Sydney is the capital city of the south-eastern Australian state of New South Wales. With a population of just over 4.2 million, Sydney is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Australia, renowned worldwide for its climate, lifestyle, unique architecture, food and friendly inhabitants.
Sydney sprawls extensively around its Harbour in Port Jackson, up the Parramatta River to the west, along the adjacent coastlines (both north and south) and across the surrounding Cumberland Plain to the Blue Mountains. The city and its suburbs (many of which are cities in their own right) form a vast metropolitan area.
Owing to the city's size and variety, the districts of Sydney remain notoriously difficult to categorise.
The suburbs of Sydney hold many attractions, not least the glorious Northern and Southern (City) beaches that run for miles north and south of the Heads at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and remain the key to Sydney's iconic beach lifestyle for many.
Sydney is the oldest European settlement in Australia, having been founded as a British penal colony on 26 January 1788 (now celebrated as Australia Day, a national public holiday, with major festivities around the city and the Harbour).
One of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, Sydney has attracted immigrants from all over the world - Italy, Greece, China, Lebanon, Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa and various Pacific Islands are just some of the backgrounds strongly represented. Sydney's culture, food and general outlook reflect these contributions to the majority Anglo-Celtic cultural basis.
Sydney is easily one of the premier 'gay capitals' of the world. Every year, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is celebrated at the end of February, drawing people from all over Australia and the world for the celebrations.
Sydney became the centre of the world's attention in September 2000 when the city hosted the 2000 Summer Olympics - officially announced by the IOC Chairman at the Closing Ceremony as "the best games ever"! The Olympics saw a major building and renovation program take hold of Sydney, positioning it as one of the great world cities (if one of the smaller) of the 21st century.
Sydney is perhaps best described as "sub-tropical" - although Sydneysiders talk about "four seasons" (often in the space of one day!), it is truer to say that Sydney has but two seasons: a hot, generally humid one (summer), and a colder one (winter). The city is generally comfortable for travellers to visit any time of year. The average annual temperature in central Sydney is 25°C (77°F). The city enjoys in excess of 300 sunny days each year - that said, when it rains, it really can rain, varying between days of grey drizzle to over a week of bucketing downpours with occasional localised flooding.
Summer can be extremely hot, with temperatures climbing to over 40 degrees Celsius, accompanied by sometimes stifling humidity. Sydney is generally well equipped with air conditioning in public buildings, however, and the beaches and harbour are only a short journey away.... Hot summer days frequently (though not always....) end with a "Southerly buster", a cold front sweeping up from the south, bringing a clearly noticeable drop in temperature, driving rain and thunderstorms - a "mini monsoon". Within hours, the storm can pass and the evening continues cooler... Summer is also the season when bush fires on the margins of the city are most prevalent.
Winter in Sydney is generally cool, not cold - daytime temperatures rarely drop below 13°C.
Most Sydney residents would agree that autumn and spring are the most equable times to visit. March and April, especially, tend to have clear, warm days with mild nights. Spring is very similar, though perhaps with the chance of more rain.
Reflecting its large size, Sydney has a number of airports:
Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD)  is Sydney (and Australia's!) largest and most important international and domestic airport, located 8 km from the city centre at Mascot in South Sydney.
Multiple daily flights link Sydney with key city destinations in the Pacific, Asia, Europe and North America. The Asian-Pacific transport hubs of Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok and Tokyo are particularly well-served, as is London in Europe. Multiple flight links also exist with New Zealand. In addition, the west coast of the US and Hawaii are popular inbound / outbound destinations.
Travellers from Europe and the Middle East tend to travel into Sydney via Asia, whilst travellers from South America fly via either North America or New Zealand.
In addition to the international terminal, the Sydney Airport has two terminals dedicated to domestic air traffic: one terminal shared between several domestic airlines, the other terminal dedicated to Qantas domestic flights alone. The twin domestic terminals are located a little distance from the International Terminal: transferring passengers, if not transferred by their airline, can transfer using Kingsford Smith Transport buses (tel 02 9666 9988) or via the rail link.
You can fly to Sydney directly from all other Australian capital cities and from many major regional airports. Otherwise, you will usually need to fly to the state capital and transfer to a Sydney flight. Sydney is less than an hour's flying time from Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra by plane, just under four hours from Perth.
Several transport options to the City exist from Kingsford-Smith:
Bankstown Airport  - located in the mid-west of Sydney, Bankstown Airport is Sydney's second airport and is primarily dedicated to commuter and private aviation
All major train links to Sydney terminate at Sydney's Central Station in the south of the CBD area. Travellers can transfer to Cityrail trains or the light rail service to Darling Harbour, as well as to taxis.
Australia's long distance train service CountryLink (ph 13 22 32 within Australia) runs daily services to Sydney from Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and many regions of New South Wales including the North Coast, New England, the Central West and the Southern Highlands. Travelling time from Melbourne and Brisbane is around 12 hours. Fares range between $30 and $100 for standard class seats.
