3 Days in Sydney: Where to Eat, Drink and Play in the Emerald CityBy Melissa Woodley
Big, bold and beautiful — Australia’s most famous city is known for its pristine beaches, postcard views and endless sunshine. Yet beyond the glitz and glamour, you’ll find a welcoming city rich in history, culture and diversity offering unexpected joy at every turn.
Whether you’re after top-notch meals that take you around the world and back, edgy music and art in reimagined neighborhoods, or simply the beaches and nature that attract millions Down Under each year, Sydney has plenty of special places to explore.
This activity-packed itinerary highlights different facets of Sydney, ensuring you make the most of your time in the city. Plunge right into what makes the harbor city fun, flavorsome and fabulous without missing a beat.
As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: Sun and Surf in the Northern Beaches
A trip to Sydney is incomplete without a day on the city’s beaches, where you’ll encounter pristine golden sands, ocean waves and Australia’s famed beach culture.
Catching the ferry up to the relaxed seaside neighborhood of Manly is a quintessential experience in itself, and you’ll get to lap up gorgeous views of the harbor with a side of fresh sea breeze. The 6-mile Spit to Manly coastal trail is another spectacular way to get into town. Along the scenic route, you’ll pass secluded beaches, ancient Aboriginal sites and stellar harborside lookouts before reaching your endpoint in Manly.
Fuel up at the sprawling Norma’s Deli, a one-stop-shop Mediterranean bakery, café, diner and grocer that is open from sunrise to early evening. Scope out glass cabinets filled with a bounty of pillowy focaccia, glistening pear tarts, sourdough sangas (Australian for “sandwich”) and pistachio croissants.
Take them out to enjoy on a seaside walk or sit down for a slowly sipped flat white and a warm slice of spanakopita. If you find yourself on the east side of the Esplanade, then hit up the Northern Beaches’ top-tier coffee roaster, Barrel One, for a cold brew and a pastrami bagel.
By now you’ve well and truly earned some relaxing beach time. While you could happily stretch out on the huge expanse of sand that is Manly Beach, make the short walk to neighboring Shelly Beach instead, which offers a more chilled-out, secluded vibe. Waves are calmer, and being inside a nature reserve means that you might even spot a water dragon or brush turkey while you’re there. Keen snorkelers can take a dive and spot aquatic life, then dry out on the pristine sand with a book.
If you haven’t packed any snacks, walk up to the fanciest kiosk in town, The Boathouse Shelly Beach, where you can snap up salmon crudo and green smoothies in a rustic-chic setting.
Once you’ve had enough sun and sand, skip over to 4 Pines Brewpub to watch the sun go down with a beer in hand. This wharf-side venue is a homegrown success story, starting as a microbrewery and becoming one of the country’s biggest brewers. There are more than a dozen varieties, poured fresh and cold from the taps, to try alongside wines, cocktails and snacky pub-style fare that’ll satiate any post-swim peckishness.
Hop on the ferry back into town and see the city lights shimmer in spectacular fashion as you pull into Circular Quay.
Saturday: Star Attractions and Secret Gems in the Central City
There’s only one way to kick off your second day in the Emerald City, and that’s by taking in the razzle-dazzle of its glorious waterfront. Begin the day at The Rocks, the birthplace of modern Sydney. Here you’ll find a charming village of historic sandstone buildings and cobblestone laneways that are now home to inviting cafés, bars, restaurants and boutiques.
The neighborhood is a hive of activity every Saturday and Sunday morning for The Rocks Markets. Browse the myriad stalls selling fine jewelry, original Australian art and gourmet goodies. Swing by for coffee and a pastry, picking up anything from tahini-drizzled Turkish doughnuts to flaky Portuguese custard tarts.
Stroll down to the breathtaking Sydney Harbour waterfront, where every angle provides a photoworthy view. Snap a picture next to the Harbour Bridge; then head to the Museum of Contemporary Art where you can explore captivating Australian and international collections and major exhibitions. (Don’t miss having a second cup of coffee on the rooftop with its billion-dollar views.)
Continue your leisurely walk around Circular Quay until you reach the dramatic steps of Sydney Opera House. The timeless architectural marvel hosts everything from classical ballet to cutting-edge theater most nights of the week.
Take a lap inside and out, and then kick up your feet on the lawns of the Royal Botanic Garden next door. The 74-acre green oasis of native and exotic plants includes a romantic rose lawn and a strange but lovely succulent garden. For a deeper dive into Australian culture, book an hourlong Aboriginal bush tucker tour. A First Nations guide will introduce you to traditional bush foods that have been consumed for thousands of years and explain how they’re being adapted to modern palates and restaurant menus today.
