Home sweet home, at least in a week of yet more pandemic panic and coronavirus confusion, has never felt sweeter.
A staycation, when you opt to holiday, largely hassle-free in your own city - as opposed to a straycation, when you choose to leave it for a vacation, accepting all of the familiar hassles (you know 'em) that accompany travelling further afield - appeals right now on many levels.
Your city, long admired as one of the world's best by the rest of the world and even the odd interstate compatriot, needs you more than ever.
Sydney, and in particular its CBD, is suffering from the effects of past lockdowns, a change in work patterns, and the ongoing absence of international and interstate visitors. Now is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with its many, oft overlooked, wonders and attractions.
Over the same week Traveller dispatched six writers on six diverse, two-night staycations.
As you will see below, each, action-packed itinerary illustrates the sheer scope of inspiring experiences that Sydney offers, from culture to nature and history to gastronomy. Get out there and get into it.
THE HIP & HAPPENING STAYCATION
Paramount House Hotel in Surry Hills. Photo: Katherine Lu
By Riley Wilson
Enter Surry Hills' arty, industrial Paramount House Hotel (paramounthousehotel.com) through Paramount Coffee Project and grab a complimentary sparkling mint tea on tap on the way. Your plant-filled room (from $250 a night) twinkles with brass fixtures and is softened with Cultiver linen sheets and concrete herringbone tiles.
The hotel is close to just about everything here in Surry Hills, including the retail nirvana at the intersection of Campbell and Crown where you'll find Danish homewares store HAY (hayshop.com.au); the bookshop Oscar and Friends (oscarandfriends.com.au); boutiques Uturn Recycled Clothing and Storeroom Vintage (uturn.com.au) and The Record Store (recordstore.com.au). Ten minutes' away, Chilli Coral (chillicoral.com.au) is two levels of quirkiness with an Australian designer focus.
The hotel, built within the 1940 vintage Paramount Pictures Offices site, shares a wall with Golden Age Cinema (ourgoldenage.com.au). Tuesday trivia is held in the underground bar next to the theatrette that was once Paramount's own screening room.
Nightcap, anyone? The Royal Albert (royalalberthotel.com.au) is open until midnight with Australian craft beers on tap.
Drinks and live music at Golden Age Cinema & Bar, Surry Hills. Photo: Destination NSW/ Ken Leanfore
If you can snag a seat at Paramount Coffee Project (paramountcoffeeproject.com.au), order a hot batch brew and eggs in habanero salsa, with a sliver of pork sausage and a dollop of labneh – croissant to go.
Book a small group gym class at Paramount Recreation Club (paramountrecreation.club) or, better yet, 45 minutes in the sauna. You'll find both on the hotel's rooftop.
Join the corporate queue for a muffuletta at Theo's Deli (theosdeli.com.au), dumplings at Surry Hills Dumplings or a sandwich at Humble Bakery (humblesydney.com). A former car park transformed into public space in 2006, Harmony Park (cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au), set on Brisbane Street behind Paramount House Hotel on Commonwealth Street, is a great inner-city picnic spot.
Dinosaur Designs' Extinct store (dinosaurdesigns.com.au) is a 15-minute walk away. Discounted imperfect and discontinued designs mean treasures aplenty.
If you can handle the pace, the Korean Cultural Centre (koreanculture.org.au), 20 minutes from the hotel, is a contemplative space hosting art exhibitions, cooking classes, language courses and a hanok (traditional house). The KAAF Art Prize is on until December 10.
Peruvian-Japanese Nikkei (nikkeibar.com.au) has a fully exposed kitchen; watch the team turn out tiradito, cheese-filled yuca bread, and grilled meats. Enjoy an early or late dinner with a Pisco sour.
Need some light relief? Who doesn't these days.Toucan Comedy Club (thekweens.com.au) celebrates improv and stand-up at the Burdekin Hotel (burdekin.com.au) on the second Wednesday of the month. Hurry, though, as the last show for the year is December 8.
Opt for a velvety matcha latte at Cafe Creasion. The hole-in-the-wall has the best matcha in the city, and muffins are baked daily (creasion.com.au).
Check out is at 11. Before you go, grab a rooftop juice at the Kiosk. Very Palm Springs.
China Heights gallery is around the block. Take the steep stairs to level three (level four is a kung fu academy). Owned by locals, it's open Thursday to Sunday. Max Berry's Maps exhibits until December 11 (chinaheights.com).
Lunch at Alberto's Lounge (swillhouse.com) is heavy on style and deliciousness, with punchy yellowfin crudo and housemade pastas.
THE FOOD & WINE STAYCATION
City views at the apartment hotel, A by Adina.
By Trudi Jenkins
A by Adina (abyadina.com) has an insider, speakeasy feel. The apartment hotel's 21st-level Sky Lobby is accessed by touch-free lifts from a low-lit foyer off Hunter Street. Inside your luxe corner room, from $456.40 a night, the floor-to-ceiling windows offer up a New York-style panorama of skyscrapers and rooftops. Kick back with a Maybe Sammy jasmine negroni from your personal bar cart and a grazing platter (included for "Destination A" guests) ordered via the inhouse app.
Historic Shell House (shellhouse.com.au) with its heritage clock tower dominates the skyline opposite. It originally housed, as the name implies, the Shell Oil Company and then the once grand Menzies Hotel. Now the sandstone building has been redeveloped as a so-hot-right-now multi-level venue. A drink and a snack inside the Clocktower Bar, with its soaring void and restored clock mechanism above, is a Sydney must-do.
Depending how many school prawns you've scoffed with your Sicilian margarita, stroll or stagger over to Jimmy's Falafel on George Street (merivale.com) - mind the trams - for a pita, some mezze or a baklava and Turkish coffee.
As the CBD comes to life around you, enjoy a room-service breakfast in bed - try the tummy-friendly sourdough toast with excellent homemade marmalade (a lockdown project for the kitchen team). In your well-equipped apartment you'll also find Hunter Lab products, Smeg appliances, Tea Drop tea and (in case of emergencies) Koko Black chocolate in the mini bar. Bliss.
Take a dip in the heated mineral pool - the surrounding glass windows open to the outside so it feels lighter and less claustrophobic than many others. There's also a gym with Peloton bikes, if you're so inclined.
Head down to Quay Quarter (quayquartersydney.com.au), the newest laneway development off Loftus Street with its striking building designed by Danish architects 3XN. It's not yet complete but stores such as Adora Handmade Chocolates, Zini Gelato and Marrickville Pork Roll are open with Surry Hills' Humble Bakery coming soon. Hinchcliff House, a converted 19th-century woolstore with its original golden sheep statue restored and reinstated on top of the building, is now an Italian-inspired dining hub. Sit at Grana's bar for lunch and watch as your beetroot mezzalune with brown butter, hazelnuts and sage are prepared from scratch.
Walk off the pasta with a long stroll through the Royal Botanic Garden, the oldest in Australia, and then head across Circular Quay to another converted warehouse (there is a theme emerging here), the brand-new Hickson House (hicksonhouse.com.au). Here you'll find a gin distillery where you can sample a flight of Hickson Rd gins matched to artisanal mixers and native garnishes.
Back at your hotel, head up the curved brass staircase to the decadent Dean & Nancy on 22. This glam cocktail bar, all marble tabletops and dark booths, delivers on the food front as well, with talented Brit Jane Strode behind the eclectic menu that goes from caviar to chorizo croquettes, chicken sliders and scotch fillet with chimichurri.
Dining at Monopole. Photo: Edwina Pickles
After the NYC feels of Dean & Nancy, nearby Ash St laneway has a distinctly European mood. Breakfast Italian-style at Picco Leo (piccoleo.com.au), with exemplary coffee and pastries in a diminutive bar. Then indulge in some retail therapy - choose from the Strand Arcade's designer boutiques (strandarcade.com.au), George Street's international brands or maybe just a quick whirl around Uniqlo (uniqlo.com).
