If you're looking for a city break with a difference, head to a place where urban creativity meets Indigenous bush-tucker gardens meets a riverside retreat. That place is Parramatta, Sydney's city outside of the city, just 25 kilometres west of the CBD.
In winter, a weekend in these parts means wandering along the Parramatta riverfront, feasting on authentic international food, strolling the Aboriginal Landscape Trail and drinking creative cocktails. Skip the traffic by catching a train or ferry — or better yet, book yourself into one of the AccorHotels nearby, and get stuck into the soul-nourishing activities below.
EAT AND DRINK
For one of the best brekkies in town, claim a table on Circa Espresso's sunny terrace — or the lamp-lit, book-filled back room. Among the Middle Eastern-inspired offerings are Ottoman eggs with crumbed eggplant, garlic labneh, burnt chilli, sage butter and seeded sourdough. The coffee is roasted in small batches: choose from Three Ropes — a buttery, chocolatey blend of Colombian, Guatemalan and Peruvian beans — or a single origin. Other spots for a good morning brew and bite are White Henry Espresso, tucked away in Fire Horse Lane, and country farmhouse-esque Paper Plane, which serves up Little Marionette coffee.
Come lunch or dinner time, head to hybrid eatery-retail space Butter. Yep, this is the sibling of the Surry Hills original, but it's twice the size. Stay downstairs for fried chicken, Champagne and hip-hop; head upstairs for sneakers, hoodies, caps, socks and bags. Another couple of inner-city favourites to have set up digs in Parramatta are BL Burgers and Neil Perry's Burger Project.
For a more local experience, try dining at Temasek. Prepare to queue for a table: foodies pack out this friendly, no-frills eatery for excellent Malaysian and Singaporean dishes, from laksa to nasi goreng. Meanwhile, just one train station — or five minutes' drive — away is Harris Park's cornucopia of Indian restaurants, where Chatkazz does tasty, affordable, vegetarian street food and Not Just Curries an array of regional dishes from all over India.
Or, for something fancier, head to 350 Restaurant and Bar, the refined offering within the Novotel Parramatta Sydney, for a three-parter of blue swimmer crab with sweet corn veloute, Cape Grim beef cheeks and Frangelico panna cotta. It's recently nabbed a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, which goes to the spots with the top user reviewers.
A couple of sweet spots for pre-dinner bevvies are ALEX&Co., whose cocktail bar overlooks Parramatta River, and the Riverside Brewing Company, which offers an ideal winter beer in the chocolatey Eighty-Eight Robust Porter. Note that the cellar door is only open Friday and Saturday, 2pm—6pm.
After dinner, swing by Uncle Kurt's, a street-art-plastered small bar hidden away in a car park that feels as though it's straight out of Brooklyn and where head bartender Alex Colman makes every cocktail from scratch. Among his winter-friendly signature creations is the Westside, a heartening concoction of kaffir lime leaf-infused gin, yellow chartreuse, citrus, sugar snap peas, honey and ginger.
Parramatta knows how to throw a festival just as well as the Sydney CBD. Coming up from October 9–12 is Parramatta Lanes, which takes over the area's laneways, plazas and hidden nooks. Roam the night and you might stumble across bands, street eats, pop-up bars, projections, glowing sculptures and interactive art installations. Before or after, book a ticket to a show at Riverside Theatres — the diverse program features everything from political satire to orchestral performances.
During the day, Parramatta's surprisingly bushy outdoors offer stacks of escapades. To immerse yourself in Indigenous culture, head to Parramatta Park, where the Burramatta Aboriginal Landscape Trail travels through terrain that's been regenerated to reflect its state before European arrival. Meanwhile, among Parramatta Lake's 73 hectares of bushland, you'll find the Arrunga Bardo Bush Food Garden, crowded with edible and medicinal plants.
Need to get warm? Jump on your bike and conquer one of Parramatta's many and varied cycle paths. The Heritage Ride takes in 27 historical spots; the Parramatta Park Ride is an easy, 3.5-kilometre loop through greenery; and the riverside route travels (mostly) along the waterfront to Sydney Olympic Park.
If you have more of a lazy winter weekender in mind, then head to the Wentworth Atelier, a revamped Victorian terrace, for a blow dry or hot towel shave — with a top-shelf whiskey — at Dapper & Doll or to get measured up for a shirt or suit at the old-school Tailor & Co.
When you're on a wintry break, sleeping over in a snug spot is half the fun. For a stay right on the river — and just a minute's walk from the CBD — check into the Novotel Sydney Parramatta. The 4.5-star digs vary from Standard Rooms with queen or twin beds to Spa Suites with jacuzzis, but all come with massive windows that let in buckets of winter sunshine and splashes of earthy colours. There's an on-site gym, steam room, outdoor pool, restaurant and bar.
For a more affordable option, book a room at the Mercure Sydney Parramatta, right near Rosehill Gardens Racecourse. You can count on a spacious, peaceful room, plus there's a tennis court, outdoor pool and the M Restaurant and Bar, serving contemporary Australian cuisine from head chef Roshni Bista. The new winter menu includes macadamia-encrusted barramundi with New York cheesecake for dessert. It's located near the M4, meaning getting back to Sydney or journeying on to the Blue Mountains is easy as pie.