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Ah, Sydney CBD. Despite a 60s heyday, by the early 90s the area had turned itself inside out to appease tourists in a sad colourless caricature of cheesy restaurants and souvenir shops.
But a series of redevelopments, legislation changes and new small bar licensing laws have changed all that, and if you want to see it for yourself (you do) you’ve really got to start your day with a jog around the Opera House and then through the Botanic Gardens.
The QT was Australia’s first major hotel to offer a quirky, personable accommodation experience. Home to a lobby decorated with headless mannequins, stay here if you want something unique, memorable and infinitely Instagrammable.
Of course, there are also several traditional five-star hotels in the area. They’re all well-kept examples of their brand, but the Shangri-La – found in heritage harbourside village The Rocks – is worth a mention for its day spa and killer views, head to cocktail hotspot Blu Bar on the hotel’s 36th floor to see what we mean.
Alternatively bed down at Ovolo 1888, which is housed in a repurposed heritage building. It has high ceilings and exposed brickwork, and the suites come in all shapes and sizes. The 15-square-metre ‘shoebox’ rooms are ideal for solo travellers.
Snap the Harbour Bridge as you skirt the base of the Opera House – there’s your money shot of the trip, you’re welcome. Note the location of Sydney’s best spot for a sunset drink, Opera Bar, as well as the Opera House’s hottest new restaurant Bennelong. In the adjacent Botanic Gardens you’ll find more amazing views at the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool, where Sydney’s most gorgeous boys can be found sunbathing (even though they tend to only be interested in each other.) Head back to home base and grab a post-shower coffee from Circular Quay hole-in-the-wall Mecca Espresso.
Around 15 minutes’ walk from the Museum of Contemporary Art you’ll find the Strand Arcade, an ornate glass-roofed Victorian building favoured by fashion editors for its roster of beautiful Australian labels (notably the artfully tailored Dion Lee, the romantic lace of Lover, cult beauty store Aesop and the curated collection at The Corner Shop.) Head to The Intersection to find virtually every lust-have item on Sydney’s wardrobe wish list – Ksubi leather trousers, Josh Goot’s utility shirting, fluted satin sleeves by Ellery, lacy Sass & Bide bralettes, luxe basics from Bassike and the entire contents of stores like Acne, Willow and Scanlan Theodore.
Choosing where to go from here is difficult. The obvious option would be to wander along the waterfront, but there are cooler (read: less touristy) enclaves nearby. Potts Point, Sydney’s most densely populated suburb, is heaving with art deco buildings and a buzzy atmosphere. It’s said that more dogs than children live here, thanks to the area’s affluent young demographic, and you’ll find a fabulous restaurant scene that reflects the locals’ high disposable incomes.
Sydneysiders are notoriously fickle when it comes to restaurants, but in Potts Point indecision is particularly acute. Bars can find themselves hosting a queue down the street one year, only to be out of business two years later. Still, those that manage to survive go on to become all-star icons. Acme is an achingly hip spot serving clever Italian-Asian cuisine under cool white lighting and Cho Cho San is a sexy Japanese izakaya den that somehow seems to get better every time you visit.
Then of course there’s Surry Hills. Like Potts Point, you could walk here if you (really) wanted to from the CBD, and the vibe is more Brooklyn than Manhattan. Slip into Rosie Campbell’s or Low 302 for a cheeky low-key aperitif, then take your pick of any number of interesting restaurants for dinner: Firedoor for food cooked over an open flame by Michelin-starred chef Lennox Hastie, Yulli’s for inventive vegetarian food and craft beers or The Winery for modern Australian (and a great Australian wine list) in the mismatched decadence of a mad hatter’s garden party. Then see where the night takes you. Our bet is that it won’t be straight back to the hotel.
Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool
Museum of Contemporary Art
Cho Cho San
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