New Year Celebrations in Sydney, Australia

Walking in The Rocks – first glimpse of Sydney Harbour Bridge

When my friends announced plans to fly to Australia to see the New Year in in style, I couldn’t resist joining them. Here’s how we got on spending 6 days in Sydney over New Year.

Having decided to extend my trip to a 7-week, mainly solo travelling adventure in Australia and New Zealand, I was on a bit more of a budget than my friends who were spending 2 weeks split across Sydney and Melbourne so rather than joining them on their outbound flights from the UK to Sydney with Emirates, I opted for significantly cheaper return flights with Air China. I had flown solo to Australia before so this side of it didn’t bother me and my flight was due to arrive into Sydney within an hour of my friends arriving.

The only downside really was a 5 hour stop in Beijing on the outbound flight and an 8 hour layover there on the inbound flight but I figured it was worth it for the £500 saving!

Sydney Opera House across the harbour

As it turned out, by the time I had got through security (and a rather scary experience where I was repeatedly shouted out in Chinese, unsure of what was going on, only to have a portable phone charger yanked out of my hand luggage and thrown into a bin!), grabbed some food (I had brought a small amount of Chinese Yen with me purely for this reason) and had a nap on the airport benches, the 5 hours had flown by and it was time to board my Sydney bound flight. I even ended up landing in Australia slightly ahead of my friends after their Emirates flight was delayed in Dubai!

A busy Circular Quay

After our early morning airport reunion at Sydney International arrivals, the 5 of us hopped into a ‘maxi taxi’ to set off for our city centre accommodation. Normally, I’d use public transport from the airport but as there was a group of us, a taxi worked out around the same price.

With accommodation prices being sky high over the Christmas and New Year period (we had left the UK on December 28th and arrived in Sydney on December 29th), we had decided to split our stay between 2 places, one that was cheaper over New Year, one that was cheaper in the days after.

For New Year itself, we would be taking up 2 studio apartment rooms at the Mantra 2 Bond Street for 5 nights. The hotel was in an extremely convenient location being walking distance from Sydney Harbour which is, of course, at the centre of the New Year celebrations each year. The apartments had full kitchens allowing us to keep spending down by eating in for the most part.

Crowd enjoying the sunshine outside the Opera Bar

Arriving so early meant our rooms were not yet available but the staff went out of their way to get one of the rooms ready as soon as possible so we could use that to freshen up in. Once we’d done that, we decided the best way to get over the jetlag would be to get out into the city. It was a beautiful, warm summer’s day so we walked towards The Rocks area of the harbour and found a pub to sit out and grab some food at – my first of many chicken parmas of the trip!

Then we strolled around The Rocks area and walked around Circular Quay towards the iconic Opera House and its Opera Bar – the site of the New Year’s Eve party we had booked to attend a few days later! The area was busier than I had ever seen it on previous visits to the city but we managed to find a gap on the sea wall benches to sit and relax for a while until it reached check in time back at our hotel.

Once checked in, we walked to the local Coles supermarket to grab some essentials for our stay before having lazy evening and an early night catching up on lost sleep.

View from the Manly Ferry
Christmas Tree in Manly

Our first full day in Sydney, and New Year’s Eve’s Eve, was another gloriously sunny and hot day. After breakfast we made some sandwiches for lunch and walked to Circular Quay to catch the ferry to Manly Harbour. The ferry ride was a really enjoyable experience in itself, offering beautiful views of Sydney Harbour with its bridge and opera house and also views of the city skyline. Once in Manly, we strolled down the busy Corsa, stopping to take photos with the huge Christmas tree still standing proud, and found our way to the main beach.

Manly Corso

The day was mainly spent sunbathing and relaxing. Being someone who can’t sit still for long, I took a walk with one of the others along the sea front towards the lido at the far end of the beach.

Coastal walk from Manly

Later, after we all cooled off a bit in the ocean, I took a solo walk in the opposite direction along the coast path. Passing an area signposted as Cabbage Tree Bay, I met a few water dragons basking in the sunshine along the way and eventually came to a small but busy cove before turning back and heading back to meet my friends.

