Many people mistake Sydney for Australia’s capital – and it’s easy to see why. Sydney has a truly cosmopolitan air, a moving-and-shaking business district, world-class galleries, a thriving LGBTQ community, and plenty of accommodation options to boot. Here’s our pick of where to stay in Sydney.
There are a tremendous number of places to stay in Sydney, and fierce competition helps keep prices down. Finding somewhere is usually only a problem around Christmas, throughout Jan, in late Feb/early March during the Gay Mardi Gras, and at Easter: at these times, book ahead.
The Rocks, immediately beneath the Harbour Bridge, is the heart of historic Sydney. This is where you’ll find iconic sights including Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Rocks Discovery Museum, Argyle Street and Sydney Observatory. For short visits, you’ll want to stay in the city centre. A Rocks location is highly convenient, but many of its exclusive hotels have a price tag to match.
Best for hotel luxury: The Langham
A glamorous option in a quiet location, with famous afternoon teas and a spacious underground pool. Some rooms look over to Observatory Hill and Walsh Bay.
Best for historic charm: Sydney Harbour B&B
This elegant B&B is located in two historic boarding houses in the heart of The Rocks. Enjoy your substantial breakfast (included) inside or in the courtyard garden.
From Circular Quay south as far as King Street is Sydney’s CBD, with Martin Place as its commercial nerve centre, a pedestrian mall lined with imposing banks and investment companies. All year round, fruit and flower stalls line the street, and in summer, street performances are still held at the little amphitheatre.
Best for five-star service: InterContinental
The sandstone facade of the 1851 former Treasury building forms the lower floors of this five-star hotel. Expect stunning views of the Botanic Gardens, Opera House and harbour. Pool and gym on the top floor.
Best for travellers on a budget: BASE Backpackers
This huge, modern, 360-bed hostel is well set up with two TV rooms, laundry and kitchen. Well-furnished rooms and dorms all have a/c with shared bathrooms. The women-only “Sanctuary” features hairdryers in the bathrooms, Aveda haircare products and feather pillows.
The section of the city centre south from Liverpool Street down to Central Station is known as Haymarket, a lively area that’s effectively a downmarket southern extension of the CBD. Between Town Hall and Central Station, George Street shifts gear as businesspeople and shoppers give way to backpackers, who jam the area’s abundant hostels. There’s also a couple of fine YHAs and a few mid-range hotels that make great places to stay in Sydney. It’s also a markedly East Asian area, with its own distinct Chinatown, a growing Koreatown and Thaitown, as well as plenty of street-food-style food courts.
Best for YHA charm: Sydney Railway Square YHA
This cute and unusual hostel is located in a historic packing shed right by Central Station, but feels surprisingly tucked away. Besides the expected dorms there are hotel-quality doubles and even beds in burgundy-painted train carriages. Excellent communal areas including a cinema room make for a lively atmosphere.
Best for boutique hostel vibes: BIG
Central, boutique-style hostel with well-equipped, sunny rooms. The ground-floor lobby doubles as the common area with designer lounges and a high-tech guest kitchen to the side where the free buffet breakfast is served. There’s also a great roof-terrace BBQ area, guest laundry and free bikes.
To the east of the city centre, the adjacent areas of Kings Cross and Potts Point comprise one of the city’s major entertainment districts and a popular spot for tourists (particularly backpackers). Once home to the seedy red-light district, the brothels have since moved out to the suburbs. “The Cross” remains lively, with places to eat, drink and dance that stay open late. Friday and Saturday nights can be rumbustious, so you may want to take this into account if you’re deciding where to stay in Sydney over the weekend.
Best for character and charm: Ovolo Woolloomooloo
This luxury establishment has bags of colourful contemporary style and is located on the water’s edge in a redeveloped wharf lined with fashionable cafés and restaurants. Eclectic rooms retain much of the building’s original features. Loft rooms boast city views. There’s also a day-spa, indoor heated pool and gym.
Best for foodies: Kirketon
Fashionable place in an excellent location, with lovely staff, slick service and great restaurants (including several Asian ones) and cafés on the doorstep.
There’s far less choice for places to stay in Paddington and Surrey Hills, though there are still some gems. Bustling Paddington has come a long way from its slum days at the turn of the twentieth century. Today, it’s a smart and fashionable suburb, with Victorian-era terraced houses, with their iron-lace verandas reminiscent of New Orleans. Surrey Hills, meanwhile, was traditionally the centre of the rag trade. Today, its population is ethnically varied, and it’s a good area for eating, drinking and a mooch around the shops.
Best for designer decor: ADGE Apartment Hotel
Technicolour, modern designer decor, friendly staff and nice details such as a free welcome drink and cosy slippers. Somewhere between a serviced apartment and a hotel, and highly recommended.
Best for location: Arts Hotel
Medium-sized hotel in a trendy location, run by staff tuned into the local scene (free guided walking tour of Paddington included). Comfortable, modern en-suite rooms with TV. Garden courtyard, swimming pool, in-house movies, free guest bicycles, fitness room and laundry, as well as a good on-site café.
West of the centre, the inner-city areas of Glebe and Newtown surround the University of Sydney. Both of these places make exciting places to stay, with their vibrant artistic communities and cultural mix enlivened by large student populations. Verdant and peaceful Glebe, especially, is another slice of prime travellers’ territory. It features several backpackers’ and a number of small, luxurious guesthouses.
Best for tight purse strings: Rooftop Travellers Lodge
This excellent-value budget retreat for short and long stays is right in the heart of Glebe. There’s a large kitchen, while most rooms have a double and a single bed, a/c and a PC with free unlimited broadband. Fabulous city views from the rooftop; parking included.
Best for unwinding: The Village Glebe
Three large old houses with a mellow, friendly atmosphere. The laidback guests socialize in the streetside, fairy-lit garden, and young local staff know what’s going on around town.
This being Sydney, the beaches are a huge draw. Thanks to the good ferry and train system, it’s quite possible to stay at the beach and still sightsee quite comfortably. The closest ocean beach to the city is Bondi, which has a couple of great hostels and a boutique hotel.
Best for ocean views: Noah's Bondi Beach
Huge hostel right opposite the beach with spectacular ocean views from the rooftop deck and BBQ area. Clean and well run with beach-view private rooms and decent dorms. The bathrooms are pretty cramped, though. On-site bar with bargain meals, TV Room and pool table.
Best for keen surfers: Bondi Beachouse YHA
Actually nearer to peaceful Tamarama Beach than lively Bondi, but still close enough to the action. Spacious, high-ceilinged dorms and private rooms, all with fans. Free surfboards and bodyboards.
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Top image: Sydney's iconic harbourfront © Andy Tam/Shutterstock