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The Best Things to Do in Sydney from A-Z

The ultimate Sydney bucket list.
By Rima Sabina Aouf
November 20, 2015
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By Rima Sabina Aouf
November 20, 2015
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It's almost too easy to fill up your calendar with fun activities in Sydney. Look this way and you'll get a smack of harbour vista, look that way and you'll encounter some public art, say 'yes' to any invite from a friend and you'll be feasting on something delicious. But seeing the best, truly distinctive things that Sydney has to offer — the things we do better than anybody else, the things that become burned in the memory — that can take some planning. Start scheming to get to these 26 bucket list places and events, our very favourites from across the whole city, and we guarantee you'll be goo-goo-eyed with love for Sydney.

What are your favourite things to do in Sydney? Let us know in the comments.

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[A]rtbar at the MCA. Every day is good at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, but it's the nighttimes we savour. See the exhibitions, peek out over the harbour from the rooftop terrace and enjoy the party cooked up by the guest artist curator.

[B]ondi to Coogee walk. It's a given the Bondi to Coogee walk would be on here, isn't it? It's just so damn beautiful. It's just so damn Sydney. Bonus: wherever you start from, there's always a great brunch waiting for you at the other end. (These other coastal walks come a close second.)

[C]rosswords and breakfast dessert at Devon on Danks. If there's a downside to your usual breakfast, it's that it's over as quick as it came. But at the magical place that is Devon on Danks, you can follow your eggs with a filled doughnut ball (i.e. Danks-In-Donut), a cronut (cronnie) or soft serve with hot chips. Linger long enough with the Saturday papers and you might just fit in all three.

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[D]rinking coffee in Surry Hills. Sorry, Italy. Somewhere along the line, Australia really took the ball and ran with it when it came to coffee, and now New York and London clamour for our Antipodean alchemy. Enjoy the ready supply over at the legendary Single Origin, or hop over to Paramount Coffee Project, Reuben Hills and The Reformatory around the corner.

[E]ating takeaway fish and chips from Bondi's Best on the grassy knoll of North Bondi. Fish and chips make winter taste like summer and summer taste like some kind of Coke ad for summer that's too good to be an actual thing that you get to live through.

[F]ancy dinners at Quay. It's not cheap, but when we want to impress out-of-towners (or anyone really), this is where we head. Best bit: cracking into one of Peter Gilmore's famous Snow Eggs at the end of your meal.

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[G]igs at OAF chased by Mr Crackles in the late night/early morning. Ears ringing and mouths gummed with slow roast pork belly, this is when we feel most alive.

[H]itting up Cabramatta for some freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and pandan waffles. There's a lot of great food adventures to be had in Sydney's west, but the mini Vietnam in Cabra takes the cake. A few banh mi heavier, waddle into a grocery store and stock up on those hard-to-find Asian delights to enjoy at home.

[I]mbibing a vodka, gin and whisky flight at Archie Rose. Think you know your spirits? So did we until Archie Rose handed us an eye-dropper and got us reacquainted with the holy trinity. The old-world distillery bar does everything with excellence.

[J]oining in a game of lawn bowls with city skyline views at The Greens. And just to make sure you're at peak bowling fitness, ordering one of those cocktails they serve in a whole watermelon.

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[K]ayaking on Sydney Harbour. If you want the feeling of joie de vivre that comes from a day out on sparkling Sydney Harbour, it helps to be rich. But anyone with 25 dollarydoos in their pocket can rent out a kayak from Rose Bay and paddle to nearby coves or even islands Shark and Clarke. We also rate these kayaking spots around Sydney.

[L]icking chicken and garlic sauce from your fingers at El-Jannah in Granville. Look, everyone has their charcoal chicken loyalties. That's understandable. But if, in this dingy cafeteria, as you wipe clean your melamine plate of its slop of famous sauce, you feel anything less than truly satisfied deep within your soul, then you are a rare and unlucky individual.

[M]essina sundaes and a John Candy Box at Golden Age. We love this Surry Hills cinema for its clever and quality programming, its vintage forest-green seating and its snack bar selection. For the perfect snuggly movie date, it's a close tie between this and Cremorne's glorious art deco picture palace, the Hayden Orpheum.

