Located to the immediate west of the CBD and easily accessed by ferry, light rail and monorail, Darling Harbour is the focus of much of the city’s culture and entertainment. In the innerwest area, families will delight in Australia’s largest and most popular museum, the Powerhouse. There’s also the glitz of Star City casino, and food lovers should head to the Sydney Fish Market, the largest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Darling Harbour East
Once a working harbour, Darling Harbour’s maritime past remains in the structures that surround its landscaped promenades.
The National Trust–classified Pyrmont Bridge spans the harbour from east to west, and north-east of the bridge are King Street Wharf and Cockle Bay Wharf, known for its variety of shopping and dining.
South-east of Pyrmont Bridge, the IMAX Theatre Sydney boasts the largest cinema screen in the world. (02) 9281 3300.
SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
The Sydney Aquarium rates high among the world’s aquariums for sheer spectacle-value.
Highlights include the fabulous underwater tunnels that enable you to walk with the stingrays and stroll with the sharks, a Great Barrier Reef exhibition that’s pure magic, two of only six dugongs in captivity in the world, and the Seal Sanctuary, where you can watch the seals flirt and frolic all around you. Aquarium Pier; (02) 8251 7800; open 9am–8pm daily.
WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo
Situated right next door to the Aquarium, Wild Life, Sydney takes you deep into the heart of the Australian bush, from the rainforests of the tropical north to the deserts of the Red Centre. Over 250 different Australian species live within their own natural habitats and ecosystems. Aquarium Pier; (02) 9333 9288; open 9am–5pm daily.
Rub shoulders with the rich, famous and downright notorious at this outpost of the famous London waxworks museum. The familiar faces range from world leaders to sporting icons, movie idols and pop divas, and include local heroes such as Layne Beachley, Hugh Jackman and Kylie Minogue. Aquarium Pier; (02) 9333 9240; open 9am–8pm Mon–Sun.
The Outback Centre
Part gallery, part shop, part performance space, the Outback Centre offers a heady mix of art, music and quality merchandise. The Outback Gallery exhibits contemporary works by leading Aboriginal artists, while the Outback Shop offers a stunning range of Australian-made products. The highlight, however, is the 30-minute live show ‘Sounds of the Outback’, performed at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm daily. Darling Walk; open Mon–Sun; admission free.
Chinese Garden of Friendship
Tucked away to the south is this garden, where airy pavilions and tiny arched bridges stand reflected in tranquil lakes, surrounded by weeping willows and graceful bamboo.
There’s an elegant teahouse that serves traditional Chinese teas, as well as a tiny pavilion where for a small fee you can dress up in costumes from the Peking Opera. (02) 9240 8888; open 9.30am–5.30pm daily.
Australian National Maritime Museum
Located to the north of Pyrmont Bridge, several imaginative and awe-inspiring exhibitions highlight Australia’s multifaceted relationship with the sea, from the days of convict transports and immigrant ships to the beach culture of today. Special exhibitions include tours of the museum’s fleet. 2 Murray St, Darling Harbour; (02) 9298 3777; open 9.30am–5pm daily.
South of the harbour
Just past the Sydney Entertainment Centre, host to the world’s biggest music stars, you’ll find Paddy’s Markets. Opposite the Thomas Street entrance to the market is Dixon Street, the main thoroughfare of Chinatown. There are colourful shops offering everything from inexpensive souvenirs to beautiful and costly Chinese items, as well as superb Asian cuisine to suit every taste.
South-west of Darling Harbour, the museum showcases an extraordinary collection of oddments and treasures.
Highlights include the Hall of Transport, with its fleet of aeroplanes suspended from the ceiling, and the tiny 1930s-style cinema with its program of old newsreels and documentaries. Free guided tours are available as well as a broad range of daily activities. 500 Harris St, Ultimo; (02) 9217 0111; open 10am–5pm daily.
Sydney’s only official casino can be found to the north-west of Darling Harbour. It is worth a visit just to see its extraordinary interiors, with glittering lights and dazzling aquatic displays.
It is also home to the Lyric Theatre and restaurants by some prominent chefs, including David Chang and Adriano Zumbo 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont; open 24 hours.
Sydney Fish Market
The Sydney Fish Market is still within walking distance of Darling Harbour, but is probably best accessed by light rail. Fast-paced and vibrant, with a good bakery, an excellent deli and some of the freshest seafood you’re ever likely to find, the market is a great place to visit.
There are guided tours that enable you to watch a Dutch auction (where the price actually drops every minute), but only for the early risers. Bank St, Pyrmont; tours (02) 9004 1143; open 7am–4pm daily.