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Paradise Expert City Guide to Sydney

From the Harbour Bridge to the shell-shaped structure of the Opera House and the world-class beaches, Sydney captures one of the most exhilarating skylines in the world. For such a spread-out, cosmopolitan city, it still retains a very small-town, safe, and friendly feel. Which is an incredible feat not easily matched by other cities of this size.  Here is our guide to where to stay, dine, drink, shop and explore in this corner of New South Wales, Australia. 

Capella Sydney. Photo by Timothy Kaye.

Where to Stay

Capella Sydney

New to the city, this is a hotel for a splurge. Located in the historic Department of Education building in the Sandstone Precinct, the heritage-listed icon has set a new benchmark for luxury accommodation, cuisine, and cultural immersion—located in the heart of the commercial, cultural, and hospitality district. This also marks the first property under the Capella Hotels and Resorts banner to open in Australia. 

W Sydney

W Sydney brings a new modern-luxe hotel to the old site of the IMAX theater in Darling Harbour. The newly built hotel is part of “The Ribbon,” an exciting development set to transform Sydney’s skyline, designed by award-winning architecture firm Hassel. Plus: You can’t go wrong with suites that are named “Wonderful” and “Fabulous.” Do take advantage of the brand’s signature Whatever/Whenever service and buzzing communal spaces from the Living Room bar, two-story rooftop bar, and a Level 29 WET Deck with heated infinity pool overlooking Darling Harbour.

Infinity Pool at Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour

Sofitel Sydney

If you’re going to stay in a big brand-name hotel, make sure it has one of the most spectacular views on the planet—even from your bathtub. Add to that a certain French hospitality je ne sais quoi that shows up in the dining room, Champagne bar, artwork, and even the spa at the new Sofitel Sydney in Darling Harbour.

The cool kids landed in Surry Hills with a version of the hip and trendy Ace Hotel that you might know from New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, or London. Located on Wentworth Avenue and designed by Bates Smart, the one-story hotel was built around the iconic Tyne House and holds 264 rooms, a ground-floor lobby bar, restaurant and cafe, and a rooftop bar and restaurant.

For something completely different, the Crystalbrook Albion is a sustainable boutique hotel, also located in the multicultural Surry Hills neighborhood. The 1903 structure was formerly a school convent but now houses 35 luxury rooms with a rooftop garden overlooking this stretch of the city. 

Bedroom at Crystalbrook Albion, Surry Hills

Where to Dine

Bondi Beach 

Before or after a surfing session at one of the world’s best beaches, RND (“Raw Next Door”) is a newer Japanese izakaya spot by the shore, inside Harry’s Bondi. In the kitchen, Jack New of Izy Izakaya makes crave-worthy dishes such as lobster tempura sandwiches with fermented chili mayo and yuzu slaw. There is a raw bar and a great local Australian wine list, plus signature cocktails to keep you there until sunset. 

Chouchou is a new French bistro that opened in Bondi in April 2023. The indoor-outdoor beachfront Gallic eatery focuses on bistro classics, a curated wine list, and iconic French cocktails. This is the perfect spot for a romantic date, drinks with friends, group dinners, or pre- or post-surfing. 

Oysters at Bar Morris

Central City Dining

The Point Group, responsible for renowned Sydney establishments such as The Dolphin, Harpoon Harry’s, Bondi Beach Public Bar, and Icebergs Dining Room + Bar, has transformed the historic Shell House in Sydney into one of the city’s hottest dining experiences. Spread over three levels, the experience includes indoor-outdoor seating in the ground floor bar and bistro, The Menzies Bar, the Shell House Dining Room and Terrace on the ninth floor, and the Shell House Sky Bar on the 10th level.

Fashioned after New York’s famous seafood grills and steakhouses, Clam Bar opened in May 2023 in the heart of Sydney’s central business district. Clam Bar is the latest venture from the team behind Bistrot 916 and Pellegrino 2000, two of Sydney’s most popular restaurants in Potts Point and Surry Hills. 

Le Foote. Photo by Kristoffer Paulson.

Also new to the Sydney dining scene this past spring, Le Foote is in a historic, heritage-listed venue in the Rocks cobblestone street area. The venue takes cues from a Parisian wine bar combined with a Mediterranean grill, featuring food cooked over charcoal, a jovial atmosphere with jazz or Euro-tech grooves, and art-adorned walls. 

Charcoal grilled steak at Le Foote. Photo by Kristoffer Paulson.

Coffee Crawl

Sydney has a thriving cafe culture and some of the best coffee in the world. In the leafy, historic suburb of Paddington, try Morris for a modern Australian iteration or Barbetta for a traditional Italian breakfast and cappuccino. Paddington is a short walk from both the Sydney Football Stadium and Sydney Cricket Ground where you can tour the grounds, taking in the venue’s 100-year history and learning about its most celebrated sporting legends and epic moments.  

Bars, Pubs, and Clubs

Gin and cocktail bar Frank Mac’s, in the Rocks area, offers one of the biggest botanical collections in Sydney. The 80-plus juniper blends have been sourced from all corners of the globe and sit alongside a wine list of Old- and New-World wines.

Mac Martini at Frank Macs. Photo by Steven Woodburn.

Bar Morris is an intimate 40-seat art deco-inspired wine bar, located inside the historic Morris hotel. The day-to-night menu focuses on simple, seasonal produce, infused with Italian influences by a chef from Puglia, and set to a soundtrack of funk and soul music.

