Sydney, the city that reinvented the Olympic Games in its own image in September 2000, is one of the great cities of the world. Sydney has a magic that never fails to entrance those who call it home or the millions who visit each year. Its centrepiece is the matchless harbour which might have escaped Captain James Cook's attention, but certainly caught the eye of the captain of the First Fleet and first governor of the premier state of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip.
No matter how many time you sail its waters or explore its seemingly endless chain of coves and bays and reaches, Sydney Harbour will unveil a hidden face that has inspired generations of painters, poets and sailors.
There are aquatic playgrounds such as as the Georges River, Botany Bay, Narrabeen Lakes, Pittwater and the sinuous and navigable creeks that cut an enchanting lace work through the natural bushland of Ku-ring-gai Chase.
To the east, the waterways are bound by a chain of ocean beaches, some of whose names and wave patterns are a siren call to surfers across the world - Bondi, Narrabeen, Cronulla, Manly, Queenscliff, Collaroy, Newport. Less known but equally spectacular and inviting are the beaches, estuarine playgrounds, resort towns and fishing hamlets that stud the entire New South Wales coastline to the north and south of Sydney.
Birthplace of the nation, Sydney is a glittering gateway to both NSW, the Australian Capital Territory, an independent, national fountainhead created in a southern corner of the state early last century, and indeed to Australia. With its iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge, historic sandstone buildings and churches, restaurants to satisfy every taste and budget, theatres, nightclubs, casino, natural bush and parklands, Sydney is a generous host and perfect launching pad for tours of a state that has so much to offer the traveller.
Things to do:
The Rocks Historic Area - an area of sandstone buildings and winding lanes with a rich history of how early Sydney was formed.
Macquarie Street area - see old colonial buildings such as Macquarie Place, Customs House, Government House, the State Library, New South Wales Parliament House, Hyde Park Barracks, Justice and Police Museum, Law Courts and The Mint.
Sydney Observatory - a museum of astronomy with hands-on displays.
Museum of Contemporary Art - at Circular Quay, for wonderful displays of modern Australian art including Aboriginal collections.
Sydney Harbour Bridge - one of Sydney's two most famous landmarks crosses the harbour connecting the north and southern parts of the city. Take a guided Bridgeclimb tour over the steel arc structure during the day or night.
Sydney Opera House - for concerts, opera, drama or just to sit and take in the view over a glass of wine.
Sydney Explorer Bus Loop - a tourist bus that travels around the city daily and stops at leading attractions around the city centre. Also try the Bondi and Bay Explorer.
Circular Quay - at the harbourside for buskers, restaurants and superb harbour views.
Fort Denison - an island in the middle of the harbour, formerly a prison, now a fascinating museum.
Museum of Sydney - on the site of the first Government House, examining Sydney's history between 1750 and 1850.
Royal Botanical Gardens - more than 24 hectares of harbourside garden, the first farming area of the early European colony. Displays of native and exotic plant specimens from aroud the world.
Art Gallery of New South Wales - shows the state's prized art collection with exhibitions and tours. A new Asian art wing was recently added to the building.
Australian Museum - holds a wonderful collection of natural history and culture.
Queen Victoria Building - refurbished in the 1980s now houses over 160 shops in delightful Victorian architecture.
Sydney Town Hall - wonderful 1860s architecture and a 19th century organ with 8,500 pipes.
Darling Harbour - complex with convention centres, shops, outdoor activity, Chinese Garden, National Maritime Museum, native wildlife exhibit, restaurants and hotels.
Sydney Aquarium - underwater tunnels displaying an amazing range of sea life.
Powerhouse Museum - technology exhibits and hands-on displays.
Paddy's Markets and Chinatown - a bustling area with restaurants, supermarkets, speciality shops and fruit and vegetable market.
Sydney Fish Markets - for the best in Sydney's seafood and one of the best gourmet experiences.
Star City Casino - the first and only legal casino in Sydney, with bars, restaurants, theatres and hotel.
Taronga Zoo - the zoo with the best views in the world! Get there by bus or ferry, open 7 days.
For more ideas, see Sydney's Top Spots.