It felt like a dream arriving by train into the Emerald city of Sydney. This iconic Australian destination has the perfect balance of city excitement and beach bliss and I couldn’t wait to explore. Thanks to the sunny climate it is easy to discover the neighbourhoods on foot, finding your own hidden gems as you tick off the essential sights.
Shangri-La Sydney – a brilliant option for short stays in Sydney, this luxurious hotel is located in the historic Rocks district. Marvel at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from your bedroom window.
Old Clare Hotel – this new boutique hotel is found in the hip and gritty Chippendale area on the redeveloped Kensington Street precinct. The design is effortlessly cool, with 62 bedrooms, three destination restaurants, a bar and a rooftop pool.
Master – One of the hottest openings of 2015, this Surry Hills eatery is run by John Javier (former intern at Noma). He creates modern Chinese dishes with flair and finesse. Try the jowl peking pork with pancakes and cucumber, and order a side of special cabbage with fish butter.
Reuben Hills – a hip brunch spot in the trendy Surry Hills area serving delicious coffee and tasty South American recipes.
10 Williams Street – this cute wine bar is a great place to meet friends and enjoy a glass of organic, orange Australian wine. If you are hungry the succinct menu offers a range of tempting Italian dishes and nibbles.
Cho Cho San – a chic and minimalist modern Japanese restaurant with delicious small plates and inventive cocktails. I loved the addictive chicken karaage and the refreshing lychee & pineapple slushie.
Ester – A creative contemporary restaurant in a dressed-down industrial space. Much of the menu is cooked in the wood-fired oven and features some quirky clever recipes by chef Mat Lindsay. The roast duck with burnt honey sauce is a must.
Acme – The name comes from the initials of the four friends who opened up this fantastic little restaurant. Reasonably priced with a great vibe, it was one of my favourite restaurants in Australia. Don’t miss the pig’s head and egg yolk macaroni and the coconut rice cream with white chocolate for dessert.
Edition – There is always a queue for brunch at this Nordic – Japanese fusion café. Enjoy their premium artisanal coffee and the matcha hot cakes with mascarpone and passionfruit.
Farmhouse – It’s almost impossible to get a space at this rustic communal dining experience. With just 20 seats, the intimate restaurant is always full. Try to book in advance for Sunday lunch and let the knowledgeable team feed your stomach and soul with delicious homely fare.
Bourke Street Bakery – this neighbourhood bakery first opened in 2004 and has since expanded all over the city. The unique ginger crème brûlée tart is unmissable.
Artificer Speciality Coffee – my favourite coffee stop in Sydney was this minimalist café on Bourke Street. Opened by two talented baristas, the coffee is rich and creamy and the space is Japanese inspired.
Paramount Coffee Project – this joint is serious about good coffee. Located in the foyer of Paramount House, a lovely art deco building… swing by for a delicious American brunch and cup of fine coffee.
Mecca Alexandria – Mecca Coffee started in the centre of town and quickly developed a loyal following. The new branch in Alexandria opened in a former warehouse, and the industrial space has been given a makeover by Smith & Carmody. The coffee is delicious and the menu offers some tempting treats too.
Bulletin Place – this tiny bar is highly regarded on the Sydney cocktail scene. The service is very personal and the drinks are unpretentious but brilliantly creative. We tasted a couple of their seasonal cocktails: the Cherry Navy and the Banana Prescription.
Opera Bar – Sitting in this al fresco bar beneath the iconic opera house is one of the best things to do in the Sydney sunshine.
Baxter Inn – this prohibition whisky bar is almost impossible to find, but it is worth the hunt. Sit at the bar and order an old fashioned (which they have on tap) or a speciality Whiskey Apple made with freshly pressed Granny Smith apples.
Shady Pines – Another prohibition-style favourite, Shady Pines is a fun and fabulous bar decorated with taxidermy and cowboy themed décor. Order a craft cocktail from the list or ask the bartenders to whip you up something bespoke.
The Winery – on warm days there is nothing better than sipping a glass of wine in a sheltered courtyard. This laid back Surry Hills establishment has a reasonable and interesting wine list and is the perfect place to wile away the afternoon.
To See & Do
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia – Housed in a grand art deco building on Sydney Quay, this museum exhibits international and Australian modern art. When we visited a vibrant retrospective of Grayson Perry’s work was on show.
Art Gallery of New South Wales – Nearby to the Botanic Gardens this grand building showcases a permanent collection of 19th and 20th century Australian art as well as regularly rotating temporary shows.
Golden Age Cinema – For special cinematic outings book tickets to the exclusive Golden Age Cinema; a glamorous, boutique screening room in the Paramount Building. The cinema shows classic and cult movies, as well as occasional new releases. Save time for a drink in the cosy bar before or after the film.
Walk to Mrs. Macquarie’s chair – For the best view of Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge this lovely walk along the water is a must. The sandstone chair was carved for the wife of the Governor of New South Wales in 1810.
Royal Botanic Gardens – It is free to visit these beautiful gardens, and when inside it seems impossible that you could be so close to the city centre. Sit by the lake or enjoy the pavilion glasshouses.
White Rabbit – A rare chance to see a collection of 21st century Chinese contemporary art. After you’ve wandered around the free exhibitions grab a bite to eat in the buzzy café and bar.
Walk from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach – Everyone you ask recommends this picturesque walk. It is a 6km walk that takes you past six beaches before reaching the famous Bondi stretch. Reward yourself with a drink at Icebergs, which boasts arguably the best views of the beach. In spring, a sculptural exhibition takes place on part of the coast.
Watsons Bay – Just a short bus journey from the city, this Eastern suburb is a popular escape for locals. Grab a rock melon sorbet on Camp Cove Beach or head to Watson’s Bay Hotel Beach Club for a drink.
The Stables – this Surry Hills boutique offers a range of forward-thinking designers and desirable accessories. At the back, a cute café offers sustenance for hungry shoppers.
Somedays – hidden away up an unmarked staircase, Somedays stocks a range of local and international designers, focusing on Nordic fashion influencers.
Venroy – Gould street in Bondi is a great place to pick up fashionable Australian souvenirs. Venroy was my favourite shop, a local brand that creates authentic and beautiful garments. The pastel swimshorts are super stylish and great value for money.
Manly Beach – a 30-minute ferry ride from Sydney Quay, this surfers hang-out has some great venues. Try a burrito at Chica Bonita, coffee at Barefoot or Showbox, and a craft beer at 4 Pines Brewery. To burn off the calories stroll to the remote and calm Shelley Beach.
Blue Mountains – A couple of hours away by train the Blue Mountains is a world heritage region with dramatic scenery and quaint towns. I liked the pretty town of Leura where we had great homemade pizzas at Leura Garage for lunch. For the best views of the Three Sisters walk or take the bus to Echo Point.
Palm Beach – Famous for being the setting of Home & Away this sublime beach is a great getaway from the city. Walk to the Lighthouse for the best views and stop by The Boathouse for a bite to eat.
Hunter Valley – Australia’s most popular wine region offers fine restaurants and beautiful accommodation. Go for a tasting at the idyllic Audrey Wilkinson winery.