Catching the ferry back at sunset

Leaving the beach early evening, we sat out at one of the restaurants on the Corso for a fish and chip supper before catching the ferry back to Sydney Harbour.

We timed this perfectly to see the sunset, reaching Sydney as night fell and the city lit up.

View from the hotel rooftop and below, at Sydney Wildlife Park

Still not completely over the jet lag and knowing we had a busy day and late night the following day, we spent another evening in at the hotel, making use of the hot tub and pool on the hotel roof!

The next day was New Year’s Eve. After a lazy morning, my friends were planning on spending most of the day getting ready for our big night out.

At the New Year’s Eve party at the Opera Bar

Not being one for spending ages getting dressed up or indulging in pre-party drinking, instead, I met up with a friend who happened to be in the city and we took a walk to Darling Harbour and visited Sydney Wildlife Park. The wildlife park was a bit disappointing as, maybe because of the heat, many of the animals were not out and we didn’t see a single kangaroo our whole visit!

Getting back to the hotel early afternoon, I quickly got ready for the evening and we made our way to the Opera Bar party.

Taking our position along the sea wall at the Opera Bar party

We had done a lot of research into where to watch the evening’s celebrations from. There were many places to go to watch for free – in parks, for example, but here, drinking was either not allowed or you couldn’t take in your own alcohol so my friends worried about long queues at vendors.

A perfect view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Opera Bar

We considered a boat party out on the harbour but read some reviews that it could be difficult to get a good place on the boat to see the bridge and watch the light and firework displays.

Our research threw up nothing but good reviews for the Opera Bar party so we settled on this, buying tickets well in advance on the day they went on sale in September.

Enjoying the party

The theme for the party was ‘Long Hot Summer’. Our tickets gave us entry into the cordoned off grounds of the Opera House where there would be included entertainment and snacks, drinks would be at our own expense. We arrived early with the intention of grabbing a good place to watch the fireworks from and we found the perfect spot right on the sea wall settling in there for the evening.

Looking towards the city at dusk

From here we could take it in turns to go and get drinks or nibbles and the entertainment – stilt walkers, jugglers and dancers in various costumes came to us as they made there way through the party.

Party time at the Opera Bar

The atmosphere was great and they had let enough people in to make it feel like a real party atmosphere without it ever getting rowdy or feeling too packed.

From our space, we were able to perch on the sea wall to watch the jet boat displays in the harbour or get up and dance in front of it to the tunes being played by the party DJ later into the evening.

One of the boats in the light parade

At 9 o’clock we got a taste of what was to come as the countdown began to the ‘family fireworks’ – a pre-New Year display aimed at those who wouldn’t be staying up for the main event – and this was followed by a parade of boats lit up in bright white lights, sailing around the harbour before docking for their passengers to watch the midnight celebrations.

An impressive firework display to welcome in the New Year

Midnight itself was an emotional experience. Having seen the Sydney celebrations so many times on new reports back home in the UK over the years, it was a surreal experience actually being there with a group of my best friends seeing the New Year in and we all shed a few tears of happy emotion as we toasted the New Year in and watched the spectacular pyrotechnics on Sydney Harbour Bridge and the accompanying dizzying firework display.

Ready to toast the New Year

Following that, the party continued into the early hours as the DJ cranked up the music and we finally left our spot for the evening to hit the dancefloor.

The post-midnight disco

With the music becoming a bit too ‘dancey’ for my tastes after the singalong commercial pop preceding it, and with late nights never being something I particularly cope well with, I retired well before 2am, making my way back to the hotel by myself through the throngs of revellers still out on Sydney’s streets, my friends lasting another hour or so longer! It had certainly been a night we wouldn’t forget in a hurry, a once in a lifetime experience and worth every penny.

The day after the night before! Taking a stroll back to Circular Quay

Feeling surprisingly fresh the next morning, we awoke late, made breakfast and, with it being another perfect summer’s day, made plans to walk through the Botanic Gardens for a chill out day. As we walked through Circular Quay towards the Opera House, we spotted the jetboats touting for customers along the harbour and decided it might be a fun New Year’s Day activity so we booked a spur of the moment trip out for later that afternoon.

