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The Harbour City

Sydney has been my hometown now for over 10 years. So it is with different eyes that I share this sparkling harbour town. Local enough to know where all the good spots are and fresh enough not to be jaded. However you can decide for yourself and please let me know of any glaring omissions.

Sydney is one of the world’s greatest harbour cities. The climate means that you can spend a lot of time outside enjoying both inner harbour vistas or beaches. Fortunately, the waters are mostly clean and clear and, I realise in retrospect, can be taken for granted. So where to start in this fine city?

Sydney CBD / The Rocks

The area of The Rocks holds incredible pre-colonial aboriginal history and also boasts Sydney’s, and indeed Australia’s, oldest European settlement. The Rocks was apparently where they brought some of the early convicts and later become a central port. The area still has some of Sydney’s oldest buildings and the new developments have been done tastefully.

Some of the oldest pubs in Sydney are in this area,  such as a personal favourites The Lord Nelson and the Hero of Waterloo. These are small sandstone buildings with atmospheric wooden floors and a lively mix of  Sydneysiders and the odd tourist. These bars are particularly good if you are unlucky enough to encounter rain in Sydney because they lean towards cozy winter daze, sorry the daze happens after the beers. I would normally stay away from the “tourist” pubs in downtown George Street.

It is well worth checking for any festivals that may be on during your visit as the Rocks often has interesting cultural events. It is also worth visiting the Sunday markets. The markets are set up in the street under the Harbour Bridge and sell anything from hand printed fabrics to black and white pictures of Sydney in the 1950s. When you get sick of tourists keep walking around to Walsh Bay.

The waterfront the area known as Walsh Bay is a little hideaway offering some of Sydney’s hidden gems. Firstly, if you are after something cultural the Sydney Theatre Company is based here and offers an interesting mix of intimate theatre. Artist dynamic duo Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton have been a breath of fresh air as their roles as artistic directors. On the waterfront opposite is a small tapas bar called Firefly that has an excellent wine list, tasty food and a view out over the fashionable apartments that have been converted from the wharves. The apartments must be sold with the mandatory powerboat accessories.

As for staying in the centre I don’t think you can go past the Park Hyatt Sydney if you want to lie in bed with a view out to the harbour and Sydney’s iconic Opera House. For a drink with the best views in town head up to the top floor of the Shangri-La Hotel. This bar is not as glamourous as it has been in the past but has views second to none and as it faces west offers a sunset vista that will certainly have you calling for more cocktails.

If trendy is your thing head to the Establishment Hotel and pretend you are Austin Powers. You can also stay here so you could potentially come to Sydney and never leave these walls if that is the way you are inclined. If you are the sort of person who packs a pin-stripe suit or string bikini you can head to the Ivy Bar which is owned by the same crowd. If that’s all too cool (and lets face it sometimes you just don’t have the energy) downstairs is an excellent wine bar called Ash Street Cellars.

For some tasty Italian in the CBD head to the unlikely destination of the Strand Arcade to Pendolino. It is affordable food by Sydney standards with a lively atmosphere and wine list. Which brings me to an old fashioned wine bar called the Bambini Trust Wine Bar.  If you like live music try The Basement for an eclectic jazz / blues lineup.

Surry Hills / Waterloo

Despite the lengthy list you can’t just stay in the city CBD because you have missed the heart of Sydney. For a design vibe and arguably the best entertainment go to Surry Hills. If you have to chose only one street make it Crown Street. The list of small and interesting shops goes on and you can easily munch and slurp your way through some of the best meals you’ve ever had.

For breakfast / lunch try Burke Street Bakery or Bills 2. For dinner you options are endless but favourites are Bodega Tapas Bar, Billy Kwong, and Longrain. All these places have a great atmosphere and serve excellent food. If you need a nightcap you could always pop into Millie Vini.

If you have not eaten enough food then drop into the heart of food and art in Dank Street Waterloo. There are a collection of galleries to stroll around but also a couple of Sydney’s favourite brunch spots. Cafe Sopra is tucked above the Fratelli Fresh markets and serves some of the freshest Italian food you’ll find. You cannot book at Sopra so don’t be disappointed when you have to walk down to Dank Street Depot.

Newtown

Newtown is colourful and full of students and perhaps a more street/edgy art scene. One of the best venues for live music is The Enmore Theatre. Also check out a performance space called Carriageworks which host anything from weekly growers markets to hip hop festivals. Newtown doesn’t typically specialise in fine dining but there are lots of cheap and cheerful international options you can drop in on.

Balmain

Balmain is ZeeGlobe’s home base so it would be remiss not to mention this suburb. Once a working class neighbourhood this inner city hub has plenty of cool hangouts with local flavour. The pub scene is alive and well with old favourites such as The Welcome Hotel, The London Hotel , The Riverview Hotel and The Three Weeds to name some of best. The ferry can be taken to East Balmain or Thames Street wharf which gives you another look at Sydney and its beauty.

Darling Street is the heart of Balmain’s retail area where you can find interesting shops to browse. Coffee is a religion in Balmain so when your legs tire pull up at the Little Marionette and you can sit and enjoy it in the park opposite or try the cosy and friendly True Religion.

The beaches and parks

Even if you aren’t into sunbaking it is worth checking out the famous beaches in Sydney. Obviously the most famous of the beaches is Bondi and that is certainly where most travellers begin, particularly the backpacking crowd. For something different the walk along the coast walk to Bronte is one of Sydney’s treasures. The Sculpture by the Sea exhibition is on Oct/ Nov every year and attracts some interesting art.

Another great walk is the Spit Bridge to Manly walk which will help burn off some off those decadent meals in Surry Hills. You will need to be a little more organised but it ends at Manly Beach which is another beach that is quintessentially Sydney. Make a round trip and take the ferry back to Circular Quay in the CBD and you’ve had a great day out.

The Sydney Botanical gardens are another Sydney gem. These gardens begin at the Sydney Opera House which you can take a tour around. The gardens have amazing views back across the harbour to the Sydney Harbour Bridge which has become fashionable to climb. The Botanical Garden grounds are home to the most difficult tickets to get the Open Air Cinema which runs from mid-January to mid-February. The screen floats in the harbour so the city lights and harbour becomes the backdrop. You can buy wine and food and take a seat in one of the worlds unique cinemas.

Photographs from Sydney Harbour, Balmain, CBD, Bondi, Double Bay, The Rocks and Balmoral Beach

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