Where to stay in Sydney

Whether you’re looking for a late-night party or a peaceful slice of nature, our guide highlights Sydney's best neighbourhoods for visitors
Bondi Pavilion
Photograph: Alex Proimos
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Sure, you’ve heard of Sydney’s famous harbour, but there’s more to the city than just a glittering expanse of sheltered water. We also have ocean beaches. However, ask the locals and they’ll tell you that some of the best places to stay in Sydney don’t even come with a water view. From once-hippy-now-hip neighbourhoods where live music venues line the streets (Newtown), to LGBTQIA hubs where even the purple jacaranda trees show their pride (Darlinghurst), there’s plenty to see beyond the shore. Whether you’re keen to party after dark or are looking for somewhere a little more salubrious and silent, there’s a Sydney neighbourhood to suit your needs.

Need more local knowledge? Here are our best Sydney travel tips.

Where to stay in Sydney

People passing through Central Park
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Chippendale

You can’t spell Chippendale without hip, amiright? Ahem. Cheesy puns aside, this little neighbourhood next to Central station is bubbling over with Sydney’s creatives. This is the place to come to find independent artists, converted warehouses and underground cocktail bars.

Eat

It may cover less than one square kilometre, but Chippendale packs a punch in the dining department. If you only eat three meals here, do it at Automata, Ester and LP’s Quality Meats – this is the holy trio when it comes to eating out in Sydney. For snacking, venture over to Brickfields bakery or Singapore-style hawker market Spice Alley.

Drink

Tucked out of sight off Regent Street, just down from White Rabbit Gallery (more on that later), is resident party spot Freda’s. This popular basement bar does cocktails and clubbing to a tee. For a more down to earth (and affordable) vibe, check out rock ‘n’ roll joint The Landsdowne.

Do

Catch a movie at Palace Central. This ace new cinema opened in late-2017 in Central Park Mall and offers something way better than popcorn and hotdogs: a craft beer hall, Champagne bar and an interactive wine wall. Plus, food includes daily offerings from the local Brickfields bakery. Alternatively, pay a visit to artist-run galleries, like MOP and Wellington Street Projects.

Stay

What looks like a 1930s London Underground station from the outside, is in fact home to the incredibly stylish Old Clare Hotel. Here you’ll find elegant art deco décor, a buzzing downstairs bar and rooftop pool. For smaller budgets, look up Veriu Ultimo – the Airbnb of hotels.

Don’t miss:

Remember White Rabbit, the gallery we mentioned earlier? Well this cutting-edge spot is an extraordinary temple devoted to twenty-first-century Chinese art. Housed over four floors in an old warehouse (naturally), White Rabbit is free to visit and exhibits all sorts, from freakishly lifelike sculptures to hypnotic installations.

A wide shot of Bondi Beach showing crowds of people both sitting
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Bondi

Sydney’s most famous beach has a thriving community of unreasonably attractive yuppies sunbathing, eating and working out on its shoreline. Be warned: Bondi is nicknamed ‘the Bubble’ in Sydney for a reason: it can be difficult to get in and out of the beachside suburb. There are regular buses to the city, but at the end of sunny days at the beach, congestion is serious and it can take up to 40 minutes to get into town. If you’re staying in Bondi, it means you’re playing in Bondi.

Eat

Just across the road from the beach’s north end is upscale, petite modern Australian restaurant Sean’s Panorama. The absolute-beachfront joint may look like a café, but it has the heart of a fine diner – don’t leave without trying their classic roast chicken.

Drink

Forget liquor – you haven’t been to Bondi until you’ve had a green smoothie, and for that we suggest hitting the suburb’s backstreets and heading inland to the Nine café, where they decorate their smashed avo with locally foraged seaweed.

Do

Although the sea-facing Campbell Parade is lined with fast food chains and tourist traps, just behind it on Gould Street you’ll find gorgeous upscale boutiques from jeweller Lucy Folk and cult basics brand Jac+ Jack. You’re not allowed to smoke on Sydney beaches, so you’ll find Bondi’s rebel element hanging out on the grassy knoll at the north end of the beach, often sans bikini tops.

