{Sydney} sleepless in Sydney’s sights & sounds (& whales)

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going solo in NZ: Itinerary | Auckland | Wellington | Picton & Kaikoura | Christchurch | Queenstown | quirks & perks of solo travelling |

After spending a full month in New Zealand mostly solo travelling, my family headed for a 10-day vacation in Sydney (a fun stopover before returning back to Singapore).

If you’re planning a trip Down Under, why not check out my Going Solo in NZ series for unique trip ideas?

This was the most touristy part of my trip, and I’ll admit it took a little adjusting back to generic cityscapes after a month of waking up to mostly low-rise city buildings, surrounded by endless mountains.

Read on for our itinerary and loads of pictures of our chill city exploration. We did a bit of everything – good food, some shopping, a lot of walking and many animals!

Pre-trip planning + saving money with the iVenture pass & Klook

Since Sydney is fairly touristy, with loads of attractions and experiences, there are various bundle deals that let you hit up most of the major attractions at a discounted price! We bought a 7-ticket Sydney Flexi Attractions Pass for just SGD$225.72 each, saving ourselves about 40-50% off the total if we’d bought all the tickets separately:

  • Sydney Harbour Discovery Lunch Cruise
  • Madame Tussauds Sydney
  • WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo
  • Sydney Tower Eye
  • Sydney Whale Watching Cruise
  • Sydney Opera House tour
  • Escape Hunt Sydney

The only attraction we wanted to visit that wasn’t included was the Taronga Zoo, so we bought the tickets on Klook, my trusted one-stop site for discounted attraction tickets:

  • Taronga Zoo Ticket
    • Includes general admission and round-trip Sky Safari tickets (cable car from ferry wharf to zoo entrance)
    • Cost: SGD$45.60/pax
    • Why not use my referral link to sign up for a Klook account for $5 off your first purchase! 🙂
Sydney Itinerary (11-20 Aug)
Day 1 (Thu)ZQN✈️SYD
🏨 Check in @ Hyde Park Inn
Day 2 (Fri)🌳 Taronga Zoo + Sky Safari cable car
🍽️ Happy Chef Noodle Restaurant (Chinese)
🍪 Emperor’s Garden @ Chinatown
🛍️ Chinatown + Friday Night Market
Day 3 (Sat)🛍️ Glebe Markets (every Sat)
🛍️ Birkenhead Point Brand Outlet
🍽️ Sparrow’s Mill Express (Korean)
🛍️ Paddy’s Market
Day 4 (Sun)🏛️ Australian Museum
🚢 Sydney Harbour Discovery Lunch Cruise [iVenture Flexi Pass]
🛍️ The Rocks Market (every weekend)
🍽️ Red Wok Thai To Go (Thai)
Day 5 (Mon)🍰 Black Star Pastry
🏛️ Madame Tussauds Sydney [iVenture Flexi Pass]
🌳 WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo [iVenture Flexi Pass]
🥾 Pyrmont Bridge
🍽️🐟 Sydney Fish Market
🛍️ Pitt Street window-shopping
🌇 Sydney Tower Eye [iVenture Flexi Pass]
Day 6 (Tue)🏛️ Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
🐋 Sydney Whale Watching Cruise [iVenture Flexi Pass]
🍽️ Mr Meng Chongqing Gourmet (Chinese)
Day 7 (Wed)🛍️ DFO Homebush
🍽️ Roll’d (Vietnamese) @ DFO
🛍️ Westfield Sydney, Queen Victoria Building
🍽️ Little Fish Shoppe (Seafood)
Day 8 (Thu)🌳 Royal Botanic Garden Sydney
🏛️ Sydney Opera House tour [iVenture Flexi Pass]
🍽️ Arigadog (Japanese fusion)
👾 Escape Hunt Sydney [iVenture Flexi Pass]
🛍️ George Street window-shopping
🍽️ Chinta Ria Buddha Love (Malaysian)
Day 9 (Fri)🏖️ Bondi Beach & Icebergs Pool
🍽️ 1919 Lanzhou Beef Noodle (Chinese)
🛍️ Westfield Bondi Junction
🎡 Luna Park
🍽️ Little Fish Shoppe (Seafood)
Day 10 (Sat)🏛️ Australian Museum round #2
🍽️ Noodles Your Way (Chinese)
Day 1 – room review + first impressions

Flying out of Queenstown, NZ in the late afternoon, we reached Sydney after a 3-hour flight. Being winter, the sun had long since set by 6pm and most stores were closed, so we headed straight for our hotel.

Getting around the city was extremely convenient, thanks to Sydney’s efficient and well-connected public transport system (that was streets ahead of Singapore’s). We purchased our Opal/stored value cards from a random airport convenience store, then hopped on a direct train to the city.

