Review: Sydney Opera House Tour shares the story of an Aussie icon
Seeing the sails of the Sydney Opera House for the first time is always a magical moment. This guided tour offers a comprehensive and cost effective introduction to one of the world's best loved buildings.
Even the shortest trip to Sydney wouldn’t be complete without seeing the city’s two most famous landmarks — the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
The place to get a good view of both is Circular Quay. This bustling waterfront precinct offers epic photo opportunities at every turn, along with access to a range of waterfront restaurants and bars.
Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the stunning Sydney Opera House opened back in 1973. Every year it welcomes over eight million visitors and stages around 1,800 performances, including opera, theatre, concerts, Indigenous works, cabaret, and comedy.
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If your budget won’t stretch to attending a show, the official Sydney Opera House Tour is an affordable way to see inside the building and learn some of its history. This guided 60-minute walk operates several times a day and departs from the Visitor Centre on the Lower Concourse. You’ll get an introduction to the construction of the Opera House, as well as a glimpse of how it functions as a working theatre.
The tour provides a huge amount of information and covers the interior and exterior of the building (including a close look at the distinctive glazed ceramic roof tiles, which were imported from Sweden). Visit the Playhouse Theatre, Concert Hall, Joan Sutherland Theatre, and some areas that are otherwise off-limits to the public. During our visit, we were even able to watch a dress rehearsal in progress. The backstage areas aren’t covered, but they can be explored on a separate tour option.
Each performance space has its own unique features and feel. The Joan Sutherland Theatre — which stages works by Opera Australia — underwent substantial renovations in 2017, and you’ll learn about the many acoustical improvements that were made to this particular venue.
Our tour was led by a dynamic guide, and his passion for the arts and history of the Opera House were clearly evident. We had no trouble hearing his engaging commentary, thanks to the iPod-like devices and headphones provided. He shared a wealth of knowledge about the building — from the international design competition won by Utzon, to the challenges of turning his ambitious vision into reality. Those challenges and resultant disagreements ultimately led to Utzon resigning from the project. In a sad twist, he never returned to Sydney to see the finished structure.
It’s worth mentioning that large bags and backpacks need to be checked into the free cloakroom before the tour. You can take your camera, but photography of rehearsals and theatre sets is not permitted.
All in all, the Sydney Opera House Tour is well worth adding to your to-do list in the New South Wales capital. Enjoy a drink and bite to eat in the atmospheric Opera Bar afterwards.
Katie Dundas is a freelance writer and travel blogger based in Sydney. Originally from the US, Katie has lived in Australia for about six years and is always searching for the next big adventure. She can often be found hiking, diving, or just enjoying Sydney’s amazing weather. Read about Katie’s travels by heading to her blog.