Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest park and a welcoming green space in the heart of Sydney’s city center. Divided into northern and southern sections by Park Street, Hyde Park contains several important monuments and statues, themed gardens, water features, the Archibald fountain and the ANZAC Memorial Building and visitor center.
Although gazetted as a public park (common) in 1810 by Governor Macquarie and named after Hyde Park in London, today’s park was not recognizable in its current form until 1927, when architect and landscape artist Norman Weekes won a competition to beautify the area. Prior to this, the park was used as a sports field, a racecourse and a venue for bareknuckle fights! The tiled central avenue that cuts through the park from Macquarie Street to the ANZAC Memorial is lined with Hill’s Figs and is a lovely place to seek shade on a hot day.
Often nicknamed “Paddo” by locals, Paddington is a suburb of Sydney that features a nice mix of culture, history and shopping opportunities. Known for its colonial architecture and beautiful balconied buildings, Paddo has long been a local favorite. And although the population of this district is quite meager, at just over 11,000 people, it packs a massive punch when it comes to activity.
In general, one could divide Paddington into four even more distinct districts. Five Ways is a bit of a village within a village and home to some of the best foodie spots in the Sydney area. Paddington Markets, as the name points at, is a massive flea market that takes place at the Uniting Church grounds. William Street is the art designer's district in which some of Sydney's top up-and-coming designers have their shops, and all of it is tied into Oxford Street, which runs the entire length of Paddington and is lined with shops, boutiques, cafes and eateries.
The foundations of Sydney were built on convict labor, and the Hyde Park Barracks are where criminals who were sentenced to live out the rest of their days in Australia were housed. Opened to hold male convicts working on the government projects and later to house orphan girls escaping the Irish famine, it was after that also used as a female immigration depot, an asylum for impoverished women and a courthouse. All through history, it was the place where people in Australia certainly did not want to end up. Now, as a museum, the barracks tell the stories of those unlucky enough to pass through its doors.
The building itself was also built with convict labor, after it was decided that housing the criminals in one place would improve productivity as well as their moral character. The structure looks nothing short of imposing with its massive shingled roof standing above a simple, durable façade of sandstock brick.
The steps of this iconic building in the heart of Sydney’s central business district serve as a popular meeting place for both travelers and locals, but it is what’s found within its walls that make a visit worthwhile.
Built in the 1880s, this sandstone structure is the political powerhouse of the city, housing the Sydney City Council chamber and the offices of the lord mayor, the deputy lord mayor and the city’s councilors. But what catches the eye of most visitors is the building’s Sydney Town Hall Grand Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ. Two-hour guided tours include a look at Centennial Hall, the Lady Mayoress’s Rooms, the Reception Room and the former site of the Old Sydney Burial Ground, in addition to a stop at the world-famous organ.
While visitors to Sydney do have the option to venture into the outback in search of Australia’s natural wonders, the Australian Museum, located in the heart of Sydney’s central business district, makes getting up close with the wild a whole lot easier.
Wander through air-conditioned hallways filled with more than 40,000 artifacts, including examples of rare native minerals and exotic tropical birds. An all-access pass grants entry to even more galleries filled with ancient archaeological wonders and indigenous Australian artifacts. Popular cultural exhibits also delve deep into the nation’s aboriginal roots and link contemporary time to the far off past. Wildlife fans should be sure to check out the quirky Surviving Australia exhibit, which showcases the country’s weird and wild through six distinct sections that illustrate animal adaptation and survival.
Famous around the world for its beautiful harbor setting, Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) is the hub of Australia’s finance sector. The district extends from the Circular Quay in the north to the Central railway in the south, while its east-west axis runs from Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens in the east to Darling Harbor in the west.
