Best hotels in Sydney: The top five staycation locations

And then there were none. It's hard to believe but just last year more than 16 million people - 4 million of them from overseas - visited pre-pandemic Sydney. It prompted a thought: surely that lot was onto something.

It also prompted pangs of what I may have been missing during these long, torturous months of the pandemic after having done my damnedest to escape the city and explore the rest of the state.

It was high time to give Sydney's hotels that have been struggling to attract guests a break, in every sense of the word, (aside from those housing returning international travellers for compulsory fortnight stays)

Five hotels in six nights - the ultimate Sydney hotel hop - with no sneaking home allowed. The first upside? It has taken only a tiny fraction of the driving time I've expended on country trips this year. How did I go on this onerous assignment? Read on and see.

THE HOTEL

Q STATION, MANLY

What more appropriate a place to begin a Sydney super staycation in the middle of a pandemic than at the former Quarantine Station at North Head? Set in the Sydney Harbour National Park, Q Station, as it's now called, is one of the most curious accommodations anywhere, with its 97 rooms and nine cottages scattered over a hillside so steep a funicular was once required to negotiate it.

THE STAYCATION

If Manly is seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care, add another thousand or so to this unique and tranquil place beside North Head. From my character-filled two-bedroom heritage cottage with a towering Norfolk Pine out the front, Manly ferries on a misty and rain-shrouded harbour resemble bath-tub toys, bobbing back and forth to and from Circular Quay. Don't allow this story deter you, but it's believed that a Quarantine Station superintendent and his wife lived in this same cottage from 1892. However, a decade later his wife died amid mysterious circumstances. Not long after her death the superintendent remarried (okay, maybe pop a night-light on then).

WHAT THEY SAY TO DO

Take a guided tour, including night-time paranormal ones (beware the ghost of the super's missus) of the largely intact Quarantine Station which operated from 1832 to 1984, playing a vital disease-controlling role in the early years of Sydney's European history.

WHAT WE SAY TO DO

Stroll from North Head down to Manly through residential Little Manly for breakfast or wander down the sublime and secluded Shelly Beach via a trail leading from the park's Barracks Precinct. Look out for the Q Station's abundant resident wildlife, which includes bandicoots, possums, little penguins, kookaburras and, during my visit, a pair of sea eagle chicks.

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THE DETAILS

Q Station, 1 North Head Scenic Drive, Manly. Phone (02) 9466 1500. Rooms from $199 a night, temporarily from Thursday to Mondays only. See qstation.com.au

THE HOTEL

LITTLE ALBION, SURRY HILLS

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Little Albion Guest House Surry Hills
(handout photo, no credit, no syndication)

 

Now for something completely different. After checking out from the Q Station after two nights, I travel from North Head across the Spit and Harbour Bridges, bound for a grittier Surry Hills for a night's stay at its 35-room Little Albion Hotel. This former early 20th century Sisters of the Good Samaritan convent is imaginatively transformed in this 21st century design hotel by devout designers Cressida Kennedy and Connie Alessi. Long before it became a hipster HQ, Surry Hills was a knockabout underworld haunt. Check out the portrait of Kate Leigh, the notorious gangster of the Sydney razor gang push, which hangs beside the hotel's staircase.

THE STAYCATION

Immerse yourself in your own ocean of inner-city cool. One of the most appealing features of the hotel, along with the often irregularly-shaped, well-outfitted rooms, is its communal lounge and honour bar, which opens out onto the hotel's own laneway, tucked away at the rear of the hotel. It's a fine spot for relaxing, socialising and imbibing.

