The Perfect Weekend in Sydney

Three days will only scratch the surface in Sydney, but the city offers enough variety that a traveler can get a good taste of Australian life and culture here. Sydney is world famous for its intricate waterfront, so visitors should prioritize a coastal track like the Bondi to Coogee walk. Otherwise, as much time should be spent on Sydney Harbour as possible. Climb the Harbour Bridge, hit happy hour at the Opera Bar, and meet the residents of Taronga Zoo.

140 George St, The Rocks NSW 2000, Australia
Set on the western side of Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) is the country’s leading institution for modern art. While access to touring international exhibitions from the likes of Tatsuo Miyajima and Annie Leibovitz incurs an entrance fee, the permanent collection of more than 4,000 contemporary works by Australian and Torres Strait Islanders, from Gary Carsley to Lena Yarinkura—plus a rare collection of artist notebooks, music, letters, and sketches—is always free. Come on Wednesday night when the gallery is open until 9 p.m., or for the adults-only Art Bar on the last Friday of the month. The rooftop café offers occasional live music and DJs plus glittering views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge after dark.
Sydney NSW, Australia
I love visiting big iconic bridges during the sunset. Trips at dusk to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge have resulted in spectacular photographs of the urban landscape. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was another great experience! The bridge is accessible by foot or by bike and is surrounded by some of the biggest attractions in Sydney. More adventurous types might opt for the Bridge Climb Tour (http://www.bridgeclimb.com/) where participants get to scale the summit of the 134-meter arch for panoramic views of the city. And yes, they offer a Twilight Tour near sunset (and a dawn tour at sunrise). We were content walking across the bridge on the pedestrian walkway. It was a brisk spring evening in Sydney, and we didn’t envy the tourists climbing the bridge overhead. The views from the bridge are stunning in every direction, and it is a magnificent vantage point to see the Sydney Opera House and the Central Business District.
Mrs Macquaries Rd, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Sydney’s 158-acre botanic garden, which hugs the harbor between Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Opera House, is home to nearly 9,000 plant species. Depending on the season of your visit, you might seek out spring peaches and wisteria or tropical orchids and summer lotus flowers. On any occasion, don’t miss descendants of the 200-million-year-old Wollemi pine, a dinosaur of a conifer only discovered in 1994. The gardens are also studded with sculptures from historical statues to modern works by Bronwyn Oliver, Paul Selwood, and Keld Moseholm. The quartz-and-sandstone Wurrungwuri depicts an Aboriginal shield once used by the traditional owners of this land. Tours are offered throughout the year, including a 1.5-hour Aboriginal history tour on the food and medicinal properties of native Australian plants.
Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
Travelers should visit Taronga Zoo as much for its harbor views as for the 4,000 resident animals (who get to see them all day long). Ferry 15 minutes from Circular Quay and take an optional Sky Safari cable car, included in the ticket price, and you’re in an exotic land of giraffes, elephants, and bongos as well as native echidnas, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. Wildlife tours, zookeeper talks (including impressive bird shows), and special events such as the Twilight at Taronga summer concert series are on the calendar, and a tented camp accommodates overnight guests who help feed select animals before a sunset dinner set against the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Tent cabins feature decks that lure campers out of bed for sunrise.
Sydney Harbour Tunnel
There are certain touristy things that one must do while traveling. And some places are so great that even locals flock to them despite the fact that they’re heavily trodden. The Opera Bar at the Sydney Opera House is one of those places. There really isn’t a good reason not to hit happy hour at the Opera Bar. The drinks are reasonably priced, and the selection is impeccable. There is live music every night of the week and the vistas offered by the bar are some of the best in all of Sydney. Transportation options to and from the Opera House are plentiful not to mention that site-seeing and drinking almost always go good together.
The hike from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, is one of the best urban paths I have experienced. Although you’re never far from the city, the walk feels quite scenic at times, and the many beaches you come across along the way are all beautiful. Of course, you can always walk from Bondi to Coogee if you find yourself heading in the other direction. Either way, you’ll find yourself at one of Sydney’s top beach destinations. The hike is an easy walk that will include towering cliffs, sandy beaches, public pools, rock formations, parks, and epic vistas along the 6-kilometer trail. You could do the hike in a few hours, but it would be best to allocate at least three hours to fit in a stop at Bronte Beach for lunch or drinks. And if it is a hot day, you’ll want some time for a swim!
