How to spend 12 hours in Sydney

So, you’ve managed to schedule a rare meeting-free day in diverse, glamorous and nature-blessed Sydney. Good choice. Here are our suggestions of how to make the most of your time.

Sydney’s cultural diversity and proximity to farmland has made it one of the world’s best food cities and it’s dozens of beaches are perfect spots for lounging with a good book. The suburbs of Australia’s most populous city sprawl for more than 12,000 square kilometers. It’d take a lifetime to see it all, but don’t fear. There are plenty of ways time-poor visitors can enjoy this vibrant city. Pick a few of the following suggestions for a crash-course on the city in twelve hours.

Recharge with a post-flight breakfast, brunch or lunch

Australia is the land of breakfast and the suburbs between Sydney’s airport and CBD have some of the best cafes in the city. While you’re likely to get a decent meal and coffee wherever you see groups of breakfasters, there are some cafes that have risen above the rest.

The Grounds of Alexandria is the granddaddy of them all and one of the most Instagrammed eateries in Australia. It’s hard to know where to look when visiting The Grounds, which markets itself as a “restaurant & bar, garden, bakery & patisserie, coffee roastery, animal farm, florist and more”. Unfortunately, you’ll almost certainly face a lengthy wait for a table in the main restaurant on weekends.

Try Two Chaps, Cornersmith or West Juliett Cafe for a more traditional cafe experience.

Explore trails from the Opera House and famous beaches

Walking or running one of Sydney’s many park, bush or beach trails is a great way to take in the city’s natural beauty while getting some space to think. If it’s your first time to Sydney, head to Circular Quay where you can start a breathtaking harbor walk from the Sydney Opera House to the lookout at Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. The 1.5km one-way journey is one of the city’s most popular. It travels along the harbor and edge of the Botanical gardens, with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and ever-grinning face of Luna Park.

If you’re not in the mood for Circular Quay’s crowds, you could book Blacklane’s affordable Sydney limousine service to the swish eastern suburbs, where you’ll find the well-loved Bondi to Coogee walk. This 6km coastal route, along some of Sydney’s idyllic beaches, is dripping with natural splendor and photo opportunities. You’ll pass through five very different swimming beaches on this walk, which takes about two hours to complete in full. The route can be made longer, to Maroubra Beach, or shorter depending on your schedule. Relish the incredible views and fresh ocean air.

Enjoy the city’s abundant coastline

Sydney has been gifted with around a hundred beaches, which serve as the premiere hangout spot for locals during the warmer months. While you’ll only find the bravest surfers and swimmers in the water during the winter, there’s plenty on offer at Australia’s most famous beach all year round.

Bondi Beach is surrounded by trendy restaurants, bars, and cafes and, for a month a year, snow-starved Sydney locals are given the rare opportunity to ice skate at the beach, as part of part of Bondi Winter Magic. If ice skating isn’t your thing, why not head to the often-photographed Bondi Icebergs Club for a well-deserved drink. Icebergs, as it is known to locals, claims to be the only winter swimming club in the world and is famous for its glamorous ocean-water swimming pools. Don’t worry. You don’t need to swim. Anyone is welcome to enjoy a meal and unbeatable views from the safety of the sophisticated clubhouse. Bondi is beautiful but its fame comes with crowds. Try nearby Bronte, Clovelly, Coogee or Gordon’s Bay if you want more space to soak up the sun or swim.

Be entertained at the Opera House

Don’t let the name fool you. Australia’s most iconic building doesn’t just show Opera. On the contrary, The Opera House prides itself on being at the forefront of modern-Australian and international performance. Visitors can watch chart-topping artists, theatre and modern dance all in the same week. Seeing a performance allows patrons to explore the famous building from the inside. It’s an icon that’s beautiful inside and out.

Learn about the area’s Aboriginal heritage

You don’t have to head to the bush to learn about Australia’s first people. Sydney’s CBD is the homeland of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and is full of sites of Aboriginal importance. The 90-minute Rocks Aboriginal Dreamtime Tour is owned and run by local Aboriginal people and runs daily in the historic The Rocks region near Circular Quay.

If you want to learn about the world’s oldest continuous culture without doing much walking, the Art Gallery of NSW conducts guided tours of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection at 10:30 am every day.

Check out the city’s microbrewery scene

Sydney’s beer scene has exploded in recent years and brew-lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to local craft products. Many of the most well-known microbreweries are in the younger, hip suburbs of the inner west. These are casual, homely establishments, with many servers happy to talk to you about the nuances of their product. The Grifter Brewing Co., Willie the Boatman, the Batch Brewing Company, Young Henrys and Wayward Brewing Co. are among the most well known in the area. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to seek out a brewery. Many Sydney bars have local beers on tap.

Eat well in Chinatown

Sydney has a large and thriving Chinese community and the main Chinatown is just 3km from Circular Quay. Don’t be afraid to walk down laneways or into malls on the quest for your desired meal. Some of the best spots are out of the way of crowded mall strip. Despite the area’s name, Chinese food is not the only cuisine you’ll find here. Offerings from the city’s Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Thai communities make the area even more vibrant. If you’re lucky to be in town on a Friday, check out the Chinatown evening markets. This weekly event, which includes food and designer stores, is popular with tourists and locals alike.

Put your feet up with a drink and a view

If you’re not into beer or want a more elegant drinking experience, head to one of Sydney’s many bars with incredible views. Blu Bar on 36, on the top level of the Shangri-La hotel, offers a high-end cocktail experience with sweeping glass windows and views over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. It opens at 5 pm most weekdays, giving patrons an opportunity to catch a sunset over Sydney’s most iconic vista. This bar has a more exclusive and comfortable feel and is a great place to recharge after a day on the move. The dress code is smart casual.

Sydney locals love a rooftop bar and the Opera House views from the top of the Glenmore Hotel are some of the best. This historic establishment has a chattier and more relaxed vibe than Blu Bar and is where many professionals go to shake off the week’s stress. The Glenmore offers full meals and is a popular lunch spot on the weekend. It’s the perfect place to try a modern Australian pub meal before retiring to your accommodation or heading back to the airport with Blacklane.