A multi-cultural and cosmopolitan city, Sydney has a wide variety of restaurants and cuisines showcasing diverse influences from around the world, but particularly from Asia. Along with modern Australian ('Mod Oz') cuisine, which combines fresh ingredients with a creative blend of European and Asian styles, restaurants serve almost any type of fare imaginable, from Tibetan to African, from Russian to American. Some areas or streets are dedicated to one type of food, while other areas in the city offer a variety of styles. The range also varies from award-winning, fine dining restaurants - situated mainly around the harbour or attached to five-star hotels - to international fast food takeaways such as McDonalds or Pizza Hut. Fresh seafood is in abundance, and steak is a staple that can be found in a selection of steakhouse chain restaurants scattered around the city.
The main dining areas in the centre of Sydney are The Rocks, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and Chinatown. Prices vary according to location, with harbour facing establishments generally charging more for their views. Some restaurants are BYO, which means they are unlicensed, but diners can bring their own wine (sometimes a small corkage fee will be charged). All restaurants are non-smoking.
Shopaholics will not be disappointed with Sydney, a cosmopolitan city that offers international as well as local name brands, world-class shopping centres, streets that reveal a host of fascinating speciality shops, and discounted market stalls that offer anything from clothes to arts and crafts and edibles.
Most of the large department stores are within the city centre and within a few blocks of each other. For exclusive shopping, the QVB, or Queen Victoria Building, is an architectural masterpiece housing a large variety of designer label and speciality shops, while in similar vein the nearby Strand Arcade houses some of Australia's top designer labels, as well as boutiques, jewellery shops and beauty salons. Downtown Duty Free in the basement is a great place to pick up some bargains. Other centres include the magnificent Grace Bros department store, boasting vast quantities of goods; Sydney's oldest department store, David Jones; the Harbourside development at Darling Harbour; MLC Centre; Picadilly; and Centrepoint. Explore the streets of The Rocks, which hide myriad speciality shops, while Skygarden centre is home to the biggest bookstore in town, Borders, which also stocks a wide selection of magazines, CDs and DVDs.
Sydney's biggest market is Paddy's, open from Thursday to Sunday, which offers discounted mainstream items, while the Glebe (Saturday) and Bondi (Sunday) markets are traditional alternative markets with a good selection of clothing, arts and crafts, and second-hand goods. The Rocks has weekend stalls trading mainly in good quality crafts, collectibles, and art. For something totally different the daily Sydney Fish Market is a fishy spectacle as well as a great place to feast on fresh seafood. A wider variety of food can be bought at Coles or Woolworths supermarkets.
Sydney's nightlife is all go, with everything from pubs and jazz bars to rock venues and nightclubs. For live music listings and free weekly entertainment guides look out for publications like Time Out, Metro and Drum Media.
The best party areas include Darling Harbour, Oxford Street and The Rocks. Oxford Street is the epicentre of the LGBT nightlife scene in the city, though there are many straight bars and clubs as well. Kings Cross is the reputed Red Light District of Sydney, an area which has seen some improvement over the last few years, attracting an increasingly diverse and arty array of visitors, but it remains a gritty nightlife centre, as one would expect for an area once dominated by sailors and brothels. The Rocks and Kings Street Wharf offer more upmarket entertainment options. Sydney is also renowned for its performing arts, the most notable venue being the iconic Sydney opera House.
The legal drinking age in Australia is 18. There are some lock-out and last drinks laws in effect in the Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct, with no drinks served after 3am at hotels and registered nightclubs, but some smaller venues are exempt from these rules.