SUNNY, fashion-forward and multiethnic, Sydney is an animated city bent on making its mark. But with its skyline already crowded with skyscrapers, and its place on the world stage firmly set, the city seems to be in the midst of a historical revival. Traditional Australian cuisine like meat pies is being remade in the locavore age. Sports like surfing are being celebrated in their national birthplace. And older buildings are enjoying an architectural second act as salons for the city’s cognoscenti, who can’t seem to get enough of Sydney’s homegrown charms.
1) DOWNTOWN REBORN
Young Sydney is rediscovering downtown along George Street. Stroll back in time at the 19th-century Strand Arcade (412-414 George Street; 61-2-9232-4199; strandarcade.com.au), the last of the glass-domed late-Victorian shopping bazaars where Australian labels in the style forefront like Manning Cartell, Jayson Brunsdon and Little Joe by Gail Elliott have set up shop. Less kitschy than the more famous Queen Victoria Building, the arcade includes Strand Hatters (61-2-9231-6884; strandhatters.com.au), which carries the kind of straw hats that are fashionable again, and Haigh’s Chocolates (61-2-9221 6999; haighschocolates.com.au), a venerable outpost of the Adelaide-based chocolatier where even locals line up for its newest confections.
2) SCALING THE HEIGHTS
Unless you suit up and make the climb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the best spot to catch the sunset may be the top of the Rocks, the historic district where young merchant princes and professionals like to pub crawl from the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel (19 Kent Street; 61-2-9251-4044; lordnelsonbrewery.com), one of the city’s oldest continuously operating bars and now also a hotel and microbrewery, to the Hero of Waterloo (81 Lower Fort Street; 61-2-9252-4553; heroofwaterloo.com.au), with stone cellars hiding tunnels once used for smuggling. Another hot spot is the plaza outside the MoS Cafe (37 Phillips Street; 61-2-9241-3636; moscafe.com.au) at the spiffy Museum of Sydney, faintly perfumed by the Royal Botanic Gardens.
3) COVERING THE WATERFRONT
Walsh Bay, by the gigantic old wharves, is being reborn as an arts and culinary neighborhood. The revitalized Sydney Theater Company (Pier 4, Hickson Road; 61-2-9250-1777; sydneytheatre.com.au), under the artistic direction of Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, her husband, often showcases emerging Australian playwrights. Pretheater or after, join an affluent crowd at Restaurant Arras (24 Hickson Road, 61-2-9252-6285; restaurant-arras.com.au), a well-tailored establishment in a former wool store that serves cleverly updated Anglo fare, like snapper with potato napoleon and cockles, or spiced mulloway, lentils and bacon, mead and rye. Dinner for two, about 120 Australian dollars, or $113 at 1.06 Australian dollars to the U.S. dollar.
4) ASIAN MAJOR
The city’s bright young things relish their night life, and no one has tapped into this more glamorously than the chef Neil Perry. His latest two boîtes, both in the soaring Art Deco City Mutual Building, are Spice Temple (10 Bligh Street; 61-2-8078-1888; spicetemple.com.au), a chinoiserie-style restaurant that serves 12 cocktails named after the Chinese zodiac signs, and the snappy Rockpool Bar and Grill (66 Hunter Street; 61-2-8078-1900; rockpoolbarandgrill.com), where 6,500 cocktail glasses hang at the ready for more members of the Champagne set.
5) CUPS AND SAUCERS
Follow the black-fluted paper cups to La Renaissance Café Patisserie (47 Argyle Street; 61-2-9241-4878; larenaissance.com.au), a leafy courtyard cafe favored by coffee connoisseurs. Order a cappuccino, flat white, latte or long black (hold the milk), along with a fresh croissant, before diving into the Rocks Markets, a tasteful street fair held every weekend that carries everything from hand-sewn children’s clothes to vanguard tea ware.
6) SUSHI FOR BREAKFAST
The gigantic Sydney Fish Market (1 Bank Street, Pyrmont; 61-2-9004-1100; sydneyfishmarket.com.au) remains a very active seafood bazaar, with some 100 species of fish auctioned off every day. There are also seafood bars, a takeout deli and a waterfront deck where you can sample your fresh purchases. But to get closer to the source, sign up for a two-hour cooking class at the market’s Sydney Seafood School, redesigned last year with stainless steel cooking stations, a high-def demonstration screen and a dining room with fishnet chandeliers. Classes, which include hands-on lessons on seafood “barbie” and dishes like Singapore-style chili crab, start at 80 dollars.
