The Sydney City Centre was where Governor Arthur Phillip first raised the British flag on Australian soil in January 1788, the earliest site of European settlement in Australia. After more than two centuries, it has a Manhattan-like skyline of skyscrapers on the harbour. It is the commercial centre of Sydney, seeing hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders commute daily to work, shop, and socialise.
The city centre meets and embraces its harbour. The entire foreshore is walkway, and much of it is parkland. The office towers compete with each other for the best view of the harbour, with those in the back row grateful for any glimpse.
It is the site of Sydney's grandest structures, from the modern Opera House and Sydney Tower, to the art-deco, the granite facades of the early 20th century, and the colonial sandstone of a convict era. The oldest buildings may be in The Rocks, but those warehouses and residences lack the proportion, scale, and inspiration of the construction in the city centre.
Into the evening, there is a stark contrast as many of the crowded footpaths grow quiet, and many of the city centre eateries and cafes wind down. There are still people around though: the after-work crowd still around in the city pubs, the opera aficionados and diners out down at East Circular Quay, and the groups meeting up near Town Hall for a movie, a drink, or a night out.
- Transport NSW is the authority which operates the transport network in the state. Their website, Transportnsw.info, provides journey planning, information on disruptions and engineering works, and booking for long-distance coach and train journeys. They issue the Opal Card, which is a rechargeable stored-value card, and provides discounts and daily/weekly caps on fares.
The City Circle loop, which can be used going in either directions, has five stations. They run from Central station.
- Town Hall is centrally located. Best for shopping in Pitt Street as well as the Queen Victoria Building.
- Wynyard is mostly for office workers, but also close by to Martin Place, the Rocks, and Barangaroo.
- Circular Quay has the Opera House, Ferries, Harbour Foreshore and the Botanic Gardens. It provides one of the best views of the harbour from the eastbound platform as it rises overground.
- St James is closest to Hyde Park, St Mary's Cathedral, State Library, Art Gallery
- Museum is next to the Hyde Park War Memorial
There is also a station at Martin Place on the way to Bondi (pronounced bond eye) Junction in the Sydney/Eastern Suburbs.
If you're headed for the city centre, do not get off at Central in the City South. It refers to Sydney's main train station and is not too close to the city centre.
By light rail
The L1 Dulwich Hill light rail runs from Central station, just outside of the Grand Concourse where terminating trains arrive, into Darling Harbour, Pyrmont, and onwards to the Inner West suburbs. The stops at Capitol Theatre and Paddy's Markets serve the southern part of Chinatown.
The L2 Randwick and L3 Kingsford Line light rail run along George Street, from Central Chalmers Street to Circular Quay. Running every 5 minutes, it calls at a number of stations along the line. Whilst being a lot slower than the train (takes 18 minutes from Central to Circular Quay, compared to 7 minutes on the train), and at certain points slower than walking, it is very scenic and is a great way to explore the area.
- Haymarket serves the eastern part of Central station, the YHA at Central station, and the coach terminal. It also provides direct interchange with some buses.
- Chinatown is a short walk from World Square, and is also convenient for Darling Harbour.
- Town Hall is located in front of St Andrew's Cathedral and the Town Hall, with direct access to Town Hall rail station. A Woolworths Metro supermarket is directly opposite the stop.
- QVB, a very short distance away, directly serves Queen Victoria Building, The Galleries, and is only 5 minutes walk from Westfield Sydney. It also provides an interchange with the bus station on York Street, with buses to the Inner West, the North West, and Hills District.
- Wynyard is in the heart of the CBD, and provides rail and bus connection, the latter at Wynyard Park. There is also a direct link to Barangaroo via the train station, which has a ferry wharf for ferries to Parramatta, North Sydney, and a more circuitous but scenic route to Circular Quay. It also serves the western end of Martin Place, which includes the former General Post Office, now an upscale hotel.
- Bridge Street is located just right before Grosvenor Street and Bridge Street, both of which contain some of Sydney's most significant heritage building, and is about 15 minutes from the Botanic Gardens and The Domain, State Library, and the Parliament of NSW. It is also convenient for the southern part of The Rocks.
- Circular Quay is underneath the railway station and close to the ferry terminal. It serves the southern part of The Rocks, the harbour foreshore, the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Museum of Contemporary Art, Customs House, and the Botanic Gardens.
Direct buses to the city centre are available from many inner suburbs, and some outer regions. If you are travelling from the Central Business District (CBD) by bus on weekdays 7AM-7PM you need an Opal card purchased in advance to board.
The most pleasant way to arrive in Sydney city centre, or to get out and see the Sydney harbour or north shore, is by ferry. Most ferry routes (from 41 wharves around the Sydney harbour suburbs) start or finish at Circular Quay, at the northern end of the CBD. From here you can take a ferry to Manly or Watsons Bay to the east or Parramatta to the west, all for far cheaper than taking a private tour.
There is a train station and bus terminus right next to the ferry terminal at Circular Quay for connections to other parts of the city.
There is also a ferry wharf in Darling Harbour (Barangaroo) which is next to the city centre. A ferry from Circular Quay to here will take 35 minutes, go under the Harbour Bridge and provide great views of the city.
The city is accessible to private vehicles. It's well signposted from most surrounding areas. Firstly as Sydney, then as City, and finally, as City North or City Centre. Don't confuse City North, with North Sydney, or you will end up on the other side of the harbour.
Traffic in the city can be congested. Peak hours, Friday lunchtime, and Friday afternoon are worst. Weekends are usually fine, although some congestion can occur at any time. Traversing the few city blocks can take up to 30 minutes during these periods.
Many streets in the city are one-way and disallow right turns.