End your foodie staycation on a high with a long lunch at Monopole (monopolesydney.com.au), the two-hatted wine bar run by chef Brent Savage and sommelier Nick Hildebrandt. There's something deliciously satisfying about tucking into sweetcorn custard vol au vents, steamed snapper and a chilled bottle from the extensive wine list as office workers return to their desks in adjacent Australia Square.
THE HERITAGE & HISTORY STAYCATION
From the rooms at the Fullerton Hotel guests can see the Sydney GPO clock face.
By Anthony Dennis
A stay at the Fullerton Sydney (fullertonhotels.com) is all about the timing. Literally. Here you receive two bedside clocks: one right next to your comfortable mattress, and the other straight out the window. Book one of the rooms framed by views of the historic, ornate Sydney GPO clock face (nationaltrust.org.au), first set in motion in 1891. Rooms from $405 a night, packages available.
Head down to the lobby for a pre-dinner drink at The Bar, the Fullerton's main drinking spot set under the enormous glass and iron atrium which connects the grand 1874 heritage-listed Victorian Italian Renaissance sandstone building to the modern-day hotel tower. Order a Sydney Sling - an antipodean tribute, of sorts, to the (considerably more) famous Raffles' Singapore Sling - concocted by The Fullerton, which also operates hotels in that eponymous island city state.
In a part of Sydney that is still a millinery of hatted restaurants, there's the odd superior place to dine at rather than The Place, the Fullerton's in-house eatery, but few come with a better or more imposing setting. That ubiquitous, 73-metre tall clocktower looms high above that vast, glazed ceiling. In keeping with its Singaporean roots, the menu at The Place features features much welcomed south-east Asian dishes such as satay, curries and laksas.
Cross George and York Streets to 153-157 Clarence Street for a red-hot breakfast at Cross Eatery. Set inside the lobby of the erstwhile headquarters of the Red Cross, the cafe's elegant brick building, with its own clock attached to its facade (much smaller than the GPO clock), was beautifully restored in 2014 and is a rare example of an art moderne-style warehouse in the Sydney CBD.
The Fullerton has recently reintroduced 90-minute, thrice-weekly free heritage tours for house guests and members of the public, which showcases the history of the GPO and its secrets (bookings essential). Among the tour highlights are the whimsical though once controversial Pitt Street carvings, which portray some of the livelier facets of Sydney's early years. View relics uncovered from the Tank Stream, Sydney's first water supply which still flows beneath the GPO, a new addition to the tour itinerary.
Two Penny Blue Cafe on Pitt Street. Photo: Louise Kennerley
Grab a takeaway coffee and a bite to go from Two Penny Blue, the GPO's hole-in-the-wall cafe. It is suitably named after the famed stamp that was only the second printed in the world and is built into a former horse and cart entrance.
There's more to Sydney than its colonial era - like tens of thousands of years more. Head to Circular Quay aboard a tram and head to the 1816 Cadmans Cottage (sydney.com) where you'll meet your guide for an Indigenous heritage tour with Dreamtime Southern X (dreamtimesouthernx.com.au). This leisurely yet illuminating walk around The Rocks' waterside reveals the fascinating "saltwater heritage" of the traditional owners of the Sydney Harbour foreshores via their land and water usage, spiritual connections and ultimate dispossession by British settlers.
Pop into the landmark Customs House at the Quay for a visit to the Developing Sydney exhibition which captures the changes from 1900-1920 (sydneycustomshouse.com.au). An extraordinary series of photographs commissioned as a record by Sydney Municipal Council in the early 20th century, each image depicts squalid parts of the inner-city where the impoverished were displaced by the unstoppable march of development. Relax back at the Fullerton or catch up on some retail therapy in and around the nearby Westfield-dominated Pitt Street Mall.
Cross George Street from the GPO to Barrack Street for your dinner booking in one of Sydney's most elegant restaurant venues. Built in 1848, this sandstone building with its granite columns and marble balustrades is the site of the first Savings Bank of NSW building and is now home to Seta (setasydney.com.au), an upscale Italian restaurant. Seta provides a touch of Rome via Melbourne in its top-notch cuisine, service and setting.
