Set around one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world, the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and scalloped shorelines signify "Australia" to many.

Set around one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world, the Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and scalloped shorelines signify ‘Australia’ to many.

But Sydney is also Australia’s oldest, largest and most diverse city, with an engaging cultural scene.

See

Sydney Harbour National Park protects pockets of wilderness and is criss-crossed with walking trails and historic sites. The park is home to five harbour islands including Cockatoo Island, former site of the imperial prison, which you can visit on heritage tours (environment.nsw.gov.au/ nationalparks; tour £18).

Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House is Australia’s most recognisable architectural landmark, inspired by snail shells and Mayan temples. Tours are available (sydneyoperahouse.com; tours from £20, from 9am-5pm).

Dubbed the ‘coat hanger’, the Harbour Bridge is held together by six million hand-driven rivets. The best way to experience it is on foot. Staircases lead up from both shores to a footpath along the eastern side. You can also climb it with Pylon Lookout (pylonlookout. com.au; 10am-5pm; £6).

The Royal Botanic Gardens were established in 1816 as the colony’s vegetable patch and are now Sydney’s favourite communal backyard. Highlights include the rose garden, the rare, ancient Wollemi Pine and the succulent garden (rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au; Mrs Macquaries Rd; opens 7am daily).

Fifty tonnes of seafood are auctioned at Sydney fish market every day. Under the same roof you’ll find restaurants, a deli, a wine bar and a sushi bar. Arrive early and catch an auction tour (sydneyfishmarket.com.au; Bank St, Pyrmont; tour starts 7am; £12).

Eat and drink

Barzura is a beachside café by day and stylish waterfront diner by night, with the best beach views in Sydney. The evening speciality is grilled kangaroo with roast pumpkin, caramelised onion and red wine-poached pears (barzura. com.au; 64 Carr St, Coogee; lunch and dinner; mains £10-£18).

Owned by celebrity chef Kylie Kwong, Billy Kwong is a carbon-neutral eatery modelled on a traditional Chinese teahouse. Local organic produce is used in dishes such as steamed scallop wontons with Sichuan chilli oil and crispy-skin duck with plum sauce (kyliekwong.org; 3/355 Crown St, Surry Hills; dinner; mains £12-£26).

Fish Face may look like a fish and chip shop, but the menu includes fish curries, sushi, and the intriguing Hiramasa kingfish with beetroot relish and pancetta. Watch chefs cook your meal in the open kitchen (fishface.com.au; 132 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst; dinner Mon-Sun; mains £16-£24).

A terrace looking out over the harbour and jazz on Sundays are just two of Café Sydney’s draws. The seafood-focused menu features tandoori blue-eye cod (cafesydney.com; 31 Alfred St, Circular Quay; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat, lunch Sun; mains £16-£28).

Harbour views and outstanding food collide at Bathers’ Pavilion, where ingredients are sourced from local providers. There’s also a great vegetarian menu (bathers pavilion.com.au; 4 The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach; lunch and dinner; 2-/3-course menu £60/£70).

Sleep

Jump on a ferry and head for Cockatoo Island. There’s a campsite on the grassy northern shore, plus two restored, selfcontained Federation mansions, once the homes of the island’s medical officer and engineering manager (cockatooisland.gov.au; Sydney Harbour; tent and pitch for two people £50).

Built in 1841, The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel has its own on-site brewery (try a pint of Nelson’s Blood). Rooms are elegant, with striped sheets, stone walls and dormer windows. Many of the rooms are spacious with en suites, but there are also cheaper, smaller rooms with shared bathrooms (lordnelson.com.au; 19 Kent St, The Rocks; from £80).

Party like a rock star at Hotel Altamont, once the venue of choice for the likes of the Rolling Stones and Madonna. The popular Loft Suite was the VIP Room for the Cauldron Nightclub, accessible via a hidden stairway. Rooms have a colonial vibe, with a blue and white scheme and mahogany furniture (altamont.com.au; 207 Darlinghurst Rd; from £82).

Sleep Rich in history, Trickett’s Bed & Breakfast is an 1880s merchant’s mansion that was earmarked for demolition before Liz Tricketts came to its rescue. Now restored to its former glory, it features large rooms decorated with antiques and Persian rugs (tricketts.com.au; 270 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe; from £125).

Behind the pink exterior of a Victorian townhouse you’ll find Medusa Boutique Hotel, Sydney’s most style-conscious hotel. Each of the 18 rooms has been individually designed using bold colours and custom-made furnishings, including capsule kitchenettes (medusa.com.au; 267 Darlinghurst Rd; from £200).

Getting around

Ferries and water taxis shuttle to and from harbour venues (sydney ferries.info; from £3). The Monorail circles Darling Harbour and the city, and the Light Rail serves Central Station, Chinatown and Darling Harbour (metrotransport. com.au; day pass £6).

Getting there

Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific fly from Heathrow and Manchester to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport (from £650; qantas.com.au). The Airport Link train runs to Central Station every 15 minutes (£9.50; airportlink.com. au). A taxi costs £22 to Circular Quay and £30 to North Sydney.

The article 'Mini guide to Sydney, Australia' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.