Insiders’ Guide to Sydney

 For the cultured

Shannon suggests:

Theatre: Sydney has a number of theatre companies where you can see an Australian or international work. The Sydney Theatre Company is where you’re most likely to catch an Oscar winner treading the boards, Belvoir St Theatre is known for producing innovative and challenging work, and the Griffin Theatre Company is dedicated to promoting new Australian works. If you’re a musical lover, check out what’s playing at the Capitol or Lyric Theatres. If you prefer your musicals on a more intimate scale, head to the Hayes Theatre in Potts Point, where the focus is on independent musical theatre and cabaret.

Music: Just across the road from the university, the Lansdowne Hotel is a student favourite with a 90s grunge vibe. The band room upstairs offers reasonably priced gigs most nights of the week, and a there’s a pumping dance floor downstairs on the weekends. Also close by, The Vanguard is an intimate, New Orleans-inspired venue, showcasing an eclectic mix of musical genres, including blues, soul, folk, and cabaret. The Metro in Sydney’s CBD is the city’s leading independent rock venue, while the bar/club/art space Oxford Art Factory is the place to see up-and-coming artists.

Classical and Jazz: The Sydney Symphony Orchestra offers over 80 concerts a year at the iconic Sydney Opera House and the City Recital Hall. Jazz lovers can catch a gig at Venue 505 in Surry Hills, or Foundry 616 in Ultimo.

Comedy: Giant Dwarf is a dedicated comedy theatre, hosting regular live events showcasing the best of Sydney’s comedians and writers. Shows range from stand-up to storytelling, to fully improvised soap operas. There are also several local pubs and bars that have regular comedy nights, including the Tudor Hotel and the Eveleigh Hotel in Redfern, Café Lounge in Surry Hills, and Friend in Hand in Glebe.

Art: Major galleries in Sydney include the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Close to the university, the suburb of Chippendale hosts a growing and dynamic gallery community, including an acclaimed collection of contemporary Chinese art at White Rabbit Gallery. Carriageworks arts centre is home to several theatre and dance companies, as well as hosting large-scale art installations.



For the little ones: A guide to kids activities for rain and shine

Luise suggests:

For a great day out catch the ferry to Milson’s Point to go to Luna Park. This old school amusement park has rides for kids of all ages plus fantastic views. The unlimited rides pass also gives you free access to the pool next door. Pack a picnic for lunch in nearby Wendy Whitley’s Secret Garden.

In terms of playgrounds, one of the best (and busiest) is the Darling Quarter playground with lots of water play, so be sure to pack swimmers! Further east, uou can hire bikes or book a pony ride in the huge Centennial Parklands and smaller children will love the Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden (this also has a water play area). Towards the west, Sydney Olympic Park hosts the amazing Blaxland Riverside Park and the fantastic (indoors) Aquatic Centre.

For museums, we love the Australian Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour where you can visit a replica of James Cook’s Endeavour, a submarine and other vessels. Close by is the Powerhouse Museum with the Wiggles Exhibition for small children and hands on technical experiences for older ones. The Sydney Living Museums are great for a range of smaller venues that let you explore Sydney’s history, e.g. the Police & Justice Museum or Vaucluse House. Vaucluse House is located right next to one of our favourite harbour beaches at Nielsen Park, which is netted and great for small children.

Other great family beaches are Curl Curl to the north (an ocean beach with rockpools for smaller children) and South Cronulla to the south for a more local feel. Cronulla is also Sydney’s only beach suburb that can be reached by train.

Taronga Zoo is also a fabulous day out for families (including the ferry and cable car ride). If your kids are into climbing, it’s worth booking the Wild Ropes experience located right next to the zoo. Make sure you book in advance and check the height restrictions!

My daughters’ top tip: if you are in Chinatown, don’t forget to get as many Emperor’s Puffs as you can carry! These custard-filled pancakes are sold cheap and hot out of a hole in the wall next to “Emperor’s Garden Cake & Bakery” and my children would literally kill (each other) for them.



