Sydney has about 600 neighborhoods, which could take years to explore, but we found that by switching up hotel stays it’s possible to take in many vibrant sides of the city in a single visit.
Circular Quay/ The Rocks
Home to the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) is easily the centerpiece of most Sydney visits. For front-row views and easy access to the area, stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, located steps away in The Rocks, a historic harbor-side neighborhood with heritage architecture, cobblestoned streets, pubs, galleries, boutiques and museums. Royal Suites (Nos. 3403 and 3407), the Deluxe Royal Suite (No. 3405), and the Presidential Suite (No. 3406) presents vistas of Sydney from the top floor, and the Full Harbour View Junior Suite is a popular pick thanks to its corner location and incredible views. Given the hotel’s direct views of the harbor — site of Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve fireworks — reservations for stays in late December get snapped up years in advance, so plan ahead if you want to ring in the new year Down Under. Insiders say all reservations staff ([email protected]) are readily equipped to handle VIP bookings.
Four Seasons guests are in good hands with Chef Concierge Jorge Sousa ([email protected]), who is a member of Les Clefs d’Or, and has been at the hotel for 13 years. For Sousa, the sky’s the limit when it comes to guests’ requests. He once bought four Bridge Climb sessions for a guest who wanted private access to the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a one-of-a-kind proposal. Ask Sousa to help book your own Bridge Climb, a tour of the Opera House, or dinner at some of Sydney’s most sought-after restaurants (Quay, The Bridge Room, Aria). Guest Experience Manager Nithiya Kala ([email protected]) is another helpful staffer to know.
The Presidential Suite at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney is a two-bedroom accommodation with floor-to-ceiling windows that frame vistas of Sydney.
We saw a lot of Sydney on foot and found a visit to the Four Seasons’ Endota Spa a nice way to soothe our weary muscles. Spa Director Sally Cantwell ([email protected]) can advise on indulgent services for special guests, though we hear the Signature Endotarama mini spa package is a popular pick. The intimate space has six treatment rooms, so book a week in advance to secure your ideal spa time. Hint: The hotel is home to Sydney’s largest heated outdoor pool, too.
Australian Celebrity Chef Mark Best presides over the hotel’s Pei Modern, a bistro restaurant focused on local, seasonal and sustainable produce. Book the circular chef’s table by the open kitchen and woodfire grill ([email protected]). For pre-dinner drinks or a nightcap, pop into the hotel’s Grain bar, which specializes in craft cocktails and houses one of Australia’s largest whisky selections.
Central Business District
A skyscraper-filled, Manhattan-like maze, Sydney’s Central Business District sprawls along dozens of blocks south of The Rocks and Circular Quay. We spent two nights in the CBD at the QT Sydney, whose nondescript entrance on busy Market Street gives few hints of the wonderfully quirky world that waits inside. We adored the hotel’s funky interior design (room numbers are held in place by floating, painted hands) and its playful surprises (sensors in the QT’s elevators detect how many occupants are on board, and songs play accordingly — we took a solo ride to the spa as Three Dog Night’s “One Is The Loneliest Number” teased us from above).
The hotel sits in the thick of the CBD, which means rambling views aren’t available from all rooms. In fact, although our QT Deluxe King room was plenty spacious for two, there was little natural light and no view to speak of. Instead, book a Corner Suite for spectacular views of George Street and the Queen Victoria Building. If you want the best suite in the house, book a QT State Suite — Nos. 1010 and 1022. They have separate lounges and living areas, plus private balconies with city views. Heads up: Though it’s within walking distance (20 minutes), the harbor isn’t visible from the hotel. Reach out to QT Reservations Manager Renee Turner ([email protected]) for bookings.
QT Sydney’s Gowings Bar & Grill is an after-work spot serving delicacies prepared in wood-fired rotisseries and ovens.
There’s a lot to take in around the QT, but make it a point to dine at its Gowings Bar & Grill, too. The stylish and popular after-work spot serves vibrant, in-season produce and locally sourced seafood and meats, which are perfectly prepared in wood-fired rotisseries and ovens. Assistant Food & Beverage Director Jasmin Akers ([email protected]) can assist with VIP reservations and special requests. (Take our advice and try Marchetti’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese, made rich with Persian pistachios and truffles.) Also excellent, as well as convenient, is Parlour Lane Roasters, the bustling café tucked into the hotel’s entrance. Order an almond milk latte, a flaky croissant and a plate of smoked salmon to start your day, or a glass of crisp, chilled Australian wine when you come back in the evening.
