Sydney in the sun: Why now is the time to go Down Under (2022)

Travel

World famous landmarks, beautiful beaches, World Pride! Sydney is the place to be right now.

Words by Lewis Corner

22nd November 2022

Sydney in the sun: Why now is the time to go Down Under (1)

Sydney WorldPride Rainbow Sand Sculpture, Bondi Beach - Photography by Daniel Boud

It’s the land that has produced so many iconic queer culture stalwarts over the decades: Kylie! Priscilla Queen of the Desert! Muriel’s Wedding! Olivia Newton John! Kath and Kim! And shining brightly on its southeastern coast is its most famous city: Sydney. (There’s a reason a large majority of the world’s population mistakenly think it’s the capital.)

A sparkling metropolis with its towering skyscrapers, rumbling tramlines, glistening sea, idyllic beaches and a more relaxed approach to life, while evoking a blend of Los Angeles and London, Sydney has its own distinct personality. Rich in history and culture, it’s a city with plenty to see and do, never offering up a dull moment – and it’s currently undergoing an impressive and exciting transformation. There’s noticeable development happening, with new restaurants and hotels opening regularly, as well as massive refurbishment projects on some of their most-visited landmarks and cultural venues. What’s more, Sydney has a packed programme of events for the months ahead, promising once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

As a destination, Sydney has always been a major player on the world stage, attracting travellers Down Under to enjoy its bustling nightlife and majestic coastline.

Which landmarks should I visit in Sydney?

Sitting at the heart of Sydney is its most famous landmark: the Sydney Opera House. Designed and built to be a world-leading cultural hub of the performance arts, since its opening in 1973 it has become an iconic symbol of Australia. Ahead of its 50th anniversary it has undergone extensive refurbishment over the past 10 years, with the expansive Concert Hall having been technologically upgraded to deliver an even better experience. Naturally, the summer ahead has programming including musical theatre, plays, comedy, music performances and operas. There are also behind the scenes tours available, which give you a walk around the venue to learn of its turbulent beginnings before it flourished into the popular landmark it is today. Up close you realise how impressive its famous outline is, adorned with thousands of tiles that light up in the sun.

Right next to the Opera House is one of Sydney’s other famous landmarks: the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Constructed between 1923 and 1932, its huge steel arches look magnificent above Sydney’s diamond blue waters. The BridgeClimb Sydney experience allows guests to walk over those very arches, reaching the top of the Harbour Bridge for incredible views across the city, harbour and beyond. You’ll travel 440ft up over the course of two hours with a full guide to the history of the bridge and how it transformed Sydney during the early 20th century for the better. There’s also an opportunity to have your picture taken at the top with the Opera House in the background, even if it can get a little windy up there.

Sydney’s most famous beach, Bondi, is about a 15 minute car drive from the city. Surrounded by cafes and restaurants for a spot of lunch or an evening meal, the main draw is the fine white sand of the beach. With crashing waves, it’s quickly noticeable why it’s popular with Sydney’s surfers. The Bondi Pavilion on the beachfront has just undergone a $48 million renovation, transforming it into a cultural hub for the suburb. Up on the hill is Bondi Icebergs Club, which offers fantastic views of the beach below as well as a sea water pool which is prone to the ocean’s waves crashing into it. It’s all part of the fun though.

Further north up the coast are the tropical and tranquil bays of Manly. Blue sea, white sand, and luscious plants adorn many of the beaches in the surrounding area. Manly Beach is expansive and, again, plays home to many surfers tackling the waves. Manly Bike Tours offers a guide to the area and all its natural beauty. With different routes on offer, it gives you the opportunity to see the stunning coastline of New South Wales up close. For ours we cycled to Shelly beach, taking in the coastal air and admiring the views. Other tours can go further, taking riders through Sydney Harbour National Park, or heading even further to Manly Dam.

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Sydney Seaplanes

What kind of once-in-a-lifetime experiences can I do?

If you want to see Sydney in style, there’s only one way to go: a seaplane! Operated by Sydney Seaplanes, these light aircraft can be chartered to 13 destinations in the area, and offer truly spectacular views of the city from 10,000ft above. The aircraft carries approximately 12 passengers and for our flight we took off from Rose Bay and landed north of Sydney near Scotland Island, before getting off the seaplane and into a boat to Newport for some lunch. The flight was just under 20 minutes and gave us full views of the city – including an unforgettable vantage point of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge – as well as being able to take in the full spectacle of the New South Wales coastline with all its greenery and bays. It was a smooth and cinematic journey and landing in the water surrounded by all of the yachts and sailboats was like something out of a movie.

