7 Sydney Neighborhoods: The Ultimate Breakdown MADE For Travelers

From urbane hipsters, to fun-loving gays, to posh jetsetters.

Whether you’re looking for laidback beach vibes or a big bustling city, Sydney has it all. Sydney is a unique city in that it’s sprawled across an intricate map of bays, harbors and coastlines, creating pockets that are very distinct from one another. Sydney neighborhoods are lovable in their own way and there’s something for everyone, from urbane hipsters, to fun-loving gays, to posh jetsetters.

Here’s a neighborhood breakdown of Sydney, made for travelers, to help you find your tribe while navigating this gorgeous city!

As the thumping heart of the city, the CBD is Sydney’s top place to work and play. Sydney’s Central Business District is constantly buzzing with commuters, partiers, tourists and locals. It’s where the biggest names in restaurants, bars and retail can be found. Anyone visiting Sydney will find themselves traversing the CBD at some point in order to reach key tourist attractions such as Circular Quay, The Rocks and Darling Harbour.

It’s not hard to find ways to spend time around the city center. The endless shops and department stores within the Strand Arcade, Queen Victoria Building and Westfield Centers guarantee that you can shop ‘til you drop at every retail brand you can think of. All of Sydney’s most iconic restaurants like Rockpool Bar & Grill, Aria, Quay and Bennelong are scattered around the Harbour and skyscrapers of the CBD. Plus there’s an endless supply of fun, trendy bars to hop through. For every drink of choice, whether it’s gin, whiskey, rum or tequila, there’s a cool underground joint like The Baxter Inn or Lobo Plantation waiting for you to duck into. Sydney’s cocktail bar scene is so hot right now that even the world-renowned NYC franchise, Employees Only, just opened a location in the CBD.

Whether you find yourself in the CBD for work or for play, be sure to soak up all the sunshine and buzz in the city center of Australia’s most cosmopolitan city!

Sydney Neighborhood
CBD. Photo: Nadia Cho

Surry Hills, aka my favorite place in the city, is where Sydney’s stylish hipsters convene around good food, drinks and coffee at their favorite hole-in-the-wall establishment. Crown and Bourke Street are dotted with small independent boutiques, restaurants, bars and cafes, each one more charming than the next, with lots of personality and adorable décor. Vegans and other clean-eaters will have no problem finding a joint with delicious food made to accommodate their strict tastes and diets. You’ll no doubt find your favorite new neighborhood bar or two in Surry Hills. The décor at most bars is very homey and the vibes are laidback and welcoming. Popular local hangouts include The Beresford (on Sundays), The Clock Hotel and Button Bar.

The area is heaven for those who love shopping for eclectic designer goods. Chilli Coral is a homerun for gorgeous artisan accessories and home goods, while Somedays will make any minimalist fashionista swoon. Don’t forget to pop into Bourke Street Bakery (aka, my actual favorite place in the city), for a lamb and harissa sausage roll and a chance to sit outside and live your best hipster life.

For the most sophisticated city-slickers who have good taste and good style, Surry Hills is the only place to be. It will charm the socks right off those looking to hang out with the most fashionable yet down-to-earth crowd in Sydney.

Sydney Neighborhood
Surry Hills. Photo: Nadia Cho

Darlinghurst is the bright gay hub of Sydney. The main area is located along Oxford Street, a wide street packed with lively bars, clubs and shops sporting rainbow colors. Stonewall and ARQ are Sydney’s legendary gay nightlife destinations, both located along Oxford Street. Big Poppa’s, The Colombian Hotel and Darlo Bar are excellent Darlinghurst staples if you fancy a drink with locals without going all out at the clubs.

The neighboring suburb of Paddington is easily the most charming area of the city. Continue down Oxford Street, and you’ll find yourself walking along the adorable cafes and storefronts which make up Paddington. The Intersection is the ultimate mecca of upmarket Australian brands. Shop to your heart’s desire and then break for coffee at Ampersand, the coziest bookstore cafe that you’ll ever see. If you walk 5 minutes down Glenmore Road, you’ll find all the neighborhood’s rustic chic restaurants. Most of them have outdoor seating and cute awnings lining the street. The restaurants serve sophisticated cuisine in a laidback setting, such as Tequila Mockingbird for modern Mexican and Eat Thai for bistro Thai food. Any restaurant along Glenmore is the perfect spot to take a date.

For those looking to experience the charming local side of Sydney, Darlinghurst and Paddington are there for you with the best neighborhood pubs, cafes and hot spots to fall in love with.

Sydney Neighborhood
Darlinghurst. Photo: Nadia Cho

Go south of the main cluster of the CBD, and you’ll find yourself in Haymarket then Chippendale. Both of them are, hands down, the most exciting neighborhoods to eat in the city.

Haymarket functions as Sydney’s Chinatown. The central landmark is Paddy’s Market, a large replica of an Asian street market where you can shop for cheap knock-offs of things you don’t need. On top of Paddy’s, there’s a different, more unique type of market: the 1909 Dining Precinct. 1909 is a collection of high-end restaurants specializing in high-end Asian cuisines such as Korean, Japanese, hot pot and yum cha (dim sum). And outside, along the winding streets of Chinatown, it’s impossible to pick just one place to eat among the countless restaurants and food stalls. There are long-established yum cha institutions, Chinese butcher shops serving char siu, noodle houses, dumping shops, not to mention all of the authentic Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian diners. Personal recommendations include going to Dixon St Food Court for super legit SE Asian hawker fare and indulging in some of Sydney’s best yum cha at Marigold.