The Indian Pacific train service (ph 13 21 47 within Australia or 08 8213 4592 internationally) runs from Perth to Sydney via Adelaide and Broken Hill. Adult fares from Perth are $1250 for a sleeper cabin and $513 for a seat. Children's fares are $805 for a sleeper cabin and $139 for a seat. The train departs from Perth on Wednesdays and arrives at Sydney on Saturdays. Note that these fares are much higher than return plane fares to Perth, this journey is really for train journey enthusiasts who want to see the interior of Australia.
The Cityrail network runs services several times a day from close regional cities: Newcastle via the Central Coast (New South Wales), Goulburn via the Southern Highlands, Nowra via the South Coast and Lithgow via the Blue Mountains. Fares on these trains range from $10 - $25 for adults.
Sydney has a good public transport system, especially in areas closer to the city area where many attractions are. You can find out timetables, fares, and routes by phoning 131 500 within Australia for the cost of a local call, or by visiting 131500.info.
The cheapest way to use the buses, trains and ferries is to purchase one of the many travel cards: multi-use tickets typically sold at a 20% discount. Some are unlimited use within a time limit, others let you travel for a certain number of trips but have no time limit. Information about the discounted commuter tickets and leisure tickets is available from Cityrail; otherwise a quick visit to the TransitShop in Circular Quay (cnr of Loftus & Alfred Sts) will get you all the info you need. Most newsagents also stock travel cards. If you are in Sydney for a week or more, or even planning a busy day on the ferries then one of these passes will save you a few dollars, maybe even enough for an extra cold beer at the end of your travels at one of Sydney's many pubs.
Of particular interest to short-term visitors are the CityHopper ticket ($6.80 adults and $3.40 children, cheaper if bought after 10am) which allows unlimited train travel for a day in the center of the train network; the DayTripper ticket ($15 adults and $7 children) which allows unlimited travel on all metropolitan Cityrail trains, Sydney Bus services and Sydney Ferry services; and the longer term SydneyPass tickets, allowing unlimited travel for up to 8 days.
Apart from peak hour, you can drive around Sydney reasonably freely. The car is a good option if you want to travel somewhere other than the CBD, since almost all train lines travel in and out of the CBD. Many outlying areas are now served by tollways: a typical tolls  range from $2 to $4. At present tolls can be paid in cash, you will find it faster if you have exact change.
As with the rest of Australia, driving is on the left hand side of road. Travel times from the CBD to out-lying suburbs can range from 30 minutes if you use motorways (toll required) to 60+ minutes if tolls are avoided.
Taxis are a convenient way to get around Sydney if you don't know it. They can also be the only transport option available late at night when the trains and buses stop. Sydney taxis are metered: it's rare for drivers to forget to turn the meter on, but it's important to check the meter because there are two meter rates: a day rate (rate 1) with a flag fall of $2.75, a distance rate of $1.56 a kilometer, a waiting rate of $0.68 a minute and a booking fee of $1.45; and a night rate (rate 2) which adds a 20% surcharge to the distance rate. The night rate applies between 10pm and 6am: check the meter of your taxi at other times for a 1 or a 2 next to the current charge: if it's set to 2, remind your driver to switch to the day rate.
Passengers are expected to pay all tolls for their trip. In addition, passengers who are taken north over the harbour bridge, for which there is no toll, are expected to pay the driver's southbound toll for the return into the city (currently $3). Drivers will sometimes take toll roads without asking you, and will simply add the toll amounts before quoting the fare. Do ask if you are unsure why they are asking for an amount above that shown on the meter.
Taxis Combined (tel 02 8332 8888) handle the booking in the Sydney area.
Sydney has an extensive suburban rail network operated by Cityrail. Sydney trains are often very crowded in peak hour, but at other times a Cityrail train is the fastest way to get to the CBD.
In addition to the discounted tickets discussed above, Cityrail has single trip and return trip tickets valid until 4am the day after purchase. There are discounted single and return trip tickets for children, students and pensioners. A return trip ticket is much cheaper than two single tickets if you purchase it after 9am (called off peak).
Outside of operating hours, between 12am and 5am, Nightride buses are available on some routes within Sydney. Any CityRail train ticket is valid for the equivalent Nightride bus except a single. If you don't have a ticket, you'll need to buy a Nightride single, which is more expensive than a single for the train. Nightride buses stop at most CityRail stations and a few additional stops. They don't travel on the same routes. If you intend catching a nightride bus home, check the Nightride route map at the station while you are waiting for your train.
On weekends check for trackwork before leaving for the station; Cityrail will transfer passengers to buses if lines are closed for trackwork, and the process will add about half an hour to a typical journey. Trackwork will be advertised at the station for about a week before it begins. Train tickets, single, return or travel card, are valid on trackwork buses between the same stations.
