Sydney is a fairly large city and choosing the best places to stay in Sydney is difficult. Don’t worry, we got some nice tips for you here!
Sydney is one of the key destinations for travellers making it down under, as it is one of the largest cities in the country. Determining where the best place to stay in Sydney is really depends on whether you are alone or with a family. Maybe you intend to stay one night only, or perhaps you are looking to spend a fortnight in Sydney.
But if you have never been to Australia, the prospect of choosing a place to stay can be daunting, because first-timers do not have any reference to make their choice easier. Read the article below to get a feel for the different options and attractions in- and around the city.
Technically Bondi Beach is not “in” Sydney, but more of a suburb of Sydney. But for travellers coming to Sydney who may not want to opt for the big-city feeling and prefer an environment with a bit more of a holiday feel to it, Bondi Beach is that perfect destination.
This iconic beach area is a reliable surf spot, drawing in surfers from all over the world, while regular swimmers enjoy the weirdness of the unique Iceberg Ocean Pool. Built right on the waterline, the ocean regularly washes in- and over the 50-meter long pool, so naturally it is filled with salty water.
Bondi Beach offers an exciting golf experience, and for the hungry souls there are many oceanfront bars and restaurants. The whole area seems to be directed at the ocean, and for good reason, as the sunset does look incredible.
For travellers who don’t like to spend their entire day relaxing on the beach (for god’s sake – please use some serious sun blocker!), there are several activities to pursue. Seeing the local surfers making it look incredibly easy will inspire you, so why not take a surf lesson. You only know that you are utterly useless once you’ve tried standing up in a shore break.
Find comfort in the fact that surfing is one of the harder sports to learn, as it combines some serious balancing, great stamina (that paddling will destroy you) and correct timing in combination with the ability to distinguish a good wave from a bad one.
Skateboarders, windsurfers or wakeboarders may have a little advantage, but in the end it all comes down to spending those hours in the shore break on beginner’s board made of foam and plastic.
Once you have done that, return to the shore and enjoy an Australian sunset in combination with a great drink from one of the many local bars.
Pro tip: Do not swim on the Southern Side of Bondi beach, it’s called ‘Backpackers Rip’ for a reason.
Where to stay in Sydney with family
Common sense dictates that any area which is busy by day and quiet by night makes a great area for families. By that very definition, Sydney’s CBD (more on that under ‘where to stay in Sydney cbd)’makes a lot of sense, as you won’t be disturbed by hard-partying youngsters who just got back from a night of serious drinking. But there are more advantages too; icons like the Harbour Bridge or the Botanic Garden (more on that later) are within walking distance, along with a host of museums and some major art galleries.
Alternatively, Darling Harbour could be ideal if your kids are a little younger and you are looking for a child-friendly environment. There is a wide range of different child-friendly attractions nearby like the IMAX Cinema, Madam Tussauds or the Sydney Aquarium. On top of that, the Darling Quarter section features an enormous playground surrounded by restaurants and cafes, where parents can keep an eye out for their loved ones.
For more of a holiday feel, Manly Beach is a 30-minute ferry ride from Sydney’s centre and it has that relaxed holiday feel to it, as opposed to the more urban areas mentioned earlier.
Manly Beach features playgrounds, all types of different walking routes, family-friendly restaurants and of course, the beach. Keep in mind that this is a tourist area, and that during the weekend and additional influx of Sydney residents is to be expected.
But why not follow their example? They come out to Manly for the different markets, a walk up the Corso or a relaxing bike tour. There are even tandems for rent, for parents who like the idea of a 10-year old powering their bicycle ride.
Pro tip: Check out ‘Out of Africa’ for some Moroccan food.
Newtown is one of those neighbourhoods that is slowly making its way into the different tourist guides. Sure, there is no Opera House, but there are countless other attractions. For travellers who enjoy hipster baristas making supreme coffee, this is definitely a place to go to.
Unlike the rest of Sydney, there are few high rise buildings in the area, making for a cosy and residential vibe. The neighbourhood is filled with vintage shops and cool little workshops where creative and the artistically inclined like to gather.
Having been there myself several times to admire the street art, I can attest that Newtown gets better every time you visit. The latest development is that there are several artisan brewers, and apart from the coffee houses and delicate micro art galleries, the neighbourhood is filled with vintage boutiques, street art and all kinds of interesting little corners to explore.
If you’ve ever spent some time in Greenwich village in New York, Newtown will feel strangely familiar. Since a lot of Sydney residents come to this place at the end of the day, King Street has gradually been renamed ‘Eat Street’ due to the abundance of restaurants and eateries on that road. Check out Gigi Pizzeria for a full-blown vegetarian menu that still manages to be delicious, or Golden Lotus for some quality Vietnamese food.
