Time Out insiders give the inside track on Oz's new culture king
From its gallery walls and great outdoors to late night music scene, Time Out’s experts on the ground tell us why the Australian city has such serious swagger these days.
Once upon a time Melbourne was culture king in Australia, while Sydney was content to rest on its harbour views and general good looks. No more: over the past decade, Sydney has stamped itself as a city to be reckoned with on the cultural front. It has more festivals per capita than any other major city anywhere – check out the light sculptures and great gigs around the Opera House during winter at Vivid or any of the envelope-pushing international and local events that make up the Sydney Festival every summer – and a formidable theatre, nightlife and art scene. The Central Business District (CBD) has also transformed from a bland, after-hours no-go zone to an area teaming with tiny, hidden bars. There’s still all those natural assets – stunning beaches, national parks, that harbour – but now there is more to do when it rains.
Sydneysiders are known to base their weekend plans around where they’ll be taking a dip. Eating, shopping and cultural pursuits are considered behind access to the big blue. We suggest you do the same. The city’s beachside café culture is killer, so swim, refuel and then plan your afternoon. Other than the compulsory beachside suburbs, postcodes worthy of special attention are Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale. The latter has boomed in recent years since the opening of contemporary Chinese art gallery White Rabbit. The gallery showcases an impressive private Australian collection of contemporary Chinese Art in a refurbished four-storey knitting factory. Explore the collection, then get dumplings and tea in the gallery’s teahouse or hit one of the many awesome cafés and bars on surrounding blocks.
There are, of course, a few touristy must-dos that are really worth crossing off the bucket list. Locals and visitors feel like the king of the world on BridgeClimb – like some sort of urban mountaineer you will get to take in the most beautiful harbour in the world from atop one of its most famous structures and will spot harbour islands, beaches and landmarks to explore over the coming days. Oprah’s done it, and so has Bill Gates. And then there’s Taronga Zoo – Oprah did that, too! – where you’ll see beasties from all across the planet with some of the best views of Sydney Harbour in town.
If you’re in town to taste the best Sydney restaurateurs have to offer, then swiftly make a reservation at a big gun: Quay, Rockpool Bar & Grill or Marque, if you like it fussy and adventurous. But if you want something a bit more casual and hip with the locals, go for Argentinean joint Porteño (known in Sydney as Rockabilly Bar & Grill), where the chefs are quoiffed and tattooed.
Chinatown is the go-to place to get bang for your buck – and if you’ve only got room for one Chinatown course, make it to Gumshara in the Eating World food court. If you’ve got room for three meals, bookend your ramen with yum cha (or dim sum) at Marigold or a late-night supper at the Golden Century – grab some pipis from the tank for a 2am feast surrounded by some of Sydney’s most recognisable hospitality faces. A few streets over, Haymarket is our tip for a pre-dance floor stomach liner. If you want to travel a bit – well, a few minutes on the Inner West line – Stanmore restaurant Sixpenny is worth the trip. Fresh produce from the team’s own gardens manipulated into some of the most interesting dishes around – you get seven dishes, usually delivered to your table by the chef. It’s Time Out Sydney’s Restaurant of the Year no less.
The team behind Shady Pines Saloon more recently gave us Baxter Inn, the hard-to-find but worth-the-effort speakeasy bar with an NYC sports-bar feel and some great acoustics in the bathroom. Stay until bell-ring for a real party atmosphere. If you’re in the Rocks – and you will be – a Rocks pub crawl is a must. This is historical Sydney right here, convict-First-Fleet stuff, so get down like a sailor, we say. Finish at the Glenmore Hotel – it’s a no-frills local and if you climb to the rooftop, you’ll find an uninterrupted view of that wondrous Ützon-designed structure, the Sydney Opera House.