For the shopaholic: A guide to malls, markets and boutiques

Brooke suggests:

Sydney is a shopaholics dream, from high-end designer labels, to souvenir and food markets, to trendy one-off boutiques – it covers it all! Pitt Street mall is one of Australia’s busiest and most cosmopolitan shopping precincts which spans over 2 blocks in the heart of Sydney. Here you can find a great selection of local designer brands including Tigerlily for swimwear, Sass & Bide for fun, Leona Edmiston for cute frocks, and Zimmerman for something special. You can also visit Myer – Australia’s largest department store – to find anything from fashion to shoes to beauty and even homewares. If the city is not your thing and you’re after some of the best high-end fashion Australia has to offer head to “The Intersection” of Glenmore Road and Oxford Street tagged ‘one of the world’s most desirable shopping strips’. Or if you’re after some vintage and recycled clothing check out King Street in Newtown. Spotted along Sydney’s most popular beaches – Bondi and Manly – you’ll find all the beach, surf and summer wear one would ask for.

For souvenirs and everything Australian, head to the Rocks, a neighbourhood of historic laneways in the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Rocks have open-air markets every Friday, Saturday and Sunday where you can find yummy street food, handmade fashion and token Aussie souvenirs. There are also a plethora of stores near-by where you can find UGGs of all shapes and sizes! Kirribilli, Bondi, Manly, Paddington and Glebe also host great weekend markets that are worth a visit if you’re in the area.



For the thirsty

Kristie and Adrian suggest:

For the lovers of craft beer, here are some breweries in the inner west:

• The Grifter Brewing Company – awesome beer and cool merchandise.

Others nearby to turn it into a brewery pub crawl:

• Batch Brewing Co

• Sauce Brewing Company

• Young Henrys

• Poor Toms – a gin distillery in the nearby area (Marrickville)

Pubs and bars with a rooftop terrace:

• The Local Taphouse (Surry Hills) good beers on tap

• East Village Hotel (Darlinghurst) little bit trendy

• Old Mate’s Place (city) a bit hidden

• Smoke (Barangaroo) if you’re in the Barangaroo area

For a view:

• Sydney Tower Eye –  go at sunset and buy a cocktail so no need for a ticket 😉

• Opera Bar – busy, outdoor pub by the harbour. Hard to beat on a warm night. Go early or be prepared to wrangle for a position.

• Blu Bar – posh bar with exceptional views on level 36 of Shangri La Hotel. Not budget friendly (think martinis with *diamonds* inside). Dress up.

• The Newport – before-dark, beachy pub with beer garden. 40min drive north of the city. Beautiful water views through bushland. Great food.

Funky bars:

• Shady Pines Saloon – quirky bar, free peanuts. Went on a date there once and the guy told such an animated story he broke the chair!

• Saga Bar (Chippendale) – haven’t been but keen to go, apparently it’s Indiana Jones themed…

• Baxter Inn – whisky bar, be transported to the 40s. Think ladders going up a wall of spirits

• The Courthouse Hotel – lovely beer garden

• Handpicked Wines (50 Kensington St, Chippendale) – nice wines and you can buy 4 x little glasses to try

Bars with great food:

 Mary’s, Newtown. Noisy 90s metal soundtrack. Facial hair. Excellent burgers, fried chicken, locally brewed beers.

• Wyno, Surry Hills. Wine and perfectly crafted tapas.

• Love Tilly Devine, Darlinghurst. Natural wines, cheese, charcuterie.

• 10 William St, Paddington. Wine bar and restaurant. Famous for pappardelle and natural wines. Once visited by rapper Action Bronson who very much enjoyed the pappardelle


For the beachlover

Jenna suggests:

To see Australia’s most famous surf beaches, there is a two-hour walk that extends from Bondi Beach (north end) to Coogee Beach (south end) where you will be able to experience stunning views from Sydney’s coast, enjoy all the parks and bays along the way (Clovelly, Bronte, Gordon’s Bay), and of course – swim! If you don’t have enough time, or the walk isn’t for you, I suggest Coogee is the better option for a quick visit. If you have a car, it is much easier to park, and if you don’t, the 370 bus is a good public transport option from USYD straight to the beachfront. However, it always runs late! If you would like to venture across the Harbour Bridge to the north-side, my personal favourite place to swim is Balmoral Beach, especially on a weekday. It gets busy on the weekends and expensive to park, but there is a walk (with lots of stairs) to Chowder Bay where you can find a quieter spot to swim and a tiny, lovely café. I recommend early morning! To access Balmoral, you could also catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo and do the stunning walk to Balmoral Beach (~2.5 hours). Catching the ferry to Manly is also a wonderful experience. Once there you can also walk to and swim at the beautiful Shelly Beach.

