Traveller writers, on the spot in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Canberra, report on the hottest neighbourhoods, where there's enough to savour for a whole weekend away or even an extended short break.
As revolutions go, it was an easy one to miss. Millions of Australians in recent years have, after all, been focused on overseas rather than domestic holidays. But, while we've been away, back home Australia's major capitals have been transforming themselves with the sort of vibrant, often design-driven inner-cities once only found in the nation's two biggest cities.
Now there's virtually nowhere in urban Australia you can't score a memorable meal, a great coffee or a beaut buy.
George Street, Sydney
WHY HERE, WHY NOW?
Once strictly the domain of office workers – and practically deserted on weekends – Sydney's CBD is enjoying a renaissance, with George Street at the heart of the revival. Small bars, bijou boutiques and top restaurants are opening apace, with stalwarts freshening up offerings to attract the new crowds. And there are plenty of hip hotels to check in to as well, should you wish to linger.
Sydney's original high street, George Street runs close to three kilometres from The Rocks to the verge of Central Station, with historic buildings, shiny malls and hidden alleys along the way.
Steps from Circular Quay, Rockpool (rockpool.com; 02 9252 1888) may have been around for seven years, but Neil Perry's mod-Australian fare continues to impress. Further south, The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room (themorrison.com.au; 02 9247 6744) draws crowds with its craft beers and burgers; opposite, boutique hotel The Establishment is home to Est (merivale.com.au/est; 02 9240 3000), serving up contemporary Australian dishes, as well as newcomer Mr. Wong (merivale.com.au/mrwong; 02 9240 3000), popular for its impeccable Cantonese fare and a Shanghai-chic dining room.
Just off 320 George Street, Palings Lane is the site of freshly minted Lorraine's Patisserie (merivale.com.au/lorraines-patisserie; 02 9254 8009), where you can watch bakers prepare pork-and-fennel sausage rolls and frangipane tarts. Palmer & Co (merivale.com.au/palmerandco; 02 9240 3172), a subterranean Speakeasy-styled bar, is tucked down Abercrombie Lane, the next alley along.
Continuing south, Angel Place's installation of birdcages welcomes you to China Lane (chinalane.com.au; 02 9231 3939), where creative Asian dishes star on the menu.
Dating back to 1891, The Strand mall off George Street is home to petite cafes plus organic Australian skincare purveyors Aesop (aesop.com; 02 9235 2353), uber-cool Scandinavian homewares store Funkis (funkis.com; 02 9221 9370), and bespoke millenary boutique Strand Hatters (strandhatters.com.au; 02 9231 6884).
The thoroughfare also cuts through Chinatown, where round-the-clock restaurants and Thai, Korean and Chinese grocers rub shoulders with karaoke joints and massage parlours. Here, you'll find World Square, where Beijing's Da Dong group – China's most applauded Peking duck restaurant chain – is one of the forces behind China Republic. Set to open mid-October, the restaurant is designed by DS17 (also responsible for nearby newcomer Alpha) and will have live dim sum stations, two duck ovens and a menu of mod-Beijing cuisine.
- Natasha Dragun
Working class to its foundations, Northcote remains a little rough and ready and that's just how we like it. Cheap rents brought the Greek and Italian immigrants along with their cafes, delis and artisan factories. Then came the artists and students - and Bohemia was born. Now kids who grew up here have come back with their families while a new generation of creatives has brought eclectic charm to this northern jewel, without it losing its roots.
Cute-as-a-button Red Door Corner Store (03 9489 8040; reddoorcornerstore.com.au) serves divine baked goods in a former local milk bar. For dinner, the hatted Estelle (estellebarkitchen.com.au) packs in the foodies, doing insanely intricate but supremely tasty degustations accompanied by funky 1950s decor. The Northcote Social Club (03 9489 3917; northcotesocialclub.com) is Mecca for live gigs, and The Front Bar is way old school. Joe's Shoe Store (03 9482 7666) hasn't been a shoe store for a while but the old signage remains at this convivial little drinking den where barmen in nerdy knits do double time as DJs.
The family-friendly Wesley Anne (03 9482 1333; wesleyanne.com.au), an old church turned venerable bar/restaurant/live music venues. The rambling beer garden is perfect for long southern summer twilights.
