Sunday, 22 May 2016

Most under-rated attractions in Sydney

Obviously, this one is very much a matter of opinion. There will undoubtedly be many people who rate these attractions quite highly. Given that I am listing them here, it is no surprise that I am one of those people. However, these are all attractions which don't tend to get mentioned quite as often as some of the more high profile attractions in Sydney. They are all excellent attractions though, and well worth a visit.

Ku-Ring-Gai Chase

Ku-Ring-Gai Chase is a national park area located about 45 minutes drive from Sydney CBD. It doesn't feature on too many holiday-maker's itineraries, but it is a beautiful area with no shortage of spectacular places to get some quality relaxation time. There are secluded beaches, stunning viewpoints, outstanding walking trails and fantastic picnic spots.

Watching Home and Away live, and from a safe distance
Many locals have their own secret spots, and it is a great way to get back to nature without having to travel too far from the city. Considering it is so close to the city, it is surprising more tourists don't take the time to explore it.

Camp Cove

In a city of world class beaches, visitors have no shortage of choices. The most famous are probably the highly acclaimed Bondi, Coogee and Manly beaches.  Each of these are great beaches in their own right, but Camp Cove is definitely a beach that is worthy of some more recognition. It is easily accessible from the CBD, being just a 10 minute walk from Watson's Bay wharf, which can be reached by a direct ferry from Circular Quay.

Not a bad spot to have as your back garden
It is much smaller than it's more famous cousins, but is a sheltered bay, with nice soft sand, and views back towards the city skyline. It is flanked by a millionaires row of houses, and there are glorious walks available around South Head, as well as a host of cafes and restaurants back at Watson's Bay. Definitely worth checking out for those who prefer a smaller, quieter beach.

Sydney Observatory

Being a typical modern city, with all the light pollution that involves, Sydney Observatory is not really one of the best places in the world to indulge in some stargazing. However, assuming that you are not a hardcore astronomer, then there is more than enough to see from Sydney Observatory on a clear night.

The view from Observatory Hill at dusk - sorry, didn't get any good star shots...
Night tours are available that take you around the observatory, giving some background information, and introducing you to some of the equipment. It would be disappointing if they didn't also let you spend some time peering through some giant telescopes, and thankfully they don't disappoint. They finish up with some time outside, where the guides point out some of the constellations that can be seen with the naked eye.

Obviously, on a cloudy night, the live stargazing is not possible, and is replaced with other activities instead.

Rocks Discovery Museum

Sydney has no shortage of museums, and the Rocks Discovery Museum often doesn't get a mention. Part of the reason for this is that it is that it one of the smallest museums in Sydney. Unlike larger rivals, you can thoroughly see everything inside the Rocks Discovery Museum inside an hour. If you are not a huge museum fan, like me, then this is a bonus, as is the free admission. Just for clarity, I mean I am not a huge fan of museums, although I am not a fan of huge museums either.

The public phone box in the middle of the room is an unusual feature...
Regardless of size, the Rocks Discovery Museum is well organised and gives a good background to the history of the area. If you don't really want to waste a whole afternoon wandering around some vast museum full of stuffed birds and paintings of ugly monarchs, but still want to at least include some attempt at culture in your time in Sydney, then this is an option worth considering.

Powerhouse Museum

When people are looking for indoor attractions in Sydney, they are often drawn to the attractions that are included in the many package deals that are available. Specifically, Madame Tussauds, Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Zoo Sydney and the Sydney Tower Eye. These are all worth visiting, but an often overlooked option is the Powerhouse Museum.

Insert evil laugh here
Located a 15 minute walk from Darling Harbour, the Powerhouse Museum is a vast museum, with a broad range of permanent exhibits, and some ever changing temporary exhibits. The exhibits have a bit of a scientific slant, making them a lot more interactive than many of the other museums in Sydney. There is more than enough to fill a good few hours of the day, and those with young kids especially should take a look when thinking about indoor options for a rainy day.

The Gap Park

The most common options for tourists looking to get out of the CBD are to head to the beaches around Bondi, or to hop on a ferry towards Manly. These are both great options, but one of the best places to spend a sunny afternoon is the Gap Park. You can easily reach it by bus, or by taking a ferry from Circular Quay to Watson's Bay, followed by a 10 minute walk.

The view from the Gap Park over Watson's Bay and Sydney Harbour
The Gap Park includes stunning views in all directions, with clifftop views of the crashing waves below on one side, and the city skyline in the other. It is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon walking and enjoying the fresh sea breeze, followed by a picnic or fish and chips from Doyle's on the Beach in Watson's Bay, before catching the ferry back to the city.

West Head Lookout

Located within Ku-Ring-Gai Chase national park, West Head lookout is a great viewpoint, and starting point to a number of excellent walks. The view includes spectacular views over Pittwater and over towards Barrenjoey and Palm Beach - better known as the Home and Away beach.

The view from West Head beach towards Barrenjoey
It requires a pleasant one hour drive from Sydney to get there, and once there, there is parking available near to the viewpoint. If you are feeling energetic, you can then take a walk down through thick bush to the secluded West Head Beach, and on to Mackerel Beach.


Newtown is one of those hipster places that is so hip, just mentioning it on a list like this makes is slightly less cool. It is packed full of the type of quirky cafes, bars and shops that people with bushy beards and 'ironic' hats just seem to love. There is an abundance of street art, which is like graffiti, only cooler. It is great place to spend an afternoon or evening exploring, and soaking up the vibe.

Now I have the album cover, I just need to make some music
Get there quickly, before it becomes mainstream and some other place takes over as the new hipster location in Sydney.

