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Destination Guide: Sydney

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Sydney, Australia is a city of wonderful contradictions. It's a place where you'll find wilderness preserves and urban bustle; cultural landmarks and convict history; haute cuisine and hole-in-the-wall pubs. Fodor's places Sydney "among the most beautiful cities on the planet." Let's go!

Things to Do

One of the best things to do in Sydney is a cruise of the harbor, including the iconic bridge and Sydney Opera House. Several companies offer tours, often with lunch or dinner and drinks. Sydney Tall Ships encourages guests to help hoist the sails of an 1850s-style ship and even allows you to climb the mast (with a safety harness, naturally). If you prefer to sit back and savor the views, Captain Cook Cruises serves a six-course dinner with Australian wines.

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Sydney's art institutions are world-renowned. The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia exhibits work by global artists in addition to its large collection of modern Australian and Aboriginal art. A major exhibition of British artist Grayson Perry's work is on display through May 2016. Another favorite art destination is the White Rabbit Gallery, which shows the work of contemporary Chinese artists such as Ai Weiwei.

For a fascinating and sometimes chilling look at Sydney's history as a penal colony, visit the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Constructed in 1819 to house convict men and boys, the museum now tells their stories through thousands of everyday artifacts — many of which were found in old rats' nests during a 1980s renovation.

Another of the best things to do in Sydney: exploring the city's beaches. The best known is Bondi Beach, where Sydneysiders of all ages gather to admire each other's bronzed bodies. If you want to escape the crowds, head south to lovely Bronte Beach, which boasts an inviting crescent of sand as well as an ocean pool for swimming called the Bronte Baths.

Where to Stay

You'll be astonished by the harbor vista from the windows of the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, one of the best Sydney hotels for all-out luxury. For historic charm with modern touches, try the boutique 1888 Hotel. Not only is it in walking distance of the restaurants and event venues in Darling Harbour, but the 1888 offers abundant perks like free in-room snacks, free happy hour and free breakfast.

If you've ever wanted to spend the night inside a David Lynch movie (who hasn't?), venture to the QT Sydney, a psychedelic art hotel. Despite the offbeat decor, the QT's 200 guest suites are comfortably appointed.

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Budget-minded beach lovers should look at the Hotel Bondi, a recently renovated hotel across from the famous beach. While you may encounter a few rowdy partiers, Lonely Planet says it's a great value for the money — especially if you spring for a beach view and balcony.

The Best Restaurants in Sydney

Australian cuisine is much, much more than Vegemite on toast. While you'll come across many distinctively Australian dishes in Sydney — like beetroot-topped burgers, meat pies and chiko rolls (fried beef spring rolls) — the city's known for its diverse dining scene.

While it doesn't look like much, one of the best restaurants in Sydney is Farmhouse Kings Cross. This tiny restaurant serves a set menu (although frequently changing) at a single communal table, with twice daily seatings. Patrons rave about the simple, homey dishes and reasonable price — just $55 AUD per person.

Slide is a cabaret and burlesque lounge with constantly changing acts: "from vocalists to aerialists, ice skaters, pole dancers, ballet dancers, clowns and cabaret starlets." It's not just about the entertainment, however; Slide's known for its inventive vegetarian menus and stellar service.

End the night with a visit to one of Sydney's basement bars: hip hideaways frequented by those in the know. To reach the Baxter Inn, you must venture down an unmarked alley and down some steps to a forbidding door. Your reward: a cozy saloon with memorable cocktails.

Sydney's a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles, but don't let the travel time deter you. Just remember to protect your Sydney vacation with trip insurance from Allianz Global Assistance. Travel happy!

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Nov 01, 2016