If the thought of traveling halfway across the globe entirely alone scares you a little bit, me too. But, as someone who has done it, I can tell you that solo travel is an experience that will change how you view yourself and the world around you for the better. My first real experience with solo travel was the semester I spent studying abroad in Sydney, Australia. While I couldn’t have been further out of my comfort zone, Sydney’s warm, vibrant and inviting energy made me feel like I was right where I belonged. That’s why I believe Sydney is an ideal solo travel destination. Check out my list of 10 things to do down under:
1. Take the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk
Bondi Beach and Coogee Beach are two famous beaches in Sydney separated by about 3 miles of coastland. The Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk is probably one of the most famous coastal walks in Sydney, and there’s a good reason for it. First of all, the view is utterly breathtaking. The walkway parallels the Pacific Ocean, whose piercing, cobalt blue waters crash into the sandstone cliffs in walls of white spray. The cascading cliff sides are draped in lush greenery, vibrant flowering plants and succulents galore. In my opinion, the Bondi to Coogee beach walk is perfectly safe to do by yourself. The entire pathway it is very out in the open, you should have cell service the entire time, and there are usually lots of other people walking with many public beaches along the way. The only thing I would caution against is swimming alone. If you do, you’ll probably have to leave your belongings unattended on the beach; do so at your own risk. Definitely only swim at a public beach! The public beaches are patrolled by lifeguards/ surf lifesavers who designate “safe swim zones” with big red and yellow flags on the shore. They do this to minimize your risk of getting caught in a rip current. Unless you are surfing, they will yell at you if you swim outside the flags. Just don’t do it, its for your own safety.
And another important tip: absolutely, positively wear sunscreen. I made this mistake only once, and I paid for it. The last thing you need while on vacation is a 3rd degree burn! (A little extra suggestion, buy reef-friendly sunscreen to protect the ocean’s coral reefs!)
If you’re not up for the coastal walk, Bondi and Coogee are both great places to relax on or near the beach, shop, eat and drink. The Coogee Pavilion is a great spot for lunch! Make sure you get the coconut water, which is served straight from the coconut! In Bondi, check out Speedos Cafe, where I had the best poke bowl I have ever tasted. Another favorite of mine is Gertrude and Alice, a quaint, charming little bookstore and coffee shop that is perfect for hiding away and getting lost in a book.
2. Have Brunch at The Grounds of Alexandria
The Grounds of Alexandria is located inside a massive industrial warehouse that has been converted into a hub for a collection of chic cafes selling delicious food, fresh coffee, delicate pastries, and hand-crafted cocktails. The Grounds is an indoor-outdoor marriage between rustic metal and meandering greenery. Picture this: string lights zig-zagged across the ceiling, an open-air center with wooden archways covered with vines, trendy neon signs, fresh flowers spilling out of tin buckets, a chicken coop, a goat pen, and one giant pig. I fell in love with this place the second I saw it. The decor changes slightly from season to season and, when I went, there were red roses hanging overhead. I mean are you kidding me? This place is fabulous. If you’re looking for a great place to have an instagram-worthy brunch, this is the place! For tips on eating out alone, check out this podcast!
3. Browse the Weekend Market at The Rocks
The Rocks is a historic district on the Sydney Harbour that is home to museums, designer boutiques and an assortment of both fine dining and casual restaurants. This area was the first to be colonized by the English, originally as a penal colony. It’s nineteenth-century brick buildings, archways and cobblestone streets give it a unique character distinct from the sleek high-rises of Sydney’s nearby CBD. On Saturdays and Sundays, a myriad of local vendors congregate at the Rocks Market to set up tables and tents to sell their products. Local merchants sell everything from handmade soaps to sculptures and pottery to fresh baked goods and fresh squeezed lemonade. If you’re looking for a unique souvenir that isn’t just a plastic “Kangaroo Crossing” street sign, this is the place! There’s normally live music, and when the weather is nice, this makes for an excellent day out and about in the city!
4. See the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from Circular Quay
Circular Quay is the central hub of the Sydney Harbour. The U-shaped wharf, which is landmarked by the Harbour Bridge on one side, and the Sydney Opera house on the other, is constantly bustling with thousands of people. The Quay is filled with dozens of souvenir shops and open-air restaurants. While many of them are pretty average and painfully touristy, the Opera House Bar is a diamond in the rough. Though it is always packed, the open and breezy Opera Bar is a fantastic place to grab a cocktail and soak in the gorgeous view of the harbour. If time and money allows, I highly recommend attending an Opera during your trip to Sydney. This one might seem obvious, but it is a must!
Added tip: If you want to have, quite possibly, the most fabulous dinner in Sydney, dine at Bennelong inside the Sydney Opera House. Although I never got the chance to eat here, this article from Time Out Sydney has me desperately wishing that I would have made time for this one-of-a-kind experience.
Another added tip: Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach for more beach culture, shopping, and dining! This photo was actually taken from a ferry ride to Manly!
