A Sydney Stopover – Tips and Memories

Sydney Harbour Bridge at night

A Sydney Stopover – Tips and Memories

This post will give you some great ideas about how to spend a Sydney stopover.  I’ll also share some of my personal experiences with this great city.

Sydney, place of my birth

I was born in Sydney, and lived there for the first five years of my life. We didn’t move too far away at first, so visits back there to see grandparents and other relatives were frequent. It wasn’t until my last couple of years of high school that we moved to another state and the city receded into hazy childhood memories. These memories include riding the ferry from Hunters Hill into the city and peering down at the lions in their concrete pit at the Taronga Zoo in the days of less enlightened zoo habitat construction policies.

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House. Pretty much the same now as it was when I was a kid. Iconic.

In my twenties

Living in Brisbane in my post-university days, road trips to Sydney were a semi-regular adventure. These were the days before cheap domestic flights in Australia.  We’d drive through the night for a weekend in the big(ger) city. In those pre-internet days record stores were a big reason for these trips. Sydney had a better selection available than our home town.  We’d hit the sadly-departed Half a Cow records in Glebe and Red Eye Records, which is thankfully still hanging in there.

These days

Since moving away from Australia, Sydney plays a different role in my life. I now get to see it anew through Heide’s and Lachlan’s eyes as well. On our visits to Australia, we almost always use it as a landing pad. We’ll usually spend a Sydney stopover to get over the jet lag before the whirlwind visiting of friends and family. Also, it’s just a great place to hang out for a while. I won’t pretend that we can offer you an exhaustive survey of all there is to see and do in Sydney, but we can tell you about some things that we like.

Sydney stopover

The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Believe the hype. It really pulls the city together

Where to stay on your Sydney stopover

Note – links in this section are affiliate links.  If you use them to make a booking, we’ll make a small commission (at no extra cost to you).

First of all, if you know somebody (or know somebody who knows somebody) with a spare room, couch or patch of floor, start there. Sydney is expensive. Failing that, The Russell Hotel is a reasonably priced option for a brief Sydney stopover in an awesome location (The Rocks – tourist central in Sydney, for good reason). It has rooms that work for families, and you can opt for a shared bathroom to save some cash.

Our favorite hotel for a splurge is The Westin. It’s in an awesome historical building, and nicely straddles the line between stylish and comfortable. It’s not as close to the water as some of the even splurgier hotels, but very central for exploring Sydney.

What to do

Here’s a somewhat arbitrary list of cool stuff to do. I’ll ignore some of the obvious stuff like the Opera House, that famous bridge (check out cool historical construction pics here), and the famous zoo linked earlier. Suffice to say, the famous popular things are popular for a reason and you absolutely should check them out. But here are some other things worth doing:

  • Take the ferry to Manly and walk on the beach, then get some fish and chips. You can also get some fancier seafood if you’re a more serious foodie (see below for a recommendation). Manly may not be the the most vibrant seaside town, but it fit the bill perfectly on our last trip. It was a great activity keep us moving to ward off the jet lag on our first day in Australia. And here’s the real secret, if it’s a clear day and you time your return trip just right to catch the sunset (as I’ve mentioned, sunsets are an inevitability when we travel) you can see this:
Sydney stopover

Living the classic Australian Crawl song – “As the Manly ferry cuts its way to Circular Quay”

  • The Museum of Contemporary Art is just around the corner from your hotel (you are staying at The Russell, like we suggested, aren’t you?) and is free. Free is good in Australia, it isn’t the most budget-friendly travel destination. Whether you love or hate modern art, you’ll always find something interesting here. It’s a good palate cleanser when you’ve been spending time in the historic attractions of the surrounding area, The Rocks (which is another one of those “everyone does it but you should do it, too” kind of deals).  Here’s Lachlan enjoying some light-based art (also enjoying the beanbag after a hard day’s sightseeing):

Sydney stopover

  • You will probably end up visiting Darling Harbour on even the shortest Sydney stopover, especially if you have kids. Don’t fight it. Don’t bother with the zoo there, unless you’re only in Australia for a day or two and it will be your only chance to see koalas and kangaroos. The aquarium, on the other hand, is well worth a visit, especially the display explaining the ecology of Sydney Harbour. On the other side of the complex is The Powerhouse Museum, which was a pioneer in the world of hands-on science museums, with displays that also give some insights into Australian culture.

This just barely scratches the surface of all there is to see and do in a Sydney stopover. We don’t tend to take a lot of photos while we’re there as it’s all so familiar to us, so check out this blog post if you want to see some great pics of more of the sights of Sydney.


Where to eat

We don’t get to Sydney often enough to keep up with such a vibrant food scene. In fact, some of the places we’ve enjoyed in the past appear to have closed, based on my research for this post.  In particular, we hope that Yoshii reemerges at a new address, that place was awesome. And Sailor’s Thai was a treasure, hopefully they will find a new location. In any case, here is a random assortment of a few places we like:

  • Chinta Ria – a pan-asian mainstay. Looks like they’ve moved away from the Darling Harbour location they inhabited for many years, but online reviews suggest they’ve kept the standards up. This is a cuisine that you really should explore while in Australia.
  • Manly Wine – elegant casual seafood dining with a beach view. It doesn’t get more Australian than that.
  • Oysters on the Harbour – although last visit we changed our routine and went to Manly for our traditional seafood and champagne kick-off for our Australian adventures, this place has traditionally been our first stop in the country. Yes, you pay for the (awesome) setting – order carefully and soak in the ambience.
  • Nakashima – a casual Japanese option in The Rocks. There are plenty of high-end Japanese restaurants in Sydney, but this is a good budget option.
  • For serious budget options, head for the food courts in the basements of downtown  shopping centers. Ignore the chains and international franchises and go for the independents. You’ll find great Thai food, kebabs and Turkish pide, at reasonable (for Australia) prices.

So there you have it – a non-exhaustive, personal look at Sydney. While it’s definitely the kind of place that rewards long-term exploration and experiences, even if you only have a short time a Sydney stopover it’s worth doing.  Of course, those short visits will probably leave you wanting to see and experience more. If you have experiences in Sydney to share (or any questions) please let us know in the comments.



I'm an Australian, currently living in Houston, Texas. I've lived in a few different countries, and traveled to quite a few more.

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