View of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge with the Central Business District skyscrapers in the background

My Secret City: Sydney

Home to iconic attractions and stunning beaches, Sydney offers the appealing juxtaposition of a fast-paced, metropolitan city and the relaxation of life next to the ocean. Alumna Natalie Reid shares her favourite places in her home city.

Mention Sydney and the two things that come to mind are Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, and for good reason. These landmarks define the harbour and I honestly never tire of the view. I love taking it all in while walking across the bridge or on the 3km walk from The Domain, a 34-acre open space on the eastern fringes of the Central Business District, to the Opera House. There are some awesome vantage points located around the city, including Observatory Hill, which is a 10-minute walk from Circular Quay. I also love Blue’s Point, near to the historic amusement park Luna Park, and Mary Booth Lookout Reserve on the north side.

"Even though I’m a born and bred Sydneysider, the prettiness of the city never gets old. Sydney is the place to be for people who relish sunshine, exercise, coffee and beer gardens."

Sydney’s ferries are a handy and relatively cheap way to see the city. For a dreamy Sunday afternoon, I love catching the ferry to Manly Beach, one of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Once in Manly, I like to wander down to Shelly Beach for a snorkel. I pass the swimmers and head out towards the coral where I can spot colourful fish, crabs and even octopus if I’m lucky. After a couple of hours in the water, I'm always up for nachos and a cocktail at Chica Bonita. Or, if it's not quite cocktail time yet, I love popping into Fika Swedish Kitchen for breakfast – they do a great cinnamon roll. I try to time my return trip to the city for sunset, as some of the best sunsets I've ever seen have been as the Manly Ferry approached Circular Quay.

I love an outdoor market and luckily so does Sydney. For second-hand clothes, I like Kirribilli Markets, located under the Harbour Bridge. I always bring cash because there aren’t many ATMs around and it’s highly likely I’ll snag a bargain. Afterwards, I’m always happy to pop by Foy’s in Kirribilli for an Aperol Spritz on the balcony. If I’m after a locally made gift, like jewellery, candles, or sunglasses etc, I also enjoy Paddington Markets in Paddington.

"Sydney is an interesting mix of fast-paced, active and glossy – while still retaining an Aussie casualness."

Other architectural highlights in Sydney are the Queen Victoria Building and the Strand Arcade. These are two old (by Australian standards, that is!) shopping malls with stained-glass windows and ornate staircases, located in the Central Business District. My favourite bookshop is Kinokuniya in The Galleries Victoria. It’s a ginormous store and I could happily spend hours wandering through every literary niche you can imagine.

A great place to while away the afternoon on a rainy day is at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Circular Quay. There’s always a collection featuring work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists that’s free to visit. Sometimes I’ll pop into the MCA cafe which has a great vantage point of the harbour. I also love the Art Gallery of New South Wales, located in The Domain, which recently opened a new building. A highlight for me is the gallery’s Dreamhome, an art installation sharing stories of art and shelter.

In the summer after work, I enjoy heading to The Domain and swimming some laps of Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool. Overlooking Woolloomooloo Bay, you'll find as many people hanging out outside the pool soaking up the sunshine as you will see people doing laps. I try to time my swim for sunset, and after a swim, I sometimes pop upstairs to the aptly named Oh Boy cafe for a well-deserved beer.

My food & drink hit list

Quintessential Australian cuisine
If you want to go quintessential Australian, nothing beats Aussie pub fare, or "pub grub" as we call it. Grab a "parmy" (that’s Australian for chicken parmigiana) and a beer at The Unicorn Hotel in Paddington, The Glenmore Hotel in The Rocks or Kirribilli Hotel in Kirribilli. Another classic Sydney food experience is brunch. Brunch culture is a big thing in Sydney and bad cafes don’t last long here so you’re spoiled for choice. My personal favourites are Eighty Ate in North Sydney, Four Ate Five in Surry Hills and Shuk in Bondi Beach. Shuk is Mediterranean/Israeli cuisine, and my go-to dish is the hummus mushabacha, a delicious mess of hummus and chickpeas served with toasty pita bread.

"Sydney’s food scene is special. Because of how multicultural the city is, you’ll find amazing eateries for cuisines such as Thai, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Italian, Lebanese, Greek … the list goes on."