The CBD is an area of densely concentrated skyscrapers and hosts some of Australia’s tallest buildings, including the Governor Phillip Tower, the MLC Centre, the World Tower and Sydney Tower. This concrete jungle is interspersed with several parks, including Hyde Park, The Domain, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Wynyard Park. George Street is the CBD’s main north-south thoroughfare, while Pitt Street, which includes the Pitt Street Mall and the Sydney Tower, is the retail heart of the CBD. Nearby, Macquarie Street is a historic precinct that contains the State Parliament House and the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
Australia is home to some of the world’s cutest and most dangerous animals – and you can find them all under one roof at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo. Housing hundreds of unique Aussie critters, the zoo takes you on an adventure trail through the many different habitats of Australia introducing you to the animals that live in each. You can expect to see kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and a family of adorable wombats, as well as the decidedly less cuddly snakes, spiders and crocodiles; including Rex, a huge saltwater croc.
You’ll gain a greater understanding of the sheer size and diversity of Australia’s animals and landscapes as you follow a trail through the Butterfly Tropics, Gumtree Valley, Daintree Rainforest, Wallaby Cliffs, Kangaroo Walk-About, Kakadu Gorge, Nightfall and Koala Encounters.
Those in search of stars can head to the shores of Palm Beach, a Sydney celebrity hot spot, or they can make their way to the Sydney Observatory, where astronomers and locals have been charting the skies of the southern hemisphere since 1858.
Self-guided walking tours through the observatory explore astronomy, meteorology, timekeeping and archaeology, and visitors can also travel through the observatory’s rich past by checking out the impressive array of informative exhibits. The facility’s world-class planetarium is a popular spot to visit, but the opportunity to view the night sky through a telescope is a one-of-a-kind treat. The oldest working telescope in Australia opens up the skies for guests, who can catch a glimpse of double stars, the moon and even planets.
Be it surfers on the beaches, the discovery of Australia via the sea route from Europe or the subsequent commerce and immigration—Australia is closely tied to water. The Australian National Maritime Museum acts accordingly in featuring rich exhibitions ranging from the time of the Eora First People to the First Fleet all the way to the present. Visitors learn how convicts traveled in dark and damp accommodations and how passengers sailing to a new life survived long ocean journeys through reconstructed stories made up of artifacts and mementos left behind.
Those interested in military history can make their way to the Navy exhibit, which explores naval traditions during war and peace times. Here, visitors get the chance to test a submarine’s periscope and try out a soldier’s cramped bunk bed. The museum even has its own fleet, with many of the vessels accessible via guided tour.
Life in Sydney isn’t all about the beach and surfing, but about culture as well. Located inside the walls of a majestic building from 1788, the former residence of Gov. Arthur Phillip, the Museum of Sydney informs visitors about the history of New South Wales’ capital in an entertaining way. The collection displays archaeological finds, utensils from the everyday life of the Aborigines and the first settlers, as well as documents and pictures about the development of Sydney to Australia’s largest city.
Multimedia presentations and computer animations bring the history of the former penal colony to life, and although the museum mostly informs guests about the city’s history, it also takes a critical look at the clash of cultures that happened between the Aborigines and European immigrants.
Since 1879, the Powerhouse Museum has served as the main attraction for Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Its impressive halls are filled with all things technological—from science to communication, transport to computers—even massive steam engines! Jam-packed with more than 400,000 artifacts, this Sydney staple has become a destination for train lovers, engineers, computer nerds, scientists and the curious. While the permanent collection is pretty incredible on its own, popular temporary exhibitions, such as those that have showcased Star Trek, the Lord of the Rings, Faberge and even singer Kylie Minogue, keep this classic museum contemporary and up to date.
Sydney’s late-night revelry hub is east of the city center in raffish Kings Cross. Restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs throng the main thoroughfare, Darlinghurst Rd, which winds its way north to Macleay St and more-sedate Potts Point.
The focal point of Kings Cross is the gaudy neon Coca-Cola sign crowning William St, which leads east from Hyde Park. Take a walk along the area’s leafy streets, lined with double-story terrace houses fringed with lace ironwork balconies, and stop off for a coffee or refreshing drink at this vibrant area’s many cafes and pubs. If you follow Macleay St north, you’ll catch panoramic views of the harbor and Woolloomooloo; steps lead down to the water and the famous Harry’s Cafe de Wheels pie cart.
