Friday, July 19, 2024
Australia & NZTravel

What’s new in scintillating Sydney, New South Wales

Australia’s harborside cultural capital, Sydney, has had a recent boom in beautiful properties you can stay at and visit during your next visit.

Sydney, home of the world-famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival is a long flight from the States but it’s nice to know what’s waiting for you on the other side of the world more than makes your journey worth it! The first priority is picking somewhere fabulous to stay and there are numerous distinctive and world class establishments to recommend.

In your travels you may see Sydney referred to as ‘Warrane,’ which is the Aboriginal name for the settlement at beautiful Sydney Cove, from which the city has grown since British settlement in 1788 when it was famously established as a penal colony. Today, Sydney is the undisputed cultural capital of the South Pacific, drawing together many strands of a diverse present-day culture while acknowledging its multilayered colonial legacy. This creates a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere set against the stunning natural beauty of the harbor foreshores, its waterways and parklands and bustling urban improvements. Add to this a laid back approach to life and friendly locals and you have the pick of international destinations for 2024.

Sunrise over Barangaroo and Pyrmont Bay. | Photo: Destination NSW

In 2023, Sydney lured a record number of U.S. visitors with some landmark hotel openings, a thriving and innovative culinary scene, and cultural firsts, including marquee events such as Sydney WorldPride, Vivid Sydney, FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the first-ever SXSW Sydney which will return in 2024.

Vivid Sydney 2023 | Photo: Destination NSW

The new year in Sydney kicks off with one of world’s first, and most iconic 2024 New Year celebrations where over a million people are expected to gather along the harbor foreshores for what is traditionally a spectacle of color, sounds, light and fireworks. Next, February welcomes the start of Australia’s largest LGBTQ celebration, the month-long party that is Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a 45-year beacon of diversity and acceptance in the region.

Where to stay: Two new landmarks

Sydney has seen some stunning redevelopments as it continues to enjoy its economic, cultural, and property development boom that has seen no stone unturned—or unloved—in the capital city of New South Wales.

Capella Sydney

Opened in March 2023, Capella Sydney is located within an iconic, heritage-listed building that has been transformed into a luxury hotel.

Sandstone facade of Capella Sydney

From the moment you step beyond the unique sandstone facade and set foot in Capella Sydney it’s easy to see the blend of old and new that is so characteristic of Sydney. The grand architectural form of the storied Department of Education building now blends seamlessly with the best of modern interior design. The staff are young, friendly and strive for excellence. It’s an attitude that has paid off, as Capella Sydney was voted No.1 Best Hotel Brand in the World by the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2023, among numerous nods and accolades.

The facilities are both exclusive and welcoming and there is plenty to do while on property. If you’d like to relax from your flight, first immerse yourself in the bespoke, holistic therapies of Auriga Spa, specifically designed to provide a haven for rejuvenation and restoration—not to mention a stunning architectural approach to the wellness and vitality pools.

Auriga Spa, Capella Sydney

Choose from 192 Deluxe, Premier and Skyline guest rooms starting at 46 square meters, with an emphasis on natural light, space, and contemporary art. The interiors are decorated in subdued natural tones and curated modern artwork. No luxury has been spared in bed and bath with the pillow-top beds fitted with custom Italian Frette linen and exclusive Haeckel’s amenities. Welcome to your city oasis

Grab breakfast or afternoon tea in the stunning, airy, light-filled space of Aperture, which is in itself a work of art. Capella’s breakfast is definitely worth tarrying over. Every dish is made to order—including the espresso coffee and cappuccinos. And save room for the pastry buffet! For afternoon drinks and evening dining, enjoy a curated cocktail at McRae Bar (named after the architect of the original building) followed by fresh, locally-sourced gourmet cuisine at Brasserie 1930. Sydney is particularly known for its seafood and for something truly local, try the Eastern Rock Lobster. And the desserts are to die for.

Capella is conveniently located in the heart of Sydney’s central business district, just a gentle walk from all the shopping of George Street, Martin Place, and the Theatre Royal, which is currently showing an excellent local production of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Plus it’s just a short stroll to Circular Quay and Sydney Harbour where you can take that harbor cruise or get ferries, trams, and buses to many other parts of Sydney.

Crown Sydney

While Capella Sydney is storied, sedate and historic, the complete opposite is true of Crown Sydney. This is a showy, shiny, soaring skyscraper with a futuristic silhouette and dazzling harbor views. You’ll feel like a high roller when you check in and revel in your suite which gives off private penthouse vibes.

