Flying Solo: A Sydney Guide for the Independent Traveller

The best places to go if you're travelling solo in Sydney.

There's much to be said for travelling alone. Holiday time is limited and has a habit of moving faster than you want it to—and you know what they say about the best-laid plans. No matter how organised you are, there are only so many sights and experiences and afternoon cocktails that you can fit into the narrow window of leisure. These limitations become so much more pronounced when you are trying to perform a juggling act of co-travellers’ competing interests. On the other hand, travelling as an intrepid solo act can feel more conspicuous. Accidentally stumbling into a café filled exclusively with families, or into a bar or restaurant populated by doe-eyed couples and rowdy parties of 10 is… fine, but also not great for your ideal bout of drawn-out relaxation.

There are many things to do in Sydney that are arguably best enjoyed in your own company. Here are a few of them.

Art Galleries

Every gallery-goer exists at a different point on the spectrum of “reading every word of every wall plaque” to “using the exhibition as a personal speed-walking track”. You can spend a lifetime trying to find your perfect gallery match, but best of all is cruising through an exhibition at your own pace without worrying about speeding up or slowing down to match the company. White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale is a particularly good one for the solo traveller, with its hyper-contemporary exhibitions ranging from traditional media to digital technologies that invite singular focus and immersion. The Art Gallery of NSW is massive, containing a huge range of exhibition spaces and often playing host to several large-scale shows at once—a maze of decisions easier to navigate on an individual whim. Similarly, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is a multi-level cacophony of constantly rotating exhibitions designed to engage different tastes. Choose what interests you and get wandering.

Parks and Gardens

Peace and quiet are two of the infinite resources available to the solo traveller. And where better to make use of them than in one of Sydney’s many sprawling, inner-city parklands? The obvious choice is the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, which combines lush flora and ancient tree canopies with sparkling harbour views, contemporary dining options and the option to jump in on the various tours, workshops and events regularly run by staff. Centennial Parklands is big enough to have its own rangers, cycling and horseriding tracks, and a cluster of ponds in addition to a seemingly limitless lawn on which to sit and daydream. Peak serenity can be found at the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a surprise walled oasis tucked away next to Darling Harbour. Stroll along serene pathways next to koi-filled ponds, sit beneath swaying willow trees and find restoration in the heritage-listed teahouse where dumplings and a range of traditional teas abound.

Workshops and Tours

But solo travelling isn’t all about quiet contemplation; it can also present a perfect opportunity to meet new people and learn new skills. One skill that Sydney specialises in teaching is surfing. Manly Surf School is arguably the best place for beginners to learn: a combination of experienced coaches and gentle surf conditions. For the foodies among us, Taste Cultural Food Tours conduct a range of food expeditions that focus on the rather enjoyable activity of tasting the unique melting pot of multinational cuisines in Sydney. 

Bookstores

A solo traveller’s best friend? Obviously a good book. Unsurprisingly, there are many of these to be found within the largest bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney’s own Books Kinokuniya. Taking up an entire level of The Galeries shopping complex, this bookstore is a lit-buff fantasy, comprising endless shelves of fiction and non-fiction, a comic books section, a room dedicated to art and design books, a stationary store and Chinese- and Japanese-language books departments. A more boutique production, Ariel Booksellers is a light-filled, design-savvy store in Darlinghurst with a neatly curated selection of new releases, cult classics and irresistible coffee table books.

Cafés and Restaurants

The hardest part of travelling sans-company is finding somewhere to eat. Communal tables and bar seating are good ways to avoid the awkward luxury of space that comes from venues that seem to be comprised entirely of six-person booths. If you’re craving family-style comfort, Emma’s Snack Bar has got what you need. The Lebanese restaurant in Sydney’s inner-west is a casual eatery with big, homecooked flavours and a lively communal table that extends up the middle of the space. Closer to the city, Restaurant Hubert is for those looking to treat themselves. The hatted French restaurant is fine dining that relies as much on its ultra-refined dishes as it does on soft interior ambience. Part of this is achieved by tables that are arranged so that even on fully booked nights—which is most nights—diners are still afforded an element of privacy and a sense of space. One of the venues that is credited with pioneering the communal dining concept in Sydney is Bill’s, the Surry Hills icon founded by Bill Granger. It is also the original and still-quintessential Sydney brunch spot—additionally credited with launching the avocado toast craze, and still doing one of the city’s best versions of it—and is open into the evening seven nights a week for dinner and drinks.

Kirsty Sier
About the author

Editor of Where Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast)