When Manila living gets to be too busy, my family and I head to our happy place, just seven and a half hours away: Australia. We leave close to midnight and wake up refreshed and ready to hit the town just as the plane touches down!
Some people may have San Francisco, others Tokyo - but really, what could be better than having the best of both? Australia has temperate weather for most of the year and glorious food. This is perfectly matched with a casual cosmopolitan lifestyle, a vibrant art scene, Anglo-European history, American verve, and a multi-cultural ethos that embraces the best of everything and everyone. Oh, and did I happen to mention the beautiful fresh air, azure sky, white sand beaches, surfing, bike lanes, parks, and postcard perfect views?
No matter where we find ourselves in the world, our boys, Joaquin and Diego, always tell us that they would rather be in Sydney. Who can blame them? This glorious place, my home away from home, has time and again been voted as the world’s most liveable city.
Allow me to share with you some tips on how to best enjoy it:
Bondi to Tamarama Coastal Walk
No visit to Sydney is ever complete without a visit to iconic Bondi Beach, but I would suggest something more invigorating by taking the city’s best day hike, walking along sweeping inlets and rock pools starting from the bottom of Notts Avenue, past Icebergs (a cocktail pit stop or a meal is recommended here), and ending at Tamarama Beach. This area is host to the annual ‘Sculpture by the Sea’ where art and nature are truly one.
Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour
Yes, the Sydney Opera House is an architectural gem, but I would urge you to take it to another level by trying Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. Get a front row seat at the opera, performed during the Southern autumn on a massive stage that’s built right on the water, with the Harbour Bridge and Utzon’s masterpiece as its backdrop. On our last visit, we saw Aida - yes, Aida! - complete with camels and elephants marching on stage. Spectacular!
Heritage Walks, Cricket, and the Yachting Life
Start at Elizabeth Bay House, situated across the lovely McElhone Reserve with its giant koi carp ponds and perfectly manicured gardens, and once known as the ‘finest house in Australia,’ to get a glimpse of refined mid-19th century British colonial life. Walk down and around the cricket oval at Rushcutters Bay where you can grab a bite at the park side cafe, or do a proper lunch (don’t forget to bring your passport if you’re not a member) at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Darling Point, the home of the prestigious Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Walk further up the hill to see more heritage houses. Visit the neo-Gothic St. Mark’s Anglican Church where society weddings and Baroque concerts are regularly held, then head down to Double Bay for its exclusive boutiques.
Paddington and Woollahra
Victorian terrace houses meet French sophistication on consular row. Visit Five Ways in Paddington for its cafes and wine tasting bars. Queen Street in Woollahra is lined with specialty purveyors of fashion and gourmet food. Victor Churchill, is arguably the most cultivated butcher in the world, with its grain-fed beef, signature Kurobotas and Wagyus – this is a must-go for anyone who likes to cook!
This is the only place where our family goes biking. We would never dare do so even in our Makati neighborhood, but we will gladly spend a day here pedaling underneath the verdant cover of centuries old jacarandas, looking forward to afternoon tea at the Homestead surrounded by wild purple wisteria.
Food, Glorious Food
Situated on the rooftop of Customs House in Circular Quay, Cafe Sydney is where Karen, my wife, and I take first time visitors to the city. From the cocktail lounge to the gorgeous menu, impeccable service and the views - this city is really all about the views! - I would not hesitate to recommend this place to anyone. For something more formal, head to Aria on Macquarie Street, where chef Matt Moran continues to captivate palates with his take on Australian haute cuisine; or for something more casual but no less superlative, try Bar Macchiavelli in Rushcutters Bay and ask for the culatello with figs - you will thank me for it! Finish off any meal with the best gelato outside of Italy at Messina in Darlinghurst.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW)
Why travel to London or New York when the same retrospective exhibition by Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Richter, Kiefer or Kusama will most certainly be heading here? The MCA hosts innovative exhibitions and is the focal point of the Vivid Sydney Light Festival during winter, while the collonaded AGNSW hosts lectures, children’s programs, a stylish restaurant, and arguably one of the most important collections of Asian art outside Asia. The gallery is built adjacent to the elegant and expansive Royal Botanic Gardens - put this on your travel checklist too - Australia’s oldest scientific institution, which showcases the continent’s unique flora.
The White Rabbit Gallery
Housing one of the largest and most important collections of contemporary Chinese art in private hands, the Neilson family established this public gallery and library in the suburb of Chippendale, just outside the city center. I adore the architecture, and the tea house is a great place to catch up with friends.
Sydney is famous for its coffee, and I would have to say that these three suburbs are must goes for the ultimate caffeine fix: try Reformatory in Surry Hills, Latteria in Darlinghurst, and Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point (I would go here for Sunday brunch too!).
Sydney’s first fishing village is also where some of the city’s best seafood can be found at Doyle’s. Don’t miss taking in the awe-inspiring views of the Heads from the Gap, where the world’s most beautiful harbour opens out to the Pacific Ocean.