You won’t want to miss the QT’s unique spa, either. Its six treatment rooms have glossy tile walls, stained glass and shelves filled with laboratory-like bottles and beakers. A refreshing departure from the norm, spaQ is unapologetically quirky and cool, right down to the pop-heavy playlist that cranked during our stellar massage. Contact spaQ Manager Kelly King ([email protected]) for VIP service, and plan to book two weeks out when possible.
Tip for Gen Y travelers: Check out the “QT Life” section of the hotel’s website. It offers insight into timely cultural events, art exhibits and other authentic experiences happening around the city.
Thanks to its quiet location on leafy Cross Street in the eastern enclave of Double Bay, you won’t believe you’re still in busy Sydney when you arrive at the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay. Here, of course, bay views are what it’s all about. Generally speaking, bayside rooms and suites have the best views, but if you want the top spot, book The Royal Suite. It overlooks the bay and has several private balconies, a study, dining room, butler’s kitchen, walk-in closet and a spacious lounge. Book with Director of Sales and Marketing Sian Armour ([email protected]), who can help identify the best rooms and suites to suit your needs.
There are myriad ways to enjoy the InterContinental, including the recently rolled out High Martini offering — an updated take on High Tea complete with picture-perfect savory and sweet bites and a series of gorgeous, tasty martinis. Ask Food and Beverage Director Cameron Frost ([email protected]) to assist with a reservation. For dinner, ask Frost to secure a table at the hotel’s Stockroom Restaurant and Grill, which serves hardy dishes like Harvey Bay scallops, Riverina lamb loin and lots of flavorful veggies. Whatever you do, don’t check out before sipping cocktails and sunning yourself in a private cabana by the hotel’s chic rooftop bar and pool.
Trumps Spa at the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay is popular for its Sodashi jet lag recovery treatment.
For next-level pampering, reach out to Dianah Todaro ([email protected]), owner of the Trumps Spa (no relation to the U.S. president) located inside the hotel. Staffers at the serene space tell us that the Sodashi jet lag recovery treatment is popular among international guests, and the blowouts are beloved by everyone. They also say it’s best to book three weeks in advance whenever possible.
Get to know Chef Concierge Predrag Kaic ([email protected]) if you’ll be booking here. Kaic can arrange everything from VIP airport transfers to more adventurous extras, like a private seaplane tour of the harbor or a gourmet picnic on Seven Shillings Beach.
We loved everything about the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay, but especially its location just a few minutes’ walk from the Double Bay water taxi stop. From there, you can hop from one stop to the next, or cruise over to Circular Quay the uber-scenic way.
One of Sydney’s most famous suburbs, Bondi won us over instantaneously with its surfer-studded beach, laid-back atmosphere, and walkable blocks lined with chic boutiques and coffee shops. We checked in to the colorful QT Bondi, which opened in early 2016 just across Camp-bell Parade from Bondi Beach. In stark contrast to its CBD counterpart, QT Bondi is awash in crisp white, pretty pastels and eye-opening neon hues. QT Gould Suites are the hotel’s top offerings — sleek, apartment-style spaces with a kitchenette, in-room laundry, a separate living and dining area and a wide balcony (ours overlooked lovely private homes). Contact Renee Turner ([email protected]) to secure one for your VIP.
We found Bondi extremely easy to get around and explore for ourselves, but Head Con-cierge Alex Robertson ([email protected]) is at the ready to assist with booking surfing lessons, classes at Power Living Yoga Studio, or a private historical walking tour with a Bondi local. There’s no shortage of nice restaurants to try, but they can book up quickly, so ask Robertson to secure dinner reservations at the nearby Porch and Parlour, or a taxi to Bronte for brunch at Three Blue Ducks. Breakfast (or “brekkie”) is a beloved Aussie pastime, so we followed suit and headed to Bills, feasting on ricotta hotcakes at its busy bar. As we were settling our bill, we spotted Aussie actress Mia Wasikowska (“Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Jane Eyre”) waiting for a table outside.
QT Bondi’s Atrium Suite is a one-bedroom apartment with atrium views, kitchenettes and designer furnishings. Seen here is the living room.
Arguably the best part about visiting Bondi is being outside, and there’s no better way to soak in the coastal scenery than by following the Bondi-to-Bronte coastal walk. It starts at Bondi’s iconic Icebergs Club and follows the coast south past some of the most breathtaking beaches and parks we’ve ever seen. (If you’re not in a hurry, keep on going past Bronte, through Waverley Cemetery and Clovelly, to colorful Coogee. Note, though, that after the hours-long walk, you might want to hail a taxi back
Live Like a Local: The Rocks and Circular Quay
Bridge Climb: Get a bird’s-eye view of Sydney from the top of the Harbour Bridge. (Not for the faint of heart or those with a true fear of heights!)
