Australia: Cool in the city

By Kerri Jackson

Divine ethnic eateries, vintage markets, great bookshops - even gothic cemeteries... dodge the tourists and head for Sydney's diverse inner suburbs, says Kerri Jackson.

Elbow the crowds at Paddington Markets. Photo / Suppplied
Elbow the crowds at Paddington Markets. Photo / Suppplied

Once you've trodden the paths of Sydney's CBD, meandered around The Rocks and Darling Harbour, gawked at the Opera House and shopped the George St malls, there's plenty more to be discovered in the city's inner suburbs. Here's a quick guide.

Surry Hills - the old made new

In the past few years, what was once one of the more rundown parts of Sydney has been transformed into a chichi upmarket bohemian quarter.

Filled with small independent fashion boutiques, vintage clothing, books, homeware, art, design and crafts, it's also dotted with some of the city's best cafes and restaurants. Surry Hills is home to the famous Red Lantern Vietnamese restaurant and Longrain Thai restaurant, but if you can't nudge your way in there try some of the myriad smaller, cheaper spots such as In the Mood for Thai or Thanh Long for Vietnamese. Try Mexican at Agave or eat bistro-style at the excellent Bird Cow Fish.

Crucially though, if you're staying in any kind of self-catering accommodation, Surry Hills is home to some excellent food stores such as Formaggi Ocello for incredible cheeses and breads.

For shoppers, Surry Hills is almost entirely free of chain-store brands. Well-known labels found here include the rocker-styled fashions of Wheels and Doll Baby and Catherine Manuell luggage. But you'll also find jewellery designers, artists, homewares and furnishings. The area is revitalising so quickly there seems to be a new shops opening every week in the spruced-up shells of old ones. Start by wandering the main drag of Crown St, but venture further afield into Bourke St and some of the small side-streets reveal all sorts of hidden treasures. There's also a great market of mostly secondhand or home-made goods on the first Saturday of the month on the corner of Crown and Little Collins streets. The suburb really comes alive in the evenings, and it's a great place to hang out and people-watch. There's a sense of community here, full of interesting characters.

Getting there: Surry Hills is a short cab ride or walk from the central city or take a train to Central Station. From there it's about a 10-minute walk uphill into Surry Hills. There are also buses departing from Circular Quay.

The Glebe and Newtown - the alternative inner-west

The perfect place for bookworms, Glebe in Sydney's inner west is another suburb with a cool alternative vibe. It's a little rougher around the edges than spruced-up Surry Hills, but in a charming, lived-in way.

Here, among the Victorian terraced houses you'll find bookshops lined up one after the other, selling both new and second-hand books, and interspersed among them are organic grocers, cafes and specialty stores. It's impossible to leave Gleebooks without several titles under your arm, and Sappho is a good place to mix your second-hand book buying with a coffee, or wine and a snack. For something more substantial, try the inaptly named Badde Manors cafe, where the relaxed interior is not a reflection of the food or service. Glebe also hosts one of Sydney's coolest markets every Saturday, with stallholders selling second-hand and new clothing, jewellery, food, books, CDs and there's often live music.

If you're desperate for a chainstore fix, the Broadway Shopping centre and cinemas are a short walk way. And while you're in this part of town consider walking through the cool, overgrown Camperdown Cemetery.

Wander on your own or book a tour. Shoppers should also keep walking to King St, Newtown for all the boutiques they could possibly need.

And if you're really keen on walking, it's about a 45-minute stroll back to Darling Harbour from here, through the neighbourhoods of Pyrmont and Ultimo. Some of the newly refurbished streets have a touch of the ``Tonka Towns' about them, but you'll find all sorts of coffee spots and boutiques tucked in among them.

Getting there: For Glebe take the Light Rail to Bridge Rd or buses from The Rocks or George St in the CBD.

Paddington - shop, shop, shop

Paddington has long been Sydney's mecca for would-be fashionistas. Well-known Aussie designers such as Leona Edmiston, and Sass & Bide, have shops lined up beside chain stores and small independent boutiques. Start with the main drag of Oxford St, but be sure to head "off-piste" a little into the back streets because that's often where you'll find the less generic stores. Come the weekend though, the big draw is Paddington Market. It does get chocka, but it is vast and is worth elbowing your way through to discover new designers, great art and homewares. Prices range from the bargain to the pricey, but you'll generally find something you'd never see elsewhere. Plus there's great food.

For something a little edgier, The Fringe Bar back on Oxford St hosts its own market on Saturdays. Inside the dimly lit pub, stallholders are jammed in along with a DJ and crowds of shoppers. There's everything from the alternative to mainstream, clothing (new and vintage), plus jewellery, books and CDs.

Getting there: Buses run from Circular Quay or Central Station.

Manly - beach haven

Although not technically an inner suburb, Manly, on the city's North Shore, is an accessible 40-minute ferry ride away and, come a sunny weekend, it's hard to beat.

Jump off the ferry and stroll the Corso, where you'll find a mix of chain stores and surf shops. Then loop back up Market Place - which on Saturdays and Sundays is home to a craft market selling everything from home-made cosmetics and homeopathic products to jewellery, food, and clothing. Refuel with fish and chips from Mongers in Rialto Square, Wentworth St, and eat them on Manly Beach with your toes digging into the white sand. Finally refresh yourself with a swim, if it's warm enough, and a beer or two in the beachside Steyne Hotel.

Getting there: Regular ferries depart Circular Quay daily.

Where to stay: Medina on Crown apartments in Surry Hills are great for groups or families. As apartments, they are more spacious than hotel rooms, and are self-catering - perfect for making the most of Surry Hills' food stores. The apartments are centrally located on Crown St and have a fully-equipped gym, swimming pool, sauna and spa. Choose from one- or two-bedroom apartments. medina.com.au.

Vibe Hotel in Elizabeth St, in the CBD, is a modern, stylish hotel with all the facilities you'd expect at a budget-friendly price. It has a rooftop pool, a sauna and gym plus the excellent Curve bar and restaurant. Its location means you're handy to the CBD shopping, Central Station, Hyde Park and Chinatown. vibehotels.com.au.

Getting there: Pacific Blue flies daily to Sydney from Auckland. Blue Holidays offers Sydney packages.

Kerri Jackson travelled with assistance from Pacific Blue and Toga Hospitality.

- Herald on Sunday

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