This blog post was updated on March 1, 2018.

Sydney is a beautiful place to live and a glorious city to visit. In one moment you’ll be checking out vast urban sprawls of idyllic architecture and iconic landmarks, and then within a short 20-minute walk, you can find yourself surrounded by roaring surf beaches, botanic gardens, and brilliant blue ocean views. It’s unique natural setting, coupled with a vibrant melting pot of different cultures, is what gives Sydney a lively and eclectic personality. Backed by a thriving food scene and a glitzy nightlife, the city feels as if there is always something around the corner. Rather than trying to cram in as much as possible, here it’s all about slowing down and taking the time to connect. So if you’re after a different type of travel experience – then come and relish in Sydney’s alluring charm and laid-back way of life.

Take a Dip

Sydney’s endless sequence of world-class beaches is a popular attraction for locals and visitors alike. Although they can get crowded on warm Aussie days (some more than others), beaches like Bondi and Manly cannot be missed. Bondi is an institution in Sydney, being the closest ocean beach to the city center (8km away), and despite the swarms of people that flock to its shores daily, this beach is the perfect place to get a taste of Sydney, and have a rough and tumble swim. If the surf is too rough, then take a dip in the Bondi Icebergs pool. Located at the Southern end of the beach, this famous ocean pool can help you experience the Pacific without being tossed about. That, and it’s a great spot for people watching and taking photos.

Manly is Sydney’s only ferry destination with surf, and is a place worth visiting for the ferry ride alone! Renown amongst the Northern Beaches community as a place for a good night out, Manly is a popular destination for both surfers and party-goers. This suburb seamlessly blends contemporary bars and eateries with consistently good waves.

From Wynyard station, you can hop on the infamous L90, and on a scenic 45-minute bus ride, you’ll find yourself among the coastal suburbs of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. What feels like a best-kept secret, the Northern Beaches are a collection of picturesque surf spots that are much more tucked away than their well-known neighbors, Bondi and Manly. From Collaroy to the long and lovely Palm Beach, and every suburb in between boasts their own unique slice of coast that is as gorgeous as the next. If you have the time, do yourself a favor and see as many of these beaches as possible. You will not regret it.

Sydney After Dark

Traditionally, it was King’s Cross that wore the crown for the best nightlife in Sydney, but the party has officially moved on. A blend of backpackers and quirky locals still make the Cross an exciting place, but the government’s lockout laws and accelerated gentrification has killed the area’s late-night bar life. But, if you are after a few quiet beers or a big Saturday night out, then the Inner-West suburb of Newtown will have you sorted. A stone’s throw away from Sydney’s Central Station, Newtown is a hotspot for great food, culture, and nightlife. With the colorful King Street running down it’s middle, you’ll find hordes of students as well as a mix of eccentric revelers every night of the week, enjoying cozy small bars and bustling, multi-storey pubs. This uber cool suburb has something for everyone, and a stroll down King Street is a fantastic experience at any time of day.  

A Good Feed

Thanks to an abundance of easily accessible fresh produce and a healthy dose of multiculturalism, the food scene in Sydney is diverse and full of big, bold flavor. Whether you find yourself in a hole in the wall cafe or sitting down to a hearty meal in an inexpensive pub, it’s guaranteed that you will enjoy the freshest of ingredients. If it’s a fabulous eating district you’re after, then head down Dixon Street, in the heart of Sydney, towards Chinatown. Sydney has a deep integration with Asian culture and here you’ll find a whole array of Asian cuisine from world-class yum cha to authentic Vietnamese pho. There are also epic Malaysian eats and some kickass Thai places, too. Chinatown doesn’t just serve up Chinese food!

(Image via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – Tony Mendez)

Also, do look out for Emperor’s Cream Puff, which is located right next to Emperor’s Garden Cake & Bakery on Dixon Street. This place is well-known for its hot custard-filled mini cream puffs that are sold through a glass window. Don’t be surprised to see a long queue of eager people waiting to get hold of these delicious cream puffs. They will literally melt in your mouth.   

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The coffee culture in Sydney is serious. One that is rivaled only by our (snobby) neighbor Melbourne. But, being a nation of people unafraid to declare that our coffee is better than yours, you should take the time to put it to the test! Break-away from Starbucks and say g’day to any Sydney barista.

