A taste of Sydney

Sydney harbour

Sydney harbour - Credit: Archant

Leigh Clapp gives us an insider’s guide to eating by Sydney harbour and living like the locals.

Everyone knows about the iconic sights of Sydney – the harbour, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. For the best views of these and more I recommend staying on the lower north shore and exploring both the city and this lovely part of Sydney. Having grown up by the harbour with a childhood of messing about on boats and the foreshores as my playground, whenever I go back for a visit it has to be somewhere with wonderful water views, as for me this is what makes Sydney unique.

It’s hard to beat Milson’s Point with its glorious harbourside position looking across to the city, and this is where we like to base.

There is an array of hotel options around the harbour, however I’d suggest renting an apartment and living like the locals. It’s a long way to fly down under, so allow yourself plenty of time to relax and get in the Sydney vibe.

My husband, daughter and I like to stay in a privately owned two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the 22nd floor of the Peninsula Tower, with breathtaking panoramic views to the bridge and across Lavender Bay.

Sourced through Milson Executive Apartments, a local real estate agent, that has a range of weekly serviced short-term apartments, it’s a find that definitely has the ‘location, location, location’ factor. Ssshh, don’t tell anyone, let’s keep it to ourselves!

The advantages of staying in Milson’s Point, apart from the views, is the proximity to so many attractions, wonderful walking tracks, transport options – such as the brightly painted yellow ferries or the train station – a plethora of eateries from casual cafés to top-class restaurants, and the delightful Kirribilli village with its parade of shops just a short stroll from the apartment, where you’ll find everything you’ll need, from a butcher, a baker to a candle shop!

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Once unpacked and stocked up from the tempting options, walking will help throw off the jet lag, so grab your camera as here you’ll find the best opportunities to photograph the classic scenes of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge that you see on all the postcards.

To get your bearings, Milson’s Point and Kirribilli are a picturesque, upmarket duo of North Shore neighbourhoods, with historic terrace homes mingling with hi-rise towers, lush gardens, immaculate parklands, and all set on a point, directly opposite Circular Quay and the CBD connected by the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

A stroll along the foreshore takes you past Luna Park and along paved and decked paths with panoramic views of the harbour, the bridge and across the water to the Opera House.

Along the way incorporated benches and seating allow time to soak up the scenery, and there are intriguing little sculptures of Aussie storybook characters peering out of the foliage for children to look out for. There are walks all around Sydney harbour and here you have one of the best right on your doorstep.

To get to the city it is just one stop on the ferry to Circular Quay, a short train trip or you can even walk across the harbour bridge, which takes from about 30 minutes to an hour depending on how many times you stop to take pictures.

This makes it easy to tick the big sights off your list such as a show at the Opera House, a wander around the historic Rocks or to do the bridge climb.

There is a great sense of community as the area is a friendly, welcoming suburb bustling with residents, along with just a sprinkling of tourists, making it an ideal spot to get a sense of the real Sydney lifestyle. You could never try all the cafés and restaurants on offer, so here are my favourite waterfront choices.

Favourite places to eat

Combining a morning walk along the foreshore boardwalk with a great coffee and brunch is my idea of heaven, especially when there is a water view attached, so Ripples Milsons Point has to be on the list with delicious offerings such as toasted banana bread (a bit of a Sydney institution) with butter and mixed berry jam on the side and a frothy cappuccino.

One that only the local commuters know is the tiny and very quirky Anvil café, literally built into the Kirribilli ferry wharf and open just for breakfast and lunch. It’s worth walking around the pretty leafy streets to find it, and is a great spot for chilling out with the sound of the lapping water. We tried the very tasty Arabian poached eggs with Greek yoghurt, onion jam, chilli and black salt on sourdough toast.

If you have a hire car, or indeed you can also use ferries or buses, explore nearby Mosman with its elegant shops and the famous Taronga Zoo, where many of the animals get the best water views in Sydney.

