Sunny, seductive Sydney is a high contender for the title of the world's most ideal city. It is slick and smart, the streets are clean, the parks sublime, the water in the huge harbour bright blue, and the landmark buildings breath-taking. Sydney's population is approaching five million, but it is easy to leave the frenetic urban pace behind with just a simple ferry ride to the North Shore for a bush walk, or a stroll along the harbour beaches, or any one of a number of daytrips to explore the 'real' Australia on the city's doorstep.
Sydney, Australia © Judith Duk
Just like its characteristic white-sailed Opera House, Sydney seems to cruise effortlessly through nights and days filled with myriad entertainment opportunities, sophisticated shopping, memorable museums, and strings of beautiful beaches. Visitors find it exhausting to take it all in, even though the tourist precinct where most of the interesting attractions are to be found is concentrated in quite a small area around the downtown waterfront and harbour.
The fact that Sydney is a thriving seaport and industrial city has been cleverly concealed behind attractive pleasure and leisure grounds and residential suburbs, making full use of the scenic, watery geographical location. The harbour area is dominated by the span of one of the world's largest arched bridges, backed by towering skyscrapers. It is all a far cry from the remote penal colony established by the British back in 1788.
Another plus for visitors is that compared to most big cities Sydney offers excellent, reasonably priced food, accommodation and public transport. The city also has an excellent suburban rail network, with its hub at Circular Quay in the city centre, and full use is made of the waterways with ferries and passenger jet boats plying to and from various points.
To the north of Sydney is the Pacific Coastal route, which passes beautiful coastal scenery, laid back seaside communities like Byron Bay, and excellent surf, with nearly 249 miles (400km) of beaches to explore. Whale watching is popular in season and the region is also dotted with numerous national parks and nature reserves that offer activities from hiking to kayaking in the Myall Lakes. The Waterfall Way, which winds up to the New England Tablelands, is one of the most scenic drives in the world, taking in the vineyards of the famed Hunter Valley. To the south of Sydney is Australia's only alpine habitat in the Snowy Mountains, where winter skiing is the main attraction. In summer the mountains become a playground for whitewater rafters, fishermen, kayakers and hikers.