The Downsides of Summer in Sydney

As even the most casual reader of The Accidental Australian would know, I am a big fan of living in Sydney. It is beautiful, full of opportunities, and a really amazing place for many reasons. However, in the interest of fairness to anyone thinking of moving here, or visiting, I thought I’d point out some of the less enjoyable things about living in Sydney, especially in the summertime, Sydney’s most popular (and busy) time of year.

I am definitely not trying to dissuade anyone from visiting in the summer- it is the perfect time for beaching, swimming, and celebrating. However, there are a few things to be aware of before you head down under:

Traffic and crowds

You might think traffic over the holidays would be less, since many people are on leave, go out of town on holiday, or are otherwise off the roads. Yes, a lot of people leave Sydney over the holidays, but just as many, if not more, come to Sydney from out of town, or internationally, to visit. Popular tourist spots, like the beaches, are likely to be the worst, in terms of crowds and traffic. For example, if you plan to drive to Manly, there is only one road to get there, Spit Road, one lane each way. It goes over the Spit Bridge, a drawbridge that can open several times per day. Thousands of beach (plus boat) traffic means you’re not likely to get there quickly.

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Palm Beach, on a less crowded day.

Over the week between Christmas and New Year, we (attempted) to go for a drive out to Palm Beach, a stunning beach to the north of Sydney. The traffic was literally at a standstill, and crawled along all the way to the beach. Once we arrived, there was no parking (see below). Half an hour later, we gave up the search, grumpy and hungry, and just went home.

Boxing day shopping

I made the mistake of walking through Pitt Street mall on Boxing Day, on my way home from visiting the Sip My Ocean installation at the MCA. The crowds out and about for Boxing Day shopping were literally the worst I’ve ever seen, and I felt extremely claustrophobic and trapped, even though I was outside. Some of the main CBD roads were closed down, creating a literal swarm of shoppers, tourists, and befuddled bystanders, such as myself.

Boxing day crowds Sydney
Boxing Day in the CBD- just looking at this photo might induce claustrophobia!

If you get anxious or uncomfortable in crowds, stick to online shopping today. I can’t remember Boxing Day or Black Friday sales ever being that insane back in the US. I know I can’t complain about the crowds- ironically, I write a blog encouraging people to come to Sydney! Rather, be aware and just know and accept the fact that many popular places in Sydney will be crowded this time of year.

Unbearable heat

In early January, the hottest recorded temperature on earth was in Sydney, Australia. Yep. Think 110 F, from almost dawn to dusk, beating down on you all day. It’s almost too hot to be at the beach on days like this, especially if you get heat exhaustion easily, like I do. Stick to air-conditioned malls or cinemas, if you don’t have air-con at home. (Also me.) That being said, it isn’t always crazy hot- days and evenings can sometimes be very pleasant.

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Opera House bar- you may be sharing your photo-opps with thousands of your closest friends.

School holidays

In Australia, kids go to school year-round, with a few longer breaks throughout the year. Over the Christmas holidays, the summer break tends to run from before Christmas all the way through Australia Day, and the end of January. This means about a five week break from school. This also means children, stressed and tired parents, and annoying teenagers can be found anywhere and everywhere. Again, tourist places, like beaches, museums, and the zoo, are likely to be extremely crowded over this time, with parents trying to keep their kids occupied over the break. Not the best time of year to find peace and quiet anywhere, consider yourself warned.

Bondi beach crowds
Bondi- just one spot left in the sand!

Parking and the beaches

On a really hot summer day, there’s nothing better than a swim at the beach, right? Erm, yes, if you can get there. I live near Balmoral Beach, and on a perfect summer day, it is near impossible to find parking. Not exaggerating, it can take up to an hour, if you aren’t lucky. If you do snag a spot, you’ll have the pleasure of paying $9.00 per hour to park. There are off-street residential spots that can be found, but are mainly limited to two hours only.

To avoid this, I often take the bus over to the beach. However, as Military Road doesn’t have bus lanes, you still have to fight the traffic of those driving to the beach, which means the 6km trek can take up to an hour. Sometimes I even walk there, but with the extreme hills, not the best option on very hot days. Moral of this story- more Sydneysiders should use public transport.

An awesome alternative to battling the beach traffic is checking out an outdoor, or indoor, pool, around Sydney. The Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre or the Andrew Boy Charlton pool are amazing swim spots, very easy to get to from the city. Andrew Boy Charlton also has a very delicious cafe attached, for your after-swim lunch. Admission fees are super reasonable, and (bonus), no sharks!

(Insider tip- want to find a beach with no crowds? Head to Ku-Ring-Gai National Park and hike to Flint and Steel Beach- pictured in the header. Worth the trek, 100%.)

Andrew Boy Charlton pool cafe
Andrew Boy Charlton, a gorgeous place to swim right on Sydney’s harbour.

Air-conditioning

Air-conditioning is a luxury that a lot of homes and flats here don’t have. I’ve written about this before, but I still find it odd. Ceiling fans, Voranado and Dyson air-spinning contraptions, and popsicles will become your life. If you are moving here and looking for a place to live, don’t automatically assume the unit will have a/c, even if it’s new.

Ok, rant over. Is Sydney still worth it in the summer? Yes, 100%- but, like anywhere, there are a few negatives to be aware of. If you go in expecting the above, you’ll be better prepared and can make the most of your summer in Sydney, crowds and all.

4 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting read! I have always been curious about Australia and learned some new and fun facts. Loved this! Do locals and tourists go in the water given how many sharks there are? Curious to how bad it really is.

    1. Thanks, that’s a really good question! Yes, a lot of people swim/dive/surf all over Australia. Despite the hype from the media, the odds of a shark attack are extremely low- rip tides are a far more common worry. It’s important to take precautions though, such as avoid the water at dusk/dawn, don’t swim in murky water, and don’t swim near anyone spear fishing or putting chum into the water. That being said, it is always on the back of your mind!

  2. So this is my first full Australian summer and I’ve been quite struck by the school holiday chaos and just generally how busy everything is at the moment. The heat I expected, and mostly it’s fine but we had to take shelter in a cinema all day when it was 43 degrees or whatever madness it turned out to be. I’m also speaking as someone who does have ac in their flat so I’ll admit this is a very privileged position to be in!

    I’m on the north shore too so definitely putting Flint and Steel Beach on my list of places to try out. It looks beautiful!

    1. Hope you are enjoying it so far, despite the crowds and heat! Def a crazy time of year, but by Feb I think things start to go back to normal 🙂 Yes, it’s a beautiful spot, but a bit tricky to get to if you don’t have a car. Last time I saw some wallabies hoping along the beach there, was amazing! (And so Australian, aha!)

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