Hennessy Rooftop Bar, Mayfair Hotel, SA © Mayfair Hotel
Australia's best bars and nightlife
Give sleep a miss – some of the most memorable experiences on offer across Australia are only available at night.
By Ute Junker
Australia might have a reputation for being laid back, but it’s certainly not sleepy. Whether you’re looking for a quaint spot to enjoy a nightcap or a venue to see the latest theatre production, there's no shortage of options when you're willing to sacrifice some shut-eye.
Discover a secret bar
Some of the best bars in Sydney and Melbourne are hidden in plain sight. Open an unmarked door in Melbourne’s Malthouse Lane to find Eau de Vie, where cocktails are chilled with liquid nitrogen or served under smoke-filled glass domes. Alternatively, walk into the Boston Sub sandwich shop on Chapel Street in Windsor, and pull open what appears to be a fridge door to find the secret entrance to Jungle Boy, one of Melbourne’s best tiki bars. In the middle of Sydney city, an unmarked entrance on Kent Street leads to Lobo Plantation, which stocks 150 types of artisan rum. Or head down a Darlinghurst alley to find Shady Pines Saloon, a popular laid back drinking den featuring stuffed buffalo heads and cowhide rugs.
Enjoy cinema under the stars
What better way to spend a balmy night than watching a movie in the great outdoors? From December to March, Moonlight Cinema pops up in parks around the country including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. At Sydney’s Westpac OpenAir Cinema, you get spectacular harbour views thrown in for free, while Melbourne’s skyscrapers provide an eye-catching backdrop for Rooftop Cinema. More outdoor films are on offer at Perth’s Rooftop Movies and Luna Palace, while Hobart hosts the State Rooftop Cinema. Up north, Darwin’s Deckchair Cinema runs from April to November.
Raise a glass in a wine bar
Ready to discover a new Aussie wine – perhaps a rich Barossa shiraz, an aromatic Tasmanian riesling or a Hunter Valley semillon? Visiting one of the many inviting wine bars across Australia is the perfect way to acquaint yourself with the nation’s top drops; as a bonus, most of them also serve excellent food. In Melbourne, head for the elegant Embla or Bar Liberty, known for its selection of orange and natural wines. In Sydney, Monopole and 10 William Street are go-to options, while Brisbane’s La Lune Wine Co is one of the city’s best. Adelaide’s Apoteca Bar steals the show with its extensive wine list.
Take in a show
No prizes for guessing that you can catch an opera performance at the Sydney Opera House. But did you know that the Opera House also hosts cabaret, ballet performances, gigs, festivals and comedy? The nearby Walsh Bay neighbourhood is home to the Aboriginal Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Sydney Theatre Company. Alternatively, catch cutting-edge acts at Carriageworks (nearest train station: Redfern). In Melbourne, the Arts Centre Melbourne is the place to see ballet, theatre or opera performances, while Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Princess Theatre host blockbuster musicals. Brisbane has the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Brisbane Powerhouse, while the Adelaide Festival Centre always has an exciting program, especially during the Adelaide Festival and the Fringe Festival.
Raise the roof
Our rooftop bars rise above the competition. In Melbourne, the stylish Rooftop at QT Hotel is a great spot for sunset drinks, while the Imperial Hotel has superb views of some of the city’s best buildings, including Parliament House. Sydney’s Smoke bar at Barangaroo is sleek and sexy, offering superb cocktails as well as a broad selection of wines, while down in The Rocks, the Glenmore Hotel has a more relaxed vibe and terrific harbour views. Adelaide’s Hennessy Rooftop Bar, atop the Mayfair Hotel, offers old-school elegance, while 2KW Bar and Restaurant has one of the city’s best selections of wine. In Brisbane, MAYA has a stylish, Mexican-inspired tropical vibe.
Be dazzled by lights
Summer in Sydney may be beautiful, but winter is dazzling thanks to the Vivid Sydney festival. For three weeks, the festival lights up the city with a collection of light sculptures, installations and super-sized projections. In Alice Springs each October, the Parrtjima Festival sets the desert glowing with lightworks. From Alice Springs, head to Uluru to admire the striking Field of Light. The colourful installation covers the same area as seven football fields, features 50,000 stems of light that are swept by waves of contrasting colours. In Canberra, the Enlighten Festival combines creativity, culture and brightly-lit city monuments.