Take a long lunch at one of the city’s finest diners, Le Foote, a Parisian wine bar meets Mediterranean grill located in a historic building. Savor carafes of wine and fresh seafood cooked over charcoal to background tracks of jazz and Euro grooves. If there’s time to squeeze in aperitivo hour, visit Maybe Sammy, a roaring ’50s-inspired cocktail bar known for its theatrical service and top-notch cocktails.
To see a grungier but no less charismatic part of the inner city, head to Chippendale, a once-industrial neighborhood now brimming with culture. Highlights include the White Rabbit Gallery, a four-story mecca of boundary-pushing, contemporary Chinese art with a buzzy teahouse downstairs, and One Central Park, an internationally recognized marvel of green architecture.
These days, Chippendale is also a hot spot for drinking and dining. Dinner meets its match in Spice Alley, a Singaporean-style hawker market where open kitchens flip crisp roti, fry up wok-hei heavy noodles and steam up bouncy har gow (shrimp dumplings). Finish on a sweet note with delicate and artistic cakes by Chef Reynold Poernomo, of “MasterChef” fame, at the nearby KOI dessert bar.
Then, end the day with a gig and a nightcap at legendary party hubs the Abercrombie and the Lansdowne.
Sunday: Hipster Haunts in the Inner West
If days one and two were all about discovering Sydney’s classic beauty, day three is for uncovering its edgier, unexpected side. Start the day with the sea breeze on your face as you take the ferry into Balmain, a peaceful village with bohemian roots. Take a morning dip at Dawn Fraser Baths, a tidal pool that’s provided saltwater swims and sun-dappled reading spots since the 1800s, followed by coffee and a croissant at the quaint, vine-covered Café D’Yvoire.
Next up, Marrickville, Balmain’s cool cousin, awaits with a blend of cultures and unbridled creative spirit. On Sunday mornings, you can shop for fresh produce, secondhand books and healing crystals at Marrickville Organic Markets before heading up Illawarra Road for exceptional Vietnamese food. Generations of Vietnamese migrants have made the suburb what it is today, with people traveling from across the city just to eat Marrickville Pork Roll’s juicy banh mi or Banh Cuon Ba Oanh’s slippery steamed rice noodles served with fragrant pork.
This suburb is also the craft beer capital of Sydney, with respected breweries on just about every corner. Start a Sunday sesh at local legends Batch Brewing Co, Philter, Sauce Brewing Co and The Grifter Brewing Co.
But to drink something truly special, don’t miss Wildflower Brewing and Blending. Here they wild-ferment using native yeasts harvested from bush cuttings to create beers unlike any you’ve had before. Tart, funky and as complex as a bottle of fine wine, they’re blended in barrels and often even aged. Taste something special while snacking on Jersey cheese and hot honey buns created by the brewery’s kitchen — run by much-hyped bakery AP Bakery.
Not a fan of beer? Head over to Sydney’s original hipster haven, Newtown, for an afternoon of shopping and people-watching. King Street is known for its densely clustered offering of student-friendly cheap eats, record stores, piercing studios, vintage and designer boutiques, rip-roaring pubs, upscale bars and restaurants all happily coexisting shoulder to shoulder.
Up your cool credentials with a pair of vintage cowboy boots and Levi’s at Route 66, browse endless shelves of secondhand reads at Elizabeth’s Bookshop or pick up a bottle of rare natural wine at P&V Merchants to impress at your next dinner party.
As evening approaches, do as the locals do by grabbing a to-go pizza to enjoy at Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. Hit up Bella Brutta for pizzas you’ll dream about forever, their blistered, puffy edges encircling flavor bombs you won’t expect. Their signature pie sees tenderly sweet surf clams on a bed of white wine sauce, garlic, lemon, fermented chili, pecorino and parsley. Chow down as the sun sets over the park, with throngs of locals sharing food, drinks and conversation with a vibe that’s simply magical.
Newtown’s liveliness ramps up after dark as live music venues open and pubs start heaving. Visit Bar Planet for imaginative spins on the martini (plus Sydney’s most addictive bar popcorn), or go for sips of sake at record bar Ante and Tiki cocktails at the intentionally kitschy, Twin Peaks–inspired Jacoby’s Tiki Bar.
Wrap up the evening at Earl’s Juke Joint, hidden behind the facade of the butcher it replaced about a decade ago. Inside, you’ll discover a warm, welcoming bar shaking up fab drinks under low light with live music.
This article was created in partnership with Time Out.