Sydney city proper hasn’t traditionally been where you’ll find its soul, but thanks to a revamped retail offering and a wave of intimate new bars and restaurants, the city is now a superb place to spend big, dine small and most importantly – have fun. (Nikki Wallman)

Start the day with some culture at Circular Quay. Grab a takeaway coffee from the masters at Mecca Espresso (1 Alfred St) and cross the road to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), host to sometimes out-there, always thought-provoking, modern exhibitions (140 George St).

Now head south towards Pitt Street Mall and straight into the beautiful Victorian-era Strand Arcade, where you’ll find top Aussie designers (Lover, Sass & Bide, Manning Cartell, Alex Perry) and a favourite of fashion editors, The Corner Shop. At the other end of the mall you’ll find the ultra-modern jewel in the city’s shopping crown, Westfield Sydney.

This seven-floor mecca houses 100 Squared Emerging Designer market (think gorgeous print kaftans, ikat dresses, and new spins on denim, many around the $60 mark) on level one. Next, hit Zara for affordable runway trends before drooling over Chanel, Prada, Miu Miu and Mulberry, plus local favourites Willow, Zimmerman and Sass & Bide. Take a breather on level three, where French macaron masters Ladurée now also serve champagne, and bolster your strength with sustenance from the gourmet selection at Food on Five (on level five).

For a change of scenery, head to ivy (330 George St) and go Euro-style at Ash Street Cellar (1 Ash St) for a glass of vino and tasty tapas, or try Palings Kitchen & Bar (level one at ivy) for street-style Thai or gourmet deli and grill dishes in an open-air sanctuary above the buzz of the city.

Walk off lunch by heading back south towards Topshop (corner of George and Market Sts) before visiting nearby Mecca Cosmetica (The Galeries Victoria, 500 George St) – the perfect one-stop shop for beauty, skincare and fragrances from cult brands including Chantecaille, Nars and Dr Hauschka.

Dying for a drink? The city’s now heaving with small, charismatic bars. Grasshopper Bar (1 Temperance Lane), Stitch Bar (Basement,61 York St), and the Baxter Inn (156 Clarence Street) are some of the hottest at the moment. If you’re feeling a bit more glam, try the New York sensibility of Gowings Bar & Grill at QT (49 Market St).

For a big ticket dinner item, sample David Chang’s signature brilliance at Momofuku Seiōbo (Level G, The Star, 80 Pyrmont St) – the SMH Good Food Guide named this “provocative, focused, iconoclastic and beguiling experience” its ‘Best New Restaurant of 2013’.

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But it’s not all about the new: Pendolino (Level 2, Strand Arcade) is a well-established favourite nestled at the top of The Strand; all moody lighting, silky pasta and bold Italian flavours. Or splash out on the big kahuna – Quay (Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks), with a pre-dinner drink at The Glenmore Hotel’s (96 Cumberland St) rooftop bar for stunning harbour vistas.

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