Susannah Place Museum

On the face of it, the Susannah Place Museum really didn't sound like my kind of place. It is a bunch of old houses in The Rocks, which have been preserved or restored to represent different periods in its history. This sounds like exactly the type of thing I would generally make all kinds of excuses to avoid.

Some of these tins look suspiciously past their sell-by date to me
However, the daily tours are actually very well run, and bring the stories to life in an interesting and entertaining way. The stories are based on the real people who lived in these houses, and give some real insights into the way of life in the days before Sydney became the bustling metropolis it is today. Surprisingly good fun.

White Rabbit Gallery

This place is nuts. Obviously, I have never taken illegal substances of any kind, but I imagine if you were to partake in some mind-altering chemical fun, then the world would look a lot like this museum. It is located in Chippendale, which is about a ten minute walk from Central Station, and is remarkably good value for the entry fee of... absolutely nothing.

I won't insult your intelligence by explaining what this represents

The exhibits are generally contemporary Chinese art, but be prepared for absolutely anything. It closes twice a year to completely refit the space for new exhibitions, but you can be guaranteed that whatever is in place will be suitably insane. The White Rabbit Gallery really deserves a bigger audience.

Helicopter Tour

OK, I said these attractions were under-rated, not cheap. Even a quick 15 minute flight from the airport to the Harbour Bridge and back will cost you upwards of 125 dollars per person, while a half hour flight will be more like 250 dollars or more. This isn't cheap, but isn't much out of line with the Bridge Climb.

The Bridge Climb appears high up on many tourists' wish lists when they visit Sydney, but in many ways, a helicopter tour offers an even more spectacular way to view the harbour. There are a range of tours available, but most will take you up to the Harbour Bridge, giving you a truly spectacular birds eye view of Sydney Harbour and the majestic Opera House. You generally do a couple of loops to see the sights from a couple of different heights.

Depending on the tour, you may head back to the airport, or head out towards the beaches for some more incredible opportunities to view some of Sydney's best sights from a unique vantage point. A helicopter tour is a genuine alternative to the Bridge Climb, and a fantastic experience for those who can afford it.

Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace

Admittedly, going to the cinema doesn't tend to be too high up on most people's holiday to-do list. However, if you do fancy catching a flick while you are in Sydney, then you could do a lot worse than head to the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace. There are a few of the typical large chain cinemas in the centre of Sydney, but the Hayden Orpheum is an art deco cinema, bursting with character.

Yeah, sorry - at least you know my pictures are real, and not just professional pictures downloaded off the internet
In addition to the interesting architecture and d├ęcor, it also runs some unusual movie choices, including a monthly showing of 'The Room', which they describe as 'the Citizen Kane of bad movies'. It is located in Cremorne, which is about a 20 minute bus ride from the CBD.

Centennial Park

This is another one which doesn't make it on to too many tourists itineraries. However, Centennial Park is a great space located close to the city centre. It is hard to build up too much, since it is just a really big park. Assuming you are familiar with the concept of parks, then there is nothing in it that will blow your mind.

Open air cinema in Centennial Park in the summer
There are a range of nice walks and activities to keep you entertained on a nice summer's day though. In particular, if you have young kids, then this is a great place to come to get some fresh air and space away from the city.

Sydney Jewish Museum

I have to confess that the Sydney Jewish Museum is not exactly a barrel of laughs. As you would expect, it covers the subject of the holocaust, and as such, is fascinating and educational, but a bit harrowing at times. It is extremely well presented, and does a good job of presenting information about a truly horrific subject without becoming morbid or uncomfortable.

No cameras allowed inside - sadly tight security is required at the Sydney Jewish Museum
It's probably not one to squeeze in between pubs on a pub crawl, but it really is a high quality museum, and well worth a visit.

Pylon Lookout at Sydney Harbour Bridge

It is always surprising how many visitors are not fully aware of the Pylon Lookout. The Bridge Climb tends to hog the headlines, and many tourists don't even realise that you can climb up the interior of one of the support pylons.

There are various exhibits on the way up containing information about the bridge and its construction, but the real appeal of the Pylon Lookout are the views from the top. Unlike the Bridge Climb, you can bring your own camera, so this is one of the best spots in Sydney to get your postcard quality pictures of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House.

Sydney - scrubs up well
It doesn't quite have the same psychological appeal as standing on top of the arch, but the views are very, very similar, and at just 13 dollars, it is a very appealing option for those who can't afford the Bridge Climb. Note also that a ticket to the Pylon Lookout is included in the Bridge Climb ticket price, giving you the opportunity to get some additional photos to remind you of your experience.

Watson's Bay

Most visitors who want to experience a ferry ride across the harbour tend to choose the option of the ferry to Manly. This is a fantastic choice, but many people don't even consider Watson's Bay. The ferry journey is similar, but Watson's Bay tends to be a bit quieter than Manly.

There are a couple of beaches to visit in the area, including Camp Cove mentioned above. There are also some great walks around South Head, and along the clifftops at the Gap Park. In addition to all this, there are some great cafes and restaurants to enjoy a relaxing meal or a nice refreshing beverage. All in all, it's an area that should be on every tourist's radar.

The seafront at Watson's Bay Wharf - great cafes, but the better beaches are ten minutes walk away
Whether you would prefer Watson's Bay or Manly depends on your own tastes, but Watson's Bay is definitely worth consideration.

So that is my list of the most under-rated attractions in Sydney. Is there anything you think I've missed? Please let me know in the comments.


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