Bank Street
The Sydney Fish Market hosts the largest daily fish auction in the southern hemisphere. That means about 2,700 crates (or 50-55 tons) of more than 100 species of the freshest catch from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands is sold every single day. Simply browsing the stalls or downing fresh tiger prawns and Sydney rock oysters on the Pyrmont waterfront is satisfying, but there are more unique ways to discover the market, whether it’s through a cooking class at the Sydney Seafood School—the city’s oldest culinary institution—or a 6:40am behind-the-scenes tour. The latter is the best way to see the daily auction in action and learn about the market’s efforts to promote marine stewardship.
130 Argyle Street
After 30 years at the forefront of Sydney‘s fine-dining scene, Quay Restaurant underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation and reopened in 2018. The restaurant swapped white linens for Tasmanian spotted-gum wood tabletops and exchanged the previous purple-and-gold palette for blues, grays, and browns that better reflect Quay’s harborfront location facing the Sydney Opera House. Executive chef Peter Gilmore loosened up his menu, too, offering either six or 10 inventive courses such as the Oyster Intervention—a crumble of oyster cream, crushed fried dehydrated oysters, chicken skin, tapioca, and caviar served in a ceramic oyster shell—creating a dish that’s all bivalve flavor without the slippery texture. Fans of the old Snow Egg dessert will be won over by White Coral: a multitextured masterpiece of aerated ganache, coconut cream, and ice cream.
50 Holt Street
The Argentine restaurant that took Sydney by storm in 2010—and even rose from the ashes of a fire that originated in its charcoal grill—finally outgrew its Cleveland Street Surry Hills digs and reopened on Holt Street in late 2016. The old parilla and asado fire pits were transplanted to the new location, this time positioned behind the counter of the open kitchen, and the rockabilly vibe lives on, albeit in a bright, plant-filled, parquet-floored space decorated with vintage sports and movie posters. Old menu favorites like the grilled Wagyu skirt steak and deep-fried Brussels sprouts can now be paired with a seafood cocktail, or wood-fired pumpkin tamales smothered in mole. End with the flan or melon ice cream served in the rind.
241 Victoria St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010, Australia
A scoop of Italy in Sydney, this gelato mecca has foodies and bloggers queuing up all week. Go for the salted-caramel-and-white-chocolate gelato, one of the store’s best sellers, or try the “Poached Figs in Marsala” flavor, which is beautifully sweet and infused with a real fig taste. Also not to be missed is the ice cream cake cabinet, which features a dazzling display of colorful, futuristic-looking creations. Gelato Messina’s original location is in Darlinghurst, but outposts can be found in Surry Hills, Pyrmont, and Bondi Beach, among many other neighborhoods.
1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach NSW 2026, Australia
Overlooking iconic Bondi Beach, Icebergs is arguably Sydney’s most scenic restaurant. The food, from local shrimp to braised beef cheeks, lives up to the setting. 1 Notts Ave., Bondi Beach, 61/(0) 2-9365-9000. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue.
245 Wilson St, Eveleigh NSW 2015, Australia
The brick-and-iron warehouses of the old Eveleigh Railway Workshops host a diverse lineup of experimental music, theater, film, and fine art. Located on the border of Redfern and Waterloo, Carriageworks was restored to keep the historical roots intact while providing a space for cutting-edge culture. Every Saturday, more than 70 stalls fill the former railyard outside with organic produce, artisan breads, specialty coffee, and exotic flowers as well as street food from the likes of chef Kylie Kwong during the farmers’ market. Fuel up at the market and then get inspired by whatever is on display inside this artist-run venue. Big annual events for Sydney Contemporary, Pacific Runway, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and the Sydney Festival are also held here throughout the year.
29/43-45 E Esplanade, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
One of the pioneers of the Sydney craft beer scene, 4 Pines opened in 2008 in a space that overlooks the shores and famous Norfolk pine trees of Manly Beach—one of the city’s dreamiest locations for a brewery. The upstairs brewpub serves the whole 4 Pines range of natural beers, which includes a hefeweizen, Kölsch, pale, amber, bitter, stout, IPA, and the Keller Door (a small-batch seasonal release that intends to challenge the beer industry). Order a tasting flight to determine your favorite. The brewery also offers a full menu of not-so-typical pub grub and operates a downstairs bunker for more innovative food and drink pairings. Live music, DJs, and comedians regularly lighten the mood, if the salty sea breezes aen’t enough.
