The tourist haven that might tempt you to emigrate: Sydney's glittering metropolis, beautiful beaches and laid back suburbs never fail to enthrall

  • Beyond the iconic harbour, Sydney is made up of several distinct 'villages'
  • There are more than 100 beaches in Sydney, from secluded coves to Bondi
  • Daytrips include visiting the Blue Mountains, 90 minutes west of the city

City life doesn't get much more vibrant than in Sydney.

Wandering from one chic, cosmopolitan suburb to another, or emerging from the clear waters of one of the many beaches, you very quickly understand why Australia’s biggest city retains its top ten position as one of the ‘best in the world’.

Around the glittering centre of The Rocks and Darling Harbour, skyscrapers, bars and boutiques jostle for position among galleries and theatres, and you could happily sit and people watch with the lights of the city shimmering on the water until sundown.

Bright lights, big city: Sydney's glittering Harbour and iconic Bridge are even more thrillng in the flesh

Bright lights, big city: Sydney's glittering Harbour and iconic Bridge are even more thrillng in the flesh

Sydney may be one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it continues to attract tourists of all denominations in search of beautiful beaches, famous landmarks, adrenaline-filled activities and a laid back vibe - including backpackers in their droves.

My 18-year-old daughter Jasmine was one of those backpackers and after I wrote about our (well, my) tearful goodbye last year in Femail, Singapore Air got in touch to offer me a flight Down Under so that I could see what all the fuss was about – and try a bit of backpacking myself.

Singapore Air currently boast the fastest fly time from the UK to Australia, with a flight time from the UK of just under 22 hours, meaning I literally had breakfast in London and dinner in Sydney – something I didn’t realise was even possible.

Like all great cities, Sydney is made up of ‘villages’, all with a distinct character.

The elegant haven of Paddington with its pretty ironwork terraced houses is particularly photogenic

The elegant haven of Paddington with its pretty ironwork terraced houses is particularly photogenic

Surry Hills is a vintage haven of bohemian bar hoppers and stylish book lovers; in Darlinghurst the party buzz of Oxford Street sits alongside the bustle of Little Italy; Paddington is an elegant haven of leafy streets with pretty ironwork terraced houses, while Chippendale has reinvented itself as the go-to destination for art lovers.

Across the harbour the Lower North Shore also offers a large number of jaw-dropping beaches in northern suburbs such as Mosman, Manly and Neutral Bay. There are in fact more than 100 beaches in Sydney alone, from secluded coves within easy reach of the city to the more famous Bondi.

Although Bondi is probably still known mainly for its surfing (and it is, as you might expect, full of bearded hipsters and people in ‘active wear’ doing press ups and jogging) the district is also known as a vibrant food and drink hub, and it’s hard not to enjoy the perpetual Sunday morning vibe in this most famous of districts.

Starting the day early with a good coffee and a healthy breakfast is a big part of life here, and accordingly the cafes serve perhaps the best breakfasts you’ll ever taste.

The beach at Bondi (left) is a huge draw
Bondi breakfasts (right) are world class

Bondi cool: The beach is a huge draw (left)...but so is the food. Bondi breakfasts (right) are world class

Hipster cafes: Porch and Parlour in North Bondi (above) encapsulates the perpetual 'Sunday morning vibe'

Hipster cafes: Porch and Parlour in North Bondi (above) encapsulates the perpetual 'Sunday morning vibe'

My faves were Speedo’s Café on the north section of Bondi beach, and Porch & Parlour on Campbell Parade, whose ‘Green Breaky Bowl’ of smashed avocado, quinoa, poached eggs and spinach on sourdough, with a scattering of fresh mint and basil, was peerless.

Staying in a trendy modern apartment rather than a traditional hotel is the real deal. For casual cool the sleek Adina Apartments on Hall Street are well-placed, right next to Bill’s, amid a bustling foodie scene, and five minutes from the beach.

Or for uber wow factor stay in the chic QT Bondi, the suburb's first designer boutique hotel, slap bang on the seafront.

After chilling on the beach and braving the waves, a walk around the headland past Tamarama Beach to Bronte or further to Coogee gives you access to a selection of great sea swimming pools away from the big surf (and sharks, if you’re worried about them).

