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Drinks in the sunshine on Crown Street.
Drinks in the sunshine on Crown Street.

Urban Studies: the best of city travel

Sydney's hip Hills Add to ...

Surry Hills is Sydney's caffeine and carbs capital. On busy Crown Street, artists and designers barely avoid crashing their bikes into sidewalk café tables - where edgy young singles (and their well-groomed little dogs) forgo Twitter and e-mail for a good, old-fashioned gossip in the sun.

This area just off the city's Oxford Street club zone was once a working-class district, where immigrant families from Ireland and postwar Europe packed into small dwellings and toiled in the rag trade. Today, former warehouses have been converted into art and crafts galleries, designer's showrooms and hip apartments, while many Victorian row houses are now fashion boutiques or day spas. The many pubs, which range in style from Victorian to Federation to art deco, are still pubs - although many of them surprise with sophisticated menus and modern interiors. You can easily lose a day wandering this leafy maze of lanes, tiny parks and specialty shops.

GLAM GOODIES The humble cupcake goes glam at Sparkle Cupcakery, a shop that is more contemporary art gallery than café. Forget vanilla and chocolate; here, it's all lavender and honey or pistachio and cardamom, and while there's still your typical chai and coffees, the drinks menu includes Moët & Chandon. 132 Foveaux St.; 61 (2) 9361 0690; www.sparklecupcakery.com.au

THE ARTIST'S LAIR The home and studio of Brett Whiteley, one of Australia's most celebrated artists, sits just as he left it, with unfinished paintings, memorabilia, sketchbooks and reference books littered about, and a wall covered with images and quotes that inspired the great expressionist painter and sculptor. An intimate glimpse into a brilliant but troubled mind. 2 Raper St.; 61 (2) 9225 1881; www.brettwhiteley.org

HAND-ME-DOWN TREASURES The store Grandma Takes a Trip is a favourite among stylists, hipsters and celebrities, and no wonder: Wherever Granny's gone, she and Gramps left behind a crazy wardrobe of freaky retro threads from the 1950s to the 1980s. It sits among a cluster of similar vintage clothing outlets. 263 Crown St., Darlinghurst; 61 (2) 9356 3322; www.grandmatakesatrip.com.au

EDIT YOUR HOME At Edit, former Vogue Living editor Sharyn Storrier Lyneham serves up oddball retro housewares, and gives new life to vintage pieces with original fabric designs. She describes her collections - such as armchairs hand-painted with the Union Jack - as "decorations without explanation." 137 Albion St.; 61 (2) 9358 5806; www.edit-group.com.au

FINE CHINA Squeezed between swish restaurants you'll find Billy Kwong, a tiny traditional Chinese eating house created by local celebrity chef Kylie Kwong. Apart from a huge handmade drum-shaped lantern on the ceiling, the wall cupboards bursting with spices and sauces make you feel like you're eating in a kitchen with all the chef's secrets laid out. You can see the best of the season's organic plums, mandarins and oranges lying in wait to accompany the signature dish, crispy-skin duck. The no-bookings policy makes for nightclub-like queues, so best get there before the doors open at 6 p.m. 355 Crown St.; 61 (2) 9332 3300; www.kyliekwong.org/BillyKwongs.aspx

SHOP LIKE A STAR You could call the clothes at Wheels & Doll Baby rock chic, posh punk or Parisian scruff. (The boutique refer to their world-famous lines, which feature tattoo and pirate motifs, as "Clothes to Snare a Millionaire.") Always sexy, always surprising and a must for celebrity shoppers such as Dita Von Teese, Daryl Hannah and Nicollette Sheridan. 259 Crown St.; 61 (2) 9361 3286; www.wheelsanddollbaby.com

ART OBJECTS In its incredible exhibition space - a former chapel - Object Gallery champions the next generation of local designers and artists, presenting a changing selection of fashion, textiles, glass and furniture. 417 Bourke St.; 61 (2) 9361 4511; www.object.com.au

ORGANIC SNACKS Bourke Street Bakery constantly has customers lining up out the door and around the corner for its impressive artisanal breads, to-die-for sweets (such as the ginger crème brûlée) and exotic savoury pastries (try the pork and fennel sausage rolls). With its rustic sign, window-box seats, sidewalk tables and communal atmosphere, the bakery café feels almost as organic as the Kialla flour and Belle Caffe beans it uses. 633 Bourke St.; 61 (2) 9699 1011

A CROWN JEWEL Like a genie's bottle, the Crown Hotel appears old and worn on the outside; inside are sumptuous delights. The baroque-styled Dome Bar has a stunning mural, chandeliers and not a single big-screen TV to wreck it all. For a more relaxed mood, the Players Bar has a gaming area and a restaurant that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the area with a mix of Thai, Italian, Chinese and Australian food. Or you can slip away to the slick boutique accommodation upstairs. 589 Crown St.; 61 (2) 9699 3460; www.crownhotel.com.au

… AND TO MARKET Regardless of weather, the outdoor Surry Hills Markets powers on with a mixture that can see you scoop up a 1907 book on weightlifting at one stall and organic hemp clothes from an undiscovered young designer at the next. The market is best known for recycled, second-hand or handmade goods, but the characters on show make it entertaining just to watch. Crown and Collins streets; first Saturday of the month, next market Nov. 7.

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