On a morning run through Sydney, the world feels somewhat enchanted. A sleeping city eases into action, as long shadows spill across the dancing fountain of Hyde Park and the faces of historic, neighboring buildings. Chairs fill at a sunny-side cafe, while other residents grab an aromatic cup of fuel to go.
Scenic Sydney Harbour views include the iconic Opera House — Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
Until now, your jetlagged body hasn't quite grasped you're on the other side of the globe. Yet once inside the tranquil Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, you catch glimpses of mysterious, colorful flora, a fluffy-headed kookaburra and the unmistakable Opera House that all confirm you've officially arrived "Down Under."
Thanks to Australia's exotic and far-flung coordinates between the Indian and Pacific oceans, it takes time to reach this magnificent continent that's located southeast of Asia. Based on the time zone adjustment alone, you'll want to dedicate a significant number of days to your visit, if at all possible. (Sign up online for an electronic visa before arriving.)
Located in New South Wales, the nation's most visited state, Sydney is a sprawling city that offers natural beauty, plenty of green space, countless beaches and a trove of cultural offerings. As of June 2017, the city had 33 suburbs and an estimated 232,926 residents. The vibe spans the gamut from suits to surfboards.
Wave chasers head for a morning surf at Bondi Beach, one of the city's most popular destinations — Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
Where to stay
The city has few hotels with a location more ideal than that of the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park, which sits adjacent to a lovely, tree-lined oasis yet is also within walking distance of the city's hottest attractions. In light of $50 million worth of renovations, the venue's beautifully redesigned guest rooms and suites now boast a "refined residential feel" and exceedingly warm atmosphere (many with park views).
In line with the entire brand's relaunch and "Heart for the City" initiative, the property has also enhanced its gathering spaces that range from a decadent, 21st-floor Club Lounge and The Gallery's tea and wine rooms to signature restaurant Feast – known for having some of the freshest seafood in town.
Guests can take in sprawling city views from the pool terrace at Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park — Photo courtesy of Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park
Sheraton's vision places a sense of community over the individual, and it aims to strike a balance between a globally consistent design thread while also "being of the place" it calls home. Mike Fulkerson, Vice President of Brand & Marketing (Marriott International, Asia Pacific), explained that by concept, "Sheraton is the community." For decades, it's been a trusted hub where folks gather for high tea, Sunday brunch or to celebrate special occasions with a multi-course meal.
Other dreamy amenities include the 22nd-level fitness center, spa and pool, with skylights that allow Australian rays to stream through the ceiling.
Enjoy tasty fare and creative cocktails at the Sheraton Grand Sydney's Conservatory Bar — Photo courtesy of Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park
What to see and do
From your convenient Sheraton home base, head down to Circular Quay for prime people-watching and worthwhile tourist "musts." Take a tour of the grand, iconic Opera House, or better yet, catch one of the 1,800 performances and events that happen inside this architectural masterpiece every year.
Hop on a ferry over to Manly Beach or the exquisitely placed Taronga Zoo, home to 350 species that include lovable mascots like the hoppy kangaroo and cuddly koala. In the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, wander the markets, cafes, historic pubs and posh eatieries of The Rocks neighborhood. You'll find the Museum of Contemporary Art here, which showcases the works of many aboriginal artists.
A resident koala hangs out in a tree at the Australian Reptile Park on the Central Coast — Photo courtesy of Desintation NSW
Experience an adrenaline rush on a hilariously whimsical water adventure with companies like Oz Jet Boating. Once you're poncho-clad and buckled in, enjoy wild speeds and spins as you zoom past sights from Clark and Shark Islands to extravagant harborside mansions.
And for one of the world's coolest city perspectives, suit up for the epic BridgeClimb. Throughout the entire experience, run like a well-oiled machine, your witty guide leads you under the architectural marvel of Sydney Harbour Bridge and up to its pinnacle for jaw-dropping views. Choose between excursions at dawn or dusk, day or night, and decide whether an "express" visit or longer tour best suits your needs (and affinity for heights).
The sun rises over Kirribilli and Kurraba Point — Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
Where to eat
On a behind-the-scenes tour of Sydney Fish Market, visit the auction floor where top-level restaurateurs duke it out every morning, bidding on 100-plus species of the freshest seafood around. Afterward, grab a sampling of delicacies from dozens of vendors, whose goods range from oysters and crab to sashimi creations.
At mealtime, other must-try options include downtown's Cafe Sydney, which offers sweeping harbor views thanks to its positioning on the rooftop of Customs House. Catalina, a fine-dining icon for the past 23 years, has a lovely waterside address in Rose Bay (about a 15-minute drive from the Sheraton).
Savor the city's multicultural flavors at Alpha, a chic Greek eatery situated in an historic, high-ceilinged Victorian building in the CBD. Discover Mr. Wong, a delightful Chinese restaurant, tucked away in an unassuming downtown alleyway. Here, a modern Cantonese menu steals the show with highlights from dim sum and classic mud crab to Peking duck pancakes, salt-and-pepper tofu, twice-cooked green beans and king crab fried rice.
Find a nightcap at whisky-forward Wild Rover or Darlinghurst's Wood and Smoke Bar, which boasts a 1900's explorer theme and an all-seasons beer garden.
To experience some of Sydney's character-filled neighborhoods, head to the eastern suburbs for an unforgettable coastal stroll. Begin in Coogee, and spend about two hours walking the seaside trail to Bondi Beach. Along the way, soak in stunning views of emerald beaches, secret coves, alluring rock pools and million-dollar houses that line the cliff's edge.
Locals and visitors enjoy swimming at Wattamolla, Royal National Park Sydney — Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
At the end, reward yourself with a decadent meal at Bondi Icebergs Club, a turquoise-hued cafe that overlooks the pool and crowded beach below. An Aperol Spritz proves the ideal complement to dishes of mozzarella and tomato salad, mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, octopus and other local favorites.
Finally, for the perfect Sydney experience, leave your schedule loose enough to spontaneously cross the Harbour Bridge one sun-kissed afternoon to settle into a spot like The Boathouse Balmoral Beach. With its bounty of robust flower arrangements and a nautical theme marked by blue and white stripes, you'll swear this dreamy decor was designed specifically with its guests' photo-taking needs in mind.
As you lounge by the twinkling water – your belly full of pea-avocado salad, fresh salmon, chunky strips of fish n' chips and several split bottles of rose – you'll look around and wonder how you got so lucky to land in this beautiful place, on this beautiful day. In Australia, pausing to drink in the good life is simply how it's done.