7) DEEP DISH
Australia’s academic art is having a comeback at the beaux-arts Art Gallery of New South Wales (artgallery.nsw.gov.au), but the Powerhouse Museum (500 Harris Street; 61-2-9217-0111; powerhousemuseum.com), in the former Ultimo power plant, offers a refreshing primer on Australia’s arts, crafts and industries. On view through this year is the rollicking “Eighties Are Back” exhibition, with colorful artifacts that include Michael Jackson’s iconic sequined jacket and silver glove. Afterward, swing by Hannah’s Pies (562 Harris Street; 61-2-9211-2506), a nearby takeout stand known for its hot tarts like chicken and mushroom pie, and lean beef and curry pie (4 to 7 Australian dollars). To avoid the long line, go on the later side.
8) THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
The Edwardian architecture of Surry Hills keeps up with the youth-quake with fashion, housewares, furnishings and antiques shops aimed at the creative caste. The basement of the former Griffiths Teas Building is the home of Halfsleeve (133 Goulburn Street; 61-2-8021-0869; halfsleeve.net), a men’s clothing store that carries designer T-shirts and jeans. Mrs. Press (136a Darlinghurst Road; 61-2-9331-7732; mrspress.com) belongs to Clare Press, a former features editor of Vogue Australia, who likes to mix new and vintage, lingerie and slinky blouses.
9) TRY THAI
Some of the city’s best Vietnamese, Korean and Thai restaurants are in the chill Darlinghurst neighborhood, recognizable by its Victorian town houses and gay-friendly vibe. A popular Thai establishment is Spice I Am (296-300 Victoria Street; 61-2-9332-2445; www.spiceiam.com ), a stylish offshoot of a takeout shop in Surry Hills. Favorites include a green curry chicken stuffed with apple eggplant and pea eggplant (34 Australian dollars) and crispy pork belly with chili jam, cherry tomato and spring onion (30 Australian dollars).
10) NIGHT FARM
An artsy new scene can be found at the Commons (32 Burton Street; 61-2-9358-1487; thecommons.com.au). Housed in an 1850 sandstone farmhouse, the space has been transformed by a group of inventive art and architecture graduates into a restaurant and wine bar with old wooden floors, modern-rustic furniture and a backyard patio.
11) BEACH BUNS
In the nautical hierarchy, the beach resort of Manly may be lower-profile than Bondi’s more chic surf culture, but that’s exactly what makes it such a treat, starting with a quick ferry ride seven miles north of the city. (This year Manly is celebrating its official recognition as the birthplace of Australian surfing.) The town is sprucing up the Manly Scenic Walkway that winds through a large nature preserve. At the other end of the beach, Manly Surf School (North Steyne Surf Club, Long Reef; 61-2-9977-6977; manlysurfschool.com) offers rentals and lessons starting at 60 Australian dollars.
12) SEA FOR MILES
On the roof of the dignified 19th-century Customs House is the ritzy Cafe Sydney (31 Alfred Street; 61-2-9251-8683; cafesydney.com), which has a raw bar and a seafood-rich menu that includes a grilled swordfish with baby squid, panzanella and tapenade (37 Australian dollars). On Sundays there is the live jazz or classical music of Cafe Sydney Sunday, a nice accompaniment to the forever views of the Opera House and the whale-size cruise ships moored in Sydney Harbour.
IF YOU GO
Flights between Sydney and New York City require a connecting flight, usually on the West Coast. A recent Web search found Delta flights from Kennedy, with a connection in Los Angeles, from $1,035 round trip for travel this month.
One of the best-situated and most celebrity-studded hotels is the Park Hyatt Sydney Hotel (7 Hickson Road, the Rocks; 61-2-9241-1234; sydney.park.hyatt.com). The 158-room hotel wraps around a scenic spit of the Rocks opposite the Sydney Opera House. Doubles start at 695 Australian dollars, about $650.
A new budget option is the Vibe Hotel Sydney (111 Goulburn Street; 61-2-8272-3300; vibehotels.com.au) on the edge of Chinatown. The 191-room hotel has a retro-modern décor, a popular bar and rooms starting at 165 Australian dollars.