If you have time to spend in one of Sydney’s green spaces, make it the Royal Botanic Gardens (tel. 02/9231 8111; www.rgbsyd.nsw.gov.au), next to the Sydney Opera House. Open daily (7am–dusk), these lovely, informal gardens were laid out in 1816 on the site of a farm that supplied food for the colony. The gardens have a scattering of duck ponds and open spaces, with several areas dedicated to particular plant species. These include the rose garden, the cacti and succulent display, and the central palm and rainforest groves. Try to spot the thousands of large fruit bats, which chatter and bicker among the rainforest trees. Free guided walks are run daily at 10:30am and take about 90 minutes. Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, along the coast path, offers superb views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. The “chair” bears the name of Elizabeth Macquarie (1788–1835), the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. The sandstone building dominating the gardens nearest the Opera House is Government House. The gardens are open daily (10am–4pm), and the house is open Friday through Sunday (10:30am–3pm). Entrance is free, but you’ll need a ticket from the gatehouse to tour the house. Note that the house is sometimes closed for official functions.
In the center of the city is Hyde Park, a favorite with lunching businesspeople. Here you will find the Anzac Memorial to Australian and New Zealand troops killed in action and the Archibald Fountain, complete with spitting turtles and sculptures of Diana and Apollo.
Another Sydney favorite is giant Centennial Park (tel. 02/9339 6699; www.centennialparklands.com.au). The park has five main entrances, but the easiest one from the city is at the top of Oxford Street. The park opened in 1888 to celebrate the centenary of European settlement and today encompasses huge areas of lawn, several lakes, picnic areas with barbecues, cycling and running paths, and a cafe. It’s open from sunrise to sunset.