Other smaller beaches/bays around Sydney Harbour that are easy enough to access via car or Uber include Murray Rose Pool (where you can enjoy a jump off the wharf!), Milk Beach (which has stunning views of the city) and Parsley Bay.

If you have a car and even more time on your hands, driving down south to Jervis Bay is a must-do! I may be biased due to growing up there, but the area truly is extraordinary.


For the adventurous

Carissa suggests:

There are plenty of ways to experience Australia’s unique wildlife and beautiful natural scenery in and around Sydney. The easiest way to see native animals is to visit Taronga Zoo, or Wild Life Sydney Zoo and Sydney Aquarium right next to each other in Darling Harbour. But if you go for a bush walk or get into the water there’s a good chance you’ll spot some in the wild.

To see some of our most famous beaches there’s a paved walk from Bondi to Bronte and a mixed urban/bushland walk from the Spit to Manly beach, which both have amazing headland views. From Manly you can walk to sheltered Shelly beach for great snorkelling and diving, and there’s a local fairy penguin colony too. Other popular snorkelling and diving spots include Clovelly beach, Gordons Bay, Bare Island and Magic Point, where you can find all sorts of fish, octopus, cuttlefish, sea dragons, turtles, seals and dolphins.

For the rock climbers, there’s Nomad nearby for bouldering and Sydney Indoor Rock Climbing for more variety. If you want to get into the wilderness a bit more there’s Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in the north of Sydney where you can walk or kayak along the Hawkesbury River, or get the ferry across from Palm Beach to the Basin to camp for a night or two. In the south of Sydney, Royal National Park offers multi-day hikes along the coast or spot whales migrating from the shorter clifftop walks near Bundeena. You can easily see little swamp wallabies, spiky echidnas, brush-tailed possums, big goannas and a huge range of birds within the national parks of Sydney.

If you have time to go further out of Sydney, head north to the Central Coast for water sports around the lakes or beaches; west to the Blue Mountains for great hiking, canyoning, rock climbing and bush camping; or south to camp with more facilities at Kangaroo Valley and Pretty Beach, complete with resident wombats and kangaroos.


For the hungry

Julie and Tessa suggest:

Sydney specialises in breakfast and brunch and we take our coffee very seriously, so it won’t be hard to find a great café. Close by to the University of Sydney you could try Cherry Moon General Store in Annandale (think wood-fired bakery, handmade pastries and local pickles), the Wedge Espresso, or Shenkin (a middle-eastern twist to breakfast and lunch with cafes in Erskineville, Glebe and Enmore). In between breakfast and lunch you could also try the famous watermelon cake at Black Star Pastry in Newtown, or if you find yourself at weekend markets (there are many!), look out for Sonoma, Flour and Stone or Brickfields. You won’t be disappointed! For single origin coffees we suggest Campos (Newtown), Handcraft (also Newtown) or Single Origin (the name says it all!) (a short walk from Central station).

For lunch or dinner there are lots of options in Newtown and Glebe – you can’t go past the many Thai restaurants on King St (we suggest Thai Pothong), or you could try Mexican – either Flying Fajita Sisters or Baja Cantina (Glebe). A personal favourite of mine is Belly Bao (try the soft shell crab bao!) A little further out is Spice Alley (close to Central station), a small laneway converted into a cheerful walkway lined with Asian food stalls. If you’re craving a pub meal we recommend Duck Inn (Chippendale), Glebe Hotel, The Henson (Marrickville, the knuckle sandwich is delicious!) or Sydney Park Hotel (St Peters). For something a bit fancier (think fine dining with a view), we recommend O Bar (City), Quay (Circular Quay), Icebergs (Bondi), Ripples (Milsons Point), Doyles (Watson’s bay), or Aqua Dining (North Sydney). For vegan options that are so good that non-vegans routinely list them as favourites, try Gigi Pizzeria (Newtown, the calzone is to die for), Little Turtle Thai (Enmore), Yulli’s (Surry Hills, or their brewery in Alexandria), Bad Hombres (Mexican, near Central) or Bodhi Restaurant (vegan yum cha on College St in the city).

Lastly, what would be a summer visit to Sydney without gelato. You will find Messina all over Sydney as it is a local staple, with specials that change all time. You could also try Mapo (a new but delicious addition to King St Newtown), Cow and Moon (a short walk up Enmore Rd, which won world’s best Gelato in 2014), or Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream (and grab a mint tea or a baklava while you’re at it)!