If there is one neighbourhood in Sydney that encapsulates everything about this modern beach-side metropolis, it is perhaps Manly. Even getting there is something special. Conventionally you depart from the urban grubbiness of Circular Quay, a place that is, in-theory, blessed with views of the spectacular twin landmarks of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge but neither are easily visible from the wharves crowded with throngs of tourists, and groups watching the buskers and street performers who create a cacophony of competing noise.
Once your ferry departs, those aforementioned landmarks, and indeed the harbour itself, suddenly open up their beauty to you, and the brisk salty breeze feels incredible after the baking heat of the city. The sun sparkles on the blue water as sail boats and the classic green and yellow ferries cruise through your view. Long after the Opera House shrinks to the size of a postage stamp in in the distance, the silver and glass skyscrapers of the CBD rise up shimmering in the sky, and look so neatly positioned next to the majestic dark bridge marking the horizon between blue sky and blue water.
If you can tear your eyes away from the view behind there are points of interest along the way, and glimpses of other destinations. The white stone of the Edwardian Bathers’ Pavilion at Balmoral makes it easy to spot Balmoral beach and reminisce about lazy days swimming in the refreshingly calm cool water and drinking flat whites on the beach in the shade of a palm tree.
Stepping onto land at Manly feels like arriving in a different world to Circular Quay. It is still Sydney, and there are still tourists, but the business and bustle has been replaced by a relaxed vibe as local and visitor mix happily in the pedestrianised Corso that takes you down the the Ocean Beach—should you choose to go there, because of course Manly also has two harbour beaches with gentle waves for those that like the other sort of beach experience. A little walk along the ocean promenade of bars and cafés takes you to the delightful family friendly cove of Shelly Beach which also has more gentle swimming and even some snorkelling potential that even Bondi and its beautiful neighbouring beaches cannot match.
Every suburb has its share of unique offerings, and a less good side, but I think when most people conjure the idea of Sydney, it is Manly that is closest to actually fulfilling it.