8 Things to do in Sydney in Summer

By Aussie on the Road on  8 Comments
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The cold has well and truly set in here in China. I sit here huddled over my desk wearing socks, gloves, and two sweaters with the heat set to high and I last felt my feet about fifteen minutes before I logged in and started typing.

To say that my trip to Hainan in ten days can’t come fast enough would be an understatement, and the warm beaches of Thailand and the Philippines (our likely Chinese New Year destination) are but shimmering mirages in the distance.

As if the cold, the distance from our families, and lack of western food weren’t bad enough during the festival season; I also have to watch on in envy as my Facebook feed fills up with images of beach days, barbeques, and other summer shenanigans. Each photo of a sun soaked Opera House is a stab to my heart. Every close up of a slightly melted ice cream or a beer so cold it’s got condensation on the can makes me feel all the farther from home.

Hanging out at Freshwater Beach
Hanging out with friends overlooking Freshwater Beach in 2010.

Maybe the sane thing to do would be to log off Facebook and stop torturing myself, but I’ve decided to go the other route. I’m going to list the eight things to do in Sydney in summer that I’d love to be doing right about now. Whether you’re studying English in Australia or a lifelong resident – be warned: if you get out and do all seven yourself, I’ll be very jealous. If you send me photos, you’ll be dead to me.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

8 Things to do in Sydney in Summer

#8 – Take a ferry ride

Whether you’re headed to the northern beaches, Luna Park, or just want to feel the wind in your hair as you cross one of the world’s most beautiful harbours – a ferry ride on Sydney Harbour is a wonderful (and fairly cheap) way to get around the city while feeling the sun on your skin and smelling the salty sea air.

Leaving from Circular Quay all day, the ferry service is the best way to get to Sydney icons such as Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo, and Luna Park, but also to less known (but no less idyllic) spots like Cockatoo Island, Balmain, and even as far inland as Parramatta in Sydney’s west.

Sydney Opera House
The Sydney to Manly ferry affords a brilliant view of the Opera House (although this photo is taken from the Harbour Bridge >_>)

Some of my favourite trips in Sydney have started and ended with a ferry ride – seeing the vast Pacific ocean out through the headland en route to Manly Beach is a sight to behold, but seeing the glittering skyline with the sun setting behind it as you return slightly sun-burned, a wee bit tipsy, and feeling more alive than you felt going out is a feeling you need to experience once before you die.

#7 – See some live sport

The ‘big codes’ such as rugby and Aussie rules might have called it a year, but there’s always some sports action to be found in Sydney. The city boasts two football (soccer) teams – Sydney FC and West Sydney Wanderers, and while the league is a few steps (okay, miles) behind the Premier League – there are still household names such as Alessandro del Piero and Emile Heskey plying their trade in the land downunder in addition to a host of exciting young players.

If the round ball game isn’t your thing, cricket season is in full swing over summer – with touring national sides, the Big Bash League, and the domestic competition all options. There are few things more Aussie than a day at the cricket in the stinking hot with some zinc pasted across your laughing gear (not up on Aussie slang? I can help with that).

Sydney Kings lion
The Sydney Kings lion is part of a remarkably good atmosphere at the Kingdome.

There’s also basketball in the form of the Sydney Kings, who I’ve been lucky enough to have a few beers with in the past. The NBL isn’t a patch on America’s NBA, but the atmosphere is electric and the end to end action is still enough to get your pulse going. You can read all about my night at the NBL right here on the site.

If seeing it in the flesh isn’t your thought, head to an RSL (Retired Serviceman’s League) or Leagues Club and watch the game on TV over a pub lunch and a few ice cold bevvies (beer is the liquid of choice with most Aussies). Strike up a chat with a local and you’ll be set.

#6 – Go on a pub crawl

Sydney (sadly) doesn’t boast the microbrewing culture that makes cities such as Boulder or Portland the legendary places that they are, but there are no shortage of characterful watering holes in Sydney. And while the prices are likely to put a serious dent in your wallet, an Aussie pub crawl is something to be experienced.

I’ve prattled on incessantly about my personal favourite being the cozy Hart’s Pub in The Rocks, but I’ll give it another nod here. Good Aussie microbrew from local brewers, fantastic food, and a comfortable and quiet atmosphere that is conducive to a few good yarns while imbibing.

A frosty beer from Hart's Pub, Sydney
A frosty beer from Hart’s Pub, Sydney

Around the corner are other top pubs such as the Australian Hotel (try the pizza), the Hero of Waterloo, the Lord Nelson (good microbrew and English style food), and the German themed Lowenbrau.

Head down to Darling Harbour and you’ve got the likes of the Watershed, the slightly pretentious Cargo Bar, the Pumphouse (selling imported microbrew), and the laid back Harborview with (you guessed it) a stellar view of the Harbour Bridge. If you’re in Circular Quay, you can’t go past the somewhat pricey Opera Bar for unparalleled views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but there’s also the Slip Inn nearby.

opera bar, Sydney
The view from the Opera Bar is one of the best in Sydney. The food ‘ain’t bad either!

Of course, you can find good pubs away from the main part of the city. Surry Hills has a selection of fantastic gastro pubs (especially The Norfolk, in my opinion), King Street in Newtown is practically littered with great bars and live music venues, and any suburb is bound to have more than a bar or two to keep you and your mates occupied as you stumble your way to an unforgettable night.