You must always purchase a ticket before boarding a train or trackwork bus from either the ticket office or from the ticket machines that are located on most stations. There is no opportunity to buy a ticket onboard. If you are caught by an inspector travelling without a ticket the fine is $250. If you are found with a student or pensioner ticket and you don't have the appropriate authorisation card, the same fine applies.
The ticket machines on the platforms only sell full fare tickets when the ticket office is open: students and pensioners must purchase their ticket from the office. After-hours, the machines will sell concession tickets too. Be aware that the ticket machines may accept $50 notes but usually give only $20 in change.
Sydney has an extensive bus network. Most of the buses in the inner city and inner suburbs run by the government owned Sydney Buses. These are mainly blue and white ones (except for one service that's bright red). The rest of the commuter network are private bus companies. The services don't compete so you'll usually only have one way of getting somewhere by bus. Importantly, the off-peak services from private bus companies is woeful.
When you are waiting at a bus stop, you must raise your arm and wave to the bus to tell the driver to stop.
Unlike in many cities, a Sydney bus fare depends on how far you are travelling, measured in "sections" of about 1.8 kilometres. It is usual to simply name your destination and the bus driver will work out the number of sections. There are some points on the network where you can transfer from one bus to another free of charge (you purchase a ticket from the first driver all the way to your destination) but typically you pay each time you board a bus. There are no return tickets.
Sydney Ferries run all around the harbour and up the Parramatta River. The central hub is at Circular Quay at the bottom of the CBD. More than just a utilitarian means of transport, the ferries are a great way to see the harbourside. The best ferry excursion for visitors is from Circular Quay to Manly. Be prepared to take a stunning photograph of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as you leave Circular Quay.
Museums and galleries
Sydney's large natural harbor, usually called Sydney Harbour (correctly Port Jackson), was the reason that the original penal settlement was established in the area now known as Circular Quay, rather than further south at Botany Bay as James Cook recommended after mapping the coast in 1770. While it is now very built up (and Sydneysiders will pay a premium for views of the water) it is still very beautiful.
The harbor is served by a dedicated ferry service which transports passengers across the harbour. An excellent way to see both the harbor and Sydney attractions is to take a ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo, Manly or Parramatta.
There are a number of islands in the centre of the harbor which you can visit for a picnic: Shark, Goat, Clark and Rodd Islands. These are very beautiful and have magnificent views of sailing boats on the harbor and of Sydney's harborside buildings. At most times of the year they will be nearly deserted. You will need to reserve a place and pay a fee of approximately $5 per head to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (ph 02 9960 6266 or fax 02 9960 3965). You also cannot moor a boat at any of these islands, and they are not served by ferries, so unless you can arrange for a private drop-off, you will need to charter a water taxi at a cost of approximately $20 per head. Contact Water Taxis Combined  by phoning 02 9247 5033 or faxing 02 9241 3303.
You can arrange a guided tour of the islands by contacting Cadmans Cottage, 100 George Street, The Rocks. ph 02 9247 5033. fax 02 9241 3303.
Fort Denison is another, more popular, island on the harbor. Its entire area is a large fort, completed in 1857 and built to defend Sydney against Russian attack. The National Parks and Wildlife Service runs a half-hour guided tour for $22 per adult, $18 per child and $72 for a 4 person family. They also run a morning brunch for $47 adults and $43 children. Contact Cadmans Cottage as above.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge has an excellent view of the city, especially at dawn and dusk, although the drivers and train passengers relegated to the middle of the Bridge don't see it. There are three things to do on the Bridge:
Sydney is home to a number of major and minor festivals and calendar events each year:
Sydney is a pretty multi-cultural city. The range of food out there is huge and isn't necessarily expensive. Yum Cha (a.k.a. Dim Sum) in Chinatown is very good - arguably even better now than Hong Kong since many of their best chefs moved to Sydney in the 1990s. Local fresh produce - fruit, meat and especially seafood - is excellent.
Sydney has an enormous number of places to drink and party. Some types of nightlife are concentrated in particular areas.
Backpackers drink near the hostels, and will find a lot of fellow budget travellers in pubs in the Southern Beaches
In some ways Irish pubs are a global phenomenon, but they've certainly taken Sydney by storm. Irish pubs are concentrated in the Rocks area of the city, and are outrageously popular on the 17th March when the St Patrick's Day parade is held.
Business pubs also cater to the city crowd: lawyers, financiers and brokers and are very busy Friday nights when the city workers are let loose for the week.
Large nightclubs are concentrated in the Darling Harbour area.
Sydney's large gay scene is concentrated in Darlinghurst
Sydney's students drink in the Inner West
Some nightclubs and Sydney's younger partygoers are found in North Sydney
A complete listing of all backpackers hostels can be found at http://www.greathostels.com
Sydney's most expensive hotels are generally located in the CBD and the Rocks district, near the business hub of Sydney, close to many restaurants, and with excellent harbour views. Some other high quality hotels are located in Darling Harbour.
There are a number of good day trips from Sydney.