Tiger tomatoes on toast

How to Experience Sydney Like a Local

November 8, 2016

in australia, exploring, food, sydney, travel tips, trip planning

It’s hard to believe that I left Sydney almost three-and-a-half years ago—almost as long as I lived there. It’s a place still very near and dear to my heart. And the bonus of having actually set down roots there for a while versus continually backpacking around Australia was that I got to experience both being a tourist and a (albeit temporary) local. I’ve written a lot about the touristy stuff on this site, so the local part is what I’d like to focus on today.

Get out of the CBD

Apple store on George Street

Courtesy Newtown grafitti in Creative Commons via this license

Being a “local” in Sydney can mean many different things—the Greater Sydney region comprises an area of 12,367.7 square kilometers. But rest assured that most of these folks don’t live in the CBD. Not only are there a dozen distinctive suburbs immediately surrounding the city center, there are also interesting neighborhoods worth checking out in the Inner West and north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Balmain, where I used to live, is a peninsula with a charming main street full of restaurants, cafes, pubs, shops, a pool and a lawn balls club that has gorgeous views of Darling and Sydney harbours. There are two ferry stops to get you there. Hop on the 444 and head to Petersham to get steeped in a heavily Portuguese community or Marrickville to the south to immerse yourself in a vibrant arts community with a number of theaters, art studios and music venues. Above the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Kirribili is a lovely green place to have a walkabout, take in the markets and grab a drink at The Botanist. Hop on the Manly Fast Ferry to check out that beach town, which is home to my favorite place to snorkel, Shelly Beach.

Got out for brunch


Tiger tomatoes on toast

Courtesy Rain Rabbit in Creative Commons via this license

Brunch is as big in Sydney as it is in New York City. The only difference is, in the former, no one thinks you’re a douchebag for actively brunching. Truth is, Aussies like to drink, and few people are up in time for a proper brekkie on the weekends. Check out this list of the best brunch spots all over the Greater Sydney area for inspiration (and make sure to try avocado on toast).

Bet in a meat raffle at an RSL club

Meat raffle

Courtesy Janelle in Creative Commons via this license

The Returned and Services League, Australia (RSL) is a support organization for those who have served in the Defence Force. Clubs affiliated with the RSL often have a restaurant and bar for members and guests. Think of them as embellished VFWs, the kind where you had your 13th birthday party while your mom chain-smoked outside. Also think of it as a place to gamble and go drinking. RSLs are usually low-key places with a mixed crowds and sometimes some old 90s dance music. They are also a place where you can participate in a “meat raffle”—and no, we’re not talking about male auction. Patrons purchase tickets to win a platter with an assortment of beef, chicken, lamb and other meats. I actually won a meat tray once and it was quite delicious and saved me money on a week’s worth of groceries.

Hit a beach other than Manly or Bondi

Balmoral Beach

Courtesy Jolene Thompson in Creative Commons via this license

Sydney has many beaches to choose from besides the iconic Bondi and Manly locations (which are both great, to be fair). Locals are more likely to go to Balmoral, Shelly, Coogee or one of the Northern Beaches aside from Manly, such as Palm Beach. You’ll find far fewer tourists and still get to snorkel, surf or scan the shore for Whales and Dolphins.

Need to get around and find a place to stay, whether you’re just visiting or there for an extended stay? Here are a few resources:

Thrifty Car Rental for tips about renting a car and getting around Australia

TFE Hotels for accommodations throughout Sydney

World Nomads for travel insuranc

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