Basking in more than its fair share of sun and surrounded by the sparkling waters of the harbor, Sydney is a traveler’s haven. Its restaurant scene naturally revolves around its waterfront, punctuated by the sails of the Sydney Opera House and knitted together by the arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but there’s plenty to do—and eat—everywhere in this laid-back city down under.
Royal Botanic Garden
Photograph by Glenn Van Der Knijff, Getty Images
There's no entrance fee for the stunning 158-acre Royal Botanic Garden, so even if you simply walk the harborside path from the Opera House to Mrs. Macquarie's Point, offering one of the best views of the harbor, it's worth the trip. If you have more time, join the Sydneysiders picnicking among some of Australia's most beautiful and rare trees, flowers, and other flora.
Classic food option: Just outside the garden's southeastern gate, the Finger Wharf of Woolloomooloo provides another opportunity to soak up the view—but at Otto, the focus is on the man-made spectacle, not the natural. Year-round alfresco dining overlooking the harbor and Sydney's skyscrapers is augmented by a modern Italian menu with options that include saffron-infused orecchiette and suckling pig (but call ahead for that one). For something equally as classic (but slightly less elegant), walk down to Harry's Café de Wheels, peddling savory pies and hot dogs since 1938.
Trendy food option: Rockpool, a cornerstone of Sydney's modern dining scene, recently opened a sleek new space on Bridge Street. With its charcoal-gray walls, cast-iron fluted columns, and turn-of-the-century exterior, the atmosphere is moody and mod, making way for elegant food featuring Australian-grown produce.
Unexpected food option: You don't have to don a bathing suit and oversize hat to enjoy the deck of Poolside Café at Andrew (Boy) Charlton—but if inspiration strikes, go with it. Located just around the point from Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, the Poolside offers lovely views of the naval base and Woolloomooloo Wharf. The café-style breakfast and lunch dishes are fresh, reasonably priced, and frequently accompanied by the splashes of industrious paddlers below.
By Lindsay J. Westley
Sydney Opera House
Photograph by Andrew Watson, Alamy
With its many-vaulted roof seemingly ready to break loose from Bennelong Point and set sail upon the harbor, the Sydney Opera House is the city's best known landmark. Designed in 1957 by Jørn Utzon, a relatively unknown Danish architect who was also a keen sailor, the opera house hosts more than 1,600 performances a year, including comedians, pop stars, and of course, plenty of opera's finest.
Classic food option: In the opera world, an aria is an elaborate melody sung by a solo voice, a definition that also rings true for Sydney's landmark restaurant of the same name. Nestled into Circular Quay with a majestic view across the harbor, Aria is often considered the diva of waterfront dining for its impeccably presented Italian dishes, pages-long wine list—and oh, that view ...
Trendy food option: There's nowhere better to sit and enjoy the buzz of a warm Sydney evening than at Opera Kitchen, snugged cozily into the lower concourse of the Opera House. Go for a drink, or choose from one of the eateries catering to the open-concept dining terrace—just be sure to secure a prime table first. If you can't, Quay Bar is outstanding, with an unpretentious but thoroughly inventive menu. Don't miss the Snow Egg: It's probably the only item that the Quay restaurant chef has been unable to take off the menu over the years.
Unexpected food option: Passing through customs is rarely pleasant, but for the deported convicts who traveled from England to Australia on the First Fleet, the welcome was probably even frostier. These days, Sydney's Customs House is a cool public facility with the trendy Cafe Sydney perched on the top floor. The view is fantastic; the food is fresh, seasonal, and playful; and the cocktail list ensures that you'll feel far better welcomed than many who passed this way before you.
Photograph by Frank Heue, laif/Redux
The official 1932 opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was accompanied by some discord: As the New South Wales premier stood poised to cut the ribbon, the ceremony was interrupted by a captain belonging to the opposing political party, who rushed forward to slash the ribbon with his sword, stealing the premier's thunder. The dissident was arrested and the ribbon hastily retied for the "official" opening; good thing too, as the bridge, or "the coat hanger," as locals call it, makes getting from the central business district to the North Shore a breeze—and instantly upgrades any photo in which it appears.
