Sydney Opera House – an Australian icon
Construction of the Sydney Opera House was scheduled to take four years, at a cost of $7 million AUD. It ended up taking 14 years and $102 million, ouch. Over 8 million people visit every year, and it’s the site where our governator (Arnie), won his final Mr Olympia title in 1980. How do I know these things, you might ask? I recently went on a tour of the Sydney Opera House, arguably Australia’s, if not the world’s, most famous architectural landmark.
The Sydney Opera House Tour is a one hour guided tour that provides an overview of the Opera House, first opened in 1973. I had been meaning to check it out for ages, so was glad to finally have some time over the holidays to visit. Probably because I went over the holidays, it was insanely crowded.
I had booked my tickets online, so my first step was to find the Welcome Centre to check in. This is on the underground level, near the Opera Bar- not to be confused with the ticket window for performances, which is on the ground floor. The cost of an adult tour is $37.00, but you can save 10% booking online beforehand.
After checking in, your tour time is called out for assembly. (Tours run all day from 9am-5pm). Just before 2:15, a huge group mustered together, which was then somehow broken into two groups. My group was then taken for a green screen photo, where each family/group was photographed. This was later superimposed onto photos of the Opera House in a souvenir book, which you can buy at the end of the tour. Considering everyone probably would’ve taken a photo outside before coming in, I am not sure how many of these they would sell, but suppose it makes a nice momento.
Photos complete, we then had to check in any large bags, which aren’t allowed on the tour, and then re-convened with our guide, who gave everyone headphones and an iPod-like device, so you can hear your guide during the tour. Each guide operates on individual channels, so if you end up on the wrong tour, you won’t hear your guide. Apparently this happens surprisingly often.
The whole organisation processed seemed like organised chaos, but somehow it worked and everyone was put into a tour group. From there, we set off.
What You See
Despite the tour only lasting an hour (although ours went over time), the tour covers a fair amount of ground. The Playhouse theatres, main concert hall, and the Joan Sutherland Theatre, (the opera hall), are all visited. The Joan Sutherland Theatre has literally just reopened after extensive renovations, so joining a tour is a great way to learn about the acoustic and practical improvements that have been made.
Our dynamic and slightly sarcastic tour guide took us into all the theatres, which is a great way to get a feel for the place without paying for a show. In some of the theatres, dress rehearsals were occurring- if this is the case when you’re there, don’t take photos. It’s distracting to the performers and all sets and set designs are intellectual property of the Opera House or the theatre company organising the production.
Throughout the walk through, our guide told us all about history and the architectural challenges of the building’s construction, and we saw unique vantage points not open to the general public. This made for some amazing photos, especially as I had previously only been inside the Opera House in the evenings. The sunny day made for amazing lighting, perfect for playing around with my new camera.
What You Don’t See
Unfortunately, this tour doesn’t take you backstage or into other areas reserved for the performers and crew. For this, you’d need to book the Backstage Tour, which is a lot more expensive, and runs for several hours. More information on the Backstage Tour can be found here.
Is it Worth It?
Yes, definitely – this is an incredible way to see the Opera House if you don’t have the time or the budget to see a performance. It also provides a somehow both brief and comprehensive overview of the building, great for visitors who are short on time or money.
- If you book your tickets online before you go, you save 10%. Even if you just book on your phone an hour or so in advance, this works. Just show the barcode on your phone at check-in and they will print the tickets for you.
- If you have a backpack or large back, you will need to check it in at bag storage for the duration of the tour. Cameras are ok though. Don’t accidentally put your ticket in your bag and then check it, because you’ll need to show it again (not that I did this…)
- The tour is mostly indoors/air conditioned, but there are some steps to climb and outdoor areas are visited. Be aware and bring your hat/sunscreen.
- Definitely visit the adjacent Opera House bar for a bite to eat or a drink before or after your tour. It’s a great place to people watch, take photos, and fight off the endless plethora of bombing seagulls, trying to steal your chips.
- Tours are offered in a wide range of languages, consult the Opera House for more information.
- For more ways to explore the Opera House, and other amazing places around Sydney, check out our top recommendation for exploring Sydney on a budget.
The writer visited the Opera House Tour as a full-paying guest.