The Ultimate Guide to Sydney Nightlife

From thumping dance clubs and historic pubs to world-renowned cocktail lounges, Sydney’s bar scene has never been better.

young people dancing in a club
The Abercrombie | Photo by Dexter Kim for Thrillist
The Abercrombie | Photo by Dexter Kim for Thrillist

Sydney is massive—like seriously massive. The capital city of New South Wales is home to some 5.3 million people spread over an impressive 1,120 square miles of scenic waterfront vistas, sparkling skyscrapers, broad green spaces, leafy residential neighborhoods, world-class museums, and—of course—a diverse array of venues perfect for all types of late-night partying.

For better or worse, living it up until the wee hours has long been an integral part of Aussie culture, from the rum-soaked days of the penal colonies and the hard-drinking Six O'clock Swill tradition rooted in the First World War through the fabulous exploits of the queer 1990s à la The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. And who could blame them? In a country where lethal flora and fauna seems to lurk around every bend, everyday life naturally requires a little Dutch courage.

bartender mixes a fancy cocktail at a bar
Maybe Sammy | Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

“There is a pub for every taste and vibe, and we especially seek out those that have local producers, be it beer, wine, or spirits,” says Gregg Peek, distribution manager at Dave’s Travel Group, a tour company that curates and leads regular pub crawls and other booze-fueled jaunts in and around Sydney. Throughout his years guiding curious drinkers around some of the city’s top bars, Peek has watched his city’s nightlife scene evolve firsthand.

“We used to be raging, and then we had a period where a lot was closed down,” he says, referencing a slow period brought on by economic dips and, eventually, the pandemic. “Covid kind of intervened and everyone realized we need a late night visitor economy, so there’s now a real push from all walks of life to create something newer and better. We're kind of a blank canvas with lots of new blood, ideas, and reimagining.”

And all that innovation is already paying off. Sydney has raised its own bar, so to speak, landing several spots on the coveted World’s 50 Best Bars list over the last few years thanks to the cocktail masterminds behind Maybe Sammy and Cantina OK!, among other achievements. Suffice it to say, there’s never been a better time to go big Down Under… and these are the best places to do it.

wall of a bar with kitschy art
The Bearded Tit | Photo by Dexter Kim for Thrillist

Stashed away on a residential section of Regent Street, this quirky LGBTQ+ community bar and arts space sticks out like a sore thumb in the absolute best way possible. Stroll inside and you’ll be met with a menage of tchotchkes, a fun-loving crowd, boundary-pushing art exhibits, and some damn good drinks. There’s never a dull moment here, where a laid-back afternoon of classic cocktails in the welcoming courtyard could easily slide into a debaucherous queer dance party. Come for yourself to see just how they live up to their motto, “A place for rebels and fluro beasts, where hard love and tender freaks rule.”

The Rocks
Wine and conversation more your scene? Head down to the Rocks for this recently reborn historic George Street gem and its curious, multi-structure layout that provides plenty of nooks and crannies perfect for stealing away with a cocktail and some quality company. Out front, the original Phillip's Foote bar, now strewn with period-appropriate art and vintage wine bottles, welcomes folks in off the street with the promise of warm food and good drink, while a network of gardens, dining rooms, and a separate, more intimate bar await through the back door—all of which tend to fill up quickly in the evenings. Make your way to the back and order a Negroni from one of the doting suited servers to kick off your night in true European Summer fashion.

exterior of traditional sydney pub
The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel | Photo by Dexter Kim for Thrillist

Millers Point
The oldest continuously licensed hotel in Sydney, this iconic pub has been keeping Millers Point in suds since 1841. What began as a three-story place to lay your head after one too many has evolved into a cozy hideaway where regulars clink house-brewed pints over choice bites that take pub grub to an entirely new level. As for the vibes, they’re fittingly old-school, the building’s original arched brick and exposed rafters surrounding a stately rectangular bar fitted with a long, shiny bronze rail for easy leaning. Speaking of leaning—You can still book a room upstairs (fully renovated, of course) in case you, too, find you’ve had one too many.

