Where to stay in Sydney

Where to stay in Sydney, Sydney Harbour, Sydney, Australia

Sydney Harbour. Image credit: Destination NSW

I’m currently planning a Big Betty of an overseas trip, and one of the things I’ve struggled with is landing on where to stay in each city. How do you choose where to base yourself when the city is as foreign to you as space?

And, of course, you don’t want to cock it up and end up staying somewhere that’s only transport option is a donkey or where drug deals are done on your doorstep or where your options for dinner don’t get much better than a McDonalds drive-through.

So, you end up doing hours and hours of desk research, to ensure you make the right decision – and really who wants to be doing that. While I may not have a clue where to stay in the US, I do know where to stay in Sydney. So, I thought I’d help out my fellow travellers – those planning a visit to Sydney – by imparting my insider knowledge.

Here’s where you should stay in Sydney, with all the pros and cons on each area, plus hotel recommendations:

Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, Australia

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Image credit: Destination NSW

Sydney City… for the practical tourist or business traveller

Pros – the Sydney CBD is the natural first choice. There’s the greatest concentration of hotels here and you’re right on the doorstep of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Rocks. You’re also well connected to public transport with several train stations, the Circular Quay ferry terminal and oodles of buses – practicality, tick. For bonus points: the shopping here is as good as you’ll get anywhere in Sydney.

Cons – the concrete jungle that is Sydney CBD has about as much personality as Melania Trump. It’s a confusing mix of tourist heartland and business district. Accordingly, the restaurant scene here is blatantly chasing the tourist and/or corporate dollar. There’s not a lot of nightlife, with parts of the city resembling a ghost town once the sun goes down. But, in amongst the over-priced fanciness and abundance of dodgy pizza shops, you will find some restaurant and bar gems – it just requires a bit of legwork. (This post has you covered for the best bars in the Sydney CBD).

Hotels I’d recommend – The Grace Hotel (for Art Deco glamour), QT Sydney (for OTT fun), Park Hyatt Sydney (for a five-star splurge) and Mantra 2 Bond Street (for good value apartment accommodation).

Sydney Harbour Bridge at night, Sydney, Australia

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Image credit: Destination NSW

Darling Harbour… for the family

Pros – Darling Harbour is home to some of your best kid-friendly attractions in Sydney: Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussauds and Wild Life Sydney Zoo, along with a big playground and grassed area. Plus, it’s an easy walk to Chinatown, Sydney CBD and The Star Casino (for some adult fun), and a lot of your tourist boat cruises depart from Darling Harbour, making this a popular Sydney holiday base camp. It’s also not bad to look at, with it’s pretty harbour views.

Cons – again, Darling Harbour doesn’t have a lot of soul to it and, personally, I think it’s an overpriced tourist trap. The restaurants here I avoid like Christmas Eve shopping. Public transport also isn’t wonderful, and more often than not it involves a hilly walk back into the Sydney CBD.

Hotels I’d recommend – Hyatt Regency Sydney (for a great rooftop bar – Zephyr), Sofitel Darling Harbour (for its rooftop pool) and Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour (because it’s an Ovolo). I appreciate these are all terrible family-friendly reasons – sorry!

Darling Harbour, Sydney Australia

Darling Harbour, Sydney. Image credit: Destination NSW

Bondi Beach… for beach babes and backpackers

Pros – if you’re after a casual but action-packed holiday in the sun, Bondi Beach is your girl. There’s lots to keep you busy with surf that packs a punch, three ocean pools, the pretty Bondi to Coogee coastal walk and enough sand to be considered a small country. And the famous beach doesn’t stop buzzing when the sun goes down, with decent restaurant game and a bangin’ nightlife (albeit on the young side).

Cons – if you want to go anywhere else in Sydney during your stay, it will be a pain in the arse. To get into the city from Bondi Beach, you’re looking at 45 minutes via public transport (bus and train) and 30 minutes via Uber (depending on the time of day). Plus, if you’re not a showpony yourself, sometimes the bronzed, buff and green juice-drinking Bondi locals can become a little too much to bear.

