Sydney is a city of over 4million people but truth is its residents tend to stick to their own local areas for shopping, eating out, and having fun. That’s fostered the growth of small urban villages, each with its own distinct character. Here’s a quick overview of some of inner-Sydney’s most popular residential suburbs. In most of these, about 1% of the population is US-born, so while you’ll certainly be a minority, you won’t be alone.
If you want to be near the beach…..
The most-famous of Sydney’s beaches is here, making it a drawcard for surfers and sunworshippers alike. It’s a beautiful crescent bay on the ocean, with a long, wide stretch of sand, about 4.5miles by road from the city center. The main beachside strip, Campbell Parade, is a mix of surf shops and cheap eats – with plenty of takeaway choices so you can have your lunch on the sand.
It’s a big suburb, taking in Bondi Beach, Bondi and the much quieter North Bondi. Housing options cover the full range from big family houses to small apartments and flats, and from 100-year-old buildings to the very modern. At the top end, you can expect to pay multi-million dollars for beachside apartments; last year a 1300 square foot block of vacant land near the Icebergs club sold for the equivalent of about US$4.3million.
The population here is a mix of backpackers and millionaires, rowdy singles and established families, with little in common but a love for the beach and the casual lifestyle. It’s also home to a strong Jewish community, with synagogues and schools nearby.
Bondi is the kick-off point for one of Sydney’s best oceanfront walks – head south through the beaches at Tamarama, Bronte and Clovelly, all the way to Coogee.
Manly doesn’t give a hoot that it’s not as famous as Bondi – it’s got its own personality and place in the world. Best way to get here is the 30-minute ferry trip across the harbour from the city center; and once you’re here you’ll feel like you’ve arrived in a holiday town. And that’s exactly what the local residents love about being here.
The Steyne – North and South – is the beachfront strip and has takeaway food, cafes, restaurants and shops, but it’s The Corso that’s the heart of Manly’s activity.
Near the beach, the dominant housing is modern apartments; a bit further back are big freestanding houses and small semi-detached ones, mostly built in the first half of the 20th century and many since renovated into very modern living.
Manly and the neighbouring suburbs are popular with young families and retirees.
If you’re looking for a quiet swim protected from the surf, head just to the south of Manly, to Shelly Beach.
If you want prestige…..
This is a big suburb, on the shores of Sydney Harbour, Middle Harbour and bays with charming names like Shell Cove, Pearl Bay and Quakers Hat Bay. It includes Balmoral (with one of the most famous of harbour beaches) at its east, Clifton Gardens at the south, and Beauty Point at the north.
Military Road is the main street, much of it the major arterial road between the city and northern beaches. But in Mosman village itself, it’s much calmer and far more appealing.
Mosman is characterized by its Federation houses, families of all ages, and the banking fraternity.
Taronga Zoo is here and, whether you’re a visitor or a long-term resident, it’s always fun to drop in on the giraffes and marvel at the view of the harbour, Opera House and city skyline that they enjoy. (And you can take the ferry into the city from there.)
More than anywhere in Sydney, this is the place where expensive designer threads (particularly European) are most at home. The cars are big and shiny, or fast and shiny. Cafes and restaurants sit side by side with jewellers and beauty salons – and accessory stores for pampered pooches.
While New South Head Road is the major access route through Double Bay, the village itself is focussed around Knox, Cross and Bay Streets, and you’ll want to be dressed up to not feel out of place here.
Double Bay housing is mostly big family houses and luxury apartments, popular with property developers, big-business executives, and the Jewish community.
If you like a bit of an edge…..
Australia’s most densely populated suburb, and surely one of its smallest, with really only a dozen streets. Potts Point is positioned on top of a hill that runs down to Sydney harbour, within walking distance of the CBD and Royal Botanic Gardens, and next to the night club and red light district of Kings Cross.
It’s defined by Macleay Street, with small upmarket stores and restaurants intermixed with apartment buildings that range from grand and gracious art deco, through funky and bohemian, to sleek and modern. Around here you’re ‘local’ when you refer to the apartment buildings by name instead of street address.
Potts Point is popular with double-income-no-kids couples and well-heeled empty nesters; with designers, arts administrators, entrepreneurs, and young corporates.
When you’ve had enough of admiring the buildings, wander down through adjoining Elizabeth Bay to sit in Beare Park (next to one of Australia’s most famous houses, Boomerang) and gaze across Sydney Harbour.
