Sydney Culture Trails: Darling Harbour & surrounds
Choose your own culture adventure in & around Darling Harbour
Iconic tourist attractions, a thriving nightlife scene, and backstreets hiding spectacular gardens, noodle diners and street art – Darling Harbour is a cultural wonder. Use these art and dining combos to explore your way around the area.
Connecting Central Station to the Powerhouse Museum, this 500-metre urban walkway is a re-imagining of a once busy rail route. Having fallen into disuse since 1984, the line has been transformed into a park, taking pedestrians rather than passengers through the southern end of the city. The serpentine green space is filled with bike paths, playgrounds, table tennis, and outdoor workspaces, and looks onto the unique architecture of Frank Gehry’s Dr Chau Chak Wing Building (locally known as the ‘paper bag building’).
Since opening in 1988, the Powerhouse Museum has been fascinating generations with its interactive exhibitions. Celebrating excellence and innovation in science and design, a visit to the museum could have you learning about topics as diverse as the history of Australian ceramics, micro-cars or the night sky. Fittingly housed in a former industrial power station in Ultimo, the building itself is an architectural gem worth admiring.
This public art project by Jason Wing animates Kimber Lane with a whimsical mural and installation. Referencing both Aboriginal and Chinese cultural motifs, the work has an ethereal quality, especially at night when blue figures illuminate overhead. The spirit-like beings represent our past, present and future ancestors and the universal themes of Heaven and Earth.
In Between Two Worlds art installation in Kimber Lane, Chinatown
A huge diversity of cuisines, a rich history and an incredible mix of price points make Chinatown one of the best places to eat in Sydney. Explore Dixon Street‘s Friday Night Markets and the neighbourhood’s legendary food courts for snacks; head to Cantonese seafood restaurants for huge, blow-out banquets; and check the side streets for tastes of Malaysia, Uyghur cuisine, Korean barbecue and more.
Designed in 1986 by landscape architects from Sydney’s sister city of Guangzhou, the Chinese Garden of Friendship is a balance of the opposing forces on yin and yang, and is a rare oasis with its lush flora, a koi lake and heritage-listed tea house.
If you’re walking with kids, head to Tumbalong Park instead for a rest stop. Often host to many cultural events and celebrations, as well as food fairs and concerts, Tumbalong Park is a green space that invites weary walkers to relax on the grass and enjoy Darling Harbour’s jubilant energy. Adjacent to the park is a playground complete with waterplay fountains, giant slides and a flying fox.
Tumbalong Park is more than a rest stop – the famous park hosts many cultural events, celebrations, food fairs and concerts. Plus, adjacent to the park is a playground complete with waterplay fountains, giant slides and a flying fox.
Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour, during The Chinese New Year Lantern Festival
This historic building began life in 1893 as the Belmore Markets; by 1916 it had transformed into a circus hippodrome, complete with a 12-metre-wide tank from where seals and polar bears would ‘perform’. Today, though, one wouldn’t expect to see a menagerie of animals in this atmospheric theatre, but rather world-renowned stage productions, films and talks.
The Capitol Theatre is in the centre of Thaitown, the hub of Sydney’s Thai community and home to Sydney’s best Thai restaurants, grocers and sweet shops. Chat Thai is one of the most famous stops, being one of the first Thai restaurants on Campbell Street.
Called ‘Tumbalong’ by the Eora people, the traditional custodians of the land, Darling Harbour was historically used as a place of food and transport by the Gadigal clans. Today, it is a hub of family entertainment and public spaces that draws Sydneysiders and visitors. With more than 700 species of underwater creatures and incredible shark tunnels to explore, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is world renowned. WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo is Darling Harbour’s newer attraction and an opportunity to come face-to-face with iconic Australian animals like Tasmanian devils, koalas and smiley faced quokkas.
At the base of the Pyrmont Bridge, you’ll discover a museum dedicated to everything on and in the sea. From ocean science and maritime archaeology to history and the sea explorations of Indigenous peoples, you needn’t be a marine enthusiast to be enthralled by these exhibitions and events.
From trade events to entertainment, this is a place where big things happen. The three-building centre hosts huge name artists but if you’re without a ticket and just passing by, be sure to check out the ICC’s collection of Australian art, which is displayed throughout the venue and is free to enjoy.
Just across from the ICC is Darling Square, a buzzing food precinct that shows off the diversity, creativity and fun in Sydney’s food scene, centred around Japanese architect Kengo Kuma’s nest-like Exchange Building. Try a French-inspired brunch at Auvers Cafe or Japanese-style dishes at Edition Coffee Roasters, have a game-changing rice bowl and kakigori (shaved ice dessert) at Dopa by Devon, or enjoy a tempura omakase (intimate Japanese set menu) a Kuon.
Kengo Kuma’s Exchange Building in Darling Square
Tired after your journey? Stay the night at one of the excellent accommodation options available. Families will love Adina Apartment Central; Aiden Darling Harbour offers a boutique but affordable option with innovative design; Vibe Darling Harbour is a modern option with a rooftop pool; and the W Sydney transforms Darling Harbour’s skyline with its wave-like structure and five-star accommodation.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.