“Get thee to a nunnery” is a famous quote in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” and we were only too happy to oblige. Our family of two adults and one teen was looking forward to exploring Surry Hills and checking into Crystalbook Albion, a boutique Sydney hotel which started life as a nunnery in 1903. Crystalbrook Albion is part of the Crystalbrook Collection and offers a stay that makes you feel more like a local than a tourist. The heritage-listed hotel was originally acquired by the Sisters of the Good Samaratin and turned into a convent. After later being purchased by the Salvation Army it was transformed into a stylish 35 room hotel in 2018.
Arriving at the Crystalbrook Albion hotel turned out to be a bit tricky as the lobby and main entrance is tucked away in a laneway called Little Albion Street, with the impressive hotel heritage facade on Albion Street. Once you have checked in you can use both entrances thanks to a security key fob. I buzzed the entry button on Little Albion Street and an automatic door slowly opened into a courtyard with stairs leading up to reception and a stylish 70s inspired sunken lounge area. A cheerful staff member had us checked in quicker than the wait for the slow opening gate.
She gave us a rundown on the facilities and some of the unique features of the hotel. Everyone receives a complimentary continental breakfast and there is an honour bar available 24/7 with beverages and snacks which are a cut above the usual offerings (and a lot more affordable too). There was also a jar of Lindor Balls and French lolly pops beside the espresso coffee machine, all of which were also complimentary. She also gave us the heads up about the ‘secret’ rooftop garden which we discovered was perfect for breakfast or BYO evening drinks either from the honour bar or purchased outside the hotel. Chocolates, lolly pops, 24/7 coffee and a mini bar we could actually afford? We were already loving Crystalbrook Albion.
From the glass sided elevator which took us up to our room we could see the original church which has since become an architects’ office. An original sign above a blocked off church door suggested silence opened the doorway to God. It was so faded we could hardly make out the words but it was a lovely reminder of the building’s past life as were the paintings of local identities decorating the halls of the hotel.
Our spacious third floor suite had cool design features and elegant retro inspired furnishings which were also contemporary enough to suit the hotel’s modern look. Our room had been cleverly designed to accommodate guests with a disability as well as travellers like us who needed extra space for a rollaway bed. There was a comfy king size bed, two seats with a coffee table to enjoy the view, kitchenette with mini fridge, and the all-important coffee pod machine. Bathing pleasure was taken care of with a roomy rain shower and high-end products from Molton Brown.
Our suite had a stunning view of the neighbouring church’s stained glass window which was backlit at night and so beautiful we were tempted to leave the curtains open. Our room also overlooked historic terrace houses and the city could be admired from the window and also the rooftop garden area which had a view of the Centrepoint Tower.
Another feature of the hotel we enjoyed were the dining options which come courtesy of Uber Eats as Crystalbrook Albion doesn’t have an in-house restaurant. Dishes can be ordered from an in-house menu, plated by the staff and delivered with accompanying plates and cutlery and, if you wish, a beverage from the well-stocked honour bar. We loved this as Crystalbrook Albion is surrounded by some of Sydney’s best dining options. It was perfect to order in after returning to the hotel after a hectic day of sightseeing. This dining option was also way more affordable than ordering room service at a typical hotel.
After a blissful and surprisingly tranquil sleep given we were in the heart of Sydney, we ventured to the breakfast room to enjoy orange juice, a selection of muesli, cheeses for a European option, toast and jams, yogurt and pastries which changed daily. A staff member was on hand to make coffee from the impressive industrial looking Nespresso machine each morning so we could relax with an almond croissant and other goodies. Not long afterward we arrived a fellow guest turned up in designer PJs and we had a nice chat over breakfast. She was a local enjoying a staycation with some girlfriends and gave us loads of local tips.
One thing that stood out during our stay was lovely convivial atmosphere at Little Albion and the number of single male and female travellers enjoying the hotel. Security is taken seriously and guests are reminded to keep the doors and gates closed on exiting the building, making travellers feel extremely safe here. Through cheery hellos and a few chats, it became apparent that Crystalbrook Albion was a haven for all types of travellers, from couples away for some romance to a group of older ladies enjoying a reunion with wine and shopping.
We ran into them again at the rooftop garden where they were enjoying Champagne while taking in the city lights and beautiful full moon. Overall Crystalbrook Albion was a big surprise as we were expecting a modest guesthouse rather than luxury boutique accommodation. With its innovative design, funky furnishings, quirky art, home-away-from-home vibe and location in trendy Surry Hills, Crystalbrook Albion was the epitome of cool.
Disclosure: The writers stayed as guests of Crystalbrook Albion and would not hesitate to return to this hotel at their own expense.