There are some things you just have to do when you're in our beautiful city, and Time Out has rounded up a bunch of them. Now get going!
Straight from London's Hayward Gallery, the massively popular Light Show exhibit graces Sydney's MCA to light up the colder months. Showcasing 19 works by 17 artists from the ’60s onwards who work with light as a medium, we recommend leaving a little time to get lost in the immersive environmental works by James Turrell, Veronica Janssens, Anthony McCall and Venezuelan Op artist Carlos Cruz-Diez.
Start at Harts for some craft beers by convict descendants. Mosey on to the Australian for the Coat of Arms pizza, and then hit the Glenmore roof for some afternoon brews. Step back in time with a Guinness at the old, sandstone Hero of Waterloo before propping yourself up at the bar of the Lord Nelson for one of their house-brewed beers and a meat pie floater. For your final hurrah you must raise a glass at the Fortune of War, thus completing the ultimate historic Sydney pub crawl. Start at Hart’s Pub. Finish at the Fortune of War.
The Strand is a place of grandeur – the very opposite of the suburban shopping mall. Open since 1892, it's an ornate, multi-level thoroughfare that houses premium Australian fashion designers (Dion Lee, Jac+ Jack, Sass & Bide), dapper chapeaus at Strand Hatters and stylish clogs inside Nordic fashion boutique Funkis. Not needing new clothes? Drop in anyway to marvel at the beautiful architecture and buy some truffles at Haigh's, the country's oldest chocolate retailer.
Get yours with the lot: two scoops of ice cream (we go for cinnamon and Italian custard) and whipped cream sandwiched in a brioche bun spread with Nutella. The first bite is definitely the messiest: the insides have a habit of oozing out the sides, covering every surface in a pornographic mix of spiced gelato and blobs of cream. Rip the top off your bun, and use it as a makeshift spoon, swiping the spillage as you go.
The honey bug nigiri they serve at this CBD Japanese joint is one of the most delicious things you will ever eat. A little rectangle of white rice lays the foundation for soy and dashi jelly, a piece of raw, buttery honey bug (like a smaller version of a Moreton Bay bug) dabbed with truffle oil and a generous topping of grated foie gras. The jelly and foie gras melt in your mouth, making for a major umami party – it's tempered only by the creamy bug and sticky rice. At $24 for two pieces, it's not cheap. But we’d come back and blow our dinner budget for this dish alone.
Warehouse parties – both the legal and not-so-legal-kind – crop up most weekends in Sydney. The music is usually skewed towards the techno and house ends of the spectrum but producers like Alison Wonderland are also putting on shindigs that encompass all genres from '90s bangers to trap anthems. You'll find most usually pop-up in Inner West and the fringes of the CBD – some are top secret (think SMS instructions for venue location and last minute location changes) and others BYO – so read up on the details and plan your night accordingly.
It may be shut after sundown but this Inner West brewery knows how to get the good times rolling during the daylight hours. Firstly they let people bring their dogs so you get a designer dog parade with your craft brew. Got a little tacker in tow? There’s always a bunch of kids in attendance too. Young Henrys is all about the inclusive afternoon sessions and in addition to great craft beers and a seriously refreshing cloudy cider, on weekends they bring the snacks to you by getting food trucks to pull up to the brewery door.
Put the art back in party by taking in the latest shows at the Art Gallery of NSW and MCA as the sun's going down. Both venues have special evenings packed with music, screenings, celebrity talks and best of all... bars!
There’s a deep, all-pervading smoke through everything you eat, which can mean a pretty narrowly specific menu. Our advice? Pick a couple of (quality) meats, and have a blast with the sides and cured things.
You'll hear a lot about the Bondi to Coogee cliffside walk while you're here, and yes, you should do it. But if you end up in Manly (and you should do that, too), this is a must. All up, this is a 10km walk that can take up to four hours to complete – but the good news is it has multiple access points if you're after something less strenuous, and the views of the harbour and city will make you forget all about your aching feet. Consider getting sidetracked for a peek at the Grotto Point Light House along the way.
This is chef Pasi Petanen’s place, reborn on the old Café Pacifico site. After hosing it out and painting it entirely grey (it’s got a bit of a post-modern theatrical vibe), the ex-head chef of Marque reopened the Darlinghurst warehouse with a progressive, playful and esoteric 11-course menu.
This city is world-renowned for its talented drag queens – this is, after all, where a certain pink bus started her cross-country journey. If you’re a sucker for verisimilitude, you’ll want to head to the Imperial Hotel, spiritual home of Sydney drag and setting for the opening scene of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Over on the golden gay mile known as Oxford Street, Stonewall and the Midnight Shift offer regular shows full of sequins and sass, and megaclub Arq features weekend extravaganzas and Drag for Dollars, a popular amateur contest that packs ‘em in every Thursday night.
