Many would argue that Australia’s cultural capital is Melbourne, and they may be right. But Sydney certainly pips its Victorian counterpart when it comes to weather, beaches and vistas. The city’s convict origins, still manifest in much of the inner-city sandstone architecture, have given way to a cultural mix that draws from every corner of the globe and a breezy beach lifestyle that one can’t help but get drawn into. In February, flight prices dip to a very affordable level and it’s a great time to head over if you need some sunshine and a break from euro-collapse angst.
Sydneysiders are known to base their weekend plans around where they’ll be taking a dip. Eating, drinking, shopping and cultural pursuits come second to access to the big blue. We suggest you do the same. The city’s beachside café culture is killer, so swim, refuel and then plan your afternoon.
Other than the obligatory beachside suburbs, districts worthy of special attention are Surry Hills and Chippendale. The latter has boomed since the 2009 opening of the White Rabbit gallery (30 Balfour St, Chippendale 2008; +61 28399 2867). It showcases an impressive private Australian collection of contemporary Chinese art in a four- storey former knitting factory. Explore the collection, then get dumplings and tea in the gallery’s teahouse or hit one of the many cafés and bars on surrounding blocks.
It’s obvious – but awesome – so do the Discovery Bridge Climb (3 Cumberland St, The Rocks 2000; +61 2 8274 7777). Like some sort of urban mountaineer, you’ll get to take in the most beautiful harbour in the world from atop one of its most famous structures and will spot islands, beaches and landmarks to explore over the coming days.
Shopping & Style
Locals revel in colour and do so not in malls but in small boutiques where local rag traders are beginning to get noticed on the world stage. For the best taste of this head straight for Paddington’s Oxford Street – a few hundred metres’ strolling along this shopping strip will serve as your very own do-it-yourself Sydney Fashion Week. Just off the main drag, Kirrily Johnston’s flagship store (6 Glenmore Rd, Paddington 2026; +61 2 9380 7775) is a beautifully ordered presentation of her natural, relaxed style. Expect bold prints in neutral colours and easy-to-wear draping. Dion Lee, a local fashion wunderkind, has been the darling of Rosemount Australian Fashion Week (RAFW) for the past two years, and we predict 2012 will be no different. Pick up his threads at the Land’s End Store (205 Glenmore Rd, Paddington 2026; +61 2 9331 2656), which also stocks local fave Toni Maticevski.
A few blocks away on William Street, you’ll find The Corner Shop (43 William St, Paddington 2021; +61 2 9380 9828), the perfect introduction to Aussie greats Christopher Esber, Magdalena Velevska and swimwear label Anna & Boy. Sydney loves vintage glamour too. Newtown’s King Street and Crown Street in Surry Hills are the most densely packed with pre-loved gems, and the city’s beautiful weather lends itself to relaxed market grazing. Rozelle Markets is the place to go for bargain basement finds, Surry Hills is the ticket for secondhand records and threads or a dog-eared copy of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, and hot Sydney fashion labels Ksubi and Lover were both born in Bondi Market stalls, so go beachside for up-and-coming local designers.
Food & Drink
If you’re in town to taste the best that Sydney restaurateurs have to offer, make a reservation at a big gun: Quay, Rockpool Bar & Grill or slightly outta-towner Berowra Waters Inn. To sample what’s new, go for hot Argentinian joint Porteño (358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills 2010; +61 2 8399 1440; known in the Time Out Sydney office as Rockabilly Bar & Grill), where the chefs are quiffed and tattooed and you can order a whole suckling pig’s head. Chinatown is the place to get bang for your buck, and Menya Mappen is a good, cheap option (Shop 11, 537-551 George St, Sydney 2000; +61 2 9283 5525). The speciality is bukkake (don’t laugh) udon and you’ll leave with change from a tenner.
A few streets over, Haymarket is our tip for a pre-dancefloor stomach-liner. Dig into diner classics at The Dip (53-55 Liverpool St, Sydney 2000; +61 2 9267 3787), located in the front bar of super cool nightspot Goodgod Small Club, where hot dog happy hour means $6 (£4) dawgs 5-7pm daily.
Recent changes to New South Wales’s licensing laws have led to a swathe of small bars of every persuasion setting up shop throughout Sydney. Shady Pines Saloon (Shop 4, 256 Crown St, Darlinghurst 2010) is a great example. Drink rye from a pig’s hoof or sip on an Old-Fashioned as you shell peanuts in the shadows of stuffed moose heads.
