Sydney is a definite stop on every cruise that travels Down Under and often serves as a starting or ending point for ships that also travel to New Zealand. Australia's largest city, Sydney is one of the world's most intriguing ports of call, with its appeal extending from a sophisticated and vibrant urban metropolis to stunning natural wonders.
Although it is a modern city strongly influenced by British roots and current American popular culture, Sydney's real character is derived from its exotic location and brash beauty. Walking through the glass and concrete downtown, known as the Central Business District (CBD), you could be in any other Western-culture metropolis -- until a fluorescent red and green lorikeet parrot swoops overhead or an unexpected flash of the brilliant blue harbour appears between the skyscrapers.
Any proper visit to Sydney must begin in the harbour, which is both the birthplace of the city and its current iconic centrepiece. The area is called Circular Quay (pronounced "key" by locals). It is hard to imagine a more picturesque setting for a city's heart than this, with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge displayed against the inlet's bright water.
Sydney spreads across a massive geographic area, but the majority of its most interesting areas can be found near the ocean coast in the area known as the Eastern suburbs, as well as in its delightful inner-city neighbourhoods, which each possess a distinct vibe. Oxford Street, the main thoroughfare running east from downtown to the ocean beaches, hosts Sydney's famous gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade each February and is popular year-round because of its bars and cafes.
Sydney is a well-balanced blend of a big city lifestyle and the laid-back Australian mentality. Although Aussies who hail from other towns often disparage Sydney for its flashiness and hectic pace, urban inconveniences seem minor here compared to places like New York and London (although the peak-hour traffic and public transport system are actually quite bad). Tourism is a huge industry around Sydney, and locals are accustomed to providing visitors with service, helpful directions and a rousing welcome to the stunning city that they call home.