- Julietta Jameson
Lonsdale Street, Braddon
Like any good inner-city strip, Lonsdale Street in Braddon aspires to a mix of internationalism, funkiness and eclectic chic. Fortunately, this up-and-coming spot manages the cocktail and the street has become an attraction for the capital's growing ranks of hip inner-city dwellers and after-hours wind-downers. Just a few minutes walk from Canberra's CBD, Lonsdale Street is home to a range of groovy fashion outlets and labels, gift ware and homewares, hairdressers and of course enticing eateries.
As a focal point, try the Lonsdale Street Traders (0407 283 218) market, a range of independent retailers currently domiciled in an old tyre warehouse. A favourite is Elseware (0404 062 336; elseware.com.au), which sells an odd and intriguing range of vintage curios begging to be picked up and examined. From there, head to Elk and Pea (02 6162 0222; elkandpea.com.au). This establishment has picked up a huge clientele in a relatively short time working to an intriguing Central American menu. On the corner of Elouera Street is Eightysix (02 6161 8686). Its sundae with peanut brittle and popcorn ice-cream will blow your head off. Wildwood (wildwooddays.tumblr.com) is a great boutique combining fashion, music and art.
Autolyse Bakery (02 6262 8819; autolyse.com.au) is a cafe serving light meals. They make their own breads, tarts and croissants, which are so, so fresh. But the real thrill here is being able to watch the bakery in action as staff ply their trade in an open kitchen.
- James Rose
Fortitude Valley Fringe
Brisbane used to be, if not the ugly duckling of Australian capital cities, then perhaps the backward cousin. But those days have gone with the emergence of areas such as Fortitude Valley Fringe (thankfully skirting the still tatty red-light district) and encompassing the cutting-edge James Street Precinct offering enough inner-city urban delights to fill an entire long weekend visit.
Hotelier and entrepreneur Damian Griffiths, threatening to become Brisbane's answer to Sydney's Justin Hemmes of Merivale empire fame, has created a self-proclaimed "micro-precinct", featuring accommodation, a restaurant, cafe, bars and party venue all in one location. Limes Hotel (07 3852 9000; limeshotel.com.au) and Alfred & Constance (07 3251 6500; alfredandconstance.com.au), a rambling funked-up old Queenslander named after the intersection where it's located. Next door is Alfredo's Bar and Pizzeria (07-3251 6555; alfredos.com.au), Griffith's latest late-night creation. At nearby Teneriffe is Green Beacon Brewing (07-3252-8393; greenbeacon.com.au), one of Brisbane's first micro-breweries and famed for its seafood plates and serious beer brewed in-house. Elsewhere, a short stroll from Limes is Tonic Espresso + Bar (0416 050 369; tonicespresso.com.au), located down a laneway in one half of an architecture and design firm studio. Don't miss the house speciality, a killer espresso martini made from Tonic's own blend of coffee.
Fortitude Valley's James Street Precinct is one of Australia's best examples of urban renewal and a model of what can be achieved elsewhere. A well-designed high street full of top-end shops, restaurants and cafes housed in modern buildings on the levelled site of a former Coca-Cola factory, it's reminiscent of parts of Santa Monica in Los Angeles but better. It's the perfect place for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or, really, all three). Not only is Gerard's Bistro (07 3852 3822; gerardsbistro.com.au) one of Brisbane's classiest restaurants for lunch and dinner it's also a brunch hot-spot with amazing Middle Eastern dishes. For somewhere a little more relaxed try Bucci (07 3252 7848; buccirestaurant.com.au), a smart trattoria serving excellent Italian fare. James Street is also home to upscale shops such as Scrumptious Reads (07 3252 8647; scrumptiousreads.com), a carefully curated food-themed bookshop, and fashion boutiques such as Gail Sorronda
- Anthony Dennis
The writer was a guest of Limes Hotel.
West End laneways
Adelaide's emerging laneway culture has its home in this previously under-loved little precinct in the CBD's west. The parallel laneways of Peel Street and Leigh Street are now a double-barrelled hipster magnet, housing Adelaide's hottest new bars and restaurants, a thriving pop-up scene and creative community.
