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Very few views are as instantly recognisable. Soaring over the waters of the city’s big blue heart, the mighty arches of the Harbour Bridge look down on the to-and-fro of ferry traffic from Circular Quay, while the unmistakable sails of the Opera House sit proudly at the tip of Bennelong Point. These gleaming icons of Australiana are as familiar to people the world over as they are to born-and-bred Sydneysiders, so it’s little wonder that an estimated 17 million international and interstate visitors a year once flocked to the Central Business District's most storied corner to get up close and personal with these architectural megastars.
And yet for all its epic landmarks and postcard-ready views, the CBD’s status as a tourist trap has, in the past, put off locals from embracing the city as a go-to for a great day out or a night on the tiles.
Now, thanks to improved public transport links, a boom in top-flight hospitality and retail venues, and the repeal of the senseless lockout laws, those old biases have shifted. With its palaces of culture and art, its bustling bar and restaurant scene, its glorious parks and waterfronts and its sprawling malls and department stores, locals now recognise Central Sydney as a one-stop-shop for the very best this city has to offer.
What’s the CBD known for?
It goes without saying that the aforementioned harbourfront landmarks are the city's most famous destinations, but this area has an ancient and complex history that far pre-dates these wonders of the industrial age. For tens of thousands of years, the area near Sydney Cove, known as Warrane, has been the home of the Gadigal people of Eora nation. With the arrival of European settlers with the First Fleet in 1788, this is also the place where modern Australia was birthed. Today, the CBD is Sydney’s principal business, commerce and retail hub, with thousands of white-collar workers and eager shoppers making the trip here every day. It's also the culture capital of the city, boasting the vast majority of Sydney’s top museums, galleries, theatres and concert venues.
How do I get to the CBD
It’s no exaggeration to say all roads lead here. If you’re coming via PT, you can catch the L2 and L3 light rail routes, trains (either passing through to North Sydney or Bondi Junction, or on the City Circle line), or numerous suburban bus services. If you’re coming from the North Shore, the ferry is your best bet, and if you’re based in Parramatta, you can even catch the river ferry, which will drop you off at either Barangaroo or Circular Quay in under an hour.
The CBD is surrounded by some of Sydney’s buzziest suburbs including Kings Cross, Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Paddington, while the revitalised Darling Harbour and Barangaroo precincts, with their many eateries, shops and public spaces, sit conveniently on the city’s fringes. A pleasant stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens will lead you out to the bougie and beautiful harbourside neighbourhoods of Potts Point and Rushcutters Bay. But in terms of sheer convenience, the easy access to both ferry services from Circular Quay and rail routes from Sydney Central connects the CBD to virtually every corner of the city and beyond.
Map of the Sydney CBD
If you only do one thing
Sure, you’ve seen the Opera House. You’ve probably whiled away an arvo or two at the Opera Bar, admired its one-of-a-kind design while passing on a ferry, and maybe even snapped the odd selfie on the forecourt. But have you actually been inside this most famous of Australian buildings? If the answer to this is a sheepish ‘No’, it’s high time you booked a ticket to one of the hundreds of performances that take place in the Opera House’s five performance spaces each year, or went on one of its excellent backstage tours. Experience Sydney’s most iconic landmark as it was intended: as a world-class arts venue.