Stay

In terms of accommodation, your best bet is an apartment hotel, so you can truly get into a local’s mindset. We like the Adina Apartment Hotel, which marries kitchenettes with a very nice lap pool and happens to have an outpost of cult gelato bar Messina downstairs.

Don’t miss:

The ultimate Instagram shot of Bondi Beach is a triple-blue composition featuring the sea, the perfect topaz blue of the Iceberg’s swimming pool and the cerulean sky. Dive into that photo by taking a dip, then head upstairs to the Icebergs Dining Room and Bar for a watermelon spritz.

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Balcony view at East Village
Photograph: Brett Stevens

Darlinghurst

The site of Sydney’s Mardi Gras pride parade every March, leafy, inner-city Darlinghurst is a gay neighbourhood in a town already thoroughly dusted with glitter. It’s a stroller’s paradise with the city and the Harbour less than 20 minutes walk away, and easy access to public transport.

Eat

You’ll eat well here. By day hit up Edition for Scandi-Japanese fusion breakfasts, and in the evening go to Sagra for elegant Italian food, Brick Lane for modern Subcontinental cooking, or Chaco, a pocket-sized Japanese joint offering very fresh ingredients at reasonable prices (get there early).

 

Drink

There are some great bars in Darlinghurst, like underground Western saloon Shady Pines and hip-hop Italian joint Big Poppa’s – the only place in Sydney where you can get a cocktail and a decent ragù at 2am.

Do

Up until recently, it was the party capital, though lockout laws (that see venues forced to shut their doors between 1.30 and 2am) have made the area reform its wild ways. When gentrification closes a nightclub, it opens a yoga studio – and you’ll find plenty of boutique wellness options around, as well as upscale shops and small commercial galleries. Darlinghurst is also the centre of Sydney’s theatre community, home to playhouses the Stables (where Griffin Theatre stages new Australian works) and the Eternity Theatre (home of Darlinghurst Theatre Co).

Stay

Boutique hotels the Kirketon and Medusa both offer stylish rooms, with Medusa also catering to four-legged visitors.

Don’t miss:

Though Oxford Street is Darlinghurst’s main drag, its most essential strip is Crown Street. Follow the road up into Surry Hills for cafés by the dozen, designer boutiques and really fashionable dogs.

Volleyball at Manly Beach
Photograph: Justin Steinlauf

Manly

Manly feels more like a small holiday town than a suburb of Sydney, bedecked with surfwear shops, fast food joints and touristic-tat merchants. Yet, public transport into the city is both simple and scenic – you just take a half-hour ferry.

Eat

For harbourside dining, Manly Pavilion has an unbeatable terrace area and a Mediterranean menu, while Papi Chulo sits right on the wharf, turning out modern American crowd pleasers like burgers and smoked meats. For brunch head to the superbly decorated Boathouse Shelly Beach, whose breezy interior and verdant rainforest garden mirrors the pretty surrounds.

Do

Venture beyond main street to the Corso to find the suburb’s best bits – like fashionable boutique Bow & Arrow or Nepali-Hawaiin fusion food at Momo Bar.

The nicest spot in Manly is without question Shelly Beach – the jungly Shelly Head looms over one side of the pretty little beach, protecting it from the waves that slam Manly-proper. Scramble from the beach up to the lookout above it and on a clear day you can see the entire Northern Beaches peninsula stretched out before you. It’s also a great spot to snorkel.

Stay

Book into the Novotel Manly Pacific: the 200+ room hotel has a rooftop pool, and (if you ask nicely) 100 per cent oceanfront views.

Don’t miss:

Despite stiff competition, we rate the Manly to Spit as Sydney’s greatest Harbour walk. Then ten kilometre trail winds through the Sydney Harbour National Park, past astonishing lookouts, secluded beaches, Aboriginal rock carvings and millionaires’ mansions. Get an Uber driver to drop you off at the trailhead by the Spit Bridge, then reward yourself with a cocktail when you make it back to Manly.

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Attendees at the Rocks Aroma Festival 2015 (Commercial)
Photograph: Craven Photography

The Rocks

As one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, with a dockside location, it’s no surprise that The Rocks has morphed from one of Sydney’s poorest areas to its poshest. Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge provide a backdrop to sandstone alleys and beautiful old buildings. This is where you’d come for gourmet street food, artisanal wares and more cafes than you can shake a double-shot soy macchiato at.