Not far from the hotel is the cool Industry Beans (industrybeans.com) cafe at the sandstone-fringed street level at Carlton House, another handsome warehouse building dating to 1911. Over a latte with beans from the Melbourne Fitzroy Street blend, admire the cafe's exquisite and carefully restored white pressed-metal ceiling.
A 15-minute walk away is the small but fascinating How to Move a Zoo exhibition at the Museum of Sydney (sydneylivingmuseums.com.au) which details how a century ago Sydney's original Moore Park zoo was moved across the harbour to Taronga.
End your staycation on a high note with high tea back at The Fullerton. To mark the festive season, some of the two-tiered morsels are Christmas-themed, making for a sweet combination with the City of Sydney's dazzling Christmas tree near the Cenotaph in Martin Place.
THE NATURE & OUTDOORS STAYCATION
Accommodation at Q Station, Manly. Photo: Sue Stubbs
By Jane Richards
Kickstart your staycation with eggs, sweet potato hummus and heirloom tomatoes at the Bower Cafe (thebowermanly.com.au), at Fairy Bower, as you watch pink-capped members of the Bold & Beautiful swim group glide past on their daily crossing from Manly to Shelly Beach. Walk off breakfast by exploring the coastal path past Fairy Bower Sea Pool, where seabirds preen on the outstretched arms of a sculptured nymph and the Gloomy Octopus, the Weedy Seadragon and other local heros are celebrated in sculptures along the way.
Head to the Manly Art Gallery & Museum (northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au) for an exhibition of entries in the Northern Beaches Environmental Art & Design Prize (until December 12). Ceramics, sculpture, painting and digital works offer haunting snapshots of the modern environment. A depiction of a woolly mammoth on a cliff edge while a woman astride it, and a man beside it, are absorbed in their mobiles, is hard to forget.
Check in at The Q Station (qstation.com.au) at North Head. (From $219 a night for a Heritage Queen Room). This 30-hectare National Park site has pretty beaches, well-kept historical buildings, incredible harbour views, wildlife and many gripping stories. A former worker's cottage, steeped in history and hopefully ghost-free, has modern comforts and quirky character. There's a big kitchen if you want to self-cater, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Boutique hotel-type rooms also available.
Try bustling yet attentive Italian off-site at Busta Manly (busta.com.au) for your first night. Antipasti such as eggplant, polenta cracker with tomato, chilli and parmesan, and the fresh pasta are standouts. Or there's the funky - the Belgrave Cartel (belgravecartel.com.au); the elegant, Sake at Manly wharf (sakerestaurant.com.au); and one for the special occasion, The Herring Room (theherringroom.com.au).
Q Station overlooking the Sydney Harbour waterfront in Manly.
Take a history tour of the Q (for "quarantine") Station, a heritage-listed Sydney institution dating to 1832 that saved and buried so many who suffered Spanish flu, plague and smallpox. This is eye-opening and poignant, particularly in these pandemic days. Walk through a shower block where fearful arrivals were stripped and deloused and the hospital where many lost battles against now preventable disease. Rock graffiti left by inmates is instructive. The English invariably just stated their name and the date, while Chinese inscriptions are poetic. Hear how Captain Arthur Phillip had lunch on tiny Quarantine Beach after drawing a circle in the sand and warning the local and "manly" Indigenous residents – hence the suburb's name – not to cross the line.
The Q Station is host to 24 large-scale art works by some of Australia's best sculptors at the outdoor sculpture exhibition Les Sculptures Refusees (lessculpturesrefusees.com) until January 27. Check out the spooky wire-woven pram and fortify yourself later with a drink on your verandah as you watch ferries being tossed in the swells.
Dine at the Boilerhouse Kitchen & Bar, the Q Station's former (surprise, surprise) boilerhouse, remnants of which can be seen in exposed pipes. The steak and seafood dishes are excellent, the smashed potato side dish generously wicked.
Make a spectre of yourself on a Q Station ghost tour.
