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Sydney is a multi-faceted city.  It can be everything you imagine in a stereotypical gap year.

It has the Instaworthy skyline of Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and yellow and green ferries named Freshwater, Supply and Friendship after the First Fleet.

If you’re in awe of the possibilities, or like I was, you aren’t fully sold on the city yet, here’s how to enjoy Sydney like a local.

Surf like a local

If you find tourists swarmed like an ants’ nest and a din of voices, you’ve found Bondi Beach.  Famous the world over, once you arrive you realise its infamy for tourism is not unfounded.

Around the crowded coastal path, though, Tamarama beach emerges with Tamarama Surf & Life Saving Club on the corner overlooking rainbows in the surf (seriously!).  Here there were a dozen or so surfers shared the waves.

Bondi doesn’t have a train station because the local residents didn’t want more tourists to arrive (it hasn’t helped).  We took a taxi but you can also get a train to Bondi Junction and then a 15 minute bus journey to the beach.

A couple of blocks away is M-Deli, a small café that does take away and eat-in food and drinks.  It’s sandwiches, salads and schnitzel are great and not quite cheap.  There’s a big variety and the cakes are amazing!  Set further back from the beach, it didn’t grab the crowds like those on the seafront, definitely a hit for eating like the locals.

Cakes at M Deli
Yum! Cakes like a local is still possible, even in a place so close to over-run Bondi

Shop like a local

The QVB is a Victorian-style arcade spread onto three floors, with classic primary-coloured floor tiles.

Live piano music echoes under the iron-framed, glass roof.  From the top floor you can get a close look at the intricate clock with moving scenes of the history of the English royal family, complete with tiny trumpeters.   

The tea shops upstairs are quaint.  However, if you don’t normally shop in places that have a man playing a grand piano, and shops which don’t have very much stock in their windows, you probably already know that this place is too expensive.

If that’s the case (like it definitely was for me!), head to where my friend recommended, Regent’s Place.  In Daiso, a Japanese chain, Ben bought a hat and I collected some Asian sweets.  Everything is $2.80! 

One of the things that Todd said about Sydney is that the food is good everywhere.  He wasn’t wrong.  I ate in these malls a couple of times and the food was great.  You can eat pizza and the table next to you is women in suits drinking wine; not what I would associate with a British mall!

Eat in Syndey like a local

A landing bay for pretty white seaplanes, Empire Lounge in Rose Bay is on stilts above the river.  Even if there aren’t seaplanes around, you still get a sky-full of colour as the sun sets over postcard-esque white sailing boats.

Rose Bay sunset
Is it possible to see the sunset in Sydney like a local? This view certainly wasn’t crowded

On the fast food side of cuisine, Chargrill Charlie’s has almost cult status for Sydney residents.  A fried chicken take-away with a healthy twist, it has interesting salads like Nourishing Rainbow Roast with roast vegetables, beetroot and feta, and Smoked and Spiced Vitality with paprika chicken, chickpeas and kale.  Long gone are memories of the British chicken/pasta/wet leaves/mayonnaise combination.

There are a few branches around Sydney, and they have a wall with their celebrity fans, including Russell Crowe!

Okay, so I’m not normally a fan of big chains, but Uncle Tetso’s Cheesecake Factory is possibly the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.  The front of house is designed like a cartoon pastiche of a cheesecake factory.  All the sweet treats are based around Tetso’s Japanese cheesecake, and my favourite was the cheese tart; like an egg custard tart but with a cheesecake filling.  It was just big enough to make me feel slightly sick (in a good way).

Of course, if you really want to eat like a local, have a BBQ.  But do NOT throw your friends’ dog’s favourite toy into the neighbour’s garden.  Or under the house.  This may result in grovelling for forgiveness from Birdie and the purchase of new toys.

Drink like a local

The Baxter Inn has been named one of the top bars in the world.  A “secret” bar, it’s hidden in an old bank vault behind an inconspicuous door in an alley… with a bouncer and roped walkway outside kind of giving it away. 

It has a wall that’s rammed full of different types of whiskey, and they make a few cocktails out of them.  It’s not something I enjoy drinking, but there were a couple of things on their menu that were whiskey-free and the candle-lit setting makes up for it. 

The Roosevelt is a 1920s inspired cocktail bar where regulars are greeted like friends by the waiters.  If you like impressive-looking cocktails, this is place is a hit.  I had the nitro gelato, a frozen piña colada.

If you want to drink in Sydney like a local, they have a locals’ night on a Tuesday!

I was surprised by the number English-style pubs in the city, which is great for a more casual drink.

Lord Nelson Pub
Have I flown 22 hours for this English pub?

Like a drink with a twist? Take on this wine festival with a difference in Spain.

See the sights in Sydney like a local

Sydney has a monthly bulky-waste collection (bear with me on this story), where people can put furniture and the like outside and the council will come and dispose of it free of charge.  In Double Bay, it doesn’t all make it to the council as other residents will take it away for their own houses.  Basically, Double Bay is Sydney’s Kensington and their waste furniture is nicer than everyone else’s normal stuff.

Their library has an indoor living wall and a great children’s section with a slide and beanbags.

To experience Sydney like a local, use their parks.  If you wander round the Royal Botanic Garden, people will be running and doing burpees nearby. 

There’s a succulent section with cacti from around the world, highlighting how some plants have a convergent evolution where they’ve developed almost identical features even though they evolved far away from each other.  You can also walk through their herb garden, and a section dedicated to showcasing native plants.

Centennial Park, 5km inland from the Botanic Garden, is huge and dog-owners take advantage of its open, grassed areas.  There’s also a section for horse riding and Lachlan Swamp, a wetland area that smells sour like rotting mint, which is home to a colony of fruit bats that chatter all day long.

Is visiting Sydney like a local still a day-dream? How about take a city break in Europe until you can make it there?

Beth Seager

Travel blogger

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