Sydney is the capital that every other Australian city loves to hate, but what that really means is that they all want to be just like it: sun-kissed, sophisticated and supremely self-confident. Built around one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world, Sydney has three of Australia’s major icons – the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Bondi Beach. And its attractions definitely don’t stop there. This is the country’s oldest, largest and most diverse city; home to magnificent museums, crashing ocean surf beaches, world-class restaurants, nonstop nightlife and an edgy multiculturalism that injects color and vitality into its inner neighborhoods and outer suburbs.
About an hour west of Sydney, the spectacular Blue Mountains take their name from the slate-colored haze that comes from a fine mist of oil exuded by the huge eucalyptus gums forming a dense canopy across the landscape. Bushwalking here is superb, while day trippers hit the main town of Katoomba for cool air and valley views.
A few of John's memories…
As we hiked down near-vertical cliffs in the Blue Mountains, we descended past a rushing waterfall into a tiny pocket of temperate rainforest, an unexpected surprise at this latitude. A pair of rare black cockatoos flew past at eye level, and as I traced their route, I spotted other giant birds, of the sort you only see in pet stores in America, perched wild in the treetops. The ride back out of the canyon, via the world's steepest railway, guaranteed our return to Sydney in time for cocktail hour.
While you're there
Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb
Sydneysiders adore their ‘giant coathanger', spanning the harbor at one of its narrowest points and linking the city center with North Sydney. You can drive or walk across it, sail under it or fly over it, but the best experience is to clamber right over the giant arched structure in a jumpsuit and umbilical cord on the adrenaline-charged BridgeClimb.
Bondi is easily Sydney's most famous and popular beach. The golden sands attract a daily cast of sunburned backpackers, bronzed locals, Botoxed mini-celebs and body-worshipping Sydneysiders – everyone fits into the Bondi scene as long as you're wearing swimmers, sun block and a smile. Take time out for the sensational Bondi to Coogee cliff-top walk.
The site of Sydney's first European settlement, this historically rich enclave has evolved unrecognizably from the days when sailors, whalers and larrikins boozed and brawled shamelessly in countless harbor-side pubs, brothels and opium dens. Redevelopment has turned parts into a tourist trap where kitsch cafes and shops hocking stuffed koalas reign supreme, but it's still a fine place to explore on foot.
The best way to appreciate Sydney's magnificent harbor is to get out on it. You could splash out on a yacht, or just pay $6 for the commuter ferry from Circular Quay to Manly – one of Sydney's most-loved journeys. Once you're over at Manly, you can hit the ocean surf beach (more relaxed and ‘local' than Bondi), take a walk to Spit Bridge, or relax in a wharf-side restaurant.
Blue Mountains National Park
In the hazy, gum-tree cloaked Blue Mountains National Park prepare yourself for some truly fantastic scenery and superb bushwalking through forest, canyons and sandstone cliffs. This is the most popular and accessible of the three national parks in the area: great lookouts include the Evan's and Govett's Leap lookouts near Blackheath, and Echo Point in Katoomba.