How to spend 3 days exploring Sydney’s most iconic precincts
Sample world-class food and coffee, marvel at eye-opening cultural moments and meet friendly locals on a three-day tour of Sydney’s iconic precincts.
There’s no better way to get to know Sydney than by exploring the characterful inner-city spots where its residents dine, shop and play. Each area has a distinct personality, from sophisticated Surry Hills to bustling Barangaroo and edgy Newtown. Each pocket boasts fabulous food, strollable streets and abundant architectural beauty.
Together, these suburbs sum up what makes Sydney so special. Here’s how to discover them.
- Check out architectural gems and diverse shopping precincts on foot
- Feast on signature dishes from some of Sydney’s best-loved kitchens
- Experience Aussie music and more on Oxford Street, home to the world-famous Mardi Gras parade
- Immerse yourself in maritime history and get up close to exceptional marine life
Where to stay
There are endless accommodation options in the city centre and its inner-city surrounds. If you want to splurge, consider big names such as Sofitel Darling Harbour or Capella Sydney. For more boutique options, check in to the Ace Hotel in the city centre or Oxford House on Oxford Street, Paddington. On a budget? Try the Space Q Capsule Hotel, YHA Sydney Harbour, or The Kirketon.
Begin your journey of discovery in a revitalised harbourfront zone that’s steeped in history. Once home to a sprawling container terminal, Barangaroo is now a vibrant mini-city dotted with apartments, offices, luxury hotels, and some excellent dining and shopping options.
Pick up breakfast at Shortstop Coffee and Donuts, a Sydney doughnut favourite loved for its glazed treats and specialty coffee. Then stroll along the water’s edge to Barangaroo Reserve, a park landscaped with 75,000 native trees and shrubs. Here, you can join a Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tour and learn about the harbour’s rich Aboriginal history, or go for a swim in the harbour pool, Marrinawi Cove.
Don’t leave Barangaroo without exploring the southern laneways, where you’ll find boutiques selling threads by local and international designers and the expansive Title bookstore.
It’s a short walk from Barangaroo to buzzy Darling Harbour, where some of Sydney’s top cultural attractions rub shoulders with an array of restaurants and cafes. Grab lunch from one of the popular open-air eateries that overlook the water at the Harbourside shopping centre.
Once you’ve refuelled, stroll over to the Australian National Maritime Museum, which maintains a spectacular collection of historic vessels including a Cold War submarine. Or, for a different kind of aquatic adventure, visit Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and marvel at more than 700 different species of sea creatures.
In recent years, the area adjacent to Darling Harbour, known as Batch Brewing Company where you can explore its extensive beer range (plus some of the team’s favourites from other breweries)., has emerged as one of Sydney’s liveliest after-dark destinations. Kick off your evening with a drink at
For a memorable dinner experience, book a table at The Eight, a cavernous Cantonese restaurant sitting at the top of Market City, and which has become famous for its roast duck, fresh seafood and fantastic yum cha since it opened its doors. Alternatively, head to Arisun for Korean fried chicken, Mamak for wafer-thin roti and Dopa for a fast, fresh and unexpected Japanese dining experience.
Cap off your evening with a scoop of gelato from the Darling Square outpost of Messina, the cult Sydney ice-cream chain famous for its one-off flavours, such as mango pancake and cream cheese with red velvet.
Kings Cross, an atmospheric enclave within the suburb of Potts Point, is Sydney’s original 24-hour neighbourhood. No matter what time your day begins, you can count on Pina for excellent coffee and breakfast fare.
Soak up the Parisian atmosphere as you wander the avenues of Potts Point and nearby Elizabeth Bay, which are lined with homewares stores (like Macleay on Manning and Becker Minty), art deco apartment buildings and colonial mansions dating back to the 1830s.
Hop in a taxi or ride share and head for nearby Surry Hills, a leafy locale that has long served as Sydney’s restaurant mecca. For lunch, look no further than Bills, the original home of super-chef Bill Granger, whose repertoire of brunch classics – including ricotta hotcakes and corn fritters – is available til midday.
Once you’ve had your retail fix, get a dose of culture at the Brett Whiteley Studio, where one of Australia’s most celebrated creatives lived and worked in the 1980s and 1990s. Alongside a selection of Whiteley’s work, there’s a trove of personal effects and sketchbooks that shed light on the enigmatic artist.
Adjacent to Surry Hills, hip and happening Darlinghurst provides dining and entertainment options galore, much of it located along Oxford Street. This is where the world-famous Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade takes place each March, and where Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ community congregates all year-round. Whatever your identity, you’ll be warmly welcomed.
Kick off the evening with a drink at the trendy Shady Pines Saloon, if you can find it: this speakeasy-style bar is hidden behind an unmarked door. Then stroll to Bar Vincent, a Euro-style bistro offering Italian fare and natural and minimal-intervention wines.
Afterwards, settle in for the night at one of Darlinghurst’s renowned entertainment venues, such as live-music den Oxford Art Factory or the beloved Darlinghurst Theatre Company, which hosts edgy theatrical and musical performances.
Students, musicians and bohemian families have long flocked to Newtown and its neighbour Enmore, giving the area a distinct vibe. It’s also where you’ll find top-notch casual food from all over the world.
Begin on Enmore Road with breakfast at Azuki, a Japanese bakery known for its artisan bread and cakes. Then amble towards Newtown, popping into shops such as Route 66 for vintage clothing and Collectika for a mix of vintage and new homewares and furniture.
You’ll soon arrive at King Street in Newtown, where the shopping is eclectic, the people-watching is fantastic and the dining options are endless. Work up an appetite by walking to the lesser-visited southern end of the strip and checking out niche retailers such as The Wilde Merchant (for vintage clothes) and Repressed Records.
For lunch, choose from one of Newtown’s numerous Thai restaurants such as institution, Ladda’s, or seek out Continental Deli Bar and Bistro and order charcuterie, smoked anchovies and cheese to graze on. Wherever you dine, skip dessert and proceed to the final stop on your tour of Sydney’s iconic precincts: Mapo, one of the best gelaterias in the city where the ingredients are all natural and many of the gelato flavours are vegan, but don’t seem it.
For an early dessert (the shop closes at 6pm), head to Black Star Pastry. It’s here you’ll find the legendary Strawberry Watermelon Cake, a heavenly creation topped with rose petals. Like Newtown itself, the iconic dessert is one of a kind. Endings don’t come much sweeter than this.