Where to stay in Sydney

Whether you’re looking for a late-night party or a peaceful slice of nature, our 'where to stay in Sydney' guide highlights Sydney's best neighbourhoods for visitors
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. Ask locals and they’ll tell you: 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, our guide to secret Sydney beaches and our list of Sydney tourist attractions that are actually fun.

Where to stay in Sydney

People passing through Central Park
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Chippendale

Take away the ‘C’ from the name, and you’re left with the once-industrial area’s primary vibe. This pocket-sized neighbourhood is right next to Central Station, so it’s easy to get to by bus, train or light rail. 

Eat

In just under a square kilometre, Chippendale packs in three of Sydney’s best restaurants (Automata, Ester and LP’s Quality Meats). There’s also Brickfields bakery – which does a lovely Aussie-style breakfast, complete with great coffee – and a Singapore-style hawker market selling all kinds of Asian cheap eats, Spice Alley.

Drink

Being so hip Chippendale of course has an underground arty party bar (Freda’s). If you prefer your drinks above ground the Landsdowne is a rock’n’roll pub that also makes excellent pizza.

Do

Sydney’s newest cinema, Palace Central, occupies the impressive Central Park building, and there are a couple of very respectable artist-run galleries (MOP and Wellington Street Projects), where tomorrow’s stars of Sydney’s art scene show their work today. All this, and there’s still space for a few tree-lined residential streets.

Stay

Chippendale is home to one of the best boutique hotels in the city – the stylish Old Clare, where you can drink Old Fashioneds in the chic downstairs bar, or greet the dawn with yoga beside their rooftop pool. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a suite at the Old Clare, stay at the nearby Veriu Ultimo – which offers good amenities at an even better price.

Don’t miss:

Chippendale’s biggest drawcard, the freezer that drives its cool, is White Rabbit Gallery. This free, three-storey former warehouse showcases a cutting-edge collection of contemporary Chinese art, from ultra-realistic sculptures to disorientating installations, all from the private collection of billionaire arts patron Judith Neilson.

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 the Corso to find the suburb’s best bits – whether it be fashionable boutiques like Bow & Arrow, or Jamaican jerk and cocktail joint Jamtown.

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

One of Sydney’s oldest neighbourhoods, the pretty sandstone alleys and vertiginous hills of the Rocks can be confusing to navigate, even for locals. Behind the Harbour views is a lot of unpleasant history, from colonialism right through to the recent removal of public housing (and the pensioners who occupied it) from the once-working class area.

Eat

Recently dining options around the area have improved significantly. Head to Kansas City Shuffle for an indulgent breakfast (think waffles); or Cabrito Coffee Traders if you want your flat white with a side of Wi-Fi. For dinner, walk 20 minutes into the CBD to Time Out Award-winning Hubert, a romantic-yet-playful modern French restaurant, or walk 20 minutes southwest along the water to the Streets of Barangaroo – where there are plenty of high quality, harbourfront venues.

Stay

Tourists have always flocked to the Rocks for its gorgeous old pubs, waterfrontage and proximity to icons such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. That means the area is well served by hotels. We like the stylish Pier One, which inserts an eclectic beach-house style into a heritage listed former woolshed and somehow makes the look work well.

Don’t miss:

Blockbuster culture finds its home around the Rocks. Catch a play at the Sydney Theatre Company (if you’re really lucky, Cate Blanchett will be in it) or see anything from opera to theatre to a contemporary rock’n’roll star over at the Sydney Opera House.

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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