Chilling with a drink
There are two seasons in Sydney: hot and not-so-hot. As a result, it’s home to plenty of rooftops and courtyards where you can enjoy an outdoor beverage, or a "bev" as we call it, most months of the year. My favourites include Since I Left You in the Central Business District, The Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills or East Village in Darlinghurst. If I want to visit an indoor bar, I really like Bartolo in Surry Hills or The Cumberland in Manly.

Burger and a beer
Sydney’s brewery capital is in the city’s inner west suburbs. Grab a local beer or cider, pick up a burger from a food truck and settle in for some live music. My favourite breweries are Yulli’s Brews in Alexandria for a maple kolsch and incredible vegan fare (order the banquet to try everything) or Wayward Brewing Co. in Annandale.

Dinner on the cheap
For a budget dinner, I love dumplings at Chinese Noodle House in Haymarket. The interiors are, well, nothing much, but you’re there for the food so it doesn’t really matter. A must-order is the braised eggplant, it’s a garlicky gooey oily mess and you’ll dream of it for weeks afterwards.

Something sweet
I never say no to ice cream. Gelato Messina started as a locals’ go-to in Darlinghurst but this popular chain has expanded all over Australia. When it comes to flavours there are the usual suspects like chocolate and vanilla, but the real stars of the show can be found on the specials board which changes weekly. Expect concoctions like Elvis, the Fat Years, which is peanut butter gelato with fried brioche and banana jam, or Caramel Cheesecake, which is cheesecake gelato with dulce de leche and butter biscuit crumbs. Keep an eye on Gelato Messina’s Instagram to see what’s being served up. Another great gelato option is Cow & Moon in Enmore – this one is family-run, award-winning and almost always has a queue but it’s so worth the wait.

This article was first published April 2023. All opinions expressed are the views of the author and are not endorsed by the University of Glasgow.

Sydney Opera House with a pink sky and Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background [photo: Shutterstock]

Sydney's most distinctive building turns 50 this year with a year-long festival taking place throughout 2023 to mark the occasion. There are over one million cream-and-white tiles that adorn the 'shells' of the Opera House.

One of Sydney's iconic ferries heads towards Circular Quay [photo: Shutterstock]

Sydney's ferries service ten routes and provide a practical way to connect different parts of the city. Taking a ferry provides the opportunity to see stunning views without having to pay for an expensive boat trip - Circular Quay to Manly is popular with tourists.

Manly Beach sea and sand [photo: Shutterstock]

Manly Beach is situated among Sydney's Northern Beaches and is one of the city's most famous surfing beaches, having been host to the first world surfing championship in 1964. 

Inside the Queen Victoria Building shopping mall [photo: Shutterstock]

Opened in 1898, the Queen Elizabeth Building offers four stories of shops located in stunning surroundings. Two mechanical clocks can be viewed from the adjacent walkways, including The Royal Clock as shown in this photo. On the hour, it activates and displays scenes of royalty.

Luna Park rides with the city in the background [photo: Annie Spratt, Unsplash]

Luna Park has been welcoming visitors through its distinctive mouth entrance since 1935. Despite closures over the years, the park is still welcoming visitors in 2023 and recently installed new rides as part of one of the world's biggest amusement park upgrades.

The Museum of Contemporary Art exterior including an eye-shaped sculpture in the foreground [photo: Shutterstock]

Located on Sydney Harbour, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) celebrates the work of living artists with a strong commitment to works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Koala shaped bush in Royal botanic garden in Sydney [photo: Shutterstock]

The Royal Botanic Garden offers a tranquil oasis in the heart of Sydney's Central Business District, offering stunning views of Sydney Harbour in the background. The Garden is also home to this giant koala!

Historic building and architecture of the Sydney Observatory with Sydney Harbour in the background [photo: Shutterstock]

Home to the Sydney Observatory, Observatory Hill park offers panoramic views of Sydney Harbour. Built from 1857 to 1859, Australia's first observatory is open to the public.

Andrew Boy Charlton Pool outdoor swimming pool in the foreground with Woolloomooloo in the background [photo: Shutterstock]

One of Sydney's most loved harbourside pools, the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool is a heated saltwater pool set on Woolloomooloo Bay. Following a swim, Natalie likes to relax at the aptly named "Oh Boy" poolside cafe.