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Hello, sunshine: Exploring Sydney ahead of WorldPride 2023

Attitude overcomes our fear of sharks, dresses up for the opera and somehow gets a taste of Paris in Sydney ahead of WorldPride 2023

The view from Quay Restaurant is pretty spectacular (Picture: Destination New South Wales)
The view from Quay Restaurant is pretty spectacular (Picture: Destination New South Wales)

Hundreds of teeth — rows of them! — glisten, as 11 brawny bodies in various shades of blue-grey twist and flex with predatory agility.

No, I’m not cage-diving in the sublime waters of the world’s second most shark-infested country — although I now want to! — but inspecting the life-sized models at Sharks, a blockbuster exhibit in Sydney’s Australian Museum, on display into 2023. The oldest museum in Oz, established in 1827 and home to 21 million cultural and scientific objects, is an authoritative introduction to the land Down Under, treating both its oceanic and land-dwelling emblems with great respect.

Credit: Tourism Australia

Before my trip, Attitude’s travel editor hammed up the fearsome reputation of this continent’s creatures — gaslighting this writer into thinking a bite of some sort was imminent — but the museum display assures me that, on average, you can count the people killed by snakes, crocodiles and sharks in Oz every year on one hand. (Granted, a swimmer was killed by a shark in spring 2022, but for perspective, that was Sydney’s first fatal shark attack in 60 years.)

The space is also home to First Nations-led and informed exhibitions. The museum’s website states that it “respects and acknowledges the Gadigal people as the First Peoples and Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which the Museum stands.” This ‘respectful acknowledgement’ of space is a sentiment I will hear many times during my visit to Australia. (A key tool in this respect is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Map of Indigenous Australia, which aims to represent all the language, tribal or nation groups of Indigenous Australia.)

Credit: Tourism Australia

After our whistle-stop tutorial on all things Australia, it’s time for another lesson — this time with Lets Go Surfing, based at (the heavily shark-patrolled) Bondi Beach [above], the Baywatch-ready spiritual home of Aussie surfers. This wave paradise is reachable from the central business district in 17 minutes by car or bus, and the ocean’s closeness perhaps explains the chilled, sunny outlook that permeates the city.

That being said, it’s unseasonably wet, grey and cold when I arrive via a stunning 45-minute coastal walk from Bronte Beach like a weather-beaten Cathy from Wuthering Heights. As such, I don’t relish the prospect of meeting the tumultuous tide, but my instructor’s sheer enthusiasm changes that, and even compels the sun to come out. Before I know it, I’ve conquered a wave on my second try. (Albeit for about five seconds!) We dry off at Speedos café, where the Green Falafel Bowl with avocado, Asian greens, spinach, beetroot hummus, quinoa and ginger reduction restores and reinvigorates.

Credit: Tourism Australia

Just as you can’t go to Sydney and not surf, also essential is attempting to take a good picture of Sydney Opera House [below]. It’s impossible. (Top tip: the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia’s Sculpture Terrace is a cute spot for views of the entire harbour.) Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s unforgettable design of the landmark — I just see sharks’ fins; evidently, I’m obsessed — looks completely different in real life, comprising 14 shells that would form the perfect sphere if combined.

Inside, at the utterly exquisite Bennelong restaurant, where brass-heavy decor catches golden rays through huge windows, I enjoy fine Australian dining including the divine passionfruit pavlova, sculpted to mimic the building. (I also catch a lavish staging of Giuseppi Verdi’s La Traviata, which transports me to the party of a famed Parisian courtesan at her extraordinarily tasteful salon. The scene at curtain-up was like a neoclassical painting come to life, and a real pinch-yourself moment.)

Credit: Tourism Australia

Trendy Potts Point is a clubbing hotspot, but it’s also home to restaurants where you can eat your way around the world. Dining alfresco at the laid-back and cool Ezra, I savour vibrant Ashkenazi, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours. The hazelnut muhammara comes with pomegranate and about 15,000 other delicate ingredients, and the burrata with plum fattoush is so popular that I nab the last one.

There’s more Middle Eastern fare at the elegant Nomad, but with a Spanish twist and a Moroccan shake. I try everything from zucchini flowers with truffle honey and pecorino to a to-die-for woodfire flatbread with Persian lime and wattleseed za’atar. Sitting at the counter and observing the kitchen, it’s pure culinary theatre: the unflappable chefs happily talk through the recipes while doing 10 other things at once. 