Garage parking can vary from around $18 to over $70 for a day on a weekday. You need to do research and book online to avoid high rates. Don't be misled by parking stations advertising parking for $5, as this usually apply for the first 30 minutes, after which charges rise steeply. Early-bird rates (for arriving and leaving during set times) can save up to 75% on hourly rates during the day.
Parking stations usually charge less for evening parking and all-day weekend parking. A flat rate is often available for $15 or less, but not all places have special deals, so check before you park. It is a safe bet to drive around the CBD and check the flat rates advertised outside the parking stations on weekends, but again, you will get better rates booking online in advance.
- Opera House Car Park, at the end of Macquarie St, $18 on weekdays entering before 10AM, and exit after 15:00 and before 7:30PM. ($42 otherwise for day parking, or $32 if you enter after 5PM). $15 on weekends, provided you exit before 5PM.
- Queen Victoria Building Car Park, $27 enter before 9:30AM, exit after 4PM and before 7:30PM. $50 all day otherwise. $15 Sunday parking.
Street parking is scarce and although street parking for short periods is possible it is often difficult to find, particularly during the day on weekdays. Free on-street parking or street parking available for extended periods is particularly elusive. Early on weekend mornings, some on-street parking is usually available in Clarence, Kent, or Sussex Streets. On street parking is also available on Art-Gallery road. Expect to pay. Free on-street weekend parking is available where no parking zones apply on weekdays. All public parking zones are enforced by city parking police and occasionally state police, infringement penalties are around $130. Motorcycles and scooters can park for free anywhere a car can park, but must still follow any time restrictions (for example they may not stay longer than 2 hours in a 2P spot). There are also some dedicated motorbike parking spots around the city.
One of quietest approach to the city is from the west at Darling Harbour and Pyrmont. Pyrmont Bridge allows cyclists, and a cycle path takes you along to King St as far as Clarence St. There is bike parking there. From the North take the cycleway over the Harbour Bridge, next to the station at Milsons Point. From the south there is a separated cycle path from Central Station (Eddy Avenue) that winds its way through the city streets to meet the Kent St, King St and Pyrmont Bridge paths.
Maps and other information for cyclists around the inner city are provided by local government.
Looking for the Bridge? Don't follow Bridge St
Bridge St is one of the major east-west roads in the city centre, running south of the Circular Quay, but it does not go the Harbour Bridge. The road is one of the earliest in the colony of New South Wales and the site of the first government house, very near the first settlement. It was also the site of the first bridge built in Sydney, over the Tank Stream, which was Sydney's first water supply. The Tank Stream has long since been buried and become an underground drain, but the name Bridge St remains.
To access the Sydney Harbour Bridge by foot, take Cumberland St and climb the stone stairs near Argyle St to the east side of Bradfield Highway; continue north onto the Harbour Bridge.
The city centre has a very rough grid system. George St is the major north-south city street, running all the way from Central Station in the south to Circular Quay and The Rocks in the north, with Pitt, Castlereagh, and Elizabeth St running parallel to it through the city centre. City blocks are small, especially in the east-west directions.
There are maps and directional signs to nearby attractions located every few blocks.
Most of the attractions below are within a 1.5-km radius, and are easy to walk around. Consult the Walking tour of Sydney for details. The spectacular walk along the harbour's edge (Farm Cove) from the Sydney Opera House (Queen Elizabeth II Gate) through the gated Royal Botanical Gardens to Mrs Macquarie's Chair (Yurong Gate) is for many the epitome of a Sydney experience.
Sydneysiders are notorious for crossing against the red pedestrian lights in the city centre in any gap in traffic. but if you're not familiar with the traffic direction, best to wait for the indicator. Watch out for the trams in the George St pedestrian area. Police occasionally do have blitzes on jaywalking, where you will be fined $70 for crossing on the red.
By train/light rail
Trains run both ways around the city circle stations Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James and Museum. Each of these stations has services every five minutes. Most of the city is no more than ten or fifteen minutes walk from a train station.
Another city station, Martin Place, is mid-town on the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line and has services every 10 min to Town Hall and Central.
Town Hall, Wynyard, Martin Place and St James stations are located within 1km of each other, so unless you are feeling particularly lethargic, catching the train or bus between them will take longer than the walk.
The L2/L3 light rail run every 5 minutes and serves the city centre. They can be slower than the train as well!
There are a few cycleways around the city. Travelling North-South along Kent St in the city west is easy enough. This route connects to Liverpool St to travel east-west, and Elizabeth St to travel to the south. It requires a bit of planning and determination to get around the city centre by bike. It may be best to leave your bike on the city centre fringe, and walk while downtown. You can be fined for cycling in the pedestrian malls or footpaths.
There are bike parking spots all over the city, and you can park your bike pretty much on any street. If you leave your bike unattended then ensure you park it in an area with high visibility - like outside Clarence St Cyclery - and secure it well.
Mobike bike dockless share bikes are available in the city centre, as are Lime e-bikes. Download the respective apps.
- Spinway. bicycle rental stations in the Hilton Hotel and the Intercontinental Hotel available to guests and the public $11 an hour, $22 for a half day (4 hour rental) or $33 for a full day (24 hour rental).
All buses are numbered on their indicator boards at the front and on the left side of the bus, and show the final bus destination.
The major bus interchanges in the City are at Circular Quay, Wynyard, Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building. Buses from Wynyard run straight over the Harbour Bridge. From Circular Quay, as a general rule of thumb: Any bus number starting with "3" run the eastern route (i.e. to/from Circular Quay via Elizabeth Street and to/from the Eastern Suburbs), while the ones starting with a "4" run the western route (i.e. to/from Circular Quay via George Street and to/from the Inner West). The ones starting with a "5" out of the city over the Anzac Bridge.
