Destination guide: Sydney, Australia
Located in New South Wales, Sydney (Oceania) is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and has one of the best standards of living.
Some of its most recognizable landmarks are the Opera House (declared a World Heritage Site), the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the AMP Tower, which has incredible panoramic views of the city.
Fly to Sydney with LAN and discover the Museum of Australia, the Panasonic Imax Theatre with its giant screen, the Chinese Garden, beautiful Australian beaches and the neighborhood of The Rocks, where you’ll find the best in entertainment in Sydney.
Sydney - Transportation
Sydneysiders love to bitch about their public-transport system, but visitors should find it surprisingly easy to navigate. In fact, you’ll find PT almost indispensible – a car will be more of a hindrance than an asset when you’re exploring most city areas. Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
From the saddle of a bike, Sydney traffic can seem intimidating. Off the roads, some of the best spots to set your spokes a-turnin’ are Centennial Park, Sydney Olympic Park and North Head. Helmets are compulsory.
There’s no charge for taking a bike on CityRail trains, except during peak hours (6am to 9am and 3.30pm to 7.30pm Monday to Friday), when you need to purchase a child’s ticket for the bike. Bikes ride for free on Sydney’s ferries, which usually have bicycle racks (first come, first served). Buses are no-go zones for bikes.
Many cycle-hire shops require a hefty credit-card deposit. See also Skater HQ and Manly Blades.
- Centennial Park Cycles ([tel] 9398 5027; www.cyclehire.com.au; 50 Clovelly Rd, Randwick; hire per hr/day/week $15/50/110; [hrs] 8.30am-5.30pm; [bus] 339) Also has a stand in the middle of Centennial Park (9am to 5pm) and at Sydney Olympic Park (9am to 5pm).
- Manly Bike Tours ([tel] 8005 7368; www.manlybiketours.com.au; 2 West Promenade, Manly; [hrs] 9am-6pm, closed Mon Jun-Aug; hire per hr/day/week $14/28/100; [ferry] Manly) Also runs daily two-hour bike tours around Manly ($55).
- Inner City Cycles ([tel] 9660 6605; www.innercitycycles.com.au; 151 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe; hire per day/week $33/88; [hrs] 9.30am-6pm Mon-Wed & Fri, 9.30am-8pm Thu, 9.00am-4pm Sat, 11am-3pm Sun; [bus] 431-434) A short wheel away from the city and Central Station.
Sydney Ferries ([tel] 13 15 00; www.sydneyferries.info) are the most memorable way of getting around the harbour, and have a solid reputation as far as reliability and flotation go. Many locals use ferries to commute, so there are frequent connecting bus services. Most ferries operate between 6am and midnight, although ferries servicing specific tourist attractions keep shorter hours. Popular places accessible by ferry include Darling Harbour, Balmain and Parramatta to the west; Kirribilli, Neutral Bay, Cremorne, Mosman, Taronga Zoo and Manly on the North Shore; and Double Bay, Rose Bay and Watsons Bay in the Eastern Suburbs.
There are three kinds of ferry: regular, old-fashioned harbour ferries; RiverCats, which slink up the Parramatta River to Parramatta (one way $7.70); and the new Manly Fast Ferry ([tel] 9583 1199; www.manlyfastferry.com.au; one-way $8.20). All ferries depart Circular Quay. The standard single fare for most harbour destinations is $5.20; the slow boat to Manly (not the Fast Ferry) costs $6.40.
Water taxis are a fast but rather indulgent way to shunt around the harbour. Typically, Circular Quay to Darling Harbour will cost around $70 for four people (prices are often the same for one to four people). Companies will quote on any pick-up point you require. Operators include:
- Darling Harbour Water Taxis ([tel] 9211 7730; www.watertours.com.au) Waterfront restaurants, the islands and all the big harbour sights; rates based on zones.
- H2O Taxis ([tel] 1300 426 829; www.h2owatertaxis.com.au) Harbour Islands a specialty: Fort Denison/Cockatoo Island/Shark Island cost $60/75/80 for four people from Circular Quay.
- Water Taxis Combined ([tel] 9555 8888; www.watertaxis.com.au) Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour and Manly are the specialties.
- Yellow Water Taxis ([tel] 1300 138 840, 9299 0199; www.yellowwatertaxis.com.au) Cute yellow water taxis; the owners guarantee they’ll beat any other written quote.
