From Bondi Beach to Woolloomooloo Bay, outdoorsy Sydney is the coolest town Down Under
Author Steven Kurutz
DAY ONE The British settled Sydney in 1788, when a group of convicts and their guards, led by Capt. Arthur Phillip, finally sailed into the harbor—and that’s where you’ll drop anchor, too. Check into the 1 Sydney Harbour Marriott, a gleaming high-rise that straddles the border between the waterfront and the steel towers of the Central Business District, or CBD. Is this the hippest hotel in town? Nope. (That’s a place called Establishment.) But you can’t beat the central location or bend-over-backward service, and if you ask for a room with a harbor view on a high floor, you’ll thank yourself for resisting the boutique hotel trend.
Shake off your jet lag (did we mention it’s a darn long flight from just about anywhere?) with a stroll through the 2 Royal Botanic Gardens. Lush with exotic plants like the Wollemi Pine, a Jurassic-era tree discovered only 15 years ago in the nearby Blue Mountains, the gardens also showcase another native species—namely, fitness-crazed Sydneysiders out for a morning jog. Good for them, but you’re going to breakfast. Head to the Andrew “Boy”
Charlton Pool, an open-air swimming pool at the gardens’ eastern edge named for an Aussie who won gold in the 1924 Olympics. At the Poolside Café, dig into a heaping plate of eggs and bacon and watch the swimmers ticking off laps against the backdrop of the extravagantly named Woolloomooloo Bay.
Head back into the gardens, keeping both eyes peeled for the grey-headed flying fox, which isn’t a fox at all, but a big and creepy bat that roosts in the trees. Just north of Government House, you’ll catch sight of the majestic 3 Sydney Opera House.
Completed in 1973, this unmistakable modernist masterwork, with a design that echoes sails cutting across the bay, is rivaled only by the kangaroo and the shrimp-laden barbie as Australia’s national symbol. All Sydneysiders know its creation story—an unknown Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, wins the commission, falls out with officials over rising costs, quits the project and leaves Australia a tormented man, just like his fellow Dane, Hamlet.
He’s re-embraced by planners in his final years and consults on renovations in 2004. You’ll learn all this on the tour, which ends at the pricey outdoor Opera Bar. Bridle though you may at the cost of the cold lager, as you take in the views showcasing the design genius of both man and Mother Nature, you’ll conclude that youthinks you doth protest too much.
he history lesson isn’t over yet. Navigate your way through the bustle of Circular Quay, a kind of Grand Central Station for ferries (tossing spare change to the half-naked guys playing the didgeridoo, the aboriginal wind instrument, is strictly optional) and wander around the Rocks. The city’s oldest neighborhood, it was built by convicts, and its charming streets are appropriately crooked. Half a dozen pubs here claim to be Sydney’s first—among them the 4 Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, with sandstone walls and small-batch homebrews including Nelson’s Blood. After a pint, head to 5 Cafe Sydney, a chic rooftop spot with a clear shot of the Harbour Bridge (views in Sydney are like bottles of wine in Burgundy: abundant, yet you’ll want to drink up every one).
As the sun descends, walk back to the hotel, change into your party duds and catch a cab to Kings Cross, the go-to spot since the 1960s for club crawlers and visiting sailors. The red-light district is tamer now than when the reputed gangster Abe Saffron, a.k.a. “The Boss of the Cross,” ran the action. But you’ll still find a frenetic strip of bars and nightclubs that range from roughneck to ritzy, like the 6 Piano Room —a cocktail lounge one story up with live music and a wall of windows overlooking the chaos below. Afterward, amble a block over to Hugo’s Lounge, a packed club with the glossy look of a hip-hop video set, and dance until the jetlag slows you down. By now it’s after midnight, i.e., time for a meat pie at 7 Harry’s Café de Wheels, a food shack that’s served up Australia’s staple dishes since the 1930s. Order the Tiger (a pastry filled with beef and topped with peas and potatoes). Russell Crowe keeps an apartment on the wharf here. Watch for falling cell phones.
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