There’s no place quite like Sydney. A major metropolis with miles of coastline, a spectacular culinary scene and numerous charming neighborhoods, its closest counterpart might be Los Angeles—just strip away L.A.’s beauty-obsessed culture and Hollywood scene and replace them with almost suspiciously friendly locals and a laid-back, lighthearted culture.
Located on the world’s largest natural harbor, Sydney is all about the water, and every trip here should include a boat tour and time at local beaches like Bondi, Manly and Tamarama—even, for those daring enough, a surfing lesson. But the city has much more to offer. Sydney has undergone a dramatic transformation since its founding as a convict colony in the 18th century. In recent years, the food scene has amped up, and it is now well-established as a culinary hot spot. With some great new design hotels and modern art museums, it also has achieved serious cultural depth.
Most first-time visitors to Sydney will want to stay on the harbor. The top property here is the Park Hyatt, which occupies an enviable stretch of waterfront close to the city center, with spectacular views of the Harbour Bridge and opera house. A more youthful alternative is the Ovolo Woolloomooloo. With a scenic location on the water, the boutique hotel is housed in a former warehouse and has an industrial feel, loft-style rooms and a buzzy vibe.
The undeniably cool Paramount House Hotel is located in the charming neighborhood of Surry Hills, about a 10-minute drive from downtown Sydney. Housed in the former headquarters of Paramount Pictures Studios, the boutique property has an artsy look, with exposed-brick walls, wood ceiling beams and vintage gold furnishings in its 29 rooms. Plus, it has an Art Deco cinema, a speakeasy-style bar and a wine bar, Poly.
The QT Bondi is a perfect base for those who see Sydney first and foremost as a beach destination. The eclectic hotel has a stylish-surfer decor—its 69 airy guest rooms are done mostly in a white palette with pastel accents. Though lacking sea views, they offer retro furniture, kitchenettes, washer/dryers and spacious bathrooms with Malin+Goetz products. The best part: the waves at Bondi Beach are only two blocks away.
One of the hardest things about visiting Sydney is packing as many meals as possible into just a few days. Bursting with stellar eateries, Surry Hills is a fun area for restaurant-hopping, sampling a few dishes at one spot, then moving on to another for the next course. Among the most-talked-about of the current crop of dining spots are Nomad, which occupies a renovated warehouse and serves Middle Eastern–inspired cuisine like grilled haloumi and wood-fired flatbread with za’atar, and the nearby Firedoor, where every dish is cooked over a wood fire. From the team behind one of Sydney’s best French restaurants, Hubert, the hotly anticipated Alberto Lounge serves such Italian favorites as cacio e pepe gnocchi and burrata caprese.
Related: Top Tables Sydney
In the stylish Sydney suburb of Paddington, whose culinary scene matches its incredible shopping, foodies are flocking to the seafood restaurant Saint Peter, which serves oysters along with such bites as snapper sausage and egg on an English muffin. Next door, the sprawling Fred’s incorporates fresh produce in dishes like polenta with seasonal vegetables and pesto.
Related: Guide to Paddington, Sydney
Located a bit farther south, in Chippendale, is the chic and popular Ester, manned by chef, Mat Lindsay, who whips up surprising but accessible dishes like fried corn with Parmesan cream and chili dust. Lindsay is also behind Poly, in the Paramount House Hotel, which is becoming known for its casual, shareable plates, including crudités with labneh and fennel oil, grilled nettle flatbread and sweet and sour lamb ribs.
Sydneysiders are an undeniably fashionable bunch, and the shopping opportunities here are plentiful. Stroll along Crown Street in Surry Hills, Gould Street in Bondi Beach and Oxford Street in Paddington, and you’ll come home with an entirely new wardrobe. Sydney has some of the world’s best shopping, and many of the best looks can be found at its weekend markets, where such Australian designers as Zimmerman got their start. For a one-stop shop, visit Parlor X, which moved to a beautiful renovated church in Paddington that is now filled with high-end looks from such luxe brands as Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Isabel Marant. Another can’t-miss in Paddington is the Intersection, a small shopping area with a handful of fabulous boutiques, including Zimmerman, Camilla and Marc, and Scanlan Theodore.
In addition to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney has smaller galleries worth exploring. Brett Whiteley Studio, in Surry Hills, presents a fascinating look at one of Australia’s most famous artists in the former T-shirt factory where he lived and painted. Whiteley—who died in 1992 after a passionate and troubled life—created works that have a uniquely Australian sensibility (some of the best depict the stunning light and vibrancy of Sydney) and have been known to fetch seven figures at auction. Located in the suburb of Chippendale, cult favorite White Rabbit Gallery is housed in a refurbished Rolls-Royce showroom that contains four floors of boundary-pushing contemporary Chinese art and a theater.
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