My personal favourite shop in the area is ‘Original Finish’, a shop that specializes in repurposing vintage and industrial antiques. It’s a mixed bag of course, because whenever I roam their showroom, a sense of jealousy comes over me as I admire the creativity and vision that has gone into many of their pieces.
I’ve heard of a place called “The Stinking Bishops” that is next on my bucket list, as it combines outrageously named cheeses and sausages with some very strong smells. And yet the place is renowned beyond Sydney for its quakity meals and exotic ingredients.
Free things to do in Sydney
Sydney isn’t terribly expensive but it isn’t cheap either. However, there are countless things you can do in- and around the city for free. The Sydney Opera House is a famous sight, and attending an Opera is going to cost you substantially. But simply admiring the iconic building is free and walking around Circular Quay was good enough for me. The Opera House steps are elegantly designed and offer great opportunities to take some nice pictures of yourself and the people you are travelling with.
If you are into hiking, the Sydney Harbour Walk is a great challenge. On foot, this route is absolutely free but expect to spend eight to nine hours walking. Time will fly though, as you walk through the harbour’s impressive scenery. And it is possible to cross several stretches of the tour with public transport as you see fit.
There is a die-hard Harbour Circle Walk as well, as it takes four days. Definitely NOT my cup of tea, but apparently it is easy to download maps for this specific trajectory along with tons of additional information on where to eat, where to stay and other details.
Besides the harbour, Chinatown and Paddy’s Market are also for free, and these neighbourhoods are scenic, historical and easy on the eye. Bring some pocket change for cheap clothing, jewellery or souvenirs, but a word of warning – especially at Paddy’s Market these souvenirs tend to get more and more tacky by the year. Think fridge magnets and Opera House miniatures.
For more touristy and free sights, make sure to check out St Mary’s Cathedral, which is a gothic church and a historical reminder Australia has some English roots. Centennial park is another interesting area that has a dedicated rollerblading track, which is always interesting to look at while you lay on the grass and relax. Bring a Frisbee if you can’t sit still, and admire the way the park was designed (more than one hundred years ago).
The Royal Botanical Gardens are the oldest scientifical institution in Australia, and they offer a guided tour that is absolutely for free. I recommend making a reservation though, as these tours tend to get booked a lot.
Pro tip: Make sure to be there at sunset to see the fruit bats fly out into the night!
The Rocks / Nurses Walk
The Rocks is a semi-residential area of historic alleys, in close proximity to the Sydney Harbour Bridge (one of the sights to see). Both locals and tourists are drawn to the open-air Rocks Markets, where one can purchase street food and a range of handmade items. This neighbourhood also contains some of the city’s oldest bars and many of the upscale restaurants and pubs, priding themselves on the unobstructed harbour views.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is also located in the same area and will regularly host local and international exhibits. Performers are fighting for the attention of the visitors of the busy harbour front, creating a unique and carefree atmosphere.
In a modern-day city like Sydney, The Rocks is a reminder of the colonial days, with plenty of historical sights, hidden courtyards and cobbled walkways. A traditional sneer towards Australians is that they country was built by convicts, and there is no area in Sydney where this applies more than The Rocks.
After the arrival of the very First Fleet in 1788, Tallawoladah (the name given by the first people of Australia) became the convict side of the town. The governor and his staff preferred living on the more orderly eastern side, while the convicted men and women appropriated significant parts of the western lands.
The Rocks today still features a fair share of Victorian and Edwardian buildings and is considered a ‘heritage theme park’ by its critics, while historians praise the area as a little speck that somehow escaped the high rises and development projects.
Where to stay in Sydney CBD
The CBD ot Central Business District is a great place to stay with kids, as I mentioned earlier under ‘where to stay in Sydney with family. But the absence of nightclubs doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do; many cultural institutions are located in- or close to the CBD, and the Sydney Film Festival is celebrated at several venues across the CBD.
These are exceptional circumstances however, and the CBD makes the most sense if you re on a business trip and the office is nearby, or you are traveling with your family and you are looking for a central location without a busy nightlife.
To give you an idea of the size of the Central Business District; the local subway covers it with seven stations. what this means is that within that large area, pretty much anything from 5-star hotels to service apartments and simple bed and breakfast or 3-star hotels are available.
The Rocks, Circular Quay, Chinatown and even Kings Cross are in walking distance, but as mentioned before, things go quiet after 8pm. So it’s not exactly the best area to stay in Sydney for nightlife experiences.
In this article I tried covering some of the main accommodation hubs like the CBD, Darling Harbour, Newtown and The Rocks. Since I know very little about Surry Hills or Padington there really isn’t very much I can share.
If I had to break it down in absolute choices, I would say The Rocks is perfect for a short, first-time stay. Newtown for an extended stay and the CBD for a family trip or a girly shopping spree.
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Sacha Albarda is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.