Showcase Destinations Sydney, Australia: The Harbour City

It’s difficult to ignore the gleaming waters of Sydney Harbour. More formally known as Port Jackson, it is the world’s largest natural harbor. The 4.

3 million residents of Sydney gather around its shores like worshipful children, spending leisure time at more than 70 beaches, boating and yachting. Many make their way to work in the city by ferries that link its farthest inland tributaries.It was at Sydney Cove that the convict-laden flotilla of ships later known as the First Fleet established Australia’s first settlement in 1788. Named after a British politician and aristocrat, British Home Secretary Thomas Townshend (Lord Sydney), the site is now the northern border of the city’s central business district (CBD), offset by the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.In 2005, the U.S.

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readers of Travel + Leisure magazine voted Sydney the world’s No. 1 city for the 10th straight year. It’s a mark of the regard international travelers have for the “Harbour City” that such surveys continue to place Sydney at or near the top of wish lists. Research conducted by the Sydney CVB consistently finds that more international conference delegates bring spouses or families to Sydney than to any other Australian city.SYDNEY CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTREInternational congresses generally choose the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC), the city’s largest meeting facility. With 30 meeting rooms—including Sydney’s largest ballroom, hosting up to 1,000 guests—and 3.

2 million square feet of exhibition space, the center occupies a prime position at Darling Harbour, a former railway yard and shipping center repatriated into a tourist, dining and entertainment precinct in 1988 amid Australia’s bicentennial celebrations.Size is not a problem at the SCEC. A cocktail party held for the 18th World Congress of Neurology saw 3,000 partygoers enjoying an evening of fine food, wine and networking in two of the center’s exhibition halls.The largest event held so far at the SCEC was for a group of business sessions for a 13,250-delegate Amway incentive from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong (held in four stages over a three-week period). Aside from the conference component, the SCEC organized four gala dinners, each for 3,500 delegates. The logistics required for these events included the creation of six satellite kitchens and more than 450 staff for each dinner.

Darling Harbour is at the western edge of the CBD and includes a wide range of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. With easy delegate access by road, light rail and monorail, it is utilized as much by locals as tourists and convention delegates. Sydney’s mild climate makes outdoor dining possibilities a pleasure most of the year.NEW HOTELS MAKE A SPLASHThe biggest hotel news in Sydney has been the reopening of the Hilton Sydney following a AUD$200 million redevelopment. Originally opened in the 1970s, the building was stripped back to a concrete skeleton amid a two-and-a-half-year project that extended from rooftop to basement.

The Hilton Sydney has the largest hotel meeting space in the city, encompassing some 43,000 square feet in 23 rooms across four levels.The Sheraton On The Park, fronting the verdant Hyde Park on the edge of the CBD, recently added Meetings On 5, comprising seven boardrooms and an outdoor area.It features remote-operated audiovisual equipment and wireless technology, ergonomically designed furniture and a dedicated Executive Meeting Concierge appointed to each event.Hotels close to the harbor are especially popular with international delegates, and Sydney has an impressive array of such properties. The Park Hyatt Sydney undoubtedly has the prime position, situated on the very edge of the harbor at Campbell’s Cove on the western side of Circular Quay, with views of the Sydney Opera House making it seem almost close enough to touch. This boutique property of 158 guest rooms has become a favored home-away-from-home for celebrities.

At the western edge of Circular Quay is the 531-room Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. The high-rise tower has outstanding views of the harbor and city from most guest rooms and stays fresh with an annual soft refurbishment. Plans are under way for an expansion of its conference facilities.Occupying a high position on a natural ridge overlooking Circular Quay and the historic Rocks district that dates back to the earliest days of First Fleet settlement is the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.

Fresh from a AUD$37 million refurbishment last year, it has 563 guest rooms and extensive conference facilities.Thirty-six floors above street level, with 16-foot-tall, floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views across the harbor, are the Blu Horizon Bar and Altitude Res-taurant, which are popular for events. Blu Horizon has won several awards since a recent remodeling and is considered one of the most fashionable bars in the city.The 509-room InterContinental Sydney incorporates one of Sydney’s grandest public spaces—the 1851 Treasury Building. Most of its 14 meeting rooms utilize the historic building, including the Premier’s Room, where leading colonial government officials once transacted state business.The InterContinental’s newest space, the split-level Harbour Room, is located on Level 31.

