Downtown Sydney, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background

Widely recognised as the most iconic harbour in the world, Sydney certainly packs the wow factor for a cruise arrival or departure. Day trip, or longer, we’ve got it covered…

Sydney: yes there’s the opera house and the harbour bridge but Australia’s biggest city is so much more besides. It’s historic – the first place of European settlement – and arty, a place to lie on the beach or to dine in fine restaurants. It’s also a gateway to vineyards, mountains and national parks. The Rocks, near the Overseas Passenger Terminal, is the heritage district, with colonial buildings, a cafe culture and a weekend market and it’s here and bustling Darling Harbour, with its museums, restaurants and neighbouring Chinatown, that the big hotels are concentrated. Cheaper accommodation is centred on Kings Cross, also the nightlife hotspot. Circular Quay, between the bridge and the opera house, is the transport hub for ferries, buses and trains and the site of the Museum of Contemporary Art. For independent art galleries and designer boutiques head for Paddington, Woollahra and Double Bay. Escaping the city’s streets is easy; join the friendly locals on one of the outlying beaches or flop in the huge Royal Botanic Gardens at its heart.

What to see and do

Book ahead for the popular Bridge Climb (www.bridgeclimb.com) and you can enjoy stunning 360-degree harbour views from atop an icon. Or, take a backstage tour with breakfast at fellow must-see the Opera House
(www.sydneyoperahouse.com). Another behind-the-scenes treat is Taronga Zoo’s (http://taronga.org. au) ‘Road and Snore’, which involves dinner, luxury harbourside camping and after-hours access to animals including Tasmanian devils and koalas. You can learn to surf or watch the experts at famous Bondi or Manly, just two of Sydney’s suburban beaches. Fancy a barbie? Look out for DIY public grills – Bronte and Centennial parks and Shelly Beach are among the top spots.

Where to eat

Family-run Doyles on the Beach (www.doyles.com.au) at Watsons Bay serves celebrity-drawing seafood like Macadamia crusted barramundi and lobster platters. You won’t find mushy peas at Doyles but they top the ‘pie floater’ at another Sydney institution, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (www.harryscafedewheels.com.au) snack van to the stars, near Woolloomooloo. Right at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks, award-winning fine dining restaurant Quay (www.quay.com.au) serves carefully-sourced delicacies adorned with edible flowers. For a really grand cuppa, enjoy one of the fortnightly high teas at the Opera House (www.sydneyoperahouse.com) while a world-class singer hits the high notes. For pot luck, Darling Harbour, Woolloomooloo Wharf and the main nightlife districts offer plentiful options.

Where to drink

For a world-class view over cocktails, ascend to the Orbit Lounge Bar at the Summit Restaurant (www.summitrestaurant.com.au), which revolves 47 floors above the harbour. Rather more down-to-earth is Sydney’s oldest pub at the Lord Nelson Hotel (http://lordnelsonbrewery.com) in The Rocks, which has its own boutique brewery. Kings Cross is the showy focus for nightlife while in the hip inner city suburbs of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills you’ll find quirky bars like Doctor Pong’s (Burton Street) where table tennis takes centre stage or The Winery (Crown Street) where the reds are described as ‘slurpable’ and ‘mysterious’ and daily food specials range through picnics, pies and roasts. A thriving gay scene is concentrated on Oxford Street.

Where to stay

The Shangri-La (www.shangri-la.com) is the hotel to choose for those postcard views of the harbour. On a smaller scale there are just 18 colourful rooms at the boutique and arty Medusa (www.medusa.com.au) in Darlinghurst. If you fancy living like a local in a home-away-from-home, check into one of the city’s many serviced apartments, like the Breakfree on George (www.mantra.com.au). For a knockout location with a tiny price tag, rent a tent on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour (www.cockatooisland.gov.au), site of a former jail and dockyard. Stylish heritage apartments open there this October.

Day trips

The Blue Mountains, so named for the coloured haze produced by their Eucalyptus trees, are just two hours west of Sydney. Waterfalls, valleys and pinnacles, including the famous Three Sisters, can be viewed from hiking trails, a scenic railway or cable car. Two hours north of the city is Australia’s oldest wine producing region the Hunter Valley. Whale-watching trips depart from Sydney Harbour, while Port Stephens is a top spot for dolphins

Who cruises there?

★ Crystal Cruises – Tel: (020) 7287 9040; www.crystalcruises.co.uk
★ Holland America Line – Tel: 0845 351 0557; www.hollandamerica.com
★ Orion Expedition Cruises – Tel: (020) 7399 7620; www.orionexpeditions.com
★ P&O Cruises – Tel: 0845 678 0014; www.pocruises.com
★ Princess Cruises – Tel: 0845 355 5800; www.princess.com
★ Regent Seven Seas Cruises – Tel: (023) 8068 2280; www.rssc.co.uk
★ Royal Caribbean – Tel: 0844 493 2061; www.royalcaribbean.co.uk
★ Voyages of Discovery – Tel: 0844 822 0802; www.voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk

Fact File
Population 22,000 in central Sydney, four million in greater Sydney
Climate Sydney has opposite seasons to ours. Temperatures in its long summer hover around 23c and in winter rarely fall below 10c
Currency Australian dollar AUS$). £1 = AUS$ 1.7
Time Zone GMT+10
Dialling Codes 2 (61 for Australia)
Useful Websites www.australia.com
www.cruisedownunder.com
www.sydney.com
www.visitnsw.com