I'm the first to admit that I'm not a city girl. Rugged open landscapes, trekking through bushland and looking for wildlife are more my style. However, Sydney may just be the one exception. Every time I cross that wide blue harbour, I can't help but acknowledge the little flutter in my chest at the sight of that iconic skyline; the Harbour Bridge at sunset, the Opera House in the morning light. Even during on of Sydney's thunderous downpours, I have to acknowledge that this city has a special place in my heart.
Whether you're visiting Sydney for a fleeting weekend or looking to stay for a few months, there's plenty to do in this vast city. Having lived here for three months now, I thought I'd share a few of my favourite watering holes, beaches and brunch spots.
Let's go to the beach, beach
Perhaps one of the reasons I've fallen head over heels for Sydney is its abundance of beaches. Whether you fancy a day sleeping in the sun, splashing in the water or even catching a few waves, there's something for everyone.
Most people will immediately think of Bondi Beach when discussing Sydney's shores. However, if you're after a beach with plenty of shops, restaurants and easy access via public transport, you might prefer Coogee or Manly. These locations have a similar vibe to Bondi, but without the overly-touristy feel. You'll still get the waves and sand, alongside a wide range of brunch, lunch and dinner spots. Both are usually busy on a warm day but for the young backpacker or party seeker, they're great hang-out spots. Manly is also a number one spot for surfers, with the Australian Open of Surfing being held there this year. If you do head over to check out the northern shores, make sure you catch sunset by Manly Wharf. Pick up a few beers to drink on the bank too; you won't be the only one!
If you're after somewhere more secluded, top of the list is Collins Flat Beach. About 1km down a narrow winding track in North Manly, Collins beach is a small inlet with calm blue waters and warm sands. The walk from the car park, which does only have three spaces, meanders through bush and forest, emerging out along the bay. After a few rainy days, a small waterfall also runs down the beach and into the sea, although if this is the case it's not possible to swim due to pollution. The remote location of this beach is key to its beauty and the waters are still, clear and calm. If you do fancy grabbing a bite to eat, a short 15 minute walk along the coastal track will take you to Little Manly, where a kiosk by the beach serves top-notch lunchtime grub.
Brunch, lunch and tea-time treats
Brunch is a weekend staple for any Sydneysider. The coffee is rich, the avocados taste delicious and the eggs are cooked any which way you want. My first, and still favourite, brunch spot is Mad Spuds Cafe. This gem of an eatery can be found in the hipster suburb of Surry Hills. You’ll find yourself spoilt for choice, meandering through the streets looking for a place to chow down but head for Spuds and you won’t be disappointed. The star of the show is, you guessed it, the humble potato. Hash browns, potato pancakes and spud skins are scattered across this varied menu. The cafe prides itself of healthy nutritious food and it wholeheartedly delivers, yet also avoids the faddy, pretentious element of so many health food restaurants.
If you’re looking for something a bit more special, try Haven. Located right behind Central Station it’s easily accessible and the food is delicious. You know they take their coffee seriously too; a regular brew comes paired with raisins and various other nibbles to compliment the blend.
For an evening treat, Assembly is well worth a visit. This Italian restaurant and bar has a somewhat speakeasy feel about it. It’s lower-ground floor location by the Town Hall means you’d be unlikely to find it by chance. I highly recommend the pizzas, made with an authentic Italian dough which is in an entirely different league to that of the large chain pizza restaurants. Make sure you visit their award-winning cocktail bar too.
An evening tipple
Sydney’s drinking scene is a veritable grown-up playground. From casual pubs to refined cocktail bars, you’re bound to find something to suit any occasion. If you’re hitting up the tourist trail and have spent a sunny afternoon checking out the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, finish the day with a cold beverage at Opera Bar. The view alone makes it an experience to remember.
For somewhere with more of a relaxed feel, make your way over to the other side of the harbour and check out The Rocks. Make the climb up to The Glenmore. With several stories of differing styles, all in the vein of a traditional pub, you’re bound to find a spot. If you’re lucky enough you might even get a seat at the rooftop bar, which has a beautiful nighttime view of Circular Quay. The food’s not bad either.
While the harbour is an obvious choice to spend an evening for many newbies to the city, there are plenty of other great bars scattered throughout the city. There’s a growing trend of underground bars and speakeasies which make for fun exploring on a Friday night. For rock ’n’ roll and beer, check out Frankie’s, near Wynyard. Usually packed, the atmosphere is great, the music is old school and the pizza is yummy too.
For the gin drinkers, head to The Barber Shop on York Street. With over 40 different gins on the menu you’ll be spoilt for choice and no doubt stumbling home. Harking back to the days of prohibition in the US, the bar is set behind a barber shop front, hence the name. Passing through the store to find the gin haven behind is certainly a memorable experience.
If the speakeasy theme appeals but you’re looking for more variety, Earl’s Juke Joint in Newtown serves amazing cocktails from behind the ‘Betta Meats’ storefront. Delicious drinks accompanied with a blues and jazz playlist transport you into another place entirely. It’s almost a surprise to leave and find yourself in Sydney rather than New Orleans.
Sydney ranks highly on the top of many holiday maker's and backpacker's destinations. Having spent the last few months living here, I can see why. Given my usual dislike of big cities, I’m genuinely surprised at how much this one has grown on me. I’m used to exploring the outdoors, forests and mountainsides. Sydney has shown me that cities have just as much to explore and, perhaps, I should be a little more open-minded about the big smoke.