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Booming Sydney, the biggest and oldest city in Australia, is a stunning, sprawling metropolis. The global city is a buzzing economic, cultural, and culinary hub with architecture mixing classical, Gothic, and modern styles. Visitors to this storied port are welcomed visually by two iconic landmarks: the grand Sydney Opera House, with its high-flying sails that jut into the sky, set against the dramatic arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Beyond its urban appeal, Sydney is networked with expansive parks, gardens, and hiking trails. Pack a beach bag and follow the crowds to beautiful Bondi Beach, where Sydneysiders (as locals are called) stroll on the sand and surf the deep blue waters year round. This is a place where urban sophistication and casual fun coexist naturally: You may even find yourself at a five-star restaurant with a bit of beach sand on your heel.
Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD) is the major airport serving the city, located less than 20 minutes’ drive from downtown. Once on the ground, there are options for public transportation, shuttles, taxis, rideshares, and rental cars to get you where you need to go. You don’t need a car to get around the city, though. Sydney has a comprehensive public bus, light rail, train, and ferry network that will take you all over town. Buy an Opal Card at the airport or in convenience stores, supermarkets, and other locations throughout the city to ride all four transit options.
Thanks to Sydney’s waterfront locale, it experiences fairly mild temperatures year round. Summers (December through February) are sunny and warm. Expect crowds during this time, especially on the beaches. Summer is also high time for festivals. The Sydney Festival, a citywide arts celebration, takes place in January. New Year’s Eve’s epic fireworks celebration above the Sydney Opera House draws throngs of onlookers, and is followed by the city’s premier music event, Field Day Music Festival, the next day. Temperatures and crowds dip in fall, and winter brings the city’s coolest temperatures and rain. Spring may be the perfect shoulder month, as the temperatures rise while humidity remains low.
Established in 1816, this waterfront park is home to native and global flora. Wander the Australian Rainforest Garden to see rare palm trees, ferns, and orchids or explore the Calyx, a grand glass complex with a massive living wall. The garden is also home to the city’s largest colony of flying foxes — large, googly-eyed bats who fly around the park dining on fruit.
One of Australia’s finest art collections is housed in a 19th-century building designed to resemble a classical temple of art. There are rich assemblages of Aboriginal and contemporary art alongside paintings by European masters. The gallery hosts exciting traveling exhibitions throughout the year, as well as talks and performances. Best of all, admission to the gallery and most of its exhibitions is free.
Explore Australia’s complicated history as a penal colony at this UNESCO World Heritage site, accessible via a short ferry ride. Those sentenced endured harsh conditions on the island, which began operating as a prison in 1839. Later, it was an important naval and shipping dock. Today Cockatoo Island is a historical site that’s also been reimagined as an arts destination, with three distinct events venues; it hosted the Biennale of Sydney in 2020.