339 Oxford St, Paddington NSW 2021, Australia
Known for free-form dishes, utensils, and jewelry cast in brightly colored resin, Dinosaur Designs has collaborated with the likes of Louis Vuitton. 339 Oxford St., Paddington, 61/(0) 2-9361-3776. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image: Petrina Tinslay
89-113 Kent St Sydney, Australia
A longtime favorite among royalty, rock stars, actors, and visiting dignitaries, the Langham hotel completed a $30 million renovation in December 2014. London-based GA Designs was charged with retaining the hotel’s stately character—check out the original fireplace transplanted from the Sydney’s beloved Elizabeth Bay House—while creating a sun-drenched new look dressed in white, amber, and silver. The new design also maximizes the property’s Darling Harbour views, most notably in the opulent lobby, whose Calcutta marble floor and gold-leaf paneling are reminiscent of a high-end spa. What hasn’t changed is the Langham’s superlative customer service. Guests can request a chartered yacht or helicopter to get to their show or meeting, and arrange a private picnic, tennis match, sunset Harbour Bridge climb, or tour of the hotel’s display of Sidney Nolan paintings (Australia’s largest private collection of his work). There’s even a discreet entrance and in-room check-in for guests who want maximum privacy, as well as an unpacking service for travelers eager to feel at home right away.
Bennelong Point, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House was inspired by its dramatic setting on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, a location that’s long been sacred to the native Gadigal people. While construction took 16 years, including four years to figure out the spherical solution to the icon’s soaring sails, any controversies melted away when the masterpiece was completed in 1973. The same outside-the-box thinking that built the shell-shaped sculpture seeps through its walls today in the form of boundary-pushing opera, theater, and dance as well as contemporary music and mind-opening lectures. The landmark is also home to the beloved Opera Bar and Bennelong Restaurant upstairs, where diners can eat pavlova shaped like the landmark in which they sit.
34 Harrington St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
The most high-adrenaline way to see Sydney Harbour, BridgeClimb has been dressing up locals and travelers in jumpsuits and safety harnesses to ascend “The Coathanger” since 1998. Along the way, they learn fun facts about the Sydney Harbour Bridge, like how it was built using six million rivets, which bridge workers tossed to each other when they were white hot and ready to weld. You’ll also gain a new appreciation for the Sydney Opera House as well as the world’s deepest natural harbor, which just so happens to be the birthplace of European Australia. At the top, strike your favorite Zoolander pose, or try “the koala,” which Ben Stiller invented during his climb.
Queens Square, Macquarie St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Since opening in 1819, Australia’s first barracks has housed British convicts, female immigrants, destitute elderly women, courtrooms, and government offices until it was finally declared a museum in 1979. During a twice-daily tour, or with the help of an audio guide, visitors get a glimpse of how high-skill prisoners lived, worked, and slept (on hammocks) during the 19th century—often freely working in the city by day but sleeping alongside more than 1,000 thieves, conspirators, bank robbers, pirates, and bushrangers by night. Offered in the original convict bakehouse and store, a house-made pot pie, burger, or cake with a schooner of beer at Bakehouse is a welcome end to the experience. Outside, freedom has never felt so good.
31 Lamrock Ave, Bondi Beach NSW 2026, Australia
Gallery director Adrian Newstead sources bark paintings, sculptures, and ceremonial artifacts from Aboriginal artists throughout Australia and curates works for local and international shows.
1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach NSW 2026, Australia
This 7.5-mile round-trip walk has some of the most amazing coastal views in Sydney and is a great introduction to the city’s Eastern Suburbs. Starting from Icebergs pool in Bondi, the path hugs cornmeal-sand coves, natural seawater pools, a marine reserve (Gordons Bay) that’s great for snorkeling, and unique attractions from ancient Aboriginal rock art sites to the oceanview Waverley Cemetery. In late October, site-specific art installations pop up along the cliffs between Bondi and Tamarama beaches as part of the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, one of the largest outdoor sculpture events in the world. Spring (September through November) is also an excellent time to see migrating southern right whales spouting in the sunset. Toast your trek with a drink at the Coogee Pavilion.
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