Rising majestically above the newly-developed waterfront Barangaroo precinct, Crown Towers offers visitors an unparalleled stay in Sydney with international design flair plus perfectly framed views of Sydney’s skyline and dazzling aquamarine waters. Each suite offers the latest luxury decor and amenities and it’s possible you’ll find it hard to live without your . Be sure to take your buffet breakfast out on the terrace for the gorgeous views and take advantage of the western-facing infinity pool and time your afternoon swim to coincide with sunset. You won’t regret it!

Woodcut Restaurant: A cut above the rest

While at Crown you must book a table at Woodcut. As with New York or San Francisco, Sydney is one of those cities which prides itself on the latest culinary trends and dining out in Sydney is like an event in itself. Woodcut offers an ambitious and adventurous approach to food, incorporating elemental methods of cooking such as fire, steam, smoke and ice. With a concept brought into sensory reality by internationally acclaimed restaurateurs and hoteliers Ross and Sunny Lusted, Woodcut’s stunning ambience is enhanced by the theater of wood burning ovens and open flame grills, bringing out the true flavors of carefully-sourced ingredients.

Aged steak, game and other meats are definitely the stars of Woodcut’s menu. This is where you can find out what Australian Black Angus or Wagyu tastes like. But there is also a unique and refined approach to seafood and vegetables (there is a vegetarian menu). It’s a real treat to sample the kettle-cooked native live pippies (a tiny bivalve) with roasted chickpeas and curry leaves. Or the flavorful Skull Island tiger prawns with fermented chilli, macadamia and lime. Whether you like your food raw, cured or cooked, dining at Woodcut is a feast for the senses and definitely an event, so dress up, get into date night mode, and plan an evening around it. Every moment is to be savored as you are offered the best of Australian food ingredients, presented with a sense of simplicity and occasion. And of course, craft cocktails and sommelier service is just part of the experience.

Sydney’s natural wonders

Sydney’s glorious harbor is in many ways the lifeblood of the city but its natural heart is arguably the Royal Botanic Gardens. Feel inspired and revived as you explore the Royal Botanic Gardens, an oasis in the heart of the bustling Sydney CBD. This waterside paradise features a dazzling array of plants, trees, and gardens, many of which will be exotic to international visitors.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Photo: Destination NSW

To get real insight into what grows here you should sign up for an Aboriginal Bush Tucker tour and admire the beauty and history of the Sydney Harbour from an Indigenous perspective. Our First Nations guide, Scott Bland, showed us many plants with medicinal, healing properties and species of sacred significance with stories attached. Our tour ended with a sampling of “bush tucker” or foraged food.

Guests learning about the rich Aboriginal culture of the Gadigal people on a guided tour in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. Photo: Destination NSW

But if you’d prefer more elevated cuisine while in the Gardens, you can savor modern Asian-fusion cuisine at Botanic House restaurant. Nestled in the green, semi-tropical heart of the Gardens, Botanic House offers a multi-level world-class dining experience with Vietnamese flair curated by Ambassador Chef (and former Master Chef TV judge) Luke Nguyen. The seared white scallop, Sichuan pepper, cashew nut crumble, crispy mint and finger lime (Indigenous fruit) is an outstanding, tastebud-tingling start to your meal. Another definite highlight is the Papaya salad with fish cake, betel leaf, tiger prawn, green apple, tempura saltbush (Indigenous plant) and Vietnamese herbs. Accompany your order with an elegant selection of wines, both local and international, and you basically will have Australia on a plate!

Photo: Instagram/Botanic House Sydney

Of course you can pick up picnic boxes here and find somewhere lovely in the Gardens to have a bit of a wander, plonk down on the lawn, and enjoy lunch while savoring the harbor view!

Walk it off

One of the true pleasures of visiting Sydney is its coastline, which picturesquely stretches North and South with plenty of opportunities for day trips and adventures. A trip to Sydney wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of its iconic surf beaches. Bondi Beach is recommended as one of Australia’s more cosmopolitan city beaches and home to the strapping Bondi Surf Lifesavers. It’s also the kickoff point for the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk, a stunning seaside trek along the cliffs, coastline and parkland that spans several surfside suburbs.

