I recently wrote about the top ten things to do in Sydney for those looking for the ‘wow factor’. From the Harbour Bridge to Bondi Beach, I showed you the most iconic sights to see when first arriving in the harbour city. But what if you’ve climbed the Bridge, caught the ferry to Manly and walked around the Opera House? There is another side to Sydney away from the well-worn tourist track. There is a side to Sydney where you’ll do what the locals do and experience the city at a fraction of the price.
1. Drink at a small bar
When Sydney’s licencing laws changed, its inhabitants breathed a sigh of relief and looked on in delight as the glitzy, over-the-top mega-bars were joined by a host of small bars appearing in laneways and cropping up on street corners like a welcome force of liberating soldiers. Consider the Absinthe Salon in Surry Hills or the Shirt Bar in Sussex Lane if you prefer your hard liquor in close proximity to fellow drinkers.
2. Walk from bridge to beach
A series of short tracks make up the 10km walk from the Spit Bridge to the beachside suburb of Manly. The diversity of the trails and the spectacular views make this hike both challenging and rewarding, with plenty of opportunities to experience Sydney’s bays and bushland. While some of the tracks run close to the beach and can be prone to flooding at high tide, the braver walkers will enjoy the chance to strip off for a quick swim.
3. Stand up on a paddle board
Experience the world’s fastest growing water sport by hiring a Stand Up Paddleboard and tour around the harbour’s tranquil inlets. Almost anyone can paddleboard with basic instruction and a half-decent sense of balance. See the harbour from a different angle and explore waterways from your board, fish, surf and even try a yoga class onboard!
4. Find your secluded spot on the sand
You’ve heard of Bondi and Manly beaches but did you know about the less well-known spots that the locals treasure and save for themselves? Shark Beach at Vaucluse is a trusted spot thanks to the plentiful shade and shark nets protecting the swimmers. On the opposite side of the water, stroll along the promenade south of Manly in the direction of Shelly Beach, which offers fantastic snorkelling and is a perfect spot for picnics and for watching the world go by.
5. Try a coffee aficionado’s slice of heaven
You might not expect a city based in one of the planet’s most southerly and isolated locations to be recognised for its delicious coffee but Sydney is. The black liquid gold is served with skill, precision and in copious quantities on almost every street in the city, with mainstream fare such as Starbucks on the decline as a result. Try Campos in Newtown or Single Origin in Surry Hills for a heavily caffeinated hit of the heavenly stuff.
6. Adventures on your own harbour island
Sydney is renowned for its harbour but not many people head to the islands out in the middle. With picnic shelters, beaches, camping options and some of the best views in the world, many of the harbour islands are open to the public – Fort Denison, Shark Island and Cockatoo Island are among the best.
7. Climb to a lighthouse then scoff fish n’ chips
Located at the far end of the Palm Beach peninsula on the Northern Beaches sits a lighthouse atop the rugged sandstone cliffs. Spend an hour or two hiking up the relatively easy trail to the top of the headland and witness some of the most breathtaking ocean views in the Sydney region. After the morning’s minor exertions, reward yourself with the locals’ favourite – fish n’ chips from Dunes Kiosk – and sit on the pier without a care in the world.
8. Find penguins at a quarantine station
The North Head of Sydney Harbour, not far from Manly, is home to a breeding colony of Little Penguins, which can be seen from Collins Beach and around the old quarantine station (now known as Q Station). This restored heritage building and plot is well worth a visit for its colourful history, unique stories and multi-million dollar views down the harbour to the Bridge and the city.
9. Avoid the mainstream markets
Forget the tacky Paddy’s Markets or touristy stalls at The Rocks and instead try the ever-popular Glebe Markets on Saturdays where you’ll find a great range of fashion and food for the more eclectic of tastes. Alternatively, hit Paddington Markets where designers and artists readily showcase their creative wares.
10. Bushwalk in a royal park
While the lure of the Botanical Gardens in the city may be strong, consider driving an hour south of Sydney to the Royal National Park where you can walk through the bush or along the coast, and camp, picnic, swim or cycle.
Russell is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he writes about his search for a life less ordinary at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com, one of Australia’s leading expat and travel blogs.
He also writes for businesses and brands at www.theinternationalwriter.com and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram as @russellvjward.