How do you define a neighbourhood’s ‘coolness’? Highest percentage of walls covered in street art? Greatest concentration of record shops and vintage clothing stores? Most plates of smashed avocado served per capita? Whatever metrics you’re using, these five Sydney suburbs are the most happening ‘hoods you’ll find in the Harbour City.
The 2010 postcode is Sydney’s coolest, no question. But it hasn’t always been that way. Sitting on the doorstep of Central Station, Surry Hills was a rough-and-tumble working class area for most of its history until gentrification arrived in the 1980s, bringing industrial-chic cafés and trendy Thai restaurants with it.
Evidence of Surry Hills’ working-class roots can be found in the long list of excellent pubs in the area — places like the Forresters, Dove and Olive and the Beresford are among Sydney’s best watering holes — as well as the Lebanese, Indian and Vietnamese eateries that line Cleveland Street. Speaking of restaurants, eateries such as Chin Chin, Longrain and Nomad, cafés like Reuben Hills, Single O and Paramount Coffee Project, and, of course, the ice cream institution that is Messina give Surry Hills its deserved reputation as Sydney’s dining capital.
Colourful. Alternative. Eccentric. Eclectic. Hipster. Arty. Random. Bohemian. Unconventional. Shabby. Chic. It’s impossible to capture the Newtown vibe in one word, but you only need to stroll past the independent boutiques and small bars of King Street to get a taste of it. And it’s not just the huge uni student population and Sydney’s most vibrant street art that give the neighbourhood its mojo.
The gateway to Sydney’s villagey inner-west, Newtown boasts one of Sydney’s most diverse dining scenes, featuring everything from French bistros like Oscillate Wildly to the brilliant burgers at Mary’s. The 2042 postcode sits at the forefront of the Harbour City’s thriving craft beer culture, thanks to Young Henrys and a raft of other microbreweries in the Marrickville direction. The Enmore Theatre is one of Sydney’s premier live music venues. There are record stores and vintage shops galore. And even sports fans can find something to love — a winter’s afternoon watching local rugby league club, the Newtown Jets, at Henson Park.
Bondi is one of Sydney’s most famous corners, and also one of its coolest. The one kilometre of golden sand speaks for itself, but the neighbourhood’s charm doesn’t end with the beach. The array of sophisticated food and drink options, health clubs and cultural events all contribute to the enviable lifestyle that Bondi Beach is famous for.
Join the locals in their activewear on the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, pop into one of the suburb’s stacks of gyms and yoga studios, then smash a kale smoothie at the dozens of trendy cafés. Get your dose of culture at the annual Sculpture by the Sea and galleries at the Bondi Pavilion or the Indigenous Cooee Art Gallery. Grab a bite to eat at Bondi Road’s many restaurants then nab a bargain at the weekly markets, one of Sydney’s best. The proximity to the city — a lazy seven kilometres — also makes Bondi Beach a favourite for cashed-up young professionals.
If hosting Sydney’s mammoth Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras doesn’t make Darlinghurst one of Sydney’s coolest suburbs, the scores of avant-garde nightspots certainly does. From cocktail haunts like Charlie Parker’s and small wine bars, such as 10 William St, to the dozens of street-corner pubs and the gay bars lining Oxford Street, Darlinghurst is the best night out you’ll find anywhere in the Harbour City.
Darlinghurst is also one of Sydney’s most artistic neighbourhoods — Stanley Street Gallery, ARTERY Aboriginal Art, King Street Gallery, Arthouse, Gallery 9 and TAP Gallery are a few of the independent art spaces in the area. Independent retailers on Oxford Street, vintage stores like Blue Spinach, gigs at the Oxford Art Factory and late-night eateries, such as Big Poppa’s and Mr Crackles, are all part of the appeal, too.
Like most of the suburbs on this list, Balmain has a long working-class history — the Australian Labor Party was founded here in 1891 — but the 2041 postcode has become one of Sydney’s most sought-after areas in recent years. Sitting on the harbour six kilometres west of the city centre, Balmain enjoys a rare blend of stylish housing, leafy public spaces and one of Sydney’s best coffee scenes.
The area’s massive Italian population can take credit for all those great cafés — the al fresco coffee shops sprawling along Darling Street are like a little slice of the Mediterranean, as are the many great pizza and pasta joints. As well as world-class Italian food, residents of Balmain’s traditional terraces enjoy a short commute to the city and the ferry across the harbour takes in million-dollar views along the way.