I was genuinely amazed when a double-decker train pulled up, but the excitement later wore off when we tapped out and saw a balance of -$1 on our Opal cards. Turns out, there’s a $15 surcharge when taking the metro to or from the airport, on top of the usual fare.

Stepping out of the metro at Museum Station, the temperature was a pleasant 19°C, so we only needed a light jacket to feel comfortable. Winter temperatures throughout the trip were ~15-19°C, relatively hot after the subzero temperatures in NZ (you can read about my 30-day NZ trip here).

We picked the aparthotel Hyde Park Inn for our 10D9N stay [~SGD$250/night for 3 adults], since its location was extremely central (an easy 10-minute walk to many shopping streets) and the room was spacious, with a view of Hyde Park below. What’s more, it came with a DIY breakfast and free laundry facilities for maximum convenience.

The only con of staying in this area was the occasional ambulance & fire truck sirens, since it was just a street away from both a fire station and medical center.

Day 2 – Taronga Zoo + Chinatown

The very next morning, we set off for Taronga Zoo, a lovely but very blustery 12-minute ferry ride across Sydney Harbour.

Upon arrival at Taronga Wharf, we showed our pre-booked tickets and were allowed to ride the Sky Safari, a cable car that takes you over the zoo, to the entrance at the top of the hill.

Other guests who hadn’t pre-booked their tickets had to take the free shuttle instead, missing out on this unique first look at the park.

*I pre-booked my ticket on Klook [Taronga Zoo Entry Ticket, SGD$45.60/pax], since it offered better prices than the official website; remember to use my referral link to sign up for a Klook account for $5 off your first purchase!

We arrived in time to catch both of the main animal shows (Seals for the Wild & Free Flight Birds), then spent the rest of the afternoon slowly making our way through the massive zoo, which had the usual animals, as well as seals, red pandas, capybaras, and even a petting zoo!

anyone wants to give this chonky cat a belly rub??

After nearly 6 hours in the zoo, we headed back into the city, stopping by Chinatown to check out its Friday Night Market. The night market was the length of one street, with many food vendors selling Asian food like meat skewers, takoyaki, dumplings, and bubble tea.

It was quaint and took us literally 15 minutes to finish exploring…we spent the remainder of the night walking around the Chinatown area and wandering through grocery aisles in Coles.

Day 3 – Glebe Markets + Birkenhead Point Outlets

Want to buy secondhand outfits, handmade jewellery, artwork, or vintage knick knacks/comic books/vinyls? Glebe Markets might be the right place to spend a few hours at – it’s one of Sydney’s more popular Saturday markets, and for good reason!

Conveniently located along a street lined with bookstores and hipster cafes, this weekend flea market has plenty of food options and unique stalls to slowly wander through. We bought an old comic book and a handmade coaster, before stopping for a lunch of seafood paella on these picnic grounds.

Our next stop was just a bus ride away – the Birkenhead Point outlets, a large outlet mall with the usual mid-to-high-end brands you’d expect to find in an outlet (eg. Nike/Adidas, Coach/Furla, Kathmandu/North Face, Calvin Klein/Tommy Hilfiger).

The deals were good, perfect for Christmas gift shopping, though not nearly as attractive or discounted as outlets in the US. We spent ~3 hours there mostly window-shopping, before heading back into the city to Paddy’s Market in Chinatown.


Paddy’s Market is the place to go if you’re looking to buy cheap souvenirs in bulk for your friends or coworkers, with rows of stores selling the exact same merchandise you’d find in marked up souvenir shops. From the usual kangaroo/koala magnets & keychains, to Australian-made soap, kangaroo pelt & boomerangs, you’ll be spoiled for choice (and your wallet will thank you).

On the upper floors of the market, there were various outlet stores (eg. FILA, Cotton On, Converse)and Chinese restaurants, while the ground floor had plenty of stalls selling fake bags & clothing. Overall, we had a pretty good 2-hour shopping spree.

Day 4 – lunch on Sydney Harbour (on a rocky boat) + exploring The Rocks

One of the attractions offered in the iVenture Flexi Pass was the Sydney Harbour Discovery Cruise, a 3-hour boat ride inclusive of a 45-minute lunch buffet on board, a 1-hour shore excursion at Shark Island, and a 1-hour cruise around the harbour.

The cruise was…not great. The distance from Circular Quay to Shark Island was really short, so the boat travelled at a ridiculously slow speed, making it extremely rocky (despite the clear weather), and I got seasick barely 5 minutes into the greasy buffet lunch.

