Ian Woolcock / Alamy
Nicholas Fonseca
October 06, 2014

Sydney likes to show off. With an abundance of sparkling, sunny days year-round, a harbor that just won’t quit, a skyline that’s increasingly filled with cutting-edge architecture, and an abundance of beautiful parklands, it can be hard to know where to look at first. The city may lack the true, old-world historical landmarks that entice people to visit Europe, and the dusty, iconic outback that exists in the global perception of Australia may be hours (and hours…and hours…) away, but that doesn’t make the city any less appealing. Sure, you’ll need to get yourself to Bondi Beach, you’ll want to see the Opera House for bragging rights, and you’ll need to venture to the top of the Harbour Bridge or the Sydney Tower (or maybe both?), but you save time for these five local gems, each of which boast a bit of a cult following among the locals who live here.  

St. Mary’s Cathedral

St. Mary’s is a trip – it’s a grand sandstone cathedral that looms over the eastern edge of Hyde Park, and it looks like it belongs…well, maybe not in Australia? But there it is, an elegant and expansive structure topped by twin spires. Fun fact: they’ve only been there since the year 2000. 

Coogee Pavilion

The Merivale hospitality group is responsible for many of the city’s most successful venue makeovers over the past decade. They have a way of coming in and sprucing a building up so perfectly that you barely remember what it looked like before. Their latest project is this beachside location where you can grab a drink (try the organic juices!), visit the flower stand, get a haircut, or play a classic game like ping-pong or Scrabble. 

Centennial Park

At roughly 470 acres, Centennial is the crown jewel of Sydney’s parks. Every day, you’ll find runners, bikers, amblers, picnickers, athletes, and even trapeze artists making the most of this gorgeous oasis just south of the city center. I like to sit by one of the ornamental lakes, underneath a massive palm tree, with a good book. 

Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace

This glorious art-deco cinema just north of the bridge in Cremorne has six screens, a working Wurlitzer organ, special luncheons, and a fantastic series of revival screenings. What’s more, the whole place is fully licensed, and they’ve got those nifty, giant red curtains that open dramatically at the start of each show.

Gelato Messina

First things first: there will be a ridiculous line outside this sliver of a dessert destination. Even when it’s cold outside, people need their fix from Messina, which serves up the classics alongside special, short-term flavors that change on a daily basis. Burnt butter and sage gelato? Yes, please. They’re also responsible for a ridiculous creation known as Elvis the Fat Years: peanut butter gelato with fried brioche and banana jam. It’s utterly absurd, and yet, absolutely irresistible.

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