Wherever you go in the world, the same dilemma arises: city or beach? But when it comes to Australia, there’s no dilemma at all. Because the nation’s first city isn’t just a vibrant, diverse and culturally rich metropolis, it’s also home to some of the planet’s most beautiful coastline.
In many ways, Sydney seems to have it all. There are the glorious white sands of stunning beaches like Bondi and Manly. An incredibly diverse range of cuisine, from budget to high-end. Lively cafe culture and a busy bar scene. Clean streets. World-famous attractions such as the Opera House, the Harbour and the Olympic Park.
And that’s not to mention the endless places to shop and browse. An impressive range of museums and other centres of culture. And above all, thriving arts scene, from well-known institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art to an intriguing array of independent galleries. There’s so much on offer, in fact, that it can sometimes be a little overwhelming to work out how to make the best of your time here.
I work at Shillington in the city, so here I'll offer some local knowledge and a few pointers to get you started. (In the meantime, if you fancy a longer stay, how about learning graphic design in Sydney?.
The agency scene
It may tussle for the title with Melbourne, but right now Sydney is Australia’s most important centre for creative and media agencies, and that shows no signs of changing any time soon. Over the last couple of decades, all the big names in media have moved here, whether you’re talking web, TV, newspapers or magazines, and most of the big agencies have followed suit.
For example, when the global full-service agency 72andSunny agency recently expanded to the Asia-Pacific region, it launched offices in Sydney and Singapore, to service new clients like eBay Australia, Google and Dropbox. It joins other big agencies like BMF, DDB, Havas, Leo Burnett, Publicis Mojo, Whybin/TBWA, McCann, Landor, R/GA and countless others in the city.
And Sydney’s agency scene isn’t just about the big boys. Some of the smaller, independent design studios are doing some stellar work too. These include print, web and motion specialists Alphabet Studio; Lollilu, which creates contemporary designs for textiles, paper products, and lifestyle products; AnalogFolk, which focuses on digital design and interactive experiences; Frost* Collective, a multi-pronged collection of “agencies within an agency” that offers branding, strategy, digital and environmental design; We Are Social Design, which focuses on strategy and social media; and many more.
Sydney is also the startup capital of Australia, and the government is determined to promote this trend further through projects like the redevelopment of Bays Precinct, a former industrial estate, into a tech and innovation hub. In short, if you work in any kind of creative field, it should be difficult to find a creative company here that’s right up your street.
As an international hub with a thriving and ever-evolving creative community, Sydney is replete with co-working spaces that let you get your work done in inspiring and comfortable surroundings. You’ll find one of the cheapest options in the city at Gravity Workspace, located in downtown Round Rock. Here you can access high-speed internet, a telephone booth and coffee, tea and hot chocolate for just $25 a day, or $200 for any 10 days within a 90-day period.
Meanwhile, if you’re familiar with Spaces, the global co-working chain, you’ll be pleased to know it has a large 222-desk office in Surry Hills, just 2km from the central business district. With high ceilings, designer furniture and an abundance of natural light, it offers a great place to both work and network. Dedicated desks here start at $640 a month.
In Darlinghurst, you’ll find one of the pioneers of co-working spaces in Sydney, Desk X Space. This popular company offers creative decor, lots of natural light and regular events and workshops for its members, with prices starting at $50 a day for a hot desk.
Another Sydney co-working pioneer that’s still providing consistently good service is Fishburners. Australia’s largest co-working space, it boasts cool features like soundproof booths for Skype calls, and hot desks here start at $40 per day. Note, however, that like many co-working spaces in Sydney, it’s a members-only program that’s restricted to startups, not individual freelancers.
The same rules apply at The EngineRoom, which has branches in Chippendale and Darlinghurst. Offering a dedicated desk from which you can run your business each day, the venue is firmly focusing on building an entrepreneurial community. Prices start from $200 a month for a casual membership.
Where to eat
Sydney offers a rich variety of culinary choices, from affordable cafés and pubs to fine dining restaurants. But arguably, it’s in the midrange that it excels most, with high quality but affordable restaurants offering unique and imaginative takes on surroundings and food.
Take for example, Bloodwood in Newton, which offers sharing plates and small dishes in an industrial-chic bar and restaurant. With the laid-back feel of a neighbourhood restaurant, the plates are imaginative (think miso butter scallops or beetroot Yorkshire pudding) and there are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options too.
Asia has been a huge influence on Sydney’s restaurant culture, and perhaps the best fusion of the two cultures can be found at Billy Kwong at Pott’s Point. They believe the bitter, floral and woody notes of Australian native ingredients have a natural affinity with Chinese cuisine. And stunning dishes like Crispy Organic Saltbush Cakes, Red-Braised Caramelised Wallaby Tail and Steamed Snapper Fillet offer delicious proof of their theory.
