A Harper favorite and the first in a series of City Guides, this travel guide to Sydney features the most pertinent information about the area. Use the menu below to jump among sections for suggestions on where to stay, insider tips, restaurant recommendations and more.
Sydney’s iconic Opera House, with its gleaming white sail-shaped roofs, is a fair emblem of this city’s appeal: clean; modern; cultured; and thrown into pristine relief by the blue waters of the surrounding harbor. Australia’s most populous urban center is among the world’s great cities.
Situated on the country’s southeast coast in the state of New South Wales, Sydney was the original European colony on the continent; it is still the gateway to Australia and an economic and cultural hub – a diverse and sophisticated metropolis with a virtually inexhaustible array of attractions.
The warm South Pacific beaches take center stage in Sydney – Bondi Beach, a haven for surfers, is also a great stretch for coastal walks and people-watching, and Tamarama Beach is strewn with sunbathers.
The historic Rocks district is packed with shopping opportunities and upscale hotels, and is a good vantage point for viewing the monumental steel-arch Harbour Bridge. Darling Harbour is a heavily touristed but lively and interesting precinct with museums, restaurants and a stellar aquarium.
The famous green-and-cream ferries that ply Sydney Harbour are a great way to experience the city’s waterfront grandeur.
When to visit, tastemaker tips and what to do in Sydney.
December-March is summer and June-September winter, though nearly half of Australia (which is the size of the Lower 48 states) lies in the tropics. Coastal cities are temperate and have mild winters. The Great Barrier Reef’s average highs range from the upper 70s to the upper 80s year-round.
Want to experience Sydney like an insider? Follow these tips from notable individuals in the travel, design, food, fashion and hospitality industry.
Andrew Harper, Editor-in-Chief of The Hideaway Report, Andrew Harper Travel
The Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932 and remains the world’s tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 440 feet from water level to apex. It is possible to climb to the top via a succession of steep metal stairways. Although you are clipped to a steel rope and it is therefore extremely difficult to fall off, the view beneath your feet is not for the faint of heart. I am told that the best climb is in the pre-dawn darkness to watch the sunrise!
Mark Best, chef and owner, Pei Modern Sydney and Marque Restaurant Sydney
Sydney never fails to excite. It’s the diversity of the food offerings as well as the freshness and vibrancy of the restaurant scene. Pei Modern is tailored to Sydney, its location, the customers and the relationships we have in place with our producers.
Anthony Craven, executive chef, The Langham Sydney
Three dishes that are synonymous with Sydney and are recommended a visitor try: The snow egg at Quay Restaurant, Serge Dansereau’s breakfast at The Bathers' Pavilion at Balmoral Beach or our very own signature Tiffin afternoon tea at The Langham.
For a city of its size, Sydney has remarkably few hotels of the first rank. The boutique properties tend to be relentlessly trendy, and despite years of trying, we have yet to discover a hideaway of the Harper type. Here are our picks for luxury hotels and accommodations in Sydney.
Sydney now ranks among the most exciting food cities in the world. Dynamic chefs reach across the waters to nearby Southeast Asia for new inspirations and ingredients. Here are our favorite restaurant picks in Sydney.
Chef Mark Best cooked with the great chefs of France before coming home and hanging out his shingle in arty, upscale Surry Hills. The service here is a bit precious, but Best’s food is superb, so try the multicourse tasting menu. It changes often, but may include dishes such as blue swimmer crab with almond gazpacho, almond jelly, sweet corn and Avruga; free-range chicken with a leek and liver parfait; and New Zealand bass groper with green tomatoes, verjus, thin-sliced potatoes and fish roe. There is a fine assortment of wines by the glass. Closed Sundays.
