48 hours in Sydney

Some cities seem to have everything: fine cuisine, beaches, stunning architecture and great weather. Welcome, says Kathy Marks


WHY GO?

WHY GO?

Because winter is one of the sunniest times of year in Sydney, with balmy days and cool evenings. And a host of events takes place in the coming months. The Sydney Biennale ( www.biennaleofsydney.com.au) runs until 15 August at various venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Sydney Film Festival ( www.sydneyfilmfestival.org) is on 11-26 June. Screenings are at the State Theatre as well as The Studio at Sydney Opera House and Dendy Opera Quays cinema (Circular Quay). Tickets are A$15 (£6) per session. Visit www.ticketek.com.au

BEAM DOWN

British Airways and Qantas have the only direct flights from the UK to Sydney, with four flights a day from Heathrow between them. But any of about 20 airlines will sell you a ticket from the UK to Sydney. Your choice may depend on where you want to stop en route. But the widest range of flights are on Emirates via Dubai - from Birmingham, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester. On any quality airline, between now and December, expect to pay around £800 return.

From Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport, trains take 13 minutes to reach town. There, they link up with the City Circle loop that joins key points including the main station at Central and Circular Quay. Tickets cost A$11.60 one-way. The Sydney Airporter bus calls at most hotels in the city, Darling Harbour and Kings Cross. Tickets cost A$8 (£3) one-way. A taxi into town costs about A$35 (£14).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Sydney's famous harbour slices the city in two. South of it lies the centre, with highlights such as the opera house and Circular Quay, from where ferries depart. George Street leads north to the Rocks, the site of the first European settlement, now a twee area of cobbled streets. The Sydney Visitor Centre (00 612 9255 1788, www.sydneyvisitorcentre.com) is at 106 George Street, open daily 9am-6pm. East of the city centre are funky neighourhoods such as Darlinghurst and Potts Point, and harbour beaches such as Nielsen Park. South-east is a string of Pacific Ocean beaches including Bondi. North of the harbour are affluent residential suburbs and magnificent surf beaches culminating in Palm Beach.

TAKE A VIEW

The summit of Centrepoint Tower - at 305 metres, the city's tallest building - offers unrivalled views that, on a clear day, extend as far as the Blue Mountains to the west. From the observation deck you can see all the Sydney landmarks, together with the myriad bays and beaches of the harbour and Pacific Ocean. The tower (100 Market Street, 00 612 9231 9300, www.sydneyskytour.com.au) is open daily from 9am-10.30pm and until 11.30pm on Saturdays. The entrance fee is A$22 (£8.60).

TAKE A HIKE

Wander north through Hyde Park and emerge into Macquarie Street, where many of Sydney's most historic buildings stand. They include the Hyde Park Barracks, originally a convict quarters, the sandstone Mint Building, Parliament House and Sydney Hospital, the country's oldest medical facility. Turn east into the lovely botanic gardens; at the north-east point is Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a sandstone ledge carved on the orders of a former colonial governor so that his wife could admire the magnificent views. Now walk west along the foreshore, and you will see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

The Opera Bar (00 612 9247 1666, www.operabar.com.au), situated on the lower forecourt of the Opera House, is a great place to people-watch while also feasting your eyes on the Harbour Bridge. There is live jazz on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The lunch menu usually includes salmon, mint and tomato risotto (A$20/£8) as well as inexpensive salads and dips. The Opera Bar is open daily, 11.30am until late.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Art Gallery of New South Wales, just south of the Botanic Gardens, has excellent displays of 19th- and 20th-century Australian art as well as a fine collection of Asian art. Aboriginal art is displayed in the Yiribana Gallery. A retrospective of Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, a pioneer of the Western Desert movement, runs until 11 July, while an exhibition of postwar photographers such as Max Dupain is on from 12 June-8 August. The gallery (00 612 9225 1700, www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au) is open daily from 10am-5pm, and until 9pm on Wednesdays. Admission is free but a fee is charged to some exhibitions.

AN APERITIF

From Circular Quay, take a 380 bus to Bondi Beach, where the Icebergs Dining Room and Bar (1 Notts Avenue, 00 612 9365 9000, www.idrb.com), overlooking a 50m swimming pool, is a chic addition to the Sydney food scene. Sip a cocktail in the bar (6.30pm-10.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, until 9pm on Sundays) while gazing at the golden arc of Sydney's most famous beach.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Staying in Bondi, walk north along the seafront until you reach Sean's Panaroma at 270 Campbell Parade (00 612 9365 4924). Sean's is a little gem, with idiosyncratic decor, and is very popular with the locals. Expect to pay A$19 (£7.50) to A$35 (£14) for a main course. Sean's is open for dinner from 6.30pm-9.30pm, Wednesday to Saturday. It's advisable to book.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Holy Trinity Church (00 612 9247 1268) was the first military church in the New South Wales colony. Built in 1840, it served British soldiers stationed nearby. It's on the corner of Argyle and Lower Fort Streets. Sunday services start at 9am and 10.30am.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Join Sydneysiders at one of their favourite brunch haunts: Bills 2 in Surry Hills (359 Crown Street, 00 612 9360 4762), owned by Bill Granger, one of the city's top chefs. Signature dishes include corn fritters with tomato, spinach and bacon. The restaurant is open for breakfast daily from 7am-noon, and until 3pm at weekends.

