Between its sparkling beaches, gorgeous vistas, and plentiful outdoor adventures, Sydney is a paradise that often feels a million miles away. But, with the launch of United Airlines’ new routes, travelers can now reach Sydney from Houston — which means that Australia’s favorite city just got a little bit closer. On a recent trip with United, we explored the best of Sydney, and we want to help you do the same. In that light, here are a few of our favorites activities in the Land Down Under.

Get to know the city

Of all the metropolises in the world, Sydney just might be the friendliest and most welcoming. Its sunny disposition is matched by its good weather, and the city’s architecture, gardens, and hidden gems merit a place at the top of any bucket list.

Even on a short stay, you should take time to appreciate (and photograph) the city’s most recognizable structures, like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Their iconic designs helped to put Sydney on the map, and their location on the waterfront makes them all the more beautiful. Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage site that welcomes more than eight million  visitors annually, the Opera House has made a lasting mark on the city — so you won’t want to miss seeing it for yourself.

You’ll also want to spend at least one relaxing afternoon in the city’s green spaces, which are an integral component of Sydney’s charm. From the sunken landscaping of Paddington Reservoir Gardens (built on land that used to supply water to the city) to the lovingly tended grounds of Wendy’s Secret Garden (established by a local in the 1990s), you’ll find plenty of delightful parks and reserves. To truly make the most of your time, we recommend bringing along a picnic lunch, a book, a sketchpad, or a camera.

Finally, to get off the beaten path, you might want to ogle the vibrant street art in Newtown or make a foray to the overgrown SS Ayrfield shipwreck. What these locations lack in crowds, they make up for in beauty and sheer intrigue. Shhh — you didn’t hear these recommendations from us!

Explore the great outdoors

No trip to Australia would be complete without spending some time outside. From east to west and north to south, the country is a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts — and the area surrounding Sydney is no exception.

When it comes to making the perfect day trip from the city, the Blue Mountains are without a doubt the finest option. This rugged mountain range is part of a national park that lies just 60 miles (100 kilometers) away from Sydney’s bounds, offering outdoor activities like hiking, canyoning, and mountain biking. And, thanks to Scenic World, you can even glide above the area’s cliffs and treetops on a panoramic railway and catch a new perspective of the terrain you just explored on foot. If you’re not afraid of heights, there’s no better way to take in the natural wonders of the Blue Mountains.

During your time in Sydney, you can also explore Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, where you’ll find pristine beaches and crystalline water. No matter what time of year you visit, this national park will blow you away — and speaking of which, you might even spot migrating whales if you visit between May and August. While you’re at the park, keep an eye out for brightly colored birds, and round out your visit by hiking on the Aboriginal Heritage walk to see ancient handprints and rock carvings. No one’s quite sure how long the imprints have been there, but archaeologists estimate that the carvings are more than 7,000 years old.

Finally, though you might be disappointed to learn that the Outback is located far from Sydney, Featherdale Wildlife Park brings Australia’s most famous animals to you. So, if you’ve always wanted to cuddle a koala, pet a dingo, or hold a baby crocodile, this is your chance. The animal specialists will teach you all about the wildlife and even snap a photo as you live out your very own Crocodile Hunter experience. Have fun!

Spend time on the water

It would be a crime to go all the way to Australia and take its exceptional coastlines and waterfronts for granted. After all, Sydney is home to some of the cleanest beaches on the planet, and they live up to the hype that you’ve surely heard.

Take Sydney Harbour as an example. There, you can venture into the water for activities such as kayaking and whale-watching, or you can stay on dry land and explore Barangaroo, a dynamic precinct that’s jam-packed with restaurants, boutiques, gardens, and art installations. As the newest addition to the Harbour, Barangaroo’s development is still ongoing, so this creative hub will be the centerpiece of the waterfront for years to come.

For stunning views of the Harbour, stroll down the Circle Walk — just remember to wear comfortable shoes, and don’t try to tackle all 37 miles (60 kilometers) at once! Rather, choose between exploring a portion of the walk and taking several days to complete the entire route. Regardless of which option you choose, the scenery is sure to win you over.

Lastly, whether you consider yourself a beach lover or not, Bondi Beach is a can’t-miss experience. There are plenty of ways to enjoy this area, including going for a swim, learning to surf, taking a walk along the coastal cliff tops, shopping at its many markets, and grabbing a bite (and a pint). No matter how you spend your time there, it won’t take long before you realize why people all around the world rave about Bondi. So, go ahead — dive into the very best that Sydney has to offer.

What would be the first thing you’d do after landing in Sydney? Let us know in the comments below!

This piece was produced in partnership with United Airlines