This city isn’t Australia’s capital, but with its history, melting pot of cultures, skyscrapers and endless things to do, Sydney is definitely the most well known of the nation’s big cities. It’s almost entirely defined by its iconic landscape, with the beautiful inlets and channels of Sydney Harbour, crossed by the massive Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Sydney Opera House practically symbols of the city itself.
It revels in history, with the birth of the modern day city dating back to the first convicts sent to Australia: it was in 1788, eighteen years after James Cook initially landed in the area, that the ‘First Fleet’ of convicts – led by Captain Arthur Phillip – arrived at Botany Bay and founded Sydney.
Sydney’s top neighborhoods
Then a penal colony, and the first European community in Australia. But since convict transport ended in the middle of the 19th century, Sydney grew into an important colonial outpost – and then a global city.
As such the city is awash with different areas, some reflecting the old city, others suburbs of a time gone by, still more reflections of the city in its modern day evolution. Be prepared for heritage, museums and parks – and for lunches, brunches and beaches – as we take you through the best neighborhoods in Sydney.
Central Business District
Sydney’s Central Business District is the commercial center of town and, as such, is home to most of the city’s skyscrapers. Unusually for a seemingly modern area, the CBD – sometimes simply referred to as ‘Town’ – is actually one of the oldest established areas in all of Australia, and has played a pivotal role in the country’s history.
And though there are shiny tower blocks and cutting edge architecture housing international business and finance, there’s actually a lot of parkland located in this area, including Hyde Park, The Domain, and Farm Cove.
The Central Business District is also a center for nightlife, with it being known for much more than just an after-work drinks destination: clubs and bars here are open late and ready for weekday, as much as weekend, partying. Staying in this well connected area is a definite plus, since the accommodation on offer is perhaps at its most diverse, with high end offerings available alongside more mid-range options.
Best Places to Stay in the CBD
Amora Hotel Jamison – A calm and cool 5-star hotel, the Amora Hotel Jamison is spacious, modern, and boasts amazing views of Sydney. The interiors are sleek and sophisticated, plus you’ll find a lot of amenities, including two restaurants, a swimming pool, and a spa. The location is great, too; Circular Quay and the iconic Sydney Opera House are both within easy walking distance. As you’d expect, the staff at this high-end hotel are professional and courteous.
The Grace Hotel – This hotel is set inside an enormous historic building, a landmark level slice of architecture. It boasts a palatial lobby and classic, warm interiors mixed with polished modern comforts. There are various dining choices, as well as a fitness center and pool. Location-wise, this is perfect for fans of high-end shopping; the Queen Victoria Building and all its designer boutiques are nearby. Also, just a stone’s throw from The Grace is the Pitt Street Mall.
The Tank Stream – The rooms here are streamlined and simple, with neutral color palettes, wood furnishings, and tiled bathrooms. Each room comes with free movies, free soft drinks, and a coffee machine. Communal spaces at this modern hotel are decorated with marble, finished with high-end touches of copper and come with plenty of mood lighting. The building itself is listed and dates back to the 1960s. It’s on the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets, meaning it’s fantastically situated for the Winyard train station – as well as an easy walk to the Sydney Opera House.
Formerly known as the city’s fashion district only, this cool area continues to outdo itself with how cool it can actually be. That said, it is still very fashion-based, with many interesting boutiques, designer brands and flagship stores alike making Surry Hills the best collection of clothes shops that the city has to offer.
As such, this area is known for its cool, laid-back appeal, with overlapping creative industries like media companies housing their HQs in the area, as well as artists and musicians – a mix of modern style and leftfield bohemian makes it a great area for a Saturday stroll.
What can you do here? There are a whole host of hipster eateries that you will never be able to sample in a short trip to Sydney, each one elegant in its simplicity, an understated look that makes eating out or grabbing a coffee here feel inviting and unfussy.
Look out for music venues like the always popping Play Bar, buzzing uber-cool pub/bar/venue The Dolphin Hotel, US diner-themed The Soda Factory, or quirky art space The Bearded Tit – there’s more in terms of hip nightlife here than most other Sydney neighborhoods.
Best Places to Stay in Surry Hills
57Hotel – Spread across 92 rooms, this boutique hotel has been decorated in the style of Studio 54 – the iconic 1970s New York City club. With all the glitz and glamour of a disco, there’s shimmering walls and touches of fun, upbeat design everywhere. Each room comes with its own iPad for guests to use, as well as a rain shower. You’ll find this 4-star offering just five minutes’ walk from Sydney Central Station, plus Belmore Park is close by, too.
