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Koalas, the famed opera house, dingos, shrimps on barbies and all that—who wouldn’t be pumped for a chance to experience the Land Down Under? I was lucky enough to visit Australia for my job with JIRA Service Desk, a proprietary issue tracking product developed by Atlassian. I was there for business but I planned on packing my trip with meeting as many local people as possible, and experiencing everything I could in Sydney. While Americans and Australians are united by a common language, cultural differences do exist, and after nearly two weeks on the other side of the world, I came up with this list of travel tips I found worthy of sharing with other first-time Oz visitors.

Related: How to speak Australian (infographic)

Sydney scene.500
1. Make sure you take care of your credit cards and phone before leaving the States

I called my cell provider, and I called my bank. I told them both when I would be gone, and everything seemed cool. But, when I got off my plane, things did not go as planned. My phone was adjusting to a new network, and my credit card was frozen. Make sure you let you credit card company know explicitly with the time change, that you’re going overseas. It may be the 20th in Sydney, but it’s still the 19th in the States. They really pay attention to that stuff, apparently.

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2. Wifi can be tricky 

The internet in Australia is….slow. Unlike the States, where wifi is in cars now, Australia isn’t quite as caught up. But, there is a way: Buy a Telstra hotspot. A lot of folks switch SIM cards in their phones, or some plans even move networks while overseas. I have Sprint and my network was Vodaphone. The wifi situation wasn’t pretty.

When I was in my hotel, the wifi was a total horror show, so it was tough to get work done in my room. My solution was getting the hot spot. You can buy one loaded with 3MB’s of data for $100AUD (about $73 in USD). You might as well load it up to a full 10MB’s because you’ll use it. What this hotspot also does is power both your laptop and your cellphone. If you carry a backpack like I do when I travel, toss it in your bag and forget it. Best investment of the trip.

3. If you wanna see the koalas….

When I got word I was going to Sydney, I immediately thought koalas, wombats, kangaroos. In Sydney, you’ve got a few options to see these creatures. There’s Taronga Zoo, a wildlife park somewhere near the rocks, and Featherdale. I highly recommend Featherdale if you’re fascinated by the whole Aussie animals thing. If you’re staying downtown near the city center, it’s about a 45-minute train ride west, and then a ten minute bus ride. It’s simple to follow and one pass takes care of everything.

Total cost is about $14 round trip to get out there. As for Featherdale, the park is $26 and it’s worth it. Instead of the typical zoo animals you can see anywhere (lions, tigers, bears, etc), this place is 100% Australian animals. Plus, you can pet them. Kangaroos and wallabys hop around and can be fed for $2 per ice cream cone of food. As for the koalas, they’re on lock down and have keepers nearby at all times. But, you’re allowed to take a few photos and scratch their butts. (Their eucalyptus diet makes them smell like cough drops.)

The rest of the park is ultra laid back. It’s easy to walk around and snap photos, capturing all of the cool animals. If the keepers are near the enclosures, a lot of times, they’ll grab an animal and let you pet it. If you’re planning on doing Featherdale, make sure you get up early and head out there as soon as possible, if not when they open. Once the tour buses start arriving, you’ll be in a crazy long line for that koala photo.

Related: 10 Australian natural wonders you’ve got to see to believe.

Bondi Beach, Sydney

Bondi Beach, Sydney

4. Bring comfortable shoes

Seems obvious, but seriously. Sydney is a lot more like NYC than you think. It’s busy, with a lot of people, and you’re going to do a lot of walking. With so many sights to see, you’ve got a lot of ground to cover, from the famed Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Luna Park to museums, the Rocks, Bondi Beach and beyond.

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Sushi chef at Sushi Hotaru

5. Stuff to eat

Sushi in Sydney tends to be crazy fresh and there’s a place right off Pitt Street that does conveyor belt sushi.

Go to a pub and get Chicken Schnitty aka Chicken parmy or whatever localized way they say it. It’s good Australian pub food. Essentially, it’s a fried chicken breast a top of a salad, and steak fries.

Oporto/Ogalo are amazing. Both are Portuguese chicken fast food chains, but trust me. They’re worth stopping for. In fact, I’d love an Ogalo right now.

If you’re watching what you’re eating, Salad Sumo offers a bunch of fresh made salads. The soups are great, too. Plus, there’s a ton of badass Asian food, everywhere.

And if you’re a West Coaster and dying for something like In-N-Out Burger, Mary’s in Newtown has a legit burger that’s almost an exact copy of your beloved chain. Conversely, if you come across a Hungry Jack’s, skip it—the logo looks exactly like Burger King’s for a reason: It’s the Australian franchise of the chain, so you won’t find anything too novel here.


6. Ice? What ice? 

I didn’t know it, but we’re the only country who loves ice in our drinks. So don’t expect it.

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7. There is no ketchup, only tomato sauce

High fructose corn syrup doesn’t exist and that’s awesome. Bread tastes better, but the whole ketchup thing threw me off.

Tim Tams |Credit: ByBilby / WikiMedia Creative Common

Tim Tams | Credit: By Bilby / WikiMedia Creative Commons

8. Yes, Tim Tams are that good

You will want to bring home a case of these chocolaty delights. Imagine layers of chocolate malted biscuit sandwiching a chocolate cream filling, dipped in a thin layer of chocolate. If you’re a coffee drinker, bite off the ends and sip your coffee…they call it the “Tim Tam Slam.”

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9. If you’re a smoker, consider quitting

Smokes are $27 a pack. No kidding. Smoking is not cool Down Under. And packs come with some pretty dire health warnings.

Spooning Goats, Sydney
10. If you’re gonna have a beer, stop into Spooning Goats, AKA The SG on King Street

The SG plays killer rock and roll, has 80’s video games, and Star Wars stuff. It’s a great, little dive bar and cool spot if you’re a low key bar person.


Botany Bay, Australia

11. Do hit Botany Bay

If you love seeing beautiful water without a billion people, definitely hit this spot. Walk down to the rocks and check out some naturalbeauty. In certain spots, you’ll see the tropical fish swimming past. Nemo has been found.


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12. Aussie Rules Football

I went to a game, with Aussies, and we still couldn’t figure it out.

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Tagged: Destinations

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Bobby Hilliard

Bobby Hilliard

Bobby is a writer, journalist and JIRA Service Desk's traveling word dude.
Bobby Hilliard

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3 thoughts on “Sydney travel tips: 12 things to know before you go”

  1. Good story but what most travellers from overseas don’t realise is that Australia is BIG. Almost the same size as USA.
    There are many great things to see outside Sydney and Melbourne( which are just like LA and Sanfrancisco.
    There are many country experiennces that will show tourists the real Australia and something different from their home country.
    I especially recommend Darwin which although a small city, gives visitors a taste of true Australia and it’s also the place that is most “different” to the other cities in Australia

  2. Dude, stop with the smokers bashing, it’s getting really old.
    Let me tell you what causes lung cancer … car and airplane fumes, chemicals found in makeup, sunscreen, deodorant, perfume, and other personal care products.
    Add to that the chemicals are fruit and veggies are sprayed with.
    And instead of always concentrating on lung cancer, why not mention liver cancer. The main culprit there is alcohol. But do you warn against drinking beer, wine and spirits? No, yet you advertise it and keep pouring it down your throat.
    Leave the smokers alone, they not causing any harm, unlike alcohol users who beat up their families, and cause car accidents causing others to get hurt or die. Now put that in your pipe and SMOKE IT.

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