WHY WE LOVE IT
- It's sunny, fun, hip, friendly, relaxed—no wonder everyone falls in love with Australia's most happening city.
- Iconic sights: the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Bondi Beach, plus leafy Victorian neighborhoods, parks, beaches, marinas and quays.
- It's seriously epicurean, with some of the world's best restaurants and a buzzing café scene—plus excellent hotels that needn't cost the earth.
- Easy side trips to the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley wine region.
- A design-conscious populace makes for fruitful shopping.
- Good buys: Aesop bath products; Drizabone duster coats; Aboriginal art; clothes by Sass & Bide, Collette Dinnigan, Tsubi, and Marcs; Dinosaur Designs colored resin ware; opal jewelry.
WHEN TO GO
High season is high summer—December to February—though even winter can be balmy and there's an average of six hours of sunshine per day year-round. Seek bargains in early spring (September) and in fall after March (the wettest month).
__529 Kent St.
When you book, be sure to keep in mind the 10-course tasting menu at Tetsuya Wakuda's glamorous heritage-listed place—he's one of the world's, let alone Sydney's, top chefs. The food is complex, multicultural and brilliant; so is the wine list. Private dining rooms are available for groups, and the two main rooms overlook a Japanese garden.
__4 The Esplanade
This famous place in a 1920s Spanish Mission–style dressing hut on Balmoral Beach is a ferry ride away, but that's part of its charm. Modern Aussie dishes like watercress vichyssoise or lamb with cumin-honey sauce are especially delicious in the ocean ozone. There's also a next-door café with kilims, cane chairs, cakes and cocktails.
Overseas Passenger Terminal
The RocksTel: 61-2-9251-5600
One of the best places in Australia for everything from food to view—the best tables overlook the Opera House and harbor. Star chef Peter Gilmore's signature dishes include a stunning cube of pressed crispy duck spiced with cinnamon, but everything is worth eating, including the fascinating desserts. Another one to reserve ahead.
__BILLS SURRY HILLS
__359 Crown St.
This casual café, the sister of chef Bill Granger's Darlinghurst original, has menus chalked on a blackboard and a happy buzz that derives from the neighborly mix of celebrities, amblers and locals. Famous yummy dishes include ricotta hotcakes, corn fritters with bacon and a Wagyu beef burger. The evening ambience is more grown up and bistro-like.
__108 Campbell Parade
A perfect ending to a surfer-watching afternoon at Bondi is to lounge on a daybed with a Gorgeous Geisha or Tonsai Temptress (we're talking cocktails here) in this hip and sexy, dramatically lit space with polished concrete floors and an old-Shanghai-meets-Tribeca-loft vibe. Do stay on for the fabulous pseudo-Asian food: roast duck with pancakes, chili-and-black-bean beef ribs and pounded prawns on sugarcane sticks.
__Lower Ground Floor
1 Martin Pl.
If all the excitement is depleting your reserves, refuel with a hearty slab of red meat at the city's best steak place. The speakeasy look—high vaulted ceilings, low lights and cozy booths—suits the suits at lunchtime, but seems so romantic by night. As well as the usual suspects, there's a whole page of celebration-worthy Wagyu dishes, plus an excellent wine list.
Overseas Passenger Terminal
In the redesigned Overseas Passenger Terminal in the area known as the Rocks is this cavernous space with giant chandeliers that look like illuminated wine trellises and a vast glass wall through which the Opera House looks close enough to touch. Fun multicultural food—from Argentine churrasco to Italian pizza—hits the spot.
__62 Bridge St.
Structured around the 1851 Treasury Building, this is, to use the locally favored word, Sydney's iconic hotel. The views of the harbour, bridge, Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens are all but unparalleled—you'll spend half your time lounging on the cushioned window seat by the glass wall of your room. These quarters bear no traces of corporate hotel malaise, but are serene and clean in brown, cream and taupe. If you upgrade to a Club room, expect various perks, including access to a stunning 26th-floor private lounge and deck. Every guest may use the spa, the 31st-floor swimming pool and chic new bar-resto, Mint.
__413 Bourke St.
An incredible one-room hotel—no, really!—this privately owned supersuite with space-age superstar decor is beloved of rock stars because it has its own music studio. More suited to honeymooners are its large gym, plunge pool with swim-against current, and spa. There's also a peekaboo glass waterfall wall between this and the cocktail bar next door and a butler-PA to take care of you. The owners' personal, even more outrageous apartment, is sometimes available too.
__The Wharf at Woolloomooloo
6 Cowper Warf Road
This converted factory perched on the town end of a pier in a marina-entertainment-condo complex has 100 taupe, white and French-blue rooms with industrial remnants like big black beams on soaring ceilings and grandiose windows—the split-level loft rooms are best. There's a holistic spa, a glamorous striped indoor swimming pool, a good café and the great Water Bar.