Cambridge Hotel Sydney – With easy access to Sydney Central Station, this is a good option if you want to explore what Sydney has to offer. The beds are large and comfortable, some rooms come with seating areas, and others have balconies and spa baths. There’s also an indoor pool and a hot tub for guests to use. All the busy bars and restaurants of Crown Street are just across the road and Oxford Street is nearby. The hotel itself is still calm and quiet for a good night’s sleep.
Royal Exhibition Hotel – With more than just a little bit of old-fashioned sophistication, the Royal Exhibition Hall has a touch of royal influence. Think leather armchairs, heavy dark wood furniture, and traditional interiors. It’s got a cocktail bar as well as a bistro and a two-level beer garden, making for a great place to eat and drink. The hotel has great views of Prince Alfred Park but is also close to Paddy’s Market and Shannon Reserve.
The world renowned Bondi Beach is easily the most famous beach in Sydney by a long shot, and one of the most famous in the whole of Australia – especially from an outside perspective.
The beach plays host to Sydney’s celebrities and is even the backdrop to TV shows, so as you might imagine this is a very popular beach. With that in mind it’s extremely accessible, of course, with buses dropping off and picking up almost directly on the beach every few minutes.
Sunbathing, surfing, and general beach activities such as these are the order of the day on Bondi Beach. But when the heat starts to get to you and you really need something to drink, and more importantly to eat, there’s a strip of restaurants and bars lining the golden sands. A host of chic beach houses and luxury apartments means you’ll be staying in style at Bondi Beach.
Best Places to Stay in Bondi Beach
QT Bondi Aparthotel – This is a funky, modern hotel that’s pretty much beachside. There are a lot of cool design features here, with all the bright furniture and quirky design touches going on – all with a hint of glamour. Five minutes’ walk from the famous sand of Bondi Beach, staying here means you can enjoy local life. There are laundry facilities and kitchen facilities in the rooms. There’s also the option to use a nearby fitness center for free, which also comes with a pool.
Hotel Bondi – Overlooking Bondi Beach – as you might have been able to tell from the name – this 3-star offering is decidedly laid back. The rooms here are no-frills and simple, but it’s still comfortable and clean. There’s even a pillow menu! Some of the rooms come with balconies so you can catch a breath of fresh, sea air. There’s a bar and restaurant on the ground floor.
Although Sydney is and is seen as a modern city today, it is not without its history – and The Rocks is the place to soak in a boatload of the city’s historical side. This area is Sydney’s oldest neighborhood, formed by the sailors and convicts who first called this cove home.
It’s filled with quaint cobblestone streets, over 100 heritage sites, and more historic buildings beside. One of those heritage buildings is the oldest house in the city, Camden Cottage, built in 1816; nearby there’s the beautiful Government House; elsewhere, old pubs dot the waterfront.
Aside from walking tours which take in this historic side to The Rocks, it is located very near to some of the city’s most iconic views and landmarks, including the incredible Sydney Opera House and the very impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge, which can be climbed – albeit whilst attached to a walkway via harness and cable. Also within easy walking distance of this area are the tranquil Royal Botanic Gardens – perfect for a chilled stroll when the weather is good.
Best Places to Stay in the Rocks
Holiday Inn Old Sydney – With fantastic views across Sydney Bay, this hotel boasts a small but sophisticated rooftop pool area – perfect for soaking up the rays and marveling at the views of the Sydney Opera House and the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge. The rooms are modern and comfortable and there’s a lounge lobby and bar. It’s within walking distance of Circular Quay.
Russell Hotel In The Rocks – Each of the rooms at this hotel has been individually designed to reflect the history and charm of the area and the building itself, which dates back to 1887. It’s traditional in a quaint way. The rooms are spacious and clean, plus the staff are professional and helpful. There are fantastic meals and drinks to be had at the hotel bar. The lounge overlooks George Street. There’s also a library. Circular Quay ferry terminal is a quick walk from here.
Situated a 40-minute ferry ride from Circular Quays, the northern beach area of Manly is accessible yet far away enough to feel like a secluded break from the city. If what you want is to chill at the beach without the overcrowding that can sometimes come with an activity like this, well this is the place for you.
