Lounging on the far side of the world, synonymous with beaches, brunches and perfectly-brewed coffee, Sydney has much to justify the 24-hour flight required to reach its sun-kissed shores.
I grew up in Sydney, and while I may have been lured north by Europe’s charms, I’m constantly pulled back to Australia’s largest city – a place that’s well aware of its own brilliance. This is a city that evolves – between each visit, new buildings spring up, historical sites are restored, fresh avenues opened in art and design – but the delights of my childhood remain.
There’s the harbour, which has always made this city glorious, the surf Shangri-La of the coast, pristine national parks, architectural gems and a restaurant scene to rival any great metropolis, all combining to create a destination sure to inspire pride and wanderlust.
Begin by embracing Sydney’s calmer side at Lavender Bay, where a path meanders through the beautifully landscaped Wendy Whiteley’s Gardens to Luna Park, a photogenic amusement park at the base of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Or there’s Camp Cove near Watsons Bay where, after an obligatory dip, you can take the South Head heritage trail to the red-and-white Hornby Lighthouse and gaze across the Pacific. Walkers will enjoy the Hermitage Foreshore footway, ideal for admiring Sydney’s islands, harbour beaches and bushland, and the Spit to Manly, where swathes of flannel flowers make the city rush seem a distant dream. You can also catch the ferry to Manly, a tourist rite of passage.
But if the ocean pools and restaurants of this beach-side suburb don’t appeal, sail instead to Taronga Zoo, where the giraffes boast the world’s best view.
To explore the sandstone terraces and purple jacaranda of the city’s east, amble through Darlinghurst. A slightly more eclectic companion to neighbouring Paddington, here you’ll also find the Sydney Jewish Museum, which is small yet beautifully curated.
Then it’s just a short wander to Messina, a gelato store but, more than that, a Sydney institution. The thought of its mint choc chip always give me a pang of homesickness. Which brings us to food, where Sydney, in all its multicultural glory excels, offering so much more than smashed avocado. Reuben Hills is a must for lovers of fried chicken and sandwiches, while The Unicorn boasts Australiana-filled interiors that are equal parts kitsch and covetable.
Redfern’s Kepos Street Kitchen boasts a contemporary Israeli menu overseen by chef Michael Rantissi, and the dishes at Enmore’s Shenkin Kitchen blend Middle Eastern and European flavours, while Shuk in Bondi, with its focus on Israeli family recipes, serves meals inspired by those who emigrated to Sydney over the past 50 years. The city is a cultural melting pot, with its Jewish community in particular growing dramatically in the post-war years.
It’s wonderful to see how much this has shaped the city’s contemporary restaurant scene and its architecture. The Great Synagogue across from Hyde Park is a thing of great beauty.
While Sydney is marvellous whatever the weather, it is at its most spectacular come summer when festivals enliven its streets. For Sculpture by the Sea, a string of international artists erect their works around the cliffs and public parks connecting Bondi to the lesser-known Tamarama Beach, transforming the already stunning coastal walk into an outdoor gallery, sea-spray and the ocean breeze giving the sculptures lives of their own.
In October, you can also catch the Jewish International Film Festival, before the ever-growing Sydney Festival takes hold in January with a programme that celebrates art, performance and creativity and brings out more than a little hometown pride.
Every two years, there’s the Biennale of Sydney, when contemporary installations fill spaces such as the MCA in Circular Quay and Carriageworks, a multi-arts centre and the site of the weekly Eveleigh Market, perfect if you’re after farm fresh produce. Yet perhaps the most outstanding Biennale location is Cockatoo Island, an outpost in the harbour full of corrugated iron warehouses, salt-worn cranes and colonial remains. Thought to have been an aboriginal fishing base, the island also operated as a penal site for secondary offenders and a ship building yard, but stood empty for decades before the Biennale helped its rediscovery.
Many of Sydney’s newer hotels are equally dedicated to renovating and reinventing its historic spaces. Paramount House Hotel is a brick and copper structure in the heart of Surry Hills, across the street from the gourmand-adored restaurants Longrain and Chin Chin.
This 29-room hotel was once the offices and warehouses of Paramount Picture Studios and in its open-plan lobby you’ll find Golden Age Cinema and Bar and Paramount Coffee, which serves brunches accompanied by plenty of spice.
Chippendale’s Old Clare Hotel is a design-junkie/history buffs dream, a dazzling 62-room property constructed from Clare Hotel pub and the Carlton & United Breweries Administration Building, two heritage-listed structures brought back to life after decades unloved. It is the welcoming definition of industrial-chic, with guests advised to make time for a tipple at the retro Clare Bar, where spirits from local distilleries form the basis of inventive cocktails.
Full of flavour, festivals, revivals and sunlight, Sydney constantly calls me home but I’m sure there’s enough to lure you down to this jewel in the land of Oz.
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