__5 Bridge Lane
The 35 chic rooms have either tall beamed ceilings with black floorboards and bluestone bathrooms, or a tranquil beige-white color scheme—unless they're the two duplex penthouses with cobalt carpets or polished wood with cowskin rugs. The place is a fashionista favorite, thanks to the thriving bar and nightclub scene below, plus two of Sydney's top restaurants—Est. and Sushi-e, one of the city's most sought after sushi hangouts.
__QUAY GRAND SUITES
__61 Macquarie St.
East Circular Quay
What this place lacks in trendiness it makes up for in location and facilities. You won't be modeling your new home on the bland decor, but you'll appreciate the space, your whirlpool bath, washer-dryer and kitchen, and the floor-to-ceiling windows with balcony over the harbor, Circular Quay or the Royal Botanic Gardens. The hotel pool ain't so shabby either.
__207 Darlinghurst Rd.
In lovely, leafy Darlinghurst, this Georgian mansion remodeled in 2003 bills itself as a near-oxymoronic "luxury budget hotel." Secure the popular Loft Room and you'll see why—once the secret VIP room of a nightclub (haunt of the Rolling Stones), it's 20 feet tall, with (like all rooms) remote control A/C, cable TV and sexy black bathroom. There's also a lounge-bar just for hotel guests.
__488 George St.
It was offline for two and a half years, then in July 2005, AU$200 million later, the Hilton came back with a fanfare*.* The 577 rooms have a black-bean-timber wall above the bed, ocean-blue carpets and big windows; do get more than a standard (they're small), but don't bother with the Relaxation Rooms—they're more for the business customer who remains the center of Hilton thinking. You might, however, utilize the Bath Master (a kind of bubble bath sommelier), the country's biggest hotel-based health club/spa and the brilliant new restaurant, Glass Brasserie.
__ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
__Mrs. Macquaries Rd.
Whether you're serious horticulturists or just looking for romantic strolling opportunities, this is unmissable. See the Rare and Threatened Plants Garden—the Cadi Jam Ora—telling the story, through plants, of the Cadigal people (the indigenous inhabitants of this land) and areas of rain forest, palms, roses, succulents, ferns and the almost extinct Wollemi Pine. A "trackless train" runs tours several times a day in good weather.
__SYDNEY STATE TRANSIT FERRY
For over 135 years, ferries have been plying the waters around the harbor city, docking at the 41 wharves, as much a part of everyday life for Sydneysiders as the subway is for New Yorkers. They're easy to use, inexpensive and extensive—and may prove addictive. You don't know the city until you've seen it from the water and realize quite how many people live on its edge. If you have no particular place to go, try the seven-mile ride to Manly, where there's a nice pine-lined beachside promenade to stroll before the return trip. Or take a harbor cruise.
__ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES
__Art Gallery Rd.
One of Australia's leading cultural institutions, this is where to gain insight into the country through the work of its top artists. Don't miss the late Australian artist Brett Whiteley's studio, showcasing a selection of his unfinished paintings, reference books and memorabilia such as postcards, photographs and sketchbooks.
__HARBOUR BRIDGE CLIMB
__5 Cumberland St.
You'll not forget this in a hurry—the three-and-a-half-hour climb up and over the bridge's girders is part-mountaineering, part-sightseeing and very thrilling. Make sure you're both fit—oh, and avoid that pre-climb cocktail. All climbers must pass a Breathalyzer test.
Tel: 61-2-9250-7777 (box office) 61-2-9250-7250 (tours)
One of the most recognizable and beloved buildings on the planet offers a whole range of tours. There's a regular one every half hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or, better still, a two-hour backstage tour that includes breakfast. Or take a twilight cocktail cruise followed by a performance, with a tour voucher thrown in. You can also arrange a private excursion for just the two of you.
It's not all about Bondi, though Sydney's best-known surf mecca and its surrounding area is certainly worth a visit. There are 37 beaches in and around the city, most of them easily accessed in half an hour or less from the Central Business District. Many others are good for surfing, but several along the harbour foreshores are calm—Nielsen Park and Camp Cove, for example. Obelisk is another of these, which, being a little less accessible, happens to be clothing-optional.
__100 Market St.
The highest observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere affords views stretching over 50 miles on a clear day. A ticket to the Observation Deck includes entry to OzTrek—a hokey, but irresistible state-of-the-art simulation ride that takes you right across Australia. The very intrepid who weren't terrified enough by the Harbour Bridge Climb can do the Sky Walk (61-2-9333-9222, skywalk.com.au), a safety-harnessed stroll over the glass-floored summit.
__1 Olympic Dr.
The recently restored and, yes, iconic 1930s amusement park you enter through a gaping, illuminated mouth is a wonderful nostalgia trip and oddly romantic at night—it's open late Friday and Saturday. Entrance is free: the many rides are charged individually, or there are various packages. Don't forget to share some fairy floss—that's cotton candy to you.
__BLU HORIZON BAR
176 Cumberland St.
Have a nightcap in this recently refreshed New York–inspired cocktail bar perched high above the city on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel. The views are spectacular, and there's a mild dress code. The bar's open until 1 a.m. Monday to Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday to Saturday, and midnight on Sunday.