The state capital of New South Wales and Australia's largest city, Sydney is big, brash and bristling with energy. Famous for its spectacular harbour, and architectural icons such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, it's the first port of call for many international visitors to Australia as well as a popular getaway for innumerable domestic travellers. However, while Sydney is definitely a world-class travel destination, the down side is that it's also extremely expensive for tourists, with basic expenses such as accommodation and meals being notoriously pricey.
Solving the eternal dilemma of how to make one's travel dollar stretch further, the Youth Hostel Association of Australia has several great budget accommodation options in Sydney, with one of the most comfortable and interesting being its premises in The Rocks, just a few minute's walk from Circular Quay.
Situated at 110 Cumberland Street in the heart of Sydney's most historic harbour-side neighbourhood, Sydney Harbour YHA is an ultra-modern architecturally-designed building that's also the home-base of the Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre, and creatively built upon one of its digs. This provides a unique ambiance to the hostel's common areas, as staircases, walkways and terraces overlook courtyard areas where excavations are still taking place and glass cabinets display some of the treasures that have been unearthed from the early colonial days when a family home was located on the site. In 1807 two emancipated convicts built a sizeable home here that their decendants lived in until the mid-nineteenth century, when it was demolished. Recent excavations have revealed tens of thousands of artefacts, ranging from buttons and nails to crockery and children's toys, giving us an insight into Australia's earliest colonial years. For those interested, archaeologists from the centre regularly give tours and lectures, right there on the premises.
The accommodation and other guest facilities at this hostel are first-class. Common rooms are modern and open-plan, featuring extensive glass walls that provide unparalleled views of the harbour and surrounding streetscapes. The communal kitchen is spotlessly clean, spacious and well-equipped, while the adjoining dining area offers plenty of table space and seating, as well as lounges for relaxing and a long bench that's perfect if you need to use your lap-top. Also in the same area, the hostel reception provides simple snacks if you've got the munchies and can't be bothering going out to explore the many cafes, pubs and other eateries that the neighbourhood is so renowned for. For any simple supplies, check out the small mini-mart downstairs.
Like many institutions these days, the Australian Youth Hostel Association is very big on environmental sustainability, and therefore provides recycling facilities at all of its hostels, including this one. There's also a book exchange for books you no longer need, and a swap corner with free stuff left behind from other travellers such as clothes, bags and other gear. As with all YHA hostels, there are also free food shelves which are especially handy if you're travelling for an extended period and are trying to keep your expenses down.
Accommodation at the Sydney Harbour YHA is available in several formats, and is quite flashy as far as backpacker hostels go. The ladies' dormitory that I stayed in slept four people and had a very nice ensuite bathroom. The bunks were comfy and each had its own reading lamp (handy if you arrive late and don't want to disturb others) and a power-point so you can safely recharge your mobile and other electronic devices. Everything was immaculately clean. There are also individual lockers, if you're travelling with valuables you'd like to keep out of sight, although you'll need your own small padlock to use these.
As well as single-gender dormitories, there are also mixed dorms at this hostel. Dormitories have either four or six beds, and both formats have a private bathroom. Six-bed dorms are marginally cheaper than the four-bed option. If you're travelling with a friend or partner, twin and double rooms are also a possibility, although naturally these are substantially more expensive than if you're opting for dormitory accommodation. There are also family rooms available, either with four or five beds. Of course, all the private rooms also have their own bathroom.
In a nutshell, Sydney Harbour YHA is one of the nicest, most well-presented backpacker hostels I've ever visited, and definitely the most unique in the way it's been so creatively constructed upon a working archaeological dig. Furthermore, it's wonderful location in the Rocks, close to Sydney's most famous landmarks, makes it a top spot for visitors wanting to experience all the best of what the city offers, albeit on a budget. Although it's slightly more expensive than most hostels, for these reasons it's worth every cent, while still providing safe and great value accommodation that the Australian Youth Hostel Association is so well-known for.
For more information about Sydney Harbour YHA go to this webpage. The hostel is part of the Australian Youth Hostel Association network, which provides a great range of budget accommodation all around Australia and beyond. While membership isn't essential to stay, you do get a small discount to stay at YHA hostels if you are a member: worthwhile if you travel regularly or are on an extended trip. Finally, despite its name, the Youth Hostel Association isn't just for youngsters and therefore budget-conscious travel enthusiasts of all ages are welcome to enjoy all the wonderful travel facilities that it provides. Find out more at the YHA Australia website.
110 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, NSW, 2000, Australia