Australia Sydney Travel

Sydney for the in-betweeners: Half tourist, half local advise for the full experience

sydney opera house and harbour bridge

When tourists have been flocking to Sydney…

Australia has been fast becoming the best destination for tourists. There’s been an all-time rise in travellers heading to the Land Down Under, and making their clever pit stop to Sydney.

But the city has become so hoarded with tourists that it’s gotten difficult to really see the city through the eyes of a local. Sure you’ll have the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but then you also need to set your sights on suburbs like Bronte or Coogee.

To get the full-on experience, I wanted to bring a twist to your usual Sydney-obsessed guide. Instead of being purely a traveller or a tourist (who says we can’t be both?!), explore foreign soil with sights to see, beautiful experiences, and hikes that leave you hanging for some air.

airbnb collage at bronte beach

First, where should you stay?

In the two times I’ve been to Sydney, having stayed at Surry Hills and Bronte, I can honestly say that the latter would give you a better AirBnB experience.

Don’t get me wrong– I love Surry for all its quirks. Unfortunately, you’ll also be super close to the city and wouldn’t be seeing the beach anytime soon. And let’s not even get started on the price differences.

Booking an AirBnB in Bronte was both a challenge yet an awesome experience. For one, I got to meet plenty of locals who enjoyed the simple waves over at the beach, and got to (accidentally) walk the entire Bondi-Coogee path. Which, in itself, was worth it.

Here’s the thing: If you love the high-scale restaurants, beautiful views of the harbour, and plenty of luxury brands to see, stay within the confines of the city. This way, you won’t have to travel for very long to get to the spotlight. And admittedly, suburbs like Surry Hills and Paddington, can easily fill your need for some Sydney character.

With Bronte, it’s a little bit farther, especially if you plan to commute. However, you’re surrounded by very local hang-outs, hills that could go on for days, and undiscovered coffee haunts. But you have to be wary. It’s much, much quieter around here and if you don’t get home at a reasonable hour, you’ll be completely lost at your bus stop. Trust me, I know.

Sydney Opera House with The Rocks of a couple walking

Second, plan out your Sydney essentials.

Depending on where you plan to stay in Sydney, the CBD is generally the easiest place to commute to. There you’ll find plenty of restaurants to eat at and shops to explore. As well as you’ll have the tourist-y spots like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, where alongside it, you’ll find The Rocks.

For the latter, it’s a great place to hang out and eat during the weekend because of the market. You won’t be missing out on the variety of food and coffee shops that randomly spring out of their hiding places. It was here that I first learned about chilis and wine-specific chocolate, Balinese traditions, and plenty of outdoor accessories.

Other weekend markets to consider:

  • Paddington
  • Bondi

Generally, if you’re around the CBD area, you wouldn’t need to go very far for entertainment. I recommend hitting Chinatown, and some other small European restaurants to have the full experience. Like in many places around Australia, you’ll have practically every nationality in these parts where food isn’t an issue. At all.

I love exploring plenty of suburbs as well and have found that each one has their own unique personality to make you feel like you belong in their community.

So, the inner-city suburbs would be: Paddington, Surry Hills, Newtown, and a part of Alexandria I think.

Personally, they’re all very good choices to explore because of the quirky cafes, endless stream of dessert shops, and organic finds – there’s really no place in Sydney like them. Especially when you stumble upon Surry Hills or Paddington where the craziest type of restaurants and shops are around every corner. You won’t have difficulty finding either a beach-ready outfit or a party-going one.

bondi beach at sydney australia

However, if you prefer the ones by the beach…

My old AirBnb host used to tell me how expensive it is for families or other persons to live by suburbs like Bondi Junction, Bronte, Coogee, and Bondi beach. Because each house or apartment gets pricier with the view, you’ll find more luxury items in their malls here.

You can opt to take a more local route by enjoying the quieter beaches and playing tag with dogs.

On the other side of the city, you’ll find North Sydney – another area where plenty of people love living at. Here you’ll find plenty of car dealerships, malls, and suburbs like Manly.

You’ll be rewarded with fish ‘n chips, a surf city, and more spots to eat organic food of. I swear, you don’t go here without at least having a whiff of organic pizza or avocado toast. It’s almost impossible to find anything else.

And so, plan your itinerary around the kind of sites you would want to see and tick things off your list – at least to make sure you’re making the most of your trip. Because they’re usually a bus or train ride away, you’ll still have plenty of time to meet locals and hang with them as well.

Side note: There are plenty of backpackers or other travellers who usually stay in Coogee.

bronte rock pools new south wales

Coastal walks that will make you stand still like an idiot (in awe)

I’ll be the first to admit–I’m not an exercise type of gal. In fact, I could probably live my life off not moving from my couch. Or in this case, my dorm room.

But Sydney’s beautiful coast have been amazing so far. And I could probably walk for miles just to see the ocean, birds, and tons of tourists doing the same.

My favourite so far has been the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk – which is also a crowd favourite as far as I’ve seen.

I also did the Split Bridge to Manly over at North Sydney and loved how it’s a little less crowded with the same stunning views of the city, bridge, and Opera House.

Personally, I can’t recommend others because I’ve never done them… But I hear that if you love nature, and are open to tons of exercise to see exciting views, these are the best walks:

  • Federation Cliff Walk – If you love cliffs overlooking the ocean near Watson’s Bay
  • Royal National Park Coast Track – For adventure seekers and those who live for secluded beaches
  • Chowder Bay to Balmoral Beach – To learn more about Australia’s settlement history and military influence. I hear it’s also great for a different angle of the Clarke Quay (the Harbour).

