Sydney - a city of iconic cityscapes, breathtaking vistas (oh that Harbour view!), designer cuisine, chic hotels, lazy hazy summers and buzzing nightlife.
As some of the world's greatest travellers, Aussies have an unrivalled talent for spinning what they discover abroad into much, much better versions at home.
Coffee isn't just coffee, it's an institution. Beaches are a way of life, not a lifestyle choice and the work/life balance is unparalleled and envy-inducing. You'd be hard-pushed to find a finer mix of urban city life meets the bush than in this fabulous coastal city.
The Opera House, Harbour Bridge and of course, postcard-perfect Bondi Beach are all good places to start, but there’s so much more to explore. From the boho coffee shacks of Surry Hills to the A-List beaches and hidden coves hugging the Pacific, here’s how to do Sydney the Insider way.
If your hometown is either London or New York the first thing that will strike you is just how chill this place is, even during early morning rush hour. Whilst Sydneyites swarm in their thousands from the burbs via Circular Quay, tourists flock to see some of the city’s great sites.
Start first with the basics: photos inside and outside of The Sydney Opera House (book way in advance if you plan to see a show) and then make a rush for it to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If the spenny climb seems too daunting, the view from the Pylon Lookout is just as good – plus if you’re a history buff, you’ll get to learn how the whole thing was made too. After, head back to the quay and walk the Royal Botanic Gardens for florals, ultra lush green lawns and for a chance to see countless fruit bats dangling from jacaranda trees – beats seeing swarms of London pigeons.
And then there’s The Rocks, where Sydney began when European settlers stepped foot on its green marshland all the way back in 1788. Now it’s where hipsters pray to the boho coffee gods for stellar roasts and where unassuming tourists go mad over indie breweries and candy pop colonial houses (v. Insta friendly) and top-notch boutiques – and yes, there’s a friendly local neighbourhood Aesop there too.
Once you’re fully caffeinated, jump on a boat to Rose Bay for a sunset seaplane tour of the city. The photo opps are awesome.
The one place to stay right now
The city has a great selection of big brand favourites to pockets of superior indie cool. For something that celebrates both worlds, check into the Sydney Larmont up the cool and trendy neighbourhood of Pott’s Point. A Lancemore offering, the hotel is within walking distance of the CBD, King’s Cross and the harbour.
Rooms are modern in style, with clean lines, visions of marble and finished off with a predominantly fresh and elegant white colour palette. Look for it and you’ll notice there’s a play on geometry ruling the aesthetic – every edge in sight is curved, from the fixtures to the bed and even the art.
Book out the penthouse for sprawling views of the harbour, the opera house, bridge, bays of the north shore and yachts of Watson’s Bay. Overall, it’s new wave designer chic to the hilt, but chances are you’ll be exploring the area more than your digs. Oh, and it’s pet friendly too.
Look on any Aussie postcard rack and you're bound to spot a golden birdseye view of Bondi. Sure, the place is pretty and famed for its surf and ultra wellness scene, but it’s also crowded. Very crowded. For something more exclusive and nearby, there’s plenty of other great alternatives. Begin your beach quest from the Icebergs (a coffee and slice of banana bread at the Crabbe Hole cafe before is a must).
Here you’ll find the start of the Bondi to Bronte trail. Think pristine views of the Pacific, stunning cliff faces and, if you’re visiting in the right season, some prime whale and dolphin-spotting. As you walk, you’ll come across Tamarama Beach, nicknamed 'Glamarama' as this is where all the bikini-clad models of Sydney’s beach babe elite hang out to get some rays.
Everyone from Gigi to Madison Cox, Leo Dicaprio and Sacha Baron Cohen has been, so it’s worth a peek.
Further up there’s Bronte Beach for great surf, and if you really want to go on an all out beach hike, Coogee Beach is fifty minute walk down south.
Further afield? There’s Manly Beach, which is a short jaunt via boat from the Quay aboard the now-iconic Manly Ferry.
It’s a good option if you’re a travelling as a family. Mum and Dad can wrangle up their dose of Vitamin D, while the kids build sand fortresses.
But if you’re a travelling couple, don’t miss Shelley Beach for killer wines at The BoatHouse – Sydney’s answer to The Hamptons. For surf, travel a further 10 minutes via car up to Freshwater. Expect top swells and a chance to chillax in Sydney’s oldest rock pool.
Screw convention, I want cool
Then forget everything you just read and go to Surry Hills. To sum it up, it’s sort of London’s Shoreditch and a better, less extreme version of New York’s Williamsburg.
The market is a good place to start for some designer steals, followed by coffee at Reuben Hills and a gander in the countless high-end boutiques that line Crown Street.
Foodie highlights include Bourke Street Bakery, Bills, Four Ate Five – all exceptional breakfast and brunch options – along with Toko, purveyor of outstanding Japanese cuisine and Longrain, a Sydney institution with a rep for on-point South-East Asian cuisine.
To finish? Bar hop the area, and if you can, catch a show at the Belvoir where some of Australia’s most famous actors (Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett and so on) have performed. Advice: book way in advance.