Then we walked past the scene of last night’s party at the Opera House and followed the path around into Sydney’s Botanic Garden, sauntering along the sea wall path until we reached Macquarie Point.

Not a bad place to sit and eat our lunch!

Here, we found the perfect spot to sit, overlooking the water’s edge with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the distance. After eating our picnic lunch, we relaxed in the sunshine until it was time to make our way back to the harbour to check in for our jetboat ride.

Our jetboat awaits…

Despite being a bit of a spur of the moment decision to ride, the jetboat was one of the best parts of our trip and made for a great start to the new year!

We got absolutely soaked as we cruised through the harbour, spinning through crazy turns, nosediving into the water, the boat feeling like it was going to overturn each time.

Soaked to the skin!

It was exhilarating, hilarious fun and a great way to cool down on such a hot day.

Soaked to the skin, we returned to our hotel abandoning our plans to go back out later and instead stayed in taking to the hotel’s rooftop pool and hot tub to once again toast the new year.

View over Palm Beach from the lighthouse

The following day, we caught the bus out of the city to Sydney’s North Beach area, visiting Palm Beach, otherwise known as Summer Bay in Australian soap opera Home and Away.

The lighthouse at Palm Beach

The show wasn’t currently filming but we took a walk up to the lighthouse for beautiful views of the peninsula location then spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach. Just before we left, warning signs had to be put up to prevent people swimming or surfing as there’d been a shark sighting off the coast! We had dinner at the golf club across the road before catching the bus back to Sydney.

No swimming following a shark sighting

The view from our World Tower apartment

We were checking out of our hotel the next day, moving to the World Tower apartments near Darling Harbour for our last 2 nights in the city. A couple of our group had been up early to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb so after meeting them at the Harbour Bridge, we went to retrieve our luggage and move to our new accommodation.

Torrential rain as we arrive at Bondi and, below, walking from Bondi to Bronte

I had stayed at World Tower on a previous visit and been very impressed with its apartments. It was no different this time and our mouths were all open as we took in our huge, 76th floor plush apartment space with breathtaking views over the city. Unfortunately, the weather had started to take a turn for the worse and rain clouds were moving in.

While some of the group decided to abandon our plan to go to Bondi Beach that afternoon and instead enjoy our new apartment, a few of us decided to go anyway – and we arrived to a torrential downpour!

Above and below, off to hit the bars of Darling Harbour

We headed to the nearest bar and once the rain had eased off a bit, I decided to take a walk along the coastal path to neighbouring Bronte Beach. It was a really beautiful walk despite the overcast weather with lots of dramatic coastal scenery along the way. The skies started to clear slightly as I walked back to Bondi and I found my friends waiting for me sunbathing on the beach.

Darling Harbour lit up at night and below, walking to the Sydney observatory and across Sydney Harbour Bridge

Back in Sydney, we finally made it on a night out deciding on a visit to Darling Harbour where we had drinks in some of the bars overlooking the harbour, ending up in a nice cocktail bar.

A deserted Luna Park in the rain

My last day in the city was spent getting caught in torrential downpours walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Luna Park and catching the ferry back to Circular Quay. The weather dried up in the evening allowing us to head back to Darling Harbour for more drinks out before I set off on the rest of my trip the next day.

Back at our World Tower apartment, heavy rain obscuring the view

It had been a fantastic experience spending the week over New Year in Sydney and I’d advise anyone who ever has the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve celebrating in Sydney at least once in their lifetime.

Sydney

One of my favourite cities to visit in Australia; so what are my tips for what to do and see in Sydney?

Sydney Harbour

Looking across to Sydney Opera House

Pretty much the first place I always head to on a visit to Sydney is Circular Quay, the area surrounding Sydney’s famous harbour. From here, you can walk to its famous Opera House on the one side of the Harbour or around to The Rocks area by the Harbour Bridge on the other side of the harbour.

The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

On the Opera House side, the sea wall doubles as a seating area where you can relax in the Sydney sunshine taking in the stunning views or grab a drink at the Opera Bar sitting out at one of its tables overlooking the harbour watching the local ferries roll in and out and the occasional huge ship dock across at the Sydney Cruise Terminal.

