Cityscape image of Sydney, Australia with Harbour Bridge and Sydney skyline during sunset. (photo via RudyBalasko / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Vacationing “down under” has become a popular trend in recent years for many Americans.

If travelers are willing to endure a minimum 15-hours of flight time plus a 15-hour time change to reach a particular destination, chances are there’s something special about the place.

That’s especially true with Australia’s most populated and most internationally known city—Sydney. The home of the 2000 summer Olympics, Sydney has world-famous landmarks in its Opera House and Harbour Bridge that serve as a gateway to the city’s skyline. With miles of coastline bordering the Pacific Ocean, there’s plenty of recreational fun to be had for outdoor enthusiasts visiting Sydney.

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World-class shopping, luxury dwellings and international cuisines are to be found all over the city. With so many options, where are the best places to spend your free time? Let’s take a look at where to stay, eat and play in this beautiful city down under.

Stay

Park Hyatt Sydney

If having unobstructed views of two of Sydney’s most famous attractions is appealing, no hotel in the city can beat the Park Hyatt Sydney.

Located at the front edge of Sydney Harbour directly opposite of the Opera House and just under the Harbour Bridge, the Park Hyatt is a luxury hotel boasting more than 150 rooms with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open up to private balconies. With amenities such as a full-service spa, rooftop pool and on-site gym, the Park Hyatt is the perfect place to relax and unwind in a serene setting.

It’s also a short walk away from one of Sydney’s oldest neighborhoods featuring restaurants and shops lined up on old cobblestone streets, which gives the area a nostalgic feel. After a long day of exploring, you can also choose to cap it by having dinner at the Dining Room—an on-site restaurant with sunset harborside views.

Overall, the Park Hyatt has lots of appeal for the traveler that has luxury, comfort and convenience in mind.

Two other options located a little further north above circular quay are the Shangri-La and the Four Seasons. Both offer luxury accommodations in the heart of Sydney with the type of amenities and service you would expect from high-end hotel chains.

Eat

The Malaya, Darling Harbour

While Sydney Harbour has the city’s famed landmarks as its benchmarks, Darling Harbour is another waterfront space located just to the west of the heart of the city, littered with restaurants, outdoor activities, shopping and nightlife.

View of Sydney Harbour, Australia (photo via africanpix / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

One dining option with an eclectic menu and stunning harbor views is The Malaya.

Specializing in cuisine from Southeast Asia, dishes with Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai influence can be found here. Fresh seafood options are aplenty, but the appetizers—found on the entrée a la carte portion of the menu—have a variety of options similar to dim sum style restaurants. The sweet corn soup and the roti canai and chicken curry sauce were particularly delicious on my visit.

Overall, this menu has plenty of options regardless of your mood.

If you’re in the mood for a nice breakfast before exploring, The Rocks Café is the place to go. Located in one of Sydney’s oldest neighborhoods aptly dubbed “The Rocks,” this around the way café specializes in modern Australian cuisine and offers some traditional favorites with a twist.

Another dinner option is Eastbank Café, located harborside by Circular Quay. There, you can enjoy fresh Italian inspired dishes outside while enjoying the bright lights and night views of the Sydney Harbor bridge.

Play

Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Sydney is a vibrant metropolis that has a wealth of activities to pursue day and night. One of the more unique options to see is the Taronga Zoo. What makes this zoo special is a combination of its location, the journey to get there and its layout.

If you are staying in the city, a ferry ride will take you across Sydney Harbour to a dock where you take a gondola lift to get to the zoo—which is perched atop a hill. There’s a gradual descent from the top to the bottom, which gives visitors a unique view of Sydney from across the harbor.

With more than 350 species—many of which are rare—and over 4,000 animals on hand, the zoo has more than enough activities to keep visitors of all ages occupied and engaged. From kangaroos to koalas to giraffes, the Taronga Zoo provides animal lovers a rare experience in a picturesque setting with one of the world’s most beautiful skylines as its backdrop.

Flowers of Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia

For water lovers, Australia’s most famous outdoor space—Bondi Beach—is a must-see. Enjoy catching some sun or your favorite water activities in the pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Another must on the to-do list when visiting Sydney is to see its world-famous Opera House. While it’s known for its shell-like exterior design, it’s home to a performing arts center that hosts hundreds of performances throughout the year.