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36 hours in Sydney: What to eat, where to go, how to have the best time

It’s time to get properly reacquainted with this fabulous Australian city.

36 hours in Sydney: What to eat, where to go, how to have the best time

How to have the best time in Sydney in 36 hours. (Photo: The New York Times)

In Sydney, the intersection of city and nature is magic. A sunrise ocean swim is wholly possible before drying off and heading to the office. A stroll to a neighbourhood cafe reveals a kaleidoscopic floral display: Bobbing grevillea, flowering gum. But there are greater rewards beyond the obvious. Sydney is fantastically diverse, with a mighty migrant population (more than 40 per cent of residents were born overseas). Independent arts and music punch above their weight against the odds of funding cuts and pandemic setbacks. Sydney, along with the rest of Australia, was closed to tourists for nearly two years. It’s time to get properly reacquainted.

ITINERARY

FRIDAY

8pm: Start with spice

A variety of dishes served at Joe’s Table in Sydney in October 2022. Joe’s Table is a small operation where Joe does it all: Answers the phone, cooks and serves juicy Thai fish cakes or caramelised beef rib on mismatched floral plates. (Photo: The New York Times/Susan Wright)

Australia’s proximity to Asia makes Sydney a playground for lovers of Southeast Asian cuisine. Get a curry laksa, a loaded noodle soup with a spicy coconut broth (from A$20, or S$18.13), at Ho Jiak, a Malaysian restaurant in bustling Haymarket. In nearby leafy Darlinghurst, Joe’s Table is a small operation where Joe does it all: Answers the phone, cooks and serves juicy Thai fish cakes or caramelised beef rib on mismatched floral plates (A$17.50 to A$39.50 dollars per dish). Or take a party bus through Southeast Asia: The 200-seater MuMu on central George Street is a blast of spectacle and flavor, with yuzu slushies and spicy cocktails (A$19 to A$98 dollars for large share plates).

10pm: Have a margarita

The reason you don’t come to Cantina OK! in Sydney’s business district before dinner is because you risk forgetting your reservation entirely. You can lose hours chatting to new friends in this small standing-room-only mezcal bar exuding a big, extroverted energy that makes you feel like you’ve walked into the party’s peak, and you’re the guest of honour. Bottles of unbranded mezcal with handwritten labels stack the walls: Products of backyard operations in Mexico brought back from the owners’ frequent buying trips. It’s equal parts boisterous party and genuine education. You will wake up with a hangover and, inexplicably, a thorough working knowledge of agave harvesting and distillation methods (cocktails A$22, banter is free).

The Hermitage Foreshore track takes visitors past secluded beaches, rocky outlooks and homes with back doors that open almost right onto the sand.

SATURDAY

8am: Grab breakfast

Products for sale at the Carriageworks Farmers Market in Sydney in October 2022. Housed in a breezy 1800s rail yard in Eveleigh, the market is a place to meet small producers, ask for recipe tips and fill up a bag with high-quality goods. (Photo: The New York Times/Susan Wright)

For many locals in inner Sydney, visiting the Carriageworks Farmers Market is a popular Saturday ritual. Housed in a breezy 1800s rail yard in Eveleigh, the market is a place to meet small producers, ask for recipe tips and fill up a bag with high-quality goods. Stall holders rotate, but there are always ready-to-eat goods like pho, savory pies (this is the default in Australia, not sweet) and crumpets with local butter and honey. Take your plate, grab a coffee and find a spot in the sun with a good view. The next-best attraction here is the dog-watching, as many shoppers bring their furry friends along.

10:30am: Hear new voices

A guide speaks during the Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour in Sydney in October 2022. One way to connect with Aboriginal knowledge and culture is by taking a guided tour. (Photo: The New York Times/Susan Wright)

The Indigenous Australians from the land that the European colonisers named Sydney are of the Eora Nation, which is made up of dozens of clans. One way to connect with Aboriginal knowledge and culture is by taking a guided tour. Try the Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour, 90 minutes of strolling and storytelling along the harbor (A$59 per adult), or the Aboriginal Bush Tucker Tour, which introduces visitors to native plants in the Royal Botanic Garden (A$30 per adult). Explore contemporary Indigenous culture on your own, too: Spotify’s Blak Australia playlist is a good start for music, or tune into Koori Radio, which broadcasts from the suburb of Redfern, a historical center for the Aboriginal civil rights movement in the 1960s and ’70s.

2pm: Watch Aussie football

Catch a game at the Sydney Cricket Ground, be it cricket, rugby or Australian rules football. Australian rules football (also called “Aussie rules”), which dominates attention in the neighbouring state of Victoria, is growing in popularity in New South Wales and now has two teams representing the state. Some have linked the sport to Aboriginal origins, and today Indigenous players represent about a tenth of the national league. Australians seem to rarely acknowledge how special the musical element of the sport is: Every game starts and ends with the teams’ theme songs, and all the players and supporters sing along (in key is optional). See the Sydney Swans and its superstar forward, Lance Franklin, who goes by Buddy, in action. It’s electric when he kicks a goal. (Tickets from A$27 per adult, runs March to September).

6pm: Taste Italian
Inside Pellegrino 2000 in Sydney in October 2022. Sydney’s love affair with Italian food runs deep. (Photo: The New York Times/Susan Wright)

Sydney’s love affair with Italian food runs deep. 10 William Street in Paddington is a well-loved pasta and wine bar with neighbourhood charm. Hop up to the bar, or slide onto the banquette by the big window (A$32 to A$47 per main). A newcomer is Pellegrino 2000, a Rome- and Florence-inspired trattoria that meanders effortlessly from tradition; try the silky crumbed tripe or buttery prawn ravioli in wonton wrappers (A$32 to A$46 per main). Sit in the buzzing upstairs dining room, or eat in the wine cellar, where Italian bottles are dangerously within reach. Desserts are pure fun. A creme caramel comes with a small mountain of whipped banana cream, and a “limongello” is like a deliciously tart Jell-O shot, set inside real quarters of lemon rind to suck on.

