At the southern end of Sydney Cove, Circular Quay is the launching pad for harbour and river ferries and sightseeing boats, the terminal for buses from the eastern and southern suburbs, and a major suburban train station to boot (some of the most fantastic views of the harbour can be seen from the above-ground station platforms). Circular Quay itself is always bustling with commuters during the week, and with people simply out to enjoy themselves at the weekend. Restaurants, cafés and fast-food outlets line the Quay, buskers entertain the crowds, and vendors of newspapers and trinkets add to the general hubbub. The sun reflecting on the water and its heave and splash as the ferries come and go make for a dreamy setting – best appreciated over an expensive beer at a waterfront bar. The inscribed bronze pavement-plaques of Writers’ Walk beneath your feet as you stroll around the Circular Quay waterfront provide an introduction to the Australian literary canon. There are short biographies of writers ranging from Miles Franklin, author of My Brilliant Career, through Peter Carey and Patrick White, to Germaine Greer, and quotable quotes on what it means to be Australian.

You could then embark on a sightseeing cruise or enjoy a ferry ride on the harbour. Staying on dry land, you’re only a short walk from most of the city-centre sights, along part of a continuous foreshore walkway beginning under the Harbour Bridge and passing through the historic area of Sydney’s first settlement The Rocks, then extending beyond the Opera House to the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Besides ferries, Circular Quay still acts as a passenger terminal for ocean liners; head north past the Museum of Contemporary Art to Circular Quay West. It’s a long time since the crowds waved their hankies regularly from the Overseas Passenger Terminal, looking for all the world like the deck of a ship itself, but you may still see an ocean liner docked here; even if there’s no ship, take the escalator and the flight of stairs up for excellent views of the harbour. The rest of the recently redeveloped terminal is now given over to trendy and expensive restaurants and bars.

Leading up to the Opera House is the once-controversial Opera Quays development, which runs the length of East Circular Quay. Since its opening, locals and tourists alike have flocked to promenade along the pleasant colonnaded lower level with its outdoor cafés, bars and bistros, upmarket shops and Dendy Cinema, all looking out to sublime harbour views. The distasteful apartment building above, dubbed “The Toaster” by locals and described by Robert Hughes, the famous expat Australian art critic and historian, as “that dull, brash, intrusive apartment block which now obscures the Opera House from three directions”, caused massive protests, but went up anyway, opening in 1999.

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  • The Sydney Opera House
  • The Harbour Bridge
  • Harbour cruises