WHAT THEY SAY TO DO

One of the true hidden gems of Surry Hills is the Brett Whiteley Studio which is secreted in the backstreets of this inner-city suburb where he lived between 1987 and 1992. The celebrated artist's workplace, which was also his home, has been preserved and there's a delightful exhibition, Feathers and Flight, featuring his brilliant, often playful, works of Australian birdlife (until 2021). See artgallery.nsw.gov.au

WHAT WE SAY TO DO

For a taste of Melbourne laneway-style cool (remember that?) or, sigh Japan, for that matter, take off to Tokyo Bird, not far from the hotel. It's a Japanese-style izakaya, or snug pub cum-barstyle affair, with a range of skewered delights and Nippon-inspired cocktails. Opposite and around Little Albion is a profusion of cool-for-school cafes but walk a little further up the road to Crown Street where you'll find the Surry Hills stalwart, Bills (sadly, the original Darlinghurst eatery recently closed).See tokyobird.com.au; bills.com.au

THE DETAILS

Little Albion, 21 Little Albion Street, Surry Hills. Ph: (02) 8029 7900. Rooms from $225 a night. See crystalbrookcollection.com

THE HOTEL

THE OLD CLARE, CHIPPENDALE

Old Clare Rooftop Pool Bar

 

It took Loh Lik Peng, a former Singaporean lawyer turned hotel and restaurant entrepreneur, to create the sort of design hotel common overseas but puzzlingly rarer in Sydney. Built inside the former eponymous Broadway pub that wasonce part of a brewery, Peng, in keeping with his projects around the world, retained the essence of the original and adjoining buildings while injecting signature touches at his then all-new, 62-room, Old Clare Hotel, opened in 2015. It's just a 10-minute trip across town from the Little Albion.

THE STAYCATION

Here's an opportunity to properly explore the Central Park urban development as well as the newly-fashionable streets of Chippendale. That said, you'll want to hang around the hotel and its roof-top pool and its pub-style bar as well as absorb the eclectic interior design which includes Peng's collection of vintage barber and dentist chairs in the lobby.

WHAT THEY SAY TO DO

Nearby is the acclaimed White Rabbit Gallery, a showcase of contemporary Chinese art by philanthropist Judith Neilson. And right next to the hotel is Spice Alley, an open-air recreation of a southeast Asian hawker food market, and a deserved hit ever since it opened. See judithneilsonprojects.com.au centralparksydney.com

WHAT WE SAY TO DO

This part of Sydney is starchitect central. Soaring above the Old Clare is the main tower of the Central Park precinct designed by French architect Jean Nouvel with its distinctive high-level jutting deck and green foliage-wrapped facade. A little further afield, on the University of Technology campus, is the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, designed by Frank Gehry, and resembling a brown paper shopping bag caught in a heavy downpour. It's located beside the Goods Line, Sydney's not quite as emphatic but still pleasing answer to New York's High Line. And then there's the timber ribbon-wrapped The Exchange building at Darling Square (see below), created by Kengo Kuma, the Japanese architect of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium. See centralparksydney.com uts.edu.au

THE DETAILS

1 Kensington Street, Chippendale. Ph: (02) 8277 8277. Rooms from $249 a night. See theoldclarehotel.com.au

THE HOTEL

VIBE DARLING HARBOUR

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Image supplied
Vibe Hotel Sydney Darling Harbour

 

How lovely would it be to one day book a hotel in New York and find that it's been inspired by Sydney, rather than what's commonly the other way round. In the meantime we'll settle for the "Manhattan chic meets Sydney style" 145-room, four-star Vibe Darling Harbour, a short hop from the Old Clare, which opened late last year.

THE STAYCATION

Much of the appeal of the Vibe Darling Harbour, which is set on the edge of Chinatown, lies in its intriguing design. Brickwork was employed to complement the character of this part of the street, particularly the late 19th century former public school opposite. The hotel's own triangular-shaped street level windows are influenced by those of the old school which helps tie the two together. Upstairs the small but smart rooms, some of which overlook Darling Harbour, are a model of the best use of space with mesh-fronted wardrobes a nod to New York brownstone elevators, The pricier digs feature sofa beds that can be turned into mini lounge rooms and separated from the main bedroom by a sliding door. Don't miss the slender rooftop lap-style pool and bar with its striking views of downtown Sydney.

