The Sydney Opera House turned 50 on October 20, 2023 and will undoubtedly be one of the most-visited landmarks by Europesure travel insurance customers travelling to Australia from locations Europe-wide. After all, 10.9m visitors head there each year.
But how much do you know about the Opera House? Where are the best places from which to view this iconic building, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the rest of the harbour?
Background to the Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, using a concept which visually references yachts and sails. It features five performance spaces and took 14 years to build, coming in 95 million Australian dollars over budget. In 1960, whilst it was being built, singer Paul Robeson, actually took to the scaffolding and sung ‘Ol’ Man River’ to the construction workers.
The incredible building finally opened its doors in 1973, with the first performance being a production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace, around a month before the official opening by HM Queen Elizabeth II. On that blustery day, marked by the capsizing of a catamaran in the harbour, pink streamers flying around the roof and the Queen wearing a dress allegedly weighted down by stones sewn into the hem, around one million people gathered on the foreshore. The event was celebrated with a fly-past, the playing of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, dancers (an indigenous dance troupe) and fireworks.
Her Majesty stated that, “the human spirit must sometimes take wings or sails and create something that is not just utilitarian or commonplace.” That was certainly the case. As US architect Frank Gehry says, it “changed the image of an entire country.”
So, how can you best appreciate this building and also its ‘sister’ harbour area attraction, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which had its own opening-day dramas? Rather than the ribbon being cut by the New South Wales Premier on March 19, 1932, right-wing activist, Francis De Groot, rode up on a borrowed horse and slashed the ribbon with his cavalry sword. Why? Because the Governor General had not been asked to perform the opening duties.
To help you enjoy the best views of both unique structures in Sydney Harbour, Europesure has the following guidance.
1. Head to the Opera House itself
The Sydney Opera House is a venue providing a wide array of entertainment options for those wishing to listen to music, watch live productions or enjoy vibrant dance shows. Beyond that, a variety of themed tours also delight. Why not venture back stage to find out more about the workings of on-stage productions? Alternatively, head out on an architectural tour, to understand how architects, engineers and builders combined their experience to create the masterpiece. If you love art, you can even take a ‘Draw the House’ tour, exploring the building with a different artist each month, to see the Opera House through their eyes.
If you have the budget, there is, of course, the amazing opportunity to enjoy dinner, dance and fireworks display on New Year’s Eve. Worry not, however, as other food and drink experiences are available all year round, whether you join a cocktail-making class with an Opera House mixologist, or dine in one the restaurants within the building. This could see you tucking into a menu selection such as wallaby shank, or enjoying the harbour view from under the sails of the Opera House at Peter Gilmore’s eatery, Bennelong.
2. Climb the Harbour Bridge!
Viewing the Sydney Opera House from the Sydney Harbour Bridge – lovingly known as ‘The Coathanger’ – is another option many a tourist to Sydney has taken up over the past 25 years. The original Summit experience, available by dawn, day, twilight or night, sees adventurers climbing 1332 stairs, to reach the upper arch and stand 134 m in the air, relishing 360° views of Sydney harbour.
If you feel more adventurous still, you can plump for the newer ‘Ultimate’ experience and climb 1621 stairs, before conquering the entire breadth of the bridge, from south to north. All you then have to do is retrace your steps! Do just make sure your travel insurance would cover this, before you take part!
If that’s all too adrenaline junkie for you, there’s the option of the Summit Insider, where you journey through the inside of the bridge, before enjoying your stunning views.
3. Take to the water!
The Manly Ferry has been transporting locals across the harbour since 1855 and is a great way to see the sights from the water, especially as it operates seven days a week. You could also use the ferry to take advantage of the Manly to Spit Walk – a six-mile stroll through sub-tropical rainforests and with many a view to see enroute. You could take a short detour from the walk and view Aboriginal rock art, or head to Arabanoo Lookout and do just what it suggests. Looking out over North and South Head between May and November, should bring into view the annual humpback and southern right whale migration.
Other ways to enjoy the harbour from the water are numerous, whatever type of watercraft you opt for. However, if you would like to grab some spectacular pictures at dawn, maybe a kayaking option is for you? With Europesure,kayaking is just one of many activities included under the terms of your travel insurance policy agreement.
4. The Botanical Gardens
Entry to the Botanical Gardens is free of charge and, once there, you will quickly appreciate the breathtaking views of Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge that the location affords. With various outdoor spaces and themed lawns to explore, you will revel in the fabulous images appearing through your lens from all locations, although The Fleet Steps are the number one place to head to, to see the iconic harbour features at their very best. Find time to also view The Calyx – home to one of the largest green walls in the Southern Hemisphere.
5. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
Located just a short way from the Botanical Gardens and near enough to be considered an extension of them, this natural chair, carved out of sandstone rock in 1810, offers incredible views of Sydney Harbour. Sit here, in a feature created for Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of a 19th century Governor, and you will rapidly appreciate why it was her favourite spot.
6. Wendy’s Secret Garden
This garden is at the foot of the artist Brett Whiteley’s home, in Lavender Bay, and offers tremendous views of Sydney Harbour Bridge. The garden was created by Whiteley’s widow, Wendy, and is now a much-loved garden, with a unique ambience and backstory.
7. Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo may be home to the 5000+ animals and 350 species to which you wish to say g’day but it is also a place offering great views of both the Opera House and the ‘Coathanger’. Enjoy these whilst also getting to know the koalas, Coorboree frogs, various types of kangaroo and more typical zoo animals, or whilst acquiring zoological knowledge by attending a keeper talk.
8. Sydney Observatory
Built in the 1850s, and situated on Observatory Hill, this copper-topped, Italianate sandstone observatory overlooks the harbour and can give you another perspective on its landmarks. Of course, you can also enjoy its telescope viewing opportunities, Planetarium show and stargazing events.
9. Best bar none
There are a number of bars from which to drink in the harbour views, including the only revolving cocktail lounge in Sydney – the O Bar in the Australia Square Tower. You could also head to the Blu Bar on 36 (the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel) or the Zephyr Bar, found in the Hyatt Regency hotel.
If you want to see way beyond the harbour, make a beeline for Bar 83, Sydney’s highest cocktail lounge, located on the second highest floor of the Sydney Tower. From here, you can look as far as the eye can see, taking in much of Greater Sydney and views out to the Pacific horizon, the Blue Mountains and Cronulla.
10. Vivid Sydney
This festival of light takes place over three weeks of the winter months and immerses the amazing Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and other features in pools of life and luminescent glory. If you wish to see the iconic Sydney landmarks transformed into art canvases, this is the event for you, so schedule your trip to coincide.
Anyone who saw the fitting tribute to HM Queen Elizabeth II, projected on to the Opera House after her passing, will understand just how stunning and moving such artistic interpretations can be. The wings and sails certainly created something that was far from commonplace.
To see these extraordinary harbour structures for yourself, just head to Sydney. Then, the minute you have booked your trip, buy your travel insurance. That way, you will not only have cover for medical expenses and repatriation, baggage, possessions and other aspects of your travel but also all-important cancellation cover, to protect your financial investment in your trip of a lifetime.