Eat

There’s no denying it, café culture is rife in The Rocks, so you may as well take advantage. Kansas City Shuffle is a trendy spot that has a takeaway window if you don’t want to chill out for a bit, but if you do, order the waffles – they are to die for. Coffee aficionados should head to Cabrito Coffee, where they really know their stuff. For lunch shop the variety of global cuisine on offer at Streets of Barangaroo and later grab a fancy French meal for dinner at Hubert.

Stay

For excellent views, style and location, you can’t beat Pier One. It is quite literally on the pier beside Sydney Harbour Bridge, in all its listed heritage timber glory. They’ve got various pricing tiers, but if you can, splash out on the Harbour View Suite, which gorgeous waterfront vistas, gleaming white furnishings and luxe toiletries courtesy of Appelles Apothecary & Bar.

Don’t miss:

If time, money and taste allows, book a ticket to something at Sydney Opera House. The interior is just as marvellous as the outside and they have all sorts of acts perform there, not just opera. In any given month you can catch anything from opera to theatre to a contemporary rock gig. Alternatively, go and see a play at the Sydney Theatre Company.

Customers drinking on the upper floor patio at Newtown Hotel
Photograph: Caroline McCredie

Newtown

Just because there are kids with dreadlocks and protest signs imploring you to ‘Keep Newtown weird’ doesn’t mean you have to leave the suburb for a upscale dining experience.

Eat

From cocktails in cans served alongside excellent European fare at Continental Deli, to delicate, multi-course degustations at Oscillate Wildly, Newtown is one of the city’s densest culinary hubs. If you’re prone to a big night on the town, drop by Saga the next day to fix yourself up with a breakfast of baked treats.

Drink

At night, Newtown is party central. Arrive at Twin Peaks Tiki-bar Jacoby's early, and be rewarded with a lock-in to ’80s power ballads (complete with a drop-down disco ball) after the stroke of midnight.

Do

Though the smell of patchouli is strong here, the live music scene goes beyond buskers with enthusiasm for African drums – whether it’s major international touring acts at the Enmore Theatre, or a free local band upstairs at the Bank Hotel. Newtown is also a very shoppable suburb – on south King Street you’ll find a large number of vintage clothing shops, antiques stores and crystal merchants, while the top end of King Street has offbeat boutiques from Australian brands like Alpha60 and Gorman.

Stay

Accommodation-wise, you have two options: the warm, fuss-free and well priced 79-room Urban Newtown, or a handful of budget boarding houses that are varying degrees of dodgy. If you can, pick the Urban.  

Don’t miss:

The Inner West has many great pubs but perhaps the area’s best loved watering hole is the Courthouse Hotel. Go on a sunny weekend afternoon and rub shoulders with locals, legends and local legends. Order a Young Henry’s Newtowner at the bar (or visit their brewery just around the corner) for a full immersion.

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Young woman standing on rock, halfway down lighhouse walk track
Photograph: Hamilton Lund

Palm Beach

When upper-crust Sydneysiders want to get away from it all without actually going anywhere, they go to Palm Beach. Sitting at the very tip of the Northern Beaches, this beautiful neighbourhood boasts ocean on two sides – locals call it the ‘Insular Peninsula’.

Eat

Switch things up for breakfast and head to the Boathouse for an upscale dining experience complete with lashings of fresh flowers. Take a walk to Barrenjoey Head and hang out by the lighthouse, then eat fish and chips by the beach.

Drink

If drinking by the ocean is more your vibe, hit up Hamptons-style booze estate the Newport, where the tans are dark, the whites are crisp and the dogs are as meticulously groomed as their owners.

Stay

Since this area is a fancy place, and you’re treating yourself, stay at five-star bed and breakfast Jonah’s, which also has a beautiful restaurant onsite. There you can take a bath overlooking the ocean, eat lots of oysters and drink a riesling from their cellars – there are five pages of the varietal on their encyclopedic wine list.

Don’t miss:

Staying classy is exhausting. Give it all up at Palm Beach’s other major selling point: the Home and Away Guided Tour. Yes, folks, the Summer Bay of Australia’s second-longest running, second-favourite soap opera is a real place. Well, sort of.

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