By Courtney Subramanian
A literal breath of fresh air, Sydney mixes together culture, gastronomy and beautiful beaches for the perfect trip Down Under. Our Sydney insider Courtney Subramanian is a journalist, news junkie, world traveler and recovering urbanite living on Manly beach up north.
Subramanian comes to the Antipodes by way of New York, Hong Kong, London and her hometown of Chicago and has been testing out the city’s best cafes, bars and beaches ever since stepping foot in Australia.
Getting acclimated: Sydney’s glittering harbor — studded with its Herculean Harbour Bridge and iconic Opera House — is what draws people Down Under, but venturing out to one of the many neighborhoods is what makes them want to stay.
Shake off your tourist-filtered Instagram shots of the harbor on Day 1, and move on to the coffee shops along the tree-lined streets of Paddington, the small bars of Surry Hills and the ferry rides to guide you up to the sprawling northern beaches.
Coffee is taken very seriously in Australia, which is why it’s important to find the right cup. Begin your day by taking in the sights of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge at the city’s main transit hub, Circular Quay. Walk along the pathway down beyond the Opera House to glimpse the Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a sandstone rock that was hand-carved into a bench by convicts in the 1800s. One of Sydney’s best cafes, Ground Control, is in the area so you can hit it up for a flat white or long black before and after your stroll.
The old Manly Ferry is a tourist favorite, and an easy way to see the many beachside communities along the harbor. Pro tip: Sit outside, but skip the cramped hull and opt for a seat on either side of the boat, where crowds are fewer and it’s a little less windy.
Soak in the sights of Manly with a walk over to its charming neighbor, Shelly Beach. Along the Bower you’ll catch water dragons, crabs and other wildlife that call this northside community home. At Shelly, check out the newly minted Boathouse, which boasts a front-row seat to the lapping waves and a classic Aussie brunch.
North Head is just one of the many bush walks you can hike offering up excellent views of the harbor. It’s a two-hour (or more, if you choose) commitment and the pathway spits you out with an unmatched vantage point of Sydney’s skyline.
Take a ferry from Manly to Watson’s Bay and enjoy lunch at the classic seafood spot Doyle’s. The longstanding restaurant offers a more upscale experience, but skip the wait for counter service at Doyle’s on the Beach.
Take a bus or grab a cab over to Sydney’s quintessential Bondi Beach. Explore the beachside community before catching the sunset at the scene-y but scenic bar at Icebergs just in time for happy hour. Situated at the top of the headland overlooking Bondi Beach, Icebergs offers one of the best views the city has to offer.
Sydney’s restaurant scene is jam-packed with options, but Nel is an elegant newcomer if you’re down for degustation dining. You’ll get Sydney’s five-star restaurant experience for half the price.
This back alley spot is a favorite among both locals and tourists – and for good reason. The dim-lit, cozy bar is outfitted with an impressive wall of whiskey and old fashioned cocktails on tap.
The Ovolo Woollomooloo, formerly the Blue Hotel, is an excellent heritage option that’s situated on a wharf and a short walk from the Royal Botanic Gardens. For those who prefer Airbnb, opt to stay in Darlinghurst or Surry Hills for a more cultural experience of Sydney’s best.
Don’t leave without… trying gelato at Messina, where the menu rotates experimental flavors like poached figs in Marsala.