8pm: Get tickets

Six years of lockout laws, a largely unpopular curfew designed to curb alcohol-related violence, followed by two years of pandemic restrictions hurt many of Sydney’s small bars and performance venues, which are still recovering. So support the arts. The Oxford Art Factory in Darlinghurst is a great place to catch established and emerging Australian musicians, while the Art Deco-ish Enmore Theater in Newtown, southwest of the city center, has that plus comedy. The Bearded Tit is a welcoming queer space in Redfern for all forms of experimental expression. For local theater, see what’s on at Belvoir St Theater in Surry Hills, whose stage has hosted the likes of Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.

SUNDAY

9am: Start with a swim

A woman reads next to the water at Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, Sydney, in October 2022. Wylie’s Baths in Coogee (A$6 per adult) is a tidal pool cut majestically into a natural rock shelf. (Photo: The New York Times/Susan Wright)

Take a dip in one of Sydney’s many ocean pools, where the seawater (and sometimes sea life) washes into the pool. Wylie’s Baths in Coogee (A$6 per adult) is a tidal pool cut majestically into a natural rock shelf, while Double Bay’s Redleaf Pool, an enclosed beach with two floating pontoons, is a great place to take kids or just lounge in the sun (free). In the north, the seawater Maccallum Pool in Cremorne Point is free and has one of the best views of the city skyline, while North Sydney Olympic Pool in Milsons Point is a shimmering knockout smack under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (It will reopen after renovations in 2023.)

A swimmer in Maccallum Pool in Cremorne Point, Sydney, in October 2022. Sydney, along with the rest of Australia, was closed to tourists for nearly two years. (Photo: The New York Times/Susan Wright)

10:30am: Explore nature

While the famous Bondi to Coogee walk is an undeniable showstopper, the Hermitage Foreshore track in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is as close to a bush walk in the city as you can get. It’s a one-mile, shaded amble past secluded beaches, rocky outlooks and homes with back doors that open almost right onto the sand. The route goes from Bayview Hill Road to Nielsen Park, but you can extend the adventure by following the coastline to Parsley Bay, a hidden paradise of park, bush land and gentle water with a kiosk selling coffee and snacks.

12:30pm: Enjoy baked goods

Pastries at AP Bakery in Sydney in October 2022. AP Bakery might evoke California with its midcentury sunshades and cactuses, but the flavours are Australia. (Photo: The New York Times/Susan Wright)

Famished? Atop Paramount House in Surry Hills is a rooftop oasis that happens to have one of the city’s best bakeries. AP Bakery might evoke California with its midcentury sunshades and cactuses, but the flavors are Australia. The lineup of pastries is ever-changing, but you might find a macadamia, honey and thyme croissant, a wallaby meat pie, and if the season is right, sticky-glazed hot cross buns (A$6 to A$13). There’s also an all-day breakfast menu (A$14 to A$22), or you can build your own plate of eggs, cheeses, breads, sliced meats and pickles. From there, walk toward Oxford Street and follow it southeast to Paddington, popping into boutiques like In Bed for homewares and earthy bed linens and PAM for maximalist streetwear with a Y2K aesthetic.

2pm: View Chinese art

The four-story White Rabbit Gallery (free), in a back street of Chippendale, is home to one of the world’s most significant collections of 21st-century Chinese art. Judith Neilson, the gallery’s founder, has accumulated more than 3,000 pieces, of which only a fraction is displayed at a time. The works, which span digital art, video, painting, ceramics and other installations, show a gamut of feeling, including despair, humour, nostalgia and protest. There will be plenty to talk about afterward. Do it over dumplings in the gallery’s light-filled tearoom.

KEY STOPS

Hermitage Foreshore track is a scenic, 1-mile amble through secluded beaches and bushland within the city.

Ho Jiak is a Malaysian restaurant popular for its big, spicy flavors in dishes like curry laksa and char koay teow.

Cantina OK!, a tiny mezcal bar, makes you feel as if you walked into the party’s peak and you’re the guest of honor.

White Rabbit Gallery is a free, four-story gallery that shows thought-provoking contemporary Chinese art.

WHERE TO EAT

Joe’s Table is a one-man operation serving comforting Asian dishes.

MuMu is a blast of Southeast Asian flavors, with yuzu slushies and spicy cocktails.

10 William Street is a popular pasta and wine bar.

Pellegrino 2000, a Rome- and Florence-inspired trattoria, has a dine-in wine cellar.

AP Bakery has pastries with creative Australian flavors to be enjoyed at its rooftop oasis.

WHERE TO STAY

Park Hyatt unveils the postcard-perfect, uninterrupted Sydney vista, where it feels the Opera House is singing just for you (rooms with Opera House view from around A$1,182).

For a luxury hotel for a little less, the Four Seasons has harbour views (from A$486).

For lovers of good food and design, try the Old Clare (from around A$239), an Art Deco conversion with a sleek pub, or the Paramount House Hotel (from A$250) in Surry Hills.

For budget travelers, Wake Up! Bondi Beach (from A$59 for a shared dorm, or A$159 for a double) will get you to the surf in minutes, while Sydney Harbour YHA’s rooftop has million-dollar views of the harbour for a relative steal (from A$58 for a shared dorm, or A$182 for a double).

If you are looking for short-term rentals, the Surry Hills and Paddington neighbourhoods are very walkable and close to Central Station. For a peaceful beach experience, Bronte is a dream.

 

By Tacey Rychter © The New York Times Company

The article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Source: New York Times/yy
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