When visitors ask for a tour around your hometown, do you cringe? Or do you jump at the opportunity to show off your favourite haunts?
We recently told all family and friends to forgo buying presents and toys; visit us instead. A certain level of responsibility comes when inviting people like this – you have to know where to take them and what to share with them.
Stop and think about that for a minute – if visitors arrived on your doorstep tomorrow, where would you go? What would you do? If you suddenly realised you have no idea, then you need to take time out and be a tourist in your own town.
Recently we did this in Sydney; The older kids have been aching to do the tourist ‘Double-Decker Bus’ around the city for a year now. We made a deal – the next set of grandparents to come and visit would be taken out on the tourist bus for the day. But the kids had to research and know exactly where we were going and how best to show it to their grandparents.
You can’t miss these buses around town. They are big red double-decker buses, travelling all around Sydney CBD and out to Bondi Beach. The top level is completely open while downstairs the newer buses are air-conditioned. The older buses – not so much.
On the other hand, the older buses have speakers for the tour details, instead of the headphones provided on the new versions. Personally, I preferred the speakers. The headphones made it a bit isolating and very personal. No chance of conversation because everyone was plugged in.
There are two buses (covered by the one ticket), both of which can be boarded at Central Station. Our plan was to catch the Bondi tour first, return to Central Station for lunch, and then catch the City tour in the afternoon. You can hop-off at any stop along the way and return to the tour at any time. If you want to stop out at Bondi for lunch – easy! If you have a hankering for some shopping in China Town – piece of moon cake!
Let’s start with the trip to Bondi – it really is quite a nice drive. Travelling during the peak Christmas/New Year season, we had to wait for the second bus for available seats up top. After waiting for a whole year, it would have been pretty pointless to shove the kids downstairs and look out the regular bus windows.
The bus first ducks through China Town before heading to William Street towards the Heritage-listed Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross. This sign is apparently famous with the international tourists (along with the infamous Kings Cross), but I’ll be honest – I see it as a hangover from the 1980s.
After weaving through Darlinghurst, we open out on to Oxford Street in Paddington. Now this area has a lot of history – both socially and architecturally. There is one long stretch of road that is lined with a sandstone wall, giving the distinct impression of authority and old-school values. It then comes as no surprise to learn you are looking at the boundary fence of The Australian Army Barracks in Paddington. The Barracks hold some of the oldest buildings in all of Sydney.
Being out in the open also has a few risks. Any quick gust of wind can knock your hat off; I caught B’s hat twice. Also, be wary of any trees along the way. While the City Council are pretty good at keeping them maintained, there are quite a few branches along the way.
As the bus rides down Bondi Road towards the beach, you can see plenty of glimpses of water ahead. If you really luck with your seat, you can even glance back towards the city for a quick look at the skyline.Don’t linger too long – you will miss that first view of the ocean.
Bondi Beach really is quite beautiful. We were very lucky to have a fantastic day for the tour – sunny and bright, but not too hot. Our kids love the beach and really wanted to ‘jump bus’ for a quick dip in the waves. You can see quite a few people already had the same idea. As I said, Bondi is beautiful but so are many other beaches in Sydney. This one is iconic and fairly accessible for tourists.
From Bondi, the bus takes you up the coastline to Vaucluse, past the golf course on the cliff and the cemetery with the view. I love this cemetery. It is so old and full of character, with the best views of the coastline. Figures.
The homeward journey continues along the Harbour, constantly teasing you with quick flashes of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and little inlets tucked in amongst the very leafy and very affluent suburbs. By the time you reach Central Station again, you have heard many stories about the buildings and the constant growth in tourism through this section of Sydney.
This is a perfect time to stop and grab some lunch. We sat down for Yum Cha in China Town followed by ice-cream at the Gelatissimo. It was then only a short walk to Darling Harbour for the next bus tour; this time around Sydney CBD.
Starting at the IMAX Theatre, our bus took us down the Eastern Side of Darling Harbour towards the newly developed Barangaroo and Dawes Point. This was our first time seeing the area since it opened, and it was nice to show it off to the family as well.
Whoever was responsible for the development did a great job. The area has a wonderful open feel to it, with spectacular views out to the Harbour. It transitions into the sandstone and more traditional aesthetics of The Rocks almost seamlessly. You don’t even realise you have moved on to the Arts District until you reach the round-about with the ‘car sculpture’. You’ll know it when you see it.
Going under the Sydney Harbour Bridge is always an experience; It looks very different from below but still equally impressive. Most of the buildings around The Rocks are either heritage or specifically built to look like it. It is our “historic” centre of town. It is the landing site for the First Fleet (our first white inhabitants) and a veritable meeting point for most visitors to this day. The kids have a bit of a kick out of seeing the big cruise ships berthed at The Rocks, but only the most important ships. Otherwise, you’re palmed off a little further along the Harbour (with less access to the shops).
From old town to modern style, we travelled back into the CBD (via the Sydney Opera House and the Botanic Gardens) and caught a little ‘people watching’ with the sunbathers both in Hyde Park, next to St Mary’s Cathedral.
This last stretch is not as visually documented. The smooth ride lulled Z to sleep in my lap. My hands were filled with 2yo-snuggles, and no room for a camera.
At the end of the day, we all seemed pretty happy with the tours. The day ended up being a lot longer than originally anticipated but it wasn’t overly-exertive. We all learnt some new things about our grand city and see some new sights along the way. Plus, we spent time together doing something most people would never do in their hometown. It always amazes me how quickly we pass things off when we live here, but if we were travelling tourists it would be in the top five suggestions.
The cost of the ticket for us was $110 for a family ticket and $60 for two seniors. While some places will say buy the tickets online or through an agent, the website is having trouble and family tickets are not available through anyone else. We bought ours on the day as we hopped on the bus. It was very easy. The ticket covered on-and-off travel for 24 hours, anywhere along either the Sydney or Bondi tours.
There are no allocated seats – I would strongly suggest sitting upstairs on a lovely day, and sit towards the front. Closer to the rear is closer to the engine sounds and the fumes (on older buses). Anywhere from half-way to the front is ideal.
If you do plan to sit up top, make sure you dress and pack appropriately. Wear a hat (be prepared for gusts of wind and low-lying branches). Wear sunscreen. Wear sunglasses. You will not enjoy it if you are uncomfortable in the sun. Bring water. Sneak in a couple of snacks for the kids, but make sure you take your rubbish with you.
I enjoyed the bus ride. More importantly, I would most likely take family and friends on there again too. Probably best for overseas visitors who have never been to Sydney before, but I would take them.
The best part was showing me some places we can go ourselves. Being a tourist in our own town reminded me just how wonderful this place is, and why so many others choose to travel here.
Sometimes, it’s nice to have that reminder.
Sidenote: This is not a sponsored post. At this point (Jan 2016) none of my posts are sponsored. They are all based on our personal adventures. Anytime someone wants to sponsor me for an adventure and review, please contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org)