Sydney guide: Where to eat, drink, shop and stay in Australia’s biggest city

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Elegantly wrapped around its spectacular harbour and posing against the backdrop of over 100 secluded beaches, Sydney is undoubtedly Australia’s most photogenic city. With buzzing markets, scenic coastal walks and world-class museums, it’s no wonder that newlyweds Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided to jet off to New South Wales’ sunny capital earlier this year. 

What to do

Soak up the harbour views

While climbing Sydney’s most famous icon is deservedly popular, views from the Harbour Bridge abound for next to nil as well. The South Pylon Lookout offers a pictorial history plus a spectacular viewing platform 83m above sea level. Tickets $15 (£9). Open daily 10am-5pm​

Surf’s up at Bondi Beach (Getty Images)

Explore the Blue Mountains

Venture beyond the glamour of the city to the Blue Mountains. Named after the hazy blue mist that rises from Eucalyptus trees, this pocket of wilderness is located only 1.5 hours train ride from Sydney. View the famous Three Sisters rock formation and explore the walking trails around the picturesque Echo Point Lookout.

Hit the waves 

The golden sand, clear waters and great breaks of Bondi beach attract more than 2.6 million visitors to its shore each year. Grab a surfboard and perfect your pop up with Let’s Go Surfing, Bondi’s only officially licensed surf school. Group and private lessons from $95 (£55) Open daily 9am-5pm, Sundays vary.

Explore the historic Rocks district (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Wander The Rocks

Beginning life as Sydney’s original convict settlement, The Rocks retains a historic charm in its cobbled laneways, original sandstone buildings and artisan markets. Drop into The Rocks Discovery Museum (free entry) or join the daily I’m Free walking tour. Stroll along the waterfront and watch street performers entertain throngs of guests under the shadow of the Harbour Bridge.

Visit China 

A gift to Sydney from its Chinese sister city of Guangdong, this walled Chinese Garden provides a calming sanctuary in the otherwise bustling hotspot of Darling Harbour. Discover exotic plants, secluded pathways and serene waterfalls; keep your eyes peeled for water dragons sun basking. Refuel in their traditional Chinese teahouse before exploring the rest of Darling Harbour. $6 (£3.50) Open daily 9.30am-5pm (+61292408888).

The Garden of Friendship is a little piece of China in Sydney (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Where to stay 

Wake up to the sounds of the ocean at the sophisticated Crown Plaza in the chilled beachside suburb of Coogee, featuring panoramic ocean view rooms, 24/7 gym and heated pool. Head to the nearby Coogee Pavilion for evening drinks on the rooftop terrace overlooking the beach. Perfectly situated for the popular Coogee to Bondi coastal walkway. Doubles from $200 (£114), room only. 

Stay in the heart of Sydney Harbour at Harbour Rocks Hotel, a 59-room boutique hotel housed in a 150-year-old heritage listed building. There’s a blend of both historical and contemporary decor; think rustic brickwork with sleek modern furnishings. Queens from $280 (£160), room only. 

Bondi Backpackers is a great-value hostel with even greater views (Bondi Backpackers)

A budget option (although you wouldn’t believe it from the views) is Bondi Backpackers. Situated directly opposite Bondi’s golden sands, this fun and vibrant hostel is perfect for experiencing the quintessential Aussie beach life. Enjoy free ocean-view yoga classes on their rooftop terrace, free surf board hire and guided walking tours. Doubles $109 (£62), dorms $40 (£23), room only.

Where to eat 

With a thriving Asian-born community, Sydney hosts a diverse variety of authentic and delicious food from the neighbouring continent. Inspired by the laneways of Tokyo, Bang Bang opened in August in Darling Square’s trendy food precinct, Steam Mill Lane. Japanese dishes including Katsu and Sashimi are served up with traditional saké, Japanese craft beer and cocktails beneath a decor of traditional lanterns and neon signs. Vegetarians will love the spicy tofu salad $9.80 (£6).