Strong winds can scupper the best-laid paddleboarding plans, but this Shelly Beach activity is not to be missed if weather permits (ecotreasures.com.au). Or walk off a Q Station buffet breakfast along Quarantine Beach, where you"ll no doubt cross lines in the sand drawn generations ago.
Checkout time. But before you go too far, head to the nearby Third Quarantine Cemetery at North Fort. This was built in 1881 to cope with a shortage of burial sites and is bursting with flannel flowers that decorate graves of 241 people. The harbour views are gobsmacking.
Join the croissant queue at Manly's Rollers Bakehouse (rollersbakehouse.com), behind the Corso for a salmon and olive-topped concoction. Christmas shopping? Head to Desire Books & Records (desirebooks.com.au) and the intriguing Uuli's Unique & Unusual (no website) store next door.
Farewell Manly via the coastal path towards Fairlight, part of the Mosman to Manly walk. It's from here dolphins, seals and whales can be spotted. Bring a picnic, swimmers and a snorkel and expect to see plenty of fish.
SYDNEY CULTURAL STAYCATION
Pier One, Sydney Harbour.
By Brian Johnston
Check into Pier One Sydney Harbour (pieronesydneyharbour.com.au) almost under the Harbour Bridge pylon and occupying a historic wharf at Walsh Bay, a superbly located but under-the-radar arts and dining precinct.
Download Walsh Bay Walking Tours app (walshbaysydney.com) and explore the area's industrial architecture, galleries, exhibition spaces and harbour views.
The Theatre Bar (thetheatrebarattheendofthewharf.com.au) sets you up with a light meal and drinks on Wharf 4/5, accompanied by terrific outlooks over the Harbour Bridge.
Enjoy a show from Sydney Theatre Company (sydneytheatre.com.au). Currently running Julius Caesar (until December 23) is a compelling reworking of the Shakespearean classic for the modern political age, and a tour-de-force performance by just three actors.
The Matisse exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. Photo: Janie Barrett
Pier One does a tasty buffet breakfast with an included a la carte hot dish, so simply roll downstairs and enjoy smoked salmon and scrambled eggs as you watch ferries chug by.
Explore central Sydney with self-guided Sydney Culture Walks (sydneyculturewalksapp.com). Among other topics, you can investigate emergent laneways and their street art, significant public sculpture, or the history of Sydney's pioneering women.
Have lunch at light-flooded, view-gazing Crafted by Matt Moran (craftedbymattmoran.com.au) in the Art Gallery of NSW. The Mediterranean-inspired menu includes the likes of potato gnocchi, grilled swordfish and lamb rump.
The Art Gallery's recently opened Matisse: Life and Spirit exhibition (artgallery.nsw.gov.au; until March 13, 2022) brings together more than 100 paintings, cut-outs and sculptures by French artist Henri Matisse on loan from the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It's a fascinating look at how the artist developed artistic styles over six decades, including wonderful, brightly coloured paper cut-outs influenced by Matisse's 1930s visit to the Pacific. Head downstairs afterwards to Matisse Alive, which charts Matisse's influence on other artists.
You can walk to dozens of restaurants from your hotel, whether on the harbour at 6Head (6head.com.au) for seafood or steak with Opera House views, or in the city for Italian at 1860s woolshed Hinchcliff House (hinchcliffhouse.com). The Rocks (therocks.com) provides further options, and you can linger afterwards in colonial-era pubs.
Alternatively, theatre fans can take in another show. Roslyn Packer Theatre (sydneytheatre.com.au), also at Walsh Bay, is showing Death of a Salesman (until December 22). If you haven't yet seen it, the brilliant one-woman show The Picture of Dorian Gray returns next year (March 28 – May 7).
Head along the wharf for great Italian coffee at Bar Cycle (barcycle.com.au), accompanied by eggs benedict, French toast or hearty porridge. Owner Alberto Talone is quite the character and has a sideline in repairing bicycles.