After the requisite few days in Bondi I headed for the Central Business District, or CBD, for my stay in the very centrally located Tankstream Hotel, which proved the perfect base for some serious sightseeing.

But first, breakfast, CBD-style, was required. Clutching a fistful of Travelzoo vouchers I was able to treat Jasmine to breakfast at the Langham, a refined five-star hotel which reminded me somewhat of London’s Savoy, followed by a Thai massage in nearby Darling Harbour.

Walking is still the best way to get around, particularly as the 12km tram line currently being constructed to run from Circular Quay to other parts of the city (slated to open in 2018), has thrown buses into chaos. 

Walking over the iconic Harbour Bridge was first on my list – and an experience every bit as good as I had imagined.

Sydney is very much a city which can be seen and appreciated from the outside, without paying through the nose. It’s popular these days to climb the bridge but priced at $230 (£122), this can be pushing the budget for many. 

View from the top: Walking across the bridge and up the Pylon is the best way to get stunning Harbour views

View from the top: Walking across the bridge and up the Pylon is the best way to get stunning Harbour views

Insider tip: you can get similar views of the Sydney skyline at a fraction of the cost from the Pylon Lookout: I paid $12 (£6) to climb the 200 steps to the viewing platform for breathtaking views – and you can take as many photos as you like, whereas cameras are prohibited on the bridge climb. 

If you’ve walked all the way over and don’t fancy traipsing back, Milsons Point train station is at the other end of the bridge, so you easily catch the train back. 

After my Bridge adventure, meeting a friend for a glass of wine or two at the Opera Bar offered instant access to the buzzing sundowner vibe.

Getting a ferry from Circular Quay to the northern suburb of Manly and back is also de riguer, particularly if you time it so your return journey means allows a view of the sun going down over Sydney Harbour - joy! Ferries run all day to Taronga Zoo - highly recommended if you don’t think you’ll get a chance to see Australia’s animals in the wild.

The next day was my Sydney arts tour and despite the needle hovering at 31 degrees I headed for a suburb which is becoming the centre of the arts and culture scene in Sydney: Chippendale, a fast-evolving area in the south of the city which has shaken off its gritty past as a slum and now boasts a collection of cutting edge galleries and grassroots dining venues. 

Even the shopping area Central Park – a ‘vertical mall’ with living green walls, is aimed at the architecturally minded. 

The Chippendale Creative Precinct initiative has been uniting entrepreneurs and innovative businesses over recent years to create a vibrant, creative community with more than 20 galleries, including multi-arts centre Carriageworks

The industrial-chic Carriageworks in Chippendale is at the centre of the burgeoning arts scene in Sydney

The industrial-chic Carriageworks in Chippendale is at the centre of the burgeoning arts scene in Sydney

Laid back vibe: Office workers enjoy lunchtime sunshine in Chippendale's Central Park urban village

Laid back vibe: Office workers enjoy lunchtime sunshine in Chippendale's Central Park urban village

The industrial feel and scale of this former railway carriage workshop has been retained, making it a popular place for performances, large-scale art installations, and weekend markets. 

Bjork recently announced she will unveil her world premiere virtual reality project ‘Bjork Digital’ here in June as part of Vivid Sydney, a huge lighting installation event held in the CBD which runs from 27 May-18 June, when music performances will run alongside more than 80 light projections around the city. 

Australia’s botanical diversity certainly helps to drive its culinary engine, and these days adventurous gourmet dining is an established feature of the city. 

Sydney boasts a vibrant and spontaneous fusion cuisine, merging Asian, Middle Eastern and European menus with Pacific Rim ingredients. 

Kensington Street Social is Sydney’s first culinary venture from British Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton. 

Sitting on breakfast bar stools around a central kitchen area watching the chefs prepare and deliver one perfect sharing platter after another made for a delicious and memorable meal. 

Taking a break from city life is something many Sydneysiders like to do, and following a Sydney friend’s recommendation I took Jasmine on a road trip to not one but two destinations favoured by Australians as well as tourists: The Blue Mountains, just 90 minutes west of the city, and Jervis Bay, three hours’ south.