Chippendale is where much of the Modern Australian revival has blossomed. Automata and Ester, two of the most talked-about restaurants in the country, are both located in Chippendale. If you manage to snag a much coveted table, you’ll experience exquisite tasting menus which feature the best of Australia’s freshest bounty and culinary prowess. Even if you don’t manage to get a table at either one, there’s still plenty of impressive gastronomy to be experienced. LP’s Quality Meats and A1 Canteen (a casual offshoot of Automata) are sure bets for superb gourmet goodness. And if you can’t decide where to eat, you can always hit up Spice Alley for a large collection of casual trendy Asian eateries.

Sydney Neighborhood
Haymarket. Photo: Nadia Cho

If you want to see where the cool kids hang out, look no further than Newtown. Newtown is always buzzing with rebellious alternative types, thanks to its proximity to the University of Sydney. Think lots of hipsters with tattoos, vintage garb and asymmetrical buzz cuts. The long thoroughfares of King Street and Enmore Road are packed with grungy bars, cafes, restaurants and vintage shops. On any Friday or Saturday night, the streets are teeming with young people barhopping between legendary establishments like Webster’s, Sly Fox and The Courthouse Hotel. Other noteworthy recommendations in Newtown include: Rising Sun Workshop for the coolest café, Corridor for the most low-key bar, The Young Henrys as the best local brewery, and The Stinking Bishop as everybody’s favorite cheese shop.

Newtown is the gateway to Sydney’s Inner West neighborhoods, which are known for a more down-to-earth community vibe. Keep going west and you’ll end up in the flourishing neighborhood of Marrickville, which is much more low-key than its rowdy young neighbor. Marrickville is known to have some of the best ethnic food in all of Sydney. Whether it’s Thai, Vietnamese or Mediterranean, it will probably be delicious and legit AF. Some of the best kept secret bars are tucked into old warehouses like Wildflower Brewery and locals’ favorite Poor Tom’s Gin Bar. If you’re willing to wander a bit from the city center and check out some of Sydney’s down-to-earth local culture, the Inner West is the place to go!

Newtown. Photo: Nadia Cho

It’s all about beach bodies, fitness and health food in this sunny part of town. Rumor has it the most beautiful people you’ll ever see can be found working out at 6 AM at Bondi Beach. Bondi is Sydney’s version of Santa Monica, but with a beach that’s truly breathtaking and to die for. Just one look at the crystal clear aqua waters breaking over the Icebergs pool will make you understand why Bondi Beach is world-famous. Within a 15 minute bus ride (on the 333) from the city center, Bondi is its own world of fabulous beachside living.

There’s no shortage of beautifully decorated, uber-trendy locales to eat, drink and be seen in Bondi. Head over to Vida Cafe for boho-surfer vibes and the best acai bowls ever. Or treat yourself to a meal with a spectacular view at the classic Icebergs Dining Room & Bar. Don’t forget to shop for one-of-a-kind artisan wares from the Bondi Markets every Sunday, or buy cute beach clothes from the local boutiques on Gould Lane.

Whether you’re there to lay on the beach or party with tan and fit beach bodies, Bondi is the ultra-cool beach town that every visitor to Sydney is dying to see.

Bondi. Photo: Nadia Cho

If you want to see how Sydney’s rich and famous live, look no further than the Eastern Suburbs of Double Bay, Rose Bay and Watsons Bay. Each gets more posh and swankier than the last, and finally comes to an end in beautiful Watsons Bay, the very tip of Sydney’s South Head. On this side of paradise, expect to see lots of multi-million dollar condos and homes with priceless water views.

Some of the most gorgeous waterfront dining is located in these neighborhoods. Catalina and Doyle’s are excellent choices for upscale modern Australian restaurants with views of sparkling yachts and harbours. Beach Club at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel is the go-to for anyone looking to eat, drink and party during the day with gorgeous views and gorgeous people. The best local beaches are located in this area as well, if you want to escape the tourist crowds along the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. There’s Red Leaf in Double Bay, Milk Beach in Rose Bay and Camp Cove in Watsons Bay. All are small heavenly slivers of beach, where the waters are calm and crystal clear. There are usually only a few sunbathing locals lounging about.

It’s easy to take a ferry from Circular Quay to Rose Bay and Watsons Bay. Don’t miss out on discovering the swanky side of Sydney if you get the chance. The amazing lifestyle and the views definitely won’t disappoint!

Manly, otherwise known as the “Insular Peninsula”, is a 30 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, and a thriving beach community on its own. Everything about Manly is laidback and sunny: happy surfers hit the waves every day and children play while parents sip on spritzers at Shelly Beach. Manly Beach is a stunning stretch of sparkling waves that’s constantly buzzing with tourists and locals anytime the sun is out. If Manly Beach is too crowded, there’s always Freshwater Beach right next door which is a bit more local, and so worth the trek for the amazing view.

Manly’s got everything you need to have the best beach day ever. There are plenty of cafes, boutiques and fish and chip shops near the water to keep you busy in between surf breaks. There’s also the Manly to Spit Coastal Walk if you’re up for some exercise and want to discover the beautiful beaches on the northern peninsula. Even after the sun sets, there’s no shortage of lively restaurants and bars to keep the buzz going. The popular Japanese restaurant, Saké, has an outpost in Manly giving you all the stunning waterfront views with your high-end sushi. And don’t miss Manly Greenhouse, the stunning three-story beach clubhouse of your dreams!

Manly. Photo: Nadia Cho
Nadia Cho

Communications Associate

As the empowered female behind the blog: International Women of Mystery, Nadia reps Team JST traveling the world in search of exclusive features on hidden gems and cool hotspots. You can find her exploring metropolitan cities or lounging on tropical beaches.

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