A day in the Sydney city centre

7 May 2015

Australia Day Sydney Harbour

8am – The café strip
Start your day with a delicious coffee and some breakfast in one of the Italian cafés on Stanley Street, just around the corner from the Australian Museum. This little strip was the centre of Sydney’s original Italian community in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and it’s the home to some of the world’s best espresso. Try the understated Bill & Toni’s or Arch Cafe; both have been around for decades and still do the best coffees on the street. Warning – if you’re not used to espresso, resist that second latte or you’ll be levitating through town.

9am – Hyde Park
Walk west up Stanley Street and cross Elizabeth Street to the manicured oasis that is Hyde Park. You’ll see the 30 metre high art deco ANZAC War Memorial, towering above the tranquil Pool of Reflections. Wander through the park – you may join a trotting stream of well heeled commuters – cross William Street, which dissects the park, and enjoy a stroll down the wide, shady avenue of fig trees to the dramatic Archibald Fountain, a popular meeting site.

From the fountain, on the other side of Elizabeth Street, you can see one of the finest examples of English-style gothic churches in the world – St Mary’s Cathedral, a treasured piece of Sydney history, made from local sandstone. Join a historical tour on Sundays at 10.30am.

Beyond St Mary’s lie the Domain gardens and beside it the Art Gallery of New South Wales, boasting collections from all over the world, including a unique collection of native Australian Aboriginal artworks as well as early colonialist masterpieces. It’s fascinating to see how artists from Europe first depicted the “wide brown land” of Australia.

10am – Shopping
Walk down from the fountain to St James Station and cross Market Street at the lights. Shiny shop fronts of the David Jones building will beckon from the corner – the entrance to the labyrinth of Pitt Street Mall. Stretching two city blocks, Pitt Street Mall has it all – from music to shoes to fashion favourites and beauty outlets. Head into the Westfield Sydney shopping centre to peruse four floors of luxe labels before finding your way to the gateway of Sydney Tower, the city’s tallest building. These Sydney views are not to be missed so grab a ticket and take the ear-popping elevator ride to the top.

12pm – Sydney Tower Eye
From Sydney Tower Eye, Sydney stretches below you in every direction. You can see across the city centre (the people look like ants) to Sydney Harbour, east across the Royal Botanical Gardens to Bondi Beach and the Pacific Ocean, and around to the west you can see all the way to the hazy blue stripe of the Blue Mountains. You can use high powered binoculars on the observation deck to hone in on famous landmarks, and discover fascinating facts from the multilingual touch screen panels.

1pm – Lunch
The Westfield Sydney food court is amazing for lunch – with a great variety of delicious cuisine in a lively setting. If you’re not ready to come back down to earth, Sydney Tower Buffet is a unique place to graze. After a few rotations in this revolving restaurant, you’ll know Sydney like the back of your hand. Check your direction – we’re heading straight for Sydney Harbour.

2pm – George Street
Make your way from Pitt Street Mall through the glamorous art deco Strand Arcade, with its three levels of designer boutiques. Now you’re on George Street, arguably the busiest street in Australia, which stretches from Central Station right down to The Rocks precinct.

If you were to head south, you’d come to the grand and beautiful Queen Victoria Building, then Sydney Town Hall, the George Street Cinemas, Chinatown and finally, Central Station. But today we’re heading north.

A few blocks up you’ll reach elegant Martin Place, home to flagship stores for Armani Exchange, Burberry, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Versace.

Another block and you’ll pass a huge marble bar in a building called The Establishment, home to some of Sydney’s most popular clubs and restaurants. On the top floor is sophisticated lounge bar Hemmesphere, and in the basement is a speakeasy called Palmer & Co. On the first floor is the award-winning, world-class Est. restaurant.

At last you’ll come to the busy bay that is Circular Quay. Rest on the grass beside the Museum of Contemporary Art, home to an incredible collection that is free to browse, and watch the ferries float in and out of the wharves.

3pm – The Rocks
As you continue down George Street, you’ll notice the buildings suddenly change to antique sandstone terraces and worker’s cottages – you’ve taken a step back in time. The Rocks is where the first colonialists settled in the 1780’s. These cobbled laneways were once docklands, home to convicts and poor migrants. Now the historic precinct is an upmarket tourist destination and arts hub, with fancy shops and weekend markets where you’ll find local arts and unique keepsakes.

Make your way to cobbled Argyle Street, and explore the chocolate shops, boutiques and restaurants. Take a tour through the vertical maze of sandstone courtyards, up the stone stairs to Sydney’s oldest pub, the Fortune of War. A little further up, Observatory Hill and the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout offer spectacular district views.

4pm – The Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is fascinating to see firsthand, a magnificent steel structure, towering black and intricate over the blue harbour. Climb the stairs to the Pylon Lookout and feel the sea breeze as you take in the sights of ferries, Luna Park with its beautifully restored Ferris wheel, the breathtaking Sydney Opera House, the wharfs and coves, all the way around from the lush Royal Botanical Gardens to the bustling Darling Harbour. For a truly spectacular experience, climb to the 134 metre summit with BridgeClimb Sydney – you will be stunned.

6pm – Blu Bar on 36
If you didn’t manage to climb the bridge, or you were too busy shopping to go up Sydney Tower, this very elegant, grown-ups’ version of a lookout will definitely still take your breath away. On the 36th floor of the Shangri La Hotel in the Rocks, Blu Bar is the most divine place to sip on a cocktail and watch Sydney Harbour change colour with the setting sun as the city lights come twinkling on.

8pm – Dinner at Cafè Sydney 

Been back to your hotel to change? It might be a good idea. This restaurant is chic and fabulous, overlooking Circular Quay, it’s the quintessential Sydney city dining experience – the seafood platter is ridiculously decadent, with Australian wines to match the towers of oysters and Balmain bugs.

10pm – Sydney Opera House

There’s nothing quite like night time on Sydney Harbour. Stroll around the promenade through Circular Quay, taking in the buskers and the happy evening crowds, toward the Sydney Opera House, perched over the Harbour on Bennelong Point.

Keep it simple, with a beverage beside the water at Opera Bar. Or if you’d like to make a night of it, book early for a show beneath the world famous sails of this iconic venue. Performances at Sydney Opera House are world class – not just operas, but ballets, plays, rock concerts, symphonies, DJs, Aboriginal and contemporary dance, children’s shows and more.