Brunch is a ‘lifestyle’ at Bondi Icebergs Club Bistro (Bondi Icebergs Club Bistro)

Weekend brunch isn’t just a meal in Sydney – like surfing, it’s a lifestyle. Stop by Bondi Icebergs Club Bistro for seasonally inspired Australian dishes served on a stylish terrace overlooking the Insta-famous ocean pool and Bondi beach. Follow it up with a refreshing ocean dip. Access to pool and sauna $7 (£4). 

Lentil as Anything is a not-for-profit community-minded restaurant based in the Western suburb of Newtown, the bohemian heart of Sydney. It serves up ethnic inspired dishes including curries, dahl and burritos with live music, colourful artwork and a unique “pay as you please” policy. Open daily 6-9pm.

Get a sugar hit at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream on nearby Enmore Road. Their ice cream is made using traditional Turkish techniques, giving it a chewy and delicious texture.     

Where to drink 

Named after Cuban sugar baron Julio Lobo, The Lobo Plantation is the basement bar the locals don’t want you to know about. You’ll find it tucked away inconspicuously down a laneway in the heart of the city on Clarence Street. A curved wooden staircase leads into a Caribbean inspired vibrant underground bar with over 250 different types of rum, reggae inspired music and trendy art-deco paintings. Open Monday to Saturday, 4pm-1am. 

The Lobo Plantation is Sydney’s coolest basement bar (The Lobo Plantation)

Nestled in The Rocks historical precinct, The Glenmore Hotel possesses an old-world pub charm with a modern twist. This redbrick heritage-listed bar is proof that you don’t have to fork out for a pricey revolving restaurant for picture-perfect views of Sydney. Head to the rooftop for sweeping 180-degree views of the Harbour, Sydney Opera House and the CBD skyline. Open 11am-12pm Monday to Friday; weekends vary. 

Young Henrys is a Newtown based bar with an onsite brewery offering a variety of one-off brews, collaborations and tasting trays. Their core philosophy is to brew local, using the freshest ingredients and to minimise environmental impact with the use of refillable glass growlers. Open daily 12-7pm.

Where to shop

Head West of the CBD to Glebe Markets for a mix of both new and recycled fashion, handmade cosmetics and unique jewellery. Sip homemade lemonade and chill out to live music on the lawn. Open Saturdays 10am-4pm.

The Strand Arcade is the city’s Victorian-style shopping mall (Getty Images)

Located in the heart of Sydney’s CBD on bustling Pitt Street mall, The Strand Arcade is a two-floor Victorian style shopping arcade. The arcade boasts stained glass, ornate clocks, and a sophisticated selection of both Australian designers and high-street brands housed in Victorian-era style shop fronts. Open 9am-5.30pm weekdays, weekends vary.

Head to King Street in Sydney’s hipster-hub Newtown. You will find an array of vintage stores, second-hand bookshops and rustic hole-in-the-wall coffee houses. Stop by Elizabeth’s Bookshop for a “blind date with a book” and check out Monster Threads for unique gifts with colourful and quirky locally-designed prints. 

Architectural highlight

The elegant curves of the Sydney Opera House are undoubtedly the most iconic image of Sydney and have earned it the title of Australia’s most visited tourist sight. Take a tour inside or simply admire its beauty, best viewed during a stroll along the Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Opera House is still the city’s most distinctive piece of architecture (Getty Images)

Nuts and bolts 

What currency do I need? 

Australian Dollars

What language do they speak? 

English

Should I tip? 

10 per cent 

What’s the time difference? 

GMT+11

What’s the average flight time from the UK? 

22+ hours

Public transport 

Train, bus and ferry

Best view 

The iconic view of the Sydney Opera House framed by the Harbour Bridge from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in Royal Botanic Gardens. 

Insider tip

Sydney is best viewed from its infamous harbour but don’t pay for an expensive ferry cruise; just jump on the local passenger ferry for a few dollars. The Circular Quay to Manly ferry will take you past the iconic sights.

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