In Sydney, you have to know what you’re looking for to find the good places. The food scene is huge and sprawling, and it rewards those who do a bit of research. My ideal day starts with a coffee at Two Chaps in Marrickville, a cafe that’s become a local institution. Get it to-go and have it at the nearby Henson Park. And then – because this is my dream day – I’d jet over to Redfern to Good Ways Deli, where I’d get its breakfast sandwich: egg and cheese with a very yummy onion relish.
Then for dinner: Sydney is big on pizza. Westwood in Newtown does an amazing classic marinara – or try Pizza Oltra. It just opened underneath Central station and was started by local DJ don Ben Fester, so there’s always good music with your slice. For something a bit more upmarket, go to Dear Sainte Éloise in Potts Point – one of Sydney’s many places to gorge on small plates and get wine-drunk. But my go-to is Enmore’s Faheem Fast Food – an unfussy Pakistani joint that does the best palak paneer I’ve had in Sydney. You have to order the Lahori fish fry there too, which is like a spicier, crisper fish and chips.
One place I’ve been going to heaps is the revamped Powerhouse Museum. It has been doing themed late-night programs each Thursday: films, DJs, digital artists and a debauched lineup of performers, including a month-long queer takeover in celebration of Sydney WorldPride. The Museum of Contemporary Art – in the middle of tourist haven Circular Quay – is also a classic, with regular exhibitions by landmark international artists (and a lovely rooftop). I haven’t had the chance to go to the new modern art wing of the Art Gallery of NSW, but I’ve heard it is really beautiful.
Apart from visual art: Golden Age in Surry Hills is a must-visit cinema with current and retrospective programming – and it has a bar attached to it that’s super intimate, with amazing mood lighting. Down the road in Surry Hills is The Record Store, where lots of Sydney DJs work – all of them will gladly offer local recommendations, sharing what’s happening on the ground. Another great place for vinyl hunting is Papa Disquo in Enmore for lighter, downtempo music.
Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west is a suburb that used to be mostly industrial and today the spaces have remained warehouse-y. It’s brewery central: local beer brand Grifter has a space there and it’s such a beautiful spot.
Poor Tom’s Gin has a distillery in Marrickville too – a Sunday session there is always fantastic and their gin is my favourite, hands down. Another warehouse conversion is Baba’s Place: a restaurant doing modern Middle Eastern food that feels like it’s in a renovated suburban garage. I love a great meze spread – everything there is made to be shared, except for their famous tarama on toast, which needs to be bigger because it’s so good.
Green (and blue) space
Look, I have to mention Campo – full name Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. Everyone loved a Campo sesh in their uni days and then kind of forgets about it, but I’ve been going back there recently. It’s huge, there are dogs and you can get a nice bottle of natural wine from the nearby P&V, a bougie bottle shop (note: alcohol is prohibited after 9pm). During long summer days, Sydney Park in Alexandria is stunning. Sit on the giant hill and watch the sunset over the city skyline (or the skaters on the ramp below stacking themselves).
The Royal Botanic Garden is a must-go for people who haven’t been to Sydney before.
And of course, the beaches – Coogee is probably the easiest one to get to by public transport. Just hop on a bus from Central station. Gordons Bay, which is a 10-minute walk from Coogee is also popular, though I avoid that place like the plague because I hate rocks and it is a rock beach.
If you have a car, then going up towards the harbour beaches is great – there’s a collection of them that starts with Camp Cove at the harbour’s eastern entrance and as you work your way south there’s Parsley Bay – which has a bridge that you can walk over and watch both sides of the water – and Shark Beach.
Sydney’s nightlife is the best it’s ever been right now – there is a real rebirth of the scene, especially after years of lockout laws and lockdowns. The nightlife used to be really insular and unsafe for heaps of demographics – and over the past few years people have worked hard to make spaces welcoming.
Darlinghurst’s Club 77 has been around for decades, but it’s really nailed it in the past two years: it’s open late all week and on the weekend you’ll get a different vibe each night. It’s a great crowd and security staff are lovely.
Red Rattler in Marrickville hosts heaps of queer parties and it’s one of the few fully accessible spaces in Sydney. The Lansdowne in Chippendale, too, is a long-running venue that’s great for live music and every so often becomes a raucous rainbow dancefloor thanks to nights run by queer legend Stereogamous and friends. Speaking of old venues, the Abercrombie, also in Chippendale, has just reopened with a new 24-hour licence – so it’s all-night party galore there right now.
For a softer night out, go for jazz lounge Lazy Bones in Marrickville or Cafe Freda’s in Darlinghurst – a cute afternoon spot with a swathe of outdoor seating that’ll make you feel like you’re in Europe.
Accommodation is really expensive in Sydney – there’s just no getting around that if you want to stay somewhere nice. My favourite hands down is Paramount House Hotel (from $330) in Surry Hills. It’s basically an all-in-one boutique hotel: it also houses Golden Age and its own cafe, Paramount Coffee Project. It’s a very Australiana place: lots of natural textures, zines and artworks from Sydney creatives, and an elevator that’ll give you the best selfie you’ll ever take. It’s pretty much all pink with a kitschy wallpaper print, so sneak in a mirror snap or get a stranger in the elevator to take your photo.
For a cheaper option, your best bet is looking for an Airbnb near Central station, so you’re right in the thick of it.