Every New Year’s Eve, Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge shoots off fireworks at midnight, but there’s more to this vibrant and thrilling cityscape, featuring powdery beaches, stunning views, contemporary cuisine, and blue-hued World Heritage forests nearby. How will you spend a quick getaway Down Under? Travel Expert Gabriel Medina has an exciting three-day itinerary to Sydney, Australia!
Day 1: Panoramic Sydney Tour, Show at the Opera House
Morning: QVB, Bondi Beach, Dover Heights
Begin your tour in the heart of Sydney at the historic QVB (The Queen Victoria Building), originally a Romanesque concert hall with coffee shops and offices. Now the shopping mecca of the city, QVB stretches an entire city block and offers elegant décor with fully restored arches, pillars, and tiling.
Next, head to Bondi Beach, less than five miles from city center and a world-famous beach. Meander along the beachfront promenade and enjoy some delicious gelato or fish and chips. Walk to the northern headland where humpback whales migrate from May through November. If you come during October and November, make sure to see more than 100 innovative structures in the annual Sculpture by the Sea, a free exhibition.
Wrap up the morning with a trip to Dover Heights, which offers some of the best panoramic views of Sydney (hence the name of the tour), plus a chance to see the bronzed Aussie surf lifesavers, iconic Australian symbols.
Afternoon: Double Bay, Kings Cross, and Mrs. Macquarie’s Point
Before you return to Sydney city center, stop by Double Day with its exclusive boutiques, such as Jimmy Choo and Prada, but if you’ve already gotten your fill of shopping, then take a lunch cruise about Sydney Harbour or dine at the Cosmopolitan Café with modern Australian fare and a refreshing atmosphere. Flaunt your morning adventures on your favorite social media platform as the restaurant offers free Wi-Fi.
Swing by Kings Cross, a vibrant and trendy area known for its epic nightlife and world-famous landmarks, like the Coca-Cola sign (which was originally installed in 1974 and is currently undergoing refurbishment; it is set to be relit this year) and the four-terraced El Alamein Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens, a memorial to the Australia Imperial Force 9th Division that fought in the Battle of El Alamein, Egypt, in World War II. The wind produces an awesome effect that changes the fountain’s water shape from convex to concave and creates tiny rainbows in the mist.
Before returning to the city center, stop by Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, also known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, an actual chair carved out of a rock ledge with stunning views of the bridge, mountains, and even the navy dockyards at Wooloomooloo.
Evening: See a Show at the iconic Sydney Opera House
You’ve seen the famous sight every New Year’s, and now you can experience all its splendor during a performance. Explore the Sydney Opera House during timeless classics like Swan Lake, My Fair Lady, and From Paris to Prague — Mozart on the Move; or contemporary favorites like Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II, Walk The Line: Jonnny Cash The Concert, and even Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Day 2: Blue Mountains Deluxe Experience
Morning: Featherdale Wildlife Park, Blue Mountains
You’ll enjoy quintessential Australian experiences today, like holding a koala and hand-feeding kangaroos, wallabies, and emus at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. See more than 1,700 species, including all your favorite Australian animals, and visit one of Australia’s largest souvenir stores.
After the park, continue through picturesque villages and see stunning waterfalls before arriving at the majestic Blue Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Droplets of oil from the eucalyptus trees combine with dust particles and water vapor to create a blue color over the treed canopy. See the Three Sisters, a rock formation representing an Aboriginal legend about three women who were turned to stone; or view the spectacular Jamison Valley and the Wentworth Falls from the reserve. Consider a ride upon the glass-floor Scenic Skyway with 360-degree views, more than 885 feet above the canyon floor; the Scenic Railway with the steepest passenger railway in the world; or the Scenic Cableway, which is also the steepest and largest aerial cable car ride south of the equator.
“The Blue Mountains was definitely my favorite tour,” says Gabriel. “I always thought of Australia as Sun, Surf, and Sand. I was amazed when we pulled up to the viewing point. What an incredible thing to see. Taking the train down into the gorge was so much fun.”
Afternoon: Lunch at Hydro Majestic Hotel, Govetts Leap Lookout
Savor a delectable lunch at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, a historic hotel located along the enchanting Megalong Valley. (Megalong is the Aboriginal word for “valley below the cliffs.”) At lunch, enjoy a special menu as you dine overlooking the breathtaking surroundings, and then continue on to the scenic lookouts, including Govetts Leap, one of the most famous spots of the mountain chain and in all of Australia. Marvel at the magnificent waterfall that plunges more than 600 feet off a cliff.