It’s a quieter alternative to the very famous Bondi Beach, and as such is popular with locals. Especially for those with families: the kid-friendly Shelly Beach is a great option in this area, and also features many family-oriented restaurants nearby.
When it comes to nature in Manly, the North Head National Park is a must-do. For sunset, and for top views of the city, this patch of coastal park located on the southern tip of Manly is a great option for nature-lovers and casual walkers alike.
If you have some time on your hands on your way to Manly, why not walk? The 10 kilometer coastal route from Spit Bridge in Mosman to Manly is a very convenient way to see Australian bushland without having to, you know, actually drive into the heart of the Bush.
Best Places to Stay in Manly
Q Station – Situated within the Sydney Harbor National Park, this hotel boasts its very own private beach for a relaxing and laid back stay in the city. It’s a peaceful and romantic environment boasting rustic rooms. Some of these feature terraces that overlook the water. Each of the rooms has views of either Sydney Harbor or the Australian bush. If you like hiking, there are plenty of easy trails around the immediate vicinity of the hotel.
Manly Paradise Motel – This 3-star hotel is situated opposite Manly Beach and features contemporary rooms with clean, neutral color schemes. They are spacious and uncluttered, which is always a plus. Each of them comes with a small kitchen and a private balcony overlooking the beach. You’ll also find a rooftop pool. In terms of the local area, it’s easy to get to other nearby beaches, such as Freshwater Beach. There’s a whole load of restaurants and bars to explore, too.
Arguably home to most of the city’s most famous sights – Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, for instance – Darling Harbour is adjacent to the city center. Its location offers sparkling daytime harbour views, as well as a brilliant vista of glittering city lights as you look back on the Central Business District. Here you’ll want a hotel with a view, something up high, and there’s certainly a few of those to choose from.
Not only are those two iconic landmarks located here, but many other sights are to be found at Darling Harbour. There’s a big shopping center, an aquarium, a branch of Tussaud’s waxworks, Sydney Wildlife World, a casino complex, and the lovely Tumbalong Park to visit in this area.
Ferries connect this area to other parts of the city, whilst the genius of pedestrianised linear park, The Goods Line – a 500 meter walkway to Railway Square – takes visitors to bus and train services.
Best Places to Stay in Darling Harbor
Hyatt Regency Sydney Hotel – This branch of the Hyatt comes with all the luxury and quality you’d expect of the high-end hotel chain. The well-appointed rooms feature large windows with views of either the harbor or the city. There’s also a selection of places to enjoy sunset drinks: the sky bar, or maybe a spot of dinner at the lounge bar. A 24-hour fitness center allows you to work out whenever you want.
Novotel Sydney Darling Harbor – Featuring amazing views of Darling Harbor as well as the city’s glittering skyline, this 4-star hotel is a few minutes’ walk from the Harbourside Shopping Centre. There are a lot of amenities on offer, from a fitness center and tennis court to an outdoor swimming pool. The lobby is warm and welcoming, while upstairs, the rooms aren’t extravagant but modern and comfortable. There’s also an outdoor terrace for evening cocktails.
Flamboyant Darlinghurst, or ‘Darlo’ as it is abbreviated by locals and Australians alike, has pushed past a reputation for crime, drugs and seediness to become a thriving corner of Sydney. With more bars per capita than any other district in the city, it’s no wonder that the nightlife in this area comes well recommended.
Everything from 1950s themed bars to the modern and trendy are available for whatever venue you like the most with your alcoholic beverage.
Many of those bars are gay-friendly and can offer dancing until well into the morning. Darlinghurst is also well known for the Mardi Gras parade that roams through on Oxford Street, on the district’s south side.
Aside from crazy nightlife, however, there’s a paradise for vintage lovers on Crown Street, with fashion boutiques to be found elsewhere on Bourke and Victoria Streets. If this sounds like you, then you’ll be pleased to know there are a range of budget and mid-priced hotels here – but for a more fabulous stay, there are more luxurious and quirky options.
Where to Stay in Darlinghurst
Morgans Boutique Hotel – A traditionally decorated hotel, Morgans features rooms that come with small kitchens. There are 27 apartments on offer, all of varying types, as well as a rooftop terrace with sun loungers for soaking up some rays. The views of the suburbs and Sydney Harbor are amazing. The location is perfect for those who want to be centrally positioned to explore the bars of Kings Cross while staying a little further back in a calm, safe street.
