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Sydney, Australia

Sydney Skyline There is an impressive list of superlatives attached to Sydney, Australia. It’s the largest city in the southern hemisphere, in terms of area if not in terms of population. It has the world’s largest natural harbor. It’s a recent Olympic host city (2000) and is admired the world over as a tourist destination because of its moderate climate, lively atmosphere and rich cultural programme.

The locals are called Sydneysiders. They will happily tell you that their city is the greatest in Australia – in fact, most of them will probably go so far as to tell you it’s the greatest in the world. Civic pride in Sydney is sometimes taken to extremes. The city, however, is definitely not the capital of Australia – that honor belongs to Canberra, which lies further down the country’s eastern coast than Sydney.

As a travel destination, Sydney is like many other great cities of the world: it needs a hundred travel articles to do it justice. However, there are certain landmarks and famous sights that every associates with Sydney. The most famous, probably, are the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach.

Sydney Opera House Sydney Opera House is one of those buildings that manages always to look modern and recently built. In fact, the planning of the project began as far back as the late 1940s. Owing to political problems and financial setbacks the building – designed by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon – wasn’t finished until 1973. But the wait was worth it. One of the things that it’s hard to get a sense of from photos of the Opera House is its size – because it’s often snapped next to the gigantic Harbour Bridge, or simply against a backdrop of water, flat images make it difficult grasp the building’s true scale. At its highest point it rises six hundred feet above the ground. That may be nothing in comparison to some of the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney, but it’s a striking height for a building that appears to be made of giant up-ended seashells.

In fact, the construction is rather more solid than that – the opera house is made of concrete and steel, topped off by white marble slabs specially imported from Sweden. If you’re interested in architecture various lectures and tours are available to help you find out more about its construction. If you’re more drawn to the Opera House by its original cultural purpose you’re in for a treat. The interior contains a huge concert hall and an Opera Theatre as well as several smaller theatres and studios. There’s always a packed calendar of cultural events, and, if you feel the need for a break from absorbing the building’s artistic delights you can relax in one of its bars and restaurants.

There’s a popular misconception in Europe and the US that Australians are not a highly cultured people. Folks from London or New York who visit the Sydney Opera House often come away with their opinions reversed, wondering who their own cities can ever hope to compete with this Disneyland of the arts.

Sydney Harbour Bridge If you prefer your structures more Spartan and functional than sleek and elegant, you should stand on the promenade outside the Opera House and admire the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The bare purpose of the bridge, obviously, is to span to city’s huge harbor, linking Sydney’s downtown developments with the residential and commercial areas of the more recently-developed North Shore. It is unbelievably huge. Although not the longest bridge in the world by some distance, it is the widest, and the most massive single-span bridge in existence. It carries a six-lane highway, railway lines, a pedestrian route and a cycle path high above the water. It is well worth taking the walk from one side to the other, though if you’re sensitive to exhaust fumes it’s probably best not to try this during the rush hour!

If all the tramping around the city’s great monuments has worn you out a little, perhaps it’s time for some relaxation on Bondi Beach – arguably the most famous and best beach in the world. Sydneysiders will certainly argue that, and it’s difficult to disagree with them. It’s surprising to learn, then, that until quite recently Bondi Beach (the name applies to the local Sydney suburb as well as the beach itself) had a reputation for being seedy and polluted. The area has been very comprehensively cleaned up, though, and is now becoming somewhat gentrified. The beach is a great place to relax and swim – though make sure you stay in the designated swimming areas, as there are a number of very strong currents riptides immediately offshore that will soon whisk the unwary out to sea.

Sydney is a big town, and one short article can’t hope to do it justice. If you thought America was ‘the big country’ think again – Sydney dwarfs its rivals.

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