We enjoyed further views of the city and surrounding areas by sea too. Lifestyle Charters offer trips on their luxury boats to get a seaview of the coves and islands of Sydney Harbour. Furnished to offer sophistication and elegance, we enjoyed drinks and lunch on the boat as it made its way across the blue waters alongside Sydney’s famous sailboats. While getting to take in the full city skyline of Sydney, the boat made its way past some of the city’s most expensive and luxurious properties – you’ll be dream house shopping in no time. With plenty of comfortable deck spaces to sit, lie and relax, it offers a moment to take in the Sydney lifestyle and its natural surroundings, breathing in that sea air and enjoying the gentle bob of the water.

Sydney’s dedication to the arts goes way beyond the Opera House. The city plays host to a handful of world-leading museums and galleries, with some major exhibitions planned for 2023. The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is based in Sydney Harbour on land of immense cultural and historical significance to the traditional owners of the place, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. The museum is home to more than 4,000 artworks by Australian artists, paying attention to those artists – both established and emerging – creating work today. They also have a commitment to works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists throughout the gallery – particularly in their MCA Collection: Perspectives on place. For the first time ever in the Southern Hemisphere, South Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh will bring a large-scale exhibition to the MCA this summer, running from 4 November 2022 to 28 February 2023. There’s also incredible exhibitions including Yirrkala Prints (12 November 2022 – 25 April 2023) and Primavera 2022: Young Australian Artists (4 November 2022 – 12 February 2023). The Do Ho Suh exhibition is ticketed, but a large portion of MCA’s exhibitions are free.

Elsewhere in Sydney, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is preparing to open up its Sydney Modern extension on 3 December 2022. This $344 million renovation will be one of the leading cultural hubs in the city, offering a next-gen arts and culture experience for visitors. The Art Gallery of NSW is home to a number of extensive exhibitions, including their 20th century collection which features works by the likes of Picasso, Joy Hester, Frank Hinder, John Brack and more. The Grand Courts includes Renaissance-era pieces from the 15th century right through to sculptures and paintings from the 19th century. When the new Sydney Modern building opens in December there will be an eclectic mix of new exhibitions added, including Dreamhome: Stories and Art and Shelter, and Making Worlds amongst others. Entry is free and it will genuinely be worth visiting to get a first look at the magnificent new building alone.

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Sydney WorldPride 2023

Okay, where’s the LGBTQ+ bit of the city?

For LGBTQ+ travellers heading to Sydney, there’s plenty of queer history, venues and locations to get stuck into. The most well known is the annual world-famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. First held back in 1978, it has grown into a massive, city-wide celebration of LGBTQ+ communities, as well as a protest for greater LGBTQ+ rights and protections.

Oxford Street has long been the epicentre of queer liberation in the city, especially throughout the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st. To this day, the area plays home to many LGBTQ+ venues and businesses. There’s night spots like Universal Bar with 7 nights of drag throughout the week; the incredibly popular Palms with its throwback playlist of 80s and 90s hits; and the Colombian Hotel with its cocktails, rooftop and regular drag shows. On Sundays you’ll see LGBTQ+ people head to The Beresford and The Stonewall Hotel is open 7 nights a week for drinks as well as being a community space.

In Taylor Square you will see a massive Progress Pride Flag flying high, with plans for an LGBT Museum to open nearby soon. A five minute stroll away is Green Park – historically popular with gay men in the 70s and 80s – which now has an LGBT Memorial installation which lights up at night and is part of the Sydney Jewish Museum. A little further on is St Vincent’s Hospital, which was the epicentre of the AIDS epidemic in Australia in the 80s.

All of these locations are covered as part of an LGBT tour of Oxford Street with drag guide The Fabulous Wonder Mama. The drag performer gives a detailed history of the area, the people who lived there and takes you to visit some local LGBTQ-owned businesses (including costume store House of Priscilla and The Bookshop Darlinghurst, which has Australia’s biggest range of LGBTQ+ literature and has been running for more than 40 years) – all while in full drag inspired by her superhero icon, Wonder Woman.

