The best Sydney boutique hotels for exploring Sydney’s city centre and inner city suburbs have loads of personality and ooze history, from glamorous QT Sydney in the old State Theatre and Gowings Department Store to the casual retro style of The Old Clare in the former Carlton and United Breweries.
A decade ago we would have been too embarrassed to attempt to create a list of the best Sydney boutique hotels for exploring Sydney’s city centre and inner city suburbs, such was the dearth of decent designer digs in our home town. Even five years ago, we would have struggled to cobble together a Sydney boutique hotel guide.
Today, however, Sydney boasts some of the most stylish boutique hotels in Australia, ranging in size, location and levels of funkiness, from petite properties such as the 18-room Medusa, quite possibly Sydney’s first boutique hotels, to grand, glamorous lodgings such as QT Sydney, which has 200 suites but still feels warm and intimate.
For a city so compelling, vibrant and fun, staying at one of the big, bland chain hotels used to put a damper on our experience of the city. So it’s with much relief that we can finally write this guide to the best Sydney boutique hotels. It’s an eclectic list of hotels, too, and their locations in the city centre or CBD (central business district) and inner-city precincts are in neighbourhoods we love to stay in when we return home.
Best Sydney Boutique Hotels for Exploring Sydney’s Centre and Inner City Suburbs
Occupying two of Sydney’s landmark buildings in the heart of the CBD, the Gowings Department Store and the gilded State Theatre, the QT Sydney was always going to be contentious. However, given that in the old days both historic buildings would have been torn down and turned into anodyne office blocks, QT Sydney was ultimately welcomed, particularly as it maintained so many elements of the old buildings. It became an exciting addition to what was a lacklustre hotel scene and is now arguably the best of the best Sydney boutique hotels. While a property with 200 guest suites is generally considered too big to be boutique, QT Sydney certainly feels like a boutique hotel, with the sense of intimacy and style you’d expect, even if it’s occasionally a little precious and tad pretentious. Marrying the Gothic, Art Deco, and Italianate exteriors must have required some inspired thinking, but it works. The rooms, regardless of style and size have a warmth and cosiness about them, and are packed with amenities. If you want to go all out, the QT State Suite is our favourite for its wood panelling and gargoyles on the balcony. If you haven’t booked one of Sydney’s famed restaurants, or you simply don’t want to leave the hotel (we didn’t either), the Gowings Bar & Grill is outstanding with a brasserie vibe, buzzy atmosphere, and a great wine list. Make sure to book an appointment in the gorgeous barber shop.
Book the QT Sydney with our booking partner Booking.com
The Old Clare Hotel
One of the most impressive hotel openings in Sydney in many years and easily one of the best Sydney boutique hotels, the Old Clare Hotel also occupied two heritage-listed buildings – the Clare Hotel pub and the Carlton & United Breweries (C.U.B.) Administration Building. Sensitive to the heritage listing, the property was remodelled and is now operated by Unlisted Collection, headed by founder Singaporean Loh Lik Peng who has boutique hotels and restaurants in five major cities around the world. There are 62 rooms in seven styles, from the Connell Rooms which are stylish, but quite compact, to the amazing C.U.B. Suite located in the former C.U.B. boardroom. Our favourite rooms are the Claire Rooms, which are spacious (around 44 square metres) and with unique features. While the food and beverage side of the project has seen some changes, Automata, a relaxed fine diner by inventive chef Clayton Wells is brilliant and worth a night in, while his A1 Canteen is the more casual all-day eatery. The only downside: increasingly cool Chippendale is half way between the heart of the CBD and hipster suburbs of Newtown and Glebe. Allow plenty of time to explore.