Sign up with Sydney Architecture Walks (sydneyarchitecture.org) and spend the morning in the city with a professional architect. Is there anything better than a nerdy, inside look at a specialist topic you mightn't normally pay attention to, but which you'll find utterly absorbing? A tour will transform the way you look at downtown Sydney and its contemporary architecture: how Indigenous people influenced street layout, how we've all got it wrong about Jorn Utzon, and the big-name architectural projects that are now transforming the cityscape.
There are many options for a parting lunch at Walsh Bay. Jounieh (jounieh.com.au) has generous servings of Lebanese classics like tabouli, lamb shawarma and sambousek, some updated with contemporary ingredients, such as nashi pear and quinoa in the delicious fatoush. A good wine list provides another reason to linger as you gaze over water and moored motor yachts.
THE LUXURY & INDULGENCE STAYCATION
The Darling, Pyrmont.
By Sheriden Rhodes
Enjoy the hotel's five-star signature scent as you check into the 171-room The Darling (thedarling.com.au). While The Darling, with rooms starting at $350 a night, is neighbours with The Star (star.com.au) casino and entertainment complex, it's a a discreet distance from it. Still, you can expect the high roller treatment on check-in.
After lolling around your 80-square metre Adored Suite (one of eight) with its wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows and spectacular circular bath, head downstairs for a pre-dinner drink at The Darling's Black Bar and Grill, an elegant space with an encyclopaedic wine list.
Slip into a banquette at Sokyo where Tokyo meets Sydney. Start with a Yuzu sake cocktail or a lychee spritz for the non-drinkers. Savour Sokyo's sublime seven-course tasting menu which starts with tuna sashimi with truffled egg yolk and ends with caramel macchiato with Nikka whisky foam.
Enjoy a nightcap at Gallon Pyrmont (gallon.com.au), a two-minute walk from The Darling to Harris Street, with the bar's name a nod to Pyrmont's history when it was bought for a gallon of rum by John Macarthur. Elsewhere, consider the New York style jazz bar Foundry 616 (foundry616.com.au), also on Harris Street, or G&Tea within the Star complex (star.com.au), a tea house by day, gin bar by night. But with a teen fellow staycationer in tow, for me it's a spin on the ferris wheel over at Darling Harbour (darlingharbour.com).
Head back to Sokyo for a seriously impressive breakfast of chilli crab omelette and eggs and avocado with tempura hash browns. Edamame, green tea and matcha and yuzu-infused pastries are served first.
Bubble tea or yum cha on your agenda? Well, Chinatown is a 20-minute stroll away. En route, check out the fleet of rare vessels at the Australian National Maritime Museum (sea.museum) and in Chinatown order a Boba at Bubble Nini (bubbleninitea.com.au) in Darling Square (darlingsq.com). With the dim sum institution Marigold across Chinatown set to close this weekend, consider some yum cha here in Darling Square at Lilong by Taste of Shanghai (tasteofshanghai.com.au). On a sunny day try for an al fresco table overlooking the lively square. Finish with a treat at Gelato Messina (gelatomessina.com).
Go for a wander around Pyrmont's Darling Island precinct, opposite The Star with its historic wharves that were once home to the Australian Steam Navigation Company and Royal Navy building. Pause to marvel at the super yachts and Harbour Bridge vistas.
The big benefit of staying within The Star complex is its slew of great restaurants. It's also home to the Sydney Lyric Theatre (sydneylyric.com.au). If you're unable to nab tickets to Hamilton (showing in Sydney until February 27) opt for a table at Flying Fish (star.com.au). Sustainably-caught Murray Cod and a glass of Pinot Gris combined with glorious harbour views prove not a bad consolation prize.
The Bar at Sokyo.
After a final breakfast at Sokyo, pop across the road for a Single Origin coffee from the Quick Brown Fox (quickbrownfoxeatery.com.au), a three-minute walk away on Union Street, Pyrmont. At nearby Pioik Bakery (pioikbakery.com.au) on Harris Street pick up one of their lauded fruit loaves for home.
Check out at The Darling is typically 11am but if time permits, stay on and end your staycation on an indulgent note with an Indigenous-inspired Li'Tya facial at the Darling Spa (be sure to book well ahead to secure a spot).