Sydney Buses ([tel] 13 15 00; www.sydneybuses.info) runs the local bus network, extending to most suburbs. Fares depend upon the number of ‘sections’ you traverse; tickets range from $1.90 to $6.10, but most jaunts cost $3.20. Discount passes will save you some bucks. See the website for route planners, maps and information.
Regular buses run between 5am and midnight, when Nightrider buses take over. During peak hour, buses get hideously crowded and sometimes fail to pick up passengers at major stops if they’re full. Claustrophobes should avoid Bondi bus 380 on sunny weekends.
The major bus route hubs are Circular Quay, Argyle St in Millers Point, Wynyard Park, the Queen Victoria Building and Railway Sq (near Central Station). Most buses exit the city on George or Castlereagh Sts, and take George or Elizabeth Sts coming back in. Pay the driver as you enter (correct change minimises annoyance), or dunk prepaid tickets in the green ticket machines. Increasing numbers of services are ‘prepay only’. Bus routes starting with an X indicate limited-stop express routes; those with an L have limited stops.
At Circular Quay there’s a TransitShop (cnr Alfred & Loftus Sts; [hrs] 7am-7pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-5pm Sat & Sun; [train] Circular Quay), which sells bus tickets and proffers bus info. There are other TransitShops at Wynyard Park (Carrington St), the Queen Victoria Building (York St), and Railway Sq (no ticket sales here, just info).
Free City Shuttle
Bus 555 operates as a free CBD shuttle bus, looping between Central Station, George St, Circular Quay and Elizabeth St every 10 minutes from 9.30am to 3.30pm on weekdays (until 9pm Thursdays), and between 9.30am and 6pm on weekends.
Car & Motorcycle
Driving & Parking
Avoid driving in central Sydney if you can: there’s a confusing one-way street system, and parking inspectors and tow-away zones proliferate. Conversely, a car is handy for accessing Sydney’s outer reaches and for day trips. Or, you could try a moped or a motorcycle; getting around Sydney will be a much happier experience. You can snake through traffic jams, and usually find a sneaky parking spot – just wear something bright so you don’t get crunched by a four-wheeler.
Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road; the minimum driving age (unassisted) is 18. Overseas visitors can drive with their domestic driving licences for up to three months, but must obtain a NSW driving licence after that. Speed limits in Sydney are generally 60km/h (50km/h in built-up areas), rising to 100km/h or 110km/h on motorways. Seat belts are compulsory; using hand-held mobile phones is prohibited. Watch out for Sydney’s pedestrian crossings – locals tend to launch themselves across them assuming that drivers have seen them and will stop (which they legally must).
A blood-alcohol limit of 0.05% is enforced with random breath tests and hefty punishments. If you’re in an accident (even if you didn’t cause it) and you’re over the alcohol limit, your insurance will be invalidated. For further road-rule nitty-gritty, see www.rta.nsw.gov.au.
Sydney’s private car parks are expensive (around $15 per hour); public car parks are more affordable (sometimes under $10 per hour). The city centre and Darling Harbour have the greatest number of private car parks, but as you’d expect, these are also the priciest. Street parking devours coins (from $2.50 to $5 per hour). Parking stations are listed in the Yellow Pages.
Car rentals here are affordable and consistent with US and European rates. Prices vary depending on season and demand – booking online often delivers savings. Read the small print to check age restrictions, exactly what your insurance covers and where you can take the car (dirt roads are sometimes off limits). The Yellow Pages lists other local car-hire companies, some specialising in renting near-wrecks at rock-bottom prices – study the fine print to ensure you’re not being lumped with a lemon.
Toll Roads & e-Tags
Sydney’s motorways are all tolled, including the Harbour Tunnel and the Harbour Bridge; the Eastern Distributor, M2, M4, M5 and M7 motorways (www.sydneymotorways.com); and the Cross City Tunnel ([tel] 9033 3999; www.crosscity.com.au) between Darling Harbour and Rushcutters Bay. Most are now cashless, meaning you need an E-Toll tag or pass from the RTA ([tel] 13 18 65; www.rta.nsw.gov.au), or an E-Way tag ([tel] 1300 555 833; www.tollpay.com.au) to use them.
The E-Toll and E-Way tags are prepaid devices that attach to your windscreen; the E-toll pass is where your numberplate is recorded on a database, then you’re photographed and billed as you use the tollways. If you’re only here for a short trip, you’ll be better off with a pass rather than going to the trouble of organising a tag.
