Oceans. Mountains. Deserts. Jungles. Kangaroos.
You’d be hardpressed to find another country that rivals Australia’s wealth of natural wonders, exotic wildlife and welcoming cities.
As an ELI Abroad intern, you’ll be based in Sydney (state of New South Wales) or Melbourne (Victoria) two of Australia’s most cosmopolitan urban centers.
At night, on weekends and your days off, you can hit the road, enjoying all that these cities have to offer, and exploring their exciting environs.
The sight seeing suggestions below barely scratch the surface, and are limited to the Sydney and Melbourne areas. For a more comprehensive look at Australia, check out Lonely Planet and The Rough Guides.
As vibrant as any of the great cities on the planet, and noted for its stunning beaches, iconic architecture, a rich foodie scene and ancient aboriginal past, Sydney has a dynamic energy all its own. Canberra may be the country’s official capital, but it’s Sydney that remains at the heart of Australia’s culture. (With some fierce competition from Melbourne.)
Most tourists begin their exploration of the city around the glittering harbour. Its hub is the Circular Quay, with ferries, buses and trains linking it to the rest of the city and beyond. From here you can take a ferry tour of the Harbour and enjoy stunning water views of the Sydney Opera House. Of course, there are tours of the Opera as well. The Royal Botanic Gardens, a world renowned botanical center, offers scenic views in addition to its wealth of botanical treasures. The nearby Government House, a wonderful gothic colonial building and home to the past 27 Governors of New South Wales.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge, built in 1923, was for decades Sydney’s undisputed landmark, and it remains the world’s largest steel arch bridge. Now somewhat overshadowed by the Opera House, it nevertheless remains a beloved symbol of the city and, a popular attraction for those who want to take a guided climbing tour to the top. (Warning: it takes 3 hours!)
If you’re not a touring sort, consider walking: a network of trails along the harbour area -- and in fact throughout the city -- is a great (and free) way to explore Sydney.
The nearby landmark,The Rocks (named for its rocky outcropping) was Australia’s first settlement, now a restored historic quarter and a “can’t miss” tourist site. Besides its fascinating cobbled lanes and narrow passages, The Rocks offers inviting cafes, bars restaurants and shops, and is the setting for many festivals. Art fans shouldn’t miss the adjacent Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) -- its cutting edge collection, Aboriginal art, and free admission make the MCA a major destination.
In the Central Business District, (CBD), check out The Queen Victoria Building (QVB,) an impressively refurbished 1890s structure and an example of Sidney’s “proud old lady” architecture. It now houses high end shops that make for fun window shopping. Speaking of shopping, Pitt Street Mall in CBD is a popular local destination that sells many international brands and also serves as an anchor for other shopping centers and arcades, including Westfield Sydney and the Victorian-style Strand Arcade.
After all that exploring you’ll want to cool off at the famous Bondi Beach, Sydney’s most famous coastal playground, which you can reach via ferry from Circular Quay. No trip to Bondi is complete without checking out the famous Bondi Icebergs Swimming Pool, a 100-year old beachside pool open to the public year round. It’s stunning, popular, and yes, often crowded - both the beach and its pool. Those wanting someplace a bit more quiet should consider the more distant Balmoral Beach, Nielsen Park or The Entrance Ocean Baths.
Australia’s native wildlife and exotic animals take center stage at Taronga Zoo; for diehards there’s even an overnight event wittily named “Roar and Snore.” Kids of all ages will enjoy one of the largest aquariums in the world, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium. It’s located in Darling Harbour, a redeveloped industrial docks area east of city center, which includes a shopping mall, an IMAX theater, play grounds and upscale eateries and bars along the adjacent Cockle Bay and King Street Wharf.
Beyond Darling Harbor, check out the youthful Glebe and Newtown neighborhoods that surround Sydney University; Chinatown and Koreatown are also worth visiting in Haymarket, an area also popular with budget travelers.
You don’t have to go far to get away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Easily accessible mountains, vineyards and coastlines offer a respite from the city and a magnificent introduction to Australia’s natural treasures.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Surprisingly close to Sydney, this highly scenic mix of sandstone, bushlands and water is one of the oldest National Parks in Australia. Besides its stunning views, the Park also offers a fascinating look into the culture of the indigenous Guringai people who lived here before being nearly wiped out by colonizers and the diseases they brought. More than 800 Aboriginal sites were found at the park, and you can still see their engravings, wall paintings and stencils along the popular-for-a-reason Aboriginal Heritage trail.
Located 90 miles west of Sydney, Blue Mountains National Park is a rocky wonderland of cliffs, valleys, millions of eucalyptus trees and the distinctive “blue haze” which give the mountains their name. The area has some of the best hiking in this part of Australia, from easy strolls to challenging multi-day expeditions. There’s a glass-bottomed aerial cable car in the park for extraordinary scenery viewing and the world’s steepest funicular railway to the bottom of the Jamison Valley. With the iconic Three Sisters Rock Formation and Katoomba Falls, it’s no wonder this is one of Australia’s most popular National Parks. Don’t miss the nearby Jenolan Caves, a series of spectacular limestone caves draped with stalactites.
