Sydney is both a laid-back beachside town and a thriving metropolis that boasts some of the Southern Hemisphere's best surf, landmarks and activities. Whether you're looking to watch a show at the iconic Opera House, take to the waves at Bondi Beach or explore trendy areas like The Rocks and Darling Harbour, Sydney features something for everyone. Even Sydneysiders have an ideal mix of both worlds: Fashion-forward attire and British-style sarcasm combine with a "no worries" attitude and relaxed coastal vibe. It's no wonder this vibrant city down under is a natural choice for first-time Aussie visitors.
In addition to tons of beaches and top-notch restaurants and bars, Australia's most populous city features an array of things to do. Thrill-seekers can participate in heart-pounding activities like a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, while visitors looking to unwind will appreciate a relaxing day at Coogee or Manly Beach or a peaceful stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens. There's also plenty of seasonal Sydney festivals and events to experience, such as Sculpture by the Sea, the Festival of the Winds and the Night Noodle Markets. Whether you're looking to enjoy a rugby match, hit up the city's museums or lounge on a beach, Sydney's got you covered.
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Although racism against indigenous Australians (known locally as Aborigines) and nonwhite immigrants was once legally enforced through the country's White Australia Policy, today, Sydneysiders welcome immigrants and tourists from all over the world. In fact, this down under city is so diverse that it has become a melting pot for the arts, religion, music and cuisine.
Despite its size, Australia's most populated city has earned a reputation for being laid-back and friendly. However, much like their British counterparts, Aussies are known for their sarcasm and frank remarks. Vulgar language is the norm throughout Australia, so those who take offense to cursing may not want to visit Sydney. But, if you can move past Sydneysiders' lewd lingo, navigating this Australian city is relatively easy, thanks to the country's use of English. Try brushing up on your Aussie slang, though, before arriving. Key phrases to know are "fair dinkum" (true or genuine), "g'day" (hello) and "I reckon" (for sure). And like other major cities, keep a close eye on your belongings, especially in tourist areas where pickpockets are known to target foreigners.
Also, keep in mind Australia's driving culture. Similar to other former British colonies like South Africa, Guyana and India, Aussies drive on the left side of the road. As a result, pedestrians should look to the right, then the left and then right again before crossing the street. Visitors traveling by taxi should also note that tips are not required. Many cab drivers, though, will try coercing customers into providing a tip; refrain from providing gratuity when getting around by taxi. Tips are also not required when dining out at restaurants unless exceptional service is provided.
All Australian cities, including Sydney, use the Australian dollar (1 Australian dollar is equal to $0.72). Like any exchange rate, the Australian to U.S. dollar rate can fluctuate, so check the latest exchange rate before you visit.
With sizable European and Asian immigrant populations, it's hardly surprising that much of Sydney's cuisine features elements of other cultures' food traditions. Some of the region's top restaurants specialize in international fare, including Fortune Village Chinese Restaurant, Madusa Greek Taverna and The Spice Room. The city also features multiple ethnic-specific districts, such as Haymarket's Chinatown area, the Italian-centric Leichhardt and Little Saigon in Cabramatta.
If you'd rather forgo the region's global cuisine in favor of something more Australian, you may struggle to find it. Much of modern Australian fare has been influenced by other cultures, so you won't find many dishes without international ties. However, an important component of Aussie cuisine is meat, thanks in part to the country's thriving cattle industry. And because Sydney sits on the water, seafood also holds a prominent role in Sydneysiders' diets. Popular local watering holes include Darling Harbour's Cargo Bar, The Rocks' breakfast joint Pancakes On The Rocks and the Sydney Opera House's Opera Bar.
Notable local delicacies include meat pies (a meat and gravy-stuffed baked pastry), damper (soda bread traditionally made over a campfire) and Vegemite (a bitter yeast spread added to toast for breakfast). For something sweeter, Sydneysiders gravitate toward ANZAC biscuits (a sweet cookie originally created by soldiers' wives during World War I), Tim Tams (a chocolate covered cookie that comes in an array of flavors) and lamingtons (a chocolate and coconut crusted sponge cake).
In addition to Sydney's abundant restaurants, bars and cafes, visitors can savor top-notch dishes at seasonal food festivals. If visiting in October, check out Sydney's Night Noodle Markets, which feature 50 authentic Asian food stalls near Hyde Park. In March, travelers can enjoy Taste of Sydney, a three-day festival that includes more than 60 tasting dishes and live entertainment. And bakers can't miss a chance to experience the three-day Cake, Bake and Sweets Show held every June at Sydney Olympic Park.
The best way to get around Sydney is by Sydney Trains – formerly known as CityRail. While all Sydney's rail lines are easy for first-time users to navigate, the City Circle line is ideal for travelers looking to visit a number of the city's best things to do. Although the bus system has routes that criss-cross the city, any traveling done on four wheels is at the mercy of Sydney traffic. Rental cars are recommended for driving to and from the city but not inside its boundaries since traffic is heavy and Aussies drive on the left side of the road, which can be confusing to American visitors. Walking is, of course, a wonderful way to explore any city, but Sydney is much too large to be done on foot alone. And a trip on a ferry is a must-do for the views alone.
To get to and from Sydney Airport (SYD), you can take a fairly cheap taxi ride or hop on the Airport Link train, which takes you about 6 miles into the city. You can also rent a car at the airport.See details for Getting Around
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You must have a valid U.S. passport to enter Australia. Americans are welcome to stay for up to 90 days as long as an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is acquired. ETAs are electronic visas and can be obtained here ; airlines and travel agents may also apply for ETAs on your behalf. For more information, visit the U.S. State Department's website .