Thankfully, we eventually reached Shark Island, a very small island smack in the middle of Sydney Harbour, named because of its apparent shark-shape (2/10 resemblance, but sure).

false advertising – no sharks sighted on Shark Island

The cerulean waters and short seaside walking trail were really beautiful, especially on such a clear day, and I even brought home some tumbled seaglass from its sandy shores.

After an hour on the island, we were herded back onto the boat for a slow & choppy hour-long cruise that took us up close to various sights on the harbour. Overall, I would say I had more fun sightseeing from the top deck of Sydney’s public ferries than on this mediocre & slow-paced cruise, but it’s a good way to sight-see for the elderly or less mobile.

After the cruise, our next stop was The Rocks, a trendy walking street near the harbour, with a weekend market creatively named The Rocks Market. There were plenty of booths selling handmade glassware & art, baked goods/pastries, and food.

We adventurously tried some exotic food from a Turkish stall – kangaroo & crocodile kebabs with pita were on the menu – it made for an interesting meal, but was quite gamey & tough. I think I’ll stick to regular meat…

The market ended right under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and seeing the gargantuan steel structure (plus some bridge climbers on the stairs overhead) from this new perspective made for a beautiful sunset. We wandered around The Rocks for a while, until most of the stores closed in the early evening.

Day 5 – touristy things, Sydney Fish Market & going up the Sydney Tower Eye

This was our most touristy day by far, with our family hitting up 3 attractions with our iVenture Flexi Pass, and eating lots of good (sea)food.

We stopped by Black Star Pastry in the morning to try their famous strawberry watermelon cake, which was unique but definitely overrated. It was highly instagrammable, but was ultimately just a slab of watermelon shoved between cream and decent cake, topped with strawberries…

Since Madame Tussauds Sydney and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo were included under the iVenture Flexi Pass, we spent the morning there. Madame Tussads took just a quick 30-minute walk-through. I’m personally not a big fan of taking pictures with wax figures, but we had 1 extra attraction in our iVenture pass so we picked this out of convenience.

The WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo was great for a small indoor zoo, with animals that the Taronga Zoo didn’t have, like the tree kangaroo & wombat. Having smaller enclosures meant we were able to see all the animals much better – we finally saw a Tasmanian devil, which we couldn’t spot at Taronga Zoo – and I enjoyed it tremendously!

On the way to the Sydney Fish Market, we crossed the Pyrmont Bridge (supposedly a touristy thing to do), then hopped on a light rail that took us on a one-way trip to seafood heaven.

Sydney Fish Market is an absolute must-visit, unless you’re allergic to seafood (to which I would say, sincere condolences). We smelled the market before we saw it, and saw seagulls + 1 grubby pelican circling menacingly overhead.

We got sidetracked right from the get-go, stopping at a store (Musumeci Seafoods) outside the main building, and buying a platter of a dozen juicy oysters for ~$2 each! Compared to the oysters sold inside the main building, these were definitely larger.

The market itself was thronging with people carrying takeout boxes full of freshly-cooked seafood, while they searched for a spot to sit. We dined at the Fish Market Cafe, a crowded joint serving reasonably-priced fare, ordering grilled barramundi (~AUD$20), salmon (~$20), 2 half-lobsters (~$20 each), and 3 scallop mornay for under $100.

One satisfying meal later, we headed back to the CBD for some window-shopping along Pitt Street and in Westfield, the mall directly connected to the Sydney Tower Eye.

We had booked the 5.30pm slot, planning to reach the observation deck in time to catch the sunset, and our timing was perfect! It was fairly crowded at this time, with many amateur and professional photographers alike clamouring for a good window spot to capture the golden sun setting over the city.

#nofilter, the orange colouration & lens flare are a result of my phone’s reflection against the glass…

And so, another day in budget Manhattan had passed.

Day 6 – whale (tail)-watching

If you’re buying the iVenture pass, you’ll more than make your money’s worth by going whale watching (Oz Whale Watching). Valued at ~$100, it’s a 4-hour experience inclusive of lunch, with a marine biologist on board to provide live commentary.

To kill some time before the 12pm boarding, we explored the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, located a stone’s throw away from the dock. (It was cool, though not necessarily my thing.)

Being an occasional victim of seasickness, I was in equal parts anxious and excited, since the tour entailed 4 hours out in the open sea, in sometimes-unpredictable weather conditions. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded as the sun shone down on us and there were pretty much no significant waves.

source: my dad’s camera, because the whale was too far away for my iPhone to capture anything worthwhile…

The first hour was spent chugging our way out of the harbour while the lunch buffet was ongoing. Once we reached the open seas, everyone rushed outdoors to try and spot the telltale signs of a humpback whale – a spout (when whales exhale through their blowhole) or a hump.

