Sydney travel guide - Rusty Compass

An independent travel guide to Sydney with candid reviews and recommendations. No sponsored content, no advertorial.

Sydney travel guide

Sydney Introduction

| 25 Jul 2022
Last updated 25 Jul 2022

Sydney is one of the world's most recognisable and best-loved cities. Its dazzling harbour setting and natural beauty are matched by a thriving cultural and culinary scene and a friendly and diverse population. This is our independent cultural travel guide to Sydney.

For a casual visitor, Sydney's hard to fault. There's the harbour, perfect beaches, an agreeable climate (climate change permitting), a thriving cultural life, a delicious culinary scene, and a diverse population predisposed to a friendly welcome. It's one of the world's great cities.

It's hard to beat the beaches and harbour and they devour the attention of visitors. There's also a multitude of cultural attractions - galleries and museums, live music, theatre. 

This travel guide includes the best of the city's cultural attractions as well as beaches, walks and more.

For an experience of the city where most of its 3.3 million residents live, head west. This is Sydney heartland. A fantastic mix of cultures from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, has gifted Sydney whole suburbs of culinary bliss. Remember names like Newtown, Marrickville, Ashfield, Bankstown, Auburn, Cabramatta and Harris Park for a deep dive into Sydney's multicultural culinary universe.

Parramatta is Sydney's second major metropolis and mixes Indigenous and colonial heritage with a booming commercial centre.

For a complete switch to nature, head further west to the Blue Mountains. Places like Katoomba and Wentworth Falls offer dramatic walks and hikes through spectacular National Park, for all ages and energy levels.

Sydney's an easy place to explore and there's a perfect balance of natural wonder, parks and gardens, walks, museums and galleries. The hotel and Airbnb scene is good too.

Check out some of our specialist guides below.

Our Cultural travel guide to the best things to do in Sydney here

Our independent guide to Sydney's museums

Our independent guide to Sydney's art galleries

Our independent guide to Sydney's beaches and swimming

Our independent guide to Sydney's cemeteries

Sydney makes good use of its harbour.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Sydney makes good use of its harbour.


Sydney Background

It's difficult to reconcile this most appealing of modern cities with its founding in brutality, dispossession, starvation, drunkenness and debauchery. This quandary has occupied commentators for decades.

For more than a century white Australia has looked past the horrendous founding of the city - the cruelty, bloodshed and war on the First People. In recent decades, a gradual surrender to the reality of that history is taking place in fits and starts.

Sydneysiders spend no more time pondering their origins than any other peoples. That means not much time at all. But their story deserves a good look during your visit. And this guide is directed at travellers who  want to get a deeper sense of the place and its past. 

Since the Second World War, Sydney's direct connection to its convict and colonial past has become more tenuous as the city's welcomed newcomers from across the globe to become one of the most multicultural places on earth. Sydney's modern multicultural character is one of its best features.

Sydney has a miraculous story. But the miracles have come at a high price - most of all for the First Nations People. The environmental toll has been high too. Many of the wounds are yet to heal. As a traveller, you'll get a sense of these issues.

There are some great books that'll help you make sense of your time in Australia's boldest, oldest, largest city.

Here are some of our favourites -

The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes
Sydney Harbour, Ian Hoskins
Commonwealth of thieves, Tom Keneally


Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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