One of my favourite places in Sydney was Manly - I only went there twice in the month I spent in the city, but both times I fell in love with the seaside town. It's one of the places you could just see yourself living long-term, and I know many backpackers who moved there despite working in the city and facing a bit of a commute every day. My first time there was actually the first Sunday I spent in Australia, just two days after I arrived. A group of us caught the ferry over from Circular Quay (an easy free bus ride on the 555 from the top of the CBD, and just $2.50 on the ferry as all travel prices are capped on Sunday's) and after just 30 minutes we arrived at the small harbour there. As you walk out, you come to a little Boardwalk that takes you past a selection of bars and restaurants which look out right across the water. Don't be put off thinking they are really expensive, actually a couple are really well priced and I had a lovely meal in one of them. Once you get to the road, it's just a short walk through the town centre towards the main beach, with lots of places to eat, drink and shop along the way.The main beach is heavenly - the golden sand goes on for miles and as far as the eye can see there are surfers riding the waves. Up and down the beach you can see groups playing volleyball or runners making their way along the sand, picnics and children playing. It's just perfect, although be sure to get there in the morning or early afternoon because the sun actually sets on the harbour side and the beach is cast in shadow from the late afternoon thanks to the buildings. But I'm sure the sunrise is gorgeous there, and I know the sunsets are absolutely stunning over on the harbour side. There are lots of walks for those who want to explore further along the coastline, or to find somewhere a bit more secluded. I think what I loved most about Manly was that the beach and town felt like a place where people live, not just where people go on holiday or visit to pose like they do at Bondi and some of the others along the East Coast.Another beach I visited, which is definitely worth a visit, was Maroubra. Sadly the day I went it was absolutely chucking it down and I got soaked through, but even then the surfers were out in full force and you could tell it would be a beautiful beach on a sunny day. Even in the rain it was pretty awesome, just miles of open sand and more of a deserted feel than the others. If there's one thing Sydney boasts a lot of, it's miles of gorgeous coastline with endless sandy beaches, waves packed with surfers and that beachy Aussie lifestyle we all come here looking for. Definitely try and fit a visit into some of the beaches into your stay. I'm already looking forward to heading back when the weather is better for a chance to sun myself on that golden sand.
Have you checked out Sydney's beaches - which is your favourite? Are you a beach bum, or do you prefer city life?
Two of my favourite parts of Sydney were Surry Hills and Newtown, both I ended up in time and time again for food, nights out, music, comedy and more and I can't recommend them enough for those passing through. While I was staying at Wake Up Hostel in Central, Surry Hills was less than a five minute walk through a tunnel under the train station, and Newtown was just a couple of stops away on the bus so as you can imagine, I ended up spending a lot of time in both. Particularly since the drinking laws in the Central Business District (CBD - basically the centre of Sydney) are a bit of a curb for fun nights out when you're actually capable of behaving yourself after a few drinks. This just pushed us backpackers to look for other venues that weren't too far away but offered cheap-ish drinks and no restrictions - don't worry, we found them!
When I first arrived in Sydney, I ended up in Newtown quite a bit, whether it was for food, drinks or just a wander around the vintage shops. I liked it because it seemed a little less mainstream than central Sydney, it had a touch more personality and quirkiness which lured me in. Every time I went there, I seemed to meet really interesting people, eat delicious food and have a fantastic time which always kept me coming back for more. Around this area you'll find a huge number of Asian restaurants from all corners of the continent from Korean and Japanese, to Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Naturally I wasn't really in the mood for Asian food after five months of it, so we plumped for Italian or Greek when we visited, which were absolutely delicious. There are so many restaurants down the main street of Newtown which all offer deals and tasty fare, there's no point me even recommending any because from what I've heard many of them are really good. One restaurant I had recommended to me again and again, but haven't yet made it to, is Mary's, a burger joint which has a huge reputation for the best burgers in the whole of Sydney! I'm saving that toothy when I return there later in the year.Also lining the street are a range of cocktail bars, pubs and bigger bars that almost double as clubs later in the night. Later in the evening, you'll find these packed with locals, travellers and all kinds of characters. I've often ended up there at the end of the night because you can still get into these bars until much later after the lockouts have occurred in the CBD and Kings Cross. The music is a bit hit and miss at some of these, but that seems to be a running theme in Australia so far, I'm still waiting for a good night out with the perfect soundtrack but they seem very few and far between. Either way, the drinks are average price for Australia, at least for Sydney, and you're almost guaranteed a good night in my experience. Don't forget to check out the wealth of charity and vintage shops here that are all worth a look, particularly the charity shops as many of the vintage shops hike up the price of items just for adding the work "vintage".
