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Why You Should Go to Sydney This Summer

By Ann Shields and Serena Renner

May 30, 2019

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Familiar Sydney landmarks, like the Royal Botanic Garden, take on a new light during the Vivid Sydney festival.

Courtesy of DestinationNSW

Familiar Sydney landmarks, like the Royal Botanic Garden, take on a new light during the Vivid Sydney festival.

Right now, the Sydney scene is rollicking with international festivals, rugby feuds that rival “Game of Thrones,” and noteworthy new hotels.

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Of course, summer in the Northern Hemisphere means winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but winter is prime time for some of Sydney’s signature events, such as film festivals and light shows and whimsical holiday markets. Qantas just announced plans for a direct flight between New York City and Sydney beginning in 2022, which will make the trip less of a hassle (although, with up to 21 hours in the air, not a cinch). A recent survey of adults made it clear that nearly everyone in the United States wants to visit Australia; if the country’s on your wish list too, get Down Under this summer/winter.    

The Paramount House Hotel lends cheerful Sydney a moody and cool vibe.
Stay someplace new and exciting

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Last year, the Sydney inner suburb of Surry Hills got a glamorous new neighbor, a food-forward, 29-room hotel artfully coaxed from the buildings of the former Paramount Pictures Australian headquarters. The Paramount House Hotel blends Hollywood with sunny Sydney to achieve a place everyone wants to be. The public areas are so cool that you may be reluctant to leave: The lobby area is shared by a poured concrete reception desk (into which is carved the compelling phrase “Permanent Vacation”) and the Paramount Coffee Project, a coffee and breakfast place that draws locals as well as guests. The on-site small-plates-and-wine-bar Poly is a spin-off of successful Sydney restaurant Ester, and downstairs, a dreamy Golden Age Cinema and Bar serves cocktails and upmarket movie snacks to accompany onscreen gems projected in the old studio screening room. Guest rooms are fit for movie stars—remote-control black-out blinds for those late mornings and a Zen vibe in the design (exposed concrete, brick, and stone walls; antique timber door jambs and columns; frosted-glass sliding doors that look like shoji screens; and deep Japanese soaking tubs). Between the hotel’s charms and those of Surry Hills, a favorite neighborhood with the creative set, you’ll find food, design, and shopping diversions enough to keep you very happy. Surry Hills. paramounthousehotel.com

The Champagne Bar at the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour provides a sparkling backdrop for your sparkling wine.
At the edge of Darling Harbour, Sofitel’s shiny new 38-story tower is as attractive on the inside as it is on the outside. The five-star, 590-room Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour Hotel, which opened in October 2018, features an infinity pool spilling over the edge of the fifth floor, four restaurants (including a popular poolside bar, a champagne bar, and the main dining room, Atelier, with an open kitchen and woven wood wall panels broken by stretches of glass-front wine storage). Guest rooms are large, with an earth-toned color palette and a subtle design meant to showcase the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. The Darling Harbour location is quiet but walking distance from the Central Business District and public transportation. Darling Harbour. sofitelsydneydarlingharbour.com.au

Electrify your stay

Vivid Sydney takes over the city from now through June 15 and, even if you wanted to, you could hardly avoid it. The festival is more than trippy lights on the  Opera House—connect with your favorite audio stars at the podcast festival or the electronic music festival, hear a bad-ass coven of Aussie female innovators chat about their experiences on the Vivid Ideas stage, mingle with the beautiful people over cocktails at Vivid After Hours at the Art Gallery at New South Wales, check out the installation at the Royal Botanic Garden that lets you interact with plant life. Really, there’s so much to recommend in this citywide extravaganza. And, for goodness sake, do book a nighttime cruise of Sydney Harbour or jump a Darling Harbour ferry to get out on the water and bask in the wildly creative light show. Through June 15; various venues. vividsydney.com

Sydney actor David Wenham (“Lord of the Rings”) walked the red carpet on opening night at the Sydney Film Festival last year. Will you be there this year?
Go around the world to sit in the dark (and be happy)

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This year’s Sydney Film Festival lineup is stellar: The selection of more than 250 movies includes a documentary about singer PJ Harvey (A Dog Called Money) and one about the effect of the book The Little Prince on the preservation of disappearing indigenous cultures and languages, an astronaut movie, High Life, starring Robert Pattinson, Andre 3000, and Juliet Binoche, and, well, a lot more cinema. Twelve full days of exciting programming await film lovers. The festival’s country of focus this year is New Zealand, so you can expect a lot of Kiwi features, but a look at the schedule will reveal all sorts of films worthy of your attention. Screenings take place at seven different theaters around Sydney, which makes fitting a movie into your day of seeing the city easy. Plan to get a Flexipass if you want to see more than two films. (And you will.)  June 5–16; various venues. sff.org.au

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Get a head start on holiday shopping

It’s got to be weird to see all the Currier & Ives and Hollywood visions of Christmas iconography—snowy lanes, sleigh rides, ice-skating under the frosty winter moon—from sunny Sydney. No one wants a steaming mug of mulled wine when it’s 70 degrees outside. One way to deal with the December disconnect is to hold a Christmas in July Holiday Market. The regular market in the Rocks district transforms into a wintertime French ski village scene for four days, complete with 25 wooden “chalets” erected outside with ice-skating, fairy lights, carolers, market stalls selling holiday food, sweets, and gifts, surrounded by falling snow and the piney scent of Christmas trees. (Why France, you ask? Because the market is part of the city’s Bastille Day celebration, cherie.)  The Rocks, July 11–14. bastillefestival.com.au

It’s bad manners to wear all black in Sydney to watch Australia play New Zealand’s All Blacks.
Join the locals and watch a scrum or two

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The Bledisloe Rugby Cup, the ultimate Southern Hemisphere rugby rivalry is back this August when the Australian Wallabies defend their home turf against the menacing New Zealand All Blacks. Don your green and gold—or anything but black—for the opening game of the championship, a symbol of union and rivalry across the Tasman Sea since 1931. For the first year ever, the cup is being played in Perth, so unless you have time for the 41-hour drive from Sydney, your best bet is to watch the big event at a classic Aussie pub like the Newtown Hotel or the Light Brigade. Snatch a spot early to see All Blacks’ famous Maori Haka danceAugust 10.

Sydney holds allure the year round, of course—the Asian influence on the restaurants, the easygoing surfer mind-set, the irresistible pull of the sunny outdoors—but it’s particularly painless to plan a summer vacation that ventures into another country’s winter and not have to pack a heavy coat.

>>Next: Plan your trip with AFAR's Sydney Travel Guide

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