The City by the Sea
The hell with cabs and subways. In Sydney--which boasts the world’s largest natural harbor--public ferries are the absolute best way to travel. Simply get yourself an Opal transit card, load it up with cash, then hop aboard one of the 28 boats that trace the city. You’ll find culture and beauty in every direction, with the wind in your hair and lapping waters at your Sperry-clad heels.
Where to Stay
Dock yourself near the water
Just a five-minute walk from the Circular Quay main ferry hub sits this boutique hotel that dates back to 1887 (ancient in Australia terms). The decor plays homage to the city’s architectural bones and convict past (lest you forget, it was originally a penal colony) while also integrating edgy, modern elements. Settle in for a drink at the idyllic garden bar, where you'll catch a view of the famous Sydney Opera House.
Where to Eat
Pier hop to get your grub on
The name doesn't lie; this tiny patch of land in the middle of Sydney Harbour is technically an island. But it’s also constructed entirely from recycled shipping containers and features a fleet of yellow beach chairs and breezy cabanas, for a vibe that’s very urban Palm Springs. Start with a Hello Sailor Rum Cocktail or Captain Thunderbolt Mai Tai, then go for the excellent wood-fired pizzas.
Doyles on the Beach
The city’s first seafood restaurant (est. 1885) has been run by the same family for five generations. Order the fresh lobster or classic fish and chips, then wash it down with the house-made Fisherman's Lager. Even if you just go for a drink, the scenic ferry ride and skyline sunset views will make it well worth the excursion.
Hickson's Food & Wine
Tucked away on Walsh Bay's Pier 7, Hickson’s is one of the hottest new restaurants for Sydney insiders and travelers in the know. Since just about every tapas-inspired dish is made using local and seasonal ingredients, you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. That said, the kingfish ceviche and chicken pâté are total standouts.
What to Do
From daytime bike rides to evening concerts
Twilight at Taronga Zoo
On Sydney summer nights, the iconic 100-year-old zoo hosts a concert series and picnic scene to rival anything in the States. Come early (or off-season) to see this nonprofit conservation center's 4,000 animals--then stay for acts like Rufus Wainwright and Belle and Sebastian. You can even spend the night (February through May) in safari-style tents within the zoo.
Bike Manly Island
This trendy little town and surfer-studded island has plenty to see by foot, but the bike trails are best for showing off its rugged beauty. Pedal past dramatic sea cliffs, hidden beaches, lagoons, old forts and aboriginal rock carvings, and stop at cafés and cantinas along the way.
Take the RiverCat Catamaran to the west end of the line and you'll find this artsy enclave chock-full of galleries, theaters, music venues, cafés and bars. Catch a show at the Circus Opera House, stroll Parramatta Park (so lovely, it's a World Heritage site) and shop for a bespoke Sydney souvenir--you know, like a didgeridoo.
What to Skip
Why cruise when you can ferry?
That's for tourists. Now that you've got your Opal card and unfettered ferry access, you ride like the locals. Pack a picnic for the public ferry and get the same sunset, coastal vistas and joyride for a fraction of the cost.
What to Pack
Listen, Mate. Or shall we say, First Mate. If you’re going to be hopping on and off ferries, you’re going to need shoes with some grip. Stylish boating shoes (they do exist) in fun colors are clearly the way to go.
You didn't hear it from us, but the whole city is very discreetly BYOB. Bring a flask filled with your favorite hooch and give a cheers from the bow of the boat.
Opal Travel App
The ferry is your chariot; keep tabs on it with the official city transit app. You can plan your trips by browsing detailed maps, saving locations, checking fares and managing timetables.