Well, it’s official. I traveled to all seven continents! It feels like my greatest accomplishment to date and I can’t wait to figure out what my next adventure will be. But for now, I am still enjoying Australia, my seventh and final continent to explore.
I have to admit, before I left for this trip I wasn’t feeling anxious or nervous so much as I was feeling annoyed at the prospect of having my routine interrupted for two months. This was a new reaction. Usually I’m really nervous and excited before a trip. I can’t say that I missed the panic attacks and nausea, but without the typical excitement, I was a little worried that my traveling days were behind me.
You might think that traveling to Australia is out of your price range. Well, it’s far from the easiest place to visit on a budget, but it can be done. It is a big tourist destination, so overwhelm is not as easy to avoid.
I stayed in Carlton at an Airbnb that cost me about $20 USD per night with a kitchen where I could prepare my own meals. It was a two minute walk from the train, which ran to Sydney every half an hour. The trains are really cheap and easy to ride with an Opal Card, which you can top up from your phone. Then you just tap on when you start your trip and tap off at the end. It was only 20 minutes to Sydney from Carlton.
There is a lot to see in Sydney and I recommend spending two days there. I did everything in one day since I only had two days total and I reserved one of them for the Blue Mountains, which is a must see if you are in Sydney. It’s an easy day trip by train.
So, here is my Sydney itinerary, plus a few other ideas if you have more time.
If you have more time, you have two additional options.
The Pylon Lookout. It’s $15 to go up and you have to climb 200 steps. I decided not to do this because of time and because I heard it wasn’t really worth doing (and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t want to climb 200 steps).
Alternately, you can take the ferry to Milsons Point and walk the opposite direction across the bridge. The ferries run all day from harbour to harbour, so either way works.
Sydney Opera House tours start at $40 and if I had more time I probably would have done it. But it was enough to walk around and appreciate it from different angles outside. It really is a spectacular building! I’ve never seen anything remotely like it before. I loved the way the sun bounced off the water at different angles of the building’s architecture to make it shimmer and sparkle.
Walk along the harbour to see the opera house and bridge from different perspectives. It’s a really pleasant walk, and don’t worry about missing the Royal Botanic Gardens because you can walk through them on the way back to Circular Quay.
Be sure you have your water bottle, sunscreen, and snacks with you. There are benches to sit and rest along the way, but good luck getting a shady spot! I was circling shady seats like a vulture, waiting for someone to get up and walk away so I could sit before anyone else took the spot.
If you are hungry for lunch at this point, there are restaurants in and around the botanic gardens. I ate at the Pavillion Restaurant and the food was good and filling. I had a brisket burger with salad instead of fries and a mocha. It was loud and crowded, but I was there on a weekend and I think anywhere you eat near the harbour or other touristy areas will be pretty crowded. The Pavillion has indoor and outdoor seating. I sat outside to enjoy the weather and avoid the restaurant noise, but it’s a trade off. The area is packed with ibis. I saw one land on a table and steal food right off a woman’s plate!
After lunch I strolled through the Royal Botanic Garden on my way back to Circular Quay where I took the ferry to Darling Harbour. The ferry drops you off at the Australian National Maritime Museum, which looks really interesting, but I skipped it and headed across the Pyrmont Bridge to the harbour.
There is a lot of wind on the harbour, which makes walking across the bridge a bit challenging at times. I saw people losing their hats, and I learned the hard way to hold on to my shirt. I’m not sure how many people I flashed but it was definitely more than I had planned on. I even saw a little girl get the hair tie blown out of her hair! Really, hold on to your stuff on Pyrmont Bridge.
You could probably spend a whole day just at Darling Harbour, but the crowds can be overwhelming. There are a lot of kids because of the zoo and aquarium. I shelled out the cash for both of these activities but skipped Madame Tussauds wax museum.
Another less cuddly guy I was excited to see was the cassowary. I’m typically not a big fan of birds, but these are really beautiful. Oh yeah, and they can gut you instantly with one claw, if not for the glass separating you. It’s more exciting to be face to face with one after you know that! Otherwise, it’s just like any other giant bird.
The zoo has two tasmanian devils, but they were hiding when I was there. There were a bunch of adorable fuzzy things that I never heard of before, like sugar gliders, bilby, and a quokka. There were also snakes, bats, and lots of colorful birds. Something for every animal lover!
I don’t usually go to aquariums, but I heard great things about this one and it lived up to the hype. I enjoyed it even more than the zoo!
There are tunnels you can walk through so it feels like you are underwater with the fish, sharks, and rays. The dugong was really cool and so were the sharks. You can pay to dive with the sharks, and if I hadn’t already experienced this in Cape Town, I probably would have done it. It’s kind of expensive, but it looks like fun. If you never got up close and personal with sharks before, it’s a great opportunity.
These guys are my favorite! After experiencing eagle rays swimming over my head, I was giggling like a little girl and I practically skipped my way through the rest of the aquarium.
This was a really long and exhausting day, but I had a great time. Including transportation, lunch, and one night of lodging, this day cost me about $90 and I could have done it for $50 if I chose different activities and restaurants.
Maybe budget is not an issue for you, but overwhelm is a problem for all of us. It’s almost impossible to avoid in Sydney, but here is my best advice. The Royal Botanic Garden is your best bet for some down time. There are other tourists, but they are not coming at you from every angle. You will have a lot more space and you can sit on a bench and read or meditate. I also recommend splitting Sydney Harbour and Darling Harbour into two days and adding a third day if you want to explore another part of the city. Give yourself the time you need to enjoy your trip.
I only had two days in Sydney, but I recommend spending 3-5 days in the region, depending on what you want to do. You can easily spend 2-3 days in Sydney and 1-2 in the Blue Mountains.
At the end of my day, my feet were so sore and swollen – and I still had a full day at the Blue Mountains the next day! I’ll talk about the Blue Mountains in a separate blog post. But I will say that it is definitely worth a day trip!