Sydney doesn't really do villages the way London or New York do. We're too constricted by our landscape to be anything more than a cluster of suburbs frantically clawing for space between the mountains and the coast. Sure, we have plenty of great suburbs, but that's exactly what they are – suburbs.
A true urban village is a little self-sufficient oasis locked away from the rest of the world. It is small, probably only a block in size, and ends as suddenly as it begins. Small it may be, but it is bursting to the brim with everything you could possibly want. There are no straggling streets full of 7-11s, kebab shops or discount warehouses.
All the shops and services are local and independent and there is certainly nothing as vulgar as a (shudder) chain store. An urban village is hiding somewhere you wouldn't normally go; you turn off that main road, walk past a few houses and – wow!
There is this whole life going on you didn't even know about. So look beyond the Designated Acceptable Areas of Sydney as enforced by the cool police (yes, I'm looking at you Newtown) and the tourist board (and you, The Rocks) and seek out one of these urban villages today. You'll never want to go to a suburb again.
Where? Sorry? Don't you mean Milsons Point?"
Mention McMahons Point to your average Sydneysider and that is the response you are likely to get. I am regularly surprised at the people who have no idea this absolute gem of a village exists. Hugging Sydney Harbour, it is located in possibly the best place in Sydney, and the Harbour views from Blues Point Reserve are second to none. There is a thriving restaurant scene, two pubs, great independent shops, and walks and picnic spots galore including Blues Point and the enchanting Sawmiller Reserve.
Most importantly, the area has retained its historic charm – most of the streetscape is unaltered and dates back to the early 20th century (excepting the much reviled Blues Point Tower). To complete the village vibe there is even a stone church perched up on the hill. There is no busy road cutting through the middle, the skyline is decidedly low-rise and there are no suffocating crowds. In fact, none of what can make city life so atrocious. Go there. Now.
Forget the rather smug Balmain, Rozelle, long regarded as the poor cousin, is where it's at. Yes, it has the hulking big Victoria Road tearing through the middle of it, but turn into Darling Street and all of that is forgotten within minutes as the ugly traffic (mostly) gives way to the charm of the village.
Rozelle is probably most famous for the weekend markets held every week in the grounds of the primary school. They are amazing and a must for anyone visiting or living in Sydney, however there is more to Rozelle than a market. Fabulous independent shops and cafes line the street and the culinary scene is just as vibrant here as anywhere in the inner west.
Anyone with a sweet tooth is on a short track to food heaven with the droolsome Belle Fleur chocolate shop. Fresh, bespoke chocolate fills the display cases and there is usually a chocolate sculpture in the front window for the kids to oooh over. In a cruel/delightful twist, right next door is Victoire, a tiny French style patisserie with a truly stupendous selection of flans, rustic breads, pies, tarts and all manner of baked delights.
If you can still walk after sampling the culinary delights of the area, don't miss Ancestry Antiques, which in the best tradition of antiques stores is badly organised, cramped and a veritable maze to get through – in other words, it's fabulous.
I know, I know. 4WDs clogging up the roads as they attempt to parallel park. Yummy Mummys talking adorable Finn, Roisin and Yishma to Kiddy Pilates. Forget the stereotypes and say hello to reality - these people aren't in Mosman because it's average, they are here because it is absolutely, gob-smackingly beautiful.
Okay, you aren't going to come here to pick up a bargain but don't let that put you off. You can window shop to your heart's content and then take a well deserved break in one of the seemingly endless selection of cafes and restaurants. Whisk and Swerve serves fantastic breakfasts and Quattro Formaggi Deli, tucked away just off Military Road, has a sit down service as well as a tantalising selection of delicacies to take home with you.
Next door to Whisk is the amazing The Cheese Shop (can you guess what it sells?) and you will also find a great range of local, independent green grocers, butchers, bakers but sadly no candle stick makers. If shopping or food isn't your thing, follow one of the tantalising glimpses of the oceans you get at every cross road and explore some of the coastal walks. Sadly, Mosman loses points for having a chain store on its high street, and of all things it's an (eek!) IGA. So common.
Another great little place which is hidden by an ugly big road tearing through the middle of it, this time the Pacific Highway. Sidle past the Crows Nest Hotel and into Willoughby Road though and you are in another world. A tree-lined, alfresco dining world where you are more likely to trip over a deliciously arrayed table than the thundering semi-trailer that nearly ran you down as you tried to get here. Crows Nest has built up a reputation of being one of the best dining areas in Sydney and there are plenty of places to choose from.
The popular New Orleans Café is always busy and has a great outdoors area whilst The Stoned Crow is a nice little wine bar-cum-pub which serves good, casual dishes.
Food aside, there is a great independent book shop, The Constant Reader, a scattering of fashion shops and every third Saturday a good old fashioned market is held in Ernest Place. There is also a lovely Thomas Dux Grocer – beat that Mosman.
A bit of a cheat perhaps, but Elizabeth Bay and Rushcutters Bay both blur into each other to such a degree it's difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. A mere stone's throw from gritty Kings Cross Road, the quiet tranquillity of Elizabeth Bay comes as quite as a shock. And yes, that is money you can smell in the air. A lot of money. There isn't a really a huge amount here; the old-school deli screams backwater-but-gorgeous village, and there are some good cafes including tiny Monkey & Leo.
The main reason for coming here is the neighbouring Rushcutters Bay Park. The best approach is down the old, worn steps from Holdsworth Avenue. The park jumps out at you from behind a shroud of greenery and appears to stretch on forever. It really is a beautiful spot. Boats of all sizes and description bob on the water, a stream cuts through the middle of the park and most importantly there is that most holy of all village institutions - the cricket pitch. And I'm talking a proper, lush green oval of a cricket pitch, with a proper picket fence. After whiling away an hour or two here you are close enough to go shopping or bar hopping in Kings Cross and Darlinghurst, but the smart thing to do would be to grab a few beers, sit on the grass in the sun and watch the cricket. And you can't really get more village than that.
A village atmosphere is definitely a different experience from just hanging out in a suburb. One of my favorite " villages" in Sydney has to be Summer Hill. With it's own piazza adorned with a fountain Makes me feel like I'm somewhere in Europe. It's a great place for breakfast with many cute little cafes cooking up a storm. There is a great toy store and many other little stores.
Think about The Forest Area. Not exactly a village but a village area of maybe half a dozen suburbs surrounded by Middle Harbour and Garrigal Nat Park. Yes, we do have a Woolies and a Coles but no Westfields or discount warehouses. Our three shopping centres are small and you can park out the front without having to ascend seven levels of concrete monstrosity. Friends and neighbours wave as they stroll amongst the independednt shops, including one or two kebab shops. (What have you got against kebabs?) Walk through The Centre, the lovely little open air mall in Forestville, and you'll find cafes, restaurants, fruit & veg, butchers, chemists, gift shops and bakeries - as you say, everything you need without stress. Thank goodness the rest of the world hasn't noticed this area yet.
Croydon Village in Sydneys inner west , with its main shopping and cafe district 'The Strand' completely heritage listed with many dining choices and even a drum shop and a Scottish store .... Bang on!