The Sydney Opera House is Not White – 10 Sydney Secrets known only by Locals ( plus a One Day Travel Itinerary )

When your best friend is a dragon, you get to meet all sorts of people. Everyone wants to take the little guy on adventures. That’s how he ended up doing crazy things like swimming with sharks without a protective cage and even searching for jaguars in Belize’s jungle. Now his latest exploration has taken him all the way to Australia — the farthest he’s ever been from home — to spend an exciting day in the city with Allison from Flights to Fancy. An Australian native, this gal has lived in Sydney her entire life and knows all the best spots the city offers to travel enthusiasts. In less than 24 hours, she’d whisked Dragon away on countless adventures where he learned some secrets that blew my mind.

Things to Do – A Sydney Secret Itinerary

If you think you already know everything there is to know about Sydney, then this post is for you, my friend.

Itinerary – See the Sydney Opera House – No, Really SEE It.

The Sydney Opera House is not white -- Sydney Secrets
LEFT: The Sydney Opera House; RIGHT: Close-up of the tiles on the roof of the Sydney Opera House

No, that picture on the right is not a shot of some dirty, tiled floor. That’s a close up view of the Sydney Opera House. Its roof is covered in tiles, and –news flash– they’re not all solid white.

The Sydney Opera House is NOT white - Sydney Secrets

Sydney Secrets #1 – The Sydney Opera House is not white!

“Sooooo many people think the opera house is white,” says Allison. “Many people just look from afar and never see the detail.”

For those of you who clicked on this article for its shocking title and ventured here only to find an explanation, I won’t make you wade through 9 other secrets to reach the answer you seek. So here it is — entry number one. Despite most people’s assumptions, the Sydney Opera House is not white. The truth? It’s a multicolored mix of white, beige, and black formed by a pattern of white and beige tiles offset by the criss-crossing black lines that envelop them.

From a distance these colors blend together and create the illusion of a singular color that people so often mistake as white. But if you focus on the spots where the sun hits the roof, you’ll see a faint hint of gold shimmer on all that white, and then it slowly becomes easy to understand why such a color pattern was chosen. If the entire roof had been painted solid white, the end result would have been a bit over-powering — much like the effect of someone having blinding white Chiclets in place of teeth. There IS such a thing as too white. Coupled with beige, however, the roof takes on an iridescent aspect and seems to shimmer and shine. Almost like a dragon’s egg. And that’s a heck of a lot cooler than a piece of Chiclet gum.

Itinerary – Take the Train – Get Free Travel

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White - Free Train

Sydney Secrets #2 – You can get unlimited travel on Sundays!

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White - Free Ferry Rides
Sydney Ferry

Here’s a tip — sightsee on Sunday. If you have an Opal card (which anyone can get), the fare caps at AU $2.50 for the entire day on Sundays. That means you can enjoy unlimited train travel to anywhere in Sydney as well as some surrounding areas for just $2.50. A one way trip on weekdays will cost you anywhere from AU $4 to $10. Double that to get back home, and good luck if you want to do anymore sightseeing after that. While there IS a daily cap on these days as well (around $15 I believe – Phew), that’s still a world away from the $2.50 cap for travel on Sundays. So if you’re able to take care of all of your sightseeing trips on the weekend, it just makes more sense to opt for a Sunday Funday, doesn’t it? Even dragons know that much.

And while you’re at it. take a ferry, too! They’re also free after your first $2.50 fee on Sunday. So for one price of $2.50, that’s unlimited rides on trains, buses, and ferries in the greater Sydney area. As long as you have an Opal Card. So go get one. Or plan to hitch a ride on the back of a dragon.


Itinerary – Stop to Smell the Flowers

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White -- Grevilleas
Tried to talk to a hairy caterpillar, but it didn’t have much to say…
Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White -- Grevilleas
Makin’ friends with flowers is hard. Especially when they look like they want to bite my face.

Sydney Secrets #3 – This crazy looking flower is known as a Spider Flower or Prickly Toothbrush

Say hello to the grevillea, a rather unique but somehow charming flower native to Australia. It has many nicknames, but I think it looks most like a happy little caterpillar. Some Aussies, like Allison, grow them in their own backyard gardens. Their sweet nectar makes them great bird-attracting flowers. On a daily basis, Allison enjoys visits to her garden from everything from galahs to rosellas and lorikeets.

So keep an eye out for this pretty plant on your next visit to Australia. Maybe you’ll spot some roadside in grassy areas. Or, if you want to be certain to see these beauties up close, head over to the Royal Botanic Garden. One of Sydney’s most visited attractions, the 74-acre garden lies adjacent to the Sydney Opera House. And guess what? It’s completely free to enter.

Itinerary – Shop ‘Til You Drop ‘Til Your Feet Are Dragon…uh, draggin’ (sorry, dragons love puns)

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White -- Prada

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White -- Prada

To get a little shopping done Aussie style, you can head on over to Pitt Street Mall, Australia’s busiest shopping precinct, which houses over 600 specialty stores and brands (including even Prada). Dragon liked Prada so much that he tried to steal Allison’s new shoes. Dragons can be sly and sneaky little creatures. Always keep one eye on your dragon if you make a habit of acquiring them as travel companions.

Sydney Secrets #4 – Pennies (or any form of one cent currency) do not exist in Australia.

The lowest denomination of currency is a five cent coin. What happens if your total comes to $24.99 or some other number indivisible by 5? Just round up (or down) to the nearest factor of 5. Piece of cake. Handing the cashier $25 is a whole lot easier than fishing around in your purse for pennies, anyway, right?

