Sydney: A Sun-drenched Home for Culture

Beat a path to Australia’s iconic city of bays to experience diverse cultural events and a quintessential laidback lifestyle.

In Sydney, an oceanfront hub bisected by glittering waterways, numerous events will make 2023 a year to remember.

Australia’s largest city will be the first southern hemisphere hub to host WorldPride, incorporating the country’s most famous pride festival, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first Australian Gay Pride Week and mark five years of Australian marriage equality. WorldPride kicks off on February 24 with a concert headlined by Kylie Minogue, the country’s bestselling female singer. Over the next two weeks, it will encompass a human-rights conference and more than 300 talks, performances, and parties. 

Meanwhile, the city’s Opera House is also marking a 50th anniversary this year, shortly after unveiling its refreshed main concert hall in July 2022. Its new moveable stage has been lowered to allow for better sightlines; above, 18 specially designed petal-shaped acoustic reflectors have been finished in semigloss magenta to match the striking seat upholstery. 

Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s iconic design for the Opera House—which draws on a sail motif and which locals joke resembles a stack of drying dishes—arguably changed the face and fortunes of this city but rarely came to be. One of 233 submissions to an open-call competition, it languished in the reject pile until influential Finnish architect Alvar Aalto declared it the winner. 

Executing it was a huge challenge. Construction, expected to take four years, required 10,000 workers and 14 years to complete. From an original estimate of $7 million, costs—largely funded by a state lottery—had ballooned to $102 million by the time the building was finished in 1973. When Minister of Works Davis Hughes cut Utzon’s cash flow partway through the project, Utzon left Australia and never saw his design realized. 

Guided tours of the labyrinthine building’s velvet-lined back passages, wood-clad bars, and communal spaces are a hot ticket. When booking ahead, you might consider requesting tour guide Nic Testoni, who starred in the Sydney-based show Home & Away in the late nineties and offers a fun conversational counterpoint to the history and inner workings of this modern architectural masterpiece. 

A Thriving Art Scene

While the heyday of Aussie soaps has faded, Sydney’s arts scene is generally thriving. Celebrated director Liesel Badorrek’s recent gritty, open-air production of Bizet’s beloved opera Carmen on Cockatoo Island was emblematic of Australian creatives’ unflinching, innovative approach to both contemporary shows and reimagined classics. 

The island—a UNESCO-listed early-1800s penal establishment and WWII naval base slap-bang in the center of Sydney’s shark-infested waterways—has long been a popular day or overnight destination for history buffs. Badorrek recast its historic ruins and industrial structures—a far cry from the opera’s Seville, Spain setting—as a parallel universe informed by rock where protagonists careened through each act of Carmen on motorcycles. Now that the Suzi Quatro–styled misfits and rebels have cleared out, the only recitatives you might hear are local guides acting out hair-raising tales of grisly murders, wartime maneuvers, or ill-fated prison escapes to day-tripping and overnight guests. 

Last December, the Art Gallery of New South Wales launched its Sydney Modern Project, an art museum by SANAA, the Pritzker Prize–winning architectural firm. The museum incorporates a public art garden and a revitalized historic building overlooking the harbor. 

The city’s waterfront Museum of Contemporary Art is also a must-see for its myriad exhibitions by domestic and visiting artists. A big draw for 2023 is a series of 1:1-scale installations by Korean artist Do Ho Suh—his first solo exhibition in the southern hemisphere—which explore notions of belonging, identity, and home that reflect his three decades of living in various countries. The exhibit includes Rubbing/Loving Project: Seoul Home (2013–2022), the artist’s inaugural presentation of the life-size exterior of his parents’ traditional hanok house in Korea’s capital, the textures of its walls and characteristic curved tile roof captured in tactile paper rubbings. 

Many galleries are dedicated to permanent and revolving collections by Aboriginal artists. This season, Yirrkala Prints shows work by six senior artists from the Yolŋu Aboriginal community in northeastern Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory, produced in collaboration with printer Sean Richard Smith at the Yirrkala Print Space at Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, the oldest Aboriginal-owned and -run print studio in the country.

A Bird’s Eye View

Most organizations and businesses now make a point of naming and thanking the traditional owners and custodians of the land Sydney now occupies—a welcome change from a few years back when its native peoples went unacknowledged. For a bird’s-eye view of the city from an Aboriginal viewpoint, book the Sydney Bridgeclimb tour Burrawa—a local Aboriginal word that means “above” or “upwards.” 

The Harbour Bridge, 1,640 feet above the harbor’s glinting waters, was completed in 1932 and retrofitted to accommodate the Bridge climb in the late 1990s; since then, more than four million jump-suited climbers—including Oprah Winfrey, Robert De Niro, and Matt Damon—have navigated its walkways and ladders. As you ascend, you’ll hear stories told by an indigenous guide, who will encourage you to look down, if you dare, as they share the history of Bennelong Point and Barangaroo, locations that fringe the water’s edge and point out the shores where an Aboriginal woman named Patyegarang taught British marine officer William Dawes the language of Sydney in the late 1700s.

The zenith of the climb offers the city’s best opportunities for taking iconic pictures that your friends might suspect were photoshopped. You can strike a pose with the Sydney Opera House and cityscape as a backdrop, with the Blue Mountains just visible in the distance. 

The bridge also offers a good chance to orient yourself to Sydney’s diverse neighborhoods.

To the southeast, the crescent of sand fronting surf haven Bondi, perhaps one of the city’s best-known locales, culminates in hip drinking and dining hangout Icebergs, an ocean-filled swimming pool, and the clifftop start of a path that traces craggy headlands south to Bronte, Clovelly, and Coogee beaches.

