To the beach – and beyond
Sydney has a reputation for being beautiful yet shallow, but scratch the surface a little and you'll see that Sydney has a lot more going for it than just the way it looks. Beaches that bedazzle, windswept coastal walks overlooking whale-dotted waters, hole-in-the-wall bars, weekend farmers' markets and a thriving food and wine scene are among the drawcards that keep the locals happy and the visitors flocking.
For a beach-centric summer holiday, choose to stay in suburbs like Bondi or Coogee, where clothing is minimal and the water (and people) stay warm past sundown. Those more interested in nightlife, restaurants, bars and shopping will find inner-city hotspots like Potts Point and Surry Hills excellent bases.
Hot right now . . .
Ariela Bard, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest places to eat and drink, plus the best things to do this season.
A trip to the northern beaches on a summer’s day wouldn’t be complete without a long lunch at Bert’s (2 Kalinya St, Newport; 00 61 2 9114 7350). It would be worth it for the Gatsby-esque interiors alone; however, the decadence extends to the seafood-heavy menu too.
Many Sydneysiders have been showing their support for farmers suffering the effects of one of the worst droughts on record by dining at restaurants such as Ester(46-52 Meagher St, Chippendale; 00 61 2 8068 8279) and Sean’s Panaroma (270 Campbell Parade, North Bondi; 00 61 2 9365 4924). Both restaurants use produce from regional farmers affected by the drought — it doesn’t hurt that they’re also two of the best in town.
Sydney Festival (January 8-26; 00 61 2 8248 6500) reminds us that summer in Sydney is about more than just the beach. The Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent (Hyde Park North) returns with its hedonistic mix of cabaret, comedy and dance; and Isabelle Adjani will star in a stage adaption of the Cassavetes classic, Opening Night, at The Sydney Opera House.
Recently named the ‘Best Bar in Australasia’ and the only Australian bar to make it onto ‘The World’s 50 Best,’ Maybe Sammy (115 Harrington St, The Rocks; 00 61 2 9241 4970) is getting so much attention it’s likely blushing as pink as its pastel banquettes. Inside there's a nod to 1950s Vegas vibes: think classic cocktails paired with Rat Pack attitude.
48 hours in . . . Sydney
Have breakfast at Bills on Hall Street (00 61 2 8412 0700). Bill Granger put Australian food on the global map, and if you order the ricotta hotcakes you'll find out why. Afterwards, make your way down to Bondi Beach. Slap on some sunscreen and always remember to swim between the flags — these are the areas of the beach that are patrolled by lifeguards.
After a dip, take the Bondi to Coogee walk, known for its dramatic sandstone cliffs and many beaches. You will pass McKenzie's and Tamarama beaches and end up at the lesser-known (but some say more beautiful) Bronte Beach. You've earned another dip in the water. Continue the walk, which includes passing through the picturesque and historic Waverley Cemetery, until you reach Coogee Beach, another perfect spot for swimming.
Your long lunch by the water at Coogee Pavilion (169 Dolphin St.; 00 61 2 9240 3000) has been well earned. Head up to the rooftop bar for pizza or fresh seafood and panoramic views of the Pacific. When you're so close to the water you should really order oysters.
Jump on the 373 bus to Oxford Street (or take an Uber for roughly AUD $25/£14) and explore the pretty-as-a-picture boutiques on William Street. I like Di Nuovo (00 61 2 02 9361 4221) for recycled, high-end clothing bargains and Just William Chocolates (00 61 2 02 9331 5468) for sweet treats. Paddington's The Intersection is the home of Australian fashion with a cluster of stores by local designers such as Alice McCall and Camilla and Marc.
If you're still feeling energetic, wander down Oxford Street to Crown Street in Surry Hills, where you will find more eclectic boutiques, including my favourite, The Collector Store (00 61 2 9699 7740).
Fratelli Paradiso (12-16 Challis Ave.; 00 61 2 9357 1744) is well-loved in Sydney for its warm approach to service and consistently good food. Yes, it's an Italian restaurant, but there is something quintessentially Sydney about it. The Calamari Sant Andrea is non-negotiable, and should be followed by the risotto with wild mushroom ragu and parmesan.
If you still have energy in the tank, go for drinks at Love, Tilly Devine (91 Crown Ln.; 00 61 9326 9297). With over 300 wines on the menu and only 40 seats, the ratio is just right.
Take a morning meander towards Circular Quay. While on the way, pay a visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Art Gallery Rd.; 00 61 1800 679 278), where Masters of modern art from the Hermitage runs until March 3, 2019. The exhibition features works from collections of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and features the likes of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso.
The gallery's permanent exhibitions are free-of-charge and include an extensive collection of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander works. Take your morning tea on the terrace overlooking Brett Whiteley's famous matchstick sculpture, Almost Once.
Once at Circular Quay, jump on a ferry and cross Sydney Harbour to Manly Beach. The journey will give you a chance to take in The Sydney Opera House and The Sydney Harbour Bridge. Manly is a popular spot for surfers, and many locals believe it lacks the pretension of the eastern beaches. To the south you'll find the Manly to Shelly Beach Walk and to the north is Freshwater Beach, a local surfing spot with a large rock pool.
