Sydney covers some 12,000 square kilometers, with 658 officially designated suburbs and 40 local government areas, so your choice of places to live is vast. Sydney’s harbor and Pacific coast are expensive and gorgeous, but unless you have a budget to match, head away from the coast for more realistic housings costs. Chances are that your work will be somewhere in the CBD, and for a reasonable daily commute the innermost northern suburbs, just across the bridge in North Sydney, and southeastern suburbs, such as Darlinghurst or Paddington, are popular. The farther out you go, the more you get for your money, but it all depends on what you want. Inner-city living in Sydney does not necessarily mean cramped apartments, and the lush parks everywhere make it feel much less urban than inner cities of this size elsewhere in the world. Apart from the few high-rises in the CBD, even inner suburbs are mostly low-rise detached houses with gardens. Often the front gardens are so green that it is difficult to get a glimpse of the houses hiding behind them. Remember that you are in the southern hemisphere, so look for north-facing windows for ultimate light conditions. An excellent website to gauge rental and sale prices is Domain.
Sydney Neighborhoods and Suburbs
Central Business District and Inner Suburbs
Young professionals, singles, and couples like to live in the CBD or its closest neighboring suburbs such as Pyrmont, on the west of Darling Harbour, Woolloomooloo (the name was derived either from wallamullah, “place of plenty,” or wallabahmullah, “young black kangaroo” in an indigenous language) to the east, and Haymarket to the south. There are parks and plenty of restaurants and nightclubs open late and through the weekend, with major highways running through, so noise can be a factor. Life here is fast, young, and louder than in most other parts of the city.
If you want to be close to the CBD and enjoy apartment living but don’t want to be too close to the all-night weekend hubbub and noise, try Pyrmont, where many new developments offer city living but are quiet and secluded. Small supermarkets and specialty shops dot the area, and Darling Harbour, with its mall, restaurants, and Saturday-night fireworks, is a mere five minutes’ walk away.
Apartment living in the center is common, with new developments and renovated warehouses among the available options. High-rises offer views over the stunning city center, and connections to other parts of Sydney are easy, with ferries and trains departing from Circular Quay; the other major rail hub, Central Station, is also nearby. The airport is only 25 minutes away.
There are very few schools in or near the CBD, but the choice gets wider in the suburbs bordering the innermost suburbs, so commuting is an option. A modern three-bed, two-bath apartment with building amenities in Sydney’s CBD generally sell for a minimum of one million dollars. Renting is a little cheaper at around $2,000 per week.
One-bedroom apartments in Pyrmont generally sell for a minimum of $500,000, and $700,000 for a two-bedroom apartment. Rental for a one-bedroom apartment averages $500 per week, increasing to around $700 per week for a two-bedroom.
The eastern suburbs encompass some of the best real estate in Australia. Stretching from the CBD high-rises all the way to the villas overlooking the surfers’ paradise of Bondi Beach, there are plenty of chic, eclectic, and very luxurious suburbs along the way. Along the harbor coast to the Pacific Ocean are suburbs such as Point Piper, Double Bay, and Vaucluse, which have apartments and mansions overlooking the harbor. You may find a long-term rental property here, but buying is extremely pricey.
More realistic are the lovely suburbs such as Paddington, with its excellent schools, delicate Victorian town houses, glimpses from the hill across parks to the water, and lovely shops and cafés nestling alongside residential buildings. Young families settle here, you’ll get to know the woman behind the counter of the little fruit and veg shop, and you can stop for a chat and a coffee when you walk the dog.
Following the main thoroughfare of Oxford Street leads to the desirable Pacific coast suburbs of Bondi Beach and Bronte, which allow you to mix residential living with easy access to lovely beaches, fish-and-chip shops, and all the necessary amenities. Living here, away from the main beach parade, is quiet, but around the corner is one of the world’s most famous beaches, full of surfers, bathers, and the lifestyle many envisage when they think of Australia, and it’s still only 10 minutes into town.
In the southeast, the suburbs of Randwick and Kensington still allow for quick access to the CBD and the beaches, but both have slightly more affordable accommodations. Kensington is home to the University of New South Wales and the Institute of Dramatic Art, and it’s popular with students, families with students, and professors. Life is more relaxed, a little more affordable, and alternative. The boutiques are more quirky than classy, the cafés more likely to offer vegetarian options than à la carte fine dining.
A two-bedroom, two-bath house in Paddington will average $1 to 1.5 million, and a rental will cost $800 to $1,000 per week. In Bondi Junction a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with sea views will cost around $800 per week to rent, and at least $950,000 to buy. In Kensington a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment will cost around $450 per week to rent and $575,000 to buy.
Lower North Shore
The hillier shore of North Sydney offers some spectacular views over the bridge, opera house, and CBD, and with the hills being a little steeper than on the south shore, there are plenty of apartment buildings with stunning views. While North Sydney may look like a version of the CBD with its high-rises, it is a lot quieter. The North Sydney CBD is a business district with shopping, but it closes down in the evenings and on the weekend, summing up north shore living: It is a lot more subdued and quiet than the central area, making it popular with professional families.
