Luxury Escapes Guide to Sydney CBD
The jewel in NSW’s crown, Sydney’s CBD is home to world-famous landmarks, hatted restaurants, bustling bars and outstanding cultural institutions.
Things to see and do
Climb (or walk) Sydney Harbour Bridge
As the world’s largest steel-arch bridge, the Harbour Bridge has dominated the Sydney skyline since its installation in 1932. From the Rocks, walk south to north on the eastern walkway, admiring views of the Sydney Opera House along the way. At the southeast end sits the Pylon Lookout – take the 200 steps to the top for even-better views of the Harbour, Botanical Gardens and beyond. Thrillseekers can take it up a notch, quite literally, by climbing to the bridge’s summit for 360-degree views of the entire city.
Explore Sydney’s art scene
Sydney’s CBD is a mecca for art lovers: it’s home to a multitude of galleries, each with their own unique spin on local and international culture. Explore Australian, Aboriginal, European, Asian and contemporary art at the Art Gallery of NSW, or the world’s largest collection of Chinese contemporary art at White Rabbit Gallery. If you find yourself harbourside, drop into the Museum of Contemporary Art to find a celebration of established and emerging living artists. Just make sure you don’t miss the rooftop cafe – its jaw-dropping views are just as beautiful as the art inside.
Go back in time at the Rocks
Once the playground of convicts, sailors and soldiers, the Rocks is now one of the CBD’s most vibrant precincts. Lose yourself down the cobbled laneways as you discover Cadmans Cottage, Sydney’s oldest surviving residential building, or Susannah Place, where four terrace houses built by Irish immigrants in the 1840s are preserved. When hunger strikes, you’ll be spoilt for choice – from The Australian Heritage Hotel to the multi-hatted Quay, The Rocks is home to over 50 restaurants, pubs and cafes. Finish your visit with a drink at The Glenmore Hotel – its rooftop boasts stellar views of the Harbour below.
Discover Sydney’s Aboriginal history at the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Cadigal people are the traditional owners of the Sydney CBD land, with a rich history dating back thousands of years. Soak up their traditions and culture at the Royal Botanic Gardens at the Cadi Jam Ora – First Encounters Garden. It demonstrates how plants are used in every part of traditional Aboriginal life, as well as exploring the impact European settlement had on our flora. From grass trees to bananas, you’ll discover the history of Warrane (the Cadigal name for Circular Quay) and how the arrival of the First Fleet impacted the area forever.
Catch a ferry to Manly and the Northern Beaches
For the last 155 years, the Manly Ferry has been offering Sydneysiders and visitors a chance to travel ‘seven miles from Sydney, a thousand miles from care’. Board the MV Freshwater or MV Queenscliff at Circular Quay and you’ll soon be sailing right by the Sydney Opera House and Taronga Zoo. Once you disembark, you can dive into the waters of Little Manly, found right next to the wharf, or walk down Manly’s bustling corso to find the main attraction: 3km of water and sand, perfect for surfing, swimming or windsurfing.
View the Harbour from Observatory Hill or Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
Sydney’s colour palette isn’t just shades of blue – its green spaces are just as awe-inspiring. The popular lookout spot, Observatory Hill, is named for the Sydney Observatory but would be just as star-worthy without it. Stand in the pergola or under the enormous Moreton Bay Fig Tree and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Harbour, making it a prime position for the city’s famous New Year’s Eve display (or a picnic). A short walk from the Hill through Circular Quay and the Botanic Gardens puts you at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, which offers similar views – from the other side.
Shop for fresh Seafood at the Fish Market
There’s no better place to try Sydney’s world-famous seafood than Sydney Fish Market, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Six retailers offer 100 fresh-off-the-boat species every day, including prawns, oysters, lobster, barramundi, and spanner crab, ready to take home or try on-site at one of the many cafes and restaurants. Select your seafood and have it cooked to order, then enjoy it harbourside on the boardwalk. Don't leave before sampling the world famous ‘Sushi Donuts'.
Do a gin masterclass at Four Pillars Laboratory
One of Australia’s best gin distilleries, Four Pillars, has recently found a second home in the heart of Sydney, offering gin fans the chance to taste their way through the full range, while learning a little along the way. The Gin Lab hosts gin tastings, make-your-own sessions and cocktail masterclasses, after which you can retire to Eileen’s Bar, where the cocktails and gin drinks continue to flow. Snacks from food legend Matt Wilkinson complement the drink offering, all served with Four Pillars’ trademark warmth and hospitality.
Top places to eat and drink
Combining local ingredients with Middle Eastern and Spanish flavours, NOMAD offers sharing-friendly menus that celebrate the best of two cultures. Chefs make cheese, bread, dips, pickles and cured meats in-house, creating dishes like cannellini bean hummus with cumin burnt butter and flatbread, and zucchini flowers with pecorino cheese and truffle honey. The wine list is exclusively Australian, inspired by the idea of a cellar door experience in the city. Most drops are available by the glass, so you can flit from a Tasmanian sparkling to a white from the Yarra Valley and end with a South Australian red.
