Eye-popping interiors and wide-angle views vie for attention at this establishment, which has finally opened after years of pandemic delays.
It was meant to be the star of Sydney's Darling Harbour regeneration program, which started with ICC in 2013 and is still under way with the redevelopment of the Harbourside Shopping Centre. It was going to be home to the dazzling new W hotel as well as one of Australia's largest cinema screens. And while bold architecture is often divisive, the design of this skyline-altering structure was universally applauded.
For a time, it seemed nothing could go wrong for the Ribbon building, taking shape in the Sydney CBD. But then COVID-19 struck. In April 2020, Grocon - the builder employed to finish the project - went into administration. In February 2021, a second builder, Probuild, collapsed. And for a year nothing happened. Tucked between two motorways, the ribbon-shaped skyscraper sat like a white elephant - its enormous facade a glaring reminder of the uncertainties of the pandemic to anyone walking or driving past. "We became the phantom hotel - people were wondering if we will ever open," says the hotel's UK-born GM, Craig Seaward. Thankfully, the Chinese owners of the building, the Wang family, had deep pockets. A third builder, Multiplex, was soon employed, with the building - complete with the world's biggest W hotel and the sparkling-new IMAX screen - finally opening in October 2023, three years after it was meant to.
W Sydney is right next to the Darling Quarter entertainment precinct (see guide below); 10 minutes' walk to the bars, cafes and restaurants of Darling Square; and 15 minutes to Sydney's Chinatown in one direction and to the chic Barangaroo neighbourhood in the other. Even the Pitt Street Mall is a short walk away, in case you're craving retail therapy. Admittedly, the Opera House is not as close, but that's your excuse to sign up for another magnificent Sydney experience: a harbour ferry.
If you think W is a lustrous little minx on the outside, wait until you step inside. Spiral staircases, oversized tungsten lights, pillars clad in aerosol art, and shiny stainless steel installations lit up with bright colourful lights vie for your attention the minute you arrive. Every corner is an Instagrammer's dream come true - even the tunnel-like escalator from the lobby to the restaurant floor is lined with thin strips of bright-blue lights. And that is before we get to the views - 180-degree vistas of Darling Harbour, whether you're at the lobby-level Living Room bar or at the 29th-floor rooftop pool.
I'm not a fan of triangular spaces but it takes me several hours to realise that my room (number 1733) is neither a square nor a rectangle. Perhaps it was the harbour views, all the way to Barangaroo, framed by floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Or maybe it was the eye-popping interiors - from bright-purple floral wallpaper in the walk-in robe to a gleaming light fixture suspended from the ceiling. Or perhaps it was the mini-bar which - thanks to its plethora of bottled cocktails, craft spirits, plant-based treats, no-sugar sweets, handmade pretzels and even an adults-only intimacy kit - feels less like a mini-bar and more like a room within a room. So by the time I realise my king-sized bed is sticking out at a rather strange angle, I don't really mind. I may have cared had my room been on the "wrong side of the building" - as one of the guests in the elevator referred to it - with city rather than water views. Bottomline: it's worth spending a bit extra for the right aspect.
I have Wagyu beef tongue and mafaldine with spicy mushroom ragu for dinner at BTWN restaurant, followed by eggs Florentine for breakfast the next day, and every morsel of food is extraordinary. But the star of the weekend is the harissa-rubbed spatchcock my partner orders. It's a tricky dish to get right, but in the hands of chef Chris Dodd, it is so supple, it fills me with equal measures of joy and envy. Views of the 9pm Darling Harbour fireworks and of speeding cars on the motorway from the floor-to-ceiling windows further add to the spectacle. I also have a drink at the 29-30 Bar, located on level 29, but I much prefer the lobby-level Living Room bar, which is much closer to the ground floor and therefore great for people-watching.
There's an indoor pool on the third level on the city side of the building, but where you really want to nab a daybed or - better still - a cabana is the 29th-floor rooftop pool. It can get a bit chilly when it's windy but the panoramic views of the harbour from this high a vantage point - not to mention the lip-smacking fried chicken burger - are totally worth facing the elements. Crisp white linen cabana curtains billowing in the breeze further dial up the drama.
The soft-pink manicure booths designed by Sydney artist Bradley Eastman at the second-level Away Spa are gorgeous enough to send influencers into a tizzy, but don't forget to book a treatment, too. My hydrating facial - customised to my skin type - was utterly indulgent and most memorable.
What: W Sydney, 31 Wheat Road, Sydney
How much: From $409 a night for a city-view room, from $489 for a harbour-view room
Explore more: marriott.com
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Hiding in plain sight, this Sydney CBD precinct is home to bustling restaurants, a state-of-the-art theatre and plenty of outdoor adventures for the whole family. Here's what to do.
1. Fuel up: There are 16 food and drink outlets in this compact district. Get your caffeine fix at Cafe Alma, grab a bubble tea at Chatime, feast on Korean oven-roasted chicken at Goobne and finish off with delish desserts at Kurtosh.
2. Soak up some sunshine: From 30-minute yoga classes specifically created for two-to-five-year-olds to table tennis under the sky, there are so many ways to keep the entire family entertained for hours in the communal parks, complete with fountains and kids' playgrounds.
3. Book a show: There's music and drama in equal measures in the live shows at ARA Darling Quarter Theatre. And because it's managed by Monkey Baa Theatre Company, everything's super family-friendly.
PS: Just don't forget to book a movie at the new IMAX with an eight-storey-high screen, located in the same building as W Sydney. The full-recliner seats in the two last rows would be our pick.
Explore more: darlingquarter.com
The writer was a guest of W Sydney.