This lovingly restored landmark in the heart of Surry Hills has in recent years become home to a wonderful assortment of businesses. No movie lover should leave town without seeing a classic at the Golden Age Cinema downstairs – or having a cocktail and a bite to eat at its gorgeous bar. (We like the Spielberger: a toasted pastrami, Gruyere and pickle sandwich.) Upstairs is Paramount Coffee Project, a schmick filter bar where you can sit and work while the supernice waitstaff make you a coffee on the convection stovetop.
Thai food in Sydney is the business, and Longrain is one of the best places to get it. Whatever you do, order the whole crispy market fish. You’ll get a generously sized fish, fillets already removed, that has been deep-fried to perfection (crisp skin, meltingly tender flakes of fish), served with a sweet, sour and suitably fiery dipping sauce. It’s a perfectly balanced creation that shows the best of Sydney seafood – and in the context of the city's diverse cultural heritage. How can you walk past that?
This onetime convict prison is our version of Alcatraz – just as creepy and foreboding, but gussied up in a way that invites you to kick back and stay awhile. Grab a ferry here and enjoy an audio or guided tour. The Island Bar heaves with revellers in warm weather months, and there are 135 sites for those who want to camp out here. Don’t want to rough it? They also have glamping, apartment and heritage house options.
There are so many galleries in Chippendale at this point that they merit a crawl: start at contemporary Chinese art palace White Rabbit (30 Balfour St), then venture across to commercial Galerie Pompom and its sister, artist-run-initiatve MOP Projects (both 2/39 Abercrombie St); for bleeding edge local art, check out Wellington St Projects (Studio 8, 19-25 Wellington St).
This gorgeous spot is full of majestic trees, spacious lawns, birdfilled ponds, ornamental flowerbeds and even a fernery. Spend some time ambling the grounds during your visit – pretty likely given the Opera House is at the northern end. There are free guided walks (10.30am daily) or you can take the ‘trackless train’, which stops at areas of interest. Be sure to visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales, too – it’s just across the Domain and admission to peruse its general collection is free.
Watching someone prepare Singapore chilli crab is a torturous experience when it’s almost dinnertime. The smell of frying garlic, ginger and chilli is enough to make you launch yourself down the five rows of auditorium seating at the Sydney Seafood School and demolish the demonstration dish. Fortunately, chilli crab is not difficult to prepare and the demonstration followed by your hands on attempt to replicate it only takes two hours. The prize for your patience? At the conclusion of the class you get to sit down to an enormous feast of crustacea and add “can prepare crab” to your kitchen CV.
If you’re shopping in Sydney, chances are you’ll end up on Crown Street in Surry Hills. This bustling, tree-lined main drag boasts excellent cafés, popular pubs, adorable small bars and a clutch of boutiques where you can find trinkets, new clothes… even some biker gear. It’s also home to one of Sydney’s newest chocolate shops. At Lixie, you can stock up on dark salted caramel blocks, heart-shaped pralines, ganaches and a dark chocolate cherry liquor truffle that trumps all the others.
It’s a bar you’ll want to drink in early and dance in late. Pad your stomach with some skewers before you start in on the booze here – and oh, the booze here. So much, so good. Make sure you order one of their famous monkey heads before moving to a Piña Colada. Then make your way to the dancefloor, a spacious spot framed by a school of paper fish, seaweed and a couple of cute jellyfish hanging overhead. Go on, make a splash.
The benchmark cocktail bar at Neil Perry’s famed grillhouse in the city centre has it all: syrups and sodas made in house, towering brackets of shining Riedel glasses, and a seriously impressive wine list. You really can’t go wrong whatever your drink order here, but we reckon you should keep it classy – and classic – with a martini. Then you’ll need to order the wagyu burger, which is famous for a reason: it’s just bloody good. A toasted, house-made brioche bun houses a rare patty, a chunky slab of smoked bacon, tomato relish and pickles, also made on the premises. There’s a tongue of lettuce and slice of tomato on the side. Trust us: it’ll be love at first bite.
Every year Vivid Sydney gives us reason to venture out into the wintery night and explore our city painted in a new light. In the festival’s seventh year (Fri May 22-Mon Jun 8) there are more precincts to discover as part of the Vivid Light program (check out our list of ten great walks for kids of all ages), a bigger line-up for Vivid Music and Vivid Live, and big-name speakers like Matthew Weiner and Tyler Brûlé for Vivid Ideas.
The Blueys are (rightly) at or near the top of most Sydneysiders’ lists of favourite nearby getaways – any time of the year, they’re a welcome respite from the big smoke. The heritage-listed Hydro reopened in 2014 after a major refurbishment – you’ll want to pop in here for high tea with a view, and if you’re feeling indulgent, go on and book in for a romantic weekend stay.
The 2015 program from the STC – which boasts Andrew Upton (AKA Mr Cate Blanchett) as its creative director – is a big one: shows like King Lear, Suddenly Last Summer and Orlando and stars like Geoffrey Rush, Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh. All this, and in the historic surrounds of Walsh Bay, perched right on the harbour at the edge of the city. Their winter line-up features Battle of Waterloo (Jun 1-27), Love and Information (Jul 19-Aug 15) and The Present (Aug 4-Sep 19).