Beyond the picture-perfect harbor of the Australian metropolis, there’s a hip, hidden, and homegrown inner-city scene.
Part outsize beach resort, part culture capital, Sydney exemplifies the art of relaxed cosmopolitanism. It’s urbane but not pretentious; cutting-edge but not stressed-out. Now a handful of players is channeling that Aussie energy into new restaurants, hotels, and boutiques in some oft-overlooked (and distinctly chic) neighborhoods. Here, the local take.
The city’s fashionable heart is the corner of Oxford Street and Glenmore Road, in Paddington, where some of the most exciting Australian designers are conveniently clustered. Kirrily Johnston exemplifies the laid-back Down Under aesthetic with her earthy-urban, feminine clothes (think billowy red skirts with high cinched waists), as does Josh Goot, whose block-printed tube and tunic dresses come in colors as bright as the Sydney sun. Inside Kit Willow’s chic, bi-level boutique, Willow, you’ll find flirty draped frocks in organza and tulle. Just up the block in the ornate, shop-filled Strand Arcade is Corner Shop, a Sydney stalwart known for its tightly edited international collections (Marc Jacobs, Isabel Marant, and Benah). Men shouldn’t miss the downtown boutique of Brent Wilson, with its updated classics, including easygoing suits, shirts, and sweaters. For housewares, head to Surry Hills. Planet Commonwealth carries Ross Longmuir’s streamlined beds, tables, and sofas, all made from Australian hardwoods (don’t worry, they’ll help with shipping). The lure at Koskela is Aboriginal craftwork, such as the one-off lampshades traditionally woven with bush string.
Though other areas are better known for barhopping, these days downtown is heating up after dark. The latest night-owl haven is Ivy (drinks for two $30), a multilevel complex with 18 bars, a ballroom, and rooftop cabanas. Sydney’s coolest cultural commissar, actress Cate Blanchett, now directs the Sydney Theatre Company along with her husband, Andrew Upton. Snag some tickets to a production at either the STC headquarters (a spectacularly converted wharf by the bridge) or at the Sydney Opera House—you may well catch Blanchett on stage. Post-show, grab a cocktail at the Opera House’s restaurant, Guillaume at Bennelong (drinks for two $34), where the bar is surprisingly little-known and the harbor views are knockout.
Manly, a less touristed beachside hangout than Bondi, is a ferry ride from downtown’s Circular Quay, but it’s worth the (quite lovely) trip to sample the exciting new Manly Pavilion (dinner for two $85), where the fresh Italian dishes (pan-fried whiting wrapped in lardo; pappardelle with wild-boar ragù) are as stunning as the Pacific vistas. Back in city center, celebrity chef Neil Perry recently opened Rockpool Bar & Grill ( dinner for two $226) in a grand Art Deco building. The kitchen specializes in wood-fired grills and house-aged beef—plus, Perry’s sexy, restrained Spice Temple (dinner for two $226) is right downstairs. At Marque (dinner for two $226), in nearby Surry Hills, Mark Best has been winning raves for creative concoctions like yellowfin tuna on French toast with foie gras butter. There’s a notable newcomer to the established culinary scene in the harborside Rocks district: Sake Restaurant & Bar (dinner for two $100), where the young and well-heeled flock for superior sushi, sashimi, and bite-size shrimp tempura with a spicy cream sauce.
Sydney’s latest design-driven digs, the 76-room Diamant Hotel (doubles from $140) is close to both Paddington and Surry Hills. Book a courtyard suite for night views of Sydney’s iconic skyline. Wedged between café-filled Potts Point and the city center, Blue Sydney (doubles from $214) has 100 rooms located on a historic all-timber finger wharf that juts out into the harbor. Run by the same team as Ivy, the discreet, Modernist 31-room Establishment Hotel (doubles from $279) is the city’s most exclusive boutique property—the celebs you spot are likely en route to its bi-level penthouses. For the same downtown convenience without the extravagance, there’s the 41-story, Foster & Partners–designed Frasers Suites (doubles from $155), with 201 understated, light-filled studios and a heated pool.