At the interchanges (Circular Quay, Wynyard, Town Hall and the QVB) have multiple stops, each assigned a letter. Both Wynyard and Town Hall bus interchanges are scattered over a few blocks in each direction and you'll need have directions no your phone, or check the interchange maps. Allow extra time if it is your first trip. It's just another reason to consider walking if you're doing a short trip - the next bus stop may be further from where you're going then where you are now.
City Sightseeing Sydney Explorer bus tours. Costs more and takes longer than normal public transport, but can take the hassle out planning your routes.
It is unusual to drive between city centre attractions, and it can be problematic if you are unfamiliar with the area. Attractions in the city centre are not signposted from the city roads. The only directional signs you will see will point you out of the city centre, across the harbour bridge or to the west or east. There is a one way system and few right hand turns are permitted. Some right hand turns are legally possible, but are difficult to find breaks in traffic. The quickest route from where you are to your city centre destination will not always be apparent from a map, and even the best GPS will struggle in the canyons of the city centre.
If you are driving into the city centre, best to navigate straight to a parking lot nearby. If you are going between multiple destinations in the city centre, walking is usually the quickest way.
- 1 Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Circular Quay (At the northern end of Macquarie St), ☏ (information), (ticket bookings). The world heritage listed Sydney Opera House in the north east of the city is one of Sydney's most beautiful and unusual buildings; its sail shaped structure, designed by Jørn Utzon, is world famous, and it is the only structure in the world to have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site during the lifetime of its architect. The Opera House is also host to most of Sydney's major classical music and opera events. You can walk all around the building, and some of the foyer areas free of charge. Guided tours of the inside are available for $28, leave every 30 minutes, and take about an hour. Some tours are run in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Depending on ongoing rehearsal or performances not all parts may be visited.
- 2 Circular Quay. Is the hub of the Sydney Harbour and is a vibrant, bustling place home to many buskers, the ferry terminal, overseas passenger terminal, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. For speakers of US English, it's pronounced Circular Key, not Circular Kway
- 3 Sydney Tower (Entry from Westfield Shopping Centre (level 5 east side) on Pitt St Mall and Market). Towering above the city of Sydney since 1981, when it became the tallest structure in the city, the Sydney Tower reaches a total height of 305m - great views are available from the 250m high viewing level. The tower is Australia's tallest free-standing structure and the second highest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere after the Sky Tower in Auckland). The trip up to the observation deck includes a short "4D" movie (3D with effects such as smoke and water) before travelling up in the lift. If looking at the city through windows isn't enough, take the Skywalk tour on the top of the tower. Observation deck: $26, Skywalk: $69.
- 4 St. Mary's Cathedral, 2 St Mary's Rd (across the road from Hyde Park's eastern edge), ☏ . The Catholic Sydney diocese's cathedral, built in 1868.
- 5 Queen Victoria Building (the QVB), 455 George St (north of Town Hall and Town Hall station). The site of a market place since 1810, its current Romanesque facade was completed in 1896 and was extensively restored in the late 1980s as a prestigious shopping centre. The Christmas tree around Christmas time reaches through all the floors to the full height of the building. admission free.
- 6 The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George St. A fine example of Victorian Architecture, established 1891, and is one of the few remaining Victorian shopping arcades in the world. For the past 20 years or so, it has been a major shopping destination, well known for the large number of Australian designers it showcases. Many well recognized Australian labels in fashion and jewellery are based here, such as Alannah Hill, Zimmerman, and Victoria Buckley Jewellery.
- 7 Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris St (501 Bus or walk), ☏ . 10AM-5PM. The Powerhouse Museum has a variety of permanent and temporary exhibitions including the King's Cinema, an intact art deco cinema, Locomotive No 1, Experimentations, Ecologic, the Strasbourg Clock, the Steam Revolution and Interface. There is a cafe and museum shop.
Museums and Galleries
- 8 The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Road, The Domain (Walk from Martin Place 400 m directly east across The Domain. Bus 411 goes QVB to Art Gallery, Sydney Explorer bus route, stop 6, nearest train stations are St James and Martin Place. Both are a 10min walk), ☏ (Information desk), toll-free: 1800-679-278, fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 10AM-5PM, Wednesday until 9PM. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is the leading museum of art in New South Wales and Sydney, and one of Australia's foremost cultural institutions. It holds significant collections of Australian art, and presents nearly forty exhibitions annually. British Victorian art, along with smaller holdings of Dutch, French and Italian painters of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and a collection of modern British masters, European modernists and European classical art. The collection includes work by Reubens, Picasso, Van Gogh and many others. There is also an impressive collection of Asian, South East Asian, Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. The gallery also has an extensive collection of contemporary art. Not all of the collection holdings are on exhibition at any one time and the gallery occasionally rotates significant works on exhibition. The building itself is a much photographed sandstone structure with a large formal entrance. There is a popular cafe inside the gallery, with views over Wooloomooloo. Free admission with charges to some 'feature' exhibitions.
- 9 Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), 140 George St, Circular Quay, ☏ . Housed in a fabulous 1930s art deco building, former location of the Maritime Services Board and facing onto the western side of Circular Quay and Sydney Cove, the MCA has been dedicated - since its opening in 1991 - to showcasing great works of modern and contemporary art in all media. There is a cafe inside the museum.
