Sydney Travel Guide
As the largest, wildest, and most uncompromising of Australia’s cities, Sydney wears its heart on its sleeve. Stunning panoramas abound, unfurling behind the deep sapphire waters of its famed harbour. Yet even from the glittering towers and colonial gems of the Central Business District (CBD), you don’t have to stroll far to find yourself communing with nature, as the Blue Mountains, Royal National Park, and mighty Pacific Ocean beaches lie right on the city’s doorstep. Thanks to the warm climate, Sydneysiders can be found outside and socialising at all times of the year. Sydney has come a long way from the mass arrests at the first annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade a generation ago, which has since become a world-famous event attracting hundreds of thousands of participants. If you’re not in town for the big day itself, you can still jump into the thriving gay community, centred around the Darlinghurst neighbourhood and Oxford Street. Come day or night, you’ll find no shortage of fascinating places to visit in Sydney, a laid-back city which has been attracting newcomers since Europeans first settled on Sydney Cove just two and a half centuries ago.
The best hotels in Sydney
Things to do in Sydney
For anyone interested in the art of distillation, or just interested in tasting the result, a visit to the Archie Rose Distilling Co is a must. Here, at the first new distillery to open in Sydney since Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, tours offer the chance to learn more about the company’s gin, vodka, and whiskey products, while masterclasses promise insider knowledge and the chance to blend your very own spirits.
Replicating the sleek styles of the 1950s, the retro Drive-In Blacktown harks back to a simpler time, when going to the cinema meant sharing the backseat of your car. Micro-transmitters pipe in the audio via the car’s radio, creating a personalised theatre experience best complimented by hot dogs and burgers from the pastel-coloured diner on site.
You also won’t want to miss a second of the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, one of the city’s premier galleries. Boasting a magnificent location on Sydney Harbour, the permanent exhibits spotlight 4,000 works by new and established Australian artists, many of whom are Aborigine and Torres Straits Islanders, giving a unique perspective into modern Australian culture.
While no-one can deny that the harbour’s Opera House is a modern cultural gem, the Lyric Theatre is a great alternative for those seeking a more authentic Sydney experience away from tourist attractions. Its broad suite of productions ranges from 300-year-old operas to contemporary straight plays, from the latest Broadway musicals to classic West End shows.
For those who would rather step out of the audience and into the Outback, the Barangaroo Aboriginal Walking Tour offers expert insight into the indigenous origins and traditions of the harbour area. The tour winds through Barangaroo Reserve, which is home to 75,000 native trees and shrubs. Aboriginal guides demonstrate first-hand how Aborigines were able to feast on the natural world long before colonists arrived. Tour-goers are invited to eat what the first Aborigines ate thousands of years ago, making this a must for adventurous foodies.
Things to see in Sydney
As Australia’s oldest and largest city, Sydney has no shortage of adventurous eating options whose origins span the globe
Where to eat in Sydney
As Australia’s oldest and largest city, Sydney has no shortage of adventurous eating options whose origins span the globe. There’s no better place to start than Momofuku Seiobo, which the prestigious Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide ranked the third best restaurant in the entire country. Its Afro-Caribbean cuisine can be sampled at lunch or pre-theatre, but their speciality is the ten-course, constantly-changing tasting menu, for which you will have to set aside at least four hours to truly enjoy.
Focusing on authentic Australian plates, Quay offers a bit more flexibility with their own tasting menu, which comes in six- and ten-course options. Working closely with local farmers, fishermen, and suppliers, the chefs at Quay have honed their craft to produce cuisine you won’t find anywhere else—from smoked pig jowl with sea cucumber crackling, to eel cream with milk skin and almond oil.
Dedicated to the phenomenal seafood found in Sydney’s open waters, the four-star Saint Peter puts ethics front and centre, using only the freshest and finest sustainably sourced fish. With this commitment, you can expect the menu to change on a daily basis, as each fish is hand-selected early every morning by staff.
Tetsuya’s fuses traditional French culinary techniques, the finest Australian ingredients, and the Japanese philosophy of centring meals around seasonal and natural flavours. Owned by the internationally-acclaimed Tetsuya Wakuda, who arrived in Sydney at age 22 with one suitcase and no culinary experience, the Japanese-European menu creates a fascinating blend of flavours.
