Whether it’s the food, wildlife or the sheer size of the place, Australia is full of surprises for first-time visitors from overseas
Things to know the day you land
1.An Opal card reader. Everyone needs an Opal
No, not the gemstone (although you can find plenty of stores selling those around the Rocks) – our public transport system’s integrated payment method is called an Opal card, and you can use it on the ferries, the trains, the buses, and the trams. You can even use an Opal to travel to places like Bowral and the Blue Mountains. Once you’ve bought an Opal Card, remember to tap on and off on our buses – otherwise, you’ll be charged the highest possible amount of money for your trip. Opal cards have maximum daily and weekly charges. Just keep putting money on the card, which you can do at train stations and convenience stores, and it’ll do the thinking for you. If you’re worried about losing your card, you can even register it, here.
2. Ferries really are a thing here
There are people who catch a ferry across Sydney Harbour to work every day. It’s a legitimate form of public transport and can be the fastest way to get from one part of Sydney to another. It’s also scenic like a postcard.
3. Sydney is a city of early risers
Almost every cafe in Sydney is open by 7 am, and many open at 6 am.
But you can also get breakfast all day
Ever tried a flat white? How about avocado on toast? We invented those. Here, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day – so it doesn’t matter what time of day you order it. Want eggs benny at 2.30pm? Most cafes will oblige you. Even the ones that switch over to a lunch menu at midday still sneak a few breakfast-style items in for good measure.
4. Everything shuts early
It’s not uncommon for restaurants to close their kitchens at 9.30pm. If you’ve left it too late to grab dinner, the chances are you may need to travel for it – because you’re not going to find somewhere open just by walking around.
Yes, even the shops
In the CBD shops are open till 7 pm at the latest, and everywhere else they close at around 5 or 6 pm. Late night shopping, where things stay open till 9 pm or so, is on a Thursday. If you’re planning to hit the boutiques in Bondi or Paddington make sure you give yourself enough time. Individual hours vary from store to store, so check ahead to avoid closed doors.
And go inside it
5. best experience of the Sydney Opera House is on the inside
Don’t just snap a selfie in front of the Sydney Opera House – the best experience of the venue is on the inside. The Opera House is the heart of theatre, classical music and major rock shows in Sydney, and with over 2,000 events a year, there’s probably going to be something on to your taste while you’re in town. And if not, you can always take a behind the scenes tour. If you’re more interested in fine food than fine art, hit up Bennelong. It’s one of the most beautiful restaurants in Sydney.
6. You can still see art at night
Major art institutions in Sydney stay open later (around 9 pm) on Wednesday evenings, and some have free public programming to go along with their extended hours. If you plan on checking out art at night, hump day is your best bet.
Sydney has an extensive public transport system providing easy travel throughout the city including rail, light rail, buses, water ferries, and taxis. Within the CBD there is also the Metro Monorail, which is great for getting around some of the major attractions such as Darling Harbour, Star City Casino, and the Sydney Fish Markets.
Public buses are easy to use, with well-signposted stopping points including route maps. With the city being positioned on the beautiful harbor, passenger ferries are a popular means of transport for traveling to the city’s north including Manly Beach and Taronga Zoo in Mosman.
Traveling from Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD) is painless, with rail connections, express bus services and metered taxis available. Frequent train services travel to the CBD, making the trip in around 40 minutes. Taxis are the easiest option albeit also the most expensive.
The Australian dollar (AU$) is the local currency used in Sydney. Moneychangers are plentiful in the city, especially in the tourist areas, and coupled with hotels and banks offering foreign exchange services, visitors will have no problem accessing local currency.
Cash is needed for public transport and small store purchases. Foreign ATM cards are widely accepted at almost all machines located throughout the city. Credit cards can be used in most restaurants, shops and department stores.
9. A centre for shopping
Birkenhead Point is the best outlet shopping centre in the city, by miles. Here you will find the outlets for most David Jones brands, Australian staples such as Alannah Hill, Saba, Country Road, Witchery, Billabong and my favorite store at the centre – Mimco. There are also electronics, swimsuits, most of the fitness brands, lingerie shops and clothes brands I’ve never heard of, but always manage to find a gem in. Set on the Parramatta River, the shopping centre has luscious views across the water and a surprisingly good selection of post-shop eating options. The Queen Victoria building, my nana’s favorite place in Sydney, is also worth visiting for shopping, although be prepared to lay out a bit more cash.