Note: NOMAD is re-opening September 2020
Found in one of the city’s newest precincts, Spice Alley celebrates the diversity of Sydney’s Asian food scene. Twelve different stalls and small restaurants dish out flavours from all over the sub-continent, covering Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Vietnam. Settle in under a glowing-lantern ceiling to enjoy Singapore chilli prawns, pork belly stir fried with Chinese broccoli, char kway teow, banh xeo or mee goreng, all washed down with a cocktail from resident bar, Gin Lane.
Seafood savants can’t miss Saint Peter. The Paddington restaurant is owned and operated by chef Josh Niland, who is quickly making a name for himself globally for his innovative approach to fish butchery. He’s on a mission to showcase local sustainably sourced seafood, so the menu changes based on what’s available each morning. Past dishes have included BBQ Flinders Island calamari with tomatoes and native thyme, and handpicked Ballina spanner crab with Kinkawooka mussel and purslane. This attention to detail also applies to the wine list and dessert offering, with a select, Australian-only offering.
There are icons, and there is Golden Century. This Chinese restaurant has served its classic dishes every day until 4am since 1989, carving out a name as the must-go spot for many Sydney chefs and global superstars (Rihanna and Rod Stewart have both been spotted here). Service isn’t paramount but it doesn’t really matter; the food arrives promptly and is consistently delicious. The salt and pepper squid is a must, along with sweet and sour pork, live pippies with XO sauce and the off-menu Chinese doughnut sticks, stuffed with prawn mince.
Back in 2003, Single O opened its doors on Reservoir Street, delighting locals and visitors with its house-roasted coffee blend and delicious breakfast and lunch dishes. Nearly 20 years later, it continues to do the exact same thing, albeit with a slightly larger operation. Coffee remains its main priority, with a brew bar next door serving up its house Reservoir blend and up to four single origin options. In the main cafe, dishes include a native spiced bean cassoulet with poached eggs, nettle chimichurri, muntries and toast, or their version of a BLT.
The Baxter Inn
With regular appearances in ‘Best Bars’ lists (usually somewhere near the top), the Baxter Inn is no stranger to many discerning drinkers. Hidden down an alley, it would be hard to find, if not for the queue of people waiting to get in. The sophisticated, candle-lit space pays homage to times gone by, with a jazz soundtrack and moustached bartenders scrolling library ladders to find one of the 360 types of whiskey on offer. A strong selection of cocktails, wines, beers and spirits complement the main offering, all curated by some of the best in the business.
The Glenmore Hotel
With a history dating back to 1921, the Glenmore Hotel has become an Aussie icon. The Public Bar, found on the ground floor, holds all the tradition of a local pub, welcoming everyone for classic pub fare or an after-work schooner. A short walk upstairs is the Glenmore Lounge, featuring a cocktail bar and set of private dining rooms. However, the piece de resistance sits at the very top – the rooftop bar has long been a destination for those looking to eat and drink under the sun, all while enjoying 180-degree views of Sydney Harbour.
Escape into a historic sandstone cavern in Harbour Rocks Hotel, to find Tayim Restaurant and Bar. Modern meets traditional on its menu, where Executive Chef Ran Kimelfeld has combined the Israeli flavours of his childhood with Libyan influences from his mother’s cooking. Coupled with sustainably sourced Australian ingredients, the result is a party of textures, tastes, smells and colours. The menu is a multi-course affair, so expect dishes such as mussels, calamari and prawns in a spicy north African sauce, and 18-hour lamb shoulder on the bone served with white bean masabacha, tahini, tatbila and puffed freekeh.
Paramount Coffee Project
A stalwart of Sydney’s speciality coffee scene, Paramount Coffee Project has been providing locals and visitors with high-quality coffee and Asian-inspired dishes since 2013. The team of baristas rotate through local and international roasters, putting an emphasis on transparent sourcing and strong relationships between producers, growers and importers. Their food offering is just as considered: the all-day menu includes a take on avo on toast and the PCP Bibi, with sticky black rice, bean sprouts, pickled enoki, carrot, kale, rhubarb peanut kimchi, fried shallots and a fried egg.
Self-described as a “hard to find, shoe-box-sized 45-seater room”, Bulletin Place is the epitome of small but mighty – it’s one of Australia’s most awarded bars, recognised worldwide for its charming team and innovative approach to cocktails. The cocktail menu changes daily to reflect the seasonal ingredients found at that market that morning, while the craft beer selection shifts weekly. Even the wine list has a makeover every season, meaning you’re bound to encounter something new on every visit. Sustenance between sips comes via a charcuterie or cheese board, or a four-cheese toastie.
From its underground setting, Hubert hits the restaurant trifecta: deliciously decadent food, a constant supply of champagne and a warm atmosphere that’s hard to manufacture. Soft lighting, wood-panelled booths and a piano set the tone for the entire experience, complemented by dishes such as duck parfait with a maple syrup jelly and roasted snails with a XO sauce. With three bars dotted throughout the space, you’ll be spoilt for choice drinks-wise, with a huge selection of wines, spirits, beers and cocktails. It’s joie de vivre at its best.