Beyond the well-known LGBTQ+ venues of Oxford Street, there’s also The Imperial Erskineville which fans of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will recognise as being the venue where Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce lip-synced for their legacy! in drag in the Front Bar. It now houses Priscillas!, a kitsch and camp restaurant serving delicious dishes and cocktails that also hosts their popular Drag N’ Dine experience. And it’s exactly that – enjoy your food while some of Sydney’s most fabulous drag acts perform up a storm. After dinner you can continue at the bar for more queer carry-on, with the venue hosting regular LGBTQ+ parties and events.

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Mezze served up at AALIA

Where are the best places to eat?

Now we’ve started to talk about food, it would be rude to stop. Sydney is brimming with new restaurants offering all types of cuisine, but with one consistency throughout: oysters. It’s little surprise considering the vast expansiveness of water throughout Sydney Harbour and beyond into the South Pacific Ocean. Prepare to eat plenty of them.

There’s plenty across the city to satisfy all foodies. In Surry Hills there’s Lebanese restaurant Nour, led by Executive Chef Paul Farag. The sharing banquet menu offers a succulent selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes, from barberry glazed shoulder lamb to fried cauliflower with wood roasted grapes, labneh and smoked almond crumb. Our personal favourite dish was the chicken bits shawarma with tarator and pickled cabbage wrapped in a yoghurt bread. Once rolled up, the flavours, spices and textures come together for a mouth-watering combination.

Over in Wynyard is the Shell House and its menu of meats, fish and Italian dishes. The Pappardelle smothered in beef shin ragu melts in your mouth for a divine dining experience, with delicious starters including pickled mussel with white onion and mujdei, as well as wagyu pastrami. Middle Eastern restaurant AALIA in the centre of the city is a must-visit with its chic modern interior. Also led by Farag, the eggplant mes ‘a’ aha and spiced tomato is easily the most-more-ish dish we had on our trip, as we ordered more Khorasan pita to soak up the sauce. The main of almond crumbled john dory with Maras chilli gave all the flavours and textures and the desert of valrhona chocolate, kataifi, sesame dulce was an unexpected but very delicious combination.

Stopping by the Fish Butchery founded by famous Aussie chef Josh Niland is also a must-do. The chef has grown a reputation for using every part of a fish (and we mean every part) to create innovative and unique substitutes for your favourites dishes. From cured meats to burgers and even ice cream, every dish has been carefully and expertly crafted to emulate the real thing (while tasting delicious) but only using fish as its core ingredient. It’s truly mind-blowing. Fish Butchery is where you can pre-order and pick up to go. But if you want the full dining experience, you can visit Saint Peter on Oxford Street, or Charcoal Fish in Rose Bay.

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Charcoal Grilled Mooloolaba Yellowfin Tuna Double Cheeseburger at Fish Butchery

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The brand new Allianz Stadium in Sydney

Why Sydney and why now?

This summer marks the first time Sydney will be the host of WorldPride. From 17 February until 5 March 2023, thousands of LGBTQ+ people will descend upon the city for one of the biggest Pride celebrations in the world. Sydney WorldPride will have a program of over 300 events, with highlights including an extensive human rights conference with 1500 community leaders, activists, politicians and human rights experts in attendance; a huge Opening Ceremony headlined by Kylie Minogue, featuring Charli XCX, Courtney Act and many more; a Bondi Beach Party which promises to be unforgettable; the Domain Dance Party headlined by Kelly Rowland; and the closing show Rainbow Republic featuring MUNA. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras march will be the biggest ever and will be a historic moment for the local community, as well as those who have traveled to the city.

If you can’t get to Sydney WorldPride, there’s still so much to do throughout the summer. With the newly revamped Allianz Stadium there will be sports events and music concerts throughout the coming months. The Intercontinental Hotel has recently undergone an impressive renovation with glorious views of Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. And the recently opened Crown Sydney offers luxurious surroundings for your stay, with the city’s first Nobu restaurant to visit too.

With a summer packed with exciting events, a city bursting with arts and culture, a nightlife scene that’s undeniably fun, top spots for cuisine, sandy beaches, glistening water, and breathtaking natural views, there simply is no better time to visit Sydney than now.

To learn more about Sydney and start planning your trip, visit www.sydney.com/

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