A WALK IN THE PARK

From the city centre, catch a 378, 380 or 382 bus up Oxford Street and get off at Centennial Park, a 220-hectare expanse of green. The park is a wonderful oasis of gardens, woodland, avenues and lakes lined with paperbark and fig trees. Its sports fields, playgrounds and barbecue spots are packed at weekends, while cyclists and in-line skaters circle Grand Drive, the main loop road. The park (00 612 9339 6699, www.cp.ns.gov.au) is open daily from dawn until dusk.

TAKE A RIDE

Pick up the Sydney Ferries leaflet Go Walkabout at Circular Quay (when in Sydney call 131 500 for all public transport information, you can also visit www.13100.com.au). From Circular Quay, take a ferry from Wharf 4 (hourly from 9am at weekends) to Cremorne Point, a 10-minute ride that costs A$4.50 (£1.70). Following the foreshore track, walk east along Mosman Bay, threading your way between native bushland and waterside mansions. At Mosman Rowing Club, you can have a beer on the balcony. Walking tracks wind along the harbour's northern and southern foreshores, with good ferry connections.

WRITE A POSTCARD

Buy a postcard at Circular Quay and hop on a ferry to Manly (every half-hour from 9.30am from Wharf 3, A$5.80/£2.30, one-way). At Manly wharf, catch a 135 bus to North Head, the towering granite outcrop that guards the northern entrance to the harbour and offers dramatic views from the summit.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

For a sensational experience, climb the Harbour Bridge with Bridgeclimb (00 612 8274 7777, www.bridgeclimb.com) and drink in stunning 360-degree views. The ascent takes two hours, with guides leading groups of 12 people along catwalks, up ladders and over the arch of the bridge. Tickets cost A$155 (£61) during the week, A$175 (£69) at weekends and A$225 (£89) for a twilight climb.

CHECK IN

Sydney has a good range of hotels to suit every budget. If you want to splash out, then try the W Hotel at 6 Cowper Wharf Roadway (00 612 9331 9000, www.starwood.com) in Wooloomooloo, which is a renovated wharf area, where split-level loft rooms with marina views cost in the region of A$455 (£180), room only. In the city centre, a night at the swish Westin Hotel at 1 Martin Place (00 612 8223 1111, www.westin.com.au) will set you back at least A$295 (£155), room only. For a mid-range option, head to the Kirketon in Darlinghurst at 229 Darlinghurst Road (00 612 9332 2011, www.kirketon.com.au), which is a boutique hotel popular with the smart set; rooms start at A$139 (£55). Nearby is L'Otel at 114 Darlinghurst Road (00 612 9360 6868, www.lotel.com.au), where a standard room will cost you from A$125 (£49). Good budget options include the Bondi Beachouse YHA at 63 Fletcher Street, Bondi, (00 612 9365 2088), where a dormitory bed costs from A$25 (£10) and a double room with bathroom from A$70 (£27). At Eva's Backpackers at 6-8 Orwell Street (00 612 9358 2185, www.evasbackpackers.com.au) in Darlinghurst, a dormitory bed will cost A$24 (£10) a night and a double room A$60 (£23).

WINDOW SHOPPING

Avoid the tourist traps and head instead to Surry Hills,south of the city centre, where you will find an eclectic collection of boutiques and design shops on the main north-south thoroughfare, Crown Street. At Number 259 is Wheels & Doll Baby (00 612 9361 3286), where the 1950s-inspired women's gear is popular with many a rock chick, including Kylie Minogue. Across the road, at Number 314, is YPV (00 612 9332 4090), which stocks sought-after men's and womenswear labels such as Marc Jacobs and G-Star. Nostalgia freaks should visit BPM Records (Number 255B) and spend a few hours rifling through the capacious racks of vinyl. A few blocks south, at Number 419, there is Planet Furniture (00 612 9698 0680), which sells beautiful pieces made from native hardwoods as well as locally designed fabrics and ceramics. In the same block (Number 387), offering interior furnishings and homewares custom-made by Australian and international designers, is Chee Soon & Fitzgerald (00 612 9360 1031). Mrs Red & Sons at Number 427 (00 612 9310 4860) is a tiny shop with gifts, ceramics and homewares from Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. At Number 418, Dred Scott (00 612 9331 7543) has posters and art books from all over the world.

TASTE OF THE CITY

Among some of the most interesting recent arrivals on Sydney's vibrant culinary scene are a clutch of modern Asian restaurants which combine ultra-contemporary decor with an innovative use of flavours from China and south-east Asia. They include RQ (which stands for Rice Quarter) at 294 Crown Street, in Surry Hills (00 612 9360 8688) and the nearby Mahjong Room (312 Crown Street, 00 612 9361 3985). At 545 Crown Street is Red Lantern (00 612 9698 4355), which serves upmarket Vietnamese food in exquisite surroundings. In Darlinghurst, Phamish (354 Liverpool Street, 00 612 9357 2688) is another popular Vietnamese place; you won't be able to book a table, so it's a good idea to arrive early. Jimmy Liks (188 Victoria Street, 00 612 8354 1400) in Potts Point is very chic, with modern Thai food and a great bar. Back in Crown Street, at 579, Café Mint (00 612 9319 0848) is a new North African restaurant serving traditional dishes with a modern twist. A little off the beaten track, but worth the trip, is the Danks Street Depot in a former industrial area (2-6 Danks Street, Waterloo, 00 612 9698 2201), which serves great lunches and is next door to a new collection of contemporary art gallery spaces.

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