1. Harbor Bridge, lovingly nicknamed The Old Coathanger, is Sydney’s number one attraction. Its Bridgeclimb has enchanted more than 2 million visitors since first being offered in 1998. Tethered together in groups of 12, participants slowly approach the span’s 440 feet summit where, arms up-thrust, they celebrate one of life’s golden moments. A Depression project completed in 1933, Sydney’s beloved bridge was then known as The Iron Lung because it kept the economy breathing, a stimulus package turned icon. Not especially long at 1,650 feet, its prescient designers made it wide enough for future development—seven car lanes, one bus, two train, and, Sydney being Sydney, a cycle path and a pedestrian lane.
2. The Opera House, the nuns’ scrum, is arguably a tie for first place if global recognition and the wow factor are factored in. At the minimum, visitors should take the frequently given hour long tour of Jørn Utzon’s almost 40 year-young, gull-winged design that he never saw completed. At the maximum, they should see a play in one of two theaters, hear a concert, or thrill to an opera.
3. The Rocks, Australia’s oldest neighborhood. Adjacent to Circular Quay, Sydney’s harbor/hub, The Rocks delights no matter how many times you visit its excellent Visitors’ Centre, shops, restaurants, and historic buildings, like Cadman’s Cottage. There since 1788, The Rocks preservation was assured when the Government bought the entire area in 1900. Clearly, a series of wise civic decisions since then has turned The Rocks into a perfect blend of tourist magnet and real community.
4. Darling Harbor, an entertainment/convention/cultural complex on Cockle Bay contains four of Sydney’s Top Ten Attractions, like The Powerhouse. Said to be Australia’s largest museum, it enchants visitors with 400,000 display objects ranging from a curious, elaborate Strasburg clock to a NASA space station.
5. Sydney Wildlife World, Darling Harbor’s newest large attraction, offers up-close views of Australia’s unusual flora and fauna. If you’re not going to The Outback, this is the next best thing. Featuring nine different, painstakingly recreated habitats like the remote Kimberley, visitors can watch koalas doze and view face-to-face incredibly poisonous snakes and reptiles behind glass. SWW compactly displays “the world’s largest collection of Aussie animals” according to Where Magazine.
6. Next door is Sydney Aquarium with more than 12,000 indigenous aquatic animals including incredibly cute platypuses, which are smaller than anticipated, and a much-feared salt water crocodile, which is, to put it mildly, larger than expected. In fact, on my first visit I ducked down to see more than its eyes poking out of the water and almost lost my balance when I saw its shocking entirety. My favorite Aquarium experience, however, is a real ecosystem, some rocks sporting actual Sydney Harbor seals. The Aquarium was purposefully built around them.
7. On my initial visit to The National Maritime Museum, I appreciated its emphasis on the special relationship that exists between Australia and the United States despite the vast ocean separating us. The NMS’s display of a replica of Captain James Cook’s Endeavour mentions that there were three American colonists on its 1770 voyage to Australia. A Welcome Wall reminded me that this continent-country has accepted immigrants from almost every other country in the world, just like the United States. In fact, between World War II and 1977, more than two million Europeans, mainly Greeks and Italians, arrived. Fascinating facts like this accompany displays celebrating the Australians’ love of water activities. The Spirit of Australia, the world’s reportedly fastest boat, is here. Another interesting display explores the treacherous Sydney to Hobart race held every year on December twenty-sixth, since 1945.
8. On the harbor’s north shore, the city of Manly has its own aquarium (Oceanworld), but that’s not the reason why Manly made my top ten. That would be its one-way Spit Walk, a tough but rewarding 4 to 6 hour hike around coves, along beaches, and up to stunning promontories. A city bus takes walkers back to their starting point, a cold drink, lots of self-congratulation, and fond memories.
9. The Australian Museum is not clustered with other sights, but it’s worth the effort to hike across enormous Hyde Park to explore. Australia’s premier natural history museum, it was established way back in 1827 by forward-looking emigrants who saw the need for and value in preserving Australia’s uniqueness. Now its oldest museum, the Australian does not look its age due to vivid displays and ever-changing exhibits. In 2009, for example, Egyptian Treasures: Art of the Pharaohs from Munich’s Kunsthistorisches Museum thrilled visitors.
10. I didn’t take the RiverCat from Circular Quay to Paramatta until my seventh visit, but it was compelling enough to make the cut at Number Ten. Eleven historic properties and Australia’s oldest public building, Old Government House, are there because this up-river city became Sydney’s farming community shortly after its founding. Paramatta’s Visitors’ Centre has a fine museum with thoughtful permanent and temporary exhibits.
For further information on Australia visit the Tourism Australia at www.tourism.australia.com or www.australia.com