Surry Hills, a previously gritty blue-collar borough that fronts Central Station, is a destination for intimate cocktail bars and sleek coffee shops. King’s Cross is your best bet for late-night drinking and dancing; Newport, arguably the city’s most boho enclave, marks the edge of Inner West, which is rapidly becoming one of the most desirable postcodes of the city among young professionals. To the north, in more relaxed family-oriented places like Manly, you can access the Cabbage Tree Aquatic Reserve and low-key beaches by car, boat, or popular electric bicycle.

More Than a Beach Town

An exploration of the city’s neighborhoods, where boutiques, museums, bars, and restaurants abound, makes it apparent that Sydney isn’t just a beach town, although the proximity to water does make it easier to explore. Water taxi docks dot the shoreline, offering a speedy and scenic way to reach outlying neighborhoods, especially during rush hour. You can also opt to go by air. From Rose Bay, you can take a seaplane to anywhere a water landing is possible and gain an exhilarating, albeit brief, taste of what started as an 1830s British Empire mail run but evolved quickly into the pinnacle of luxe colonial-era air travel.

For a little over 12 years, a fleet of Short S23 “C” Class Empire flying boats, each equipped to carry 15 passengers, two air crew, and three stewards, flew the 10-day journey from London to Sydney, making 30 refueling stops en route. In the air, entertainment included playing quoits or mini golf, dining in the silver-service restaurant, and smoking on the promenade deck as the landscapes of Europe, Asia, and Australia zipped by at 150 mph.

Today, Sydney Seaplanes’ 12-passenger Cessna Caravan Amphibian—which has a top speed of 186 mph and a 909-mile range—departs Rose Bay’s floating pontoons for slightly pared-back but still-spectacular journeys. After a Champagne brunch at the aptly named Empire Lounge, you might circle the Opera House and Harbour Bridge before touching down on the Hawkesbury River to discover local oyster and pearl aquaculture, or land just off Newport’s ruddy gold beach, the former home of three-time world surfing champion Tom Carroll, where you might recognize the saltwater lap pool perched atop a broad flat rocky platform from photographer Max Dupain’s 1930s and 1950s works. 

In 2023, Sydney will also be home to many sporting and entertainment events. The city’s new Allianz (“Allie-anz”) Stadium, a 45,000-spectator glass-and-metal home to Sydney FC, Rugby League Club Sydney Roosters, and Rugby Union team NSW Waratahs, also doubles as a concert arena. Bruno Mars opened the structure with an explosive concert last October; Robbie Williams will take the stage here this coming November as part of his XXV concert series. 

Behind-the-scenes tours take in the stadium’s sleek new media center and commentary boxes, the field of play, and the players’ sleek natural-wood-and-tasteful-gray changing rooms—a stark contrast to amenities at the adjacent circa-1900 Sydney Cricket Ground, where by special arrangement you can wander the Members Club and locker rooms to see names and wickets of greats like Matthew Hayden and Steve Waugh scrawled on rough wooden boards in black Sharpie and smell 130 years of Test match sweat and tears emanating from walls and stained carpeted floors. 


What IIs: Sydney, on Australia’s east coast, is home to more than five million people, making it the most populous city in Oceania. First inhabited by Aboriginal Australians at least 30,000 years ago, it has long been regarded as one of the world’s most livable metropolises.

Getting There and Around: Business jets can land at Sydney Airport, just five miles south of the city, where a 12,999-foot runway can accommodate large aircraft. ExecuJet Asia Pacific Sydney operates an FBO with a private apron and a large aircraft hangar.

Sydney has excellent road and transport links, although one of the best—and most scenic— ways to gad about is on the water. A 20-minute journey for two passengers by water taxi costs around AUD$150 (US$102). For leisurely days on the bay, Lifestyle Charters’ 65-foot flybridge cruiser, Enigma, is one of the city’s only charter yachts to carry its own floating swimming pool and offers kayaks and full-service onboard dining. 

Climate: Sydney has a humid subtropical climate with four seasons. In winter, which officially runs from June through August, temperatures can drop to around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. During summer, days are typically dry and sunny, with temperatures typically peaking at about 80 degrees around the holidays.


Accommodations: Book an upper-story corner suite at the newly refurbed Intercontinental Hotel Sydney (A+)—a property that incorporates modern towers grafted to an historic 1851 Treasury Building—for jaw-dropping views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Conveniently located in the Rocks, a neighborhood of historic laneways at the foot of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Langham (A) offers luxe accommodations, an Observatory Suite and Observatory Bar inspired by the adjacent 1858 observatory, and a spa pool where you’ll swim below a ceiling painted with southern hemisphere constellations.

Dining: Menus at “Australian fish eatery” Saint Peter (A+) by chef Josh Niland—who won Gold in the Best Chef Awards 2022 and James Beard awards for Restaurant and Professional and Cookbook of the Year—are driven by a sustainable, whole-animal utilization approach to seafood, down to his innovative reimagining of fish eyes as crispy crackers.…Bert’s Brasserie (A)—part of the ubiquitous, 79-restaurant Merivale Group—is an upscale, 1930s resort-inspired establishment where Agatha Christie detective Hercule Poirot would feel at home ordering oyster-bar service, whole salt-crusted John Dory drizzled in caviar-hollandaise sauce, and Shiro-Kin Fullblood Wagyu steak….Situated over three levels in a central-business-district high-rise, Shell House’s Dining Room and Terrace (A) offers Mediterranean-inspired dishes informed by carefully sourced products of predominantly Australian provenance; Sky, Clocktower, and Menzies bars are sleek spots to imbibe with views of the city.

Editor’s note: The author was hosted on her trip to Sydney by Destination New South Wales, the government agency for tourism in the state.