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Sydney's geographical setting is perfect for a tourist destination. The city is built on one of the most beautiful harbours in the world; throughout its suburbs and outlying areas are pockets of virgin bushland which not only means Sydney doesn't have the 'concrete jungle' feel of most big cities, you don't have to drive great distances to see its natural attractions because they are right there outside your hotel/motel window; it has top class beaches right on its doorstep; it is home to important national historic sites (both European and Aboriginal); it has no extremes in climate, and it is strategically located midway between Australia's second and third biggest cities (Melbourne and Brisbane - Sydney is the largest) and is just a few hours drive from the national capital.
Winter is mildly cool, with temperatures rarely dropping below 5 degrees C in coastal areas. The coldest month is July, with an average range of 8-16.2 degrees C.
Rainfall is spread throughout the year. The average annual rainfall, with moderate to low variability, is 1,217 mm, falling on an average 138 days a year. The city is not affected by cyclones but is prone to flash flooding, and bushfires on its outskirts during the hotter summer months. In terms of the weather, there are no specific times when visiting the city should be avoided. Summer days can get hot and humid, just as some Winter days can be chilled by cool winds. The weather in Spring (September to November) can be changeable; the Autumn months (March to May) would be my choice for best time to visit. Temperatures are cooler than summer, they are the quietest months in terms of overseas visitors and there are still plenty of things happening (eg. Easter Show).
Sydney is a significant global and domestic tourist destination and is regularly declared to be one of the most beautiful and livable cities in the world, admired for its harbour, beautiful coastline, warm and pleasant climate and cosmopolitan culture. Sydney significantly raised its global profile in recent years as the host city of the 2000 Summer Olympics. The city's name is pronounced "SID-nee". A resident of Sydney is popularly known as a "Sydneysider".
With a metropolitan population of 4.7 million and a total population of approximately 170,000 people in the inner city, Sydney is the larger of the two main financial, transport, trade and cultural centres of Australia (the other being Melbourne, Sydney's long term rival to the title of pre-eminent Australian city).
Sydney is located on the east coast of Australia in a coastal basin between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Blue Mountains to the west. Sydney features the largest natural harbour in the world, Port Jackson, and also enjoys more than 70 beaches, including the famous Bondi Beach. Sydney's urban area (1,687 sq km) is similar in size to Greater London, but has half its population. Much of Sydney's metropolitan area is national park and other wilderness, which contributes greatly to its livability.
The Hornsby Plateau, known as the North Shore, was slower to develop because of its rough topography, and was mostly a quiet backwater until the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built, linking it to the city south of the harbour in the 1930s. Thereafter the North Shore has become widely upper-middle class suburban in character, although it has developed its own high-rise business districts at Chatswood and North Sydney.
Central Business District
The Sydney central business district (CBD) extends southwards for about 2 km from the point of first European settlement, Sydney Cove. The CBD is an area of very densely concentrated skyscrapers and other buildings, interspersed by several parks such as Wynyard Park and Hyde Park. The CBD is bounded on the east side by a chain of parkland that extends from Hyde Park through The Domain and Royal Botanic Gardens to Farm Cove on Sydney Harbour. The west side is bounded by Darling Harbour, a popular tourist precinct. Central Station marks the southern end of the CBD. George St is the Sydney CBD's main north-south thoroughfare. The streets run on a slightly warped grid pattern in the southern CBD, but in the older northern CBD the streets are less logical, reflecting their random placement in the early days of the city.
Although the CBD dominated the city's business and cultural life in the early days, significant other business/cultural districts have developed since World War II, in a radial pattern. As a result of business development in other districts, the proportion of white-collar jobs located in the CBD declined from more than 60% at the end of World War II to less than 30% in 2004. The five most significant other business districts are Parramatta in the central-west, Blacktown in the west, Liverpool to the southwest, Chatswood to the north and Hurstville to the south.
Greater Sydney Suburban Area
Metropolitan Sydney cover about 2000 square kilometers, has 4.5 million inhabitants and about 600 suburbs. There are about 38 local government areas in the Sydney region, each containing several suburbs. The City of Sydney covers a fairly small area comprising downtown Sydney and neighbouring inner-city neighbourhoods.
The extensive area covered by metropolitan Sydney is formally divided into more than 600 suburbs (for addressing and postal purposes), and formally administered by about 38 separate local government areas (in addition to the extensive responsibilities of the New South Wales State government and its agencies). In addition, there are a number of regional descriptions which are used informally to conveniently describe large sections of the metropolitan area.
Sydney also has an interesting underground railway system, one of only two in the country (Melbourne has the other). The Sydney Cricket Ground, which retains several beautiful 1920s-era grandstands, hosts several international cricket matches each year and the Sydney Swans football team. Sydney Olympic Park, after holding a large proportion of the major events in the 2000 Olympic Games, now regularly hosts sporting and cultural events, especially at ANZ Stadium.
