We may not be able to skip on a plane to Paris or London, but taking a mini-break at home is still a pretty great option – it’s also convenient and very budget-friendly.
That’s not to say it can’t be decadent. In Sydney in particular, you’re just as likely to find a lush luxury boutique hotel as you are a delightful hole-in-the-wall restaurant where you can’t seem to spend more than $15.
We’ve put together four inner-city staycation guides for four budgets – low, mid, high and blow the budget.
With a prized location right by Central Station, Sydney Central YHA serves as a well-connected base from which to explore the CBD and beyond. The vibe is fun and festive thanks to colourful murals and an abundance of hanging plants. Both private and co-living rooms are available, and the first-rate facilities – including a rooftop pool; in-house cafe; and communal kitchen, laundry and cinema room – deliver more bang for your buck.
On Kensington Street in Chippendale, one of Sydney’s most exciting dining precincts, you’ll find topnotch eateries to choose from. For an inexpensive ($10 and under) meal, it’s hard to go past Spice Alley, an Asian street-food market featuring eateries such as Alex Lee Kitchen, Bang Luck and Blossom Bar, a tiny cocktail bar straight from the streets of Tokyo. At refurbished warehouse Old Rum Store, find Sicilian-inspired Olio, modern Chinese restaurant Holy Duck!, and Gavroche Chippendale, a Parisian-style bistro.
The Barlow Street Forest is an unlikely treat in the heart of Sydney. It’s a micro-forest flourishing in a little-used laneway, and you can explore it for free. The work of environmental collective Dirt Witches, the forest features 30 species belonging to the critically endangered eastern suburbs banksia scrub, as well as beehives of sugarbag stingless native bees. It’s a nod to the 5300 hectares of scrub that once stretched between Botany Bay and North Head.
The Powerhouse Museum houses a collection spanning history, science, technology, design, industry, decorative arts, music, transport and space exploration. Each Thursday night until 9pm from January to March, the museum hosts Powerhouse Late, a program of free events featuring live music, exhibition talks and a fashion show courtesy of Australian label Romance Was Born.
Rising above Wynyard Walk in the CBD, Little National Hotel offers easy access to Martin Place, Barangaroo and Darling Harbour. The boutique hotel opened in 2020 and lives up to the adage that good things come in small packages. Its 230 rooms are compact yet comfortable and feature super king beds and welcome extras including unlimited wi-fi, USB wall ports and a selection of T2 teas. While you’re there, retire with a drink to the rooftop Terrace Bar or seek out a little solitude in the hotel’s library.
The popular restaurant with a Surry Hills and Darling Harbour outpost, Lal Qila Darling Harbour serves up authentic Pakistani cuisine. Dishes include sikandri raan, a whole leg of lamb marinated in tandoori spices, which requires 48 hours’ notice, and zafrani tawa chop, a traditional Punjabi market dish cooked on a piping hot flat cast iron plate (a tawa) with tomato, ginger, onion and garam masala. Most dishes are under $25, to boot.
Delve into Australia’s nautical history at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Current exhibitions include Beach Couture, a collection of wearable artworks made from rubbish collected from beaches and oceans in Sydney and Los Angeles by artist and environmentalist Marina DeBris, and A Mile in My Shoes, an interactive experience created by artist Clare Patey and produced by Artsadmin that asks visitors to try on a pair of shoes that belong to someone else and to listen to their story. Having appeared in London, Sao Paulo, New York, Riga, Denver, Perth and Melbourne, the Sydney pop-up at the Maritime Museum celebrates the voices of migrants and refugees who have made Australia their home. Adult tickets are usually $27, but in February general admission is free.
You could also hit the high seas on the Rocket Sightseeing Tour. The cruise takes approximately 80 minutes and departs regularly throughout the day from Circular Quay between 9:30am and 3:00pm. Expect to see all the famous landmarks as you travel between Circular Quay and Manly, stopping briefly at various locations around the Harbour. You’ll pay $29 for a normal ticket and $39 for the upgrade option.