The winner of the big gong at Time Out Sydney’s 2011 bar awards, Eau de Vie, is Sydney’s cocktail destination (229 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst 2010; +61 2 9357 2470). Alternatively, The Glenmore Hotel (96 Cumberland St, The Rocks 2000; +61 2 9247 4794) in the historic Rocks precinct is a great no-frills local pub, and if you climb to the rooftop, you’ll find an uninterrupted view of that wondrous Utzon-designed structure, the Sydney Opera House.
Music & Nightlife
The famous white sails on Sydney Harbour aren’t just there for looks – they house the city’s leading classical musicians and the country’s principal opera company. Productions of ‘The Magic Flute’ and ‘Turandot’ are currently being staged. (Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney 2000; +61 2 9250 7111).
If you want to catch a great local band for around a tenner, try your luck at FBi Social (248 William St, Kings Cross 2011) where you will find up-and-coming bands of just about every genre. And if you’re a fan of four to the floor, check out the bill at the Civic Underground, which houses the city’s best sound system (basement, Civic Hotel, 388 Pitt St, Sydney 2000).
Sydney is also renowned for its out-and-proud gay scene. All the action takes place on Oxford Street – the faah-bulous backdrop for the city’s annual Mardi Gras Parade (February-March). Hop along the strip from club to club, but make sure you veer down Flinders Street for a pit stop at ARQ (16 Flinders St, Darlinghurst 2010).
For fine art, head first to the Art Gallery of NSW (Art Gallery Rd, The Domain 2000; +61 1800 679 278). The expansive building sits astride glorious inner- city oasis the Royal Botanic Gardens and displays modern and contemporary works alongside spectacular harbour views. It’s home to Sydney’s largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and hosts 30 exhibitions a year.
AGNSW’s sister space, the Brett Whiteley Studio (2 Raper St, Surry Hills 2010; +61 2 9225 1881), is perfect for a bite-sized cultural snack. The home and studio of celebrated local artist Whiteley now displays his most important works.
Sydney’s other key gallery is undergoing a Aus$53 million (£36m) redevelopment, so visitors in early 2012 will be among the first to see the new-look MCA (140 George St, The Rocks 2000; +61 2 9245 2484).
Sydney Theatre Company (Pier 4/5, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay 2000; +61 2 9250 1777), the powerhouse culture collective that boasts Cate Blanchett and husband Andrew Upton as its creative directors, delivers an acclaimed programme every year, and Blanchett often treads the boards here herself.
Located in the cultural heart of the city, Belvoir St Theatre (25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills 2010; +61 2 9699 3444) has been leading Sydney’s indie theatre charge for 25 years and famous alumni – including Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield – often return to kick it with the up-and-comers.
You’ll no doubt want to see a few beaches while spending time in Sydney – there are around 70 of them dotted across the metropolitan area, so it’s fairly easy to find one that suits you. If you want to do the busy, bronzed, party thing, head for classic choices Manly or Bondi. But if you’re after a break from the urban heave-ho and want to, say, read a book or talk to a friend rather than surf and sashay, here’s a list of secret beaches – just don’t tell your friends about them.
Lady Martins Beach is a long, narrow stretch of sand tucked in Felix Bay (west of Rose Bay). It’s the perfect place for taking an exclusive dip in the harbour. Access can be gained via Wolseley Road, Point Piper 2027.
Well-hidden Milk Beach boasts incredible views of the city, Harbour Bridge and Rose Bay – watch the seaplanes come and go from the warm shallows. It’s behind Strickland House, 52 Vaucluse Road, Vaucluse 2030.
Little Congwong Bay Beach is a small secluded nudist shore at Botany Bay National Park. Pack a basket to enjoy a naked beachside picnic. Accessible via Anzac Parade, Botany Bay National Park, La Perouse 2036.
Flat Rock Beach is the ideal spot for cooling off after a bushwalk through Garigal or a kayak down Middle Harbour. The walking track is accessible via Killarney Drive, Garigal National Park, Killarney Heights 2087.
Just around the corner from Clovelly, Gordon’s Bay is a popular snorkelling spot and, though not known for it, boasts some great coral. Climb over the rocks to find a secluded spot to perch, then jump in and explore the reefs and kelp forests. Access is via Major Street, Coogee 2034.
Finally, Shelly Beach is not far from the crowded sands of Manly. Its protected marine reserve status ensures the small scaly delights are many and varied and a scuba school operates out of the beach. Access from Marine Parade, Manly, or by ferry from Circular Quay.
The 1930s-built Kirketon Hotel had a major refurbishment in 2007 and is now a beautiful contemporary minimalist affair. It’s located in hipster central, and the hotel bar is a cracker. Rooms from Aus$160 (£108) a night.
Right on Bondi Beach, the rooms at Ravesi’s make full use of the location, with panoramic views of the ocean and buckets of morning sun. Rooms from Aus$249 (£168).