Published on 29/10/2019.
You know the cliches about life in Australia. Sun, surf, barbecues. The thing is, like most cliches, there's a kernel of truth to the image. Life here often revolves around the beach (about 85% of the population lives within 50km of the coast), but in Australia's urban centres the outdoor vibe is about much more than just flocking to the sand when the sun's out. It's a whole lifestyle. And the ultimate place to experience that fun-in-the-sun approach to city life is Sydney. Find out why Australia's biggest city should top your list for winter sun this year.
It's really not about the kind of sun, sea and sand experience you might associate with the usual summer holiday. It's more about a completely different approach to city life that we couldn't replicate here in Europe even if we tried. And it's not just about the weather (of course, that helps) – it's a mindset.
Unlike your typical summery beach destination, in Sydney real life doesn't grind to a standstill at the expense of leisure. The two co-exist to give a real energetic mix of outdoor fun and leisure-focused wellbeing alongside a genuine big-city feel, with an exceptional culinary scene and a thriving cultural life that deserves a higher profile.
Even Sydney's take on an iconic cityscape is uniquely outdoorsy. While most cities are defined by their high-rise centres, Sydney's central business district (CBD) plays second fiddle to the instantly recognisable sights of the Sydney Harbour waterfront, with the opera house and eponymous bridge.
As well as being a monument to 20th-century engineering, Sydney Harbour Bridge makes for one of the best and most exhilarating ways to experience the city. The BridgeClimb experience gives you one of the most remarkable city views in the world as you walk over the top of the enormous steel bridge. Don't let the tourist trappings put you off (matching grey boiler suits and photo packages) – the 3.5-hour climb is spectacular from start to finish and worth every penny for the incredible view and feeling of freedom 134m up.
Of course there's no getting away from the lure of the beach here. While some cities struggle to balance urban surroundings with genuinely appealing seaside areas, Sydney's beaches blend perfectly into the city. In fact, they're an integral part of it and, like neighbourhoods, each beach has its own character – whether you're keen for a surf or a run along the beachfront, want to get some sun or fancy a quieter spot to relax, Sydney has more than enough beach to go around.
If you only visit one beach in Sydney… Actually, Sydney has prettier beaches. It has quieter ones too. But they're just not Bondi Beach. The whole suburb of Bondi is geared around the beach, so it's extremely well set-up for sunbathers and surfers alike. You'll often see pros out in the water, and in the summer Bondi gets reliable small swell that's ideal for beginners. Sydney's cafe culture is well-represented here too, and there's a general buzzy feeling from the beach to the strip that perfectly encapsulates what life in Sydney is all about – making the most of your surroundings.
Away from the big names you can find plenty of quieter beaches around Sydney. If you want a little peace and quiet, try Milk Beach in the suburb of Vaucluse. Outside the CBD, it's a small strip of white sand and clear water. Best of all, it faces straight towards Sydney Harbour Bridge for a spectacular view of the harbour. From the CBD take the 324 bus to the stop at New South Head Road and Clairvaux Road (about 30 minutes from the CBD) – Milk Beach is just under 10 minutes' walk from here.
A visit to the northern suburb of Manly is as much about the journey as the destination. The trip on the much-loved Manly Ferry from Circular Quay to Manly is one of those rare experiences that's equally popular with locals and visitors alike – it's an institution, and a real must-do in Sydney. Manly is the archetypal beachside suburb; with modern-Aussie cafes and buskers on the Corso (Manly's main strip), and a laidback atmosphere. And despite the beach's famous name, it's fairly quiet during the week. All-round, it's an excellent spot for enjoying all the best parts of Sydney's active outdoor lifestyle, from sunbathing on the beach to stand-up paddle-boarding in the North Harbour.
Whether you're a diehard sailor, a swimmer or just fancy dipping a toe, as well as a major world city, Sydney is a bona fide water sports destination. The calm waters of the harbour make it perfect for exploring the city by kayak, and there are several companies around the city where you can rent a kayak or take a guided tour, such as Sydney Harbour Kayaks. If you're a keen swimmer, the Iceberg Club's pool at Bondi is a local legend, looking straight onto the ocean. If you want to venture a little further, Sydney by Sail offers a huge range of sailing experiences, from full-on yachting courses to leisurely cruises and daily three-hour trips that combine a taster sailing session with a sightseeing tour around Sydney Harbour.
Back on land, Sydney is a city that needs to be explored on foot. Five minutes from Circular Quay and the CBD, the Rocks neighbourhood is Sydney's historic heart and the prettiest, most atmospheric part of the city. It has an unfair reputation as a tourist precinct, and is well worth a wander for its frequent street markets and disctinctive sandstone buildings. You can also learn abour aboriginal culture and history here with the Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour.
The Lord Nelson Hotel is one of the oldest pubs in Sydney, and the country's oldest brewpub, making its own beers on site. A proper craft brewery, the Lord produces some of the best beer in Sydney and is well worth a visit for an excellent drink in a venue with character. Its restaurant also does excellent modern-Australian gastropub food.
On the other side of Circular Quay from the Rocks is the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney – the oldest botanic garden and scientific institution in Australia. If you're keen to learn about the garden and get some fresh air, the daily guided walks provide an interesting insight into both the plants and the history of the place. But it's also a great place to sit and relax if you need a break in this most active of cities.
THAI operates 11 flights a week from Bangkok to Sydney, with departures seven days a week. Take the 1150 departure from Heathrow and you'll arrive in Sydney at 2045 the next day (available Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday). With a layover of just 1 hour 10 minutes in Bangkok, that makes for the fastest available travel time between London and Sydney, getting you there in under 22 hours. And it's just as easy coming back – stop off in Bangkok or get the 1610 departure from Sydney and arrive home at 0620 the next day.
Want to feel as fresh as possible when you get there? Find out about our different classes to see how upgrading to Royal Silk Class or Royal First Class could help you get more from your trip.
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