Pier One Sydney Harbour offers waterfront accommodation with rooms actually built over the water. The repurposed heritage building offers luxury for the entire family, really – there’s even dog-friendly rooms with direct access to the pier from your room, a luxury dog bed and in-room dog minibar (unless of course you want to take them to the restaurant for the Doggy Degustation).
It’s hard to go past Pier One’s restaurant The Gantry – think outdoor dining, watching boats skim the harbour while slurping Sydney rock oysters and sipping local wines.
A 20 minute stroll from Pier One into the city will find you at Employees Only, the Sydney outpost of the famous New York cocktail bar that serves first-rate cocktails and delicious late-night eats. It’s one of the few places in Sydney where you can order a premium sirloin steak – served with pumpkin puree, Dutch carrots, peas, red vein sorrel and jus – past 11pm.
Built in 1929, the heritage-listed State Theatre on Market Street features a four-tonne crystal-cut chandelier (the world’s second largest) and artworks by Australian artists including William Dobell and Charles Wheeler. It’s a sumptuous setting in which to catch a show. Upcoming performances include Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why, a Fleetwood Mac tribute show featuring a 24-piece symphony orchestra, and the Sydney Comedy Festival Gala on April 19.
Near Barrack Street’s imposing Athena Statue – a gift from the mayor of Athens in 1959 to commemorate the Australian Olympic Games three years earlier – is Giant Badges, a new work by local artist Adam Norton. The installation features giant badges in eye-catching colours fixed to the laneway’s lampposts. They’re emblazoned with slogans such as “Future Shock” and “Things to Come” in bold fonts.
BLOW THE BUDGET
It doesn’t get more luxe than a stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney, a luxury five-star hotel on the harbour’s edge where a room with a view takes in no less than the Sydney Opera House. The Park Hyatt’s spacious suites feature custom fittings and furnishings, plush carpets, the latest technology and artworks by Australian artists on the walls. Avail yourself of The Spa’s nature-inspired roster of treatments and relax by the hotel’s rooftop swimming pool, which is open year-round and affords a spectacular view of the harbour. In-house dining options include all-day venue The Living Room and The Dining Room, the Park Hyatt’s harbourside restaurant that celebrates Australian produce and boasts Opera House views.
At Mr Wong, a cavernous temple to Cantonese cuisine on Bridge Lane, executive chef Dan Hong offers a range of banquet menus for diners to choose from. The $155 per person banquet (requiring a minimum of four people) features a delicious selection of dishes including steamed dim sum, honey-glazed Kurobuta char siu pork, and live rock lobster cooked in a style of your choice. For dessert, there’s Mr Wong’s deep-fried vanilla ice-cream with butterscotch sauce, and a not-be-missed mango pudding with coconut tapioca, lychee granita and mango pearls.
Run by Anton and Stefan Forte (Shady Pines Saloon, The Baxter Inn, Frankie’s Pizza), Restaurant Hubert is a cavernous two-level venue with seven rooms, a grand piano and bucketloads of atmosphere. The menu is a Gallic triumph and features Hubert’s take on French classics such as escargots XO, cabbage and roquefort gratin, chicken fricassee and crème caramel. With 48 hours’ notice you can order les plats royaux; dine like a king on boeuf en croût (beef eye fillet baked in pastry) for a cool $290. Or the lobster with beurre de Montpellier (whole Australian rock lobster served with caper and herb butter and house-made tagliatelle).
The Park Hyatt has some of the country’s most respected cultural institutions on its literal doorstep. Take a short harbourside stroll to the MCA, which keeps its doors open until 9pm on Fridays as part of the citywide Culture Up Late program. Keep on walking to the Opera House, where you can go on an architecture tour that explores the history of the iconic building.
Indigenous tour operator Dreamtime Southern X runs illi-Langi The Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour, a daily 90-minute wander through the historic suburb that begins at Cadman’s Cottage before stopping at Bligh and Barney Reserve, Campbell’s Cove and the Argyle Cut. Learn about the area’s rich Indigenous history, important Indigenous sites around the harbour, and native flora and fauna.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Destination NSW and City of Sydney. For more CBD inspiration, visit whatson.sydney/rediscover and to discover more of Sydney visit https://www.sydney.com.