Over in Surry Hills, there's much more to keep you occupied from comedy nights and live music, to film screenings, quality food and cocktails. My favourite part of Sydney, I'm pretty jealous of friends living there, they just have the entirety of Sydney right on their doorstep and quite frankly, Surry Hills has so much within a few streets that you almost don't need to venture out. One of my favourite places was The Soda Factory, which I returned to several times for various events - they regularly screen movies, hold trivia quizzes, have cheap food nights and more at this vintage American 50's style venue. The staff are in braces and some in flat caps as a nod to the Grease-style era we all know and love, and the menu includes a range of hot dogs and sides, with other goodies to keep you munching. My particular favourite is the Mac'n'Cheese with Brie - absolute perfection! Plus there's cocktails galore. I first went on a night when they happened to screening The Breakfast Club and holding a "coming of age" movie trivia quiz which we epically failed but had an awesome time taking part in. I returned for a screening of Zoolander and other cheap food nights which were great and I'll definitely be checking out what else they have on when I head back to Sydney.Also worth a look is Venue 505, a jazz club which holds events almost every night where talented bands and singers come to perform, and there's also some free entry nights with a house band on as well. We went along to one of the free nights and with a cheeky glass of wine, it was one of the best evenings I've had in Sydney. If you love a laugh, why not check out some of the comedy nights advertised on Time Out website, I found one for just $10 where a bunch of amateurs were putting themselves under the spotlight and it was actually a really fun night - Cafe Lounge hosted the event I went to and regularly holds them on Monday nights. For food, there are endless streets of restaurants, breakfast bars and takeaways offering all kinds of food imaginable, but with plenty of space for the hipsters. A lot of the restaurants are unmistakeable aimed at hipsters, but who cares when the food they serve is that damn tasty? Head to Reuben Hills for breakfast with a friend like I did and enjoy eating soft baked eggs with chorizo and kale while sunshine pours through the windows. Pump yourself full of vitamins and health food at Organic Produce - a fabulous and really busy little restaurant, which is the city's first organic cafe, and caters for all dietary requirements. I could go on for days about all the amazing things to do, eat and explore in Surry Hills, but instead, why don't you guys go off and have fun finding your own favourites?
Have you been to Surry Hills or Newtown? What restaurants or bars can you recommend? Have you been to The Soda Factory for a vintage night of fun?
One of my least planned days in Sydney was one rainy afternoon where I reached the final straw after staring out at the blackened, stormy skies all morning. I'd already been up since first thing, had been to the gym and washed my clothes, caught up on emails. Now I was bored and needed some fresh air, one of the girls was complaining about the rain stopping her from seeing the city, but being a true English girl, I wasn't about to let a bit of rain dampen my day. I decided to skip the free bus and walk instead for some exercise, down through the CBD to Circular Quay where it was just a short walk to The Rocks and up to Sydney Observatory. The Rocks is a lovely area of the city which is full of food, drink and live music, plus on the weekends the markets are worth a look. I wandered through, following Google Maps on my phone to find the road leading to Observatory Park where an amazing view across the city lay waiting. Even if you have no interest in space or visiting the Observatory, I would really recommend walking up to the park just to check out the view, it's beautiful and a really special way to see the city. A friend from university was actually lucky enough to have her fiancé propose to her there, it's such a romantic place to watch the sunset.The actual Observatory is brilliant - free entry so a great money saver for the backpackers - and it's a really cool building. You are given a little guide to the museum but a lot of it is self-explanatory thanks to signs, but it is also a bit of an interactive experience as you can watch videos, take tours of the telescope and more. Definitely worth a visit, and if you like history, the