- 10 Museum of Sydney (corner of Phillip and Bridge Streets), ☏ . Daily 9:30AM-5PM (closed Christmas Day and Good Friday). Built on the site of the first Government House, erected in 1788 by Governor Arthur Phillip and demolished in 1846. The remains of the building were excavated after rediscovery in 1983 and the original foundations can now be viewed through glass floor panels in the museum. Fascinating changing exhibitions of art and photography, films and state-of-the-art technology spin stories of colonial life, Aboriginal culture, environment, trade, authority / law and everyday dramas and dreams in early Sydney. The Museum of Sydney Cafe, by the museum entrance is not really part of the museum, and is much more a restaurant than a cheap and casual cafe. admission adult $10, child / concessions $5, family $20, members free (run by the Historic Houses Trust).
- 11 Hyde Park Barracks, Macquarie St (north eastern corner of Hyde Park), ☏ . Daily 10AM - 5PM, closed Good Friday and Christmas Day. Built in 1818-1819. Constructed by convicts and housed by them, the Hyde Park Barracks provided housing for convicts working in government employment around Sydney from 1819 until its closure in 1848. Interior is restored with exhibits depicting the furnishings and life of the time. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Adult $12, child/concession $8, family $30. Consider the pass if visiting other historical houses and/or trust properties..
- 12 State Library of New South Wales, Macquarie St. Includes a large exhibition space with changing artistic, historical and cultural exhibits. The Mitchell Reading Room is a historical large open book-lined room, and worth a look inside. The reference library is a modern addition, and really only of interest for research. The library collection includes a copy of every volume published in New South Wales, and many rare texts. There is a cafe on the ground floor near the entrance to the reference library and the bookshop. free.
- 13 Government House, Macquarie St. Open to the public, with the entrance to the house and gardens through the Botanic Gardens. free.
- 14 Reserve Bank of Australia Museum, Ground Floor, 65 Martin Pl, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Open M-F 10AM-5PM (except bank holidays). Hosted by the Reserve Bank of Australia in its city headquarters, this museum displays Australian bank notes and currency from the earliest issues to the present day. Interesting but basic. Drop in for 15 min or so if you are passing by Martin Place. free admission.
- 15 Justice and Police Museum, Corner Albert and Phillip Streets (Close to Circular Quay). Built as a police station to Court in 1856, and closed in 1886, the museum has now been restored to its 1890s facade displaying its theme of crime and punishment. Adult $8, child/concession $4, family $17.
- 16 Australian Museum, 6 College Street, East Sydney (opposite Hyde Park on the corner of William St and College St), ☏ . Daily 9:30AM-5PM (except Christmas day). Natural history collections, exhibitions, natural science and indigenous cultures. Please see the City East article for more comprehensive details on The Australian Museum.
- 17 ANZAC Memorial, Hyde Park North (Between Park & Liverpool Streets; Museum Station is the nearest), ☏ . Daily 9AM-5PM except Good Friday & Christmas Day. A large war memorial in the middle of the city, built after World War I. It is a focus of military memorial events in New South Wales. No public toilets or cloakroom. Free of charge..
- 18 Customs House, 31 Alfred St (Adjacent and south of Circular Quay). A historic building, and imposing building. You can imagine it looking out over the port of Sydney (if you can equally imagine the absence of the Cahill Expressway). A large diorama of the Sydney area which you can walk over is on display in the foyer. The Sydney City Library occupies the building, and sometimes has exhibitions. Free.
Parks and gardens
Sydney Botanic Gardens
- 19 Royal Botanic Gardens (Please walk on the grass, smell the roses, hug the trees, talk to the birds and picnic on the lawns), Mrs Macquaries Rd (Bus: the 441 (Balmain via QVB Building) leaves York Street, Town Hall on weekdays, stopping outside the Art Gallery of NSW. The Sydney Sightseeing Bus also includes the Royal Botanic Gardens on its route, the nearest train stations are St James and Martin Place. Both are 10 minutes walk. There are gates all around the gardens, including at the Opera House, at the corner of Bridge and Macquarie Streets near the Conservatorium of Music, opposite the Mitchell Library on Macquarie Street (Marshead Fountain Gate), or near the Art Gallery.), ☏ , (Ranger assistance). The gardens are open from sunrise to sunset. It is fully fenced, so take care not to get locked in at closing time. One of Sydney's greatest assets, from in front of the State Art Gallery, out to Mrs Macquaries chair, across to Farm Cove and onto the Sydney Opera House. The Gardens back onto the historic Sydney Hospital and Parliament House. This is the oldest scientific institution in the country and home to an outstanding collection of plants from Australia and overseas. The Domain surrounds the Royal Botanic Gardens. The walk along the harbour's edge (Farm Cove) from the Opera House (Queen Elizabeth II gate) to Mrs Macquarie's Chair (Yurong Gate) is for many the epitome of a Sydney experience. The Gardens have an example of the Wollemi Pine, raised from a seed collected from a handful of trees discovered in the wilderness and unchanged since the dinosaurs. A tropical pyramid holds examples of tropical vegetation in a controlled humidity atmosphere. See the rose garden, herb garden and succulent section. The collection has many varieties of Australian plants and grasses. During the summer months there are often open air night time film screenings inside the Botanic Gardens, entry charges normally apply to those screenings. There are no access charges to enter the Botanic Gardens (except for the tropical pyramid).
- Palm Grove Centre, ☏ . Visitors centre, a restaurant, a cafe and a souvenir shop.
- 20 Mrs Macquarie's Chair, Mrs Macquarie Road (just outside the gates of the Botanic Garden). This park area has magnificent views of the harbour. Free access.
