Expectations when travelling can be more of a curse than a blessing. Especially if you’ve had to travel all the way to the other side of the world.
Sydney by definition starts on the coast and extends about 70km west (just before the Blue Mountains). Yes, it’s huge! Unlike many big European cities (I’m looking at you Paris), most of our “major” sites are located within the central business district making it compact and easy to just stay within the same postcode.
Sadly, it means that when visiting Sydney, you are likely to only seeing a pin prick. Here, I hope to share a little more of Sydney with you in the hopes that you can pencil in one of the suburbs to see as well.
Whether it was what you had been exposed to in your home country, what lies other Australians have told you (there are no drop bears for the record) or what you had heard, here are 10 insights into Sydney (and some apply to Australia as a whole).
- It is more multicultural than you have seen and think
One of our greatest TV show exports (if you can even call it that) is a soap opera called Home and Away. You might have seen it, a beach town suburb filled with lifesavers, a caravan park and so much drama. And also has a cast that is very anglo-saxon.
Statistics from the 2016 Australian Census have revealed that 49% of the Australian population were either born overseas or had one or both parents who was born overseas. That is nearly half the population. With such a long history of migration, walking around Sydney is like you’re at a United Nations conference. Any cuisine you can think of, I’m sure you’ll find a restaurant somewhere in Sydney serving it (see number 9!). Want to know more about a particular culture? There will be a festival celebrating one of the many cultural events somewhere in Sydney.
2. A lot of expats live in Bondi and Manly
These beach cities are not only popular tourist attractions but are also home to many expats and backpackers. As a local, visiting one of these beaches is actually a logistical nightmare if you don’t live in the Eastern suburbs or around Manly. You have to cross some of the busiest roads and parts of Sydney to get here and there is also very little parking. Other beaches that are not Bondi or Manly include Coogee, Balmoral, Freshwater, Maroubra, Palm Beach and Curl Curl. It’s also much nicer to go to the beach or do the Bondi to Coogee walk on weekdays so make sure you plan that in if it’s on your list.
3. Sunscreen is a must any day of the year
Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world which is helped by the hole in the ozone. Therefore, sunscreen is highly recommended (yes, even on cloudy days). Luckily, sunscreen is quite cheap here and sold everywhere in all supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies. There has been and still is a strong public health campaign every summer to remind everyone to slip, slop, slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on a sunscreen and slap on a hat. This message is taught to all Australians at a very young age and if you’ve ever met another Australian travelling, I’m very sure they are the ones putting on their sunscreen.
4. Buses are hard to navigate even for locals
Unless you know where you want to go and where the bus stops are, you have almost no hope. I’ve previously written about how to catch public transport in Sydney which may help but everyone’s advice will be to take the train/taxi/uber. Buses need to be researched before you get onto on and also where you want to get off. Our buses don’t have screens inside, route maps inside or announcements on what stops they will be stopping at so it’s only trial and error here. If you’re staying with the city area, the only bus you probably need to know about is the 333 to Bondi Beach (which can be caught from Circular Quay).
5. Sydney is not laid back (on weekdays)
If you’ve ever been in town hall station in peak hour on a weekday, you will know not to stop walking anywhere. The wave of people will carry you and the same can be said of the traffic on the roads. The rush hour of business workers in the city makes peak hour walking and cafes/restaurants harder to navigate (so go before or after). Compared to the other capital cities here, Sydney-siders don’t have a reputation for being laidback.
6. Summers can be unpleasant and winters are freezing
While it is true that the weather is generally quite nice all year round, there is always a few days each summer where the temperature is +40C. It’s become quite humid over the years too so it can be unbearable on these days with many staying inside. Unfortunately, summer nights are the same where the temperature doesn’t drop below early 20C and having sleepless nights because it’s so hot is quite a bonding experience for all.
Winter, has its own challenges. As we have more warmer days, our houses are built to allow ventilation throughout and this is evident in winter when the temperature inside the house is almost the same as outside the house.
7. None of the locals drink Starbucks
Australia has a huge coffee culture and there are many many MANY cafes in each suburb in every state. Born out of the strong migration of Italians, cafes are an establishment here. Every coffee drinker will have their favourite and it won’t be a Starbucks.
8. You won’t be seeing any kangaroos or koalas if you stay in Sydney
Apart from at the zoo, you will need to head at least 2 hours out of Sydney (in any direction) if you want to see these famous animals. You will spot possums in Hyde Park if you’re walking around at night though. Speaking of kangaroos, kangaroos can be eaten here and its meat is actually very lean and a healthy option. You can buy it from supermarkets and should be eaten on the medium-rare side otherwise it becomes very chewy.
9. Suburbs are a treasure trove of food options
If you want more and sometimes better food options, you can take the train to any of these options which will allow you to see a different side of Sydney that only the locals know and it will save you some money as well! Newtown is quite close to the city and offers quite modern food options. If you’re after south-east asian food, Cabramatta is where it’s at. For Lebanese food, try Lakemba, Middle Eastern food try Auburn, Indian food try Harris Park, Afghani food try Merrylands, Korean food try Strathfield and Chinese or Japanese food try Chatswood.
10. Tap water is free
At any cafe, restaurant or bar, you can ask for tap water if it’s not already immediately being served to the table for free. It’s a requirement of the law and applies to the whole country. Sometimes it’s self served but it’s great to know so you don’t need to buy bottled water (which is expensive).
If you have already visited Sydney, let me know what quite didn’t live up to your expectations.
If you’re planning on Sydney, what are you expecting?