On average, international visitors to Australia spend a third of their nights in Sydney – but as its reputation grows, regional New South Wales is attracting more visitors, particularly in coastal areas.
If you’re in Sydney for business or pleasure, you’ll have no trouble filling your days (and nights) with food, fashion, fascinating places and fun company – but you won’t regret saving a few days to step outside the city and visit other parts of the state.
Start at the heart
Sydneys habourside heart is a magnet for visitors and locals alike. Great coffee tastes even better with a magnificent view – grab a table at the edge of the harbour adjacent to the Opera House along East Circular Quay at Portobello Café or Quayside Brasserie.
Add a bit of culture as you stroll along the western side of the Quay, drop into the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and enjoy a leisurely brunch at The MCA Café, with its spectacular harbour views and sculpture terrace.
Follow the harbourfront and you’ll get to the historic precinct. There’s plenty of old-world charm here, with souvenir and craft shops in re-purposed warehouses and some fascinating architecture, including the Argyle Cut, a tunnel carved through solid rock by hand using convict labour in the 19th Century.
Business and pleasure
You may want to move mid-city if you’re entertaining business clients – and a great place for a business breakfast is at the Old GPO – the Intermezzo Café in the heart of Sydney’s banking district is a local favourite or you could try the stunning Bambini Trust opposite Hyde Park on Macquarie Street.
Impress a high-ranking politician or business partner at Machiavellis, where Sydney’s back-room deals are accompanied by fine Italian dining, or go classic highbrow at Bistrode CBD.
Score points for quirky by booking lunch at Brew Café in Harrington Street set in the old Tea Factory in The Rocks. Or step towards the east and impress with your green credentials at Three Blue Ducks in Bronte, with its organic menu and kitchen garden.
Sydney is all about the harbour, so post-work drinks generally make a bigger impression when there’s a view.
Blu Bar on 36 at the ShangriLa Hotel Sydney high above The Rocks boasts panoramic views of Sydney Harbour Bridge, while the ever-popular Opera Bar gets you right down to sea level just next to Circular Quay. Zeta Bar boasts a deck overlooking the QVB and impressive cocktails with home-made syrups – or try a more old-fashioned pub feel at the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel in Darling Harbour where craft beers can be enjoyed from one of the tiny upstairs balconies.
Ritz and glitz
Cashed up and looking to put on the glitz? Sydney is bursting with exceptional restaurants, from Tetsuya’s – home to Tetsuya Wakada’s world-famous Japanese-inspired cuisine – to Quay, one of the world’s fifty best restaurants and Australia’s most awarded eating establishment with spectacular views across Sydney’s harbour, from the majestic Harbour Bridge to the iconic Opera House.
Other amazing restaurants include Aria, est, Marque, Rockpool and Momofuku – but you’ll need to book, all are in hot demand.
Fabulous food can be found all over the city without too much pre-planning. From Sydney’s city centre, stroll across Pyrmont Bridge – built in 1902, it’s one of the world’s oldest electrically operated swing-span bridges which opens regularly for shipping and demonstrations.
Darling Harbour, developed as an entertainment and business precinct for Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988, boasts the magnificent Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Powerhouse Museum, and some of Sydney’s top bars and restaurants.
Promenade by the harbourside gardens or head straight to the Star Casino where you can take a flutter on a huge selection of table games (baccarat, roulette, poker and many more) or hit the Cherry cocktail bar, Sokyo Lounge or Marquee nightclub.
If you prefer a smaller, more exclusive venue, there’s a treasure chest of basement bars in narrow alleys back in the CBD such as Tank Stream Bar, Goodgod Small Club, Grandmas and Grasshopper.
Arts and Culture
Though well known for its outdoor delights, Sydney also has a plethora of galleries and museums, from the beautiful traditional Art Gallery of NSW and the State Library of NSW (home to a vast formal art collection) to the exquisitely positioned Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay.
Old railway yards in the inner-city suburb of Redfern have been transformed into the Carriageworks cultural centre, which merges modern art, installation and performance in a range of exhibition spaces.
Museums range from the traditional – dinosaurs and skeletons and a wealth of anthropological treasures at the Australian Museum – to the eclectic Museum of Sydney featuring video walls and poetry and a sweeping harbour view, to the gruesome Justice and Police Museum which graphically celebrates crimes gone by.