Other city parks
- 21 The Domain (Adjacent and south of the Botanical Gardens), ☏ . In colonial times this land was the Governor’s buffer of privacy between his residence and the penal colony. Roads and paths were constructed through the Domain by 1831 to allow public access. Since that time it has remained a place for the people to breath and relax. The Domain surrounds the Royal Botanic Gardens. In times past has been a site of often quite colourful public oratory and site of public rallies and demonstrations. Home to the popular Opera in the Domain, Jazz in the Domain, and Symphony in the Domain events in summer, as well as the Tropfest short film festival. If attending any of these events, arrive in the early afternoon to secure a picnic spot as upwards of 100,000 people attend. There are no entrance fees to the Domain, however at times the Domain is used for events and the event organisers may charge admission fees or impose other access controls to the specific areas annexed for those events.
- 22 Hyde Park (East of Elizabeth St, West of College St, next to St James Station). An extensive city centre park of a formal design tradition dissected by Park St, elongated in layout and containing a large fountain (Archibald Fountain) towards the northern end and the Anzac War Memorial at the south - a favourite with city workers at lunchtime, joggers and sunbakers. The park occasionally hosts public and private events and functions. Free.
- Sydney City is home to a large number of outstanding examples of Art Deco architecture, built during the 1920s and 1930s, when Sydney entered a new phase of confidence and investment in urban infrastructure.
You can take a cruise on Sydney Harbour. There are many cruises to choose from and they depart from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay. For a bigger adrenalin rush, try the jet boats that zip around the harbour at breakneck speeds.
Harbour Cruises depart from Darling Harbour and at Circular Quay in the city.
- Captain Cook Cruises, Circular Quay (Wharf 1). have regular cruises from Wharf 1 at the Quay.
- Sydney Ferries Cruises. Sydney Ferries run regular cruises. Just look on the main timetable boards at the Quay, and buy your tickets from any Sydney Ferries ticket office.
You can create your own harbour cruise, as the normal Sydney Ferries services go everywhere a cruise goes and more. Get a daytripper ticket for $20, and take as many ferries as you like, get on and off where you like, and enjoy a picnic in any of the many harbour side parks next to the ferry wharves. On a Sunday and if travelling with children, a Family Funday Sunday ticket can be bought from all the usual outlets for $2.50 and allows unlimited travel on all public transport for the day. Timetables are available at the Quay, and it's hard to catch a ferry somewhere that isn't worthwhile. The Manly ferries even have a cafe on board, where you can grab a pie, and sit out in the sun, taking in the view for a fraction of the cost of a luncheon cruise! Consider dropping in at one of the harbour islands
- 1 Sydney Opera House, ☏ . The Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic 20th century buildings in the world. Inaugurated in 1973, the Sydney Opera House also has dedicated theatres for drama including the Drama Theatre, the Playhouse, and The Studio. Student rush tickets are often available for the current day's performances, only at the box office at the Opera House (usually these are single tickets, spread around the theatre).
- 2 Theatre Royal. Home to many international productions during their stay in Australia.
- 3 State Theatre, 49 Market St (between Pitt St. and George St.), ☏ , fax: . Hosts a range of events and performances, particularly international comedy acts and musicians. The building itself is heritage-listed, and has a lavish interior dating back to 1929.
- 5 Event Cinemas, 505 George St (near Town Hall), ☏ . The three big cinema franchises (Hoyts, Greater Union and Village) merged their neighbouring cinemas here into one big complex.
- 6 Dendy Cinema (Between Circular Quay and the Opera House). Multi-screen cinema specializing in fringe and arthouse films.
- The Art Gallery of New South Wales (South of the Royal Botanic Gardens). Free cinema on Wednesdays & Sundays, but usually old films.
If you are interested in fringe or arthouse films, you may also like the Chauvel, Verona and Academy Twin cinemas in nearby Oxford Street.
The CBD of Sydney is also the retail centre of the city, having the largest range of shops and outlets in a variety of settings. Sydney's shopping is frequently concentrated within large city malls and arcades (heavily interconnected mid-town through a number of underground walkways). There are also a number of recognised shopping strips.
If you are shopping for food and supplies, the convenience stores and even the city fruit stores can have up to three times mark-up over supermarkets. If you need to stock up on the basics, it would be cheaper to try the supermarket "Woolworths", one opposite Town Hall on Park and George Sts or one underground north of Wynyard Station in the MetCentre (take down escalator from ground level of the MetCentre); or the supermarket "Coles", one at Carrington and Wynyard Sts or one at 388 George St near King.
George St is the closest thing to Sydney's main street. It has a shopping strip between the Town Hall (Park St) and Wynyard (Hunter St), about 10 minutes brisk walk. Along this section of road there are numerous fashion, technology and gift stores and malls like the Queen Victoria Building, Galleries Victoria, Myer, Westfield, the Strand Arcade and the Apple Store.
- 1 Queen Victoria Building (the QVB), George St (corner of York and Market, just north of Town Hall. Underground link to Town Hall Station). The building is an attraction in itself. The site of a market place since 1810, its current Romanesque facade was completed in 1896 and was extensively restored in the late 1980s as a prestigious shopping center. 5 Floors of shopping. Don't miss the Christmas tree to Christmas, going through all the levels. Fashion, books, cafes, and a range of specialty and gift shops.
- 2 Galleries Victoria, 500 George St (opposide the QVB. Underground link to Town Hall Station). The modern answer to the historic QVB opposite. Some fashion and food, but also electronics, computer games, and gifts.
- 3 Strand Arcade, 412-414 George St. The last of the Victorian arcades to be completed (1891) in Sydney, home to a number of shopping levels featuring design, fashion, antiques and jewellery (the arcade links George Street with the Pitt Street Mall).
