It’s easy to be dazzled by the world-famous harbour and beautiful beaches but 24 hours in this enviable city will reveal her other charms, writes Catherine Marshall. This is how to have one perfect day in Sydney.
It’s a city that shamelessly rejoices in its own startling beauty – that shimmering harbour! Those imposing sights! But Sydney knows that looks alone aren’t enough to keep visitors enthralled. For this, the harbour city offers enchantments aplenty: contemporary art, historic architecture, cutting-edge fashion and a sophisticated food scene that maps out deep multicultural roots. Here’s how to discover it all in a day.
07:00 Lace up your running shoes and fall in beside the locals as they take their morning walk along an extraordinary path: the coastal route that connects Bronte Beach with its celebrity sister, Bondi. Watch out for whales in winter, kayakers in summer and surfers throughout the year as the trail curls around Tamarama Beach, skirts sacred Aboriginal rock engraving at Mackenzies Point and emerges above that most famous of beaches, Bondi. You’ll find it brimming with power walkers, yogis and surfers backlit by the rising sun. Early morning swimmers will be on their way to work by now but you’ll still catch sight of diehards doing laps at Bondi Icebergs pool – even in the depths of winter.
08:00 Stroll along the shoreline and try to spot local Aquabumps photographer Eugene Tan taking one of his beach shots (emailed to his followers each morning). When you reach the northern end of Bondi Beach, join locals at community hub Porch & Parlour for a kimchi toastie or a ‘one hander’ – a milk bun stuffed with bacon and egg. Enjoy it with a coconut coffee frappe or a pot of ‘restore’ tea, if you’re still dusty from last night. Feeling virtuous? Head to Glenayr Avenue, one of Bondi’s characteristic backstreets, and order a zucchini omelette or raw vegetable salad with toasted seeds and labne at Lox Stock & Barrel.
10:00 Take a cab to neighbouring Rose Bay for a different perspective of the city. You’ll see the CBD skyline jutting out above a mansion-dotted hillside, yachts moored in the bay and the exclusive North Shore suburb of Mosman across the harbour. Board the ferry at Rose Bay Wharf for Circular Quay, tapping on the contactless payment symbol with your credit or debit card (American Express, Mastercard or Visa) or linked device, and tapping off when you reach your destination.
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11:00 When you jump off the ferry, you’ll find yourself at the epicentre of Sydney’s tourist hubbub. From here you can view the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, as well as reach the Royal Botanic Garden and Domain parklands. Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art, a short walk away on the western edge of the quay. The gallery shows a vibrant mix of touring exhibitions and permanent collections throughout the year. Be sure to enjoy the 1950s building, too. It has become an artwork in itself since a geometric wing was added in 2012, complete with the Sculpture Terrace (and those harbour views) on the fourth floor.
13:00 Take a cab, water taxi or – if you have the energy – a 20-minute walk through the Royal Botanic Garden to Woolloomooloo, the former docklands area that retains some of its working-class ethos despite inevitable gentrification. Woolloomooloo’s centrepiece is the Finger Wharf – once the largest wooden structure in the world and now a warren of bars, eateries and luxury residences with yachts moored outside their front doors. Sit down for lunch at Alibi, where the Sydney restaurant serves up plant-based delicacies such as celeriac fondant and kimchi dumplings, and the bar puts the vegan spin on diner classics like mac ’n’ cheese balls, jalapeno-loaded fries and Southern fried chick’n. If you’re not that hungry, grab a bite from Flour and Stone, Nadine Ingram’s bakery at 53 Riley Street, to enjoy by the water. A slow-braised lamb, potato and rosemary pie or leek and gruyere tart should hit the spot.
15:00 From Cowper Wharf Roadway, ascend the McElhone Stairs (112 of them!) to Potts Point, one of Australia’s most densely populated suburbs. This smidgen of land, which shares a postcode with Elizabeth Bay and takes in late-night district Kings Cross, is inhabited by a delightfully inclusive mishmash of people: the affluent, the eccentric and those with nowhere else to go. Explore the suburb’s main artery, Macleay Street, with its Georgian and Art Deco buildings and shops. Arida (61 Macleay Street) stocks vintage Asian furniture alongside high-end street fashion (Eton shirts, Mahsa, Samantha Sung) and ready-to-wear by Stella McCartney and Rick Owens. Potts Point Bookshop was once declared “an oasis of culture” by local resident and playwright Louis Nowra. Vintage-lovers should detour to the Wayside Chapel (29 Hughes Street), a community welfare project that runs a popular second-hand clothing shop.
16:00 Catch a cab to the Queen Victoria Building (455 George Street), a magnificently preserved sandstone structure filled with upmarket stores and eateries. Directly across the road is The Galeries, a cutting-edge fashion emporium with boutiques such as Alpha60 and Incu. Nearby, straddling George and Pitt streets, is The Strand Arcade. Opened in 1892, it has retained the Victorian splendour that first earned it praise more than 100 years ago. The historic building is offset by the modern Australian brands it now houses: Dinosaur Designs, Dion Lee and Aesop.
17.30 It’s (almost) time to rest your feet so walk the 10 minutes to A by Adina Hotel (2 Hunter Street) and take the lift to popular Sydney bar Dean & Nancy on 22 (on the 22nd floor, naturally), a mid-century-themed venue kitted out in whiskey-and-tobacco hues. Slide into a banquette, order a Coffee Champagne (bubbles spiked with Mr Black, vodka and peach wine) and watch through immense windows as the skyline glitters.
19:30 When you’re ready for dinner, it’s a seven-minute toddle (or a very brief cab ride) to Grana (5-7 Young Street), located in a heritage-listed former wool store in the Quay Quarter. History and modernity blend happily here, with sandstone walls and ironbark beams wrapped around a contemporary, open-plan kitchen and dining space. Don’t miss the sublime Mafaldine (made with flour milled onsite from regional grains) with smoked mushrooms, cime de rapa and egg yolk, followed by the salted peanut semifreddo. Amble downstairs to the basement bar Apollonia, where at midnight you can join in the ‘Thunderbolt’ ritual, when bartenders and patrons toast friends, life and love with a sweet, strong negroni.