The mix of 1800s and 1970s heritage architecture on laneways Leigh Street and Peel Street makes a perfect setting for the new wave of cool little bars brought forth by Adelaide's recent small-bar-friendly licensing law reviews. Cobbled Leigh Street - closed to traffic - has a thriving pavement scene with pop-ups and festivals bringing extra buzz. Coffee Branch (0451 661980; coffeebranch.com) serves acclaimed brews against a backdrop of street art and "fixie" bikes on the walls; Casablabla (08 8231 3939; casablabla.com) is an eclectic, exotic tapas bar with live entertainment including flamenco and jazz; and Udaberri (08 8410 5733; udaberri.com.au) mixes Spanish pintxos dishes with cocktails, beer and a beautiful crowd. A block to the east, Peel Street is fast catching up with its big sister laneway. Adelaide's most talked-about new small bar, Clever Little Tailor (cleverlittletailor.com.au), is packing a former loading dock every night with lovers of craft beer and cocktails. By day you can browse retail eye candy at Leigh Street Luggage (08 8410 6494; leighstreetluggage.com.au) and The Stage Shop
(08 8231 9554, thestageshop.com.au), and businesses attuned to the creative vibe are moving in fast; cool co-working network HUB Australia has just chosen Peel Street as its Adelaide base.
Adelaide foodies are eagerly awaiting the opening this spring of Peel Street, a new restaurant in the old art deco Fletcher Jones retail space, from the team behind award-winning Murray River gourmet cafe Aquacaf in Goolwa. Open now is Leigh Street's COS
(08 8231 7611; justcos.com.au), a restaurant in an 1800s former Anglican church office building that mixes delicious contemporary food with abundant historic character. A table in the laneway puts you at the heart of the action.
- Amy Cooper
The writer was a guest of Toga Hotels and South Australian Tourism Commission.
Minutes from the city centre, Leederville's Oxford Street strip is equal parts hip, eclectic and chilled. Jammed with independent boutiques that open late, bustling restaurants from all corners of the globe and cafes with couches facing the sidewalk, it buzzes day and night.
Sift through the chic threads at Urban Depot (08 9201 2500), a well-curated store fronted by a record shop. Two doors up, Atlas Divine (08 9242 5800) has bigger designer names on its coat-hangers, with prices to match. Refuel alfresco style at Foam Coffee Bar (08 9444 7475; foamcoffeebar.com.au) then slide into fashion forward sneakers at Un1son Apparel (08 9443 6622; un1son.com.au). Don't overlook Black Plastic (08 9328 7495), tucked away on Carr Place, a random collection of knick-knacks perfect for quirky gifts. As you wander, take note of Duende
(08 9228 0123; duende.com.au) a sexy Spanish tapas bar, and Siena's (08 9444 8844; sienas.com.au), an Italian staple for those on a budget. Kailis Fish Market (08 9443 6300; kailisbrosleederville.com.au) is also worth a gawk and new small bar Amani (08 9444 7761; amaniwinebar.com) is best for a post dinner night cap. Treasures can be found away from Oxford Street's main drag. Mod-Asian restaurant Kitsch (08 9242 1229; kitschbar.com.au) epitomises its name, with a mish-mash of wooden stools and tables clustered under a giant frangipani tree adorned with fairy lights. Studio Bomba, at 324 Oxford Street (08 6500 1280; studiobomba.com.au), serves great coffee with its idiosyncratic, design-oriented wares that are straight out of enviable home magazines.
Arguably Perth's hottest breakfast haunt can be found just off Oxford Street at Carr Place. Sayers Food (08 9227 0429; sayersfood.com.au) delivers twists on staple dishes made with locally sourced and predominantly organic ingredients.
- Fleur Bainger
Almost every visitor to Hobart heads east to historic Salamanca, famed for its Saturday markets but in recent times much that's new and exciting has been slipping out the city's back door to the fringes of West Hobart. While there's little retail at this end of the city, there's a wealth of new and diverse dining and drinking options, each one as cool as a Hobart winter.
The west's rejuvenation began with the opening of the wine bar-cum-restaurant Garagistes
(03 6231 0558; garagistes.com.au) in 2010 inside a former car garage. Garagistes' owners have since added the smaller Sidecar (03 6231 1338; garagistes.com.au/sidecar), around the corner in Bathurst Street. This tiny wine bar, with stools set around a single island bench, is as cosy as an evening in a friend's country kitchen. Next door to Garagistes, the Westend Pumphouse (03 6234 7339; pumphouse.com.au), combines elements of a restaurant, bar and coffeehouse into a single venue. Now one of the staples of West Hobart, the thrift-shop furnishings at Pigeon Hole (03 6236 9306; pigeonholecafe.com.au) add a retro-chic touch to arguably Hobart's favourite bakery-cafe. Its cakes justify the walk up the hill from the city.