Contemporary in appearance with leather furnishings and matching flokati rugs, the room has expansive views across the harbor and the city.Further into the CBD, another slice of Sydney hotel history has reopened after an AUD$60 million makeover. The 436-room Sofitel Wentworth Sydney, the local flagship of the French hotel chain, was unveiled in September 2004.UNIQUELY SYDNEYThere are several unique venues for meetings and special events in Sydney.At the Australian National Maritime Museum, cocktails for up to 200 people can be held aboard the Vampire, a decommissioned naval destroyer.The iconic Sydney Opera House, widely recognized for the ambitious design of Danish architect Jørn Utzon, is another popular venue for delegates.

TheOpera House’s Starry Nights package comprises a guided tour of the facility, dinner at either the award-winning Guillaume at Bennelong or Aria restaurants, an exclusive Sydney Opera House gift and priority access to best-available performance tickets. The Toy Symphony is another great product for conference groups. Groups of any size join musicians from the Sydney Symphony and take up a variety of toy musical instruments, including miniature trumpets, saxophones and drums. After some expert guidance, the group plays with the symphony as back-up.Luna Park, a vintage 1930s amusement park, has long been a cherished part of the Sydney scene.

Following an extensive refurbishment, it reopened to the public in 2004. With fairground rides and the nostalgic Coney Island, Luna Park is perfect for special events and functions. The Yarraman Crystal Palace, perched on the edge of the harbor and overlooked by the sweeping grandeur of Harbour Bridge, includes the Crystal Ballroom with seating for up to 600 for events.There are very few iconic structures in the world—places that define a destination by their very presence—that visitors can clamber over like monkeys. Since opening in 1998, BridgeClimb, a tour that reaches its apex at the very top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, has welcomed more than 1.6 million people.

It’s an experience that presupposes a certain level of fitness and is not one for those unsettled by heights. Although climbing parties are limited to 12 at a time, tours leave every 10 minutes. Large groups are no problem, with operating hours extending from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Daredevils wanting to reach even further into the sky can take the Skywalk at Sydney Tower, reaching the city’s tallest point—853 feet above street level. From this lofty vantage point, views extend to the sea, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains. Groups are limited to 15 at a time, with tours scheduled every 40 minutes.RESTAURANTSEating out is something of an infat-uation in Sydney. The vast number of restaurants, cafes, brasseries and bars reflects the social mixing pot of immi-grant cultures that has bloomed in recent decades. Darling Harbour, Chinatown and the vibrant and eclectic inner city suburbs of Darlinghurst and East Sydney are all close to CBD hotels.

Sydney is a city that makes celebrities of its high-profile chefs, and the ever-evolving restaurant scene always provides something for every taste. Yet tradition also counts for much.Diners who want to explore Sydney’s culinary history are well advised to try such Sydney institutions as Beppi’s at East Sydney and Doyle’s at Watsons Bay. Beppi’s Italian cuisine has been prepared under the expert guidance of the Polese family since 1956. Doyle’s is a name synonymous with fine seafood since opening a cafe at Watsons Bay in 1885. With a number of outlets throughout Sydney, including Circular Quay, Doyle’s remains in the founding family.

The Watsons Bay establishment, with its spectacular view across the harbor to the glimmering towers of the CBD, is a special Sydney experience. Next door to Doyle’s is the Watsons Bay Hotel with an outdoor beer garden offering another slice of Sydney life.SYDNEY OLYMPIC PARKSydney Olympic Park, in the city’s western suburbs and well served by public transport links to the city, was purpose-built as the venue for much of the 2000 Olympic Summer Games. Although it has struggled to rise above the public perception of a “white elephant,” the precinct is the center of large-scale events, with the Sydney SuperDome and Telstra Stadium hosting crowd-drawing concerts and major sporting matches. It also attracts large meetings, with venues such as the SuperDome offering theater-style seating for up to 21,000 delegates. Smaller groups are not disadvantaged—meetings, cocktail parties, gala dinners and other special events can take in such venues as the Sports Centre, the Sydney International Tennis Centre and the Aquatic and Athletic centers.The park is supported by two hotels, the Novotel Sydney Olympic Park and Hotel Ibis Sydney Olympic Park, and there are some 80 separate meeting and function spaces across eight major venues.