For a more casual—and meat-free—dining experience, head to Kindness Café. This vegan Thai restaurant sources all of its sustainable and preservative-free pastes directly from farmers in Thailand, providing the most authentic South-East Asian food Sydney has to offer.
Casual light meals can also be enjoyed at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant. Few establishments can compete with its verdant setting in the 200-year-old Royal Botanic Gardens, or with its elegant nineteenth-century façade. It is worth a visit so that you can decide for yourself whether the open-air dining by the glittering duck pond makes the meal taste even better.
The ethos of using Australian ingredients whenever possible shines through in the menu at the cosy Bistro 54. This family-run restaurant infuses every ingredient with love and care by churning the butter in house, sourcing its bread locally, and ensuring not only wines but the teas all hail from Australia.
Bistro 54 may serve incredible tea, but you won’t have any problem finding a great cup of coffee in a city proud of its coffee culture. Head to Sample Coffee St Peters to watch the brewing process from start to finish, amid the heavy scent of freshly ground beans with a coffee menu that changes daily and a food menu that changes every two months. Or, if you’re in the CBD, unwind with a local roast at the oasis of calm that is Gumption by Coffee Alchemy.
Sydney style may definitely be casual, but that doesn’t mean the city lacks a sense of fashion
Shopping in Sydney
Sydney style may definitely be casual, but that doesn’t mean the city lacks a sense of fashion. Having started out as a men’s swimwear brand, Venroy has since expanded its range to fully capture the essence of Bondi life, even using a dedicated fabric mill to ensure the quality of their linen leisurewear.
Meanwhile, for everyday looks, locals often flock to Shirt Bar. Never has a store been more aptly named; Shirt Bar sells exquisitely tailored shirts by day before transforming into a fashionable place to sip whiskey and sample wine by night.
Refusing to be attached to a label, the Moscow-born concept store Cara&Co is centred on each of the five senses. Here, visitors will find a restaurant (taste), fashion and jewellery (sight), perfumes (smell), music (sound), and a textural aquarium (touch).
A visit to Gertrude and Alice to peruse its 25,000 new and second-hand books, meanwhile, will surely result in a stay to sample its gourmet coffees and teas, served in vintage china. Named after Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B Toklas, this cosy bookstore guarantees that you’ll discover a literary treasure between cups.
Treasures of all kinds can be unearthed at Holy Kitsch. Supporting small businesses and artisans from countries as diverse as Mexico, China, and France, despite its name the store is committed to high-quality artisanal crafts created with sustainable work practices. Picture Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations and the masterpieces of Frida Kahlo, and you can imagine what you’ll find here.
Named after the iconic original in New York, Stonewall’s three floors of music stay open seven nights a week. If it’s a drag act you’re after, then visit over the weekend, but if you’re in the mood for karaoke and quizzes, stop by during the week. This is more than your average nightclub; entrance entitles you to dinner, and proceeds help support local LGBTQIA charities.
If you want to party until sunrise, Arq keeps its doors open until 5am every weekend. Hardcore trance blasts in the upstairs area known as the arena, while a poppier sound plays downstairs in the vortex. There are also live performances from Thursday to Sunday.
For a more laid-back vibe, kick up your feet at the rooftop bar The Taphouse. As the name suggests, The Taphouse focuses on craft beers, offering 60 brews from a range of independent breweries. Head downstairs and you’ll find the more traditional bar Odd Culture, which promotes natural wines and wild ale. Another great escape from the club scene is the relaxed atmosphere and offbeat design of The Bearded Tit. As well as an exciting à la carte menu and 16-tipple beer list, The Bearded Tit regularly hosts gay-friendly cabaret.
A taste of the tropical can be had at the Caribbean-inspired speakeasy Lobo Plantation. Here, ginger syrup and pineapple puree rub shoulders with over 250 types of rum. Just don’t choke on the plantain crisps when your eyes settle on the price of the bottle dating to 1930!
Finally, no Sydney travel guide can end without mentioning The Imperial Erskineville. Featuring in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this is a gay bar like no other. A welcoming space for all manner of subcultures, you’ll find a basement that hosts parties twice a week, a restaurant and bar on the ground floor, and an art-clad cocktail bar—Imperial UP!—on the roof.
Opera House | Photo: Frances Gunn
Photo: Raj Eiamworakul