Finish your tour—and day—with a visit to The Blue Mountain Botanic Garden with almost 70 acres of beautiful “low temperature” plants from cooler regions around the globe. Explore the South Hemisphere Woodland, with its plants from not only Australia and New Zealand but also South America and Africa; a Bog Garden, a hanging swamp environment that creates a wetland ecosystem; and Remnant Rainforest, which is easily enjoyed on the Lady Fairfax Walk. Experience the sweeping views of the garden with a glass of sparkling orange juice.
Day 3: Morning Tea Cruise, Lunch by Seaplane, and BridgeClimb
Morning: Tea Cruise around Sydney Harbour
Enjoy a scrumptious breakfast with biscuits, cakes, and assorted pastries, plus tea and coffee on a Sydney Harbour Discovery Morning Tea Cruise. After embarking from King Street Wharf 8, sail about the harbor, seeing all the spectacular sights of the city before visiting Shark Island, part of Sydney Harbour National Park. Despite its frightening name, the waters are quite safe for swimming off this small but relaxing island, positioned just across from the city for grand views. Wade in the island’s grottos and see a variety of tide pool creatures before returning to the city.
If you’d rather not take part of the swimming tour, then Gabriel suggests a ride on the ferry.
Notes Gabriel, “Public transit is very easy to understand while traveling Sydney. My favorite was the ferry — which allowed me to explore the different harbors and what each had to offer. Also, it’s a great way to see the city from the distance for the price of a ferry ticket!”
Afternoon: Jonah’s by Seaplane Lunch
It’s your last day in Sydney, so why don’t you splurge on a Jonah’s by Seaplane lunch! You’ll get to see Sydney from a birds-eye view as you fly over the stunning northern beaches before touching down in Pittwater. After a short transfer at the dock, you’ll enjoy a three-course Contemporary Australian meal, designed by Executive Chef Logan Campbell and Head Sommelier Luke Collard. Indulge in exquisite seafood or pasta dishes with subtle Italian influences and a perfectly-paired wine from the restaurant’s cellar, which boasts more than 6,000 bottles of vintage Australian and international wines. In the mid-afternoon, fly back to Rose Bay, soaring over the iconic sites.
If you have a few minutes after your plane lands, then take the time to wander about the city. “Sydney is also a great walking city,” explains Gabriel. “The CBD [Central Business District] is built on a hill and essentially a grid. Pay attention to the nearest cross streets to your hotel, and it makes walking around very easy.”
Evening: Twilight Bridge Climb
End your Tour de Sydney with the world-famous BridgeClimb. Walk along the catwalks over Bradfield Highway and ascend four ladders until you reach the upper arch before finally climbing up the outer arch with the iconic Opera House at your side. Take in all the splendor and magic the urban paradise has to offer, especially during a twilight tour with the dramatic sky draped across the cityscape. (Every tour includes a group photo, a BridgeClimb cap, and a certificate of achievement, and a free pass to The Pylon Lookout).
For dinner on your last night in Sydney, there’s only one place to go.
Emphasizes Gabriel, “There are great places all over Sydney, but one of my favorite places is the Fortune of War – built in 1828! You can see the history on the walls and really enjoy it just by taking a seat. Not to mention its fantastic location in The Rocks.”
Located less than 10 minutes from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Fortune of War is Sydney’s oldest pub and a popular meeting spot of Australian Armed Forces’ members. Soldiers heading off and coming home from service would stop at this pub before/after experiencing “the fortune of war” when Sydney Cove was the departure point. Many veterans still stop by on Anzac Day and other important Australian holidays.
Where to Stay in Sydney
Specialist Recommends: PARKROYAL Darling Harbour (myTime)
Just moments from the Sydney Central Business District, this spectacular hotel provides the perfect location for your grand exploration. Tired after a long day? Then relax at the ABODE Bistro Bar with a chic outdoor deck area and seasonal favorites, or in your own suite with 24-hour room service. Before heading out to explore, try the bountiful buffet breakfast at BARKERS.
Splurge: Shangri-La Hotel Sydney
Located in the historic Rocks District, the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney offers harbor views and triple-glazed sounded proofed windows, making each room a sanctuary. Accommodations range from modernly designed rooms to exceptionally appointed suites, all with flatscreen TVs and complimentary Wi-Fi access. Savor elegant dining, including a five-course dinner at Altitude Restaurant, or relax with a signature cocktail at Blue Bar on 36.
Trendsetter: QT Sydney
Modern chic in historic settings, the boutique QT Sydney welcomes guests to the Gowings and State Theatre Buildings, which blends the original Gothic, Art Deco, and Italianate-inspired architecture with modern amenities, like free Wi-Fi, a flatscreen HDTV, a designer bathroom, and walk-in rain showers. Consider the hotel’s European brasserie, Gowings Bar & Grill; the late-night bar Gilt Lounge; or the Parlour Lane Roasters, a café positioned right at the hotel’s entry.