Quiet beaches within a few kilometres of the CBD, the chance to climb one of the country’s most iconic structures and the best of the best when it comes to culture and fine dining – no wonder so many people come to Sydney for a visit and never leave. If you’re short on time, don’t worry – spending three days in the perennially sunny harbourside city isn’t hard if you’re armed with insider knowledge. In the spirit of sightseeing on a time budget, here are our suggestions for 72 jam-packed hours in this modern metropolis.
Grab a bite and a perfectly poured coffee (Sydneysiders are fanatical for a good cup) at one of harbourside Circular Quay’s hole-in-the-wall cafes such as Cabarito Coffee Traders or Marlowe’s Way – you’ll need the fuel for your morning wander around the harbourside Royal Botanic Gardens. Enter the gardens from Bridge Street and eschew a regimented route but make sure you loop in Mrs Macquarie’s Chair as you go: all the harbour’s highlights are laid out in perfect viewing range. Snake back around the park’s northern edge for a closer look at the majestic sails of the Opera House in busy Circular Quay. Try Opera Bar for a languid, walk-in lunch spot or special-occasion-favourite ARIA if you’ve had the foresight to secure a table a few weeks in advance. Both serve stunning views with their menus.
Set sail on the city’s most atmospheric mode of transport by catching a 20-minute ferry from the Circular Quay wharf to nearby Darling Harbour. Here, the beloved SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium plunges you deep into the unique beauty of local and Indo-Pacific aquatic life, with natural wonders such as the freshwater sawfish and five species of shark drifting through the expansive tanks. The brave can take the Shark Walk, a water-wrapped tunnel that leads you both above and below these terrifying creatures.
The nearby dining and shopping precinct of Barangaroo lures cultured crowds for post-work drinks and weekend wind-downs. Before you settle in for a tipple though, take a turn about the place – there’s a nature reserve that nurtures over 75,000 native plants, a park that begs you to chill with its banana lounges and public library and, of course, a swathe of eateries, with most perched on the water’s edge. Here’s a starter guide to our top picks of the precinct’s restaurants.
Tick off that bucket list and head east to Bondi for an oh-so-Sydney pastime: a hearty brunch. Sydney’s style set favour the Bondi to Bronte walk for their morning exercise and after you’re acquainted with the avocado toast aficionados, it’s your turn to take a stroll. Unspooling down the coast, it’s a mostly flat, 45-minute route from South Bondi to Bronte, with the ocean lashing at the cliff’s rugged edges. Ready to get wet? Keep walking to Gordon’s Bay for a stellar snorkelling experience.
Off its main vein of Oxford Street, the terrace-house-lined suburb of Paddington is leafy and residential, with cute cafés and fashion boutiques nestled next to family homes. If you’ve dedicated suitcase space to Australian fashion, focus your wandering on the Oxford end of Glenmore Road, where local labels such as Bianca Spender and Camilla and Marc sit alongside international houses such as Acne Studios. Further down Glenmore, globally lauded label Ellery also has a charming bricks-and-mortar store – try this helpful guide to the area.
Securing a rooftop table at a Paddington pub such as The Royal Hotel or The Light Brigade in the afternoon proves a little easier than an evening slot – consider this as permission to start sipping early. More of a wine lover? Take a seat at The Wine Library. From all three drinking dens, the area’s best eateries are within walking distance – it’s less than 10 minutes to lively Fred’s, the casual Italian joint 10 William Street or the homey Lucio’s.
Hovering over the harbour from its northern vantage point, just travelling to Mosman’s Taronga Zoo is a worthy excursion. A mere 12 minutes via ferry from Circular Quay, the view across the cityscape is enough of a sight but the locals are a fair drawcard, too – koalas, echidnas and the ever-beaming quokka all call this sanctuary home.
After ferrying back across the harbour, crawl the cobblestones of The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest and most historic precinct. It’s here that a pub meal feels very well deserved. Take in another angle of the the harbour from the rooftop of The Glenmore Hotel or down a schooner at the city’s oldest drinking den, Fortunes of War. The Lord Nelson Brewery, up and around the corner, also makes for a historic place to tuck into some lunch.
After a late afternoon saunter through the Museum of Contemporary Art (later opening hours on Wednesdays give critics that little bit more time), a drink high above the city at the Shangri-La’s Blu Bar on 36 heralds an envy-inducing Insta shot over the entire harbour. There’s another view that easily rivals this of an evening however – the one from the highest point of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you’re keen to climb ‘The Coathanger’ at night, book ahead to ensure a space as night climbs are popular.
If you’d like to keep your feet on the ground, though, nearby wine haunts Tapavino or Bentley Restaurant and Bar are great. A meal in the hip ’hood of Surry Hills, where residents flock for their cultural fix, will finish your day with a flourish. For pomp and performance that withstands its whimsy, try nel. or to blend in with the neighbourhood natives, book ahead at Chin Chin – the late 2017 opening that locals are still talking about.
If you find more time…
- Take the lingering, half-hour ferry service from Circular Quay to Manly, the northside’s answer to Bondi. A stroll from the southern end of Manly Beach around the coast to Shelley Beach will get you in step with locals, who take the newly rebuilt track to the quiet cove for coffees at The Boathouse before a more secluded dip on busy days.
- See the harbour with a different set of eyes by taking up one of these unique experiences.
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