As the weather warms up Sydney turns into a summer playground of festivals, coastal walks and unique experiences.
1. Spend the evening dining at the Campbell’s Stores precinct
Sydney’s old town was once blind spot on the city’s culinary landscape, offering just a handful of expensive options on one end and unavoidably disappointing cook-you-own-steak pub fare on the other. But, happily, The Rocks has changed. This summer, make Maybe Sammy, a bar so sleek it landed on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, your first stop. Follow it up with a whisky at The Doss House and dinner at Israeli eatery Tayim, or linger over a seafood feast at Catch, part of the Campbell’s Stores precinct: the emerging dining hotspot this historic city quarter deserves. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sydney summer without spending an afternoon atop The Glenmore’s rooftop watching the day fade behind that famous house.
2. Enjoy a sundowner overlooking Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach
Of course, it’s summer in Sydney so invariably you will find yourself on that most iconic of beaches, Bondi. Once you’ve caught enough sun but still can’t manage to leave this beautifully bleached stretch of sand, make your way to Icebergs to raise your glass to summer. You have a couple of options here. Firstly, you can rock up to the club part of Icebergs, sandy-toed and with bedraggled beach hair for a few affordable beers. Or you can throw on your finery and swill Champagne at the fashionable upstairs bar. Or, this summer, you can hedge your bets at the Icebergs x Ketel One Botanical pop-up outdoor bar on the Terrace.
3. Explore South Sydney’s hidden playground at Wattamolla, Royal National Park
Take a little expedition south to the stunning Royal National Park this summer and be rewarded with a veritable oasis complete with lagoon, waterfall, walks and picnic area. Wattamolla Beach is only an hour’s drive from the city, but feels a world away. Make a day of it and start with a walk through the bush and along the dramatic clifftops before returning to the beach for a gentle paddle and a picnic under the shade of cabbage palms.
4. Get involved at Sydney Festival
Every January, Sydney is electrified with an enormous infusion of talent. With performances as diverse as cabaret and classical music to workshops and talks, and art installations and exhibitions, there is something to entice all comers. Running from 8–26 January and showcasing a huge variety of international and domestic acts spread out across Sydney, the festival is all about making culture accessible to everyone and, in that spirit, there are a number of free and family-friendly events to enjoy.
5. Spend an evening getting cultured at Art Gallery of NSW’s Art After Hours
Sydney is a city that lives outdoors, especially come summer. So if you can’t manage to drag yourself out of the sunshine to top up your culture quota, the Art Gallery of NSW has a solution. Art After Hours runs every Wednesday evening until 10pm, and features weekly changing talks, workshops and special tours of current exhibitions. Come, consume some art and have dinner in the restaurant, then catch the courtesy bus, which runs every 15 minutes from 7pm, back to the city centre.
6. Traverse dramatic clifftops on the Federation Cliff Walk
One of the best ways to appreciate Sydney’s stunning geography is by getting out and walking it. Winding your way along her captivating coastline is a very good use of a summer’s day. There are loads of coastal walks from north to east and south, but our pick is the Federation Cliff Walk, which meanders from the east’s Watsons Bay to Dover Heights, or to Bondi if you have it in you. Aside from the opportunity to spot whales, admire the endlessly blue horizon and be cooled by the enlivening salt air, the best thing about this walk is that it’s bookended by great spots for lunch and a drink. Depending on which end you start, you can breakfast at one of Bondi’s many eateries and then work up an appetite for lunch at the Watsons Bay Hotel.
7. Find respite from the heat at Wendy’s Secret Garden
Escaping the consuming summer heat without wasting the day inside a soulless air-conditioned mall can be a challenge in Sydney. When you need a little time out from the blazing midday sun, make your way to Lavender Bay on the north side of the Harbour Bridge. Here you’ll find an exquisite, shaded public garden created by one of Sydney’s best-loved characters, Wendy Whiteley. Former wife of the late and esteemed artist Brett Whiteley, Wendy began toiling in the overgrowth of the patch of land below the couple’s Lavender Bay home as a way to cope with Brett’s death. Eventually, the harbourside garden, which is on public land, took shape into a canopied labyrinth for everyone to enjoy. Take a stroll and emerge renewed.