Lunch by the water at Queen Chow (167 Enmore Rd.; 00 61 2 9240 3000) where you can choose from dumplings, salt and pepper calamari, Peking beef and other Cantonese delights.
Once you've taken your return ferry back to Circular Quay you'll be well-placed to enjoy a late afternoon cocktail at Blu Bar, on the 36th floor of The Shangri La Hotel, Sydney (176 Cumberland St.; 00 61 2 9250 6000). It's the best-drink-with-a-view spot in town.
Treat yourself to dinner at Café Sydney(31 Alfred St.; 00 61 2 9251 8683). The location, on the rooftop of Customs House, is spectacular. While the prices are on the steep side, you also get a front-row seat to the best show in town, the harbour, the house and the bridge. Share the seafood platter and enjoy prawns, marron, Moreton Bay bugs, crab and oysters.
After dinner, it's a five-minute stroll to The Sydney Opera House. The big-ticket show for Spring is Puccini's La Boheme, set in 1930s Berlin, which runs until March 28, 2019.
Where to stay . . .
This glamorous five-star hotel exudes a stylish opulence and is carved out of Sydney sandstone. But it's the panoramic views of Sydney Opera House that truly wow guests at the Park Hyatt Sydney. Its five-star credentials include top-notch service, fine dining, a rooftop pool and excellent spa.
Double rooms from AUD $830 (£460). 7 Hickson Rd.; 00 61 2 9256 1234
The design of Spicers Potts Point – which occupies three heritage-listed terraces – eschews the quaint, old-world style of the Victorian properties in favour of a modern, clean and sophisticated aesthetic. A botanical theme pervades throughout, from green-and-blue custom-made wallpaper to an eclectic collection of artwork. It feels like a private residence tucked away inside Sydney's premier suburb for drinking and dining.
Double rooms from AUD $329 (£191). 122 Victoria St.; 00 61 1300 525 442
Vibe Hotel Rushcutters Bayfeels much fancier than its price suggests. Perhaps it's the sophisticated park-side location, footsteps from the harbour. There is a pool on the rooftop with sweeping harbour and district views – Sydney shows herself off up here.
Double rooms from AUD $189 (£111). 100 Bayswater Rd.; 00 61 2 8353 8988
What to bring home . . .
Don't buy Aboriginal art from tourist shops. Blak Markets, a social enterprise for Indigenous people, sells authentic art and artefacts. Market stalls operate eight times a year at La Perouse, Barangaroo and at regular pop-ups throughout Sydney.
Hit up Carriageworks Farmers' Markets (245 Wilson St.; 00 61 2 8571 9099) on a Saturday morning. Not only is it a great spot for breakfast, you'll also be bombarded by honeys, pickles, chocolates and other artisanal products to take home.
When to go . . .
You just can't beat Sydney in summer (December-February), and this goes for the rest of New South Wales too. The beaches along the coast, from the Norfolk pine-lined south to the sub-tropical beaches and banana plantations of the north, are at their most glorious in the hotter months. Prices do rise significantly in December and January, so if you are trying to keep costs down choose to come in February and March, the months following peak season; the water stays warm and the fun continues long after party season has settled.
New South Wales also has a lot going for it in the colder months. Autumn (March-May) is perfect for touring the Hunter Valley and the Southern Highlands wine regions, when the areas explode with autumnal hues and the ground is crisp with crunchy leaves.
May and June are festival filled – Sydney quite literally lights up for the Vivid Sydney festival, and there's Riesling quaffing at The Sydney Writers' Festival followed by the Sydney Film Festival and the Darling Harbour Jazz and Blues Festival. In spring (September-November), the first signs of magnolias and cherry blossoms appear on the suburban streets and the mesmerising lilac of jacaranda trees are in bloom.
Know before you go . . .
British High Commission in Canberra: Commonwealth Avenue, Yaralumla, ACT 2600; 00 61 2 6270 6666; gov.uk
Police, fire and ambulance: Dial 000
Sydney Visitor Centres are at: corner of Argyle Street and Playfair Steet, The Rocks; and 33 Wheat Road (between IMAX Theatre and Darling Walk), Darling Harbour (sydney.com). Both are open daily, 9.30am-5.30pm
Local laws and etiquette:
• There is no set etiquette around tipping in Sydney. However, I suggest 10 per cent in restaurants and for table service in cafés, and rounding up taxi fares to the nearest AUD $5 (£3)
• Licensed venues in Sydney's CBD Entertainment Precinct must observe a 2am lockout law (if you are outside the venue at this time you will not be allowed entry) and a 3.30am curfew on sale of alcohol. The precinct includes parts of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst and stretches to The Rocks and from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay. Small bars (up to 60 people), restaurants and tourist accommodation establishments are exempt from these laws.
• Give fake didgeridoos the flick; buy something uniquely Australian.
• Most people are fairly honest, but watch out for taxi drivers who insist on taking you the scenic way to the airport or Bondi Beach.
• Be wary about walking around Kings Cross or Darling Harbour in the early hours of the morning – better to jump in a cab.
Currency: Australian dollar (AUD $)
Time difference: Sydney is nine hours ahead of London in British Summer Time and 11 hours ahead in the British winter.
For someone who grew up in Bondi, Ariela spends more time out of the water – exploring new restaurants and interesting things to do – than one might think (it might have something to do with a childhood spent watching Jaws...)
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