When the sun goes down, Kings Cross transforms, with adult entertainment at the fore. The area is busy and well policed, but leave your inhibitions at the door.
What is now a popular destination for history buffs once served as a defense facility that kept watch over the bay. Fort Denison Island, located northeast of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was where some of the most gruesome acts against convicted felons took place.
Today, travelers can wander the grounds of this recently restored island and see the gibbet where criminals were hanged. Explore the fort built to protect the island from invaders and climb the historic Martello Tower, the only one of its kind in the country. The island is home to an informative museum, as well as a number of landmarks that illustrate its dark and violent past.
The eastern Sydney suburb of Watson’s Bay is more than just a charming fishing town—it’s also home to one of the most stunning views found anywhere in all of Sydney. At the cliff top viewpoint known as the “The Gap,” walkers are treated to a 360° panorama of Sydney’s Harbor and coastline. For all of its natural beauty, however, The Gap has a somewhat morbid history that is occasionally more famous than its view. In 1857, the Dunbar sailing ship was aiming for the Sydney Harbor entrance, but misjudged the entry point and was shipwrecked on the rocks.
All of the 122 passengers aboard perished in the grisly wreck, except for one sailor who would end up tending a lighthouse along Australia’s coast. The Gap is also infamously known for its high number of suicides, with hundreds of Australians having leapt from the cliff to the icy waters below.
When Sydney’s original European settlers arrived in Sydney Harbor, they sustained themselves by planting a garden here at Garden Island. Today, after land was reclaimed and filled in with rocks, Garden Island is now a point that juts out into the harbor, and houses the Royal Australian Navy’s eastern fleet of ships. During World War II, a Japanese mini sub infiltrated the harbor and sank an Australian ship—resulting in the death of 21 sailors from the Australian and British navies. Much more history is outlined in depth at the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Center—a fascinating museum here on Pott’s Point that’s a must for history or war buffs. Once finished perusing the Heritage Center, which is fantastically free of charge, take a stroll through the gardens and grounds that are hidden behind the museum, where BBQ grills and views of the harbor make the perfect spot for a picnic.
St Mary's Cathedral is one of Sydney’s oldest and grandest buildings. Built on land given to the Catholic Church during the earliest days of colonization (1820), the original church was almost completely destroyed by fire and later rebuilt in its current form. The building that stands on Sydney’s central College Street today was constructed from Sydney sandstone and is regarded as one of the finest examples of an English-style Gothic Cathedral in the world.
There are many notable architectural features in the Cathedral’s design, which was only fully realized 100 years after the architect William Wardell’s death. Most notable is the Cathedral’s local sandstone interior and façade, its beautiful stained glass windows (especially the three rose windows at the entrance and the huge chancel window), and the high central nave.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Sydney’s best sights are lining the beaches or harbor, but in the case of popular Observatory Hill, this elevated perch in the heart of downtown is one of the city’s best spots. For one, visiting the park is totally free—as are the sweeping views of the harbor and Sydney’s Harbor Bridge. Make the 20-minute trek from The Rocks and pack along a picnic, relaxing and sprawling out on the grass with a panoramic view of the harbor. The uphill climb to reach the park tends to thin out the visitor crowds, and thereby makes it a local favorite for watching the sun go down.
Located in bustling Circular Quay, historic Customs House stands on the spot where modern Australia was founded. This is the site where the famous First Fleet came ashore in 1788, to establish a British penal colony in a land very far away. When the building was constructed in 1845, it was built in a classically Georgian style that’s exceptionally well preserved today, and simply the exterior is a sight in itself in the middle of Circular Quay. All the way up until 1990, Customs House served as the Customs Service headquarters for anyone entering the country, but today is a popular public space for just lounging and killing some time. On the top story, a café looks out over Circular Quay and is a nice place for grabbing a coffee, while the Sydney Library and it’s 400,000 books are open for viewing below. There’s free wi fi throughout the building—which is somewhat of a rarity in Sydney—and there’s even a miniature replica of the city in a glass atrium in the floor.
