Sydney's five essential experiences

Last updated 05:00 08/12/2012

STAR POWER: Sydney Opera House confounds expectations but it’s never disappointing.

This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Sydney (10th Edition) by Peter Dragicevich. © Lonely Planet 2012. In stores now, RRP: NZ$45.

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Book a window seat for your flight to Sydney: day or night, it sure is good-looking. Scratch the surface and it only gets better. Australia’s best musicians, foodies, actors, writers and architects flock to this hyper-energetic, ambitious marketplace of the soul, where anything goes and everything usually does.

Sydney’s Top Five

1. Sydney Opera House Striking, unique, curvalicious – is there a sexier building on the planet? Seeing such a recognisable object for the first time is always an odd experience. Depending on where you stand, Jorn Oberg Utzon’s Opera House can seem smaller or bigger than you think it’s going to be. It confounds expectations but it’s never disappointing. Most of all, it’s a supremely practical building and what goes on inside (theatre, dance, concerts) can be almost as interesting as the famous exterior.

2. Sydney Harbour National Park Spread out around the harbour, this unusual national park offers a widely varied set of experiences, all with a blissful harbour view. In this park, it’s equally possible to separate yourself from civilisation or be surrounded by traffic. It incorporates harbour islands, secluded beaches, ancient rock art, lighthouses, untouched headlands and, right in the middle of the city, a historic cottage. You can kayak into otherwise inaccessible beaches or cycle along well-tended paths. Pack a picnic and disappear along its bushy trails.

3. The Rocks Australia’s convict history began here with a squalid canvas shanty town on a rocky shore. Its raucous reputation lives on in atmospheric laneways lined with historic buildings, more than a few of them still operating as pubs. Sure, the place is over-run with tacky, over-priced stores and package tourists, but there are some great museums here as well. When it all gets too much, head through the convict-hewn Argyle Cut to the less frantically commercial Millers and Dawes Points.

4. Bondi Beach An essential Sydney experience, Bondi Beach offers munificent opportunities for lazing on the sand, lingering in bars and cafes, carving up the surf, splashing about in the shallows and swimming in sheltered pools. Every summer the world comes to Bondi, and what a wonderful world it is. The tightly arranged beach towels form a colourful mosaic, and a walk to the water can reveal a multitude of accents and languages. After dark, the action shifts to accomplished Italian restaurants, quirky wine bars and bustling pubs.

5. Sydney’s Eateries Eat to the beat of a city that’s shaken off its colonial yoke, broken free of the tyranny of meat-and-two-veg and fallen in love with the flavours of the multitude of cultures that inhabit it. Sydney’s dining scene has never been more diverse, inventive and downright exciting. Sure, it can be pretentious, faddish and a little too obsessed with celebrity chefs, but it wouldn’t be Sydney if it weren’t. It’s assuredly not a case of style over substance – Sydney’s quite capable of juggling both.

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