Beach and bay
Sydney’s beaches are a joy, a pot-pourri of families, tourists, sun-browned locals, old-timers, backpackers and beautiful young things - and the perfect place to people-watch.
If you’re a surf lover, don’t miss the world-famous Bondi Beach; the kilometre-long stretch of sand and surf is patrolled by lifeguards and attracts visitors from everywhere.
It’s not all surf and sand - community events and exhibitions feature regularly at the beachside Bondi Pavilion and Campbell Parade (the main road parallel to the beach) is crammed with restaurants, bars, cafes and boutiques.
Go to Messina’s or to Pompei’s for a post-swim gelato or head a few kilometres up the road to the area’s commercial hub - Bondi Junction – known for its retail centre and proximity to beautiful Centennial Park. You can even hire a bike nearby and explore the 220-hectare park on two wheels.
Not keen on surf? Escape the Bondi crowds at one of Sydney’s serene harbourside beaches such as romantic Balmoral Beach not far from Manly, the beautiful Camp Cove Beach, easily accessed by ferry from Circular Quay via Watsons Bay, or rub shoulders with the richest of Sydneysiders at Lady Martin’s beach, adjacent to the Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club at Point Piper.
Rent a car or even a Vespa and hit the roads south of Sydney for a beautiful coastal journey. Start at Cronulla – one of Sydney’s southernmost beach towns, where you can catch a ferry across the Port Hacking River to the Royal National Park, and join a guided kayak tour along the forested river banks all the way to Audley, which features ritzy high teas at the Audley Room or treats galore in the well-appointed Weir Café.
From Cronulla, head out to the Princes Highway and traverse the Grand Pacific Drive, a spectacular 140 km road trip along a winding coastline that boasts some of the state’s most beautiful beaches.
In season, you’ll often see whales come close into shore and in good weather, hang-gliders hover like a multi-coloured flock of beautiful birds above the cliffs at Stanwell Tops.
Drive through the coastal rainforests and tree-arched roads of the beautiful Royal National Park, around quaint villages dotted with old mining cottages and over the magnificent Sea Cliff Bridge before making your way to the beautiful city of Wollongong.
North of Sydney, take the Newcastle Expressway to the beautiful Central Coast. Drop in to the town of Terrigal, where dress-circle houses and pretty surfside shops encircle Terrigal’s beautiful, golden-sand beach.
Further north, Newcastle is a great base from which to explore nearby areas such as the famous Hunter Valley wine region and to join guided tours of Aboriginal sites through the Wollombi Cultural Centre at Cessnock.
The city of Newcastle has plenty of attractions. Its charming public baths, pools built at the edge of the ocean, are reminiscent of Brighton in the UK, while cultural icons include the military museum of Fort Scratchley, the old Maitland Gaol and several beautiful old churches.
To get a much better feel for rural New South Wales, take a couple of days to visit one of the state’s beautiful regional cities.
Dubbo is 400 km north-west of Sydney in the heartland of Country NSW at the intersection of the Mitchell, Newell and Golden highways.
One of the most popular attractions in this gracious country town is the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, a sweeping site popular for its open-range design with animals separated from visitor by concealed moats rather than fences. Bike riding around the zoo and overnight ‘glamping’ are popular and the Zoo’s breeding program of endangered animals like the White, Black and Indian Rhinos has given it an international reputation.
Other local attractions include the Old Dubbo gaol, Dubbo Observatory and the beautiful Shoyoen Sister City Japanese Garden.
If you’re driving south towards Melbourne, break your trip in the beautiful town of Albury, around 550 km south of Sydney in the foothills of the spectacular Great Dividing Range and on the northern side of the Murray River on the border between NSW and Victoria. South of the Murray is Wodonga, Albury’s Victorian twin city and the nearby wine region of Rutherglen is world-renowned for its muscat and fortified port wines.
For those driving north to Brisbane, Tamworth makes a great place to stop – particularly for horse lovers and country music fans. Various equine events are held in the town during the year and it is known as the Sporting Horse Capital of Australia.
Tamworth’s biggest drawcard, though, is the ten-day Country Music Festival held in January each year, the second largest in the world and the town celebrates country musicians year-round with the Big Golden Guitar, wax museum and Hands of Fame Park.