How to choose the best Sydney Opera House Tour
A Sydney Opera House tour is near the top of every Sydney visitor’s to-do list. Regardless of your budget, spending time here is a must. I often get asked, “Should I do an Opera House Tour or just walk around the outside”? My standard answer is, “Well, that depends.” So let’s go find out what “that depends” on!
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Ways to see the Sydney Opera House
Whether you should do an Opera House tour depends on your interest in architecture, performing arts, your budget and the time you have available for your visit. So let’s work out the best way for you Sydney’s Iconic white sails.
Travelling on a tight budget
If you are flat broke, you can still walk around the Opera House – head inside via the Drama Theatre staircase and even use the toilets. You can grab a free Sydney Morning Herald from outside the gift shop to read on the concourse while you watch the world go by.
Make sure you walk around the building and take photos from different angles, climb the front stairs and touch the tiles.
Interested in the Opera House’s history and architecture
Well, the next option is probably going to suit you. The Architectural Essentials Tour is a one-hour tour covering all the main public spaces and gives you the history of the building, the design, and the architect.
You can take photos of any areas that are not dressed for performances. I recently did this tour – for the 5th time –and the new to me video segments that cover the construction are a great addition.
Each guide seems to tell slightly different stories; ours shared a story of Pavarotti refusing to attend a reception in the Concert Hall foyer area because of his phobia of purple carpet.
She also told us about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s visit to compete in a Mr Universe competition on the Concert Hall stage in the 1970s.
I have enjoyed my tours, and all the guides have been excellent, but apparently, this is not always the case and like anywhere you visit, the tour is only as good as the person giving it. I would think the majority are doing an excellent job.
Opera singer Pavarotti has a phobia of purple and would not attend an event in this foyer unless they covered the carpet. They did!
Some areas included in the Essentials tour are the Drama Theatre, Concert Hall, Utzon Room, and the Northern Foyer, although this may vary on the timing of your visit.
If any areas are being dressed for performances or are being used for private functions, you will bypass them. To give you an idea of how often this happens is impossible, however, on my five tours I have only missed the concert hall once. I have also always been allowed to take photos. The Essentials tours are currently $43 for adults.
Interested in Seeing a Theatre Performance
An alternative to taking the tour and next best budget-wise is to attend a performance. There are over 40 shows a week, and a quick check of this month’s tickets discovered the Bangarra Dance Theatre performing in the Drama Theatre.
If you want to see the Concert Hall, and it is very impressive, I suggest a symphony concert. Opera Australia packages are also available, and you can even include dinner and a show if you like.
Someone Who Loves to See How the Place Works – Backstage Tours
I have not done one of these tours, so I sadly have no photos to share, but if you are a performer yourself or a passionate arts fan, the backstage tour will probably appeal to you. Run daily at 7am; only twelve people can join each tour, allowing you to get up close to the action.
You need to book in advance for these and bookings close two days before. This two-hour tour visits the stages and orchestra pits, dressing rooms and breakfast in the green room on the conclusion. This tour costs $165, and children under 12 are not permitted. Tours are available in several languages, including tours for the hearing impaired.
Opera House Tours for Someone Who Loves Good Food
You can, of course, skip the tour altogether and spend the money eating and drinking instead. On our last wedding anniversary, my husband surprised me with dinner at the Opera House fine dining restaurant Bennelong.
We opted for the pre-theatre menu, which is excellent value; with the right seating, you get to watch the sunset while eating dinner inside one of the shells. They also do a mean Negroni. Bookings are essential here, often a few weeks in advance, but they take walk-ins for the bar menu. I am not much of a food reviewer, so check out this blog post for more.
There are also a few outdoor dining options – perfect spots to watch the sunset.
Don’t Forget the Gift Shop
If you need to take a gift home for someone you love, I think a Lego Opera House beats a t-shirt every time!
So there you go… all you need to plan a great day at the Opera House. While you can buy a ticket for most tours on the day, if you want to do one of the specialist tours or have a limited budget, I would suggest booking in advance.
If you are interested in taking photos of this iconic building, check out the Best Places to photograph the Sydney Opera House.
About the author: Paula Morgan, a born-and-bred Sydney resident, has been sharing this city and its secret spots for over 15 years. She’s not just about the iconic landmarks; she’s all about the hidden alleys adorned with street art, and the joy of discovering a new café or a fabulous restaurant tucked away in a corner you never knew existed and weekends away exploring regional NSW.