Sydney

Australia’s Harbour City is fully “open” and as appealing as ever. Steve Hartridge suggests reasons why it is time for a first or return visit

From the sweeping sails of its opera house to the giant iron coat-hanger that is the Harbour Bridge to the yellow-and-green coloured boats leaving Circular Quay for the suburbs, Sydney is a city packed with familiar icons. But with new hotels, tours and a raft of upcoming events, there are fresh reasons to recommend the city.

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What’s new

Sydney’s hotel stock has been revitalised by several recent openings. 

Ace Hotel opened in the Surry Hills area of the city in May, on the site of a former brick-making factory. Rooms in the 257-key, 18-storey hotel feature record players, vintage furniture and murals by local artists.

The hotel has a ground floor bar – decked out in a colour palette inspired by the rust, ochre and greens of Australia – and a restaurant (LOAM) serving a menu that is 60% plant based. A second restaurant (Kiln) and rooftop bar are on the way.

Also new is Australia’s first Kimpton hotel, located centrally on Pitt Street. The 172-key property opened earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, but officially launched with a VIP party in May. Anyone familiar with Kimpton’s U.S. properties will recognise hallmarks such as artworks displayed throughout the hotel, pet-friendly policies, bikes available to borrow and early-evening free wine tastings.

Billed as Sydney’s first six-star hotel, Crown Sydney is housed in the city’s tallest building at the newly developed Barangaroo waterfront precinct. It features 349 rooms (with 22 villas) plus an array of food and drink venues, including the celebrity favourite Nobu. On the 26th floor, CIRQ bar offers fabulous views of the harbour. 

A 1930s Art Deco building has been given a new life as a boutique hotel – Aiden Darling Harbour. The eight-storey hotel in Pyrmont opened in April, featuring 

88 smart rooms.

On the events side, Sydney is already looking forward to 2023. The city will host Sydney WorldPride (February 17-March 5) and will stage matches in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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Top five

Behind the curtains at the Sydney Opera House: The Sydney Opera House Tour experience has been ‘reimagined’ and now offers the chance to learn about the history and future of this world-famous concert hall via an immersive digital experience in a new purpose-built venue with state-of-the-art technology that includes 270-degree visuals and surround sound. Also new are iconic moments from past Concert Hall performances. 

Note that the Concert Hall itself is currently closed as it is undergoing renewal works to improve theatre machinery, acoustics and accessibility.  

A second new tour focuses on the architecture of the building and explores Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s inspiration, working methods and materials. Guests will discover why U.S. architect Frank Gehry claimed the building “changed the image of an entire country.” The tour runs every Saturday at 10am. sydneyoperahouse.com

Learn about Indigenous culture at Barangaroo: Located on the northwestern edge of the Sydney CBD and the southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Barangaroo is Sydney’s latest waterside development. 

A major urban renewal project transformed this former container terminal into an area of parkland, jogging trails and trendy restaurants. 

Discover the area’s Indigenous history and heritage by taking a tour with Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tours, led by an Aboriginal Educator. You will walk through a landscaped reserve with more than 75,000 native trees and shrubs, beehives, birds such as lapwings and thousands of  sandstone blocks. The tour ends with a demonstration of how to use traditional tools such as a fishing spear, hunting boomerang, digging stick and stone axe. barangaroo.com

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Discover Sydney’s neighbourhoods: There are several walking tours that are designed to help visitors get to know the neighbourhoods that lie beyond Circular Quay and the downtown area. To the south is Chippendale, which just a couple of decades back was a rundown precinct so rife with crime and drug gang turf violence that often even the police wouldn’t venture there. 

Today it is now one of Sydney’s creative hubs, home to artists, sculptors and galleries exhibiting Aboriginal works. A curated walking tour shows off its unique architecture. 

Don’t miss the narrow lanes of Spice Alley, which offer a passable imitation of a Beijing hutong, for Cantonese congee, Malaysian char kuey teow, or Shanghainese dumplings.

End your time in Chippendale with a pint in the tastefully dingy Lord Gladstone Park pub and look out for the Renaissance period stain glass window featuring Sydney rock band, Sticky Fingers. 

Another southern suburb, Marrickville, is a folksy neighbourhood of coffee shops and local delis serving farm-to-table produce. You can also try your hand at making a pot, ashtray or finger bowl during a 90-minute introduction to pottery class at Clay Sydney.  

Destination New South Wales has a new series of four Sydney Culture Trails that showcase various cultural sites, art galleries and museums around the city. sydney.com

Spend a Sunday afternoon at Bondi: Sydney’s famous beach town is just 30 minutes or so from Town Hall station in the city centre. Catch the train to Bondi Junction and then hop on a bus, or take a bus that goes from the CBD straight to the beach. Have a coffee or smoothie from one of several hole-in-the-wall outlets then walk the six-kilometre Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, which is carved into the sandstone cliffs. On the way look out for dolphins or, between May and November, whales during their annual migration. If a 12-kilometre round trip is too long, stop at Tamarara Beach and walk or catch a bust back to Bondi. Have lunch at North Bondi Fish,  a beach-chic restaurant which serves up a variety of local seafood and local beers. Don’t miss the Port Lincoln sardines with green tomatoes, capers and sourdough.sydneybespoketours.com/au

Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge with an Indigenous storyteller: On May 28 2000 about 250,000 people walked across the bridge to show their support for reconciliation between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, an event described as the biggest demonstration of public support for a cause that has ever taken place in Australia.

So even if you have clients who have done the Sydney Bridge Climb on a previous visit, suggest a return experience but this time accompanied by an indigenous storyteller. 

 Those on the three-hour tour climb the bridge’s summit before looking down on the shores of Gadigal land. They will see Sydney Harbour through the lens of thousands of years of Aboriginal history and heritage. bridgeclimb.com/climbs-prices/burrawa