The suburbs of Kirribilli, meaning “good fishing spot” in an indigenous language and home to the prime minister’s official Sydney residence, along with Mosman and Balmoral, are along the coast and have little beaches in bays. Kirribilli and Mosman having excellent commuter ferry service to Circular Quay on the south side. If your budget allows, opt for Mosman. It has a wonderful village feel to it, all the amenities you need, some chic boutiques and cafés, the views are great, and you hardly ever need to go into Sydney unless it’s for work. The suburb combines stylish family living with beaches, great schools, views, and facilities—with a price tag—and it is very popular with expatriates.
A two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in North Sydney will cost an average of $500,000 to buy, $600 per week to rent. In Mosman, a three-bedroom, two-bath house will set you back $850 per week to rent, or $1 million to buy.
Upper North Shore
Farther inland, away from the harbor, the surroundings are greener, the plots larger, the houses newer, and the prices cheaper. The suburbs stretching north alongside the Lane Cove Tunnel and M2 Motorway are all popular with expats for exactly those reasons. If you are not that keen on urban living, or simply want more bang for your buck, try suburb West Pennant Hills, which has a lovely family feel akin to a gated community, with all the needed facilities and neighbors who know each other. Proximity to the countryside allows for sports such as horseback riding, and there are plenty of horse clubs around. Commuting into the CBD takes about an hour, depending on how far out you are, via a straight rail connection or bus. The residential areas are quiet and family oriented and have access to good public and private schools, extensive leisure facilities, and new housing in safe neighborhoods. You might not feel like you are living in a major city, but that is not necessarily a bad thing; life can be very good and a lot more affordable up north.
A spacious three-bedroom, two-bath house with extensive gardens in West Pennant Hills will cost an average of $695,000 to buy, or $550 per week to rent.
Manly and the Northern Beaches
The northern beaches are the incarnation of leisurely living, surfing, and barbecues in the garden. Sydney’s fashionable restaurants, expensive boutiques, and hectic lifestyle seem far away, although the CBD is only 20 minutes by fast ferry from Manly. The harbor views are replaced here by the Pacific Ocean stretches along the rugged coastline famed for its ideal surfing conditions. The area is perfect for downtime; weekends can be spent utterly relaxing and enjoying one of the best coastlines in the country. The daily commute to Sydney may be time-consuming if you are not directly in Manly and have to drive to the ferry terminal, but the quality downtime that is possible in the neighborhood make it worthwhile for many expats.
Properties tend to be large and secluded, with an emphasis on outdoor entertainment. There are some good schools, public and private, but many have a predetermined catchment area, so be diligent in checking that before you decide on a property.
A three-bedroom, two-bath house in Manly will cost around $1,300 per week to rent and $3 million to buy.
The Inner Western Suburbs
The suburbs adjoining the CBD to the immediate west are popular with expats and families. Traditional housing, Victorian row houses, and a mix of architecture from classic to art deco make up the mostly residential areas of Annandale and Balmain. These city suburbs are quiet and leafy with plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores. Historic buildings are common, the bridge can be viewed from the other side, and life is a mix of hard work and lots of play, although play is more urban-oriented than beachy or sporty. There are plenty of public and private schools, plus the University of Sydney and the School of the Arts nearby. Streets in these suburbs vary from arty to trendy, alternative to middle-class, but each suburb is generally set up as a village within the city, with most amenities close by, and commuting into CBD is easy via public transportation. It takes around 20 minutes to get to Sydney’s CBD by ferry or bus.
A two-bedroom, one-bath house in Balmain will cost an average $900,000 to buy and $600 per week to rent, with similar prices in Annandale.
The Greater Western Suburbs
The greater western suburbs are a more recent addition to Sydney’s sprawl. They have expanded past the Olympic Park and several large industrial complexes, such as large oil refineries, along the Parramatta River, with its idyllic mangroves lining the water. In the past those living in the west were called “Westies,” an epithet that implied lower class, uneducated, and unsophisticated stereotypes, but more recently new luxury developments are drawing increasingly sophisticated Sydneysiders who want to live a little farther out of the city and save some cash. It pays to have a look at the area first, as there are still some pockets where family living might not be as safe as in others. Parramatta still has a lower socioeconomic demographic than suburbs closer to Sydney, and a closer inspection is worthwhile. Parramatta is now well within the greater western suburbs and has great infrastructure since the 2000 Olympics, making the daily commute easy. From Sydney’s CBD, Parramatta is around 55 minutes by train and about one hour by ferry. By car, it takes around 30 minutes if the traffic is good.
A two-bed, two-bath house in Parramatta will cost around $500 per week to rent and $450,000-500,000 to buy.
South Sydney, with its St. George and Sutherland governments comprising nearly 100 suburbs, is marked by the presence of the large and busy airport, various inner city light-industry zones, but also proximity to Botany Bay, which allows coastal living and views. The general South Sydney area is close to the airport and a little run down. Despite these factors there are plenty of lovely quiet and safe roads that would appeal to either young professionals and even families who do not have the budget to move into the more wealthy eastern suburbs, yet like the proximity to the city center. The commute into the CBD from here is around 30 minutes by train or bus.
Traditionally the enclave of Italian and Greek immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s, these suburbs have recently seen a lot of redevelopment by people taking advantage of the easy commuting distance to the CBD. Good properties are available within secluded residential corners. A good look around is certainly worthwhile, as there is a real mix of quiet and secure housing and more eclectic living to be found in this area.
A two-bed, two-bath house in Beverly Hills will cost around $500,000 to buy and $500 per week to rent.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Australia.