Sydney: city guide. The top bars, restaurants and beaches from Bondi to Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour
Sydney: city guide. The top bars, restaurants and beaches from Bondi to Sydney Harbour

Why go

Sydney is one of those destinations everyone must visit, a sun-drenched playground surrounded by sea, surf and sand, often considered the best of both worlds. It’s a vibrant, busy city with great arts and culture and it is surrounded by tropical parks and famous beaches.

For a city it has a remarkably healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle, and the laidback nature will soon have you smitten. The lashings of Aussie friendliness give Sydney its personality, while the city gets on average more than 340 sunny days per year.

What to do

Tick of the top spots such as the Sydney Tower, the Museum of Contemporary Art and, of course, the Harbour. See a show in the Opera House, wander around The Rocks, where the first Australian settlers stepped ashore, shop in the CBD and relax in Hyde Park.

Once you’ve had your city fix, take a ferry ride out of Sydney Harbour for a view of the city’s most iconic sights, and make sure it’s destined for the beautiful Manly Beach, where you’ll find golden sand and plenty of places to eat and drink.

No visit to Sydney is complete without seeing the hip, toned beach bods who frequent the iconic Bondi Beach. And if big waves and swimming in the sea aren’t your thing, head to the outdoor pool overlooking the beach at Icebergs, followed by dinner with a view.

Next, walk the cliff path from Bondi to Coogee, stopping off at Bronte and Clovelly beaches and Gordon’s Bay, a popular dive spot. Keep one eye on the water for whales during migrating season, see some Aboriginal rock carvings at Mackenzies Point, and witness possibly the most scenic burial spot in the world, the historic Waverley Cemetery overlooking the sea.

Sydney’s energetic, active side is infectious, so you could also try your hand at surfing, body boarding or stand-up paddle boarding.

Where to stay

Sydney. The Darling Hotel at the Star
Rooms with an impressive view over the city, at the Darling at The Star in Pyrmont

For luxury in the city, book into the five-star Darling at The Star in Pyrmont, which has a world-class spa and outdoor pool. For something a little more relaxed, try the traditional Sydney Harbour B&B in The Rocks, or for the more intrepid, there’s a campsite on Cockatoo Island in the middle of the jarbour.

For family-friendly places near the beach, try the serviced apartments at Quest Manly, which offers a babysitting booking service on request.

Where to eat

As you’d imagine, Sydney’s fine-dining scene is well established and restaurants such as Quay and Aria are worth the wait for a table. Surrey Hills is home to slightly more affordable yet just as creative restaurants such as Nomad (great for wine pairing) and Four Ate Five (for brunch).

Messina ice cream parlour is a mecca for dessert lovers, with quirky and daily changing flavours such as panacotta with fig jam and amaretti biscuit, while at the Fish Market you can take your pick of fresh seafood and have chefs cook it for you there and then. Bondi and the Sydney beaches have a plethora of cafés and funky dining spots, most with sea views.

Getting around

Sydney’s train, tram and bus network is easy to navigate, and trains get from the airport to Sydney Central station in less than 15 minutes. Australians drive on the same side of the road as us, so driving is easy if you want to rent a car.

When to go

A December visit for the blazing hot Australian Christmas (complete with a barbecue on the beach) is usually top choice. The Sydney summer runs from November to March. During spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May) the temperatures are a little more forgiving, but still warm enough for a dip in the sea.

Three things we like

  1. Sydney has all the buzz and excitement of a big city, but locals always have time for a chat.
  2. The Botanical Gardens are home to 67,100 plant species from around the world in a spectrum of colours. During the summer there are also many outdoor cinema events you get can tickets to online.
  3. The city brews some of the best coffee in the world, and Australians take the brown stuff very seriously.

Something we don’t like

Some of the wildlife – including flying cockroaches and enormous huntsman spiders – will send shivers down your spine.

Don’t miss

For the best views of the Harbour, climb the harbour bridge.

Take the train to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains for jaw-dropping scenery and quaint cafés.

See the Vivid Light Festival in winter, when colourful projections illuminating the iconic harbour and glowing art installations are dotted around the streets.

Travelling with family

Sydney is great for outdoorsy family activities and for kids who love animals. At Taronga Zoo, they can feed giraffes, meet reptiles and have their picture taken while cuddling a koala. The Aussie sun is incredibly powerful, so remember hats and SPF cream.

High50 insider tips

  • As well as being a national day of remembrance for Australian and New Zealand troops, Anzac Day is a lot of fun. It’s the one day a year that gambling is legal in pubs, where you’ll find a heavy dose of atmosphere and much of Sydney’s population playing a game called two-up.
  • Take a trip to the Hunter Valley wine region for the weekend to visit some Aussie cellar doors such as Tempus Two and Ridge View.
  • Venture into the suburbs for seriously good coffee, brunch and food and flower stalls in a former pie factory at The Grounds of Alexandria.

Need to know

  • The time zone is Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is ten hours ahead of the UK (or 11 hours during BST daylight saving, March to October).
  • The currency is the Australian dollar.
  • You need a visa to visit as a tourist, but free three-month tourist visas are quick and easy to apply for online.
  • The journey time from the UK is around 23 hours.
  • Wages are good, so there’s not a huge tipping culture. You could add a few dollars to the bill after an exceptionally good meal or round up a taxi fare at your discretion, but it’s not generally expected.
  • If you forget sunscreen for a day at the beach, don’t panic. Many Aussie beaches have coin-operated sunscreen spray stations.
  • Sockets are type I (with two flat metal pins in the shape of a V).
  • Aside from the immunisations recommended for life in Britain, extra vaccinations aren’t usually needed for Australia.
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