Dizzying heights: The views over the Blue Mountains are breathtaking, from every viewpoint

Dizzying heights: The views over the Blue Mountains are breathtaking, from every viewpoint

The Three Sisters, one of the Blue Mountains' best known sites, towers above the Jamison Valley
Down some steep stairs you can get a closeup view of the Three Sisters (right)

The Three Sisters, one of the Blue Mountains' best known sites, towers above the Jamison Valley (left) and following steep stairs down means Catherine got a closeup view (right) ...but preferred to look up, not down

Probably the best introduction to the Blue Mountains - which do indeed appear ‘blue’ due to a eucalyptus oil haze – is at the family owned Scenic World in Katoomba, where cable cars with glass floors, winding wooden walkways and the steepest passenger train in the world allow the visitor to variously glide over, wander through and zoom up from the ancient rainforest in the stunning Jamison Valley.

Spectacular waterfalls cascade hundreds of feet down sheer rock faces, forest trails wind through the valley and the sheer number of viewpoints means it’s easy to avoid the crowds of fellow tourists as you gaze out over the heavily forested mountain range with its towering cliffs.

Thanks to a tipoff from an insider, Jasmine and I discover at the end of a meandering path deep in the valley a ‘secret pool’ complete with cascading waterfall, where we swim completely uninterrupted in the clear, ice-cool water.

Eating out in the area is excellent too and the restaurants we ate in, Leura Garage and Silk’s Brasserie in Leura, and Echoes Restaurant in Katoomba back up these claims, with fresh, tasty food and local wines every bit as good as I’d experienced in Sydney. 

For wow factor we stop off at the historic Hydro Majestic hotel for stunning views down the valley -and a beautifully presented ‘high tea’ with a five-tier cake stand and glass teapots.

Whiter shade of pale: The beaches at Jervis Bay offer miles of unspoilt coastline, and the whitest of sands

Whiter shade of pale: The beaches at Jervis Bay offer miles of unspoilt coastline, and the whitest of sands

We also visit Jervis Bay, a coastal area three hours south of Sydney, where the sand is so fine it actually ‘squeaks’ when you walk on it.

Made up of clear or white silicon dioxide crystals or silica, it’s lighter and finer than typical ocean beach sand and has a widespread reputation for being the whitest in the world.

Divers, walkers, cyclists, nature lovers, surfers, anglers, snorkelers - all come here for the remote creeks and inlets and endless beaches, yet it’s rare to find anyone sharing your space. 

Dolphins and humpback whales are often spotted, and Jasmine and I enjoyed our encounter with a couple of grey kangaroos grazing behind one of the many beaches in the area.

Glamping at the Paperbark Camp is more luxurious than you'd ever imagine possible in a 'tent on stilts'

Glamping at the Paperbark Camp is more luxurious than you'd ever imagine possible in a 'tent on stilts'

The Gunyah restaurant, perched on stilts, serves a n adventurous menu (left)
Jasmine, Catherine and 'the grey roo' (right)

The Gunyah restaurant, perched on stilts, (left) serves an adventurous menu of local specialties, fine wines and some mouthwatering desserts. Right, Jasmine and Catherine encounter a grey kangaroo

We are only three hours from Sydney and yet it seems we are at the farthest ends of the earth. The feeling is underlined during my stay at the really rather wonderful eco-‘glamping’ Paperbark Camp, where I discovered fine dining and luxury safari tents, each with their own ensuite, open to the forest. 

After an incredible three course meal in the Gunyah (aboriginal for bush hut or shelter) I enjoy an al fresco bath beneath the stars, followed by one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.

Sydney and its surrounds have captivated me. 

I have a crazy few days of feeling like I desperately want to live here, even looking round at prices of real estate, until I realise it’s far out of my reach and I come back down to earth again. (A friend admits she had the same thought when she last visited – life just seems so easy here.)

In real life of course all holidays come to an end, but as I bid goodbye to my daughter, I can’t help feeling that I will return - hopefully sooner rather than later.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Singapore Airlines flies four times daily from London Heathrow and daily from Manchester to Singapore for onward connections to Australia. 

Customers can combine National Express Coach and Singapore Airlines Flights to be protected from delays with the UK's first combined coach-fly ticket. For more information visit www.singaporeair.com or call 0844 800 2380/ 020 8961 6993

Catherine and Jasmine were guests of destinationnsw with excursions from AustravelCox&Kings and travelzoo.com.au 

For upcoming events in Sydney visit Sydney.com or australia.com  

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About Văn Khang Nguyễn

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