Book the The Old Clare Hotel with our booking partner Booking.com
Another of the best Sydney boutique hotels, the Ovolo Woolloomooloo is located on Woolloomooloo Wharf, also known as the Finger Wharf, a beautiful historic timber wharf dating back to 1913. As usual in Sydney, the government attempted to demolish it in 1987, but due to public outcry it was saved and in 1991 a new plan hatched. Beautifully restored, it became home to expensive residences, swish restaurants and a boutique hotel. It was not just any boutique hotel, it was the first W Hotels property outside of the United States and instantly became the coolest hotel in Sydney. In 2007 it was bewilderingly rebranded as Blue Hotel, managed by Taj Hotels & Resorts, before its current incarnation as the Ovolo Woolloomooloo. In its current state the spacious 100 rooms are lighter and are a lot more playful than The W’s dark clubby style, but the dramatic exposed beams, metal fittings and mindbogglingly high ceilings still remain. Being on a wharf, we think of seafood and one of our favourite Italian restaurants, Otto, which serves up brilliant fresh Australian seafood is located on the wharf. Book a waterfront table for lunch and kick off with oysters if they’re in season. The location means you can take a stroll into the CBD or to the Opera House, where Bennelong restaurant is located or do the uphill climb to hip Potts Point, where there are plenty of great cafes, bars and restaurants.
Book Ovolo Woolloomooloo with our booking partner Booking.com
Sydney pub renovations don’t come much better than the Hotel Palisade at Miller’s Point, about a 15 minute walk to the centre of the CBD, and the impressive 2015 remodelling of this heritage pub has made this characterful property one of the best Sydney boutique hotels. There’s a classic Aussie bar, Public House, located on the ground level and a sophisticated cocktail bar, Henry Deane, spread across floors four and five. These floors offer spectacular views so don’t stay without booking a table. Sandwiched between these drinking and eating establishments are two floors of hotel rooms of various configurations, named after this historic area’s colourful local characters. Rooms such as ‘Regi James’ and ‘William Bennetts’ on floors three and two respectively have gob-smacking views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park. The rooms are light, bright and airy with a slightly nautical theme and many of the rooms have small kitchenettes – but given the chance to try some cocktails with snacks or the daily specials of the Public House you probably won’t use them. Go Wednesday for the Chicken Schnitzel night and some great Aussie beers on tap for a local experience.
Book the Hotel Palisade with our booking partner Booking.com
Spicers Potts Point
With its mix of heritage, located in a row of elegant old terrace houses, and the style and mod cons of a luxury hotel, Spicers Potts Point paints a pretty picture of inner suburban Sydney living. While it’s just a stone’s throw from the once-notorious King’s Cross, these days you’re more likely to run into someone feeling the effects of too many ristrettos rather than a bad hit of heroin. Consisting of just 16 elegant light-filled rooms and four impressive suites, Spicers Potts Point epitomises the brand’s style of ‘relaxed luxury’. Note though, that the Queen Rooms are only 19 square metres in size while the King Rooms are 30 square metres. The best rooms are the spacious Victoria Terrace Suites with French doors that swing open onto private balconies overlooking Victoria Street. There are plenty of excellent dining options on parallel Macleay Street (try The Apollo for modern Greek or Cho Cho San for Japanese izakaya) and you can be in the CBD or Bondi Beach in 20 minutes and be back in time for the nightly bar snacks, all of which make these lovely lodgings another of the best Sydney boutique hotels.
Book Spicers Potts Point with our booking partner Booking.com
Little Albion, Surry Hills
Once upon a time, Surry Hills, with its hilly streets dotted with rowdy old pubs and dimly-lit bars, was known as the final drinking destination on a big night out before hailing a cab, or these days ordering an Uber, to get home. These days its leafy streets are peppered with some of Sydney’s best restaurants, gastro pubs and wine bars, and down a discrete laneway, the quirky-cool Little Albion, an historic building dating to 1903, when it was established as a school convent. The layout of the building now has 35 rooms that vary dramatically in size from petite (the rooms ‘Crash Pad’ and ‘Cosy’) to ‘Classic’ (which is a bit presumptuous, being 21-23 square metres in size), to the ‘Big Albion’ at a whopping 50 square metres. In this respect, it’s somewhere between an upmarket guesthouse and a boutique hotel. But it’s the smart use of the spaces available, the charming and occasionally whimsical decor, and the inventive fit-out that will probably win you over. These, along with the lovely public spaces, such as the rooftop and lounge room, make it one of the best Sydney boutique hotels. While Surry Hills is a foodie destination (with a couple of our favourite restaurants including Chin Chin and Firedoor nearby), you can order in food from Sydney’s best cafes or restaurants via Uber Eats, and there’s an honour bar of pre-made drinks and snacks for your consumption to tempt you to stay in.