Classic food option: With the sea as its main point of entry until the first airport was built in the 1920s, Sydney has always been a sailor's city. Its oldest licensed pub, the Fortune of War, has served generations of Australian soldiers and is still a great choice for a pint and live music. Or take comfort in excellent Thai food at Sailors Thai, located in the Sydney Sailors' Home, built in the 1860s to house weary seamen.
Trendy food option: That Saké is named for Japan's popular alcoholic beverage is your first clue that the drinks list at this modern Japanese restaurant and bar is extensive. Like the now trendy historic district in which it resides, the presentation is half the experience, and you'd be forgiven for confusing your entrée with a sculpture from the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art.
Unexpected food option: You're not likely to get sick of the view from the south side of the Harbour Bridge, but if you do, Aqua Dining's got the fix. The view toward the city is stunning from this modern, minimalist-style restaurant, where you dine in a suspended glass cube that seems to hover right over the 1930s North Sydney Olympic pool and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The menu is seasonal Australian with a modern Italian twist, but it can be hard to concentrate on the menu for the view.
Photograph by Tim Graham, Getty Images
During the Great Depression, the desperate men pacing the wharves at east Darling Harbour looking for work eventually led to its being known as "the hungry mile." Today, the area around Cockle Bay is home to a bustling tourist district, but don't be afraid to shop like a local at the Sydney Fish Market, where you can eat oysters as fast as you can shuck 'em.
Classic food option: Cockle Bay Wharf is anything but subtle—which may be precisely why the classy Sepia stands out in full color. Its monochromatic art deco interior is the canvas for the cleverly and gorgeously executed modern Japanese cuisine. It's essential to try the famous Western Australian marron (crayfish) dish, a fusion of Japanese and Australian flavor that's dusted with a savory powder that patrons admit may well be magic dust.
Trendy food option: That the dessert on offer at LuMi currently features fennel pollen should be an indication that you're in for an Italian/Japanese gustatory adventure when eating at this sparklingly illuminated Pyrmont restaurant. The chefs in the kitchen are young but experienced. Put yourself in their hands and allow them to light the way.
Unexpected food option: The right music can make or break a night out. At Mojo Record Bar, a subterranean bar where the tunes are paramount, the odds for good beats are high. Of course the deck is stacked in your favor, as Mojo's day job is slinging new and used vinyl in the attached record store. So kick back and enjoy a local brew or a cocktail in a chilled-out setting where the motto is "booze, tunes, rock 'n' roll." Indeed.
Photograph by Back/laif/Redux
White sand, crystal-clear water, celebrity sightings, and surf: Bondi Beach requires little introduction. It's located about 30 minutes outside the city center by public transport, but a visit to Sydney wouldn't be complete without dipping your toes in the surf at Bondi.
Classic food option: Eating late and lingering long over a bottomless cup of coffee are two pleasures exclusive to vacation. If you're planning to indulge, be sure the brew is top-notch and the views are worthy of a long gaze. You'll find both at Trio, a friendly little café serving Middle Eastern- and Mediterranean-inspired fresh eats, and where (on a good day) you can see the beach. To use an Aussie expression, this place is the ant's pants—that's to say, it's not to be missed.
Trendy food option: A tribute to the dedicated (and weather-impervious) locals who swim year-round at this outdoor pool carved out of the Tasman Sea, the aptly named Bondi Icebergs Club offers Italian cuisine with an Australian flair. Grab a pre-swim coffee or smoothie at the recently revamped terrace café, or enjoy the sound of the pounding surf mingling with live jazz on Thursdays. If there's time, don't miss the iconic Bondi to Bronte coastal walk.
Unexpected food option: While Bondi Hardware was once a shopping mecca for DIYers and tradesmen, it's now a cool little bar and restaurant serving a trendy brunch menu, a diverse sharing menu, and rustic-style pizzas from a wood-fired oven. The exposed brick, reclaimed timbers, and pegboard of old tools are a hat tip to its former patrons, but anyone who walks up seeking a hammer and nails will probably be far happier pounding honey-Sriracha chicken wings instead.
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