Ultimo is a great spot for immersing yourself in Sydney's culture

Night comes alive: The view of Sydney from Darling Harbour.

Night comes alive: The view of Sydney from Darling Harbour.

Quiet and Sydney.

The two don’t feel always go together. But when they do, it’s bliss. 

We all love the glitz, the lights, and the magic found in the Big Smoke. But some times, it’s even better when you’ve got down time that is genuinely away from the action, which can, at times, seem escapable, just by the sheer size of the city’s population.

Finding peace at a hotel in a leafy backstreet of Ultimo, a five-minute walk from Darling Harbour, is an excellent change of pace. The Aspire Metro Hotel on Bulwarra Road, Ultimo, was just the right fit. Our room on the fourth floor facing away from the city to the west was quiet.

The balcony of our room was big enough for stargazing (and aircraft observation), which is exactly what we did late one night. A little romantic, yes, and a little practical. We had walked our feet off all day in Surry Hills and Darling Harbour and now, we were happy to enjoy the company of none other than each other.

It felt like for every hour we spent walking and immersing ourselves in city life, we spent an equal amount of time strolling the back streets of Ultimo, discovering a neighbourhood on the fringe of the city which was quite happy to go about life at its own speed.

On our first afternoon we stumbled upon the Lord Wolseley Hotel, only a couple of blocks from the hotel. It was a pleasant autumn day, and most of the crowd was outside the pub, enjoying benches and seats on Quarry Green, the adjacent park, chatting and drinking, many with dogs in tow. A Grifter Pale Ale and bar-made Lemon Lime & Bitters in hand, we could have settled in for hours and let the rush hour pass by.

As tempted as we were by the “Powerhouse hotdogs” advertised for Hannah’s Pies, we stayed on course for dinner in Darling Harbour, choosing Blue Fish, one of the many busy restaurants in the main food hub. Of course we were hunting for seafood – the calamari was excellent, but the fish cakes and sizzling garlic prawns were disappointing – but the salads were a surprise, particularly the coleslaw, cos and pomegranate, which was a taste sensation.

We lingered in Darling Harbour, enjoying the spectacular city lights (and this wasn’t even during the Vivid Festival) before wandering safely back to the Aspire.

The neighbourhood drew us back in for morning coffee at U Bean Grounded Cafe, again, only a block from our hotel. The Pablo & Rusty’s coffee blend was superb, as we again hung on a nearby patch of park.

The day was spent afoot, walking the The Goods Line – right past the amazing Dr Chau Chak Wing Building designed by Frank Gehry, then under Central Railway Station to Surry Hills, where we explored the street scene, and an entertaining visit to the Brett Whiteley studio and Title bookshop, enjoying an insight into inner city culture.

To be frank, it is so seldom we have un-ordered time in our lives, it was fun just to do whatever we wanted. Stop to pet a cat in a laneway. Share a chuckle with a shop owner. Contemplate the offerings in the window at a Chinese herbal clinic. Watch people feed pigeons in Railway Square. The Sydney that’s always there, but you never slow down to notice.

IF YOU GO

Metro Aspire Hotel, 383 Bulwarra Road, Ultimo. metrohotels.com.au. Reservations 1800 00 4321.

The writer was a guest of the Aspire.

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