If you’d like to see just how Sydneysiders do afternoon tea you can’t do better than the elegance at Gunners Barracks, sitting out on the covered terrace looking over the harbour.

A hidden gem, also in Mosman and an absolute favourite for the locals, is the casual yet chic Balmoral beach, where a sandy stretch with views over the harbour and through ‘the heads’ makes an ideal spot for a swim, walking, a picnic or dining.

You could very happily while away the day here; have breakfast at the quirky Boathouse Café on the jetty, followed by a promenade along the esplanade or across the sand to the little Rocky Point island at the end of the beach, a swim in the netted baths (a must because yes, there are indeed sharks in the harbour), lunch at the ever-wonderful Bathers’ Pavilion and a sunset picnic with takeaway fish and chips from The Bottom of the Harbour.

One tip; arm yourself with plenty of coins as the parking is by meter at $7 per hour!

One final suggestion; when you are in the city, wander around the foreshore to the redeveloped Walsh Bay finger wharves where you will find the Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Dance Company where you can do their drop-in dance and fitness classes to shake off the jet lag, and the home to some other creative groups such as the aboriginal Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Pop into the rustic Sydney Dance Lounge café within the Sydney Dance Studios building and right on the wharf and be part of the scene, where you can mingle with theatregoers, dancers, performers and musicians.

For people watching in a rustic setting that blends contemporary with the historic maritime past, it’s hard to beat, and to top it off it has one of the finest ground-floor views being actually on the harbour, and yet another angle to the bridge.

Fact box

• Milson’s Point/Kirribilli is 30 minutes from the airport by car/taxi

• 15 minutes by ferry or train to The Opera House/Circular Quay

• Milson Executive Apartments - one, two and three-bedroom apartments for short or longer-term accommodation. We stayed in 2202, 37 Glen St, Peninsula Tower, a two-bedroom apartment with harbour and lavender bay views, starting price for a three-night stay $380 per night + departure clean charge $132, see website for details: www.milsonexecutiveapartments.com.au

• Kirribilli markets are held on the fourth Saturday of each month, art and design markets on the second Sunday of the month. They’re a great place to find local crafts and fashion.

• Harbour Circle Walk, www.walkingcoastalsydney.com.au

• The Rocks Markets, with a backdrop of the harbour, every Saturday and Sunday (10-5), www.therocks.com

• For lots of information on events and things to do, visit: www.sydney.com

Waterside dining details

• Ripples Milson’s Point, 2014 ‘Best for Tourist Must-See’ award. Breakfast Mon-Fri (8am-11am), Sat & Sun (7.30am-10.30am); lunch Mon-Sun from 12pm, dinner from 6pm, booking recommended

• Anvil Coffee Co café, Kirribilli wharf, Mon-Fri (7am-3pm), Sat and Sun (8am-3pm), www.anvilcc.com.au

• Gunners Barracks, Georges Heights, Mosman. Devonshire, morning and afternoon tea from 10am weekdays and afternoon tea from 10am weekends, à la carte lunch from 12pm Monday to Friday, booking essential, www.gunnersbarracks.com.au

• The Boathouse Balmoral, daily (7am-4pm), breakfast (7.30am-11.30am), lunch (12pm-3.30pm), café and takeaway kiosk, no reservations taken, outdoor and indoor seating, expect to queue, especially on the weekend – but what a delightful place to have to do that, www.theboathousebb.com.au

• The Bathers’ Pavilion, Balmoral Beach, restaurant (lunch and dinner), booking recommended, stylish and timeless. Café (breakfast, lunch and dinner), casual and no bookings. Expect a menu with wonderful fresh seafood as well as meat and vegetarian options. There’s also a kiosk with takeaway coffee, gelato and even the essential beach items - sunscreen, towels and daily newspapers, www.batherspavilion.com.au

• Sydney Dance Lounge, The Wharf Pier, Walsh Bay, café by day and restaurant by night, breakfast, lunch, dinner, (7am-10pm), closed Sundays, www.sydneydancelounge.com.au