Sydney is such a show pony. For a start, there’s that ravishing harbour that’s all lush headlands, serene beaches and two curvaceous icons in the shapes of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The coastal beaches in Australia’s biggest city, home to 4.5 million people, are just as glorious. New Zealanders are renowned for flocking to the picture-perfect crescent of Bondi Beach but there’s a more relaxed, chilled-out vibe to the posh strips of sand, such as Palm Beach, in the city’s far north. South of Bondi, there’s Tamarama (nicknamed Glamarama) for those who go to the beach purely to be seen. The narrow inlet of Clovelly Beach, protected from the surf by a sea wall, attracts families as well as goggle-eyed swimmers who admire schools of fish while completing their laps.
There’s a flip side to the beauty, of course. Sydney is a patchwork of distinctive neighbourhoods so vast, so sprawling, that it takes hours to drive from the northern fringes to the southern outskirts. Smart visitors won’t delve into the traffic; the best way to get around is to hop a harbour ferry and nab an outside seat. While the sun warms your skin, watch headlands hove into view, sailors tack this way and that, a massive cruise ship slide into place and think about the simple things in life such as where you might eat or drink next.
Bars and restaurants go in and out of fashion in Sydney faster than you can say Woolloomooloo. Over the past few years, small bars have become big news as Sydney tries to catch up with Melbourne’s many cosy establishments. It can seem as though a petite new bar opens in an obscure laneway – and fills up with hipsters – every week.
At the other end of the scale, several billion-dollar projects are transforming the face of Sydney. Tired old Darling Harbour is in the midst of a $1-billion redevelopment while, west of Central Station, the $2-billion Central Park development is rapidly rising from the site of a former brewery. The avant-garde residential and commercial complex includes a startling sky-high cantilever sparkling with motorised mirrors that deflect sunlight onto the site below.
Across the road, the University of Technology Sydney will, later this year, unveil another architectural masterpiece and another reason to visit the city – a new wing from famed US-based architect Frank Gehry that will look, for all the world, just like a crumpled paper bag.
SYDNEY INSIDER’S GUIDE
North Sydney Olympic Pool: Float on your back, let the dramatic arches of the Harbour Bridge fill your field of vision and wonder no more why regulars reckon this pool comes with the world’s best view.
Angel Place: The calls of 50 bird species once native to central Sydney, such as the Eastern Whipbird and the superb Lyrebird, ring out from a canopy of birdcages in the poignant laneway installation Forgotten Songs.
Golden Age Cinema: The former screening room of the late-deco Paramount Pictures building in Surry Hills reopened last year as a 60-seat cinema complete with vintage cinema seats found in Switzerland.
Nielsen Park: With lots of shady trees and scenic Shark Beach (not to worry, the beach is protected by shark nets), Nielsen Park is a favourite swimming and picnic spot within the harbour.
EAT & DRINK
Chur Burger: Critics have fallen over themselves to heap praise upon the inexpensive but lovingly crafted burgers at this Kiwi-themed Surry Hills eatery that opened an offshoot in a Paddington pub late last year.
Quay: Chef Peter Gilmore runs the kitchen in this, the only Australian restaurant on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Tuck into his famous snow-egg dessert while checking out the harbour action.
Mr Wong: Known as Sydney’s bar tsar, Merivale’s Justin Hemmes has a talent for reading the pulse of the city. In 2012, he opened this cool Cantonese diner in
a city back lane that channels old colonial Shanghai.
The Grounds of Alexandria: Go midweek to avoid the queues at this enormously popular, family-friendly coffee and café joint fashioned from an old pie factory.
Mojo Record Bar: Succumb to this subterranean ode to vinyl. After scouting the record store out front, slide into a booth, order a 4 Pines craft beer that’s brewed in Manly and sing along with Blondie or The Boss.
Woolwich Pier Hotel: This suburban pub has barramundi pot pie and spanner crab linguine on the menu, a scenic location at the confluence of Lane Cove and Parramatta Rivers and ultra-sleek interiors; foodies rate it among the best pubs in the city.
GALLERIES & SHOPS
Brett Whiteley Studio: After artist Brett Whiteley died of a heroin overdose in 1992, his two-storeyed Surry Hills home and studio was preserved. Open Friday to Sunday; free admission.
Museum of Contemporary Art: A $50-million redevelopment of the Circular Quay institution in 2012 added a rooftop café with an unrivalled view across the water to the Opera House.
Its summer blockbuster, a survey of Yoko Ono’s career, ends 23 February.
Koskela: The cavernous Rosebery warehouse not only showcases quirky homewares and furniture (such as a dachshund-inspired, extra-low-slung sofa), it’s also home to hip canteen-style eatery Kitchen by Mike.
Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen: Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary, formerly of Sydney, brought the city’s Market Street to a standstill last year when she officially opened this flagship store, a supplier to the Royal Danish Court.
Bloodorange: This Elizabeth Bay fashion boutique stocks statement pieces from the likes of precocious American designer Alexander Wang and home-grown talent such as Dion Lee.