tours available at The Rocks museum are worth a look - they tell you all about the area's criminal past. I mean, it's up to you whether you're interested in more than just boozing and the obvious sightseeing, but I found these were a great way to spend a rainy day in the city. After a good look round the building, I headed back down towards The Rocks, but followed a different path this time and found myself at the end of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Looking up at the skies which threatened rain at every turn but had yet to actually open, I decided to risk it and finally walk across the bridge.Walking the bridge is a rite of passage for backpackers in Sydney, I can't believe that anyone would come to the city and not want to tick it off their list. Not only do you get to see the city from a different perspective, but you also get a chance to visit Luna Park, a vintage fairground which lies just across the other side. I had definitely planned to do it at some point but never thought it would be today, it just seemed silly not to when I was in the mood for walking and already at one end of the bridge. It didn't take long to get across the bridge, but I took my time and stopped to take photos and chat to people along the way. I definitely didn't wear the right shoes for all the walking I did that day, so if you do decide to do this day of walking, bear in mind it ends up with you covering up to 10k and for that you do need proper shoes. Halfway across the bridge you can get some great photos of the Opera House and city, and when you reach the other side, you can take the steps down, walk under the overpass and find yourself at Milson's Point near the entrance to Luna Park.Luna Park is a restored 1930's amusement park that sits on the banks of Sydney Harbour and is filled to the brim with nostalgia for times gone by, from the carnival favourites of hot dogs, candy floss and ice cream, to rides including the Ferris wheel and giant slides. It is one of the most iconic sights of the city, everyone knows the clown's face and it can be seen from right across the harbour, even at night when it is lit up rather spectacularly. I actually had a bit of a different experience of the park, because when I went over that day it was actually closed to visitors. The gates were still left open however, so I had the very odd experience of walking through what felt like an abandoned 1930's amusement park just as a storm looked like it was about to hit. It was a bit creepy, I won't lie, but a cool experience to see the place without any screaming children or bustling crowds. I would definitely say it is worth a visit, whether you go just to check it out or actually fancy a day on the rides.After a walk round the park, I decided to head back before the storms hit and started walking back across the bridge. By this point I figured I'd walked this far and might as well carry on all the way home, so I ended up walking all the way back to Circular Quay and up through the CBD to my hostel - an app on my phone told me the walk had come to just over 10k altogether and my legs were feeling it! But it was a good way to get out and see the city, and a little exercise never hurt anyone. I was pretty amazed I managed to walk for hours and only felt a few drops of rain the whole time considering how dark the skies were - it was definitely worth the risk.
Have you walked Sydney Harbour Bridge? Do you tend to visit museums and galleries when staying in a city - any you can recommend?
Two of the most iconic images we hold of Australia are the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the third? Ayers Rock, which I still have yet to see but am making my way towards slowly. Within five hours of my flight arriving in Sydney I had seen both of these and it was a pretty strange sight after a nine hour flight and no sleep. I couldn't believe I was finally standing there staring at two of these incredible landmarks that I had only ever seen on TV before now, but what a welcome to the city. I was lucky enough to see them on my first day both bathed in glorious sunlight which really made it special. I felt sorry for friends who I later saw had posted photos of the two on an overcast, cloudy day which just didn't have the same effect. I'm sorry to say that the Opera House just looks like a lump of concrete to me when it's not sunny, and the bridge is just a load of metal on a miserable day. They just look so much less impressive without sunlight glinting off them.