View of the Bondi to Bronte Walk, Sydney. Photo: Destination NSW

Start out at Bondi Beach where you’re sure to have one of the best flat white coffees and brekkies of your life at Promenade, and then take on as much or as little as of the Coastal Walk as you can manage. The Bondi to Bronte walk takes you past secret spots such as the deep nook of Tamarama Beach and the distinctive rock platforms of Mackenzies Bay, and offers some of the most Insta-worthy vistas in Sydney. For good reason, this walk is beloved by locals just as much as by visitors—yes, people live here, but they never tire of the panoramic views of the ocean and sandstone headlands. And you might just spot some whales and dolphins, in season.

Must-see art

Sydney bathes in natural beauty but art is also a vital component in the Sydney landscape. From galleries small to large there is an imperative to connect the best of local art to international trends and to honor the immense cultural value of Australia’s own Indigenous creators. To this extent, the recent opening of the Art Gallery of New South Wales‘ New Building is of major local significance. This once-in-a-generation project has helped transform the flagship public institution into a two-building art museum that almost doubles the space for the display and enjoyment of art, and in its expansiveness embraces new cultural directions.

A new standalone modernist building with soaring interiors, a subterranean section called the Tank, a public art garden, and revitalized historic building brings together art, architecture and landscape in spectacular new ways, with dynamic galleries, site-specific works by leading Australian and international artists, and extensive outdoor spaces for everyone to enjoy.

And best of all, the new building gives Indigenous Australian Aboriginal art its rightful place—while acknowledging the country’s other ties to diverse movements and moments, such as the nation’s geographical and disaporic place in Asia Pacific. It’s a stunning, majestic, and modern space which seems to embody a culture coming into its own, while acknowledging its indelible cultural heritage.

In 2024 some key international works will travel to the AGNSW. Louise Bourgeois: Has the Day Invaded the Night or Has the Night Invaded the Day? is now showing until April 2024; and Kandinsky, from the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, now showing until March 2024, feature major works never seen before in Australia.

Art Gallery of New South Wales director Dr. Michael Brand said, “With an expansion that has doubled our exhibition space, we can now present major exhibitions in new and innovative ways. Louise Bourgeois: Has the Day Invaded the Night or Has the Night Invaded the Day? make history as the first monographic exhibition to be presented in the Art Gallery’s new SANAA-designed building. Spanning seven decades, the exhibition is an unprecedented display of the French-American artist’s practice featuring more than 150 works that will inhabit not one but two major spaces: the crisp, white rooms of our major exhibition gallery, and the atmospheric Tank. Here is an extraordinary opportunity to dramatize the tensions, the contradictions, and the powerful psychological oppositions, that drove Bourgeois’ art and formed its content.

Friends taking a selfie outside the Art Gallery of New South Wales, original building, in Sydney. | Photo: Destination NSW

Kandinsky showcases the work of one of the pioneers of European abstraction, Vasily Kandinsky, who lived and worked across Russia, Germany and France. Featuring works from the renowned Kandinsky collection of the Guggenheim in New York, this exhibition will be presented in the original building and expands on our history of exhibitions about modern art’s innovators such as that of Kandinsky’s contemporary, Hilma af Klint, in The Secret Paintings in 2021,” Brand said.

Patrons at Opera Bar enjoying the sunset and light projections during Vivid Sydney 2018. | Photo: Destination NSW

Now, let’s talk about that other obvious work of art that has made Sydney an iconic city around the world: The Sydney Opera House. Whether you see no other public building while in town, you must visit this unique, sail-inspired cultural landmark constructed on Bennelong Point. Whether you are there to see an opera, play or concert, you will appreciate the magnificent design of the building itself, and its more than one million chevron-shaped tiles that reflect the gleaming antipodean sunshine, or perhaps the light show of one of the city’s many festivals. The Sydney Opera House is currently celebrating 50 years, and always has fascinating programming, whether that’s Sarah Brightman starring in Sunset Boulevard, or raconteur intellectual Fran Lebowitz, or Grammy-winner Angélique Kidjo. Magnetic Sydney has a way of drawing the best Down Under.

And of course you cannot go past the Opera House without stopping by the enviably-located Opera Bar for a spot of seaside people watching and succulent Sydney seafood. This is our pick for saying hello — or farewell — to Sydney on your next visit.

People enjoying food and drinks with a view at Opera Bar, Sydney Harbour. | Photo: Destination NSW
For more information and to plan your itinerary go to and visit

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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 141 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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