Pitt Street Mall
Pitt Street mall is a pedestrianised block between Market and King St that is so busy that it has some of the highest retail rents in the world. Both sides of the Pitt St mall are full of shops and shopping centres, extending westward to George St and eastward to Castlereagh St. Most of the shopping centres connect to each other. The Westfield Sydney connects to the David Jones department store, the Queen Victoria Building (and through there to the Galeries Victoria and Town Hall Station), and the MLC Centre (and through there to Martin Place Station), making this area ideal for shopping in poor weather.
- 4 Westfield Sydney Shopping Centre, Pitt St Mall (north of Market, between George and Castlereagh). 7 levels of Myer department store and a food court (level 1) on west side; hundreds of specialty and fashion stores plus an upscale food court (level 5) on east side. Entry to Sydney Tower at level 5 east side. Connects underground to the Queen Victoria Building from level 1 west side.
- 5 Mid-City Centre, 197 Pitt St Mall (Between George and Pitt St).
- 6 David Jones, 86-108 Castlereagh St, ☏ , fax: . The city stores of this illustrious department store are on Elizabeth Street (main store, women's fashion) and Market Street (men's fashion, homewares, food store). In operation since 1838, David Jones is not only Australia's oldest department store, but also the oldest department store anywhere in the world still trading under its original name.
Castlereagh Street and Martin Place
Castlereagh Street north of King St and Martin Place between Castlereagh and George Sts. Home to a large concentration of fashion houses and big names including DKNY, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Ferragamo, Gucci, Bvlgari, Stefano Canturi and Chanel.
- 7 MLC Centre, Martin Pl (between Castlereagh and Pitt Sts). A shopping arcade, primarily focused on luxury clothes and accessories, and a food court downstairs. Belinda in the MLC Centre stocks European designers that don't have standalone stores in Australia. Has some reasonable cafes in the courtyard facing Martin Place.
There is much competition, specials, and choice for breakfast and lunchtime eating. Even the classiest restaurants tend to have lunchtime specials, and the competition for breakfast, coffee and lunch at the budget end of the market is fierce. However, by supper time in the evening, many of the cafes and take-aways have closed in the CBD and the remaining restaurants can be expensive. Doing your food exploration at lunchtime will save you money in the city centre.
Neighbouring Chinatown in the south of the city has large a number of restaurants offering cheap and tasty Asian cuisine, and the food courts in Market City Shopping Centre stay open into the evening, when the CBD ones have usually shut.
- Food courts. All through the Sydney CBD there are food halls where the city workers flock to get lunch. A sit down lunch at these food courts will cost between $5 and $10, and there is competition for business. There are many, but to whet your appetite, try one of the following:
- Westfield Sydney in Pitt St Mall (north of Market, between George and Castlereagh), also open weekends and Thursday nights, level 5 east side for crowded upscale food court dining, level 1 west side for mainline food court.
- David Jones Food Hall, lower level (SW corner of Market and Castlereagh)
- MLC Centre in Martin Place (SW corner of Castlereagh)
- The Galeries Food Court, lower level (500 George St, NE corner at Park St)
- Regent Place, (501 George St, SW corner at Bathurst St)
- Under the Gateway Building or the AMP building at Circular Quay (Alfred St, corner of Loftus)
- Australia Square (the tall but round building) northeast of Wynyard Station (George St, SE corner of Bond) 15 food choices, outdoor seating on concrete plaza
- In the Metcentre just north of Wynyard Station through a ground level connector (west of George St between Margaret and Jamison) ground level.
- Hunter Connection just east of Wynyard Station (Hunter Street, between George and Pitt, or go down the steps at Wynyard Station and take the Hunter Connection tunnel) specialises in SE Asian food, delicious Thai for $6.
If you fancy an early dinner (or late lunch) many of the food halls sell off remaining lunch items at discounted prices around 4PM in the afternoon, sometimes for as little as $4-5 a meal, but commonly for $6.
The Sydney CBD is packed with small cafes that serve (usually) good coffee and a breakfast of toasted banana bread, toast (with cinnamon, Vegemite etc) or anything involving bacon and eggs. They mostly serve office workers and are open (generally) between 6AM and 3PM during the week. On the weekend most are closed in central CBD, and you may want to head to a more residential area to find breakfast. The ones in the shopping districts will open at little later, but always by 9AM.
- QVB (Queen Victoria Building) has a number of gorgeous cafes - try the ground floor for buzz or the top floor for longer quieter conversations QVB Dining
- 1 Mecca Espresso, 67 King St, ☏ . M-F 6AM-4:30PM. Very good tasting coffee with a massive queue of office workers in the morning. $4 for coffee.
The CBD is flooded with cafes and pubs doing lunch with mains in the $10-15 range. Avoid the ones in or immediately next to major tourist attractions to avoid inflated prices. Clarence St, York St, and even Pitt St have many to choose from.
Outside of the cafe scene, mid-range restaurants in Sydney's CBD proper tend to be a little thin on the ground, but you will find plenty clustered around the George St cinemas and World Square, and on Liverpool St. Liverpool St. in particular has a large number of Korean restaurants to choose from
- Fix St James, 111 Elizabeth St, Sydney CBD (between King and Market Sts), ☏ . A restaurant/wine bar open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is Italian-influenced but definitely 'Modern Australian'. Has a very interesting wine list with many available by the glass.
- 2 Sydney Madang, 371A Pitt St (This restaurant is literally in a back alley off Pitt St. The closest cross-street is Liverpool St.), ☏ . 11:30AM-2AM. Tasty and inexpensive Korean barbecue and other dishes. Open until early in the morning. From $10.
- BBQ City. If you can't find Madang, and you're in the mood for Korean, there's always the Sydney institution, BBQ city, a big brightly-lit upstairs restaurant, with Korean pop stars dancing incessantly on TV screens around the room. It's quick, cheap, delicious, and open late.
