What’s on your Sydney bucket list? Getting a glimpse of that famous skyline, breathing in the salty harbour air at sunset, sampling the best of Sydney’s multicultural cuisine? A boat ride, a show, some fireworks?
Now imagine ticking off that bucket list in one day.
At the end of summer each year, Opera Australia puts on an event that packs the best of Sydney into one incredible night on the harbour. It’s called Opera on Sydney Harbour and it’s the most spectacular ‘pop up’ opera venue you can imagine!
At Mrs Macquarie’s Point, a giant moon will rise over a harbour-top stage, as two lovers meet in a story of great passion, betrayal and tragedy. This year’s Opera on Sydney Harbour event takes the timeless story of Madama Butterfly and sets it right here in Sydney, a city that knows all about culture clash, first loves and broken hearts. Expect spine-tingling music, a heart-wrenching story and even fireworks.
Hawker-style street-food stalls, casual tapas bars and a fine-dining restaurant high in the tree tops offer a choice of Japanese-inspired cuisine to round out the evening. You can buy champagne and take in the sunset over Sydney Harbour from the terraces, garden bars or even from your seat. Arrive by water taxi and you’ve even crammed in a harbour boat ride.
So that covers the first five hours of your Sydney weekend getaway – what will you do with the rest?
Whether you like vintage clothes or fresh produce, Sydney’s vibrant weekend market scene has something for you. You have to get up before midday to snaffle some artisan bread or smoked meat from the popular Eveleigh Farmers Market at Carriageworks – but it’s worth the early rise. The converted railsheds attract a who’s who of the Sydney food scene, selling hand-churned butter, gourmet cheeses and locally grown fruit and vegetables.
If you’re more sartorially inclined, head to the ultra-fashionable Paddington where up-and-coming designers sell their wares at the Paddington Markets.
Whether you’re looking for cheap eats or five-star fine dining, Sydney punches above its weight on the international food scene.
Cheap and cheerful eateries span most cuisines: from the spicy fresh flavours of north-eastern Thailand at House on Elizabeth St, to the famous dumplings of New Shanghai in suburban Ashfield, to the generous servings of Bar Reggio in Darlinghurst where you can pick up a bowl of bolognese with garlic bread for just $12. Ask a local to recommend their favourite burger joint – from the lines-out-the-door Chur Burger in Surry Hills to the top-of-the-line wagyu beef affair from Rockpool Bar and Grill to the booze and burgers simplicity of Mary’s in Newtown, every one has a favourite!
Now that you’ve refuelled, hit the Sydney shopping scene. Shop the boutiques amid the soaring ceilings of the historic Queen Victoria Building or if designer labels tickle your fancy, you can’t go past Westfield Sydney, where a hand-picked selection of local designers mix with the big labels in a sleek shopping centre decked out in marble and chrome.
A little further afield, the eclectic King St in Newtown offers a mix of specialist clothing, homewares and stationery stores with something to please everyone. Stop in for a perfect coffee at Shenkin 1, 2 or 3 (take your pick) or pick up some artisan baked goods from Black Star Pastry.
For an afternoon drink, pick a bar with a view and order a cocktail. Make your way to Cockle Bay for $10 cocktails from the balcony of Blackbird Cafe, or if a beachside tipple is your thing, it’s hard to go past Icebergs Bar on the cliffs of South Bondi. Arrive a little early to snag the perfect vantage point.
Sydney is full of hidden small bars, with a theme and a cocktail to suit everyone. In Sydney’s CBD, Stitch Bar under York St serves old-fashioned cocktails and curly fries steadily from the moment work knocks off until the early hours. Or if you’re up for an all-night affair, the flapper-themed Palmer & Co behind George St’s Establishment has all the old-fashioned glamour and whisky you could dream of.
For a truly indulgent dining experience, find your way to Haymarket’s pumping Cantonese restaurant in the heart of Chinatown where fish and shellfish are pulled fresh from live tanks and served in a fragrant dish of ginger and shallots. The Golden Century is famous for its nonchalant service and seafood-rich menu, starting from $33.
Tucked away in the cellars of one of Sydney’s most historic buildings, The Cut Bar & Grill mean business with their New York inspired menu. Served straight from the carving trolley, diners can devour The Cut’s 4-hour Slow Roast Wagyu Standing Rib parting with just $46 for a standard cut. You’ll find this hidden gem in the Argyle Precinct of The Rocks, next door to Sake Restaurant & Bar.
There’s nothing Sydneysiders like doing better than heading out for a mid-morning brunch. Try the famed ricotta hotcakes at Bills in Darlinghurst or Surry Hills.
If the weather is warm, the locals will be heading to Bondi Beach. There’s sand and surf and some of Sydney’s hottest food destinations on offer, along with Sydney’s most famous beach vista. If you want to see some marine life, head to nearby Gordon’s Bay at Clovelly with your snorkel mask.
If you want to spend a day in the city, take in some culture with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art with its extensive collection of Australian, indigenous and international exhibits, and grab a beer from one of the beer cafes in Sydney’s Rocks district.
Head east for Sydney’s best fish and chips at Doyles on the Wharf. They’re best eaten with sand between your toes taking in the boat-studded vista of Watson’s Bay.
If you need just one more coffee before heading to the airport, ask your cab to stop off at The Grounds of Alexandria for a mouth-watering espresso. Set in a kitchen garden complete with pigs and chickens, it’s a great representative of Sydney’s emerging sustainable food culture. Can you fit anything else in your suitcase? Drop by Salts Meats Cheese to take home some artisan flavoured salts and gourmet imported pantry supplies, before taking the quick drive to Sydney Airport and heading home.
With thanks to Tourism Australia and Destination NSW.