Sydney sparkles by the harbor and the sea, while the rest of New South Wales has over 720 pristine beaches to explore, five UNESCO World Heritage Sites to discover including Lord Howe Island and the Blue Mountains, and presents a heady lineup of cultural and culinary events and festivals. We turned to notable locals for their insights into what makes the Australian state of New South Wales a must-visit destination this year.
To kick things off, one tip from us: When you’re ready to book a flight to Sydney and experience New South Wales for yourself, turn to Air New Zealand. Its Economy Skycouch will upgrade your journey across the Pacific by letting you turn a row of seats into a living room at 30,000 feet.
- Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. One of the high notes of Sydney’s cultural calendar is Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, with classic works performed in one of the world’s most remarkable settings. In 2016, Turandot will take center stage from March 24 to April 24. “It is a mammoth theatrical production in every sense,” says conductor Brian Castles-Onion. “With an onstage cast of nearly one hundred singers and dancers, a huge live orchestra, and a visually breathtaking production of Puccini’s operatic masterpiece, it truly is a ‘once in a lifetime’ event.”
- Vivid Sydney. The world’s largest festival of “light, music and ideas,” will run from May 27 to June 18, 2016, lighting up Sydney with both illuminated buildings and innovative and engaging ideas. “We invite light artists from around the world—old and young, famous and unknown, students and professors—to submit their artwork to us,” explains creative director Ignatius Jones. “The result is that each year Vivid Sydney is new and current, representing what’s hot and happening in that wonderful place where art meets technology and changes our lives.”
- Trailblazers. Through July 18, the Trailblazers exhibit at the Australian Museum in Sydney looks at 50 of the country’s greatest explorers. Australian explorer Tim Cope says: “This exhibition not only celebrates the enduring spirit of adventure in the past and present, but also makes it clear that even in an era of jet travel, when we can see every inch of the world via satellite and Internet, there is no substitute for the rich and very sensory experience of discovery.”
- BridgeClimb Sydney. Phil Keoghan, host of the Amazing Race and a spokesman for Air New Zealand, is familiar with many of the world’s must-do experiences—and a stroll across the Sydney Harbour Bridge makes his list. “The bridge walk at night is mind blowing,” Keoghan says. “Sydney arguably has the best harbor in the world, and looking out over the Sydney Opera House at night will take your breath away.”
- Surry Hills. Creativity isn’t limited to Sydney’s bubbling cultural scene. There are always new restaurants and nightlife options to explore. Vivid Sydney’s Creative Director, Ignatius Jones recommends heading to Surry Hills. “It is a buzzing inner-city neighborhood full of wine bars, restaurants, and some of the city’s most creative dining spots,” he says. “A good way to start any night out in Sydney is to drop in to Absinthe Salon, which is decked out with absinthe glasses, slotted teaspoons, and even proper Parisian sugar cubes.”
- Inner West. Castles-Onion is partial to the Inner West neighborhood, roughly a 15-minute drive from Surry Hills and central Sydney. “I love the cosmopolitan atmosphere,” he says. “A leisurely stroll down King Street Newtown can be like a mini-tour of Europe. The cuisine and trinket shops are as varied as the locals themselves. It’s a feast in every sense.”
- Barrenjoey Lighthouse. While some reasons to go to Sydney are timely, others are timeless yet will always amaze. Cope, for instance, points travelers to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Palm Beach only a short drive from Sydney CBD. “I vividly recall learning here not only about Sydney’s colonial past,” Cope says, “but imagining how rich life would have been for the first Australians pre-1788.” A unique way to immerse yourself in this area and the indigenous Australian experience is with Sydney Outback tours that will take you on a Sydney history tour before driving 45 minutes north to the Hawkesbury River for a river cruise, lunch, and an indigenous tour of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
- Hollywood Hotel. This classic bar has witnessed the evolution of Sydney’s vibrant cultural scene. “For the last 50 years, the legendary ex-showgirl Doris Goddard has been holding court at this ultimate Surry Hills artists’ hang,” Jones explains. “She’s hosted many old mates, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett, but nowadays you’re more likely to find the bearded hipsters who work in Sydney’s graphic design hub.”
- Cossies Cafe. Asked to reveal one of his favorite “secret” places, Castles-Onion names Cossies Cafe on Crown Street in Surry Hills. “It’s a short walk from Opera Australia, has a relaxed atmosphere and an excellent menu,” he says. “I’ve been through their entire breakfast selection—many times!”
- Sydney Fish Market. The artistry of many of Sydney’s chefs can be traced back to the Sydney Fish Market. “If you like seafood as much as I do,” Keoghan says, “you’ll want to visit the market. This is where the best chefs in Sydney come to pick up their key ingredients. Of course, it’s a good idea to follow them back to the kitchen and treat yourself to a tasty dish. I’m a big fan of Flying Fish Restaurant and Bar, but you will be spoilt for choice.”