5. Stroll Through the Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney are spectacular. Situated directly on the Sydney Harbour, the Gardens span nearly 70 acres of lush grass and gentle rolling hills. The Gardens are covered by hundreds of species of diverse flowers, trees and foliage. Quiet ponds and gentle fountains create a tranquil oasis that is juxtaposed by Sydney’s city skyscrapers peering above the trees and the distant sound of passing cars. This is the perfect spot to relax, have a picnic, and watch the boats go by on the harbor. The Botanical Gardens also offers an Aboriginal Heritage tour where you can learn a little about Sydney’s Aboriginal History and the Cadigal (also spelled Gadigal) land on which the city is built. Indigenous Australian cultures are rich and vibrant. They have an exceptional knowledge of the land and pay considerable attention towards caring for the earth which, in turn, cares for us. They are a deeply spiritual people, and gaining even the smallest insight into their culture is an eye-opening experience. If you are interested in this tour, it is recommended that you reserve your spot in advance, which you can do here.
6. Sit in Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair
In the 1800’s, Sydney’s Governor Macquarie famously commissioned the carving of a giant sandstone chair located out on a point on the Sydney Harbour. He had the chair carved for his wife, who frequented the spot regularly. Rumored to be the best view in the city, Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair still stands, and thousands visit this spot every day to try and capture the perfect photo of the Sydney Harbour. From this vantage point, the sails of the Sydney Opera House are perfectly situated in front of the Harbour Bridge. It is an excellent place to watch the day fade, and see the sun set behind these two iconic landmarks.
7. Visit the Art Gallery of NSW
Located on the far edge of the Botanical Gardens lies the Art Gallery of NSW. Four sets of towering columns mark the entrance to this beautifully elegant building, which boasts 5 floors (3 below ground) filled with unique and noteworthy artwork. The gallery’s collection includes Australian art, Aboriginal art, British Victorian art, Contemporary pieces, photography, and thousands more. You could spend hours in here, just perusing the gallery, admiring the artwork, and learning about unique piece of history you might never have seen before. For a good place to have lunch, check out the gallery’s excellent in-house restaurant or casual cafe.
Added tip: Nearby the Art Gallery of NSW is St. Mary’s Cathedral which is an absolutely stunning work of architecture that is worth seeing if you are in this area.
8. See the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains, characterized by sheer cliffs, dramatic canyons, hidden caves, impressive waterfalls, and eucalyptus trees as far as the eye can see, are located just about a 2-hour car or train ride outside of Sydney. One thing I loved about this area, was the feeling of remote tranquility I felt there despite being in such close proximity to a city with almost 5 million inhabitants. While I certainly recommend taking a trip out to the blue mountains, I strongly caution against taking any hikes by yourself. Instead, consider joining a group tour. While they can be a bit touristy, dozens of tour companies offer excursions designed to suit a variety of fitness levels, interests and personality types. This article highlights a few tours, some of which include koala and kangaroo encounters at the nearby Featherdale Wildlife Park!
Important note: I truly believe that travel insurance is always a good idea, but it is especially important to have if you plan on doing any hiking or adventure activity. (And just in case, the number for emergency service in Australia is 000, NOT 911.)
9. Shop in the QVB
Although I don’t necessarily love shopping, I loved shopping in the Queen Victoria Building (QVB). The architecture of this building is magnificent. The QVB stretches for an entire block, and boats giant domes and enormous panels of stained glass. One thing I discovered while doing a bit of research on this mega emporium, was that this uncharacteristically ornate building was constructed with such detail and decadence at a time when Australia was experiencing a painful recession. In an attempt to provide work for skilled craftsman, artists and builders, the Australian government commissioned the construction of the building. Today, the QVB houses an assortment of popular chains, designer stores, boutiques, gift shops, restaurants, and even a high tea room! Even if you’re not much into shopping, the Queen Victoria Building is well worth the visit.
Added tip: If vintage record stores and second-hand shops are more your style, Newtown’s King Street is your place! I lived in Newtown during my few months in Sydney and I fell in love with it’s hip, grunge scene!
10. Go to a Footy Game
Even if you’re not a big sports fan, Australian Rules Football (commonly known as Footy) games, are a blast. Footy is a sort of combination between rugby and soccer with a touch of … volleyball? Players cannot throw the ball, they can only “handball”, which looks to me much like a volleyball serve, or kick. Players cannot tackle each other (only the person with the ball can be tackled), but they can use their opponents as human springboards in order to propel themselves into the air. Without going into too much detail about the rules of the game, which I am not remotely qualified to provide, I will say that Australian Rules Football is a thrilling spectator sports. Australians are very passionate sports fans, and the energy in any stadium is palpable. This is is one aspect of Australian culture that should not be missed!
This list provides a broad overview of things that I believe are perfectly suited for anyone traveling by themselves to Sydney, Australia. For any specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment below or send us an email via Ask Astrid!
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Author: Madeline Freret
Madeline joined the Astrid Solo Travel Advisor team as a Content and Digital Marketing Manager in 2018. She believes that traveling is an essential aspect of life that allows you to see yourself, other people, places and things in a new light. She is passionate about trying new things, having a curious mind and seeking joy wherever she goes. To read more about her and each one of our Solo Travel Advisors, head over to the About page!