Book the Little Albion with our booking partner Booking.com
Medusa Hotel Sydney, Darlinghurst
Perhaps one of Sydney’s first true boutique hotels, the Medusa is certainly one of its oldest, opening in 1998, and it remains one of Sydney’s best boutique hotels. It was the first boutique hotel we’d ever stayed at in Sydney when we checked in on one of our first trips back home after moving to Abu Dhabi the year it opened. It’s certainly had a makeover or two since then and it’s bright and beautiful today. The cosy boutique hotel, in a handsome terrace house, has just 18 rooms, including five Grand, two Premium Deluxe, ten Deluxe and one Private Business Room. The smaller Deluxe rooms are spread throughout the property and you might get one with a courtyard or neighbourhood vistas. All rooms come with a mini bar and kitchenette with microwave. The pick of the bunch for us are the Grand rooms with their high ceilings and abundant space. The location is fantastic, in our old stomping ground of Darlinghurst, where the streets are lined with boutiques, design stores and bookshops. It’s also within walking distance of some of Sydney’s best restaurant and cafes with Potts Point, our old neighbourhood, just down the road, and the CBD and city sights within walking distance or a short train ride from Kings Cross Station.
Book the Medusa Hotel Sydney with our booking partner Booking.com
Welcome to the new Potts Point should be the motto of this boutique hotel, which received a major makeover in 2017. Made for work or pleasure, the smart rooms have Nespresso coffee machines, a well-stocked mini-bar, Bose speakers, and huge televisions with Apple TV, as well as an in-room iPad to order up room service from some of the superb local restaurants. The rooms start at 25 square metres and are cleverly designed to feel much bigger. The pricier rooms have views out to Sydney Harbour while others overlook the lovely leafy eastern suburbs. Fitness fanatics have access to a gym next door that’s open 24/7 and you’re only a two-minute walk to Kings Cross Station – which used to be an adventure but is now a pleasant stroll since Kings Cross has been cleaned up. Bonus: all the brilliant cafes and restaurants close by, such as Fratelli Paradiso, The Apollo or Cho Cho San.
Book the Larmont Sydney with our booking partner Booking.com
The Hughenden Boutique Hotel
Located in leafy, exclusive Woollahra, where buying a simple terrace house won’t leave you much change from a million US dollars, the handsome Hughenden is easily another of the best Sydney boutique hotels. Built in 1878, the Hughenden’s latest refurbishment was in 2017 and today the hotel offers a variety of room sizes, from a tiny single room to a family suite. The renovation is tasteful, with hints of its grand past, but with all modern conveniences in place. The standard rooms are the best size for a couple and the hotel accepts pets. Breakfast is à la carte and for lunch and dinner, there are some great restaurants nearby such as the French institution that is Bistro Moncur and Fred’s which features seasonal ingredients cooked in an open kitchen. Woollahra itself is halfway between the CBD and Bondi Beach with public buses leaving from nearby Oxford Street regularly. It’s also one of the only hotels in walking distance from some of Sydney’s biggest sporting venues, such as the Sydney Cricket Ground, so book early if you want to attend a major event in the area.
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The Urban Newtown
To think that once-edgy Newtown would be home to one of the best Sydney boutique hotels and have cool lodgings like the Urban even ten years ago would have been sheer folly. Home to Sydney University, the inner-city suburb was crammed with hippie cafes, student-filled pubs, second-hand bookstores, and guitar shops. In keeping with the history of Newtown, the hotel is perfectly placed and suitably styled. A grungy, graffiti-coated atrium is the centrepiece, with suspended guitars and a flower-covered drum kit as a nod to the suburbs’ musical heritage. The rooms and the public spaces have an up-cycled post-apocalypse feel, but are well equipped with kitchenettes (stovetop, minibar, microwave, and fridge) and decent bathrooms. But the real appeal is the location. Newtown today is still a bohemian suburb, but the cafes and restaurants are infinitely better, with fine dining digs such as Oscillate Wildly, old-school Continental Deli Bar Bistro, and myriad Southeast Asian eateries. To get to the CBD, it’s just a two-minute walk to the train station and a 10-minute ride to the city centre.
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Pictured: The delightfully quirky QT Sydney hotel.
What do you think of our selection of the best Sydney boutique hotels for exploring the city centre and inner city suburbs? We’d love to hear what your picks would be. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.