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Sydney, Culture Capital

Sydney Harbour and Opera House
Sydney, Culture Capital
There’s always something happening in Sydney. Here, no more than a few weeks go by without fireworks exploding in the sky, seemingly celebrating nothing but the city itself.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Tourism Australia
  • 1 / 10
    Sydney Harbour and Opera House
    Sydney Harbour and Opera House
    The beautiful bridge stretching out across the harbor, the iconic opera house reflecting in the water—this is the Sydney you’ve heard about and seen in photos. To take it all in, stroll along the walkway between Circular Quay and The Rocks, the historic site where both Australia and Sydney were founded. If you want an inside look at the Opera House, book tickets for a performance—the venue hosts much more than just opera—or take a guided tour, some of which include a meal overlooking the harbor.
    Photo courtesy of Tourism Australia
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    Must-See Museums
    Must-See Museums
    There’s much more to Sydney’s artistic side than the Opera House, especially when it comes to the city’s museums. Favorite institutions include the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, which features multimedia work by Australian artists, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where you can find an extensive collection of Australian and Aboriginal art as well as works by international masters. Brett Whiteley Studio is a lesser-known jewel, located in the former workspace of the late Australian painter and sculptor, while the Australian Museum is a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils, taxidermy animals, and cultural artifacts that dates all the way back to 1827.
    Photo by Richard Glover / age fotostock
  • 3 / 10
    Sydney, the Festival City
    Sydney, the Festival City
    Whether celebrating music, food, wine, or lights, Sydney plays host to a number of epic events throughout the year. Held every January, the Sydney Festival is perhaps the most popular, filling the entire city with free music, art, theater, and dance events. Also worth planning a trip around is Good Food Month, Australia’s largest and most loved food festival in October, and the Sculpture by the Sea event, which takes over the coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama beaches from October to November.
    Photo by Manfred Gottschalk / age fotostock
  • 4 / 10
    Abundant Markets
    Abundant Markets
    Sydney bursts with markets selling everything from organic produce and vintage clothes to art, jewelry, and general bric-a-brac. The most well-known is the open-air Rocks Market, held every weekend in the historic Rocks precinct with the famous Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as its backdrop. Here, stalls offer handmade gifts, sweets, unique jewelry, Australian souvenirs, and more, guaranteeing you won’t leave emptyhanded. For something more food-focused, hit the Rocks Friday Foodie Market, where you can pick up a delicious breakfast or lunch from local purveyors, or the Bondi Farmers’ Market, which offers fresh jams, local olive oil, and beautiful flowers. Also worth checking out is the Eveleigh Market, located outside the Carriageworks art space.
    Photo courtesy of Masaru Kitano/Tourism Australia
  • 5 / 10
    Thriving Street Art
    Thriving Street Art
    In addition to its formal museums and galleries, Sydney has a thriving street art scene, with spray-painted murals, wheat-paste pieces, and stencil art found in alleyways and on building walls across the city. A 10-minute train ride from the city center, Newtown has the greatest density of street art, including what’s believed to Sydney’s oldest surviving piece—the I Have a Dream mural, painted in 1991. Other notable street art hubs include the Sydney University Graffiti Tunnel and along Bondi Beach, where anyone is free to paint with approval from Waverly Council. Some restaurants even feature street-style art in their dining rooms, including Three Blue Ducks in Bronte Beach and Mary’s back in Newtown.
    Photo by Simon Descamps/age fotostock
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    Historic Sydney
    Historic Sydney
    Sydney—and, indeed, all of Australia—began as an exceptionally large prison for 165,000 convicts from Britain, evidence of which can be seen at historical sites throughout the city. The Hyde Park Barracks, designed by a convict who was also an architect, is now a museum, while Cockatoo Island features a Convict Trail, lined with installations that once served as houses. Unrelated but equally significant, there are Aboriginal sites and exhibitions all over Sydney, including a must-see collection of artifacts at the Australian Museum on College Street.
    Photo courtesy of Claire Mandel/Tourism Australia
  • 7 / 10
    Urban Walking Tours
    Urban Walking Tours
    Sydney is fairly compact and flat, making it perfect for exploration on foot. Indeed, the city government offers a number of excellent self-guided walking tours, complete with detailed maps and, in some cases, free MP3 downloads. Tours cover topics like Aboriginal history and culture, architectural preservation, and even the seedier side of Sydney. For something more art-focused, try Walsh Bay’s sculpture walk, with features its own app. You can also opt for a guided tour, like popular TV personality Maeve O’Meara’s Gourmet Safari, which highlights the city’s culinary diversity, or BridgeClimb Sydney, which offers bird’s-eye views of the city.
    Photo courtesy of Masaru Kitano/Tourism Australia
  • 8 / 10
    Eclectic Architecture
    Eclectic Architecture
    The complexity of Sydney’s political and social history is clearly evident in its architecture. Here, no single style predominates, with buildings ranging from classical (the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Customs House) to Second Empire (Sydney Town Hall) to modernist (the Sydney Tower Eye and the Rose Seidler House). By observing the differences in design, one can see how Sydney was once caught in the clutches of colonial hands, struggling for its own style while seeking to take advantage of its unique landscape and natural features. To best appreciate the city’s diverse—and often divergent—buildings, head to the Sydney Tower Eye’s observation deck or 360 Bar & Dining, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city.
    Photo courtesy of 360 Bar and Dining
  • 9 / 10
    Sydney’s Musical Milieu
    Sydney’s Musical Milieu
    Beyond the famed Opera House, Sydney is home to a range of musical venues, both formal and informal. The City Recital Hall hosts classical, chamber, and symphony performances, while spots like Brighton Up Bar and the Oxford Art Factory, both in Darlinghurst, feature up-and-coming Australian acts. Also worth checking out is the two-stage Camelot Lounge for folk and global beats, and Max Watt’s House of Music for international groups. In the summer, Sydney is home to a number of outdoor music festivals, showcasing electronica and various other genres. However, if its headliners you seek, get tickets to the Enmore, ANZ Stadium, the Domain, or the Opera House Forecourt.
    Photo by Andrea De Martin/age fotostock
  • 10 / 10
    Sydney’s Aboriginal Culture
    Sydney’s Aboriginal Culture
    Pre-dating the colonial era by many thousands of years, Australia’s Aboriginal population is the oldest continuous culture on Earth. To learn more about these original inhabitants, visit the Bangarra Dance Theatre in Walsh Bay, where indigenous dancers perform contemporary choreography; the Belvoir St. Theatre, which regularly hosts plays by Aboriginal playwrights and actors; and the Boomalli Aboriginal Arts Cooperative, which exhibits works by Aboriginal artists. Additionally, you could try the Tribal Warrior harbor boat tour, which concludes with a traditional cultural performance, or any of the Aboriginal-focused tours offered in The Rocks, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and Barangaroo.
    Photo by Daniel Boud