Ok so you’ve hit the biggest sights in Sydney and still have a couple of days to spare. You don’t just want to wander aimlessly through the CBD because, well, once you’ve seen it you don’t need to keep seeing it. You will quickly run out of things to do in central Sydney, so maybe you want to get off the beaten path and see Sydney like a local. Luckily for you, there is so much to see in Sydney in the neighbouring suburbs. And I know just the places.
This continues perfectly from my previous article on Sydney’s main attractions.
Grungy, urban, hipster cafes, bookshops and clothes stores. May I introduce to you Newtown. The reason you probably don’t know this part of Sydney is because, when visiting a new city, no one ever goes anywhere based on one measly paragraph in the guidebook (I’ve seen it!). It is, however, a favourite suburb of the locals and is well worth an afternoon even if you are only in Sydney for a few days.
A short 10-minute bus ride south of the city makes the ease of access to enjoyment ratio perfect. Newtown is just a short bus or train ride south and is teeming with culture, creativity, cafes, and cool bars.
Newtown is a hotbed of international cuisines and you’ll find it all from Thai and Vietnamese, to locally sourced burgers and other junk. I love the greasy burgers of Big Daddy’s, which is set like a 1970s US diner. Mary’s is a dark cave of a bar with good beers and some great burgers. And the Newtown area (and surrounds) is also a hotspot for boutique breweries in the Newtown, so keep an eye out for Young Henry’s, Batch Brewing, Wayward, and Willie the Boatman if you’re a hop-enthusiast.
The University of Sydney just down the road is worth a walkthrough as well. As Australia’s oldest university, some of the architecture is from bygone eras. The Quadrangle and Grand Hall are particularly beautiful.
While Newtown might be a local Sydney institution, Alexandria is the new kid on the block and is currently being transformed from an industrial wasteland to a trendy paradise, burgeoning with hip cafes to wake up to and relaxed bars to kick back in of an evening. That said though, Alexandria probably shouldn’t be your first priority if time is somewhat limited.
(While it does boast some of Sydney’s best up and coming café’s, prioritise Newtown and/or Surry Hills before making the foray into Alexandria. But of course, if it wasn’t worth visiting at all, I wouldn’t mention it all.)
The suburb itself is most certainly off the beaten track and while some places keep very busy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find tourists in the area.
One of the favourites of locals (and mine too) is the Grounds of Alexandria. The Grounds is more than a cafe, it takes up a whole block and has a few different areas including a sit-down cafe, a more casual, takeaway style cafe, coffee carts, a florist, food carts. They even keep some farm animals and their own horticulturist on site! It’s very unique, all in a rustic garden setting. People make the trek from Newcastle just to go here so you can bet it’s worth a train or a cab ride out from the city.
Around the corner is The Potting Shed, a less casual restaurant and bar that feels more like a garden party with hanging pots and greenery everywhere.
And when you get thirsty, The Lord Raglan can sort you out with some good, local beer. Owned by Rocks Brewing Co, their own beers are most common, but also feature some great rotating taps. And there’s also a handful of pinball machines for when the conversation dries up.
Related: if you’re driving to Brisbane, don’t miss my suggested road trip itinerary for all the best places to visit on the east coast.
The residential area of the Eastern suburbs is reserved predominately for Sydney’s elite. Passing a Lamborghini dropping kids off at school is fairly commonplace. Luckily for the rest of us, they do not hold the monopoly on the beaches and the views. Since the ‘Eastern Suburbs’ is largely residential I am defining the Easter Suburbs as anything from the beaches on the inside-south of Sydney Harbour, around the coast along to Coogee.
Most of the best things to do in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs (apart from being loaded and living there) are in fact beaches, so you know, just a heads up.
Seldom visited by tourists, Shark Beach in Vaucluse is the perfect beach to escape the hoards that Bondi shamelessly attracts. The calm water is great for families and for the more active, there are rocks to explore at either end.
Watson’s bay is a fantastic day trip from the city. It’s one of those beautiful hidden places in Sydney that will combine amazing views of the bridge with the open ocean, cliffs and a serene beach since the best way to get there is by ferry from Circular Quay. The beach is a gorgeous spot for a swim, paddle and behind it is a large park to have a fish and chip picnic bought at the wharf. Across the park is The Gap – Sydney’s favourite place to commit suicide. The Gap is the start of a lovely walk along the cliffs with sublime views of Sydney Harbour, the Pacific Ocean, and of course, the magnificent Sydney skyline in the distance.
Gordon’s Bay is an alternative beach to experience and is situated along the Bondi to Bronte coastal walking track. The walking track itself is worth doing on a sunny day and Gordon’s Beach, being completed surrounding by perfect sun-baking rocks, is a great place to have a swim because you’ll need a break from the thousands of others also doing the coastal walk.
Surry Hills and Darlinghurst
Just to the east of the CBD lies one of Sydney’s hippest suburbs, with bakeries, ice cream parlours, cafes, a giant Coca-Cola billboard, and a plethora of unique drinking establishments. In fact, what it lacks in actual tourist attractions, it more than makes up for in cool establishments, people watching, and the knowledge that you’re hanging out with locals.
Surry Hills is great to explore on foot and if you visit on the right Saturday you might even be able to peruse the local Surry Hills markets. Reuben Hills or Single O are two of the best places for great coffee; the Local Taphouse is home one of Sydney’s best craft beer tap lists, and Bare Grill is one of my favourite places to grab a burger (my personal favourite is ‘the Trip’). Meanwhile, the gothic-themed Absinthe Salon will creep you out just enough for it to be a drinking experience you actually want to tell your parents about.
In Darlinghurst, the Wild Rover and Shady Pines Saloon are both unsignposted and hide down laneways behind plain doors. Shady Pines is my personal pick though for its incredible atmosphere, and it’s uniquely modern take on the saloons of the Wild West.
As Australia’s number 1 tourist destination and over 20,000 hotel rooms in the city, you can expect that there are some pretty cool things to see and do in Sydney. This is true, and you’ll probably see all 20,000 of these people if you visit Circular Quay on a sunny day. So I hope this has helped inspire you to get off the beaten track in Sydney and see some of the neighbourhoods most visitors overlook.Remember, while iconic, there is a lot more to Sydney than the Opera House, the Bridge, and Bondi.
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