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Sydney Cruises

About Sydney, Australia

Australia’s oldest and largest city is diverse, dynamic and so much more. Founded in 1788 as a penal colony, Sydney was prized for its majestic natural harbor, the largest in the world. Today, Sydney Harbor maintains its allure, but it’s not the city’s only draw. Indeed, with its sunny, temperate climate; rich, vibrant culture; and famously friendly, free-spirited residents, it’s easy to see why Sydney is among the most celebrated cities in the Southern Hemisphere.

In 1770, English explorer Captain James Cook became the first European to discover Australia’s eastern coast. Eighteen years later, the British decided this distant “land down under” was an ideal place to send lawbreakers; between 1788 and 1849 more than 80,000 convicts, mostly petty thieves and political prisoners, were exiled to the new colony. Free settlers soon followed. In 1851, the discovery of gold just west of the city brought fortune-seekers from Europe, North America and China. A second immigration boom after World War II saw an influx of people from the Middle East and South Asia. As a result, Australia today boasts one of the most ethnically diverse populations on the planet.

Sydney Lifestyle and Culture

Australia has been inhabited for nearly 50,000 years. The nation’s Aborgines constitute the longest continuous culture on earth and their influence is everywhere, from artfully designed boomerangs, originally designed as weapons, to didgeridoos, often described as a carved wooden trumpet. As for “Sydneysiders,” the ever-buoyant residents of Sydney, they are united in their love of the outdoors (specifically, their enviable selection of beaches); their abiding passion for cricket and rugby; and their long-standing yet light-hearted rivalry with residents of Melbourne.

Theater, opera, music, literature, painting and other arts also play a central role in the life of Sydney. And the buildings that house these elements of culture are every bit as grand as those found in London, from the neoclassical Art Gallery of New South Wales to the fortress-like Australian Museum to the crown jewel of the city, the Sydney Opera House. The city’s 15 green parks provide ample opportunity for locals to soak in the sunshine and do what they do best: savor the fresh clean air.

Sydney Sights and Landmarks

Affectionately known by locals as the “Coathanger,” Sydney’s Harbor Bridge is among the city’s most recognized landmarks. Opened in 1932, it took more than six years to complete and rises 440 feet above the water, making it the world’s tallest single-span steel arch bridge. Since 1998, visitors have had the option of climbing to the arch’s summit, a physically challenging feat amply rewarded with breathtaking bird’s-eye views of the city.

Nearby is the iconic Sydney Opera House, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gracefully curved, alabaster-tiled panels variously described as shells, sails or petals. Opened in 1973, the Opera House consists of multiple concert halls and theaters, which collectively host more than 1,500 performances annually.

Established in 1816, the Royal Botanic Garden lies adjacent to the Opera House. This perennially popular landmark encompasses more than 70 verdant acres and nearly 8,900 plant species. Initially used as a grain farm by early settlers, the area was selected for scientific use in 1817, when British botanists began cataloguing the new colony’s diverse and exotic fauna. Open 365 days a year, the garden’s highlights include Palm Grove, home to some of Australia’s oldest trees, and Latitude 23, a greenhouse featuring tropical flowering plants.

Sydney Entertainment and Activities

One of the city’s most intriguing areas is also its oldest. Named for the honey-hued sandstone blocks of its colonial buildings, the district named The Rocks marked the western edge of the original British settlement. Once a rough-and-tumble area where sailors and ex-convicts caroused, its cobblestone streets are filled with interesting boutiques, world-class restaurants, historic pubs and eclectic art galleries.

The Rocks is also home to the highly regarded Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Housed in an imposing sandstone art deco building, the museum opened in 1991 and boasts an impressive collection of more than 4,000 works. Another neighborhood institution is the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1819 to house male convicts, the building later served as a way station for government-assisted female immigrants. Exhibits here chronicle how the British Empire’s forced migration of criminals shaped modern Australian culture.

Sydney Restaurants and Shopping

Sydney’s cuisine goes far beyond the “barbie” and the “bush tucker” most often associated with Australia. The city offers a mouthwateringly wide selection of restaurants for a sophisticated palate, whether you’d like to sample native meats and vegetables eaten by Aborigines or finely prepared fusion cuisine with touches of Asia and the Mediterranean.

One of the city’s most celebrated restaurants, Quay features floor-to-ceiling glass windows that allow diners to feast on panoramic views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge while savoring celebrity sophisticated, multicourse menus. Housed in a restored 19th-century sandstone building on the edge of Victoria Park, Gardener’s Lodge Café specializes in “bush tucker”: native plants and proteins historically eaten by aboriginal communities.

More distinctively Australian comestibles such as Anzac biscuits can be found at various food stores in The Rocks. Specialty stores in The Rocks offer more upscale items, including jewelry fashioned from rare black opals (Australia is the world’s largest producer) and colorful, geometric “dot paintings” by Aboriginal artists.