Sydney Opera House- Inside, Outside, and Across the Harbor

Before my visit to Sydney, I knew pretty much nothing about the Sydney Opera House other than what it looks like. Its shapely design is so unique and iconic that even when doing research for this trip, I didn’t get very far past the outside. The best remedy to that, we realized, was to go inside. We looked into getting tickets for a show but ultimately realized that our schedule and the show schedule didn’t mesh well, so instead we opted for the basic guided tour.


First look as we walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Because we got off of the 333 bus from Bondi Beach a few stops too early, we ended up having to wander through the Royal Botanical Gardens to get to the opera house. Perfectly fine really, as the garden itself is gorgeous. We approached the opera house from a unique angle, one I hadn’t seen in photos before, so our visit was pretty interesting even before we had fully arrived!


A vastly different view as we approached the doors.

We picked up our tickets and easily found the starting point for our guided tour. The tour was very nice, though I think a bit too large. Without being in the front of the group it was tough to hear the guide’s stories. But he gave great information and led us around to a few different areas of the opera house. We walked around the outside first. I had no idea that the “sails”, which appear to be just smooth and white when viewed from a distance, are actually made up of small tiles in both white and cream! Apparently if it was made completely white it would be far too bright to look at comfortably. There are also little walkways high up in between the sails that are used for maintenance, cleaning, and decorating purposes.


Notice the alternating of white and cream.

Once inside we learned more about how it was designed and built, and there is a pretty interesting story there. In 1956 the government of New South Wales held a contest to find a design for a new project, a performance venue, and they were purposefully vague in their specifications in order to be sure they had varied entries to choose from. The legend is that the winning design actually had to be rescued from the discard pile! Danish architect Jørn Utzon was declared the winner and his ambitious design was set into motion. Budget constraints, overdue deadlines, and practicality problems plagued the construction era, eventually leading to Utzon’s resignation from the project. The building was finally completed in 1973, and in 1999 Utzon was commissioned to help create a set of design principles for the building. This meant that when Utzon passed away in 2008, his legacy was not marred or tainted despite the initial difficulties.

Our tour took us into three different theaters, which was very cool even though photos were not allowed inside the theaters. The best part was getting to enjoy hearing an orchestra rehearse during our visit to the largest theater in the opera house. It was so stunning and the music so moving, I dearly wished I could have captured it! Even some of the hallways were beautiful, with grand views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge out of floor to ceiling windows.

The tour ended, as many do, in the gift shop, and after pecking around there for a bit we began the long walk along the water from the opera house to Mrs. Macquarie’s Point. It was very hot day, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining. By staying near the water we had the Royal Botanical Gardens to our right, and we only glanced at them- not only did we have plans to meander back through them later, we had also gotten a taste of them on our way to the opera house in the morning. Instead we kept our attention to the left, where the views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House just kept getting better and better with each step.


View from the walk between the Sydney Opera House and Mrs. Macquarie’s Point.

There are a lot of great vantage points to see views of the opera house, but Mrs. Macquarie’s Point was my favorite. The opera house and the bridge just sit so nicely beside each other in this view, two gems of architecture perfectly symbolizing a city. We went around the bend in the path, up the steps near the parking lot, and found ourselves on a flat, empty viewing platform which gave us excellent photos…until a tour bus bursting with people pulled into the lot and we were swallowed up in a frenzy of selfie sticks. I guess it is no secret that this is a great spot!


From the great viewing platform at Mrs. Macquarie’s Point.

We learned later that this awesome lookout was named after Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of governor Lachlan Macquarie. There is a stone carving nearby, Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, but once the area was taken over by more busloads we didn’t have the energy to find it. Legend says that Elizabeth Macquarie used to sit there and watch British ships sail into the harbor. Of course at that point the Sydney Opera House hadn’t been built yet, but I think if Mrs. Macquarie was still around today she would approve of the addition to her view!


Opera house by night, from the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

If you want to visit the Sydney Opera House, buy your tour tickets in advance for the best available times. The walk from there to Mrs. Macquarie’s Point was a great way to continue the day and I highly recommend it.

5 thoughts on “Sydney Opera House- Inside, Outside, and Across the Harbor

  1. Pingback: Hopping Around Sydney | the files of a traveling daydreamer

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