Alternatively, if it’s food with a Japanese feel you’re seeking then head to nearby Cho Cho San, which boasts one of the city’s most beautiful restaurant interiors. This cosy, relaxed venue is inspired by the Japanese ‘izakaya’ tradition of pub restaurants, although dishes like Parmesan Don, Pumpkin Tempura and Lamb Cutlets with a Koji Glaze are inspired by, rather than slavishly following, that nation’s culinary tradition.
If you’re a little low on cash (or just fancy a fun, slightly raucous dining experience), then head to Bar Reggio, a family-owned and operated restaurant in Darlinghurst. Serving homestyle Italian fare that’s cheap yet tasty, with friendly staff and operating a bring-your-own-alcohol policy, it’s very popular with young locals.
Meanwhile, if you’re prepared to push the boat out, head to Icebergs on Bondi Beach, a true Sydney dining institution. Although it’s popular with the yachting crowd, it’s by no means snobby or exclusive (its slogan is ‘Everyone is Welcome’). And while the seasonally inspired modern Australian dishes may be pricey, you certainly get the high quality you pay for.
Where to drink
It’s not exactly a secret that Australians like a good beer. They like fine wine and a good cocktail too. And given Sydney’s year-round sunshine, it’s not surprising that the city is full of awesome beer gardens and rooftop bars.
When it comes to the former, probably the most famous is the Courthouse Hotel beer garden in Newtown. There are two cleverly segregated outdoor areas to keep smokers and diners from ruining each other’s fun, and dogs and children are both welcomed. Offering great beer and food, the Courthouse is an example of how getting all the small details right pays off in buckets.
Meanwhile, if you want to see stunning views of the Sydney skyline from above, head to The Glenmore Hotel, a pub set on multiple floors with a superb rooftop bar. Not only does it offer spectacular views of the opera house and harbour, but it’s a pretty nice place to have a drink too, with a relaxed atmosphere that makes it feel less like a tourist attraction and more like a local boozer.
Alongside well-known waterholes like these, there’s also a dazzling array of small and quirky bars springing up around the city, such as Easy Eight on Clarence Street. With a funky decor styled on an old-school soul diner, it boasts an eclectic range of original cocktails and imaginative snacks, such as chips roasted in Wagyu fat and dressed in red chilli and fried sage leaves.
Or maybe you just want a traditional boozer? In which case, we’d recommend The East Sydney Hotel, which focuses on simple pleasures like cold beer, cheap bar snacks and the odd Wednesday night folk band; The Cricketers Arms, with good solid timber floors and roaring fire; or Sydney’s oldest pub, The Fortune of War, which has recently been restored with all of its old-world charm intact.
Five touristy things you must do
We don’t need to tell you that you’re going to visit Bondi Beach. It’s one of the world’s most famous stretches of coastline: a pristine, 1km-long stretch of gorgeous white sands, gently lapped by the bluest of warm waters. Whether you spend your time sunbathing, swimming or surfing here, it’ll be an experience you won’t forget. (Also note that the area as a whole is becoming a great hub for cool bars, restaurants and cafes).
When it comes to art galleries in Sydney, the top of your list should be the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Offering a huge range of cutting-edge Australian and international modern art, this impressive, waterside art deco building is beautifully designed and elegantly functional. You’ll get a great view of Sydney Harbour here too, and best of all, entry is free.
If you have time to enjoy more art, then next on your list should be the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which also boasts free entry. Established in 1871, it features an astonishing collection of indigenous, colonial and contemporary art. Presenting around 40 exhibitions annually, it also offers lectures, workshops and film screenings on Wednesday evenings.
Close by here, you’ll also find the Royal Botanic Garden. One of the oldest gardens in the Southern Hemisphere (it dates back to 1810), this 30-hectare, English-style parkland offers an oasis of calm in the midst of the city, and it’s open daily from 7am-5pm, with tours at 10am.
Finally, one Sydney institution you really shouldn’t miss is the Chinatown Night Market. Held every Friday night on Dixon Street, there’s an electric atmosphere as you browse the colourful stalls, check out the latest gizmos, gadgets and fashions from the East, and enjoy amazing street food from across Asia (not just China).
This article was written by Jason Cooper, a former Creative Director, now at Shillington Australia. With over 12 years of industry experience, he approaches every project with the same principles: differentiate, be clear, consistent, focus on the core message and be creative to ensure results are engaging. He likes to write about design and creative thinking.