Ben Thomas is Chef Concierge at the boutique West Hotel Sydney, Curio Collection by Hilton , which opened in December 2017 in Sydney’s CBD on Sussex Street, near Barangaroo and Darling Harbour. Born and raised in Sydney, Ben loves the uniqueness of working at a small property, because it allows for a very high and personalised level of service. The hotel certainly is cutting edge, in terms of design, technology (Bluetooth speakers in every room), and “experiences that help you disconnect” such as “the soothing atrium ‘jungle,’ enjoying all-day sunshine, natural amenities and on-trend healthy food and drink”. Intrigued? Let’s find out more…
Favourite locale when enjoying a day off
When the sun is shining, you are likely to find me undertaking one of the many coastal or harbour-front walks that Sydney has to offer. In the evening or if the weather is not holding up, I love spending time in the suburb of Newtown, checking out some new bars and restaurants.
Where he takes his own guests when they visit
It really depends on whether or not they have been to Sydney before. Of course, if it is their first time, we have to include the Circular Quay and Rocks precinct to see the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Botanical Gardens, followed by a ferry ride to Manly. I would then mix it up a bit and visit some of the more inner suburban areas such as Newtown, Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, to experience some of my favourite local haunts.
It’s a rainy day but we want to explore, what we should do
There is still plenty to do in Sydney on a wet day. Some of my favourite options would include the following; Admiring the wide collections of artworks at the Art Gallery of NSW; getting your retail therapy by taking a stroll through some of Sydney’s boutique shopping areas, such as the Strand Arcade, the Queen Victoria Building, or the much more modern Westfield Sydney; and lastly heading out to the suburb of Newtown, having a walk down King Street, and checking out some of the area’s indie stores, thrift shops, hip eateries, bars or catching a movie at the independent Dendy Cinema.
His recommendations for night-time entertainment
Of a night time, I believe the best way to start the evening is by having a drink at one of Sydney’s many rooftop or waterfront venues. A few of my favourites include: Opera Bar, Glenmore Hotel or the newly opened Smoke at Barangaroo House. Follow this with some sampling of fine Australian produce at restaurants like Cirrus, Aria or Nomad. Throughout the year, there always seems to be a night-time festival of some sort happening in Sydney, such as Vivid in May/June, Night Noodle Markets in October, Sydney Festival in January, or the Handa Opera on the Harbour in April. I would definitely recommend attending one of these events if it coincides with your trip to Sydney!
Key phrase or phrases visitors should learn
I think three sayings or words for visitors to Sydney would be:
- ‘Arvo’ – meaning ‘this afternoon’;
- ‘The Quay’ (pronounced ‘key’) – meaning ‘Circular Quay’, where you will find many of Sydney’s iconic landmarks and main ferry wharves; and
- ‘How ya goin?’ – meaning ‘How are you today?’.
Where to go for the best shopping and which souvenirs to buy
The best areas for shopping in Sydney really come down to what you are looking for! To find unique souvenirs I would suggest heading down to the Rocks, especially on a weekend when the markets are on. For those looking for designer or boutique stores, I would then recommend both Westfield Sydney as well as the Queen Victoria building. Of course, when leaving Australia, someone should always have packed away in their bags, a packet of Tim-Tams [biscuits], a koala/kangaroo stuffed toy, and to make it a bit more about Sydney – why not a beach towel or swimwear from one of our iconic beaches Bondi Beach.
A child-friendly thing to do or place to go
The Powerhouse Museum, located only about a 15-minute walk from West Hotel is a great place to take the kids. With free entry for those under 16 and housing a range of exhibits to suit children of all ages, the Powerhouse is definitely worth a visit. Alternatively, just around the corner from the hotel is Darling Harbour, which has a variety of family friendly restaurants and is home to Sydney Sealife Aquarium, Madame Tussauds and Wildlife Sydney Zoo.
His best-kept secret or favourite hidden treasure
Many of the small bars that are hidden away in basements, attics or alleyways off York, Clarence and Kent Streets, right in the heart of the CBD. All portraying various themes, paired with great drinks and delicious food, in a fun and vibrant atmosphere.
Best way to get to the airport
Sydney Airport is very accessible and close to the CBD, so I would always recommend a taxi or Uber. Of course, if the guest would prefer to travel in style, a hotel limousine is always a great option.
Best time of the year to visit
With Sydney experiencing quite a mild winter and a warm summer, there really isn’t a bad time to visit. If you love relaxing on the beach, then December through March would be the ideal time. For those wanting something a bit different, why not plan a visit during the annual Vivid festival, which occurs at the end of May and start of June. Vivid festival is a festival of light, music, art and ideas, which has fast become the largest festival in Australia.
Anything else we should know when visiting
I would definitely recommend adding in to your itinerary one of Sydney’s scenic waterfront walks. My favourites would include the following:
- Manly to Spit – Picturesque harbour views along a 10-kilometre walking track through lush bushland, and many of the small bays and beaches in the inner harbour.
- Bondi to Coogee – The iconic Sydney walk, encompassing six kilometres of sparkling bays, secret rock pools, stunning cliff top views and sunny cafes.
- Royal National Park – For those wanting to get a bit more adventurous, head just over one hour south of Sydney to this national park where you can undertake a series of different coastal and bushland hikes, see native wildlife and admire spectacular views of the park and clifftops.
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