Christopher Hanlon: Men’s organic skincare and scents; bold, handmade leather bags; and fashion accessories are the focus of this gorgeous George Street boutique, where you’re likely to meet Hanlon himself.
Manly: Hop aboard a fast ferry at Circular Quay and cruise across the harbor to Manly, a northern Syd-ney beach suburb chock-full of shops and beachy photo ops. Stop at Hugos for a brick-oven pizza, a pile of crispy polenta fries and a cold beer before heading back to the city.
Masterpiece Jewellery: We found the best selection of opals — Australia’s signature gemstone — and the prettiest settings inside this Circular Quay boutique.
Museum of Contemporary Art: This eye-popping harborside structure houses modern Australian and international art.
The Rocks Markets: Purchase art, jewelry, accessories and more, direct from Aussie artisans.
Royal Botanic Gardens: Stop here and smell the roses — plus hundreds more varieties of beautiful blooms.
Sardis Boutique: A dreamy George Street boutique brimming with structured separates, breezy dresses and easy-to-pair accessories — many of them Australia-made.
Sydney Opera House: Take a tour or see a show inside Australia’s architectural icon.
Live Like a Local: Central Business District
Black Star Pastry: The CBD outpost of this cult favorite pastry shop is tucked away on level two of The Galeries, a luxury shopping center located at 500 George Street. The watermelon cake is all the rage.
blackstarpastry.com.au or thegaleries.com
Est.: Everything about Chef Peter Doyle’s celebrated CBD eatery is artful, from its all-white dining room to its impeccably plated, contemporary dishes.
Queen Victoria Building: Completed in 1898, the historic QVB occupies an entire city block and houses dozens of luxury retailers, galleries, restaurants, and more.
The Strand Arcade: A beautiful, 19th-century shopping arcade filled with upscale retailers, jewelers, coffee shops and cafés.
Sydney Tower Eye: Tourist trap? Perhaps. But the see-forever views from this Sydney skyline icon make it perfectly okay.
Live Like a Local: Double Bay
Bay, Knox and Cross Streets and Transvaal Avenue: Stroll Double Bay’s main shopping thoroughfares to find fine jewelry, home decor and apparel.
Clark Island: Take a water taxi and a picnic to this uninhabited island just off Double Bay for atypical views of Sydney’s iconic landmarks.
Frances Keevil Gallery: The Double Bay space is home to established and emerging career artists and regularly holds solo and mixed-artist exhibitions.
Bar Indigo: A beloved spot for al fresco brunch, run by a pair of friendly locals.
Elbon Coffee: This family-run spot has been supplying freshly roasted coffee for more than 50 years. Order a flat white for your morning fuel-up.
Pelicano: If you love oysters, you won’t want to pass up the Sydney Rock variety at Pelicano.
Stillery: The InterContinental Sydney Double Bay’s own stylish bar has more than 70 different varieties of gin.
QT Bondi’s Icebergs Ocean Club is a coastal swimming pool.
Live Like a Local: Bondi
Bondi Farmers’ Market: With fresh juices, flowers, produce and a never-ending row of food stalls, this popular weekend spot is packed elbow-to-elbow with beautiful Bondi locals.
Bondi Icebergs Club: Sydney’s most iconic coastal swimming pool is, hands down, the most Instagrammable spot we’ve ever seen. Sip champagne in the dining room as you watch swimmers — and waves — splash below.
Fishbowl Poke Bar: QT Bondi doesn’t have a restaurant of its own, but it sits atop a grocery market and shopping center, where you’ll find this wildly popular poke spot. You might have to wait in line, but it’s worth it.
Gould Street Art Gallery: This tiny gallery, located next to the QT, carries works by Australian artists. We picked up three paintings by Gill Cameron (a.k.a. Line for a Walk), who recently finished a mural on Bondi Beach’s art wall.
4/72 Gould Street; lineforawalk.com
Tuchuzy: We paid repeat visits to the Campbell Parade boutique, which carries contemporary luxury brands like Alexander Wang, Ulla Johnson and Golden Goose.
Westfield Bondi Junction: It’ll require a cab ride, but at this massive shopping center you’ll find boutiques by luxury Aussie labels Zimmermann (delicate dresses) and Gorman (bold, playful prints).