Tolls vary with the distance travelled – anywhere from $2 to $15. If you accidentally use a tollway without a tag or pass, you can call the operators and arrange payment retrospectively (usually within 48 hours).
Taxis are easy to flag down in the city and the inner suburbs, except for during ‘changeover’ times (3pm and 3am), when they all seem to vanish. Taxis are metered and drivers won’t usually rip you off – but don’t expect them to know how to get to where you’re going! If they’re unsure, ask them to turn off the meter while they check the map.
Flagfall is $3.10; the metered fare thereafter is $1.85 per kilometre. There’s a 20% surcharge between 10pm and 6am, and additional charges for heavy luggage (over 25kg), tolls and radio bookings ($2). For more on Sydney’s taxis, see www.nswtaxi.org.au.
Big, reliable operators:
- Legion Cabs ([tel] 13 14 51; www.legioncabs.com.au)
- Premier Cabs ([tel] 13 10 17; www.premiercabs.com.au)
- RSL Cabs ([tel] 9581 1111; www.rslcabs.com.au)
- Taxis Combined ([tel] 13 33 00; www.taxiscombined.com.au)
Sydney has a vast suburban railway web with frequent services, making trains much quicker than buses. You can reach practically everywhere by train, but lines don’t extend to Balmain, Glebe, or the northern or eastern beaches (eg Manly or Bondi). Trains run from around 5am to 1am – check timetables for your line. As a rough guide, a short inner-city one-way trip on CityRail ([tel] 13 15 00; www.cityrail.info) will cost $3.40. On weekends and after 9am Monday to Friday you can buy an off-peak return ticket for not much more than a standard one-way fare.
Central Station – Sydney’s main station – has an information booth ([hrs] 6am-10pm) near platforms four and five. Long-distance CountryLink ([tel] 13 22 32;www.countrylink.info) trains arrive and depart from Central Station, too. Book tickets through the CountryLink Travel Centre ([hrs] 6.15am-8.45pm; [train] Central) near platform one. Discounts of up to 50% apply with two weeks’ notice; you can also book online.
Metro Light Rail & Monorail
Metro Transport ([tel] 8584 5288; www.metrotransport.com.au) operates Sydney’s uberslick Metro Light Rail (MLR; single trip $3.20-4.20, day pass $9) from Central Station to Lilyfield via Chinatown, Darling Harbour, Pyrmont and Glebe. Trams run every 10 to 15 minutes from 6am to midnight, and every 30 minutes after midnight. The service only goes as far as Pyrmont between 6am and midnight. Pay the conductor on board.
A lugubrious worm circling between Darling Harbour and the city, the Monorail (single trip/day pass $4.80/9.50; [hrs] 7am-10pm Mon-Thu, to midnight Fri & Sat, 8am-10pm Sun) is more of a tourist attraction (a certain Simpsons episode springs to mind…). Shuttles run every three to five minutes; the full loop takes 14 minutes.
Note that the SydneyPass isn’t valid on the MLR or the Monorail.
There’s a dazzling array of travel discounts available; call [tel] 13 15 00 or see www.131500.com.au for details.
TravelPasses provide the best value, offering a week’s unlimited travel on the regular buses, trains and ferries. There are several colour-coded grades: the Red TravelPass ($38) accesses most tourist destinations; the Green TravelPass ($46) includes Manly and Olympic Park.
The SydneyPass (www.131500.com.au/faresandpasses/sydneypass.asp; adult/child/family three days $110/55/275, five days $145/70/360, seven days $165/80/410) is a good (if a tad pricey) option if you want to see everything in a hurry, offering unlimited travel on buses, trains (as far as the Inner West, including AirportLink), ferries (including Parramatta) and Explorer hop-on/hop-off buses.
A DayTripper (adult/child $17/9) ticket provides unlimited travel on all the buses, ferries and trains you’re likely to need.
If you’ll be going back and forth between the same bus or ferry stops a lot, consider a prepaid 10-ride TravelTen (2/5 sections $15.20/25.60) or FerryTen (inner-harbour $33.50) ticket.
Several transport-plus-entry tickets are available, which work out cheaper than catching a ferry and paying entry separately. These include the ZooPass (adult/child $44/21.50) to Taronga Zoo, and the Wild Australia Pass (adult/child $55/28) to Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World.