- Ash St Cellar, 1 Ash St (behind the Ivy Complex on George St), ☏ . M-F noon-late. Ash St Cellar is a Melbourne-style laneway bar just behind the Ivy complex. The food is (Sydney style) tapas influenced share plates, the wine and beer list is good and the atmosphere is great. No bookings and not open on weekends. Share plates $20-30.
- Young Alfred, Customs House, Ground Floor, 31 Alfred St, ☏ . M-Sa lunch + dinner. Famous Sydney pizza and pasta joint very conveniently located just next to Circular Quay. The owners used to own a very famous pizza restaurant on Oxford St in Paddington but have relocated here. Pizzas are not traditional Italian but very good nonetheless. Main courses $20-32, pizzas $24-32.
- Nazimi, Level 1, 141 York St (Opposite the QVB, and down some stairs, but well sign-posted.), ☏ . Authentic Japanese food, with different options on the menu to a lot of places. Customers are packed in, but the service is very friendly.
- 3 Bodhi, College St, Sydney CBD (Cook and Phillip Park), ☏ . This is an outdoor vegetarian yum cha restaurant located just down the stairs from St Mary’s Cathedral over looking Cook and Phillip Park. It's a vegan restaurant and has a wide range of enticing and tasteful healthy yum cha options (all vegan). Fantastic on a sunny day. Open on weekends too. Kids can run around safely in the park while you linger over coffee.
- Makoto Sushi Bar, 199 Liverpool St (Cnr Pitt & Liverpool St), ☏ . Decent sushi bar, higher quality than your standard sushi train. Makoto offers sushi, sashimi, along with a range of small cooked dishes. Open 7 days, with dinner starting from 6PM.
- 4 Ichi Ban Boshi, Gallerias Victoria Shopping Centre (2/500 George St), ☏ . Fantastic ramen soup. The Tantanamen (Spicy sesame base pork ramen) is a very large and delicious soup. Restaurant gets very busy at any time past 11:30AM till around 2PM. Expect to wait 10-20 minutes for a table in the peak times. $8-20.
- 5 Bavarian Bier Cafe, 24 York Street, ☏ . Daily 11AM-midnight. Large German restaurant that is part of a chain with authentic Bavarian beer and somewhat authentic German food. From $20.
Sydney's top-end dining scene is world class, with prices to match. Some of the best restaurants in Australia are listed below, and many of them feature on the San Pellegrino list of the Top 100 restaurants in the world.
- Cafe Sydney, 31 Alfred St, ☏ . Tucked away atop the Customs House right next to Circular Quay, Cafe Sydney sneaks under the radar of most casual visitors, but the outdoor seating here has some of the best Sydney Harbour views around and draws plenty of locals as well. The pricy but well-crafted food is Mod Oz, try the Bay Bug salad or the tarragon gnocchi and expect to pay around $100/head for a full meal. There's also a bar area with complicated cocktails but no views. Reserve several weeks in advance, especially on weekends.
- Est, Establishment, 252 George St, ☏ . M-F lunch and dinner, Sa dinner only. The chef at Est, Peter Doyle, has had a 30-year stint as one of the top chefs in Australia. French-influenced modern Australian cuisine with an emphasis on using the best seasonal produce. Prix fixe menus $140-155.
- Rockpool Bar and Grill, 66 Hunter St, ☏ . Part of the Neil Perry empire (which also includes Rockpool at the Rocks, Spice Temple underneath the Bar and Grill and a bar and grill in Melbourne), this restaurant serves superb modern Australian cuisine in a spectacular art deco setting (that reputedly cost $30 million+ to fit out). As you might expect, the steaks are the highlight but the wine list is also one of the best in Australia. For a more budget option, you can eat at the bar (no reservations) where the $22 wagyu beef burger is about as close to a bargain as you will get for food of this quality. From $400 for two with wine.
- 6 Tetsuya's, 529 Kent St, ☏ , fax: . Tetsuya's, which serves fusion Japanese and French style food, is one of Sydney's most famous and highly regarded restaurants, generally named in the top three year after year. You should be able to get a weeknight booking (excluding Fridays) three or four weeks in advance, for weekends you may need to book a month or more in advance. Set menu for $190, wine list from $90 upwards.
- O Bar, Level 47, Australia Square, 264 George Street. 5PM-midnight. Spectacular views over Sydney from this revolving bar at the top of the 1970s iconic Australia Square office tower, a stylish makeover of the old Summit Restaurant. Designer cocktails while the entire level revolves slowly over 90 minutes. Floor to ceiling windows means that you can gaze from your Kubrick-2001-inspired seating and decor to the city below. Consistently highly reviewed. Cocktails average $20 a glass.
- Gilt Lounge Bar, 49 Market St (next to State Theatre), ☏ . From 5PM. In QT Sydney Hotel, opened 2013. Extensive wine and cocktail list in modern eames-style setting.
Sydney has many experimental small bars as an alternative to the pubs and beer halls.
- Since I left you, 338 Kent St, ☏ . W-Sa 4:30PM-late.
- Stich Bar, 61 York St, ☏ . Tu-W 5PM - midnight, Th-Sa 5PM - 2AM.
- Mojo Record Bar, Basement Level, 73 York Street, ☏ . Bar: M-Th Sa 4PM-late, F 3PM-late; record store: Tu W noon-6PM, Th F noon-9PM.