It is hard to beat the view here, right on the water facing Sydney’s two iconic structures, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Inside, Quay is a bit glitzy, but no matter. The food and the service are superb. The four-course prix-fixe menu is full of tantalizing choices. Among them: a rich congee (Chinese rice porridge) with a generous portion of mud crab meat; smoked pork cheek with cuttlefish, kombu seaweed, shiitake mushrooms and sesame; roasted grass-fed Angus beef with a cultured fermentation of black barley and rye, and smoked and raw mushrooms; and a dessert of Jersey cream, salted caramel, prunes, milk and sugar crystals. The wine list offers an extensive by-the-glass selection, including sakes and sherries, and an appealing array of half-bottles and magnums.
Set on the eastern side of Circular Quay, ARIA has magnificent views of the Opera House. The interior is smart and subdued, accentuating the glittering lights of the harbor, and while there is certainly a complement of businesspeople here, there are also couples sharing romantic meals. The food is contemporary, with much of the produce, meat and fish locally obtained. Among the starters, look for the roasted scallops served with charred cucumber, tapioca and beurre noisette. The delicious main-course lamb is served two ways, as a roasted chop and as a flavorful ragu with curly kale. The international wine list, not surprisingly, is strong on Australian bottlings.
Thanks to its proximity to Asia, Sydney serves the world’s finest fusion cuisine. The Australians now take real national pride in their culinary sophistication and their chefs have conquered the world. Certainly the fish, produce and local wines are all superb. And then there is the incomparable backdrop of Sydney Harbour.
– Andrew Harper, EIC
Chef Neil Perry opened Rockpool more than 20 years ago to showcase his innovative cuisine, which employs the best Australian products with influences from Asia. White tablecloths, crystal and professional service help to provide a memorable experience. Perry is always experimenting and changing his menu, but look for dishes such as chirashi sushi of kingfish, tuna and squid; blue swimmer crab congee; pork shoulder with clams, guanciale and chicken; and roasted Australian lamb with shiitakes, a chili condiment and black tea. The wine list is a joy, with wide selections by the glass, half-bottle and magnum, plus many reasonably priced options. Closed Sundays.
After a stint with Marco Pierre White in London, Australian chef Martin Benn worked for years as head chef at the famous Sydney restaurant Tetsuya’s before launching his own place in the central business district. With a low-lit décor combining elements of an old-fashioned men’s club and a Parisian brasserie, it is popular for corporate dining at noon, but draws serious gourmets in the evening. Benn’s menus follow the seasons, but often include superb starters such as yellowfin tuna sashimi with Iberico ham, poached quail egg, white soy jelly and puffed buckwheat; and butter-poached spanner crab, house-made tofu, fried garlic and garlic shoots. Main courses might be charcoal-grilled wagyu beef with Japanese pickles and miso mustard; and shiso-glazed chicken with charcoal-grilled scampi, braised leeks, fried nori and potatoes. Closed Sundays.
As lively and appealing as downtown Sydney is, you cannot fully appreciate life in this beautiful place until you visit one of the city’s spectacular beaches. Bondi, to the east, is a particular favorite for its stretch of inviting yellow sand and legendary surf. Ideally situated on the cliffs at Bondi’s south end, this bright, predominantly white restaurant offers not only a panoramic view through huge windows, but also some of the top food in the city. The menu has an Italian inflection, so you’ll find pastas such as bucatini with sardines, anchovies, fennel, raisins, bread crumbs and pine nuts, as well as wonderful main courses like rack of lamb with crushed artichokes, pink fir apple potatoes and whole wheat tarragon salsa. The excellent wine list is particularly good on Italian selections. If you can’t secure a reservation, consider sitting at the bar, ordering from the light menu and soaking up the glorious view. Closed Mondays.
Don't overlook these iconic attractions while visiting Sydney; they are classic examples of the natural beauty and architectural features that form the coastal city's identity. If you have extra time, we suggest arranging a day trip to the Hunter Wine Valley or the Blue Mountains.
Want to learn more about travel to Sydney? Read our in-depth articles from The Harper Way, The Hideaway Report and Traveler Magazine on topics such as shopping, food, wine, art, culture and more.
Stay tuned for more from our City Guide series, detailing what to do, eat, see and where to stay in Andrew Harper's favorite cities around the world.
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