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How to Explore Sydney Like a Local When You've Already Seen the Touristy Sites

Uncover the hidden neighbourhood gems you'll never want to leave.
By Lucinda Starr
December 17, 2020
By Lucinda Starr
December 17, 2020

in partnership with

Millions of Aussies flock to Sydney's sparkling shores each year — and, now that the borders are open, it's time to book your great escape to the city. But often, it seems, not many make it past the main attractions. That's why we're here to help. If you're considering a trip to the Harbour City, there's plenty to add to your itinerary beyond the usual highlight reel of CBD sights.

Once you've made the pilgrimage to our cultural institutions and culinary heavyweights, make tracks to the neighbourhood watering holes, independent shops and small galleries locals love. We've joined forces with Destination NSW to show you how. Live like a local and uncover the hidden gems that make Sydney's inner city suburbs worth a visit.

Please stay up to date with the latest NSW Government health advice regarding COVID-19.


The Grounds of Alexandria, Destination NSW


You've probably been to:

Visitors are known to flock to the beloved Grounds of Alexandria (as well as its city outpost, The Grounds of the City) and the well-known Bills establishments in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Bondi — and we don't blame them. Besides being the perfect spot for your next Instagram photo, The Grounds of Alexandria offers a cafe, restaurant, bar, bakery, patisserie, coffee roastery, florist and markets to explore. And at Bills, it almost goes without saying that those corn fritters, creamy scrambled eggs and ricotta hotcakes are huge drawcards. But when you're ready to try something new (and avoid the queues), join the locals for the morning meal.

Reuben Hills

Next, you should go to:

Nestled in the leafy streets of Surry Hills (and just a ten-minute walk northeast from Central Station), Reuben Hills delivers South American-inspired eats and house-roasted specialty coffee. Its soft-baked eggs with ranchero and kale are made to warm bellies and the chorizo brekkie roll is possibly the best spin on a classic B&E sanga you'll find in the city.

Or, head slightly further out to Redfern Station, walk five minutes down Eveleigh Street, and you'll find Henry Lee's, a charming courtyard cafe with an ever-changing menu of local produce. Don't miss Henry's Dream toast with avocado, pesto, heirloom tomato, pomegranate molasses and a poached egg, and make sure to nab a batch brew made with locally roasted beans from The Little Marionette.


Lindy Lee 'No Up, No Down, I Am the Ten Thousand Things', 'Lindy Lee: Moon in a Dew Drop', MCA. Image credit: Anna Kucera


You've probably been to:

The Art Gallery of NSW brings together centuries of international and local talent to create one of the world's most beautiful art museums, while the Museum of Contemporary Art celebrates the work of modern artists from Australia and abroad. With rotating exhibitions, there's always something new to discover on a return trip, but if you're looking for something off the beaten track, read on.

White Rabbit 'And Now', Kimberley Low

Next, you should go to:

On the hunt for something one-of-a-kind? Meet Firstdraft, Woolloomooloo's premier space for emerging and experimental art. Expect to be challenged and inspired here by ambitious art making. Next up is Chippendale's Galerie Pompom, a venue as playful as its name suggests. Stop by and explore mixed-media works from young and emerging Sydney- and Melbourne-based artists. Then from there, you can go on a gallery crawl of sorts to surrounding art spaces, including Nanda\HobbsHarrington Street Gallery, Goodspace Gallery at The Lord Gladstone pub and, of course, White Rabbit Gallery.


Nikki To


You've probably been to:

When on the hunt for an indulgent feast in the inner city, the Sydney Opera House sails prove a popular destination. Bennelong offers a dining experience as unique as the building it sits within, with views across the harbour and a fine-dining menu from celebrated chef Peter Gilmore. Then there's Surry Hills' queue-inviting Thai eatery, Chin Chin. Its trademark neon glow, loud music and industrial design make it a go-to for visiting food lovers. But if you've tried these big names, this is your chance to explore Sydney's neighbourhood gems — and we've got a lot.

The Sunshine Inn, Cassandra Hannagan

Next, you should go to:

First and foremost, head to cosy Italian eatery Kindred in Darlington for a homely feed. It's as inviting as Nonna's kitchen, featuring house-made pasta, bread and cultured butter and it serves almost exclusively organic, bio-dynamic or natural wines.

