Sydney has always been the poster child of global Australia — no surprise, then, that it was the first state capital to welcome travellers once restrictions were eased in late 2021. It’s easy to think lots has changed over the pandemic, but so much hasn’t: tanned crowds still flock to Bondi Beach and Circular Quay is a hive of activity; it’s just that the city’s laid-back ‘she’ll be right’ culture now wears a face mask as well as sunglasses. If anything, lockdowns have given the suburbs beyond the Central Business District (CBD) a chance to shine: a short ferry to Manly feels like you’ve landed in a chilled-out surf town; cool Coogee quietly revels next to its more boisterous sibling, Bondi, while Pyrmont has seen celebrity chefs set up shop in once-empty warehouses. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to explore the city’s districts thanks to a roster of new-generation hotels across town, from tech-savvy boutiques to revitalised historical stays.
1. Paramount House Hotel
Best for cinephiles
With a cafe, gym, cinema, bakery, co-working space and hotel all under one roof, Paramount House Hotel feels like the entire Surry Hills neighbourhood distilled into a single building. The industrial-style rooms are thoughtfully kitted out with amenities, textiles and snacks sourced from Sydney’s artisans, and you can even buy the colourful artwork on the walls. Catch a film at the Golden Age Cinema in the basement, a relic of the building’s past life when the area was known as Australia’s ‘Little Hollywood’, or join the local hipsters for breakfast at Paramount House Coffee Project downstairs. Elsewhere, shop till you drop at Campbell intersection, and book ahead for a table at Chin Chin just down the road. Rooms: From A$246 (£130).
2. QT Sydney
Best for shopaholics
Spread across two of Sydney’s most prominent historical buildings, including a former department store, QT Sydney is a love letter to the glitz and glamour of the 1920s. From the clashing patterns and vintage movie posters in the lobby to the jewel-toned guest rooms, every space basks in the sultry mood of the era. Away from the rooms, there’s a traditional men’s barbershop in the basement and an Italian eatery on the ground floor. Located in the heart of Sydney’s retail district, it’s well-placed for some serious shopping. Rooms: From A$339 (£179).
3. Crystalbrook Albion
Best for history buffs
In stylish Surry Hills, the storied Crystalbrook Albion has at various times served as a convent school and hospice before its latest incarnation as a modern luxury hotel. The timber parquetry, gold accents and cosy, mid-century design are show-stopping and curious guests will enjoy the little nods to local history, such as the series of portraits of characters from the neighbourhood’s past. Nip down to reception’s 1970’s-inspired sunken lounge and taste a wide range of local gins from the G&T trolley, then hop next door to Shaffa, a modern Middle Eastern diner housed inside a 120-year-old church. Rooms: From A$246 (£130).
4. Ovolo Woolloomooloo
Best for hedonists
The labourers who hauled wool and grain through the historic Finger Wharf during Sydney’s early days would be stunned to see their former workplace converted into Ovolo Woolloomooloo, one of the city’s most extravagant hotels. While the exterior has been given a sunny, cream-and-turquoise facelift, the interior has retained much of the building’s industrial aesthetic: pass the preserved conveyor belts and ride the water-powered elevator to your floor to discover whimsically decorated rooms that celebrate the hotel owner’s love for vintage and pop culture. Temptation comes in the form of a free mini-bar and loot bag of sweets, as well as the in-house vegan restaurant, Alibi. Hire an e-bike at reception and explore the harbourside, with its luxury boutiques and plethora of restaurants. Rooms: From A$322 (£170).
5. Blue Hotel Bondi
Best for digital nomads
Step into the Blue Hotel Bond's Amalfi-inspired restaurant in the morning and you’ll find caffeinated young entrepreneurs hard at work, but come in the evening and it’ll be a whole new crowd for buzzy cocktail hour. That’s the aim of this new, digitally minded hotel down the street from Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach, which empowers guests to work hard and play harder. Each room has a relaxing combination of deep blues and natural timber, with high-end amenities and appliances adding a touch of luxury. Once you’ve packed away your laptop for the day, join your fellow guests for a surf lesson down on the beach or a yoga class on the rooftop terrace. Rooms: From A$189 (£100).
6. Terminus Hotel
Best for bargain-hunters
From dock workers to revellers, the Terminus Hotel has served everyone since it poured its first beer in the mid-1800s. But as the Pyrmont district fell into decline, one of Sydney’s oldest pubs was eventually forced to close in the 1980s. It was restored in 2018, with grey-washed walls and preserved heritage details. Only two bedrooms are en suite while other guests share modern bathroom amenities with rain showers. The price tag is a steal considering the location: browse the day’s catch at Fisherman's Wharf, stop for a show at Lyric Theatre or stay in for live music at the Tram Bar. Rooms: From A$79 (£42).
7. The Ultimo
Best for astrologers
It’s written in the stars at this horoscope-focused boutique hotel in the heart of the CBD. The Ultimo offers guests a guide to the city based on their star sign, while a personalised astrology package includes a tailored moon chart and a private consultation with the resident astrologer. Each of the 95 rooms is light and bright, with exposed brick walls soothed by neutral tones and pops of colourful artwork. Let fate guide you towards a bargain at the sprawling flea market over the road, or tuck into East Asian cuisine in bustling Chinatown, just around the corner. Rooms: From A$129 (£68).
8. Sydney Park Hotel
Best for revellers
Billing itself as a ‘proper pub’ with boutique accommodation, Sydney Park Hotel has just eight rooms, ranging from compact doubles to oversized kings, with a communal lounge and fireplace. Downstairs, the pub’s kitchen serves local favourites done well — think burgers and nachos — as well as dishes inspired by the owner’s Irish roots. There’s no shortage of wine bars, beer gardens and even more pubs in the surrounding area of St Peters, either. Bear in mind that the building’s layout means there are no en suites and guests share single-sex bathrooms. Rooms: From A$89 (£47).
9. Q Station
Best for nature-lovers
In the mid-1800s, new arrivals into Australia were required to sequester at this former quarantine station, usually for months, until authorities were satisfied they were fit to enter. It’s far less austere today: Q Station is a heritage-listed collection of weatherboard cottages and terraces scattered across 74 acres of protected headlands with unbeatable views of Sydney Harbour. There are basic yet contemporary en suite rooms, as well as entirely self-contained cottages once used by station officers and their families, and the former smoking and sewing rooms have also been converted into communal lounges. Lay down a towel at secluded Quarantine Beach, or stretch your legs on scenic walks throughout the national park and into neighbouring Manly. Come nightfall, look out for adorable bandicoots as they forage across the property. Rooms: From A$180 (£95).
10. Coogee Bay Hotel
Best for families
For almost 150 years, generations of young families have splashed in the Coogee Bay surf and rummaged through the rockpools, likely shaking off loose sand while running through the this old hotel’s maritime-inspired hallways. A refurbishment during the pandemic has seen rooms upgraded with cool coastal vibes — all blond woods, blue hues and plantation shutters that let in the salty breeze. Interconnected rooms mean parents can have a little respite while the children let off steam in their own space, plus the hotel’s location near the water and main street means a quick meal or distraction is never far away. Rooms: From A$227 (£120).
Published in the May 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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