I was very lucky while I was in Sydney and picked up some good weather despite it being a bit chilly on some days. So a lot of my days there were spent walking miles and miles around the city - at one point I was using an app which told me I was walking an average of 10k a day as I made my way round the city running errands and sightseeing. One of my favourite walks was down through the CBD until I reached the harbour, then walking either towards the bridge and across The Rocks, or heading the opposite way towards the Opera House and Royal Botanical Gardens. Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that I spent quite a lot of time in the gardens, reading, contemplating my travels and making plans for the next few months in Australia. I have now been to botanical gardens all over the world and I can definitely say that I have never seen any as beautiful, well-maintained and idyllic as those in Sydney. They were a natural haven on the edge of the city - often it caught me by surprise as I lay on the grass facing the water to turn around and see skyscrapers not far from where I lay.The gardens are filled with walks that take you around the lakes and through smaller sections of the beautiful layout. I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves with spare and sunny day to make their way to the gardens with a picnic, a book and time to walk to their hearts content. I found my favourite spot in the gardens pretty early on and it was somewhere I headed back to again and again to enjoy. I was even lucky enough to share it with someone special when Mark came out to join me travelling for two months and we had a sunny day of travel planning ahead of us. Our East Coast trip was actually the result of a day spent at my favourite spot and pouring over books and websites for the best possible trip. I think perhaps this is one of the things that made me love Sydney so much - the fact that it had so much green and natural space as well as the shiny buildings and concrete - it never felt stifling because you were always need open space and water.I've noticed since being in Australia that every Australian, and most travellers, seem to have a strict preference for either Sydney or Melbourne. It's one of the first things they state and one of the first things they question me on when they realise I have been to both, but they are always baffled by my answer. I went to Melbourne for a few days with a friend at the end of May for my birthday and absolutely loved the city - I had already planned to move there in January when the weather improves but going there confirmed for me even more that I would live living there. But Sydney well and truly provided me with an amazing home I still miss even though I'm all the way up the East Coast - it's such a great city and I completely fell in love with it but for totally different reasons. I can understand why many people seem to prefer one city over the other. But I just can't see why people don't seem to I've both, like I do, for different reasons. Both cities are fabulous and have so much to offer - I've been describing them to people back at home and my only way of comparing them is to say that Sydney is very much the mainstream, international sister of quirky Melbourne which has so much character is reminds me of Camden at home. Both offer a totally different experience but one that every traveller should experience for themselves.
Have you visited the Royal Botanical Gardens? What do you prefer - Melbourne or Sydney - and why?
After a crazy five months in Asia, I was sad to say goodbye but pretty excited for the next part of my travels which would take me straight to the land down under for some Aussie good times. I was pretty excited to be heading back to somewhere more western, I'd loved my time in Asia but I'd had my fill of dodgy toilets and humidity for a while and was ready for something new. I nearly didn't make it to Australia when I was supposed to fly back at the end of May - I had applied for my work travel visa about three weeks beforehand but for some reason it hadn't dropped into my emails. Now most people I know have received theirs in a matter of hours or just days, I don't even know anyone whose application for a work travel visa has taken the full week to come back. So as you can imagine, I started to be a bit concerned when it hadn't dropped in after a week, but thought I'd give it another week to be safe as my internet was so unreliable in Cambodia.
By the time I reached Thailand, a week before I was due to fly, it still hadn't arrived and I was starting to worry so I contacted the embassy by email and by phone to check up on it. Cue a week of frustrating, panicked emails and phone calls as I try to establish what the hell has happened to my application. Long story short, I think my application must have slipped through the system because it was finally approved just six hours before I was due to fly - I was actually about to move my flight because I didn't think I would make it. By this point I think I had already convinced myself I wouldn't make it to Australia before my birthday, I had accepted I would be staying in Thailand for a bit longer - so you can imagine how ecstatic I was to finally get it through! I was crazy excited to be moving to a new continent to start my new Aussie adventure and breezed through the airport with the biggest smile on my face. I couldn't even sleep on the nine hour flight, I just stayed up buzzing with excitement and enjoying having three seats to lay across while I watched movies for the first time in six months!After my long flight and arriving in Sydney, I was a dizzy mess of sleep deprivation and felt terrible - I stumbled through the airport and collected my bag then headed on the train to Central where Wake Up Hostel was waiting for me. I chose the hostel after lots of great recommendations from friends who had stayed there when they travelled through and wasn't disappointed. It's a great hostel, although very expensive for a night at $37, while you do appreciate paying for a really clean and well-run hostel that is dead centre of Sydney, you can't help but resent paying so much and having to pay an extra $15 a week for wifi which isn't always reliable. Despite this, the hostel has a great social life and lots of events on every single day and night to encourage people to make friends and mix with each other - in my time there I took part in a walk around VIVID, a light show that brought the city to life at night, which was great and helped me to meet lots of new friends. The evenings saw pool competitions, wine and cheese nights, beer pong tournaments and much more filling up Side Bar, which lay below the hostel. It was great, but I have to say I did feel the hostel was missing just a nice chill out room with sofas for those who didn't want to sit in the kitchen or reception. Plus, it had a hell of a lot of rules for someone who had just spent five months in Asia where the only rule is there is no rules!
