September 2, 2010
Sydney is often touted as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Along with two of the most recognisable architectural icons on earth, its harbour location, café culture, outstanding beaches, flourishing arts scene, superlative dining, great weather and overall upbeat vibe all combine to create a city that’s ridiculously self-confident and excessively beautiful. You could visit Sydney, stand on the steps of the Opera House and not venture more than a mile or so in any direction and still have the time of your life.
What really makes a city great though? What gives it a heart beyond the must-sees and the views from tall buildings, the boat trips and bus tours? How do you really get to know a place?
Think of some of the world’s greatest metropolises and it’s often their neighbourhoods – the districts just beyond the dazzling sights, the places where people live, relax and play – where the true spirit and lifeblood of the city can be found. Think New York’s Lower East Side or Tribeca or Harlem, San Francisco’s Castro or Haight-Ashbury, London’s Hackney or Highgate, Paris’s Latin Quarter or Montparnasse, Chicago’s Wicker Park. These are the places where movements are born, sub-cultures form, and independent shops, galleries and cafés thrive. Delve deeper into these places and you’ll truly understand what makes the city tick.
Sydney too, has its fair share of fascinating neighbourhoods. In this first post ex-Sydney resident David Whitley talks about Sydney’s Inner West; a somewhat imprecise metropolitan area to the west of the central business district and one of its most rewarding environs – for those prepared to scratch the surface a little. And the second part gives us an Insider’s Guide to the Inner West, with all the best places to eat, shop and hang out.
David explains: “When I first moved to Sydney in 2001, I generally stuck to the well-trodden paths. The bars of the city and Kings Cross; the beaches of the Eastern Suburbs; the ferry to Manly. I rarely saw any need to venture further west than Darling Harbour.
Then when I got a proper job, I ended up living in Ultimo, right on the eastern fringe of the city’s Inner West. And I began to get it. The Inner West is something of a fluid concept, incorporating a number of Sydney’s most interesting neighbourhoods – such as Glebe, Newtown, Balmain and Leichhardt. What they all have in common is a certain vibe – a bit alternative, a bit creative, a bit studenty, a bit salt-of-the-earth working class and largely unpretentious.
The charm is less immediate than the tourist tickboxes of the harbour and Bondi Beach, but it gets under your skin. Over the years, I found myself increasingly hanging out in the Inner West. I moved back to the UK in 2006, but my friends are now scattered around these on-the-surface unassuming neighbourhoods that give Sydney its soul. Every year I visit, and every year the appeal of the Inner West lifestyle and attitude increases. If I were to move back, it’d be this part of town I’d move to.
And, for any visitors wanting to go beyond the standard tourist fare in Sydney, I’d heartily recommend a short bus or train ride west of the centre. That’s where you’ll find life beyond the glossy sheen – and it’s fascinating.”
If you’re considering a trip to Australia this autumn or winter, then Sydney is a fantastic place to start. Virgin Atlantic can fly you there daily from London Heathrow, via Hong Kong – always worth a prolonged visit in its own right – and Virgin Blue is your best choice for onward flights.
Don’t forget to read part two for the complete lowdown on the Inner West’s hotspots.