Sydney Secrets #5 – The $20 bill is affectionately named a lobster. Because it is red.

Bank notes in Australia each have a different color that corresponds with its numerical value, and most of them have colloquial nicknames derived from such colorful appearances. Like the Lobster ($20, red) or the Pineapple ($50, yellow). These bills are also plastic, not paper, so if you get soaked in a storm or have a derpy moment and throw them in the laundry, you’re not helplessly screwed and newly broke (cough United States cough). ‘Cause Prada shoes don’t buy themselves, ya know.

Itinerary – Play in the Park

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White -- Hyde Park

The oldest park in Australia, Hyde Park,  lies just a few blocks away from Pitt Street Mall. You could head there on foot or hop on the train and take it to either the underground St James railway station or the Museum railway station. Both lie adjacent to the park but on opposing northern and southern ends of its perimeter.

Sydney Secrets #6 – The Obelisk at the end of Hyde Park is humorously nicknamed “Thornton’s Scent Bottle.”

On the park’s western side sits a 22 metre Obelisk decorated with Egyptian features. Constructed in 1857, the monument originally functioned as a sewer vent to allow noxious gases to escape from below. Though it no longer serves such a purpose today, the silly nickname remains.

Itinerary – Walk to Learn Wonders

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White -- Free Walking Tours

Sydney Secrets #7 – The City of Sydney offers a dragon load of self-guided walking tours that you can download as PDFs completely for free.

Each one takes you on a journey through different aspects of Sydney’s history. The PDFs contain historical photographs and trivia bits as well as detailed maps highlighting numbered points of interest for suggested stops along the tours.

Itinerary – Taste a Treat

Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White -- Vegemite
Dragons love Vegemite

You’ve probably heard of Vegemite but maybe never tried it. So try it! No trip to Sydney is complete without tasting the gooey goodness of this spread made from brewers’ yeast and spice additives, adored by Aussies since 1923.

Fairy Bread -- Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White

Fairy Bread -- Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White
“Every kids’ party has fairy bread… Always!” says Allison.

And my favorite of them all — this is fairy bread. The most magical bread in the world and uniquely Australian. It’s made from unicorn poop, pixie dust, and real rainbows pulled down from the sky. Or maybe just butter and sprinkles. One of those two statements is false, but I’m the girl who travels with a cat-hating kitten disguised as a dragon, so I’ll let you be the judge.

Sydney Meat Pie -- Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White
Meat pie with BBQ sauce

Sydney Secrets #8 – There’s no ground beef in Sydney.

Well, technically. Yes, and no. Just don’t ask for any ground beef. It exists but by a different name. So if you want to live like a local, adopt the lingo and say “mince” instead of “ground beef” when you’re in the land of Oz.

Add then try some meat pie — a truly Australian dish made with gravy, mince, and steak chunks, enveloped in a flaky crust and topped with BBQ sauce.  And Allison swears by the BBQ sauce in Australia. “Soooooo much better than the US kind,” she says. So you’ll have to give it a try to see if she’s right.

Itinerary – Delight in a Drink

Opera Bar -- Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White

The Opera bar is located on the lower concourse level of the Sydney Opera House and nestled right along the water’s edge. With panoramic views of the harbour, it’s a perfect place to wind down (or wine down) and relax by water before ending your day. If you’re a beer connoisseur, you can also taste their house brew, the Opera Bar Summer Ale. And then watch the sunset over Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Itinerary – Head to the Harbour

Sydney Harbour Bridge -- Sydney Secrets - The Sydney Opera House is not White

Sydney Secrets #9 – “harbor” is “harbour” when you’re in the land of Oz

Yes, I’m lookin’ at you, fellow American friends. A lot of words that contain only a single “o” in the United States are correctly spelled with an “o” AND a “u” combined in Australia. So there’s no harbor here. Just a pretty harbour. And it might even be your favourite harbour. Because you like its colour. And had a fantastic time there that one time with your neighbour. If ya know what I mean? Other common spelling changes involve words typically ending in “-er” in the states. Here you’ll find centres and theatres while measuring in metres and litres. Words are fun.

Sydney Secrets #10- The harbour bridge is always being painted.

“It takes almost a year to do a coat,” says Allison. “And when they finish, they start straight away again.”

The Sydney Harbour Bridge requires so much maintenance to keep it in tip top shape that it’s become a running joke among Aussies that workers lie stranded in an endless loop of painting from one end to the other…over and over and over again. While the reality is that some sections have actually escaped the paint brush for up to 30 years, the truth remains that the majority of the structure’s 485,000 square meters (the equivalent of 60 football fields) of steel does indeed need constant reapplications of paint in order to keep it fresh and rust-free. It’s a neverending job that costs the government $15 million a year just for routine maintenance. But it sure looks pretty, eh?

Sydney is beautiful. And that’s no secret.


For more travel inspiration, check out some of our other Australia adventures here:

Or view all our Australia Travel Articles here.


All pictures in this Sydney Secrets article were taken by Allison Smith exclusively for Adventure Dragon. 

For even more Sydney tips and secrets, head over to Flights to Fancy to check out See Sydney Like a Local, Allison’s fabulous, detailed guide to experiencing her hometown the right way while avoiding all the tourist traps.

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Jillian Michelle
FAIRY DRAGON MOTHER at Adventure Dragon. Artist. Writer. Dreamer. Adventurer. I still believe kindness can change the world. I just want to inspire.


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