8. Stay overnight at Cockatoo Island
Getting out and onto Sydney Harbour is an absolute must every summer. Sure, you can charter a yacht, join a kayaking tour or simply jump on a ferry, but why not get properly involved and spend the night on historic Cockatoo Island? You’ll find a range of accommodation on the island from a waterfront campground to heritage houses and apartments, all encircled by that spectacular harbour. Be sure to check out Cockatoo Island’s website to explore its events and line up a tour before you go. If you’re partial to a few goosebumps and spine shivers, combine your stay with an adults-only Overnight Fright Experience that delves into the island’s spookier side.
9. Get your tickets to the brand new Sydney Zoo in Western Sydney
The highly anticipated Sydney Zoo will open its doors for summer 2019 on December 7. Get up close to all your favourite native and exotic animals, stop by the aquarium and spend time in Australia’s largest reptile and nocturnal house. The zoo has been thoughtfully designed with no hills or steps to make it easy for parents with prams or those using wheelchairs to get around easily. The whole zoo experience is aimed at helping to secure a sustainable future for wildlife through education, immersive and engaging experiences and opportunities for visitors to contribute to change. Family passes start at $99 and all tickets are only available for purchase online.
10. Let the kids loose at Wild Play Garden, Centennial Park
Some days, the thought of throwing the kids in the car with a boot full of swimming paraphernalia ready for a long, sandy beach session is just too much to handle. But if the kids are agitating to get wet, Centennial Parkland’s Ian Potter Children’s Wild Play Garden offers a low-commitment solution to outdoor water play. Let the squeals of delight ensue as the kids go bananas running through the artesian fountains, scrambling over boulders, through tunnels, down slides, and chasing each other through the bamboo forest. It’s true kids’ own adventure stuff, and the best part is, it’s all enclosed, so you may grab a coffee and actually relax.
11. Go to Tahmoor’s Mermaid Pools
Swimming in a Sydney summer often means fighting for your place among the throng. Why not head out of the city to cool yourself down? At least there’s air con in the car. Try hitting up the Mermaid Pools in Tahmoor. It’s a spectacular waterfall that can only be found after a brisk 45-minute hike – and you need to jump in from at least 10 metres… BUT it’s much quieter than the famed (somewhat dangerous) Figure Eight Pools, and who needs to fight for space when it’s this hot, amirite? Strong swimmers only though please, this ain’t an activity for beginners.
12. Find your inner aqua-yogi, Manly
Like water? Love yoga? Then how about doing a yoga sesh atop a paddleboard? At Manly’s flow mOcean you can get your fitness on while splashing about in Sydney Harbour at a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga class. It’s super fun but it’s also actually incredibly good for you – not having the natural balance of a stable surface means that core will burn like never before.
13. Go snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Bay
Most Aussies haven’t been to the Great Barrier Reef, but have you even snorkelled at your local reef? Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve on the Northern Beaches is a great place to start. The water is ripe with wildlife such as wobbegong sharks, cuttlefish and blue gropers – in fact, 160 different species of fish have been recorded in this little cove alone. Plus, you can get out of the water and head over to The Boathouse on Shelly Beach for a delightful lunch in the shade, and that’s a perfect day right there.
14. Kayak down the Parramatta River
Kayaking isn’t just for the ocean you know. In Sydney’s West you can hop on a kayak at Jolly Roger Kayaks and paddle yourself down the historic Parramatta River. Paddle past Newington Armory and Cockatoo Island, and check out mangroves and historic homes en-route. They’ll even show you how to commute to work via kayak and take your stuff back to base, so you need only do it one way.
15. Do a bush tucker walk in the Botanic Garden
You’ve eaten the fried saltbush at Bar H and the warrigal greens at Billy Kwong, but how about going straight to the source? The Aboriginal Heritage Tour at the Royal Botanic Garden will see you taken for a wander around the park with an indigenous person, who will teach you about bush tucker and the history of Sydney’s Gadigal people. Depending on when you go, you might see macadamia trees in full, blushing-pink bloom, wash your hands with foaming wattle leaves, or hear all about the once-booming oyster harvest on the water’s edge.
16. Take aperitivo on the (Fresh)water
If you want to pretend you’re in the Cinque Terre but without the crowds, head to Freshwater and Pilu’s latest offshoot, Pilu Baretto, for an Aperol Spritz as the sun sets and the temperatures begin to loosen into night. Try their $50 tasting menu, with dishes like handmade pasta and soft, warm potato bread with whipped ricotta and house-made bottarga.
17. Swim with the fishes on an underwater scooter
Head down to Clovelly to do a dive with a difference – you’ll be led along by an underwater scooter. You can choose to jaunt about on the surface or swim down to the ocean floor. It’s diving – but supersized.
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