Australia's Gateway: for most overseas visitors, Sydney is the place through which they enter and leave Australia, and there is a reason for that. Sydney is geared towards tourism, and more so than any other capital city except perhaps Darwin. Sydney is a well oiled machine in terms of orientating visitors with not only what Sydney has to offer as a tourist destination, but Australia as a whole - our way of life, what we eat, where we go to have fun and relax, our beach culture - Sydney has developed a unique ability to educate its visitors in the finer details of Aussie culture. This puts visitors immediately at ease, which is a major reason why it is such a good place to visit, irrespective of where you have come from.
Its Setting: Sydney's geographical setting is perfect for a tourist destination. The city is built on one of the most beautiful harbours in the world; throughout its suburbs and outlying areas are pockets of virgin bushland which not only means Sydney doesn't have the 'concrete jungle' feel of most big cities, you don't have to drive miles to see its natural attractions because they are right there outside your hotel/motel window; it has top class beaches right on its doorstep; it is home to important national historic sites (both European and Aboriginal); it has no extremes in climate, and it is strategically located midway between Australia's second and third biggest cities (Melbourne and Brisbane - Sydney is the largest) and a few hours drive from the national capital.
Why Do We Go There?
We live in Sydney these days, so to answer this question I must think back to the time when we lived in Perth and first visited Sydney. For a combination of reasons, including it is Australia's largest city; it has the harbour bridge, the Opera House, Taronga Zoo and Australia's most famous beach (Bondi), Sydney has always been one of those places in the country that you have to visit during your lifetime, if for no other reason that to just say you have been there.
Were I to live somewhere else after having visited Sydney once, I'd come back for the amazing number of walks you can do in and around Sydney (there are over 150 of them), and for all the different views and places of interest you encounter along the way.
Where Do We Stay?
Because I live in Sydney, I must draw on the experience of friends from overseas or interstate. They all get a buzz from waking up in the mornings and seeing the Harbour Bridge or Opera House out of their hotel window - they tell me that sort of view comes at a very high price, but that it's worth it at least once in your lifetime. When the bank account deems somewhere less expensive is in order, they prefer to be somewhere on the fringes of the inner city area so that they are within walking distance of the city centre, harbour foreshore and the trains and ferries. My extremely budget conscious friends either stay in a motel in the suburbs (what we did the first couple of times we visited Sydney) or ask to bunk down in the spare room at our place.
What Do We like To Do There?
Go walking; find waterfalls (I've visited 75 and am still counting); ride the harbour ferries; explore the islands of Sydney Harbour; discover secluded harbour beaches and bays that we never knew existed; go to concerts at the Sydney Opera House; visit The Rocks and anywhere else where there are colonial era buildings.
Sydney At A Glance: the capital city of the state of New South Wales and Australia's largest and oldest city (founded in 1788). In terms of area, it is the largest city in the southern hemisphere. Sydney is Australia's most visited tourist destination.
Sydney is a significant global and domestic tourist destination and is regularly declared to be one of the most beautiful and livable cities in the world, admired for its harbour, beautiful coastline, warm and pleasant climate and cosmopolitan culture. Sydney significantly raised its global profile in recent years as the host city of the 2000 Summer Olympics.
With a metropolitan population of 4.7 million and a total population of approximately 170,000 people in the inner city, Sydney is the larger of the two main financial, transport, trade and cultural centres of Australia (the other being Melbourne, Sydney's long term rival to the title of pre-eminent Australian city).
Sydney is located in a coastal basin between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Blue Mountains to the west. Sydney features the largest natural harbour in the world, Port Jackson, and also enjoys more than 70 beaches, including the famous Bondi Beach. Sydney's urban area (1,687 sq km) is similar in size to Greater London, but has half its population. Much of Sydney's metropolitan area is national park and other wilderness, which contributes greatly to its livability.
The area surrounding Sydney Harbour (called Warrane by the aborigines) has been inhabited by Aboriginal tribes, notably the Eora and Cadigal, for at least 40,000 years. Although urbanisation has destroyed most evidence of these settlements (such as shell middens), there are still rock carvings in several locations. European interest arose with the sighting of Botany Bay in 1770 by Lieutenant James Cook. Under instruction from the British government, a convict settlement was founded by Arthur Phillip in 1788. Most convicts came from Ireland and England. A great number were in fact not real criminals but were simply sent to the new colony as a harsh punishment by the ruling aristocracy. Phillip first landed at Botany Bay, but found it unsatisfactorily shallow for a permanent settlement. After a brief sail north, Phillip founded the colony at Sydney Cove on Port Jackson (the correct name for Sydney Harbour).
Phillip originally named the colony "New Albion" (New England), but for some uncertain reason the colony acquired the name "Sydney", after the (then) British Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney (Viscount Sydney from 1789). This is possibly due to the fact that Lord Sydney issued the charter authorising Phillip to establish a colony. Prisoners were quickly set to work to build the settlement and by 1822 the town had banks, markets, well-established thoroughfares and an organised constabulary.
The first of several gold rushes in New South Wales was in 1851, since which time the port of Sydney has seen many waves of people from around the world. With industrialisation Sydney expanded rapidly, and by the early 20th century it had a population well in excess of one million. Throughout the 20th century Sydney continued to expand with various new waves of European and Asian immigration, resulting in its highly cosmopolitan atmosphere of the present day.
Climate; Best Time to Visit
Sydney enjoys a temperate climate with warm summers and mild winters, and has more than 340 sunny days a year. Sydney's weather is moderated by its proximity to the ocean, and more extreme temperatures are recorded in the inland western suburbs. The summer season is from December through to February. January and February are the hottest months when the average daily maximum temperature is around 26 degrees Celsius.
Winter is mildly cool, with temperatures rarely dropping below 5 °C in coastal areas. The coldest month is July, with an average range of 8-16.2 °C.
Rainfall is spread throughout the year. The average annual rainfall, with moderate to low variability, is 1,217 mm, falling on an average 138 days a year. The city is not affected by cyclones but is prone to flash flooding, and bushfires on its outskirts during the hotter summer months.
In terms of the weather, there are no specific times when visiting the city should be avoided. Summer days can get hot and humid, just as some Winter days can be chilled by cool winds. The weather in Spring (September to November) can be changeable; the Autumn months (March to May) would be my choice for best time to visit. Temperatures are cooler than summer, they are the quietest months in terms of overseas visitors and there are still plenty of things happening (eg. Easter Show).