Culinary brilliance and unpretentious luxury entwine in Australia’s largest city, home to stunning natural beauty and tanned beach-dwellers
by Shylie Rimmer
Australia is often perceived as “that far away oceanic oasis of barefoot surfers and stinging insects,” and although that may be partially true, one stop in Sydney has nearly all visitors abandoning preconceived notions—then lusting for more of the country’s biggest city. Known for the iconic Sydney Opera House and New Year’s Eve fireworks and loved for its amiable people and natural beauty, this city of 4.4 million has an astonishing range of experiences, including a culinary scene that has wildly expanded over the last ten years, a climate that New Yorkers could only dream of, and enough secluded beaches for a lifetime of exploration.
Know Before You Go
Despite its beach-bum reputation, Sydney is tenth on the list of the world’s most expensive cities. The average price of a cocktail runs $18 and a meal for two at upper-tier restaurants quickly adds up to $150. The food and bar scene is prospering, however, and becoming more internationally recognized. The Baxter Inn, an underground bar in the Central Business District, for example, is among top venues voted in the 2016 World’s 50 Best Bars Awards, beating New York’s PDT. Sydney enjoys a temperate climate, and although winter is mild (hovering around 48°F), the best time to visit is spring (September through November), when it’s not too hot, there’s minimal rainfall, and tourists aren’t crowding every attraction.
Sydney Harbour might be one of the most famous in the world, with the Harbour Bridge its mascot. The 85-year-old all-steel structure—that took one-and-a-half thousand men eight years to build—connects the Central Business District with the North Shore, providing a wonderful view for those on the east and north edges. The inlet is home to a number of small, unfrequented beaches, but the key to the Harbour’s best views are the public ferries. The Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo ferry route costs $11.50 and sports some of the closest bridge photo opportunities you’ll get without paying for your own private boat.
For the more outdoorsy travelers, the coastal walk from the Spit Bridge to Manly might be a preferred option for exploration. The moderate, North Sydney route combines dramatic harbor views with urban viewscapes, providing three-plus hours of pure paradise for nature admirers.
The Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach walk is yet another city pastime engaged in by locals, and a great way to spot dolphins and whales passing through the Tasman Sea. Adorned by multiple beaches and bays, the coastal route is home to a few low-key (and almost secret) spots. One such is McKenzies Beach, just off the south point of McKenzies Point, and largely unknown to tourists, and even some Sydney-siders. This mystery beach, between Bondi and Tamarama, is said to appear once every seven years, when sand builds up on the rocks and the tide falls. No one knows exactly when it will appear, but when it does, it is visited by every Bondi dweller and their dog. Once you get to Coogee Beach, snag a rooftop seat at the Coogee Pavilion for a well-deserved meal and drink (you’ll need it for the four-mile walk back to Bondi).
From late October to early November, the Bondi to Coogee walk becomes home to the annual Sculpture by The Sea— a free exhibition that transforms the trail into an outdoor gallery of inspiring local and international installations.
To witness the vibrant, creative side of the city, visit the suburb of Newtown, loved for its art, music, and swarm of thrift stores. Window shop down King Street, Newtown’s main strip, to find quirky bits and pieces. When you’re done, drop in at Mary’s, a local bar that is also famous as a burger joint.
Another prominent attraction is the Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon in 1956 after winning a design competition. Travelers from around the world gather to see the unique “sails” of one of the most famous performing arts venues, and with over 3,000 performances a year, getting a ticket is surprisingly easy.
Where to Stay
INTERCONTINENTAL SYDNEY DOUBLE BAY
Dubbed the “hotel to the stars,” the InterContinental resides in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, Double Bay. Opening in 2014—after a $40 million renovation—and the only 5-star hotel outside of the Central Business District—it’s home to 140 rooms and suites, a French-inspired courtyard bar, and a high-end gin bar. The most magnificent feature, however, is the rooftop pool.
33 Cross Street
This chic luxury hotel in famed Bondi Beach opened in December, 2015, and is the only high-end hotel in the area. Offering 69 studios and suites, it sits on the north side of the beach—across the bay from the famed and star-studded Icebergs Dining Room and Bar and close to several coffee shops. The glamorous location has guests sleeping across the road from the calm waters of Bondi, a spot crowded by local surfers and fitness-fanatics, even at the crack of dawn.
6 Beach Rd, Bondi Beach
PARK HYATT SYDNEY
The Park Hyatt takes luxury to a new level. This opulent, 155-room accommodation features floor-to-ceiling windows (for magnificent harbor views) and three rooftop suites, all equipped with private terraces. A rooftop pool is accessible for guests only, as is a dedicated 24-hour personal butler service. Named the Sydney Deluxe Hotel of the Year, the Hyatt is also famed for The Spa—with five treatment rooms, a gymnasium, and an outdoor whirlpool.
7 Hickson Road, The Rocks
Dine and Drink
THE BAXTER INN
Voted #12 in the 2016 World’s 50 Best Bars competition, this 1920s-era joint provides over 360 whiskies (the most expensive $100 a nip) to a soundtrack of jazz classics. Hidden in a laneway off
Clarence Street, and sign-less, it’s not the most obvious find, but well worth the effort. Order the “whiskey and apple”—a highball of Tennessee whiskey and squeezed-to-order apple juice.
Basement/152-156 Clarence Street
AT JONAH’S restaurant
For a Sydney experience that’ll truly leave you breathless, book the Deluxe Lunch at this restaurant and associated boutique hotel in Palm Beach. A partnership with Sydney Seaplanes, the experience begins with a flight from Rose Bay, over the Northern Beaches to Jonah’s Restaurant. There, indulge in a 4-course a la carte lunch overlooking the ocean—with matching wines, followed by a flight back east via with views of Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. $670 per person, and lasts approximately 4 hours, including 40 minutes of flight time.
This high-end Japanese restaurant can be found in the Central Business District and shares its space with one of the most elite cocktail lounges in the city. Adorned with a white marble bar top (designed for watching the chefs in action) and light wooden chairs, this small venue oozes elegance, even before the food is served.
252 George Street
Woolloomooloo Wharf, also known as the Finger Wharf, is home to some of Sydney’s priciest apartments and most stylish restaurants. China Doll, on the east side of the wharf, stands out, with its original twist on modern Asian cuisine, fusion cocktails, and aristocratic vibe. Sunset here is especially beautiful, with views over the city skyline.
4/6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo
Big thrill: PICNIC ON SHARK ISLAND
Water Taxis Combined has teamed with Sydney Picnic Company to provide a luxurious experience unlike any other. A private water taxi takes travelers from Rose Bay to Shark Island—an undisturbed, nearly four-acre slip. With a pre-arranged picnic hamper of Sydney’s best produce, this is one of the nicest ways to spend a spring afternoon. Upon completion, the taxi will drop you off where you started, or anywhere else you’d like to go. Starting at $265.