Bar Morris Mixology

Pub Culture in Paddington   

Paddington also has an incredible density of great pubs. Start at The Unicorn, a pub that’s made a name for itself through its old-school pub culture combined with new elements (have a look at the natural wine list). From there make your way to award-winning Paddington pubs like The Village InnThe PaddingtonThe LondonPaddo InnFour In Hand Hotel and The Lord Dudley. If there’s no Sydney game on, finish at The Light Brigade, a pub with a popular rooftop and sports bar for you to watch all the games playing outside of Sydney. If the game is on, take the 10-minute walk to Sydney Football Stadium. 

G&T Signature at Frank Macs. Photo by Steven Woodburn.

For late-night live entertainment in Sydney/Warrane,  Odd Culture’s newest venture, Pleasure Club, is a sanctuary and celebration for lovers of innovative drinks and live music. Descend into the basement bar to find a daily roster of free live bands and entertainment, including jazz, rock, and blues, thoughtful and warm service, playful drinks including natural wines, spirits, and a rotating tap list of local craft options and international breweries. 


Historic Core

For a shopping spree in a historical building that looks like a museum, head to the Queen Victoria Building. This shopping center spans five levels of retail heaven over an entire city block. There, find Australian and international designers and over 140 fashion boutiques, specialty stores, cafes, and restaurants.

Paddy’s Markets 

Sydney’s version of farmer’s market combined with flea market, Paddy’s Haymarket has been operating since 1834 between Chinatown and Darlington Harbour. You’ll find everything from fast food and veggies to bins of books, art, records, clothing, candles, jewelry, gifts, and home gadgets. 

The Strand Arcade 

Vintage Shopping & Unique Finds

If you are on the hunt for unique treasures, Sydney has a great vintage fashion street scene. You can find gems from the 1930s to the ’80s at Forever Vintage in Woollahra or strolling the boutiques on Paddington’s leafy William Street. Don’t overlook Bondi and Manly beaches, which offer a collection of eclectic stores and markets each weekend. In Manly, walk the side-streets off the Corso, and in Bondi, try Hall and Gould Streets for cutting-edge designer streetwear and preloved designs.

Aboriginal Art at The Rocks Market

The Rocks Market has a wide variety of interesting and indigenous goods for sale, including Aboriginal art finds in the forms of textiles, paintings, paper products, and cards. 

For local goods and crafts, hit The Strand Arcade in the CBD where you can find everything from antiques to a bespoke shoemaker. Don’t miss GewürzhausHerb & Spice Merchants, family-owned Haigh’s chocolates (since 1915), and Dinosaur Designs for housewares and jewelry.

Things To Do

Aboriginal Rock Art

Drinks are not the only pastime you’ll find on the rocks in Sydney. Ancient Aboriginal rock art includes paintings, drawings, and engravings that can be found in many of the state’s national parks. Try Red Hands Cave in the Blue Mountains or learn more with an Aboriginal guide from Blue Mountains Walkabout. Follow an easy walk to Ngiyampaa rock art at Mount Grenfell Historic Site near Cobar. Mutawintji Heritage Tours offers half- and full-day tours to the restricted Mutawintji Historic Site.

Let’s Go Surfing, Bondi Beach

Learn to Surf

With over 70 beaches—five in Sydney are listed on the National Surfing Reserve Register—this is the place to grab a board. If it’s your first time, get expert advice at one of the city’s many surf schools. Catch a wave at Bondi with Lets Go Surfing or Waves Surf School. On the Northern Beaches, Manly Surf Schooland Manly Surf Guide will show you the local breaks. Down south, Cronulla Surfing Academy runs 

Strolling at Bondi Beach Pavilion

Take a Trip to Parramatta

If you have done most of the city sights, then hop a train and travel west to Parramatta. Parramatta has a diverse and rapidly growing cafe scene and one of the newest players is Misc, a trendy restaurant nestled into Parramatta Park with a menu and interiors that feel tailor-made for Instagram. If you’re looking for a more humble and homey setting, then settle into Circa Espresso in central Parramatta. The cafe is a local institution that’s been winning awards for its coffee and Middle Eastern-influenced fare since opening in 2010. The park overlooks Parramatta River and it’s full of World Heritage-listed colonial sites, including Elizabeth Farm and Hambledon Cottage, some of the oldest colonial buildings in Australia. 

Parramatta is also home to one of the most storied stadiums in the country, Stadium Australia, where John Aloisi scored to put the Socceroos in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. For the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, the epic stadium hosted the opening game between the Matildas and The Republic of Ireland.

Thunder Jet Boat, Sydney

Iconic City Sights 

Sydney is very much a City of Sights, and the most iconic one is the Sydney Opera House. See it illuminated by the rising sun with a Sydney Harbour Kayakssunrise tour and follow it up with a BridgeClimb walk to the summit of the stunning Sydney Harbour Bridge, showcasing unparalleled views of the city. After a distinctly energetic morning of sightseeing, refuel with a Sydney tradition – yum cha. The Eight, famous for both the range and quality of its dim sum, is one of the city’s best.

If you would like to see the city from a different perspective, check into Dreamtime Southern X. This Aboriginal-run tour company has been providing culturally immersive tours around The Rocks, a historic colonial neighborhood, for more than two decades. The Sydney Opera House Backstage Tour takes groups of 10 visitors into back-of-house spaces to see the inner workings of this complex building, including the Concert Hall’s world-famous organ. 

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo courtesy of Destination NSW.

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