Other recommendations:

11 Of the best coastal walks in Sydney by The Urban List

Sydney’s greatest coastal walks by Australia Tourism

Where to eat and find good coffee

Total disclaimer: Sydney-siders love eating organic food! I honestly feel like that’s why they give off some L.A.-type of vibes.

The range of restaurants go from Michelin starred ones to low-cost, Asian options. And admittedly, they’re all pretty good! Just be sure to budget around $20 per meal, per person at least. Sometimes you can get them cheaper but other times, not so much.

Probably the most popular one and my favourite, The Grounds Of Alexandria. It’s a small compound consisting of homegrown food, coffee, sweets, and 3 different areas where you can eat.

I usually stay at the coffee shop area and listen to the live band in the canteen place afterwards. But there are also other parts of the Grounds you can go to as they also have a small market during the weekend.

Other great cafes or restaurants you can find around the city are:

  • Egg of the Universe at Rozelle, NSW
  • Nelson’s Road Tuckshop at Bondi Junction
  • The Farm Wholefoods at Pott’s Point
  • Earth To Table, Bondi Junction
  • Porch and Parlour, North Bondi
  • Ovo Cafe, Surry Hills
  • Yulli’s, Surry Hills (try out their pizza! It’s amazing!)

Plenty of them are vegan and organic, as they’re usually what you’d find in the area. However, if you love some steak or lobster, the best ones are in the city and hanging around by the Harbour. Like The Opera Bar gives a stunning view of the harbour while you eat your seafood platter.

Manly

I LOVE taking the 45-minute ferry ride all the way to Manly! It’s pretty awesome if you’d like to experience the prettiest sights and see where they filmed a scene in one of Wolverine’s movies.

But basically, going here is purely surf central. You have the beautiful beaches and coves around whilst munching on your fish ‘n chips – hint: there’s tons of them! – with no shortage of restaurants or coffee shops to visit.

Sometimes it feels like a completely different place all on its own.

Besides your local fish ‘n chips, you can have a try at their open-window, organic coffee shops that’s bound to delight your taste buds.

  • Barefoot Coffee Traders
  • Belgrave Cartel
  • Market Lane Cafe

Or some of the best seafood spots to have:

  • Manly Fish Cafe
  • The Herring Room
  • Arthur’s Oysters and Seafood
  • Garfish Manly
  • Hemingway’s

Admittedly, I haven’t gone here to fully explore the Northern suburbs yet. But I do love spending the mornings here and think it’s one of those places you’d have to tick off when you visit Sydney.

Darling Harbour

Nestled between Chinatown and The Rocks, you’ll find yourself at Darling Harbour – a stroll through beautiful ocean views and plenty of restaurants to explore.

They’re all on the pricier side but happen to be one of the best in the world to try. Some here will have International-specific flavours (mostly from the West) while others are a fusion between two opposing cultures that you never thought would have great food together. I swear.

On the photo, I have a sundae from Movenpick. And well, I haven’t had the chance to taste test everything at Darling Harbour (because that’s just crazy!) but here’s some of my recommendations:

  • Sepia – For anyone who loves classic decor with fancy food
  • The Malaya – To try contemporary Malaysian cuisine that melts in your mouth and wakes up your taste buds
  • The Port – If you love cold drinks with fresh seafood served artistic plating. You’ll feel like you’re in a whole different world here – with ornamental furniture, greenery, and the best view to date.
  • Blackbird Cafe – A friend recommended this to me and I love the chips here! Personally, I don’t eat steak very often but if you’re in the neighbourhood and want to try authentic Australian rib-eye, then this is your place to be. There are also other branches around the CBD.

Other sources:

Surry Hills

For my second trip to Sydney last year, I decided to stay in Surry Hills to feast on all the coffee shops. Depending on your neighbourhood, it’s easy to walk through all these places before ending up around Central.

I find that the best time to explore the suburb is during the night when plenty of them have just opened. But hey — you won’t go hungry with Mad Mex or Hungry Jack’s just around every corner.

My favourite place has got to be Single O, which is considerably called the best coffee shop in all of Sydney. In fact, they say it’s the closest to Melbourne’s coffee scene than anywhere in the city. I’ve ordered beans from them and have tried their avocado toast which is… yum!

Another classic would be Yulli’s, a vegan restaurant where they probably have the best 4-mushroom pizza I’ve ever had. This one’s a little more within the suburb as plenty of locals go here or the pub across the street right before heading home.

I can’t recommend these enough. They’re completely mind blowing.

Even if you don’t find tons of recommendations within the area, it’s best you should know that Crown Street (where Yulli’s is at) is chock full of restaurants, Gelateria, and Asian cuisine that’s just begging for you to try.

Some out of town trips to squeeze in…

Admittedly, I really wanted to spend time outside of Sydney this time around. Because I wanted a mix between local and tourist destinations, I made sure to put in my itinerary wine tasting and some activities.

For one, Hunter Valley is great to try Australian wine with their specialties lying in white or rose. However, you’d probably have to get used to them being in the citrus-variety compared to their French or Italian counterparts.

We also came along Grey Line’s whole day tour of the Blue Mountains which is about 2-3 hours from the city centre, depending on the traffic.

I loved the out of town trips I took but honestly wouldn’t advise them to anyone who’s only staying in Sydney for a short while. Maybe if you’re there for about 6-7 days, as the travel time literally takes a toll on you.

Sydney, overall:

I’ve been twice in the span of six months and loved both times. There’s a ton of places to see and do while you’re around Sydney and I’ve never found it boring.

However, it wholly depends on stuff you enjoy doing. I wouldn’t mind staying at home but the city loves its outdoors – and so, you’d be subjecting yourself to trying everything here. Even jogging.

But hey, if you loved the post and thought it was useful, let’s do everyone a favour and share the pin!

Sydney for in-betweeners mixing tourist destinations and local finds

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