On the edge of the city, with its western border connected by Hyde Park and Central Station, Surry Hills has really become a hot spot for creative food and fashion in recent years. Crown Street, is its defining artery: shabby-chic cafes interspersed with elegant bistros, award-winning restaurants and gourmet grocers. At the north end, shopping is strictly recycled, vintage and retro. In the middle, it’s just a half-block stumble between three of the suburbs most popular pubs, where you’re likely to be mixing it with bloggers and writers comparing notes and new media trends.
Housing is a mix of Victorian terraces – from the tiny to the grand, warehouse conversions and newer apartment buildings.
This is a village dominated by the young and ambitious, migrants, and a significant gay population.
The clubs of Oxford Street Darlinghurst on its northern border provide its all-night playground. Lining up for bread at the Bourke Street Bakery is its current weekend morning obsession. When you’ve had your fill, pop around the corner to the Brett Whitely Studio to take in the work of one of Australia’s iconic modern artists.
Newtown’s character has been influenced by its population of students, graduates, academics and others from the nearby University of Sydney since the 1800s.
The action is focussed on King Street, about 1.5 miles of pulsating, (mostly) cheap cafes, restaurants and shops, with a focus on clothing, jewellery, books and furniture. This is not the place to flaunt your designer brands – here status comes from how you put together a look from disparate, usually recycled, pieces.
Residential streets are narrow and crooked. The dominant property type is small attached houses built in the early 1900s; very few have space for a car, making street parking a challenge, and public transport well-used.
The locals are a mix of corporates, health and teaching professionals, public sector employees, performers and students, with a strong ‘alternative’ edge – queer, arty, vegetarian, activist.
Live music has a significant presence here, from pub gigs to the intimacy of jazz, blues and roots venue The Vanguard, to the bigger revitalized Enmore Theatre (the Rolling Stones did a ‘small’ gig here in 2002), and the new Factory.
When you’ve had enough of the beat of King Street, detour into Erskineville and settle in to people-watching from one of the pubs.
If you want village pubs and markets…..
The Balmain peninsula is a world unto itself; it’s not on the way to anywhere else, which keeps it really local. It’s one postcode, but three suburbs – Balmain, Birchgrove and Balmain East – and making the distinction is important when you live here.
Victorian terrace houses and workers’ cottages are the dominant property style. And the favoured transport to the CBD is the harbour ferry – surely one of the world’s great commutes.
Popular with young families and empty nesters; well-known as home to many of Australia’s theater, film and arts names.
It’ll take you a whole day (or even a whole weekend) to wander the length of Darling Street shopping (markets on Saturdays) and deciding where to eat. If those choices get too overwhelming, contemplate your options over a cold beer or semillon in one of countless pubs along the strip (hmmm… too many choices again).
This is Sydney’s foremost Australian designers shopping precinct. Many of the big names started here and maintain a presence here, and it’s where many up and coming fashion and jewellery designers have their first big break.
Along the length of Paddington from its western border with edgy Darlinghurst to its eastern edge with prestigious Woollahra, Oxford Street is the mecca for those looking for boutique shopping, catering almost exclusively to the young and beautiful.
Housing, on the other hand, is almost completely dominated by the old and the beautiful. Attached terrace houses – from the tiny to the very grand – dating from the early 1900’s are the norm and are an important part of Paddington’s appeal.
Local pubs set in amongst homes on little side streets, art galleries and the Paddo markets on Saturdays all round out the appeal to wealthy couples with ‘glamour’ jobs in blue-chip companies, PR and the arts.
If you want to be on the water, close to the city, in a place with a very Australian name…..
When you’re new to Australia, this spot is hard to beat and the folks back home will love the name (it’s derived from an aboriginal word that means “good fishing spot”).
Here you’ll find the Sydney homes of Australia’s prime minister and governor-general. But it’s Kirribilli’s harbourside position that wows visitors and that locals never take for granted. Stand on the wharf waiting for a quick ferry trip to the city center, and you feel you could reach out across the water and tickle the Opera House or hold hands with the Harbour Bridge. In summer, fireworks on the harbour are part of the nightly backdrop, as is the dance music from party boats.
It’s mostly apartment living here, with very few houses, and it’s not big on glamour. But a location and views like this don’t come cheaply.
Despite its proximity to the city center and obvious attractions, Kirribilli is a remarkably quiet, even sleepy, village of residents. Search out the Sydney Flying Squadron (not nearly as intimidating as it sounds) for a cold beer on the balcony, watching the yachts. Or cross under the Bridge to join the throngs at Luna Park, or take a swim in the harbourside Olympic pool.
For more information about buying property in Sydney, see Finders Keepers Buyers Agent at www.finderskeepers.com.au © September 2009. – Image: © Lisa Bradley