Sydney’s LGBTQ+ scene is in a word, spectacular. A cosmo option for LGBT travellers, upscale cocktail bars on Oxford Street (the city’s gay mecca), underground events, Avant Garde art galleries (with the odd appearance from a drag queen come Mardi Gras) gorgeous men and women and a top notch selection of very pink and very trendy rainbow institutions, make it one of the top gay destinations on the planet.
On a recent trip I had the chance to experience the city during all the Mardi Gras celebrations. Picture Kylie Minogue closing the parade with a heartfelt rendition of ‘All The Lovers.' Aside from the world famous parade that sees hundreds of floats celebrate everything that is revolutionary and great about the rainbow flag, there’s a load of historical and cultural things to try out in Sydney’s scene.
Hit up the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of wild gay nuns, and poetry readings on a meet and greet session with some of Oz’s most famous beasts via Taronga Zoo– koalas and platypuses included. During Pride season, the Art Gallery of New South Wales puts on a load of events with tongue-in-cheek drag queen tours, workshops, live music and queer art histories ruling the roster, and if you catch the tail end of it, seeing a movie at the Mardi Gras Film Festival is well worth a shout.
End your pilgrimage on Sydney’s Gayborhood Walking Tour to hear stories of the city’s gay and lesbian icons – tips on bars, restaurants and historical sites to visit are served up on a fluffy unicorn plate too.
The food scene in Sydney is more than enough reason to visit alone, but the question is which ones deserve top spot on the foodie bucket list? Bennelong is great if you want to splurge. Set in the smallest sail of the Sydney Opera House, the menu is a weird and wonderful take on Australian cuisine executed by head chef Peter Gilmore. As expected, the a la carte menu is seasonal but expect to see everything from posh slabs of tuna to scallops encased in eggplant (aubergine to Brits), wild caught barramundi and Tasmanian chicken. For dessert? The pavlova. Non-negotiable.
Out in Bondi you’ve got the Bondi Icebergs, affectionately known locally as the Bergs. This is where all the celebs go: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kylie Minogue, Hugh Jackman, Joe Jonas and even Justin Bieber have all experienced the block’s delights. Dinner is great, but lunch comes complete with sea-breeze views of the ocean and Bondi’s spectacular rock pool. Cuisine? Modern Australian. In English that’s lots of fish, meat and fine, fine booze.
Continuing with the water theme don’t miss Catalina Rose Bay. As the name suggests, it sits on its namesake inlet and is often voted one of the city’s top restaurants. Oysters are a must, along with a plate of buratta, toothfish and shellfish.
Where and what to Instagram
Sydney is, without sounding too basic, a ‘grammer’s playground. So that you make the most out of your snaps, here’s the hit list: head first to Bondi to get the snap of the rock pool and then head up the coast to Vaucluse. Here you’re in Sydney’s millionaire playground where LA-style glass shacks with killer views of the city and Pacific reign supreme. Continue along and your camera hits Watson’s Bay.
The cliffs in this part of town are stunning, as are the countless yachts lining the bay – do the coastal walk to see the best. After, jump on a ferry bound for Circular Quay. On board you will be able to get awesome ‘grams of the harbour, Opera House and city skyline.
When you dock, jump on another boat for Kiribilli. It’s here you get the pic of the North Sydney Olympic Swimming pool with the Harbour Bridge in the background – continue around the bend a little more and you’ll discover Luna Park, great for kids but not so much for mum and dad’s pockets.
Obligatorily shot? The clown face entrance with ice cream (or candy floss) in hand. When you’re back in the city, Maybe Sammy is pink cocktail bar goals, and everything else in the Rocks (bubblegum pop colourful period storefronts and coffee shop galore) is basically what Instagram was made for.
Find yourself in all that blue
If you’re done with the city, head out west to the Blue Mountains. It’s a great place for a short vacation from your vacation, or if you just want to go and spy a few peaks it's a swell day trip. My top tip is to make a weekend of it. Check into Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley for mega pampering and tip top spa treatments.
After you’ve made a day of it, spend the next few exploring by car and foot. Of course the iconic snap of the The Three Sisters is a must, but make sure you don’t miss the spectacular Wentworth Falls, the Jenolan Caves, and if you’re an outdoorsy type, a hike/picnic along the Charles Darwin Walk.
Best time to go?
Just after summer, around late March when the climate is less brutal. Summer (between December 1 and February 29) sees temperatures reach the forties. Avoid June through October when the thunder and rainstorms can be pretty intense.
Do I need any vaccinations?
You’re all set. Insect repellent won’t hurt, along with bite creams for those minor creepy crawlies.
Sunscreen, plenty of deodorant, flip flops and an extra pair of everything. It can get very hot in these parts. A mixed wardrobe is best advised, but if we were to sum the place up in a look, it would be lazy hazy summer meets casual chic.
Do I need a visa? It’s dependent on where you’re from, but Brits and Americans will require a visa before you travel. Get yours here.