Destination Down Under

Lei Sydney Guide

A trip to Sydney calls for visits to LGBTQ-friendly suburbs, beautiful beaches, and mountains in hues of blue.

Text by Aja Toscano
Images by Kainoa Reponte & Gabe Estevez

When heading to Sydney, Australia’s most populated city, the first destinations that come to mind are the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour, with their signature architecture and coastline. Once you’ve arrived in Sydney’s hot, bustling financial district, and checked these off your list, head straight to the beach. Fill yourself up on avocado toast and surfer sightings, then head to the Blue Mountains and Sydney’s suburbs to encounter wildlife and urban delights that complete the trip.

Sydney Guide Parida Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach: To the Coast

The best way to do Bondi Beach is to spend the entire day there. In the early morning, get your exercise along the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. Just under two miles, this stroll encompasses gorgeous views of some of Sydney’s most famous beaches and coastal pools, including the picturesque Bondi Icebergs and Tamarama Beach, where surfers shred. At the end of Bronte Beach lies an enclosed saltwater pool that locals use for their morning laps. Back at Bondi, make sure to check out the murals lining the sand that were painted by artists from around the world. Then, grab breakfast at one of the many trendy locales, such as Parida Bondi, a café that sits beneath palm trees and overlooks surfers at Bondi, a cool breeze blowing through its timberline windows. (Tip: the avocado hummus toast and the cold-drip coffee made with coconut water and topped with coconut shavings are musts.)

Sydney Guide The Grounds of Alexandria

Grounds of Alexandria: An Instagrammer’s Paradise

If you’re a lover of spring, bountiful fresh blooms, and friendly, giant hogs, then the Grounds of Alexandria is a favorite. Past the wooden gates, you will find twinkling lights, greenery from floor to ceiling, and rustic décor. Try something from one of the four cafes within, especially the Potting Shed, which has delicious menu items, hanging plants, and a bench swing.

The Rocks: Blending Old and New

The site of the first European settlement in Australia, The Rocks transports you back in time with its cobblestone walkways, sandstone bricks, and wooden beams that are welcome contrasts to the city’s towering skyscrapers. Among its historic buildings are more than 50 cafes, restaurants, and hotels that serve mouthwatering dishes, such as the Rocks Café, which serves kangaroo and crocodile burgers with sides of chips. Also in The Rocks is the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. If you’re visiting in the summer, be sure to check out its Art After Hours event, which takes place every Wednesday, when the museum stays open until 9 p.m. and offers unique programming.

Blue Mountains: Get in Touch with Nature

You can’t visit Australia without spending a day outside of Sydney. In the Blue Mountains, a region dense with soaring eucalyptus trees, the atmosphere is filled with tiny droplets of oil, which, combined with particles and water vapor, create a tinge of blue across the vast valleys. Hike along lush trails that lead to cascading waterfalls along cliffsides, and breathtaking lookout points. At Scenic World, a visitor attraction, dangle in a cable car high above the crags. While there are many tours that offer to bring you to the Blue Mountains from Sydney, jumping on the train and exploring on foot makes for a more fulfilling experience. (Tip: Buying a pass for the hop-on hop-off explorer bus doesn’t hurt either.)

Featherdale Wildlife Park: See Aussie Wildlife up Close

When planning a trip to Australia, most travelers put “pet a koala” at the top of their lists. At Featherdale Wildlife Park, visitors can do just that. Found along the way from Sydney to the Blue Mountains, this wildlife park is home to native wildlife in a natural bush setting. Visitors can snap a picture with lazy koala bears, or chill out with joeys (baby kangaroos) at the kangaroo playground.

Oxford Street in Darlinghurst: Experience Sydney’s Vibrant Nightlife

If you hear music pumping and see vibrant colors decorating buildings, you’ve reached Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, also called The Golden Mile. Here, in 1978, protesters marched for an end to discrimination. Still at the heart of Sydney’s gay and lesbian culture, Oxford Street has lots to offer both in the day and late at night. Every March, the road shuts down for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival, parade, and dance party, which brings in tens of thousands of visitors annually. During the day, this area and Paddington, its neighboring suburb, are known for their numerous fashionable boutiques and restaurants. In the evening, the nightclubs and bars that line Oxford Street burst with catchy beats that will bring out your inner party animal.

Sydney Guide Oxford Street

Newtown: For When You’re Feeling Artsy

This suburb is a great alternative for those who don’t consider throbbing nightclubs their scene. With coffee shops, farmers markets, pubs, girls’ nights, vintage shops, and historic buildings, the area has much to offer visitors and residents alike. Also known for its appreciation of the arts, Newtown has a thriving live music and street-art scene. Here, you can treat yourself, and be yourself. When preparing for a return trip to Sydney—because of course you will want come back—neighborhoods like Newtown will be at the top of your list.

Other places to experience:

Basket Brothers: Best brunch spot, great lattés
Aqua S: Serving tasty, vibrantly colored soft serve
Darling Harbour: A bar hopper’s dream
Royal Botanic Garden: Perfect for an afternoon stroll
Luna Park Sydney: A historical amusement park where you can let your inner child play
Broadway Sydney: One of the most elaborate and impressive food courts found within a mall.