But…uh… drink responsibly, you rapscallion!

#5 – Get into the festive spirit

Christmas is a magical time in the harbour city, and there you can’t look past Carols in the Domain when it comes to celebrating Christmas in Sydney with a few thousand of your closest friends.

Opening Christmas presents
Me? I’m happy with a Christmas with my family. Here, my nephew celebrates his very first Christmas.

While I’ve never been lucky enough to attend the event, I grew up watching the telecast from my family living room and the spirit and community of the event reached through the screen and grabbed me. With a mix of Aussie ‘celebrities’ and occasional bigger name international stars such as Josh Groban and ‘The Hoff’, the event is part concert and part audience participation caroling event.

The event is insanely popular though, so if you’re wanting to go along – get to Sydney’s Domain (near the Opera House/Botanical Gardens) early to claim your patch of grass. A night of caroling in the warm summer air underneath the starry sky should get you in the festive spirit quick-smart.

#4 – Learn a water sport

While I’ll touch on the beach situation later in the count-down, a moment has to be spent highlighting the many other ways to get wet in Sydney. Whether you’re a scuba diver wanting to chase down a Wobbygong at Shelly Beach, a stand up paddle boarder looking to spend some time atop the Harbour, or a budding surfer wanting to ride the waves at Bondi, Bronte, or Dee Why – there’s an outlet for every aquatic desire.

I myself had the opportunity to take surfing lessons in Sydney a few years ago, and I’ve had friends rave about their Sydney Scenic SUP experience. There aren’t any pristine reefs to be found off Sydney, but there’s still plenty to be seen beneath the waves for scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts.

Post surf lesson at Sydney's Dee Why Beach
Post surf lesson at Sydney’s Dee Why Beach

If the deep blue sea is a bit much for you, Sydney will soon act as home to the largest water park in the southern hemisphere. Wet & Wild Sydney isn’t due to open until December 2013, but it looks pretty damn impressive. White water rafting enthusiasts can capitalize on the Sydney Olympics’ left overs by heading out to the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, and there’s no shortage of waterways for avid canoers or kayakers to explore. Which leads me to…

#3 – Explore a national park

…national parks. Sydney is surrounded on all sides (well, aside from the ocean) by some pristine Aussie wilderness. There are those who will swear by bush-walking in the northern national parks such as Kurang-gai; while you can’t really look past the stunning views and dizzying heights of the world famous Blue Mountains National Park.

My personal pick goes to the Royal National Park in the city’s south, where I was lucky enough to go kayaking a few years ago. You’d be hard pressed finding a place further removed from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city, and after an hour or so paddling out on the water you can snatch some real alone time on an isolated beach or island for a picnic lunch.

Kayaking in Bundeena
Kayaking in Bundeena in 2010. You wouldn’t believe it was winter!

You might be within cooee of Australia’s largest city, but it’s easy to get lost (figuratively and literally, unfortunately) in the national parks that surround the city.

#2 – Spend some time on the beach

The only thing shocking about this one appearing on the list is that it’s not #1, but we’ll get to that in a second. If Sydney is most famous for the Opera House/Harbour Bridge combination, it’s safe to say that its beaches come in a close second. From the perennial crowd pleasers (Bondi and Manly) to the rising contenders (Maroubra, Coogee, Dee Why), to the hidden gems (Little Manly and Freshwater) – there’s an embarrassment of wealth when it comes to beautiful beaches to sun on, swim in, or just hang out at.

Shelly Beach, Sydney
Shelly Beach in Sydney boasts great scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as being a mean BBQ location.

You can’t really go wrong with any of them, but do your research before heading out. While some beaches cater to crowds with their cafes and top facilities, others are more of a BYO experience – but you’ll get more space to yourself in exchange for the luxuries you give up.

I can’t stress enough the importance of sunscreen, though. The Australian sun is an unforgiving bitch and if you haven’t felt it before, you don’t know what you’re in for. It puts the northern hemisphere sun to shame – and you can thank that little hole in the ozone layer for the blistering if you do forget to cover up.

And don’t worry about sharks – they’re misunderstood. It’s the blue ring octopuses, box jellyfish, bluebottles, and drop bears you need to be worried about.

#1 – Have a backyard BBQ

Ah, the humble backyard barbie. I honestly can’t think of something I’d rather be doing right now. There’s something so Aussie (and so fucking relaxing) about standing over the barbie with an ice cold beer and listening to the sizzle and pop of sausages and steaks cooking.

With cicadas and crickets singing, a few salads already on the table, and the cricket bat and tennis ball ready for backyard cricket – the backyard barbie is a dinky-di Aussie tradition that you’ll kick yourself if you don’t get to experience in your lifetime.

BBQ Wench
My friend Belle plays BBQ wench at my birthday BBQ in 2010.

Barbecued potato chips, crystalised onion, corn dip, fresh prawns, coleslaw, potato salad, curried corn, and a freshly made pavlova round out a filling meal – but don’t worry about your waistline. The backyard cricket or touch footy ought to burn off a few calories.

God, I can almost smell the fresh cut grass and taste the slightly burned snags now. Kill me.

Your Say

I’ve shared my favourite eight things to do in Sydney in summer, but what are yours? Are there any glaring omissions in my list or have I hit the nail on the head?

How will you be spending your summer? Or if you’re unlucky enough to be north of the equator, what will you be doing to keep warm?

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