There are about a thousand and one things you could do in Sydney if you only have one day. A lot of them will cost rather large amounts of money, and will require expending rather large amounts of energy.
And for spontaneous travellers like us, the ticket prices on things like the tower, the aquarium & Madame Tussauds, plus the requirement to actually plan your visit and book an arrival time -- well, nope, basically.
You expect us to know when we are going to arrive somewhere, Sydney? Don't be silly. We don't even know what time we'll be getting out of bed. And not to mention the crowds....
With a family, if you are looking to do these kinds of things, budget for it and plan in advance.
But this wasn't us on this visit to Sydney.
So if you're an introvert or just a weary traveller finding yourself, like us, compelled to hit the highlights, visit the most iconic of cities -- since, well, you're passing right by it and you may as well... then
Here's our guide to doing Sydney spontaneous introvert style:
Step 1: Get Opal card. Load with money. Find $20 each is the minimum. Scoff at using $20 each on public transport in one day. (Later, find you've used almost all of that $20 each in one day.)
Step 2: Catch the train into Town Hall station. We started in Parramatta, where we'd stayed with a lovely hosting family we found last minute the day before on AirBnB -- one of the very few hosts I've seen on there that allowed instant booking -- godsend for spontaneous travelling. Staying in Parramatta meant not having to drive into Sydney itself. And the trains are easy. So far so good.
Step 3: Read Google maps wrong for the 10th time in your trip so far and walk in the wrong direction for at least 10 minutes. (Even with the guiding blue dot... seriously, I don't even know how it's possible.) Realise something is wrong. Turn around and walk back. Finally make it to the Sydney Tower Eye like you planned.
Step 4: Realise the cost of going up a high tower doesn't seem worth it. Especially when you have a fear of heights and will just be trembling and sweating profusely the whole time anyway.
Step 5: By now it's lunch time already. Walk in circles for another half an hour, trying to decide on somewhere to eat. (May have guessed - planning and decisiveness, not our strong suit.) Get exhausted. Settle on Scruffy Murphy's, a pub, because it's right there and has lunch specials and is good enough.
Step 6: Eat lunch. (The chicken salad was good.) Feel depressed about being in Sydney. Feel depressed about cities in general.
Okay, so far not so good. Lucky you're reading this guide, though, because now you know to skip all of steps 3-6. (Apart from the actual eating lunch part -- you can still do that.)
And here the day turned around.
Let's begin again. (after step 2 from above.)
Step 1: Walk to Darling Harbour. From Darling Harbour, Wharf 3, catch the ferry -- using your precious Opal card -- to Circular Quay.
We suggest standing outside at the front of the ferry so you get the best view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House as you round the bend.
I was a bit of Sydney cynic, I'll admit. (I am with almost anything that is hyped — I’ll just about avoid it on principle.) But even I thought it was pretty cool to see these icons in person and up close.
Step 2: Take a bunch of photos. A mandatory selfie or seven.
Step 3: Get off the ferry at Circular Quay. Start walking towards the Opera House.
Step 4: Notice a set of stairs leading up to the street above the shops and cafes. Take these stone stairs on a whim. Cross the street and enter the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Step 5: Take the path immediately to your left as you go through the gates to the gardens, and continue walking in the direction of the Opera House. Notice a big tree. Say, "I wonder if you're allowed to climb that tree?"
Step 6: Climb the tree. Find an introvert's haven. Sit in it.
And this is where the steps stop.
I could tell you about the chocolate at the Guylian Cafe on the Circular Quay wharf, where we ate and drank later, or I could research some history or interesting facts about the Sydney Opera House to emphasise why it is you must take some more mandatory selfies in front of it.
But really, it is not the fame of the architectural icons, or the history, or culture, or shopping, or even the food of a city that makes it anything for me. I could have seen none of the ‘must-see’ sights of Sydney, not even the bridge and Opera house, and it really wouldn’t have made much difference.
The day was made in the moments. It was the person I was with, and the trip I was on with him. The unplanned detours that led to a human-sized nest in a tree. Scaring a girl who was admiring the tree, not expecting to find two people in it. Ollie laughing at how excited I was about Lemon Meringue Pie. (Ok, so maybe sometimes it is the food.)
But my real advice if you have one day in Sydney?
Get a bit lost.
That’s my advice wherever you go, especially in cities. Forget the bucket list or the must-visit check list in the tourist guide.
More important than what you see is why you go — make it only because you want to. Make it only to experience life fully.
Wherever you find yourself, be led only because your soul is compelled, because your heart and mind are drawn, or your body awakened. Follow this and you will find the moments you would have otherwise missed -- like a stone stair case and a spreading tree — if you were only focussed on the must-see’s and the must-do’s.
And even more important is who you go with — or how you go with them. Seek connection first. Which is true for life as well as travel, because it is the people you connect with who are everything. Sydney would be just another noisy, crowded, exhausting city for me — except for the man I was with and the laughter, wind blown selfies and quiet moments in a tree. Now it is another highlight in a very bright trip.
And if you don’t have the right people to go with, then go alone. Alone you have the opportunity to make connections with others who are also alone — trust me, they are everywhere. Or you have the chance to connect with yourself.
Seek out life wherever it calls to you, and the moments you create will make all the wonders of the world seem pale in comparison.
So visiting Sydney? Forget the must-sees. (Except for the tree… I do recommend it. )
Find your own moments, your own stumbled-upon connections, then tell me about them, and I will revel in your stories — the real wonders of this world.
What's your favourite little travel moments story?
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