There must be something in the fresh sea air, because the beautiful Australian city of Sydney has produced a clutch of famous people, including Hugh Jackman, Rose Byrne, Toni Collette, Miranda Kerr, Elle Macpherson, Natalie Imbruglia, Bridesmaids’ Rebel Wilson, Nip/Tuck’s Julian McMahon and True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten to name just a few.
And many non-Sydneysiders love the city so much, they now choose to call it a permanent home (despite it being a full day’s flight away from their career hub of LA) – Nicole Kidman lives in a large house in Point Piper, Russell Crowe has a penthouse with enviable water views, and The Matrix actor Hugo Weaving insists on the city remaining his home.
So why do these folks – and the three million plus visitors who land in the city every year – love it so much? Because it’s an incomparable blend of the cosmopolitan – with some of the world’s best bars, boutiques and galleries – and the natural (the buildings blend against the ocean, cliffs, natural parks and pristine beaches). Yes, Sydney really is the best of both worlds; and with its summer just starting up, the time
to visit is now.
BEGIN AT AN ICON
A trip to Sydney isn’t complete without getting up-close-and-personal with World Heritage Site, the Sydney Opera House. One of the 20th century’s most distinctive buildings, the performing arts centre was conceptualised in 1957 by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, and then opened in 1973 (after going 1,400 per cent over budget during construction!) And despite its name, the space actually houses many different types of performances, with the main Australian opera, ballet, theatre and orchestra companies operating out of it.
Walk towards the sparkling white-tiled structure from the city, and see the building’s beauty blossom as you get closer, then take the official guided tour to go underneath the famous sails and learn about the venue’s history and architecture, and even see some of the different performers practising. (Dh115, www.sydneyoperahouse.com). Or, go for one of the many shows, from ballet to pop (international acts fly in every week to perform – Lady Antebellum are there right now, in fact), to experience the majestic building in the way the designer intended.
EXPLORE THE COASTLINE
The first land to be colonised by the British in Australia, Sydney is a coastal basin, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Blue Mountains to the west, following the actual coastline is a great way to explore the city, which is home to 4.8 million people.
When you’re finished at Sydney Opera House, walk along the bustling promenade of Sydney Harbour – which is considered one of the most beautiful in the world – and then take a 30-minute-long journey on the Manly Ferry, which serves up expansive views of the natural beauty that makes up the city (and has great on-board coffee!).
Definitely take the time to explore Manly Beach. The shoreline is dotted with Norfolk pine trees, while multimillion dirham mansions loom over the ocean, and Sydney’s beautiful people (as well as loads of hunky surfers!) are to be found on the sand on a sunny day – which is almost always.
Once the ferry takes you back to Circular Quay, wander up to The Rocks – a historical precinct that was the residential quarters of Sydney’s convicts from 1788. It was then known for its cut-throat gangs, but it is now a gentrified gaggle of narrow cobblestoned lanes, packed with galleries, restaurants and boutiques.
While Sydney’s little sister Melbourne is the more famous foodie spot in Australia, the capital of New South Wales (yes, that’s Sydney) is where MasterChef Australia is filmed, and so it is, as you can imagine, home to some of the finest restaurants in the world (which are bolstered by the country’s excellent produce).
Any gastronomic geek should visit Tetsuya’s for its famous degustation menu (which starts at around Dh790-per-person for 11 courses). The head chef, Tetsuya Wakuda, is considered by many to be the king of Sydney’s dining scene, and his dishes blend Japanese flavours and ingredients with classical French techniques – the Confit of Petuna ocean trout served with konbu, celery and apple, is one of the best things we’ve ever tasted (tetsuyas.com).
Other Sydney dining musts include Sepia Restaurant; run by award-winning chef Martin Benn, it focuses on textures and contrasts and has been dubbed “the love child of Tetsuya Wakuda and Rene Redzepi of Noma” (sepiarestaurant.com.au). Then there’s Quay, run by Masterchef regular Peter Gilmore, which is as famous for its views out over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as it is for its inventive food, which often focuses on hard-to-find heirloom herbs and veggies, that Peter grows himself in his test garden (quay.com.au).
And last (and most frugal) but definitely not least on your culinary trip around Sydney, should be Messina (gelatomessina.com) – a gelato store that has four branches across the city and is considered, even by many Italians, to serve up the best gelato in the world (we love the apple pie and salted caramel flavours). And don’t worry about counting calories, as there’s so much to explore in this fine city, that you’ll walk or swim it all off in no time.
Budget: Verona Guest House
This cute old Victorian house is now a guest house with an archetypally Aussie laid-back vibe. Run by a friendly family, this is the kind of spot where you wake up and make your own brekkie, and it’s right in the heart of Glebe, one of Sydney’s trendiest and most lively suburbs. Rooms start at Dh400 a night.
Mid-range: Simpsons of Potts Hotel
With old photos and art dotted around the walls, and glossy mag-worthy furniture throughout, this gorgeous hotel – which is on a leafy, historic street, is only 20 minutes walk from the city centre. The breakfasts are legendary, as is the service – and also make sure to visit the gorge Italian deli that’s just down the road. Rooms from Dh900 a night.
Luxury: Park Hyatt Sydney
This is the place celebs stay when they’re in Sydney – Chris Hemsworth did (check out the super-cute photo of him with his nephew and niece!), K-Stew did, as did Rihanna and Lady Gaga (and that’s all just this year). There are large, luxurious rooms, friendly staff and a gorgeous pool. But what’s really special about this spot is the location – it sits right on the water, under the famous Harbour Bridge in the historical Rocks area, and it boasts an unbeatable Opera House view. Rooms from Dh3,500.
BUFF BONDI TO COOL COOGEE
Buzzing Bondi Beach is a famous part of Sydney (mainly due to the hunky TV lifesavers of Bondi Rescue), and a great way to see the city’s coastline is to amble along the five-kilometre walk from Coogee Beach to Bondi. You’ll be blown away by the turquoise waters.
MOOCH AROUND MOSMAN
One of Sydney’s most luxurious suburbs, Mosman is home to ancient Aboriginal sites, Taronga Park Zoo, gorgeous beaches and first-class restaurants and boutiques. If visiting in summer, try to go when one of the famous Shakespeare By The Sea plays are on – it’s a cool experience to watch the Bard’s work on the beach.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
These 30-hectare gardens are a peaceful, tranquil slice of green in the centre of the city. Walk down from Sydney Art Gallery through the gardens to the Harbour (stopping at the gardens’ gorge café for lunch) as part of your tourist trail. or do like the locals do, and park up for the day with a picnic and a book – bliss.