Top 10 Places In & Around Sydney to Spend Free Days & Long Weekends

Oct 11, 2016 8:30:00 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_Fall2016_Matthew_Benczkowski_Square_Profile.jpgMatthew Benczkowski is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2016, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A molecular biology major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.

In this week's post, Matthew shares his 10 favorite places to hang out in and around Sydney when you finds himself with some free time. 


“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

Whether you are on a budget, looking for a day trip, weekend trip, or just want to explore, Sydney is full of nature, history and beaches. I have compiled some of the best activities in and around Sydney. Everywhere I chose can be reached by taking public transportation.

10. THE ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS. The Royal Botanical Gardens offer walking paths through nature, whether it be past unusual trees or the eel ponds. This year is the 200th anniversary of the Botanical Gardens as well. Take a book and enjoy the quiet or take a stroll and see the surreal sights: the waterfront, the flowers, and of course, the Opera House. The Botanical Gardens are located adjacent to the Opera House, and as you walk, the you’ll occasionally get a glimpse of the sun reflecting off of the seashell-like roofs.

9. CIRCULAR QUAY. Circular Quay (pronounced key) is one of the main hubs of Sydney. It is located on the Harbour and offers a variety of restaurants and views for you to take in. Getting off the train, to your left is the Sydney Harbour Bridge and to your right is the Opera House. Circular Quay offers various forms of transportation, ferries, busses and trains, so getting there is simple. Stop at a restaurant lining the waterfront or stop and grab a coffee as you go. Circular Quay is central to Sydney because the earliest settlement, The Rocks, is located just up the street. Also, just surrounding the stations are museums galore.


8. LOCAL RESTAURANTS. Sydney is iconic for over-the-top, unique, and cultural cuisine. You can find just about anything you are looking for within 15 miles of where you are. Notably, Sydney is famous for I-Creamy, which scoops up flower shaped gelato, and the Buffalo Dining Club, which serves up heaps of melted-in-front-of-you cheese. Both of these restaurants have taken the internet by storm by displaying their unique styles. Other than that, there is something for everyone. From authentic Polish cuisine at Na Zdrowie, to caviar and tartare at Rockpool, and everything in between, you will not be disappointed.

Photo courtesy of CAPA student Shelby Lloyd

7. HIGH TEA. Add a little fancy to your life by indulging yourself at High Tea. High Tea is very common here, and many places offer it, such as the Chinese Gardens at Darling Harbour, Gunner’s Barrack downtown, and the Queen Victoria Building. No matter where you go, the experience will always be different; different views, different atmosphere, different food. At High Tea, you will get a variety of finger sandwiches, pastries, and tea or champagne. Not to mention that you will feel like royalty when you go. Most High Tea establishments create a fancy atmosphere by seating you in high-back chairs, tables with candles and doilies, with elegant artwork decor or gold trim on the dishes. The food is served on china platters, and the tea comes in ornate glasses. Definitely a must-do. (There are always offers on Groupon for High Tea!)

6. HISTORICAL DOWNTOWN. Established in 1788, Sydney is the oldest settlement in Australia, so the history is omnipresent. Every place has a story and a meaning. For example, Sydney Town Hall was once the first cemetery, and St. James Church and St. Mary’s Cathedral are some of the oldest religious buildings in Australia. History is a huge part of Sydney, and they display it often.

5. LOCAL CRUISES. I think this is one of the funnest experiences I have had yet: I found a Groupon for an ABBA Tribute Cruise around Sydney Harbor. The night was complete with a three course meal, great views of Sydney, as well as a live performance from local impersonators. At one point during the night, I was brought up on stage for a whole song, and then at another point they handed me the microphone to sing the guy part in one of the songs! But the cruises around are not limited to ABBA Tributes, there are also 80s Tributes! Between Circular Quay and the King Street Wharfs, cruises are traveling around almost constantly.


4. THE BLUE MOUNTAINS. Are you feeling particularly active one day? The Blue Mountains are for you! With trails winding through mountains, incredible views, and history, the Blue Mountains are bound to take your breath away in one way or another. Once you complete the feat of trekking down 1,000 incredibly steep steps from the Three Sisters, you can take the train with the steepest incline back up to the top!


3. MANLY AND SHELLEY BEACH. Forget crowded Bondi, lonely Coogee and Bronte, and small Shark Beach, and take a ferry over to Manly. As a beach town lined with shops and restaurants, Manly is sure to please. Manly is not ever as crowded as Bondi (except at the Jazz Festival), and offers spectacular views, surfing opportunities, and an expanse of white sands. If you make your way over a few streets, you can find yourself at Shelley Beach, perfect for snorkeling and stand up paddle boarding. Plus, there is free wifi on the beach, so take your computer if you just want to sit on the beach and do homework!


2. ROYAL NATIONAL PARK. If you are really up for a trek, the Royal Coastal Walk has some of the most surreal views you will ever see. Be sure to take water and a snack, because you never know how long you will want to explore. Along your way, you can stop at a number of beaches or make your way down to Wattamolla to do the infamous 10m cliff jump! It is best to plan accordingly and wear adequate footgear as the terrain can and will get muddy. Also, be sure to be on the lookout because in the bush the wildlife is always present (I saw three snakes in a matter of 5 minutes!).

1.  PORT STEPHENS AND ANNA BAY. Get your friends together and spend a weekend away, traveling almost 200km north of Sydney. Although it is only a small peninsula, it offers some of the greatest and most unique adventures. We got to ride camels through the sands and onto the beach right at sunset, talk about surreal! Be sure to cling on to your devices though! I dropped my phone off of a camel and it came within inches of being stepped on by an 800kg animal! We woke up early the next morning and made our way to the Anna Bay Sand Dunes where we went sandboarding! Imagine snowboarding without the snow, and without the ability to steer yourself. The weekend was well worth it, just be prepared to have sand in every and any possible crack and crevice!


Not a day goes by that is boring, (no, not even classes!) you just have to get to where you want to go. As I have mentioned before, follow your senses, because you never know where they will lead! 

Can’t wait to celebrate my birthday abroad!

Next stop: Fiji! 


Thanks Matthew!

Matthew's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned. 

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Topics: Sydney, Australia, Official Bloggers and Vloggers