A recent $500 million refurbishment of the international airport added a retinue of new shops, including the quintessentially Australian R.M. Williams, which makes superb leather boots for men and women, and the world’s first Lonely Planet store. Two locavore-friendly Sydney resto-bars, Bambini Wine Room (drinks for two $27) and Danks Street Depot (dinner for two $55), have also established outposts in Terminal 1. At the separate Qantas Domestic Terminal, check out the slick, Scandinavian-style (but all-Aussie) designer stationery and gifts chain, Kikki.K.
Sydney Opera House
It's easy to enjoy the Sydney Opera House without even stepping foot inside. The sinuous, shell-topped building, by Dane Jørn Utzon, is a modern marvel, covered with sparkling white tiles that catch the sun. Wander around it, then take up residence at its alfresco Opera Bar to ogle it some more, cool drink in hand. Diners and barflies at in-house Bennelong restaurant get to experience the architecture from within one of the shells, with gorgeous harbor views. You can also attend an opera (naturally) at the house, which also hosts theater, talks, comedy, dance, music, and even pop gigs. To learn more about its design and inner workings, take one of the various tours, which guide you inside and backstage or can be combined with a gourmet three-tier tasting plate from the Opera Kitchen. Sydney's ultimate icon looks particularly fetching during New Year's Eve fireworks and when illuminated during May-June's Vivid Sydney light festival. You can also bag great snaps from the ferry to Manly, Rose Bay, or Watsons Bay.
This glossy, sleek high-rise created something of a sensation when it opened in late 2007, as it put the surrounding neighborhood (a still-gritty area of Kings Cross) on the high-style map. Just slightly larger than boutique size, the property is boldly modern, with 76 minimalist rooms outfitted with 42-inch flat-screen TV’s, Xbox Playstations, Wi-Fi, and glass walk-in showers big enough for two. Welcome extras include fancy hair products from Kevin Murphy and room windows that actually open. East-facing rooms have private balconies (although there’s a fair bit of street noise, so outdoor lingering isn’t exactly romantic).
Room to Book: William Street Boulevard rooms have wonderful city skyline views.
Set on a former shipping wharf in the eastern part of Sydney Harbour, this hip, industrial-chic hotel (the Taj Group’s first Australian property) manages to feel both removed from the bustle of downtown and in the middle of the action. The hotel’s 100 rooms are streamlined and modern, many with soaring girder-supported ceilings and soft neutral-colored fabrics that don’t compete with views of the passing boats outside (36 are open-plan loft suites, with king-size beds set upstairs and spacious living rooms below). The hotel is part of a larger wharf complex that includes the decadent Spa Chakra, a 17-meter indoor pool with sundeck, tons of dining options, and the cavernous atrium-esque Water Bar.
Chef Mark Best has been winning raves for creative concoctions like yellowfin tuna on French toast with foie gras butter.
Kirrily Johnston exemplifies the laid-back Down Under aesthetic with her earthy-urban, feminine clothes (think billowy red skirts with high cinched waists).
Guillaume at Bennelong
Grab a cocktail at the Opera House's restaurant, where the bar is surprisingly little-known and the harbor views are knockout.
The 31 bedrooms in this converted heritage warehouse may be stylish, serene boudoirs, but there's a hedonistic air about this city center boutique bolt-hole, which woos guests with a cluster of fabulous drinking and dining dens. Start your night at the 138-foot white marble bar at ground floor Establishment Bar, then feast at modern bistro Est. by top chef Peter Doyle or Sushi-E, before heading upstairs to happening Hemmesphere for cocktails. Nurse that hangover with breakfast at plant-draped the Garden, where the buffet features baked goods, organic yogurt, muesli, fresh juices, and coffee. Parent company Merivale runs a bunch of Sydney's best bars and restaurants, including nearby Mr. Wong for cool Cantonese and Palmer & Co. for retro speakeasy sips. You may spot the odd celeb—or at least feel like one.
R. M. Williams
Want to continue the Man from Snowy River fantasy after you return home? Pick up a jaunty Akubra hat made from rabbit fur (try the Traveler or Cattleman styles), a pair of pull-on craftsmen boots, and an all-weather Driza-Bone jacket from this legendary outback outfitter.