- Red Oak, Clarence St. The only pub with onsite brewery in the City Centre, and the brewing is well refined here, with a wide choice, mostly Baviarian in style. Modern decor, popular with the office crowd on Friday lunchtime and Friday night. A variety of ways to taste the beers, with combined food and beer tasting plates available
- 3 Wise Monkeys Pub, 555 George St, ☏ . The 3 Wise Monkeys is a very popular pub with a younger crowd, only a block south of Town Hall station in the cinema district. It has live music seven nights a week.
- Metro Theatre, 624 George St, ☏ (box office), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The metro, in the cinema district near Town Hall, is a live music venue for Australian and overseas acts. Usually standing room only, and active mosh pit at the front, with an active vibe.
- The Music (formerly The Drum Media). A free, weekly music publication. You can find a copy at most music stores around the city and the inner suburbs.
- Metro is the Sydney Morning Herald' s entertainment lift-out, published every Friday.
There is little budget accommodation in this district. There are some backpacker hostels but generally cheaper accommodation is found in the surrounding areas around Central Station in the City South.
- Park Regis City Centre, 27 Park St (in the heart of the Sydney CBD, adjacent to Darling Harbour and Hyde Park), toll-free: 1800 221 138. The hotel is surrounded by Sydney’s best shopping, entertainment and sightseeing. Views from the 45th floor rooftop pool and observation deck are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. Rooms from $132.
- Rendezvous Studio Hotel Sydney Central, 803 George Street (next to Railway Square), ☏ , ✉ reservations.sydneyC@rendezvoushotels.com. A vibrant hotel and accommodation solution, combines clean lines, contemporary style and a personal feel.
- QT Sydney, 49 Market St, ☏ . Opened in October 2012. Luxury designer hotel. Emphasis on art and fashion. Located on Market Street in the CBD. Across from Pitt Street Dhopping Mall. from $380 per night.
- Four Seasons Sydney, 199 George St (at the west edge of Circular Quay), ☏ . An older but immaculately maintained five-star hotel with superlative service. Regular rooms are small, but have direct views of the Opera House, and it doesn't get much better than this locationwise. From $300, keep an eye out for promotional package deals.
- Intercontinental Sydney, 117 Macquarie St, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Close to Circular Quay and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
- Jamison Sydney, 11 Jamison St, toll-free: 1300 857 922. Jamison Sydney is in the north of the CBD, close to The Rocks, Circular Quay, the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. $200-250.
- Sydney Harbour Marriott, 30 Pitt St (at Circular Quay), ☏ . The hotel offers Opera House and Harbour Bridge view rooms along with a gym, day spa, restaurant, outdoor bar and coffee/cocktail lounge. The hotel also enjoys one of the best locations in Sydney. $259-409 per night.
- Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney, 27 O'Connell Street, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A very Scandinavian-style refurbishment of an historic stone faced building. Good sized rooms, powerful showers and wide range of amenities. Concierges helpful. Breakfast OK but not sparkling. Hallways have stuffy air. around $300 a night, internet extra.
- Sheraton on the Park, 161 Elizabeth St, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. One of the nicest 5-star hotels in Sydney. It is opposite the Hyde Park (ask for a Park view room to take full advantage of the location, but note these are usually more expensive than the City view rooms) and the staff are really friendly. Rooms with one king sized bed: $260-300 per night.
- The Westin, 1 Martin Pl, ☏ . Superb rooms, particularly the Heritage rooms. $325-435.
- 1 West Hotel Sydney, Curio Collection by Hilton, 65 Sussex Street,, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. The hotel is equipped with 182 designer rooms, botanically inspired restaurant and bar, and a wedding venue. $180.
In the daytime Sydney City is a busy location with high pedestrian activity. The biggest threat to your safety during the day is traffic, so take care when crossing roads with high traffic volumes and one-way flows. Occasionally there is a blitz on jaywalking, so look-left, look-right, and look around for police at the intersection before crossing on the red.
If you're out late, stick to popular areas and main streets. The main business area of skyscrapers and office building area north of Park and south of Bridge St becomes very quiet at night as the office workers return to the suburbs. Late at night anti-social behaviour and even some alcohol-related violence is possible around the George St Cinema strip (between Bathurst Street and Liverpool Street) and the northern (harbour) end of George St towards the rocks (north of Bridge St). The harbour end of George St is very busy on Friday and Saturday nights, with large numbers of people arriving in the city to go to the nightclubs, many of them already having started drinking hours ago. On other nights the area around the Quay down to the Opera House is very pleasant. It has a variety of restaurants and bars, a great view, and is safe.
On the trains late at night stay close to the guard's compartment which has an exterior blue light. There is an emergency assistance button on every platform and by the entrance to the train carriages on more modern trains.
Some convenience stores have a terminal or two although prices are high and computers can be antiquated and filled with malware. Expect to pay around $2.50 per 10 min.
For free Wi-Fi in a comfortable environment, try the NSW State Library (free password at the circulation desk) or the Sydney City Library in the Customs House.
Free Wi-Fi is also available in numerous supermarkets, shopping centres and food courts, where you'll be asked to give up a social media account in return for access. Try Westfield in Pitt St Mall, MetCentre, Woolworths in Pitt St, and many more.
Most cafes offer Wi-Fi to their customers, although they almost always require a password.
4G Internet is available everywhere in Sydney on all networks.
Public phones are fairly common in the CBD, although seldom used. You can also use them to send text messages, domestically or internationally.
SmareCarte offer luggage storage on Loftus Street at Circular Quay. They also offer a transfer service to their facility at Sydney airport.
Take a walk to the surrounding city areas, go to the aquarium, maritime museum, or just walk along the boardwalks at Darling Harbour. Visit the historic district of The Rocks. Walk up to Chinatown in the city south for Yum Cha.
Walk, or catch the train, over the harbour bridge to the Lower North Shore.