Something odd happened after I moved to Sydney from London 10 years ago: I lost my itchy feet. I still travel, but each time my plane swoops low over the Pacific on its descent into Sydney, offering up a shimmering vision of skyline and harbour, my heart soars. I'm back in the world's most beautiful city. That's my opinion, of course. But where else can you find 70 superlative beaches within less than an hour's drive? Where else can you stroll through national parkland, spotting possums and kookaburras, without even leaving the city? Where else can you enjoy a panoply of top-quality, affordable restaurants, a thriving nightlife and cultural scene, great shopping, historic architecture and a laid-back vibe? Sydney has a bit of everything, and unlike, perhaps, any other big city, it combines the best of urban living with an unrivalled natural backdrop: the harbour.
If money is no object, join the rock stars and jet-setters who bunk down at the glamorous Park Hyatt when in town. Double rooms at the hotel, right on the water's edge, with in-your-face views of the Opera House, start from US$597 (Dh2,193), including taxes (www.sydney.park.hyatt.com; 00 61 2 9241 1234). For a less pricey bed, try Darlinghurst, one of Sydney's coolest neighbourhoods, where the Kirketon Hotel offers cutting-edge design and personalised service at sensible rates, with double rooms from $121 (Dh444), including taxes (www.kirketon.com.au; 00 61 2 9332 2011). Can't wait to get to Bondi? Book in at Ravesi's, a boutique hotel where doubles with ocean view cost from $231 (Dh848), including taxes (www.ravesis.com.au; 00 61 2 9365 4422). You'll be in good company: Ravesi's, which also has a restaurant, is popular with visiting surfers and sun gods.
Sydney's delectable harbour slices the city in two. The central business district lies directly south; to the south-east you'll find hip inner-city neighbourhoods and a string of ocean beaches, while north are affluent residential suburbs and yet more dramatic surf beaches. Start by wandering through Hyde Park, a tranquil green space in the heart of the city, and emerge into Macquarie Street, the site of several historic buildings including the convict-era Hyde Park Barracks. Then head north-east to the Royal Botanic Gardens and walk along the foreshore for your first view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge: unforgettable. Close by is Circular Quay; for an archetypal Sydney experience, hop on a ferry for the 30-minute voyage to Manly, a down-to-earth seaside resort on the North Shore. In Manly, grab some fish and chips and then take a bus up to North Head, one of two sandstone outcrops that guard the entrance to the harbour. Perched high above Sydney, you feel a sense of grandeur and isolation. The views are magnificent.
For a casual breakfast, a stylish lunch, a moody dinner, or just for coffee, Fratelli Paradiso is a great little spot in inner-city Potts Point, a chi-chi area of cafes, bookshops and boutiques. Tucked away in a side street, Fratelli's is a Sydney institution, and an excellent location for people-watching: you might see a TV presenter, or a politician, or an actor, seated discreetly on one of the banquettes lining the elegant, wood-panelled room. The frequently changing blackboard menu at Fratelli's, run by the serendipitiously named Paradiso brothers, features modern Italian fare such as risotto with lemon and pistachio (US$20; Dh75) and snapper with courgette and cauliflower ($28; Dh102). There is also a bakery, producing delicious bread for the restaurant as well as pastries and muffins to accompany your morning caffeine hit. The ambience is intimate, the service understatedly flamboyant.
Few of Sydney's fashionable restaurants take bookings, so you must either arrive very early or put your name down and come back later. In the case of uber-chic Toko, it's worth the hassle, because this is arguably the best Japanese food in town. Toko - located in Surry Hills, a central neighbourhood brimming with eateries - is also a fun place, if you enjoy rubbing shoulders with beautiful people and don't mind a moderate level of noise. Sit up at the sushi counter and watch the chefs expertly slice glistening chunks of salmon, tuna and kingfish. Toko's starters include crispy soft-shell crab with wasabi mayonnaise, while mains range from prawn and vegetable tempura with dashi broth (US$16; Dh58) to duck breast with sansho pepper and marinated nashi pear ($26; Dh95). Delicious.
For fashion, head straight to Paddington, where the main artery, Oxford Street, is full of boutiques, including many one-offs, and a popular crafts and clothing market is held on Saturdays. In Surry Hills, Crown Street is lined with vintage clothing, homewares and design shops, among them Wheels & Doll Baby, much loved by rock chicks including Kylie Minogue. In town, the Strand Arcade is a gleaming Victorian temple of Australian designers, complete with stained glass windows and iron-lacework balconies, while David Jones, or "DJs", is Sydneysiders' favourite department store. I'll share one of my shopping secrets: Blue Spinach in Darlinghurst has new and recycled designer clothes, shoes and handbags at knock-down prices. Just don't tell anyone else.
Darling Harbour is ugly, crowded and soulless, but nearby Chinatown is worth a stroll. The Rocks area, site of the first European settlement, is a rather twee tourist trap, although the steep back streets, with their former workers' cottages, are interesting to explore. Kings Cross, the rather tame red light area, is depressing and best avoided. And many visitors find Bondi Beach a let-down.
For swimming, it's hard to match the harbour beach at Nielsen Park, with its profusion of shady trees, or Camp Cove, a perfect arc of white sand in a dreamy location. I also love the numerous harbour foreshore walks, which wind through bushland and dip in and out of tiny coves and inlets; it's this easy intimacy with nature which makes Sydney so special. I don't have a garden, but I'm lucky enough to have Centennial Park, the biggest green space in the southern hemisphere, on my doorstep; it's a wonderful oasis of gardens, woodlands and lakes lined with fig and paperbark trees. Lastly, don't miss the Art Gallery of New South Wales, with its permanent collection of Australian, Asian and Aboriginal art. email@example.com