As I said, our second day was much more productive after a decent night sleep. We woke up quite early and grabbed a coffee by a nearby cafe (Australians love their coffee) and set off to do a circuit of museums before embarking on one of the highlights of Sydney – the BridgeClimb. Here’s a breakdown of the activities of this day. Forewarning, I’m not kidding when I said we did a lot this day, so this blog post will be a tad longer than usual.
What we saw
Hyde Park, Sydney
Admission is free
This ANZAC Memorial (ANZAC stands for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”) was actually supposed to be a quick time killer while we waited for the Barracks Museum (discussed next) to open. To our surprise, this memorial/museum ended up being one of the most interesting stops in Sydney. It’s at the south end of Hyde Park, you really can’t miss it, and it’s well worth a visit. The memorial itself is simple with only a Hall of Memory, Hall of Silence, and Well of Contemplation and the words on the ground simply say “Let silent contemplation be your offering”. On the exterior, in a place generally where you’d find gargoyles at an old church, there are sculptures of different types of ANZAC soldiers such as doctors, engineers, infantry, sailors, etc. On the bottom floor of the memorial is actually a free museum. The museum provides a really interesting view of the life of an ANZAC soldier throughout history (the WWII stories were of particular interest), along with personal stories, letters and other personal effects.
Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Queens Square, Macquarie Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
After the ANZAC Memorial we made our way through Hyde Park, which is a lovely walk on a nice day, to the Barracks Museum. The price to get in is $10, but if you’re planning on doing two or more of these select museums — Barracks Museum, Museum of Sydney, Justice and Police Museum, or Susannah Place Museum — I’d recommend getting the Sydney Living Museums pass which is $18. The Barracks Museum gives a really nice history of how Australia started off as essentially a convict’s island and how the community built up from there. The building itself gives a look at living conditions back in those days and is surprising interactive, allowing visitors to try on different types of clothing, or take a nap in a colonial bed or convict hammock. The free audio guide is a nice plus as well. Pretty neat experience.
Museum of Sydney
Cnr Phillip and Bridge Streets
Sydney, NSW 2000
Tell you something; I didn’t love this museum and probably wouldn’t recommend it. Yes, it gave us a look at some more history of Sydney, but it only really touched upon things here and there (no pun intended). The historical bits weren’t anymore in-depth than the travel guides we had. There were two bigger exhibits, one of which was a giant room where kids could play with Legos (admittedly pretty cool, but that did cost extra) and an exhibit on a couple of Australian architects who I never heard of with displays of their work, which if you’re into architecture maybe that’d be cool for you. There was however a cool theater in the museum which we sat in showing old 1940s documentaries on several things in Sydney, such as the building of the Harbour Bridge and such. But if you’re only in Sydney for a few days, I’d spend the time you’d spend here on something else.
The Rocks Discovery Museum
Kendall Lane, The Rocks (enter via Argyle Street)
Sydney, NSW 2000
Admission is free
This is another free museum we went through on the way to the BridgeClimb. The museum is quite small, but it’s free so it’s a nice little place to stop in and see a little history about The Rocks area of Sydney and a learn a little more about the indigenous culture. One thing that really stood out about their displays was that the artifacts were in glass cases that also acted as touch screens. It was pretty neat, looked like something out of Star Trek. Outside the museum, you can find a lot of little shops and cafes that line the cobblestone streets.
This was the highlight of the day, and one of the signature activities to do in Sydney. The BridgeClimb takes you to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for some great views of the city and for bragging rights to say you hiked up to the top of the most iconic structure in Australia (there are a number of celebrities that they have photos of at the top who’ve climbed it). Now before you get any ideas, the walk up is not dangerous even though it seems like it might. You’re harnessed in, so you would literally have to unhook your harness, hop over a rail at your elbow, and sidestep like 3 yards to fall off. So don’t be too afraid to go if you’re someone who is a little afraid of heights. The guides are all excellent, have a great sense of humor, and provide some really interesting facts about the bridge, city, and Australia in general on the walk up (you’re wearing headphones that are connected to the guide’s headset). They offer walks at all points in the day, but it does get more expensive if you want to go at sunset and the price will vary depending on which arch you want to take to the top. They also go up even if it’s raining, they do make you take a breathalyzer, and you can’t bring your own camera, so keep that in mind. The day we went up it was cloudy and windy unfortunately. That being said, there was something to the unpleasant climate that kind of added to the “coolness” factor of going to the top of the bridge — it felt more like an adventure. I would definitely recommend checking it out (give yourself at least 3 hours in your day for it).
So, there’s not a whole lot to say because we didn’t go in. It’s a really neat building though, and you do kind of have to see it if you’re in Australia. Unless you pay for a tour inside, or go in for a show, there’s not a lot to do outside the Opera House other than take some pictures and read about it in your guidebook. Actually a lot of what we learned about the Opera House we got from the BridgeClimb guy.
Where we ate
East Circular Quay
Suite 18, 7 Macquarie Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
We actually came here randomly because we were looking for a place to eat lunch that was near the Sydney Harbour Bridge before the climb. It ended up being a great place. It’s got good views of the harbour with a good amount of outdoor seating (like most of the restaurants along Circular Quay going up to the Sydney Opera House). They have a good beer selection of their own brews (I had their Little Creatures Pale Ale), and the food is pretty decent. The fish and chips I had were really tasty and unlike in the US and London, the dish is surprisingly not greasy. There was also live music playing for entertainment.
Sydney’s Chinatown is certainly a hopping place, and the night we went it was super busy. It really felt like a going out place for people in Sydney. There was no shortage of places to get noodles, dumplings, etc. The place we chose was called Super Bowl Chinese and we chose it because there was a line 15 minutes long, so we figured it had to be good. And yes, it was good, and cheap in Australian standards (remember everything there is more expensive to begin with). But it’s not anything better than a good Chinese restaurant in the US, so I would go scouting it out, but if you end up there it’s not bad. Let me know if you find a really good place in Chinatown if you ever go and I’ll post it. Also, we stopped by the Australian-Chinese Ex-Services Monument because it had a bit of personal significance for my family. If you have a couple minutes, it’s on the edge of Chinatown on the way to Darling Harbour and something to check out real quick.
“Australia from Beth”
Sydney Wildlife Day Tours – If you’re looking to explore more in NSW, this is an excellent tour option. The Whale Watching Spectacular tour with John far exceeded my expectations. The day was packed with stops to interesting and unique Australian sites including Royal National Park, Jervis Bay, Fitzroy Falls, Kangaroo Valley, among others. John is extremely knowledgeable and offered plenty of facts along the way. He explained the meaning and significance of each place, which really added a lot of value to the tour. The van was extremely clean and comfortable and there were plenty of snacks and drinks throughout the day. John was very attentive and considerate; he was more than happy to answer questions or offer to take our photo in front of the beautiful places we were visiting. During our whale watching cruise, we saw a large pod of dolphins and two humpback whales, which was an amazing thing to see! Visiting Hyams Beach was definitely one of the highlights of the day, as it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone visiting Sydney looking to see more of New South Whales. The South Coast is often overlooked by tourists coming to visit Australia, but it is truly a beautiful and unique place. John manages to show many of the highlights in this region while educating and keeping a comfortable pace throughout the day