Since opening at the end of last year, the bare-bones Crumb Street Kitchen (03-6234 7002) has become one of the most popular and buzzing restaurants in Hobart. Smoked meats are the kitchen's staple, with the likes of brisket, pulled pork and tri-tip smoked and barbecued overnight. Meals are served in pizza boxes (the building was previously a pizza parlour) with plastic cutlery and cable-reel spools serve as its tables. The charm is in the simplicity - it's like street food with a roof.
- Andrew Bain
The face of George Street is set to change dramatically in coming years, with the recent promise of $1.6 billion to develop a light-rail system along the strip's length as well as a pedestrianised area between Bathurst and Hunter streets.
Stay close to the action at QT Sydney Hotel (qtsydney.com.au; 02 8262 0000), occupying historic Gowings and State Theatre buildings and with whimsical design flourishes, or the harbourside Holiday Inn Old Sydney (ihg.com; 1800 007 697), with a rooftop pool offering jaw-dropping vistas of the Opera House and Australia's most famous bridge.
Northcote is eight kilometres from the CBD. It's on the South Morang train line. The 86 tram (the one made famous by internet star The Bedroom Philosopher) runs down High Street on its way from Bundoora RMIT and La Trobe Uni to Docklands. The Brooklyn Arts Hotel (03 9419 9328; brooklynartshotel.com.au) is a curio-stacked B&B in a classic Victorian terrace in nearby Fitzroy run by the property's arty owner. For something more upmarket, consider M Gallery member Hotel Lindrum, formerly a famed billiards hall (03 9668 1111; hotellindrum.com.au.). Near Flinders Street Station, it has the kind of period conversion quirk Northcote oozes. Take the train or jump on the 86 at Spring Street.
Fortitude Valley is about 13 kilometres or half an hour from the airport. Everything is essentially within walking distance, or a short taxi ride, in the Fortitude Valley Fringe. Where to stay? Limes Hotel (07 3852 9000; limeshotel.com.au), located in the self-proclaimed Constance Street Precinct, was a trail-blazer in the urban renewal of Fortitude Valley. The hotel, about half-an-hour by car from Brisbane's domestic airport, is just a 10-minute walk down the hill to James Street Precinct.
West End laneways is in the heart of the CBD, easy walking distance from Adelaide Railway Station and Central Bus Station. Trams are free within the CBD and arrive at the nearest stop, Victoria Square, every seven to 15 mins. Night is prime time for this hood - that's when the bars start buzzing. Stay at Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury (08 8112 0000; adinahotels.com.au) is a 10-minute stroll away and channels a similar hip-heritage vibe: historic underground tunnels, glorious old building houses, sleek apartments and a bustling restaurant and bar.
Leederville's train station is only one stop from Perth's central terminal. The ride takes three minutes. The free Green CAT bus, which departs the Esplanade Bus Terminal and weaves through the city and West Perth, arrives on the southern side of Leederville station and takes about 25 minutes. The closest place to stay is Hotel Northbridge (210 Lake Street, Northbridge, (08 9328 5254; hotelnorthbridge.com.au).
The places described on page are pinched between the city centre and West Hobart's residential area and are within easy walking distance of the city. Dockside Henry Jones Art Hotel (03 6210 7700; thehenryjones.com), inside an historic renovated jam factory, is probably Hobart's best place to stay. The pricier Avalon City Retreat (avalonretreats.com.au, 1300 361 136) is a gorgeous, glass-fronted omnipod perched atop a city office building and provides a fine central stay about 15 minutes' walk from West Hobart.
Lonsdale Street is a short walk from the Canberra CBD and about 10 minutes drive from the airport. There are no hotels in Lonsdale Street but Mantra on Northbourne (02 6243 2500; mantra.com.au) and the Clifton Suites (02 6262 6266; capitalhotelgroup.com.au/Clifton) are just one block away.
PHOTO GALLERY: The hottest bars in the coolest neighbourhoods