Within 15 minutes of being out in the open sea, we had our first sighting. Turns out, it was a mother whale and her calf (which we were barely able to see). The next 2 hours at sea were spent quietly following the duo while they rested, with the boat engine turned off for most of the time.

A curious seal also swam up to our boat and waved a flipper at us (or at least that’s what it looked like), playfully swimming laps around the boat for a solid half-hour. Our guide mentioned that on some days, pods of dolphins and even more seals may be spotted!

my best pic of the whale…a pixellated hump against the Sydney skyline

While touristy, I enjoyed this experience and definitely want to go whale/dolphin watching again. Next time, I’ll head out in an even smaller and less obtrusive boat during peak migration season, to catch a closer look at these beauties.

Day 7 – DFO, QVB

We were unexpectedly running out of things to do, and found ourselves with an extra day. Since our haul from the Birkenhead Point outlet had been dismal, we decided to try our luck at DFO Homebush, another large outlet mall.

Located just outside the city centre, it took a train & bus ride to get there. We managed to buy some sportswear & clothing at decent discounts, the window-shopping was average, but I’d definitely skip it unless you’re specifically looking to shop at certain brands.

After leaving DFO Homebush in the early afternoon, we meandered our way through the remaining shopping areas and malls in the CBD. Special mention goes to the beautiful Queen Victoria Building, a rather lovely heritage-listed mall lined with pricey boutiques & jewellery stores.

QVB’s gorgeous wooden panelling
Day 8 – the phantom of the Sydney Opera House

No visit to Sydney would be complete without taking a stroll around the Royal Botanic Garden and seeing the Sydney Opera House come into view as you approach the bay. (It was winter, so the Botanic Garden itself wasn’t anything to write home about…)

As a massive theatre nerd, I was beyond excited for the hour-long Sydney Opera House tour (which was once again included in the iVenture Flexi Pass). It was a large group tour of around 30, but we were given individual headsets to hear our guide better.

The tour granted us access to various areas not usually open to the public (we watched the tail end of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s morning rehearsal), and our guide’s detailed narration really enhanced the whole experience. Miraculously, since the Phantom of the Opera was premiering the day after, our tour guide snuck us into the theatre for a quick peek at the full set. Getting to watch the crew test out the projections and seeing the show’s infamous chandelier up close felt surreal!!

For our very last iVenture attraction, being an escape room fanatic, I dragged my parents to Escape Hunt Sydney for an hour-long game. It was challenging and fun, a great group activity to end off the day.

Day 9 – Bondi Beach, Luna Park

Saving the best for last, we headed to Bondi Beach on our last full day of the trip. It was drizzling and the sky was very clearly overcast that day, but that didn’t stop the avid surfers we spotted in the distance.

Starting off at the famous (and highly aesthetic) Iceberg Pools, we watched the waves crash up against the external pool walls while brave swimmers continued doing laps in the chilly weather. We then headed over to Bondi Beach itself, which was a surprisingly short ~1km stretch of golden sand. Watching it on TV, I’d somehow expected it to be be longer…

If the weather had been better, we might have attempted a bit of the Bondi coastal walk, but we settled on just walking along the beach and past the beach restaurants/cafes. We spent the better half of the day waiting out the rain at Westfield Bondi Junction (a massive shopping mall).

When the weather had cleared up sufficiently, we took a train across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Luna Park, a kitschy 50s-style fairground that I’d been tempted to visit ever since first spotting its strange but rather grand facade from across the harbour.

Luna Park is free to enter and explore, but if you want to go on the rides, day passes are available as well. As a Disney/Universal fan, I wasn’t keen to pay for their rides, but was more than happy to people-watch and soak up the seaside fairground atmosphere.

Since there was a direct ferry back to Circular Quay, we seized the chance for one final ferry ride across the waters.

Day 10 – one last museum walkabout & home sweet home

Before for our mid-afternoon flight, we headed to the Australian Museum (just a 10-minute walk from our place) to finish the galleries we had yet to explore, and soon it was time to hop on the $20 train to the airport once again.

After 39 days away from Singapore, I’d gotten very used to living out of a suitcase, and maybe even enjoyed daily life abroad more than back home. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to return to the land of high humidity and bad weather…

If you’d like to read about my solo NZ trip, I’ve linked the full series below, so knock yourself out!

I’ll be spending the last month of my sabbatical (Sept’22) travelling and blogging in Korea, so be sure to follow my Insta or like my FB page to stay up to date with my latest adventures, day-to-day doctoring and life updates.

Until next time, and keep exploring~


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