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10 Sydney Institutions That Even Locals Agree Are Great

10 Sydney Institutions That Even Locals Agree Are Great

There’s a good chance that if you’re visiting Sydney, you’ll have already heard of a few of these places – their reputation often proceeds them in a very good way.


These are the shops, bars, venues and restaurants where the queue is worth the wait, and they contain as many Sydneysiders as curious travellers. So get on the end of that line, as the time spent in it will be worth it. Just remember – it’s not a cliché if it’s great.

#1 Gelato Messina

Image: Gelato Messina / Facebook

With 8 shopfronts (and counting) in Sydney, expansions to Melbourne, the Gold Coast and even Las Vegas, is it at all possible that Gelato Messina is *that* good? The answer is a resounding yes. From the staple flavours (dark chocolate sorbet, pistachio, choc mint, hazelnut) to the unique (salted coconut and mango, apple pie, poached figs in marsala, yoghurt and caramel), all scoops of Messina – without exception – are divine.

The ever-changing specials board will probably tempt you to try something totally out of the box, and the ever-present queues move pretty quickly thanks to the efficient staff who are still more than happy to let you try a few samples.

Where: Various locations

#2 Bill and Toni’s


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Two words for you here – serving sizes. If you’ve ever wanted to eat a meatball the size of a baby’s head or a chicken parmy bigger than the plate it’s served on, then Bill and Toni’s is the spot for you. It’s simple, delicious and incredibly affordable Italian food in a central location with friendly service. Orange cordial and side salads are free of charge, and they let you create your own “combination plate” of any main (like lamb shanks, schnitzel or casserole) with a side of pasta for under $20. It’s also BYO and extremely kid friendly. Two more words? Sydney favourite.

Where: 72–74 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst

#3 Opera Bar

Image: Opera Bar

While many of the restaurants and bars lining Circular Quay are overpriced tourist traps, Opera Bar manages to escape that vibe. The drinks aren’t exactly cheap, but they’re good quality and the bar throws in a million-dollar view for free so you still end up ahead. There’s often free live entertainment and a decent food menu. If you’re catching a show at the Opera House or just want to get up close to the harbour, it’s the perfect spot to drop in for a drink with a view.

Where: Sydney Opera House, Macquarie Street, Sydney

#4 Golden Century


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It’s 2am and you’re hungry? Do as the locals do – grab a posse and hit up Golden Century for a late-night feed of XO pipis, crispy skin chicken and seafood fried rice to absorb the excesses of your evening. If you’re there late, looking around the other tables is often like checking out the who’s who of the Sydney hospitality industry – and if the city’s chefs eat here you know it’s good. Service can be a little abrupt at times, but the food – especially the seafood – can’t be beaten.

Where: 393–399 Sussex Street, Sydney

#5 El Jannah

You’ll smell El Jannah before you see it – the scent of roasting meat and charcoal. Then you’ll get the visual – the racks of bronzed BBQ chickens glistening, alongside mounds of warm golden Lebanese breads in baskets. The sound is next – the sizzle of hot chips hitting oil and the murmur of excited diners waiting for their food.

But it’s the taste you’ll really come to El Jannah for and it’s the taste that gets Sydneysiders to regularly head west for their fix of hot chicken, fluffy garlic sauce and pickles. Grab a half chicken with bread, pickles and the best garlic sauce of your life for a lunch you’ll dream about later.

Where: Various locations

#6 Gleebooks

Image: Gleebooks / Facebook

Sydney’s leading independent book seller isn’t just a bookshop. Sure, they sell thousands of new and used books with incredibly well-read staff who are always willing to give advice or a recommendation, but Gleebooks is also a venue for interesting, thought-provoking literary events on an almost daily basis. There are talks from authors, book launches, themed evenings and debates.

Book in for a night of something interesting – you’ll feel smarter just by walking through the doors.

Where: Various locations, but events are at 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

#7 Bourke St Bakery

Image: Bourke St Bakery

Until you’ve bitten into a ginger brulée tart and felt the crack of toffee melting into the rich custard in your mouth, you might not understand why dozens of people are willing to line up for a bakery. And until you’ve tried one of Bourke St‘s juicy, slightly spicy lamb and harissa sausage rolls you might not get why they come back every day for some of the city’s best bread, pastry, savouries and coffee.

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Where: Various locations

#8 Gordon’s Bay


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In a city blessed with some of the world’s best beaches, it might seem strange that scores of Sydneysiders choose instead to spend their summer (and spring, and autumn…) days in a tiny bay with no sand, no spunky lifeguards and no waves. But once you’ve been let in on the secret of Gordon’s Bay you’ll probably prefer it too.

There are warm rocks for sunbaking, amazing snorkelling (try and spot the GIANT grouper fish) and it’s protected by cliffs so the conditions are usually calm for lazy afternoon swims.

Where: Battery Street, Clovelly, Sydney

#9 Chinese Noodle Restaurant

Grapes on the ceiling, farmyard tapestries on the walls and occasional spontaneous violin solos from the owner? This isn’t like any Chinese restaurant you’ve been to before – but you’ll definitely want to come back.

The food is incredibly good and cheap, and the service is fast (though sometimes a bit, um, abrupt). Sure, the restaurant is tiny and they pack people in – be prepared to get up close and personal with your dining companions – but after a pork and chive soup dumpling, or a piece of the special braised eggplant, you won’t care.

Where: Shop TG7, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket

#10 Oxford Art Factory

Image: Oxford Art Factory / Facebook

There’s no doubt that Sydney’s nightlife has been affected by the lockout laws but the party has continued at Oxford Art Factory, one of the city’s best-loved venues for live bands, art and everything in between. Check their website for the gig guide – everything from smaller local indie bands to big international acts take to the stages here. Late at night on weekends there are always DJs playing ’til night and the second room is a launch pad for new artists trying to make their mark. Come along to be able to say you knew ‘…..’ before they made it big.

Where: 38–46 Oxford St, Darlinghurst

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(Lead image: Bourke Street Bakery)

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