With its spectacular design and fascinating history, the Sydney Opera House is worth a visit.

Secrets of the Opera House
Credit: Xavier Arnau ? Getty

Even if you’ve never visited Australia, you likely know exactly what the Sydney Opera House looks like: the iconic red granite base and gleaming white roof with shell-shaped sails covered in over a million tiles. Four million visitors come to this landmark each year, landing it on the top of most must-do lists for the city. While it’s not exactly a secret destination, the Sydney Opera House has certainly earned its fame.

It was designed in a competition

In 1952, then-Premier of New South Wales announced a competition to design the building. When the contest opened a few years later, it drew 233 entries from 32 countries. Danish architect Jørn Utzon won with his design, which was meant to blend into the harbor as seamlessly as the sails of ships. In 1957 construction got underway, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

Locals originally hated the Opera House

Like many now-iconic buildings (think: the Eiffel Tower), initial plans to build the Opera House didn’t go over well with many Sydneysiders. Ever-increasing costs didn’t help the cause. It took four years to figure out how to build the roof sails alone, and eventually, as expenditures continued to escalate, the minister in charge of the project refused to pay Utzon.

It was $95 million over budget

Utzon ultimately resigned, but instead of saving money, the new architects required even more funds. In the end, after 16 years of building, the project cost $102 million. A state lottery was necessary to pay for the project. It wasn’t until construction was completed and the Opera House attracted global attention that it was finally considered an achievement at home.

France gave Australia a hand

The Opera House's unique Topaz glass was custom-crafted in France, as were the trio of $100,000 tower cranes necessary to hoist the sails.

It's home to the largest mechanical organ

A decade's work went into the Concert Hall's Grand Organ, which features 10,154 pipes. It's the largest of its kind on Earth.

The Opera House received royal treatment

In October 1973, Queen Elizabeth II finally opened the Opera House. The first performance was Australian Opera’s War and Peace.

You can hear more than opera

Now, more than four decades later, the building hosts 1.5 million guests at performances and events every year. And it’s not just opera—there’s everything from comedy to cabaret, classical music to contemporary. The best way to see the Opera House is to go for a performance. With up to 2,500 shows and events each year, there are plenty to chose from.

And you may soon be able to spend the night

A proposal was submitted that would allow guests to spend up to two nights in six of the Opera House's wings, without any structural changes being made to accommodate the occasional sleepovers.

One seat offers the best view

Whether or not you make it to the Opera House itself, you can’t leave Sydney without seeing it in silhouette. From the Opera House, head southeast, through the Botanic Gardens and back north toward the tip of the peninsula. At the end you’ll find Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, which is a “bench” carved into sandstone, offering one of the most spectacular views of the Sydney skyline.