Sydney is home to the Australian Stock Exchange and the Reserve Bank of Australia. It also has 6 universities: the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University, the University of Technology, Sydney, the University of Western Sydney, and two of the campuses of the Australian Catholic University.
Sydney boasts a full roster of musical, theatrical and artistic activity throughout the year, from the formal - including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company and the Archibald Prize - to festivals, including the Sydney Festival, a celebration of free performances throughout January. Many internationally known Australian rock bands have had their conception in Sydney, from Midnight Oil to AC/DC. Sydney is also known for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Sydney also has been home to many visual artists, from the lush pastoralism of Lloyd Rees' depictions of Sydney Harbour to Jeffrey Smart's portraits of bleak urban alienation.
Sydney has four large and many smaller museums. The biggest are the Australian Museum (natural history and anthropology), Powerhouse Museum (science, technology and design), Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Sydney is home to several large ethnic communities throughout the greater metropolitan area.
Sydney is served by extensive train, bus and ferry networks. Sydney trains are run by CityRail, a corporation of the NSW State Government. Trains run as suburban commuter rail services in the outer suburbs, then converge in a frequent service in tunnels under the central business district. Sydney has one light rail line, the Metro Light Rail, running from Central Station to Darling Harbour then to Lilyfield.
Buses serve the whole metropolitan area. In the city and inner suburbs the state-owned Sydney Buses has a monopoly. Services are frequent, even outside peak hours. In the outer suburbs, service is divided up between many private bus companies.
Sydney Ferries, another state government-owned organisation, runs extensive commuter and tourist ferry services on Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River.
To catch trains, buses, ferries and light rail in Sydney and surrounding areas you will need an Opal card or Opal single ticket. The Opal network covers all of Sydney, north to Newcastle, west to the Blue Mountains and south to Wollongong and the Southern Highlands. If you are taking more than one trip on public transport, using an Opal Card is the most convenient and affordable way to pay for your fares. Simply tap on and off as you go.
- More information
- Opal Cards For Visitors
- Exploring Sydney With An Opal Card (downloadable pdf)
Sydney is serviced by an extensive network of freeways and tollways (known as motorways) and roads. The most important trunk routes in the metropolitan area form the Metroad system. Kingsford Smith International Airport, located in the suburb of Mascot, is Sydney's main airport. The smaller Bankstown Airport mainly serves private and general aviation. There are light aviation airfields at Hoxton Park and Camden. RAAF Base Richmond lies to the north-west of the city.
Sydney is linked to the towns and cities of New South Wales, and to those in other states, by a network of well signposted, well maintained sealed highways and major roads which allow for easy travel between localities. Larger cities are linked by highways that, in the main, bypass the smaller towns on the way, making the journey relatively uninterrupted. There are few parts of the state of interest to visitors that can't be reached in motoring comfort, although lesser roads, whilst sealed, do tend to be narrow.
Exploring Sydney By Car
European interest arose with the sighting of Botany Bay in 1770 by Lieutenant James Cook. Under instruction from the British government, a convict settlement was founded by Arthur Phillip in 1788. Most convicts came from Ireland and England. A great number were in fact not real criminals but were simply sent to the new colony as a harsh punishment by the ruling aristocracy. Phillip first landed at Botany Bay, but found it unsatisfactorily shallow for a permanent settlement. After a brief sail north, Phillip founded the colony at Sydney Cove on Port Jackson (the correct name for Sydney Harbour).
Phillip originally named the colony "New Albion" (New England), but for some uncertain reason the colony acquired the name "Sydney", after the (then) British Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney (Viscount Sydney from 1789). This is possibly due to the fact that Lord Sydney issued the charter authorising Phillip to establish a colony. Prisoners were quickly set to work to build the settlement and by 1822 the town had banks, markets, well-established thoroughfares and an organised constabulary.
The first of several gold rushes in New South Wales was in 1851, since which time the port of Sydney has seen many waves of people from around the world. With industrialisation Sydney expanded rapidly, and by the early 20th century it had a population well in excess of one million. Throughout the 20th century Sydney continued to expand with various new waves of European and Asian immigration, resulting in its highly cosmopolitan atmosphere of the present day.
Sydney For Everyone makes it easy to plan where to go and what to do. However, if you have limited time or prefer to follow set itineraries, we have created a number of half day and full day suggestions.
Half Day Full Day
Though Australia is a big country and it takes time to travel from one destination to another, with a little careful planning and some local knowledge, it is easy to fit other destinations into your visit with minimal demands on your budget and time. Our Beyond Sydney section examines some of the more popular destinations, and features plenty of useful tips, like travelling at night to keep all daylight hours free for sightseeing; the destinations it is possible to travel to that will end up costing you less to visit than staying in Sydney; and the some unique journeys that are as rewarding and enjoyable as the destinations they will take you to.
Beyond Sydney Rail Passes
Sydney's public transport system is a combination of rail, bus and ferry services operated by the state government. It offers access to all the popular tourist spots and more, and visitors can get around quickly, easily and cheaply and safely, partcularly between the hours of 9am and 5pm, when lower fares apply.