For a more informal foodie experience, set to a pure pop and disco soundtrack, try Drag N’ Dine at The Imperial Erskineville, where the queens are as rowdy as the plant-first Californian cuisine is imaginative and inventive. (You haven’t tried cauliflower until you’ve eaten it roasted with kipfler and served with delicious tamarind molé.)

Credit: Tourism Australia/The Strand Hotel

My favourite Sydney meal, however, is in The Strand Hotel [above], a delightfully attractive 17-room boutique stopover complete with rooftop bar. At its French-inspired Bistro, I tuck into rich onion soup with Gruyère toast, and Toulouse sausages with mash, green beans and cider gravy, in a space that echoes the elegance of La Traviata.

I am instantly charmed by the hotel’s free complimentary cocktail offerings in the plush library, the terrace windows in my adorable bedroom, and the high-end Grown Alchemist products in the bathroom. And props to the convivial maitre d’, who provides the best service of the trip.

Credit: Tourism Australia/The Ace Hotel

I also stay at the hip Ace Hotel, housed within the old Tyne House brick factory [above]. Ace was a pioneer of the boutique hotel, but this 264-room, 18-storey stopover is colossal. When I arrive on a Thursday night, the Lobby Nights party is popping. It makes check-in stressful, but a craft cocktail softens the blow. I retire to my stylish room, which is inexplicably kitted out with a D’Angelico acoustic guitar. I don’t pick it up for fear of dropping it. 

Sydney’s 300 days of visible sunshine return with zeal by the time I explore the profoundly gorgeous 30-hectare Royal Botanic Garden [below]. It has a transportive energy, and crystallises my perception of Sydney as, well, relaxing. It’s a 5.4-million-person-strong megalopolis, but has none of the oppressive energy of its global peers. The air is clean and clear. Passers-by smile. There’s noticeably less traffic than London.

Credit: Tourism Australia

But colourful chaos is on the horizon: Sydney WorldPride takes place from 17 February-5 March 2023 (surely you’ve heard by now which Aussie pop icon is headlining…), with an estimated 500,000 LGBTQs and allies expected to descend on Harbour City.

One imagines that, not so long ago, such an event might have catered only to the buff, Botoxed circuit party set. This, on the other hand, will be a slick operation welcoming absolutely everybody, with a gobsmacking 300+ events in the pipeline. There will be vogueing aplenty at the Sissy Ball; Speedos galore at the Paradiso Pool Party and queer foodies will be well catered for at long-table dining event Pink Salt. Other highlights include a two-day Human Rights Conference, bringing together 1,500 community leaders, activists and politicians, plus The Dan Daw Show, a Sadler’s Wells-commissioned dance-theatre work by queer disabled artist Dan Daw.

Pride will also be lovingly embraced by major institutions like the world-class Art Gallery of New South Wales, which is about to unveil its multi-million-Australian-dollar expansion. Artist and writer Samia Sayed is one of a team of producers busy creating an array of WorldPride-inspired platforms to uplift LGBTQ+ artists. “We’ve been thinking about how to extend that three-week time period,” Samia tells me of the gallery’s “developmental residencies” that will lead to a “queering of the space”. Also on the Pride schedule are panel talks, films, live workshop performances and events like Queer Art After Hours in association with Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.

I also meet with Jacob Boehme, First Nations Director of the super cool and cavernous Carriageworks — one of Australia’s most significant contemporary multi-arts organisations — to discuss Marri Madung Butbut (Many Brave Hearts): First Nations Gathering Space. Over single origin coffee at Carriageworks’ on-site farmers’ market, which takes place every Saturday from 8am-1pm, Jacob tells us of “a safe space” that celebrates the diversity of Aboriginal LGBTQI+ community members, showcasing brilliance in arts and culture. Events include Klub Village by creative collective Haus of Kong, a drag, circus, cabaret and dance party extravaganza occurring across three nights, and Miss First Nation: Supreme Queen, in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander queens compete across two heats (26 and 27 February) before taking part in a grand final (28 February) to snatch the crown.

If you’re attending WorldPride, be sure to support decades-old LGBTQ+ spaces like The Stonewall Hotel, a beloved institution across three levels that’s almost as famous as its NYC namesake, and cute corner pub The Burdekin. But in truth, every establishment is LGBTQ+-friendly. The retro-tastic bar and restaurant The Clock isn’t formally a queer space, but its leafy courtyard is packed with gays, owing to its prime location in the Surry Hills gaybourhood. Naturally inclusive, it’s like a metaphor for Sydney itself. 

For more information, visit or follow #seeaustralia.