A busy Opera House Bar

Circular Quay and The Rocks area are full of a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants although they are mainly in the more expensive price range due to their location but if you can afford it, its a great place to sit and watch the World go by.

Taking a ride on the Sydney Jet Boat

Its also the place to go to catch one of the many commuter ferries or to take a cruise on Sydney harbour. We took an exhilarating ride on the Sydney Jet Boat which is great fun if you don’t mind getting drenched!

Sydney Opera House

Touring the Opera House

While I have never seen a performance at the Opera House, no visit to Sydney is complete without a photo outside the iconic building. On my first visit to the city, I took a guided tour of the building to learn more about the building’s design. While the tour was quite short, it was really interesting to go inside the building to see and hear about where the performances take place.

The Opera House ‘sails’

Outside the building is the Opera Bar where you can get a drink and enjoy the views of the Opera House and across the harbour. If you are lucky enough to ever spend New Year’s Eve in the city then a highly recommend the Opera Bar’s new Year’s Eve Party right in the thick of the action!

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The harbour bridge dominates the views around Circular Quay and there’s a multitude of places to get the perfect photo of the structure. But it’s also possible to get a lot closer to the bridge. Cruises sailing both past and under the bridge can be booked leaving from both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour. I taken ferries heading back into Sydney at dusk to see the bridge under the red glow of the sky as the sun sets behind it.

Walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge

To get closer still, it’s free for pedestrians to walk across the bridge. I took a route through The Rocks area and up to the Sydney Observatory before crossing the bridge to Milsons Point and visiting Luna Park, a small amusement park on the Northern shore of Sydney Harbour before catching the ferry back to Circular Quay from Milsons Point ferry terminal. There are some great views of Sydney Harbour looking across to the Opera House from the Bridge but unfortunately, for safety reasons there’s a mesh fence up along the walkway stopping you from really taking a photo in front of this view. It is possible to hold the lens of your camera against a gap in the fence to take photos of the view though.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and have the money to splash out, the most exciting way to see the bridge is from the top of it. On my first trip to the city, I took part in a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb in which small groups of people are taken on a guided walk up to the highest point of the bridge.

At the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge on the bridge climb experience

We were given a special suit to wear and equipped with all the gear we’d need to attach ourselves safely to the bridge and move along it before being give a quick training session on a practise ‘bridge’ inside the bridge climb terminus before setting out on our adventure. The hardest part was climbing the vertical ladders onto the bridge but after this it was more like a walk up a hill than a climb and was a lot easier than I expected it to be.

As you’re not allowed to take your own cameras, our guide took pictures of us when we reached the top and we were provided with the group picture for free on our return. Copies of individual photos taken were available to purchase upon our return to the centre after our climb. This was a really fantastic experience and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Sydney!

As part of our Bridge climb experience, we were given free tickets to visit the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. As the name suggests, this allowed us to enter the Pylon on the south side of the bridge where a small museum is located detailing how the iconic bridge was built. After looking around the museum, we made our way to a viewing deck on top of the pylon which offered stunning views across Sydney Harbour and – unlike during our bridge climb – allowed us to take our own photos of and with the view. You don’t have to have participated in a bridge climb to access the Pylon Lookout, anyone can buy a ticket and visit.

Darling Harbour

Spotting Dugong at the Sydney Aquarium

The other well-known harbour in Sydney is Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is home to a range of tourist attractions including Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife Park, the Chinese Garden of Friendship and the World’s largest IMAX screen.

Darling Harbour at night

Darling Harbour is a great place to head for an evening out. It’s Cockle Bay Wharf area houses a variety of restaurants, and bars and clubs line both sides of the harbour.

Botanical Gardens

A bird on a palm tree and, above, exploring the Sydney Botanic Gardens

Lying to the rear of the Opera House, Sydney’s pretty Botanic Gardens are the perfect place for a stroll or to sit relaxing in the sunshine.

I like to follow the sea wall along the harbour to Mrs Macquaries Chair for great views and the perfect place to get a photo with both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the same shot!

Beaches and coastal walks

A surfer at Bondi and, above, visiting Bondi Beach

The most famous of Sydney’s beaches is, of course, Bondi Beach. Bondi is in a suburb of Sydney and I’ve always caught the public bus out of the city to get there and back.