Soak Up Some Culture

(Image via Flickr CC BY 2.0 – Malcolm Tredinnick)

Sydney’s colorful convict history lives on in the cobblestoned streets of the Rocks. Just five minutes from Circular Quay (pronounced “key”), the Rocks is where the First Fleet of British settlers arrived in 1788. Here you’ll find sandstone terraces and cottages and some of Sydney’s oldest pubs. The ambiance of both past and present is enhanced with lively weekend markets, museums and galleries — all of which share stunning views of the iconic harbor. Nestled beneath the Sydney Harbor bridge and within close distance to the Opera House, a leisurely stroll around this compact area is compulsory when visiting Sydney. And while it’s still a fantastic experience checking it out all by yourself, every day there are two 90-minute guided walking tours for you to take part in. Prices start from $28 and come with plenty of intriguing tales.   

(Image via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – Norman Z)

Another Sydney must is a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens. Adjacent to the Sydney Opera House, the gardens are a favorite picnic destination, jogging route or snuggling spot amongst Sydneysiders. One of the best-kept secrets about the gardens is that, as the sun sets over the harbor, hundreds of cockatoos that call the harborside precinct home, flock to the trees and get ready for the night. This spectacle is made even more amazing by the cockatoos’ relaxed attitude amongst humans. You can expect these show-off sulphur-crested birds to sneak up behind you and even walk across your picnic blanket! Nothing screams Sydney more than this.

Local Tips

Some of the Best Beaches

  • 40 kilometers from Sydney’s CBD is Whale Beach. Located in between Avalon Beach and Palm Beach on the Northern Beaches, Whale Beach is fantastically clean and secluded.
  • Bilgola Beach, on the Northern Beaches, is located between Avalon Beach and Newport Beach. This stretch of sand is perfect for a swim and a morning coffee. Zubi at Billy’s is a unique cafe that sits a stone’s throw from the beach itself.
  • While you’re at this end of Sydney, hop on the Palm Beach Ferry to either Ettalong Beach or Patonga. This picturesque ferry ride is a great way to see more of Pittwater.
  • Clovelly Beach, 8 kilometers from Sydney’s CBD, is a concrete-edged ocean channel with excellent underwater visibility. Making it a great place for a swim, sunbathe and a snorkel.

Some of the Best Nightlife

  • Craft beer, cider, and classic pizza served in a rock ‘n’ roll hotspot with pinball machines. Frankie’s Pizza By The Slice, in the heart of the CBD, is perfect any night of the week.
  • Shakespeare Hotel, or “shakies”, is a 15-minute walk from the famous Oxford Street and is one of the last authentic pubs in Sydney. The beer is cold and the chicken “schnitties” (schnitzels) are spot on.
  • Nothing beats a good beer garden and the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown has one of the best. This rustic pub offers burgers and brews in a sprawling, leafy beer garden. Perfect for a laid-back session.  
  • The Newtown Hotel is a hip 2-level bar with pub grub downstairs, a balcony overlooking Kings Street and a buzzy beer garden. The only downside is it closes at midnight, making it the perfect pre-game destination.
  • The bowling club is an Australian institution, and Marrickville Bowling Club captures this charm perfectly. Found in the Inner-West, this place is known for hosting banging day parties and friendly community get-togethers.

Some of the Best Food

  • Hidden in an alley, Mr. Wong’s restaurant has the best dim sum this side of the Great Wall. Classic Chinese served in a lavish setting, the food here is amazing but get in early or be prepared for a wait.
  • Italian cuisine is a staple when it comes to summarizing the foodscape in Sydney. Machiavelli Ristorante Italiano, located in the CBD, is a longstanding family-run establishment serving refined Italian dishes in a warm environment.  
  • The ultimate late-night feast, Pancakes On The Rocks is a long-running 24-hour establishment. Perfect any time of day, but heaven sent when you want to eat a pancake breakfast at three in the morning.
  • For some Newtown quirkiness, check out Lentil As Anything. A bustling vegetarian restaurant offering pay-as-you-feel prices in an unpretentious space with local art.

Some of the Best Coffee

  • Only a 5-minute walk from Central Station, The Reformatory has the best coffee in the trendy area of Surry Hills. The decor theme combines comic book villains and crazy scientist and is geared towards serious coffee lovers, producing new blends each week.
  • Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville is a special place that takes specialty to a whole new level. With all roasting done on site, coffee is the only game here, offering simple espressos all the way to epic sparkling filter coffees.   
  • The CBD workers know this spot all too well. Skittle Lane is a popular place that pumps out rich, gentle and very well made espresso.
  • For a latte on the punchier side, head over The Cross Eastery. Located in the Cross, this slick cafe uses Mecca beans which result in a robust coffee that is bold in flavor and smaller than your regular takeaway latte.

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About The Author

From Australia, skateboarder/explorer.