Sydney is a gorgeous city. But even more so, it is a lively city, where you feel the urge to be active, explore, attend events and try new things. These are the top 10 experiences I had in Sydney during my three months living there; some more local, some more touristy, all memorable.
Manly competes with Bondi to be considered Sydney’s best beach. And while its sand and water might not be as picture-perfect as those of its southern neighbor, the Spit to Manly walk is definitely on par with the Bondi to Coogee one. There are about 20 km of scenic trails, which can be completed in a rather long day, or split into two days to get more time on the beach and the lively suburb.
Beyond the iconic downtown area around the Opera House, and the beach walks in Bondi and Manly, Sydney has many other cool spots. For those lucky enough to spend more than a few days in Australia’s main city, I’d recommend checking out (in no particular order):
Bondi Beach and the walk along its coast is a quintessential Sydney experience, only comparable to the sight of the Opera House I covered in my previous post. Bondi can easily be reached by bus from any point of the city; we used to take the 380 from Hyde Park, a ~40 min ride for $3.5 with Opal Card (a mandatory prepaid card you can buy and top up at convenience stores). I loved Bondi so much that I came here a dozen times during my months in Sydney, even moved here for a week. And I did the coastal walk to Bronte/Coogee/Maroubra 4 or 5 times 😉
Last September, I got one of the coolest opportunities of my life: I was offered to move to Sydney for 3 months, to work on a consulting project. I played tourist, got to feel like a local, and fell in love with this city… possibly, the most beautiful one in the world.
On my first free day, I took a walk through the most iconic sites of the center, a fantastic itinerary that I would repeat several times once Elena came over. I was lucky to be staying at the Sheraton on the Park, where I could enjoy a delicious, abundant breakfast, while looking over the city I was about to explore. I kicked off by wandering around Hyde Park; a simple park in a very cool setting, with the modern skyscrapers of the CBD (central business district) on one side, and the gothic St. Mary’s Cathedral on the opposite. The sandstone exterior is very characteristic of Sydney, whereas the interior, with impressive stained glass windows, resembles that of European churches.
The Denali National Park is a massive preserve in interior Alaska, containing the highest peak in North America, 20,310 feet tall Denali (previously known as Mount McKinley). It might be better known in popular culture as the place where Chris McCandless ventured and eventually died, as chronicled by the book and later film ‘Into the Wild’. Most people believe Denali is a summer park, but in reality it’s open all year around, and is definitely worth a visit in the winter, if you find yourself in Alaska. For us, it was an obvious choice when deciding where to spend the last day of our Alaska weekend, after a day enjoying the amazing World Ice Art Championship in Fairbanks and a night marveling at northern lights. Denali is 120 miles from Fairbanks, mostly on highway, so it can be reached in 2 and a half hours, which makes it a long but totally viable day trip. It would be a pretty eventful one.
The main goal of our weekend trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, was to see the northern lights, and we definitely succeeded 🙂 Luckily for us, this remote town has much more to offer in March: The peak month for auroras coincides with the spectacular World Ice Art Championship… perfect timing!
The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are a natural phenomenon at the top of most traveler’s bucket list; they definitely have been on mine since I can remember. These colorful light displays are caused by charged particles released from the Sun, known as solar wind, as they hit the Earth’s atmosphere. They typically occur on the band 10-20 degrees of latitude from the North Pole, making certain locations around the planet true hot spots for aurora viewing; most notably, Iceland, Norway, Canada and Alaska. In Alaska, the small town of Fairbanks prides itself in offering the best chances, as well as the easiest logistics for those who live on the West Coast of the US like me.
After a super intense first day visiting many of Istanbul’s highlights, we had a packed Sunday ahead of us. But first, we wanted to return to the Blue Mosque. We had seen so many other mosques that we couldn’t remember this one :S and hey, it was free! We appreciated its scale and intricate tiled and painted interior even more than on our first day.
Then it was time for one of the icons of the city: the Topkapi Palace. The residence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and the 19th centuries, it is now a museum (TL 30, ~$10, plus TL 15, ~$5 for the harem). The complex is quite large, structured around four courtyards. We walked it counterclockwise, checking out first the kitchens and several rooms that displayed all sorts of objects: porcelain, weapons, etc. The most impressive, without a doubt, is the Imperial Treasury, its collection of gemstones presided by a massive diamond. Known as ‘the Spoonmaker’s Diamond’, this 86 carat rock is the 4th largest in the world… and said to have been exchanged for three spoons by the poor fisherman who found it.
Since I visited it in 2007, Istanbul has been high on my list of top cities around the world. Back then, it was a first stop in a classic route that would take me to the fairy chimneys and hermit chapels of Cappadocia, the travertine hot springs of Pamukkale, magnificent ancient ruins like Ephesus and the Mediterranean beach of Bodrum. This time, taking advantage of one of Elena’s business trips and with barely a weekend, we devoted ourselves to Turkey’s de facto capital (the actual capital is Ankara since 1923, but Istanbul remains the largest city and economic and cultural heart). 48 hours turned out to be the perfect amount of time to explore all the highlights of Istanbul.