6 unexpected, secret Sydney experiences

The sparkling city of Sydney, with its iconic bridge and performance centre, is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world, but can you find some hidden treasures and see the harbour city in a new light?

Over, under and on the harbour

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, affectionately known by locals as the ‘coat-hanger’, stretches 1.1km across central Sydney to the northern suburbs, but as well as being able to walk across on a safe pedestrian walkway, you can also climb the steel arch structure and walk up to its summit of the world’s largest bridge, on a tethered walk. The gleaming white sails of the Sydney Opera House can be appreciated from many angles, and you can join a one-hour tour for insights into the controversial building’s history. But perhaps the best way to experience the bridge and the Opera House is at night on a Captain’s Table Dinner cruise with Captain Cook Cruises aboard elegant multi-deck MV Sydney 2000. Complimentary bubbly is served followed by a three-course meal of contemporary Australian cuisine while the sleek vessel glides under the bridge and close to the Opera House – twice. After dessert, passengers can head up to the Star Deck for the stunning nightscape.

Shearing to sharing

Australia’s wealth is it said, was built partly off the sheep’s back. But in Darling Harbour a former wool store has been converted into a boutique heritage hotel, Ovolo 1888, with a quirky wine bar and bistro restaurant in its ground floor lobby. Named after a wool classer who left his name on the wall, Mister Percy (139 Murray St, open 5pm-11pm every day, phone 85861888, misterpercy.com.au) blends restored heritage with innovative cuisine, offering Mediterranean-inspired fare using fine local ingredients, with plates designed for sharing.

Turning water to vines

It is easy to pass on bustling Oxford Street in posh Paddington the iron, timber and brick framework of a former water reservoir has been transformed into a garden with ponds, walkways and greenery. The Paddington Reservoir Gardens (255a Oxford Street, 7am-7pm every day) were once hailed as a blend of ‘the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon’, but you will only know if you take the escalator down to the sunken gardens.

Last stop on the line

Another landmark often ignored near Central Station, at the intersection of Regent and Kensington Streets, is the Regent Street Railway Station, which looks more like a chapel than a train station. Long ago the ornate Gothic-style building served as a mortuary, and the 10-mile train line took hearse carriages transporting up to 30 bodies at a time to their final resting place at the sprawling Rookwood Cemetery. The protected building is opened up on the 1stof November on All Saint’s Day, but visitors can peek through the iron fence at the angel and gargoyle carvings, and wonder if it is still haunted.

Intense Art

Nearby, things can be even more disturbing at the White Rabbit Gallery (10am-5pm, Wednesday to Sunday, free, 30 Balfour St, featuring one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese contemporary art. An old Rolls-Royce service depot now exhibits four floors of arresting and thought-provoking artworks, best savoured in tandem with the café serving up steamed dumplings and pots of exotic Chinese teas.

Behind bars

Australia still revels on its convict past, and fittingly, some of the best places to drink are tucked away down dark alleyways or in underground cellars. Queues are sometimes seen at night outside a door in an old loading dock in the CBD, where a hidden staircase leads to the secret whisky world of The Baxter Inn at 152-156 Clarence Street. With a ceiling-to-counter menu board, and whiskeys from the highlands and lowlands, the staff endeavour to find the right drink for each customer. Hungover? Try the Little Italy 1960s Bill and Toni’s at 72-74 Stanley Street for a fast-service cure, followed by coffee from the city’s finest coffee, served at Gumption in The Strand Arcade, a Victorian-style retail mall.


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