For something a little different to European dominated Sydney, head to the Haymarket area, where you’ll find the city’s Chinatown. But this is actually the third location for Sydney’s main Chinatown, with a late 19th-century Chinese settlement located at The Rocks, later moved near to Market Street at Darling Harbour. It was only in the 1920s that it moved to its location now, centred around the area between the paifang (gates) that cross Dixon Street.
Staying in Chinatown is a great option if you want breakfasts, lunches, dinners – and snacks in between! – to be available to you within easy walking distance. It’s a great place to try new eateries, and is a completely must-stay place if you like Asian food. The range of hotels on offer runs from cheaper boutiques to modern chain hotels, meaning everyone has the chance to stay in the thick of this fascinating area.
Best Places to Stay in Chinatown
Great Southern Hotel Sydney – You’ll have no trouble at this 4-star hotel if you want to explore the tasty food and culture of Chinatown. Situated in a 19th-century brick building, from this hotel you can walk to Darling Harbor and Sydney Central Station. The staff are extremely welcoming and friendly and will help with travel tips for what to see and do around the city. The rooms are decorated with a natural color palette in mind.
Rendezvous Hotel Sydney Central – This 4-star boutique hotel is located in a heritage building that’s been wonderfully converted into a modern hotel. The rooms are simply decorated but contemporary and make for a comfortable place to stay – the bathrooms even have rain showers. They’re very comfortable, spotless, and well looked after. There are great views from the higher floors. Adjacent to Railway Square and very close to Paddy’s Market, you’ll find a lot on offer in the neighborhood, including cafes and restaurants. Central Station is quite literally next door.
This is another beach suburb of Sydney, and being somewhat out of town means that although the connections might not be as comprehensive as more central areas, the accommodation is a bit cheaper than elsewhere. That’s good news because Coogee really is a great place to be.
The beachside location and quieter atmosphere of the area will definitely appeal to those wanting more of a city break than those wanting to dive right in to pound the pavements.
It’s definitely the place to stay for beach lovers, though, with its long stretch of sand and sea popular with both swimmers and surfers alike. Laid-back bars and pubs are spread out along the coast, and for a beautiful trail along the sea there’s Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. Nearby there’s some great snorkeling to be had at Gordon’s Bay, which teems with rich marine life.
Best Places to Stay in Coogee
Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach – Boasting panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, this hotel is situated right next to Coogee Beach. The rooms are newly decorated and come with modern amenities. Some even feature balconies that overlook the sea. There’s a restaurant where you can enjoy local seafood complete with sea views! There’s also a bar, of course. If you’re looking for beaches, getting to Bronte Beach or Tamarama Beach is fairly easy from here.
Dive Hotel – Definitely not a dive, this 4-star hotel features a variety of spacious rooms with huge windows and high, ornate ceilings. This place is actually set right on Coogee Beach, which is perfect if you’re looking to spend your time in the sun on the sand. There’s a lot of character at this hotel, something that’s helped a lot by how friendly the staff are. It’s easy to catch the bus from here to Sydney Opera House and other city sights. The local area is packed with cafes and restaurants, all of which are just on the doorstep.
The central location of Glebe is something that draws many different walks of life together for a fascinating cosmopolitan hotch-potch of cultures. University students come to Glebe Point Road to hang out, or to eat food in one of its many different nationalities of cuisine – from Mexican and Thai to Indian and Bavarian.
Others come for the vintage clothes and bargains of the Saturday market at Glebe Foreshore, also a great place for a leisurely stroll. The views of Darling Harbour from here are fantastic.
Combine this laid-back socio-ethnic harmony with streets lined with heritage buildings, and you have yourself an area to spend a few hours, if not days. For example, you might want to check out Bellevue, a Victorian house built in 1896 turned cafe, or for something more fitting of the area’s cosmopolitan nature, there’s the Sze Yup Temple – a Chinese Taoist temple dating back to 1898 and in continuous use ever since.
Where to Stay in Glebe
Best Western Haven Glebe – This hotel has been recently refurbished and features clean, stylish rooms. It now comes with a modern sun terrace, spacious enough for everyone to find a space to sunbathe and relax with a book. A fitness center is good for those who just have to keep up with their workouts, too. This branch of Best Western is just a five-minute walk from Black Wattle Bay waterfront, plus it’s easy to travel around the city from here; there’s a bus stop just outside and it’s a straightforward bus journey to Darling Harbor.