Bondi Baths, an ocean swimming pool

Whenever I’ve been in the sunshine, the beach has been busy with tourists and locals sunbathing, surfing or soaking up the atmosphere but on my last visit, I arrived to torrential rain, finding the area unsurprisingly, almost deserted!

Not sunbathing weather and, below, views walking from Bondi to Bronte

As sunbathing wasn’t an option, I instead took the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, following the coast path from next to the Bondi lido. It was a really pretty walk and if I had time, I would have continued to follow the path to the beach at Coogee, catching the bus back to Sydney city centre from there but instead, I turned around once I reached Bronte and returned to Bondi to meet my friends.

Walking from Manly to Shelly Beach

Manly Beach is another beach easily accessible from the city. We took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, walking down its Corso, lined with shops and restaurants, to reach the main beach.

We spent a fun day sunbathing and swimming in the ocean but again, if, like me, you can’t stay in one place for long, you can take a coastal walk past the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve to Shelly Beach.

The lighthouse at Palm Beach

Fans of Australian soap Home & Away might want to head to Palm Beach in Sydney’s North Beach district. Palm Beach doubles as Summer Bay in the soap and is instantly recognisable to fans of the soap with its lighthouse and golden sands. The first time I visited, we took a guided tour of the North Beaches which had Palm Beach as its main stop and were lucky enough to find filming was going ahead that day.

Peninsula views from the lighthouse walk

The cast were more than happy to chat and take photos with fans between takes. Since then, I have returned taking a long bus ride out of Sydney to get there and while no filming was happening that day, I still had a great day walking up to the lighthouse for beautiful views across the peninsula before relaxing on the golden sands.

On my last visit to the city, upon the recommendation of a Sydney-sider friend, I took the ferry out to Watsons Bay.

The Gap at Watsons Bay

While the beaches there were not the best Sydney has to offer, I followed the South Head Heritage Trail, a pretty walking track that loops round past the Hornby Lighthouse and back.

From here, I walked up to The Gap viewing area on top to watch the ocean crashing into the rocks below the cliffs, continuing on along the coast to Macquarie Lighthouse. From Watsons Bay, I caught the bus back to the city, hopping off at Rose Bay for a stroll down to Rose Bay Beach.

Day trips out

Apart from heading to one of the many beaches, its possible to take a range of organised tours out of the city.

On a cable car across the Blue Mountains and, above, stopping to say hello to the wildlife at Featherdale

I took a fun day trip out to see the highlights of the the Blue Mountains. Leaving Sydney, we stopped off at Featherstone Wildlife Park to meet some friendly kangaroos and wallabies before driving through some of the pretty Blue Mountain villages and stopping off at some stunning viewpoints.

About to ride the World’s steepest railway and, below, beautiful views of the Blue Mountains

We spent the main part of the bay at the Scenic World attraction where we rode on the glass-bottomed scenic skyway, the World’s steepest railway and the scenic cable car for more beautiful views. Our tour stopped at Sydney’s Olympic Park on the way back before we took a sunset ferry ride back to Sydney.

Other tours you can take from Sydney include day trips to Jervis Bay and to Canberra, the country’s capital city, both of which I plan on doing on my next visit!

Getting Around

Walking is the best way to see Sydney!

While I’ve never stayed any further south than the Museum/Hyde Park area of the city, from here at least, Sydney is a pretty walkable city with both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour in easy reach. On one of my first visits to the city, I made use of the city’s hop on off bus but while the commentary was occasionally interesting, I didn’t feel that it took me to anywhere I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get to. I have also made use of the city’s efficient rail service with trains running regularly to Circular Quay from Central Station. From here you can connect to the city’s airport service too. Sydney Opal cards can be purchased from convenience stores and used on public transport including local rail services and the buses out to Bondi Beach. It’s even possible to venture out to the Blue Mountains on public transport rather than driving or using an organised tour if you are so inclined!

Sydney is definitely a great city to explore with plenty of things to see and do. Let me know if you’ve been by sharing your tips in the comments!

Find my other posts on Australia here!