There are some cities you can visit where it doesn’t matter what’s outside your hotel window, where you’re going to decide where to stay based on factors other than a view, such as location, level of comfort, size, price, and so on. But where to stay in Sydney, a destination with a stupendous harbour, sublime beaches and a stunning skyline, does matter. This is one city where outlook matters.
Sydney is a city where you want to set aside time each day to simply sit and stare out the window or gaze out from your balcony at the breathtaking vistas – preferably with a glass of Aussie wine in hand. We were lucky to get to do just that on terraces and windows at a wide range of accommodation, from the apartments we reviewed in this post to hotels like the Four Seasons below.
This guide might come as a surprise to regular readers used to seeing our more detailed Home Away From Home reviews of holiday rentals. But as we discovered during our recent time down under, Australia is an expensive destination and not everyone can afford to settle into an apartment for a while in the way they might in other places. (See this post for tips to experiencing Sydney on a Budget.)
As we’ve also posted before, from places as diverse as Costa Rica and Cape Town, slow travel isn’t necessarily about how long you spend in a place, but what you do with your time there. Sydney is a beautiful city. Who doesn’t want to schedule time to sit and drink in those spectacular vistas?
Four Seasons Hotel Sydney
Ask for a room overlooking Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge if you want that jaw-dropping view, above, taken from our room at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney where we spent a couple of heavenly days. We were busy, running out to photo shoots and interviews with some of Sydney’s finest chefs at restaurants nearby, but we made sure that we spent some of our time each evening sipping something in front of our floor to ceiling windows. One evening, Terence set the camera up on a tripod and shot a time-lapse from that same angle above that was so stunning it ended up as the opening double-page spread for one of our magazine stories on Sydney. As you’d expect from a Four Seasons, the rooms are plush and spacious, and superbly equipped, with everything from a coffee machine to a quality hairdryer; there’s a sumptuous lobby, spa and swimming pool; staff are fantastic; and the George Street location must be one of the city’s best for sightseeing. Our only quibble was that the executive lounge, where we had cocktails and canapés each evening, didn’t boast similarly gorgeous views.
We first experienced BLUE, a five-star Taj hotel in Woolloomooloo’s wonderfully restored, old wooden finger-wharves, many years ago when it was a W hotel, at the suggestion of a friend with impeccable taste. We were living in Abu Dhabi and had returned ‘home’ to Sydney for the first time in five years to see family and friends. We wanted somewhere cool to catch up with friends where you pick a bar, name a night and people drop in whenever they please, so you’re not running around trying to see people and stressing about not getting time with everyone. Just off the lobby, in the centre of the hotel, with lofty ceilings and splashes of colour and potent cocktails and plenty of comfy ottomans, the bar was one of Sydney’s hottest at the time and we had a memorable night. We loved the vibe so much we stayed next time we were in town. On that occasion we arrived in Sydney after an overnight flight from Dubai and not long after checking in I developed a headache so debilitating we had to extend a night. My memory of that stay was mainly of the incredibly comfortable bed that I didn’t want to leave and the lovely views out the window. We stayed again this year and although the decor of the light-filled rooms hasn’t changed, being a Taj, the hotel has a less funky vibe and more relaxed feel than it did as a hip W. Our picks of the rooms are the Luxury Marina View King Room and Ultra Loft Suite, both with panoramic city views. Make sure you lunch at Otto on the wharf. There are few better spots for lunch in the sun in Sydney.
When we first stayed at the apartments at The Star (see this review), formerly known as Star City, the glamorous new boutique hotel The Darling, going up next door, hadn’t yet opened and we were disappointed we might not get to experience it before we left Australia. As luck – or bad luck – would have it, poor flight connections en route from Perth to Lord Howe Island meant we had a late afternoon arrival in Sydney and an early morning flight to Lord Howe the next day. Brilliant. We loved The Darling. This is the sort of hotel we got used to when we lived in the UAE and spent a lot of time hopping around the Middle East on magazine assignments that they don’t have enough of in Australia. It reminds me of a cross between the InterContinental Dubai Festival City, W Hotel Doha and The Grey Beirut. It’s a chic hotel with clean contemporary lines and sexy curves, and quirky touches, and a superb fit-out. The only hotel like it in Australia with the same level of style is Melbourne’s Crown Metropol. We were lucky to get a swish Jewel Suite, and if you click here you’ll see our room with its jaw droppingly gorgeous Sydney Harbour Bridge and city views.
Sydney Harbour YHA
This is perhaps the first accommodation guide to feature reviews for both the Four Seasons and a YHA on the same page, but we are all for uniting people through shared philosophies and travel preferences rather than segregating travellers by budgets and bank balances, and the Sydney Harbour YHA at The Rocks easily has harbour views to rival those of the Four Seasons. Some travellers might actually prefer the YHA’s watery vistas – from both the sprawling rooftop terrace and Opera House-facing rooms – as Circular Quay is so close you can hear the sounds of the ferry horns and on a breezy day smell the salty sea air wafting in from the heads. We stayed two nights in a private double room at the invitation of YHA and while it wasn’t an accommodation option we’d normally choose – we’re married and we’re working, so we like our privacy, comfort, space, and need a table big enough for both of us to write at – it was fine, and the views from our double room were fantastic. Would we stay again? You know we probably might if we needed to be around the Quay. Would we recommend it to people? Absolutely! If you’re on a budget, this must be Sydney’s most affordable and best located accommodation – and then there are those gob-smacking views…
Get there and away – for affordable onward travel, trains to other state capitals are a good option if you haven’t travelled out of Australia cities, although they’re expensive by overseas standards. Flying will cost around the same price and you’ll find cheap tickets at Flighthub. Flying is obviously faster but you don’t get to see Australia’s magic countryside. For interstate rail travel departing from New South Wales, buy your train tickets in advance through Countrylink.
Booking a stay – we often organize accommodation directly with hotels when we’re working as we’ll have shoots and interviews to arrange, but when not working we tend to use booking sites. We’ve just discovered Turquoise Holidays, which has a beautiful collection of carefully curated boutique properties in Australia, including some of our favourite Sydney city hotels, such as BLUE and the Four Seasons, above, as well as The Lyall in Melbourne, which we reviewed here.