Royal National Park
The world’s second-oldest National Park (after Yellowstone NP in Wyoming) is as majestic as its historic stature warrants. Lonely Planet calls it a “prime stretch of wilderness at the city’s doorstep… [with] secluded beaches, vertiginous cliffs, scrub, heath, rainforest, swamp wallabies, lyrebirds and raucous flocks of yellow-tailed black cockatoos.”
Four words: turquoise waters, golden sands. Jervis Bay’s beaches are among the world’s most beautiful, with world-class snorkeling, wildlife galore and, in season, a prime whale watching sites. Don’t miss Hyams Beach, it has the whitest sand on the planet, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, but it remains relatively quiet and under the radar.
The Hunter Valley
Australia’s oldest and best known wine region, Hunter Valley is particularly recognized for its Semillon and Shiraz wines. These days, mass tourism and commercialism turned the area into a bit of a wine country cliche. To get off the beaten path, the Rough Guide recommends you head to the quaint historic town of Wollombi or Upper Hunter.
Compared to the hyper popular Bondi Beach, The Entrance is a relatively quiet coastal escape and haven for water lovers who sail, water ski, canoe and fish. There are ocean baths, lagoons, a colony of friendly penguins, and miles of sandy beach, making it a particular favorite with locals.
Political, economic and cultural rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney is legendary, and is partly the reason why Canberra, and not either of these two bickering cities, became the nation’s capital. Sydney may be bigger and richer, but Melbourne is beloved for its attractive European vibe, cafe culture and sophisticated international atmosphere, thanks in part to massive immigration from Greece, Italy, Vietnam, Lebanon and Sudan. It regularly beats Sydney for the title of “World’s Most Livable City,” and, frankly, even Sydney agrees. Conde Nast Traveler magazine calls Melbourne “Australia’s capital of cool,” and we think ELI-ers will agree.
Taking the free City Circle Tram is a great way to orient yourself among the city’s major tourist attractions. You can also do a lot of exploring on foot via a network of terrific trails through Melbourne’s parks and coastal areas. Many of Melbourne’s coolest places are hidden in narrow laneways the casual tourist can easily miss, but they’re part of what makes Melbourne so alluring. Here you’ll discover small restaurants, creative boutiques and surprising art galleries.
The Queen Victoria Market draws visitors with its old-world feel and wealth of shopping - you can buy everything from fresh fish to high-end jewelry here. The Block Arcade is another major shopping destination set in an architectural gem.
No stay in Melbourne is complete without a visit to its temple of sport, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or as the locals call it, “G” where they celebrate the city’s unofficial religion, AFL (Australian Rule Football.) This very physical mixture of football and rugby is uniquely Australian, and a cultural “must” for those who want to really understand Aussies. (Season runs April-September.) Tennis fans, take note: Melbourne is home of the Australian Open!
The Yarra River is a magnet for events, sports and festivals along its banks; it’s also a fun way to enjoy seeing the city.
And, this being Australia, of course Melbourne has wonderful beaches, although they’re not quite as dazzling as Bondi Beach, Sydney residents are quick to point out.
Penguins on Parade: Phillip Island
Yes, it’s touristy and at times crowded, as befits one of Australia’s most popular wildlife attractions. But Phillip Island, about 75 km outside of Melbourne and accessible by bus and train, has other things to offer besides penguin watching, including a scenic coastline, beaches, quaint villages, a large fur seal colony and a Koala Conservation Centre. If this all sounds a bit much, consider French Island: a serene and off-the-beaten path destination best explored on foot or bike. No penguins, but a wealth of wildlife, and relatively few people.
The Mornington Peninsula
The perfect place if windswept coastlines and wines and country inns are your thing. This is a popular getaway from Melbourne where you can play golf, hike, swim, chill in a spa, and splurge on a great meal with locally made wines.
Just an hour outside of Melbourne, the rolling hills of this major wine-growing region attract day trippers and weekenders alike for wine tastings and bushwalking in the forests beyond it.
Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges
This trendy foothills spa town has been attracting health-conscious Aussies for a hundred years. You can “take in the waters,” hike and explore a wealth of small eateries, galleries and specialty shops.
The Great Ocean Road
As the name implies, this road trip offers some of the planet’s great ocean views - and more. Built along Victoria’s southeast edge, this 243-kilometer (150 mile) road hugs the coast and runs through areas wild enough to catch a glimpse of kangaroos if you’re lucky. Unless you’re adept at driving on the left side of the road, we don’t recommend you rent a car, but there are plenty of tours you can take with as many stops as you’d like. Consider making this an overnight trip, (you can spend the night in Apollo Bay or Port Campbell) to spend more time along the coast. The iconic 12 Apostles rock formation attracts sometimes busload of tourists, but there are many quiet and secluded areas you can lose yourself in.
Both Sydney and Melbourne have excellent public transportation. The system includes buses, trams, trains and ferries for easy car-less access to most of the areas listed above. ELI’s on-site coordinators will explain your best and most economical options, but here are some helpful links.
General Public Transportation Info-Sydney
Sydney Transport Mobile Apps
Sydney Bus System
Sydney Light Rail (trams)
Sydney Water Taxi
General Public Transportation Info-Melbourne
City Circle Free Tourist Tram
Melbourne Transpor Mobile Apps
Melbourne Bus System
Melbourne Train System