Also note that Bondi Junction (a shopping centre and train station) is a confusing 3 kilometres from Bondi Beach. That’s a 40-minute walk!

Hotels I’d recommend – QT Bondi (for a luxury beach stay) and Adina Apartment Hotel Bondi Beach Sydney (for the best of Hall Street).

Winter in Sydney, Icebergs swimming pool, Bondi, Sydney, Australia

Icebergs Pool, Bondi Beach

Manly… for surfers and those seeking some R&R

Pros – Manly offers a more laid back version of Bondi. Sydney’s second most-famous beach is more suitable for families, and beachgoers and surfers who don’t want to battle the crowds. Plus, there’s good restaurants, relaxed bars, the Manly Sea Life Aquarium and lots of nearby national park to explore.

Cons – you’re in a whole other world up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, but the ferry puts the city a quick 30 minutes away. And, if you’re going to travel by public transport, the Manly to Sydney ferry is by no means a chore.

Hotels I’d recommend – Novotel Sydney Manly Pacific (for a rooftop pool overlooking the beach), Quest Manly (for beachside apartment living) and Sebel Sydney Manly Beach (for laidback beachfront accommodation).

Spit Bridge to Manly Walking Trail, Sydney

Manly ferry

Surry Hills and Central… for the night owl, foodie and creative type

Pros – Surry Hills has a duck-tonne of personality, it’s gritty, vibrant and delicious. You’ll find some of Sydney’s best street art, boutique shopping, dining, bars, pubs and clubs here. (Read this post for 25 of the best things to do in Surry Hills). Plus, the Sydney CBD is only a train stop or brisk walk away.

Cons – alongside seriously good restaurants and bars, stand brothels, drug dens and housing trust, which gives Surry Hills an edge. While the police presence is strong, you want to have your wits about you when walking around this tiny suburb at night.

Hotels I’d recommend – 57 Hotel (for something 70s inspired), Rydges Sydney Central (for well-priced four-star hotel accommodation with a good indoor swimming pool) and ADGE Boutique Apartment Hotel (for something more boutique and colourful). While on the wrong side of Central Station to be classified as Surry Hills, The Old Clare Hotel is absolutely luscious with pimped up digs and a rooftop pool.

Button Bar, Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Button Bar, Surry Hills

Newtown… for the hipster

Pros – if you’re into live music, comedy and theatre, you can’t beat Newtown. It’s eclectic, artsy and has a bohemian vibe going on. Staying here will definitely give you a ‘living with the locals’, non-tourist experience of Sydney. Plus, there’s good bars, cheap eats, vintage shopping, and plenty of pubs, cafes and indie bookshops.

Cons – Newtown is inner Sydney suburbia, surrounded by more inner Sydney suburbia, and six kilometres from Circular Quay – although well connected by train. There’s also no harbour or beach views in Newtown, and it can feel a bit like an urban heat island in summer. Plus, if you’re not super cool, play vinyl, ride a bike and wear statement glasses, you might feel a little out of place.

Hotels I’d recommend The Urban Newtown (for an industrial-style studio stay); otherwise, best try airbnb for this one!

Where to stay in Sydney, Newtown, Sydney

Enmore Road, Newtown

Potts Point… for the foodie

Pros – Potts Point is another delicious, delectable suburb, with enough hole-in-the wall bars, award-winning restaurants and avocado smash-serving cafés to make you dizzy. The nightlife culture in Potts Point is strong, transport connections into the city good and, with its Art Deco architecture, wandering the charming streets is a joy.

Cons – the red-light district of Kings Cross is a Frisbee-throw away. Although it’s brothels, night clubs and strip joints look a little sorry for themselves since Sydney’s lockout laws, which have wound back opening hours for alcohol-serving venues, there’s still some rough patches in this neighbourhood.

Hotels I’d recommend – Spicers Potts Point (for a luxurious, old-meets-new stay) and Quest Potts Point (for convenient apartment accommodation). Other than that, there’s not a lot of hotels to choose from in Potts Point, so give airbnb a gander.

Ice cream sandwich, The Fish Shop, Potts Point, Sydney

The Fish Shop, Potts Point

And that’s it, where to stay in Sydney! Enjoy xx

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