Sydney's fooderati favor the basement space that houses Neil Perry’s attention-worthy cuisine. Happiness here means crunchy salt–flecked, cumin-laced lamb pancakes followed by stir-fried quail with silky steamed egg custard from a menu that showcases the tongue-tingling cuisine of Hunan, Sichuan, and Xinjiang, among other provinces.
The boutique stocks block-printed tube and tunic dresses come in colors as bright as the Sydney sun.
Inside Kit Willow's chic, bi-level boutique, you'll find flirty draped frocks in organza and tulle.
A Sydney stalwart known for its tightly edited international collections (Marc Jacobs, Isabel Marant, and Benah).
Men shouldn't miss this downtown boutique with its updated classics, including easygoing suits, shirts, and sweaters.
The shopt carries Ross Longmuir's streamlined beds, tables, and sofas, all made from Australian hardwoods (don't worry, they'll help with shipping).
The store carries Aboriginal craftwork, such as the one-off lampshades traditionally woven with bush string.
Ivy Bar, Sydney
This latest night-owl haven is part of a multilevel complex with 18 bars, a ballroom, and rooftop cabanas.
Sydney Theatre Company
If you're only going to see one show while you're in town, then the Sydney Theatre Company should be your go-to. Occupying an enviable location on a harborside wharf in Walsh Bay, beyond the Rocks, it offers stellar new Australian works and interpretations of the classics. In recent years Andrew Upton and his wife Cate Blanchett have been artistic directors here, with Blanchett appearing in some of the best productions. Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush also took to the stage recently as Shakespeare's King Lear. Enjoy a pre- or post-show drink or share plate at the Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf, which is also open to non-theatregoers for lunch, afternoon lounging, or evening sessions.
Yhe fresh Italian dishes (pan-fried whiting wrapped in lardo; pappardelle with wild-boar ragù) are as stunning as the Pacific vistas.
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney
Celebrity chef Neil Perry opened this restaurant in a grand Art Deco building. The kitchen specializes in wood-fired grills and house-aged beef.
Sake Restaurant & Bar
The young and well-heeled flock for superior sushi, sashimi, and bite-size shrimp tempura with a spicy cream sauce.
The 41-story, Foster & Partners–designed hotel has 201 understated, light-filled studios and a heated pool.
Located in the central lounge of Sydney Airport’s Terminal 1, Lonely Planet is a retail shop for world travelers. The store’s shelves are lined with travel guides and maps for destinations around the globe; portals link users to online interactive digital content from Lonely Planet. The shop sells a selection of travel gear and accessories, with products displayed in 3-D designed cases. Globes and large color photographs of destinations around the world add to the travel theme.
Bambini Wine Room
Popular with the business crowd, this intimate wine bar is part of the Bambini Trust Restaurant, located on the ground floor of the 1923 St. James Trust Building. Designed in an Italianate style, the small space is decked with antique mirrors, dark leather banquettes, and marble-topped tables set beneath a large crystal chandelier. The extensive wine list emphasizes Australian and Italian vintages, with more than 30 by-the-glass options, and the bar also serves classic cocktails such as the Moscow Mule. A menu of globally inspired small plates includes spicy grilled chorizo with saffron potatoes, and salt-and-pepper calamari with lime aioli.
Danks Street Depot, SYD
An outpost of the popular Waterloo restaurant, the Danks Street Depot at Sydney Airport is located in Terminal T1 International, across from check-in counter H. The restaurant is simple and modern, with black drum pendant lights, light-wood tables, and an open kitchen where the chefs use local ingredients to create a menu designed specifically for travelers. Specialties include the bacon hash with poached eggs, and the famous Danks Street Reuben with corned Wagyu beef braised in balsamic, sugar, and spices. Coffee is available in both mugs and bowls, and there’s also a full bar serving local beer and by-the-glass wines.
At the separate Qantas Domestic Terminal, check out the slick, Scandinavian-style (but all-Aussie) designer stationery and gifts chain.