For a memorable feast in vibrant surroundings, make tracks to Surry Hills' rule-breaking Indian restaurant Don't Tell Aunty. Opt for chef Jessi Singh's set menu for $65 per person, and you'll get to try almost all the curries on the menu with the thali (curry platter).

And, to really indulge in local flavours, head to The Sunshine Inn, Redfern's new restaurant and cocktail bar from the Golden Gully crew. Alongside a drinks list packed with nearby producers — including Yulli's Brews, Batch Brewing Co and Mr Black — it serves a selection of all-vegetarian, seasonal snacks.


Frankie's, Katje Ford


You've probably been to:

The laneways of Sydney's CBD are a goldmine for a post-dinner tipple. Revellers will be well acquainted with late-night, rocker joint Frankie's Pizza. It's part dive bar, part New York-style pizza parlour, part blast from the past in 80s metal form. Then, of course, there's The Baxter Inn, the underground bar known for its 800-plus whisky offering, endless bowls of free pretzels and speakeasy vibe. But as great as Frankie's and The Baxter Inn are, they're just the tip of the small bar iceberg.

Arcadia Liquors, Kitti Gould

Next, you should go to:

Down the road, you'll find one of the CBD's best courtyard bars, Since I Left You — which just so happens to hold one of the first small bar licenses ever issued in the city. Sip a hard lemonade, dig into a cheeseburger toastie and catch one of the many live gigs the bar hosts. Plus, every Saturday it offers beats, bottomless cocktails and themed brunches.

A little further out in Redfern, you'll find neighbourhood stalwart Arcadia Liquors. Sample a selection of Sydney-brewed beers or sip a martini made with local gin. Continue on to Newtown, in the direction of Corridor. The name of this joint says it all — it's a slim, cosy bar with a rooftop area that offers an ace happy hour where you can sip $7 pints of local brews and $14 cocktails.cp-line

State Theatre


You've probably been to:

Seeing a show at Sydney Opera House is a bucket-list item. With shows ranging from cabaret and comedy to symphony and ballet — and everything in between — it's easy to find something to pique your interests. Beyond the iconic sails, you'll find Haymarket's historic Capitol Theatre, which often hosts world-class musicals, ballet and opera, as well as the heritage-listed State Theatre, which brings film, theatre and music performances to the masses. But, that's just the start of what Sydney has to offer.

Venue 505, Katje Ford

Next, you should go to:

Live music comes alive at inner west gem Venue 505. Brimming with talented musicians, this spot plays host to excellent live jazz, roots, reggae, funk, instrumental and vocal entertainment Monday to Saturday — and often for free or less than $50. Down the road, the historic Vanguard has a full program showcasing local and international talents from a mixed bag of genres, including rock, soul, blues and tribute bands.

When it comes to theatre, Griffin Theatre Company offers a celebration of local playwrights and actors. Stop by to see the next Cate Blanchett or David Wenham take the stage (both of whom started their careers with this iconic company).


Strand Arcade, Destination NSW


You've probably been to:

You've probably roamed the ornate halls of the historic Queen Victoria Building, boasting 170 boutiques plus several drinking and dining options — including a spot dedicated entirely to champagne. And you've probably wandered through The Strand Arcade, with its high-end fashions. The heritage Victorian building is the place to go for something fancy and bespoke (like a hat steamed and fitted to your head) or for a swish meal at Pendolino, the decadent Italian restaurant on level four. But outside of these dazzling arcades, you'll get to experience the boutiques and purveyors the locals frequent.

Lunatiques, Kitti Gould

Next, you should go to:

Venture out of the CBD and head to one of the many shopping streets around the inner city suburbs. Antique lovers will adore Mascot's vintage warehouse, Lunatiques. Brimming with pre-loved furniture, art, clothes and more, this is a destination for collectors and interiors aficionados alike. Trendsetters, head to picturesque Paddington and make a beeline for Di Nuovo, which offers racks of hand-picked, secondhand pieces from local and overseas high-end labels.

And if you're looking for a good read for your trip, pay a visit to Glebe's Gleebooks to track down new and secondhand books. The bookshop has been a local favourite for over 40 years. You can also stop by neighbouring Sappho's, another secondhand bookshop with many hard-to-find or out-of-print titles, plus a cafe-bar in the courtyard out the back.


Make your great escape to Sydney now and traverse it like a local. Discover more around the city here.

Top image: Since I Left You

Published on December 17, 2020 by Lucinda Starr


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