The Rocks
Arguably the most famous cocktail den in all of Australia, this award-winning lounge keeps locals and visitors alike on their toes with a picture-perfect bar program and the staff to pull it off. The interior is clean and posh, with a streamlined back bar, leather-lined banquette, and gilded two-tops, but don’t let the buttoned-up look fool you—This bar isn’t afraid to take risks. Consider its latest drinks menu, Mirage, which plays on the idea of illusion to deliver 14 experimental concoctions guaranteed to push your tastebuds to the limit. Second only to the exquisite cocktails they produce, Maybe Sammy’s other big draw is the nightly show put on by the barkeeps as they exhibit their skills with theatrical flair.

interior of small mezcal bar in sydney
Cantina OK! | Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

Central Business District
What happens when you stuff hundreds of bottles of top of the line agave spirits, a handful of super passionate booze experts, and a whole lot of margarita-crazed Aussies into an alley bar the size of a large SUV? This unlikely CBD charmer, that’s what. Since debuting in March of 2019, the little mezcal bar that could has really hit its stride, coming in at number 41 on this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars list and wooing everyone who manages to step through its modest door with delicious cocktails, an up-for-anything atmosphere, and a bar staff who really know their spirits. Come early, come often, and don’t be afraid to ask for something special to sip on.

Three different lovingly refurbished venues join forces to make this 24-hour Chippendale institution once again one of the beating hearts of Sydney’s nightlife scene. Start out in heritage-listed Abercrombie, the former underground indie venue turned club, bar, and beer garden, on the ground floor for happy hour middies, infectious dance parties, and pizza by the slice. Then head upstairs to Casa Rosa, a late-night cocktail den with rooftop views and a swanky Italian air. And don’t leave without paying a visit to adjacent Parisian-style wine bar Lil Sis for a nightcap and a cheeky bottle to go.

This ruby-lit jazz club in the Inner West suburbs is about as relaxed as they come, an ideal date night destination for delicious and inventive bar snacks, spot-on cocktails and craft brews, retro ’70s-inspired decor, and a talented roster of jazz, funk, blues, and Afrobeat musicians. If there is a cover, it’s also pretty relaxed (i.e. $10 AUD or so), and the music manages to reach pleasantly audible decibels without venturing into overpowering, conversation-prohibitive territory. If Sydney’s top nightlife contenders were to race, Lazybones would assuredly be the dark horse.

drag queens in front of gay club
The Imperial Erskineville | The Imperial Erskineville

This bi-level palace to all things LGBTQ+ has been a community staple since 1983, even scoring some very memorable screen time in the Australian cult classic Priscilla, Queen of the Desert nearly 30 years ago. And while Guy Pearce might not be around as much these days, not much else has changed. Downstairs lurks the dance floor, with its grinding bodies, slick DJs, and disco ball overhang, while the more low-key and effortlessly handsome upstairs bar and dining area hosts regular drag performances, trivia, and bingo nights. The sleeper hit here is the Imperial Rooftop, a breezy escape where Sunday afternoon crowds vibe over spritzes and slices backed by the chillest live DJs.

Darling Harbour
With four rooms spread across two levels, Sydney’s only real superclub has music to suit many tastes, whether that’s thumping EDM and house beats, throwback hip hop tracks, bubblegum 2000s pop, soulful R&B singers, or even a homespun male revue show entitled Magic Men Sydney. Are the drinks anything special? No, but that’s not why you visit—You’re here to wile away the hours to your favorite tunes played over pristine sound systems while the illuminated harbor twinkles away in the distance.

people dancing at a bar
Goros | Goros

Surry Hills
Part after-hours arcade, part karaoke mecca, this neon-lit Surry Hills homage to the Japanese izakaya is 100% late-night fun. Load up on dumplings, char-grilled skewers, and sauce-laden okonomiyaki before trying your hand at Spider Man Pinball aided by a few crispy-cold whisky highballs. After you’ve had your flipper fill, keep the party going by toting your sake bombs into one of the colorfully painted (and free) karaoke booths for 80 minutes of nonstop “Don’t Stop Believing” action. What could go wrong?

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Meredith Heil is the Editorial Director of Thrillist Travel. Her beloved USWNT got knocked out of the Women's World Cup while she was on a flight to Sydney (she had fun anyway). Follow her @mereditto.