.95; Total: US$48.85
Day 2: Surf’s up
After that taster of the city’s beaches, you might be ready to check out the crowning jewel that is Bondi Beach. Once you arrive by, say, 9am, by bus (US$2.65) — or a combination of train and bus — have a go at surfing by hiring a board for a couple of hours (US$17.95) from Bondi Beach Hire. Stay beyond the safety flags if you’re on a surfboard, so that you don’t collide with swimmers.
When hunger strikes, you can do as the health-conscious people of Bondi do: Eat vegan food. Try the No Wurry Curry Pie — made with chickpeas, lentils and potato in coconut curry (US$4.65) — at Funky Pies. To enjoy the ocean views while you eat, get your pie to go and seek out a grassy hill on the southern end of the beach.
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- Taste the world. Thanks to a large immigrant population, Sydney has turned into a multicultural foodie destination. Visitors can easily find establishments offering cuisines from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Africa. The cheapest — and some say the best — restaurants showcasing these international food traditions are to be found clustered around railway stations in Sydney’s suburban sprawl. Try Cabramatta for Vietnamese and Cambodian food; Auburn, Merrylands, Lakemba and Punchbowl for Middle Eastern food; Campsie, Eastwood and Epping for Korean food; Chatswood for Chinese; Harris Park for Indian food; and Parramatta and Liverpool for a roundup of almost every cuisine on the planet.
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Moving from that same southern end, stretch your legs on one of Sydney’s most popular treks — the 6km-long beachside walk from Bondi to Coogee, which presents opportunities to stop along the way for quick dips in the ocean. Need a break? Divert from the track at Bronte Beach to Three Blue Ducks café for a cup of coffee (US$2.85).
Your destination, Coogee Beach, plus Clovelly Beach and Gordons Bay, which you’ll pass to its north, all offer excellent areas for snorkeling. This is your chance to see the awe-inspiring aquatic life that lies just below the water’s surface. Rent the gear you need at Pro Drive Coogee (US$14.35 a day for a snorkel, mask and flippers; wetsuit for cooler temperatures also at US$14.35).
After snorkeling, head west on the number 370 bus (Coogee to Leichhardt Marketplace; US$2.65). Get off the bus on King Street in the cool neighborhood of Newtown, where you can do some window or souvenir shopping before wading into the busy dining scene that spills into nearby Enmore Road. A number of casual establishments will be vying for attention, but Coopers Hotel, a pub with a rooftop beer garden, is a winner — reward yourself with the five-spice roasted pork belly main (US$20.10) and wash it down with a locally brewed craft beer (from US$5.75).
- Day 2 costs: Fares US$5.30; Meals US$33.35; Equipment hire US$32.30; Total: US$70.95
Day 3: Bike your way to Olympic glory
Catch a train (US$2.55) at around 10am to Tempe railway station, which is situated next to Cooks River cycleway, Sydney’s longest (and mostly off-road) bike track. Use the Mobike or Lime app (available on the Apple App Store and Google Play store) to locate a nearby bike to hire (about US$20 for two hours) and set off to explore. If you like, head east first — zigzag your way past Sydney Airport and the 130-year-old Chinese-style Arncliffe Market Gardens, to the shores of Botany Bay.
The 6km ride takes you to the beachside suburb of Brighton-Le-Sands. And if you haven’t had enough of beaches, you can ride all the way to Cronulla Beach, another major surfing beach. Otherwise, cycle back to your starting point at Tempe and head west along the cycleway. The ride takes you past riverside parks — many of which come with free exercise stations — and through quieter back streets.
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- Close to nature. Sydney faces the Pacific Ocean and is ringed on its other three sides by national parks. The world’s second-oldest national park, the Royal National Park, lies to Sydney’s south; the Blue Mountains National Park is situated to the west; and the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is to the north. The first two of these parks are accessible by rail, while Ku-ring-gai is accessible by car, and they all offer hiking trails and other opportunities for outdoor adventure, both land-based (such as rock-climbing) and water-based (such as kayaking). Within the city itself, the Sydney Harbour National Park and regional parks, like Lane Cove and Wolli Creek, also allow people to enjoy outdoor activities closer to home.
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An altogether 23km-long ride on this route should see you all the way to the Sydney Olympic Park. Make a pit stop at Pho Toan Thang near Flemington railway station, where you can have a satisfying lunch of pho (from US$8.25). After that, you can walk off the meal by continuing on foot (for about 40 minutes) or by bike (for 15 minutes) to the Olympic Park.
Besides being the home of the 2000 Summer Olympics, the sports and entertainment complex has come to be known for its aquatic center. A combination entry fee of US$11.85 lets you swim in the pools (where world records have been set) and gives you access to a steam room, sauna and spa. This combination fee is discounted (US$9) from 8am to 3pm, Mondays
Glowing with health now and figuring out a route back to the city center? You have the choice of catching a train from the nearby Olympic Park station (US$2.55) or finding another bike to take you to the Sydney Olympic Park Wharf. If you go with the latter, then hop on a ferry (US$5.40) for a leisurely trip along the Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour, back to Circular Quay, where your Sydney adventures began.
Dinner options abound here, but for something yummy and close by (with after-hours things to see and do in the vicinity), take a short train ride (US$1.75) to Central railway station. You’ll find yourself in the bustling Haymarket district, which covers the Chinatown area. From the station, walk a few minutes west to find Caysorn Thai on Quay Street, a restaurant that specializes in southern Thai cuisine. Celebrate your achievements with sour fish curry (US$12.15), green mango salad (US$9.70) and a Singha beer (US$4.95).
Cebu Pacific flies to Sydney from Manila. cebupacificair.com
This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Smile magazine.