Sydney Opera House: A Visitor's Guide

Among all the tourist attractions in Sydney, the magnificent Opera House is the shining star. Perched on Bennelong Point, a tongue of land protruding into Sydney Harbour, this UNESCO World Heritage Site comprises a complex of roofs shaped like huge shells or billowing sails that blend beautifully with its waterfront location. The glistening harbor surrounds it on three sides and the palm-studded Royal Botanic Gardens border it to the south.

Much more than an opera house, the structure encompasses theaters, studios, a concert hall, rehearsal, and reception rooms, restaurants, and a spectacular open-air forecourt overlooking the harbor and city. American architect Louis Kahn once said, "The sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building." Today visitors can admire the building's great beauty and learn about its turbulent history on a guided tour.

Opera House
Opera House


This much-celebrated international icon has a rocky past. In 1957, the government selected Bennelong Point for a cultural center and launched an international competition for its design. Danish architect, Jørn Utzon emerged as the winner. But from the outset, the project was fraught with controversy. Technical problems arose, delaying construction, and costs mounted. In 1966, the architect, disappointed and disillusioned, withdrew from the project and left the country.

The Opera House was finally completed ten years later than planned; the cost of the building, originally estimated at A$10 million, had multiplied tenfold, but the money was raised by a series of Opera House lotteries. The Queen officially opened the building to the public on October 20, 1973. Utzon did not attend the ceremony and his name was never mentioned.

In 1999, the Sydney Opera House Trust and NSW Government spearheaded a reconciliation with Utzon and encouraged him to submit a set of design principles to guide further work on the building. In 2004, a year after the Opera House celebrated its 30th birthday, the NSW premier opened the newly refurbished Reception Hall, a collaboration of the inspired Danish architect, and renamed it the Utzon Room in his honor. This room is the first authentic Utzon interior in the building.

After 2004, Utzon collaborated with his architect son on several other building improvements. The most significant was The Colonnade, which opened up the shared foyers of the Playhouse, The Studio, and Drama Theatre with large windows and glass doors so visitors can enjoy harbor views from these areas. Queen Elizabeth II opened the project in 2006, formally recognizing the talented Utzon for his incredible vision. Unfortunately, he was too old at the time to travel to Sydney for the ceremony.

Tips and Tactics

  • Book seats for productions well in advance. Attending a production is the best way to appreciate the building's acoustics and unique ambiance.
  • Performances commence promptly so visitors should allow enough time to access the building, collect tickets, and stow cloaks, large bags, and jackets.
  • Guided tours range from backstage experiences to a tour topped off with a tasting plate at the al fresco eatery, Opera Kitchen. Foreign language tours are also available.
  • Consider enjoying a meal in one of the restaurants to enjoy the stunning harbor views.
  • One of the best sites to photograph the Opera House is Mrs Macquarie's Chair in the Royal Botanic Gardens or from the water aboard a harbor cruise.

Getting to the Sydney Opera House

  • Visitors can catch a Sydney Bus, travel by City Rail, or hop aboard a Sydney Ferry to Circular Quay, which is a 5 to 7 minute walk from the Sydney Opera House.
  • A complimentary shuttle bus for elderly and mobility-challenged patrons runs between Circular Quay near Stand E (under the Cahill Expressway) and the Vehicle Concourse.
  • Bike parking is available under the Sydney Opera House Monumental Steps.
  • Wilson's Sydney Opera House Car Park is located at 2 Macquarie St, with vehicle access adjacent to the Sydney Opera House Forecourt.

Admission: Ticket prices vary

Location: Bennelong Point, Sydney

Official site: www.sydneyoperahouse.com

What's Nearby

  • The Royal Botanic Gardens are a short walk around the waterfront from the Sydney Opera House.
  • Circular Quay is a leisurely stroll south from the Opera House along the Waterfront Promenade.

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