[N]estling into your seat at the Opera House as the lights go down. Really, it's remarkable that this distinctive beauty even made it past the naysayers, reactionaries and xenophobes of 1960s Sydney and got built. When we go there now to take in one of the 1500+ theatre, dance, contemporary music, talks and art events they host throughout the year, we can't help but feel lucky.

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[O]gling the fishies while snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Aquatic Reserve. There are a number of fine snorkelling spots in Sydney, but the sheer volume and diversity of sea life here keeps us coming back. Plus, you're in Manly, so perfectly placed for barbecue meats at Papi Chulo or a restorative feed at Fika Swedish Kitchen afterwards.

[P]laying on Cockatoo Island. There's something about that ferry ride to Cockatoo Island. It's like a rite that gets us to leave our inhibitions and expectations behind. We arrive ready to play at festivals like the Biennale of Sydney and Underbelly Arts, both of which have made the island a home for large-scale, interactive and fantastical art in recent years.

[Q]uestioning everything you know about The Rocks with The City of Forking Paths. This is easily one of the best art experiences to be had in the city. Acquired by the City of Sydney during the 2014 Biennale, The City of Forking Paths is a mobile video work that is GPS-activated and time-locked so you can only open the app at Customs House after dark. Hold your phone up to your face and be led through The Rocks for a soul-rattling 70-minute walk.

[R]iding the ferry during Vivid. It's more crowded and intense than your usual commute, but the visual splendour more than makes up for it.

Photo: Bodhi Liggett

Photo: Bodhi Liggett

[S]wimming and picnicking at Milk Beach. There are dozens of contenders for best place to swim (these beaches, ocean pools and secluded spots among them), and some have clearer waters, fun bars and impressive natural features. But sheltered Milk Beach, where you can dog paddle into a perfect harbour panorama, has got to be the most unique to Sydney.

[T]wilight at Taronga — or anytime at Taronga. Baby animals: turns out, they're even better in real life than on YouTube. Go to Taronga to make some new penguin friends, spend time with nature, soak up summer concert series Twilight at Taronga and, every now and then, do the epic Roar and Snore campout.

[U]nwinding with a day at Palm Beach. Or, when we really want to get away from everyone, hopping on the ferry from there to car-free Coasters Retreat.

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[V]isiting the White Rabbit Gallery for 21st-century Chinese art, tea and dumplings. Now, Chippendale is a thriving arts district. But back in 2009, there was just the White Rabbit and temporary tenant Fraser Studios giving the suburb a spark of new life. With collector-philanthropist Judith Neilson's eye for bold, political yet fun works, this place is a bit like Sydney's own MONA.

[W]atching Opera on the Harbour with the Opera House in the backdrop. The problem with seeing a show at the Opera House (not that it's so problematic it didn't make the list) is that you can't see the exterior of the house once you're inside it. Have your cake and eat it too in March and April when Opera on the Harbour sets up at Mrs Macquaries Point, with views stretching across the water. It ain't cheap (or subtle), but it's truly spectacular. Summer's St George Openair Cinema is a well-priced alternative.

E[x]panding your mind over drinks at Jurassic Lounge. This event series at the Australian Museum is the blue ribbon holder among after-hours culture parties for adults. The program varies but you can invariably have a few drinks, see some live acts, dance in the silent disco and hold a giant stick insect on your arm.

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[Y]ielding to another plate of meat at Porteno. There's no shortage of excellent barbecue feasts to be found in Sydney, but what we love about Porteno is that it's idiosyncratic, full of personality, always delicious and a real stayer in a dining scene regarded as fickle. Also, our mums thank them for finally converting us to Brussels sprouts.

[Z]igzagging your way up the art-splashed stairs of Hibernian House for a fringe play, gig or haircut. It's been compared to Berlin's Kunsthaus Tacheles, but this rambling warehouse space exudes a force all of its own. As well as the ever active Old 505 Theatre, the venue is home to gigs, parties, art shows, a hairdresser, studios and residences. Just remember that last function and respect people's privacy when you're stickybeaking.

Published on November 20, 2015 by Rima Sabina Aouf
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    Noni - November 24, 2015

    The Old 505 Theatre has moved to Newtown - which actually happens to be the thing that has been left off this list. http://old505theatre.com/

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