With beaches, bars and a beguiling harbour, Sydney is the perfect long-weekend getaway, writes Rob McFarland
Has there ever been more excitement about a "bubble"? With travel to Australia a reality, now is the time to start planning your first hop across the ditch. And where better to start than Sydney, the country's shimmering harbourside gem. Here's a taste of what you can expect in Australia's largest and most exciting metropolis.
Over the past few years, Sydney has gained several exciting new dining districts. Hip and trendy Chippendale near Central Station is home to the atmospheric Spice Alley, a fragrant, lantern-lit huddle of Asian street food vendors selling everything from Vietnamese pho to Cantonese dumplings. Nearby is Automata, a boundary-pushing fine-diner where chef Clayton Wells serves adventurous tasting menus in a sleek, industrial setting.
Barangaroo's transformation from an industrial wasteland into a vibrant new residential and dining precinct near Darling Harbour has been an urban renewal success story. Standout eateries include Cirrus, an elegant seafood restaurant (order the charcoal-roasted Murray cod); Bea, Matt Moran's high-end eatery inside the futuristic three-storey Barangaroo House; and Born by Tapavino, a Barcelona-inspired tapas bar serving scrumptious Spanish small plates.
Macleay Street in chic, inner-city suburb Potts Point is another dining hotspot with a cluster of exemplary eateries. For high-end Greek cuisine, check out The Apollo (the honey-soaked saganaki cheese is compulsory). For contemporary Japanese, head to Cho Cho San (try the pillowy pork katsu steamed buns). And for modern Australian, Monopole serves delectable share plates in an intimate, seductive setting.
If you're keen to venture further afield and experience the diverse multicultural cuisine in Sydney's suburbs, sign up for a tour with Gourmet Safaris or Taste Food Tours.
Maybe Sammy slipped quietly on to Sydney's bar scene last year and then promptly won pretty much every award on the planet, including being the only Australian entry in the World's 50 Best Bars 2019. Located on the edge of The Rocks, it's a homage to Rat Pack-era glamour with velvet banquettes and white-jacketed bartenders. The atmosphere is classy but fun with a wide range of adventurous concoctions (try the rosemary bubble-topped Dunes), all expertly prepared by award-winning mixologists.
Sydney has a surprising shortage of rooftop bars, which is why Smoke was such a welcome addition when it debuted on top of Barangaroo House in 2018. Choose from an extensive list of cocktails made with native Australian ingredients while enjoying sweeping waterfront views from its capacious wooden deck.
Sydney's small bar scene has exploded over the last decade with an intriguing number of "secret" venues hidden throughout the city. To access Old Mate's Place, you'll need to find an anonymous office entrance on Clarence St; Door Knock is hidden at the end of a long subterranean corridor (knock three times on the brass pineapple) and the only clue that the raucous Ramblin' Rascal Tavern exists is a bouncer outside a door with three skulls.
If you'd like to visit the source of your favourite spirit, Sydney has a growing collection of breweries and distilleries, including the award-winning Archie Rose in Rosebery, where you can make your own gin. Dave's Tours will show you the cream of the crop, with tastings and a chance to meet the brewers and distillers themselves.
There's a handful of Sydney experiences that are pretty much compulsory. Scaling the world's tallest steel arch bridge is one of them. After an exhilarating ascent up its sweeping curved archway, you'll enjoy unrivalled views of one of the world's most spectacular natural harbours.
Ideally, you'll experience the Sydney Opera House by seeing a show - they have now recommenced, and Opera Australia will return to the Opera House in January. But even if you just take a tour, you'll still learn the fascinating story of how Danish architect Jørn Utzon's controversial design became one of the most recognisable silhouettes on the planet.
More than just a beach, Bondi's sweeping arc of pristine sand is a cultural icon. Have a swim, take a surf lesson or simply plop yourself on a towel and enjoy the best people-watching in the city.
Every day, a flotilla of ferries criss-cross Sydney Harbour, carrying commuters and tourists alike. If you only do one ferry trip, make it the one from Circular Quay in the city to Manly. This 30-minute journey showcases the harbour's natural splendour while delivering you to a laidback beachside community of superb eateries and stunning sunsets.
MORE THINGS TO DO
Ticked off all the must-dos above? Then it's time to dig deeper. Culture Scouts runs walking tours highlighting the food, art and history in the cultural hubs of Newtown, Chinatown and Chippendale.
Equally fascinating is an exploration of the newly created Barangaroo Reserve waterfront park with Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tours. The tour explains the area's rich Aboriginal history and continued significance to the land's traditional owners, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. barangaroo.com
Last year saw the creation of the Bondi to Manly Walk, an 80km harbourside trail linking the city's two most famous beaches. While attempting the whole thing in a long weekend might be ambitious, you can easily tackle a scenic bite-sized chunk. Two of the best are the 6km coastal stroll between Coogee and Bondi (keep an eye out for migrating whales between May and November) and the 10km harbourside track that winds its way from Manly to Spit Bridge.
Sydney's museums tend to play second fiddle to its harbour and beaches, but you'll find thought-provoking contemporary art in the MCA in The Rocks and Australia's largest collection of Aboriginal art in the Art Gallery of NSW. The Australian Museum is a perennial family favourite thanks to its vast collection of native fauna and is even more enticing now it has reopened after a major renovation.
Sydney's most notable hotel opening last year was The Fullerton, a swish 416-room property housed in the gorgeous sandstone GPO building in Martin Place. The 5-star hotel is a suitably stylish montage of soaring columns, heritage facades and cavernous atriums (best explored on one of the property's fascinating free heritage tours). Even if you don't stay overnight, be sure to pop into the bar for a Sydney Sling, a potent mix of gin, grenadine and ginger.
For a more intimate experience, check out the 29-room Paramount House Hotel, located in the former headquarters of Paramount Picture Studios in Surry Hills. A trendy enclave of wooden floors and exposed brickwork, the hotel also boasts a rooftop gym, an artisanal cafe and an intimate cinema in the studio's former screening room.
If you'd prefer to be beachside, QT Bondi is perfectly positioned opposite Sydney's most famous sweep of sand. The property has 69 breezy, beach-themed rooms all with well-stocked kitchenettes should you wish to self-cater. Although there's no restaurant on site, you're but a towel toss from the suburb's fantastic range of eateries and bars.
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