Sydney Fish Market is the largest working fish market in the Southern Hemisphere, even rivaling some of Japan’s biggest fish markets in the variety of seafood that’s traded every day. Not only does the market shift an incredible 52 tons of seafood per day, it also hosts a wide variety of restaurants, cafes and food retailers to ensure that visitors get to sample Australia’s freshest fish straight off the boat.
Open for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner, the fish market is the best spot to see and enjoy Australian seafood at affordable prices. You can either eat in or head to the wharf outside to enjoy a meal overlooking Blackwattle Bay.
The market is also home to one of Australia’s leading cooking schools: the Sydney Seafood School. It offers a wide range of classes for all levels and abilities and is suitable for those who simply want to brush up on their skills or become a bit more creative with adventurous seafood such as mollusks and crustaceans.
In 2000, Sydney Olympic Park hosted athletes from around the world, all of whom arrived hungry for gold. And while these games are now more than a decade behind us, this world-class facility still draws travelers and locals looking to experience the Olympic spirit. The park is made up of several venues like ANZ Stadium, Sydney Showground, Athletic Centre, Aquatic Centre and Sports Centre.
At the park, visitors can wander through the scenic stretches of well-kept boardwalk that winds through protected wetlands or settle the score in a match at the world-class tennis center. Bikes and Segways are available for hire, which makes exploring the grounds just a little more manageable. The Urban Jungle Adventure Park, with its high ropes course, is a popular stop for families and thrill-seekers, and weekend archery clinics help travelers hit the bull’s-eye. Travelers can explore the park solo or hire a guide for an in-depth Olympic experience.
Travelers love Milsons Point because of the uninterrupted views of Harbour Bridge and the iconic Opera House. During hot summer nights, locals gather on this tiny peninsula in Sydney Harbour opposite Sydney Cove and watch the sun dip down over the central business district skyline. This quiet spot has become a destination for those looking to capture a perfect picture of the city.
When day turns to night, young couples can be found holding hands as they stroll along the neon-lit midway of nearby Luna Park. The low-key crowd will appreciate the well-manicured suburbs of the north shore that are ripe with quiet cafes, continental restaurants and plenty of friendly locals.
A pedestrian area of downtown Sydney, the Pitt Street Mall offers some of the most exciting shopping in the city. In the area of just one block lies several flagship stores and more than 500 retail spaces, housed in some of the most expensive commercial real estate in Australia. Specialty stores to suit all tastes can be found in the seven shopping centers, including The Strand Arcade, Westfield Sydney, Myer, and David Jones. Many of the centers were refurbished as recently as 2011. Shops vary from couture and classic fashion, to budget chain stores, electronics, and the latest in athletic wear. A visit here will certainly include some of the best shopping in Sydney, along with the bustling activity of this urban center. A footbridge runs across the mall, providing ample opportunities to take in the sights of people passing by. Restaurants and cafes provide replenishment from all the action.
Opened in 1826, Sydney’s State Library of New South Wales is the oldest library in Australia and a repository for a huge and diverse collection of books. The iconic building is also home to over 1 million photos, maps and manuscripts. Architecturally grand from the outside, inside is modern, bright and attractive, and the Mitchell Library looks straight out of a movie with its book-lined walls. The library also has five historic galleries in the Mitchell Wing which host both permanent and temporary free exhibitions — from collections of 18th-century Australian natural history illustrations to the diaries of Australian men and women writing in WWI.
Next to Parliament House and the Royal Botanic Gardens on Macquarie Street, the State Library of New South Wales also has its own book club. And on a regular basis there are also talks on literary, historical, and contemporary issues. Film screenings and workshops are often held at the library too.