WHAT THEY SAY TO DO

Eat and then eat some more. There's no shortage of dining opportunities in this part of the CBD. While a pleasant cafe-cum-bar, the Sussex Store, is in the lobby, the hotel also recommends the local Chinatown Noodle King (for "the best noodles in Sydney") Sparrow's Mill at Redpepper City (for Korean fried chicken) and the legendary Golden Century Seafood Restaurant. See chinatownnoodleking.com sparrowsmill.com.au goldencentury.com.au

WHAT WE SAY TO DO

Shabby Chinatown's looking as wan as a week-old wonton these days so for a more contemporary experience head to the much snazzier and newer Darling Square precinct that runs off a Dixon Street laneway. If you fancy something other than Chinese at the likes of Lilong by Taste of Shanghai, with its al fresco tables facing the aforementioned Exchange Building, try the tapas at Boque, a spinoff of Tapavino at Bulletin Place at Circular Quay. On the way down to Darling Square from the Vibe, pop into the interestingly-named Chinese Garden of Friendship at Darling Harbour. See tasteofshanghai.com.au boque.com.au darlingharbour.com.au

THE DETAILS

Vibe Darling Harbour, 319-325 Sussex Street, Sydney. Phone (02) 9060 8888. See vibehotels.com Rooms from $161

THE HOTEL

PARK HYATT SYDNEY


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Photos: supplied

After five nights I've come full Circular Quay and am back by the harbour. I've checked into the 155-room Park Hyatt Sydney for the ultimate night of my ultimate Sydney staycation. The hotel is one of Sydney's most underrated buildings with its subtle, serpentine low-level design following the shoreline and complementing the adjacent, recently restored Campbell Stores. It is now three decades old (but doesn't feel it), and was designed by the late and great Sydney-born architect, Ken Wooley.

THE STAYCATION

On the night of my stay the hotel's main restaurant is closed so dinner is served in my room - hardly an imposition since there's a small balcony overlooking Circular Quay. For the duration of my stay the Opera House proves a delightful distraction. It's perfectly framed by the floor-to-ceiling windows of my harbourside suite. I make sure to leave the sheer curtains open when I go to sleep and, when I wake, the first sight I glimpse is pure magic: it's the silhouette of the Opera House sails ringed by a halo of the orange light of a Sydney sunrise.

WHAT THEY SAY TO DO

As a suitable point of difference to the regular Rocks historical guided walking tours, the Park Hyatt recommends an Indigenous guided tour of the area. The tour concentrates on the traditional owners' "saltwater heritage" See dreamtimesouthernx.com.au

WHAT WE SAY TO DO

Seduced by the suite and its views, I hardly venture out at all during my stay (but I book a spot on one of the Aboriginal heritage tours at a later date). Sydney, at least as the world knows it, is literally right on your glamour-filled doorstep with the BridgeClimb attraction literally above you. See bridgeclimb.com

THE DETAILS

Park Hyatt Sydney. 7 Hickson Road, The Rocks. Ph: 9256 1234. Rooms from $645 per night. See hyatt.com

Anthony Dennis stayed as a guest of Destination NSW. See sydney.com; visitnsw.com

BE THEIR GUEST: FIVE TIPS FOR A SUPERIOR SYDNEY STAYCATION

1. Treat yourself to a deserved change of home office scenery and work from a hotel for a day or three. Some hotels allow day use of their office rooms and facilities.

2. Hotels are particularly quiet during weekdays due the absence of corporate, international and, yes, domestic travellers. This makes for a perfect time for a staycation.

3. Before you book, check on the opening times of any restaurants, cafes and galleries, you hope to visit. Many places are still operating on reduced opening times and hours due the pandemic.

4. Leave the car at home and save on parking by taking public transport to your staycation, if you can. (Don't forget to pack a mask).

5. Even though the featured hotels are surrounded by fabulous restaurants and cafes, try to dine in-house as well to support the hotel and its crew.

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