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Weekend Planner: Sydney, Australia

Weekend Planner: Don't Overlook an Extended Stay In Sydney When Down Under

Weekend Planner: Don't Overlook an Extended Stay In Sydney When Down Under

The city is more than a travel hub into the Down Under

For many visitors to Australia, Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is often considered a port city rather than a travel destination. Since it’s one of the region’s major international hubs for foreign travel, it’s frequented for a day or so, but tourists quickly move up and down the coast or venture into the Outback. When I first traveled Down Under while in college, I also found myself passing through rather than staying. The Sydney Opera House was a place to catch a play or an arena might draw me in for concerts when international artists were touring. Outside of that, however, a large portion of my five-month stay was spent exploring as much of the country outside of the capital as possible.

I recently returned since Sydney was the host city of the 2014 Bingham Cup, and I was determined to take advantage of my week in Australia to experience one place rather than hopping about. During that time, I realized the city offers a sophisticated array of options—making it the perfect place to chill before boarding that dreaded 17-hour flight back to Los Angeles. So why not leave on a good note?

Where to Stay: At the cross between George and Market streets, QT Sydney is situated in the heart of downtown just a 10-minute walk from Darling Harbour or a 20-minute walk from Circular Quay. The appeal of this designer hotel is its steampunk-like sensibilities. From the vintage dressers and suitcases lining the walls of the lobby to the bowler hats hanging from the ceilings in the rooms, QT defines what it means to be “hipster luxury.”

The Barber at SpaQ. Photos courtesy of QT

The real draw is SpaQ. Open daily, the spa offers guests the opportunity to get the perfect shave (or beard trim) at its in-house barbershop. With packages ranging from $50 to $150, guests can get a a simple haircut, a straight razor shave, unruly eyebrows and beards are tamed, or indulge in a “fast eddy facial.” Take advantage of the latter before heading out to Oxford Street—where the scruff plays.

What to Do: While there are a number of activities designed to attract tourists — the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb being the most popular and common rite of passage for visitors — it pays to invest in something a bit more exclusive. Why visit and photograph the Sydney Opera House from the outside, when you can take a VIP backstage tour and learn about the building’s rich history? Starting at 7 a.m. daily, the tour is limited to 12 people, and the two-hour guided walk gives access to dressing rooms, the stages of the Concert Hall and Joan Sutherland Theatre, and a chance to get up close with shows' costumes and props. The experience (and photos) were even better than those required shots of the building's famed exterior.

Photos courtesy of Bells at Killcare

For anyone wanting to “get away” without really leaving the city — or having to navigate driving on the left side of the road — hop aboard one of Sydney Seaplanes’ many flights that the soar around the Harbour and up the coast of New South Wales. The short scenic flights provide amazing aerial views of the Opera House and downtown as well as a chance to venture further north with one of the “fly and dine” options. Fly to Bells at Killcare, a luxury boutique hotel tucked into the hillside of the Bouddi Peninsula, for example, and once on the ground, there's time to either indulge in the location’s spa services or dive into a delicious three-course lunch and a healthy selection of NSW regional wines. Sadly, however, there's no time to both dine and spa—unless there's a chance to stay overnight. 

The beaches just outside Sydney should not be overlooked—such as Hugh Jackman's favorite, Bondi—but be warned: It's packed full of tourists during the height of Down Under's summer. A quieter, less-frequented option is Bronte Beach, which is accessible from Bondi via the coastal walking paths. (The area is also home to the LGBT community's mature and more settled crowd.) Set aside a few hours to take a leisurely stroll up and down the coast. Several locals also recommended the beach along Watson's Bay, which is accessible via one of the ferry from Circular Quay.  

Where to Eat and Drink: Sydney is easy when it comes to great restaurants, and there are plenty of options to choose from within walking distance of most hotels. The Darling Harbour, much like the Circular Quay, is lined with heaps of dining spots and bars, but tucked into the line “overpriced tourist traps,” you'll find The Malaya, a Nonya cuisine restaurant that packs every seafood dish full of flavor. The menu can get pricey, so skip the cocktails in favor of a spicy meal.

Dinner is best followed by a night on the town along Oxford Street, the city’s main gay drag. Depending on what you’re looking for—nightclubs, unpretentious fun, or a mixed gay/straight crowd—just enjoy wandering the Darlinghurst suburb. The neighborhood even has its own Stonewall Hotel.

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