Despite this, I have to say, I stayed in the hostel for a month when I first arrived in Sydney - I had a great time there and made lots of friends I'm still in contact with now, and really enjoyed myself. Sydney was just what the doctor ordered, walking out of the hostel after some sleep was a pretty strange experience. All these skyscrapers and glossy shops were a far cry from the dusty roads and street markets of Asia, but a welcome change. Sydney really is a beautiful city and despite not being much of a city girl, I loved it there - I loved how much effort had been put into the tiniest details, how clean it was, how calm a city it was. It was just lovely and never felt so big it was going to swallow you up, other cities like London or New York have a habit of being quite overwhelming but Sydney was just right. Staying in central was amazing because everything was right on my doorstep and I found myself flitting between days at the beaches of Bondi and Manly, to nights in Surry Hills and Newtown - but more about that in posts to come. For now, just enjoy some of my first pics captured in the city - and the moment I first laid eyes on the Royal Opera House and Harbour Bridge, less than 24 hours after being convinced I was stuck in Bangkok. Trust me, it was a pretty surreal first day there...
Have you been to Sydney - what were your first impressions of the city? Any other hostel recommendations for me - or what did you think of Wake Up Hostel?
For some people, birthdays are a horrible reminder of what they don't want to think about - all those trips they didn't take, the things they didn't achieve and how little time they have to make their dreams a reality. Personally I just can't understand these people, I don't understand how anyone wouldn't be excited to celebrate their birthday and all the wonderful things they have accomplished since the last one. I can't help but love birthdays - a chance to celebrate your awesomeness with the people you love - it sounds pretty amazing to me. So I've always been the sort of person who likes to organise a big do with lots of friends and family - I usually end up having about three separate celebrations with different people just because I see it as a good excuse to spend time with my favourites. Yeah it sounds a bit like I'm spoilt, and lucky me I am, spoilt to have so many amazing friends and family that I want to spend time with eating cake every May. So it was a bit of a strange feeling to be approaching my 25th birthday, a pretty big milestone if you ask me, knowing that not only would I be moving to a different continent but I would be having to make all new friends and find something special to celebrate with.My birthday marked a week after my move from Asia to Australia and I was excited to see how I would spend the big day. After spending a hectic week exploring the city, making some amazing friends in my hostel and partying in what felt like every bar in the city, one of my friends was planning to head to Melbourne where she was expecting to live and work for her last month in the country. Another friend booked us flights and before we knew it we were jetting off for a few days in Melbourne for my birthday! This gave me a great chance to visit a friend I met back in Thailand and to explore the city I'm already beyond excited to return to next January to live and work. I love Sydney, but I really love Melbourne and this trip gave me a great taste of what my life will be like there. While there we walked around the city centre listening to the amazingly talented buskers, we explored Brunswick St, went out near Fitzroy St and even squeezed in a visit to St Kilda beach. We did pretty well to see so much in just a day and a half and after we were done in the city, we headed out into the countryside to visit another friend and stay with him for a house party full of really talented musicians who spent the night playing for us.I think this was probably the least planned and organised birthday I have ever had which probably fits really well with my new life and shows how much I've changed over the last six months. It's really interesting to look back on my birthday last year - even though I had an amazing time partying at a festival with an old friend - generally I was much unhappier then. My life was full of stress and worry as I tried to figure out what my next move should be and I couldn't keep up with the demands I was placing on myself. The moment when I decided what I wanted to do, that I wanted to leave and travel, was the single most freeing moment in my life and it completely changed how I felt about the situation. It was suddenly so much more manageable and I felt like I could deal with it all, one step at a time. Now I can't imagine ever going back to a life like that, travelling has opened me up to so many new opportunities and has changed the way I think about the future. A year ago my future was confused and uncertain, now it is wide open and pretty bloody exciting. If that's not a reason to celebrate then I don't know what is! So here's to the last 25 years - each more epic than the last - and to being the happiest I have ever been. Bring on the next quarter of a century!
Birthdays - love them or hate them? Do you have a big celebration like me or prefer something a bit more low key? Have you been to Melbourne - what's your favourite place there?