Gardens & Domain
One of the loveliest parts of the city, this area consists of extensive parkland, much of which was once part of the property surrounding the first Government House. It is thanks to the wisdom of governors Phillip and Macquarie that so much of this land was preserved, saving it from 200 years of ferocious development.
Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Every elegant line and delicate arch of Hyde Park Barracks, one of the loveliest of Sydney’s older buildings, bears the stamp of its convict architect, Francis Greenway.
Built in 1819, the barracks have provided accommodation for a wide range of individuals including convicts. Various ongoing exhibitions reveal the many layers of this building’s rich social history, with poignant displays of artefacts gleaned from recent excavations.
Cnr College and Macquarie sts; (02) 8239 2311; open 9.30am–5pm daily.
Once the South Wing of the old Rum Hospital, the site of the colony’s first mint is now the headquarters of the Historic Houses Trust. Besides a pleasant reading room there’s a good cafe on the upper floor with balcony seating and fine views of Macquarie Street and Hyde Park. The mint artefacts are now housed in the Powerhouse Museum.
Open 9am–5pm Mon–Fri; general admission free.
Now housing both the Sydney Hospital and the Sydney Eye Hospital, this imposing complex of sandstone buildings occupies the original site of the centre wing of the old Rum Hospital. Tours of the hospital’s historic buildings are available (bookings essential, (02) 9382 7111).
The little cobbled walkways that lead to the rear of the complex bring you to the oldest building, the Nightingale Wing, which houses the Lucy Osborne-Nightingale Foundation Museum . Among other items, you can see the sewing basket used by Florence Nightingale in the Crimea.
Museum open 10.30am–3pm Tues; (02) 9382 7427.
Before you move on, don’t forget to pay a visit to Il Porcellino, a favourite photo opportunity with tourists and a ‘collector’ of money for the hospital. It is considered lucky to rub the statue’s nose, then toss a coin in the fountain and make a wish.
Parliament of New South Wales
Between the Sydney Hospital and the State Library stands the northern wing of the old Rum Hospital, now the seat of the Parliament of New South Wales.
There is a free public tour on the first Thursday of each month at 1pm. (02) 9230 2047.
State Library of New South Wales
Facing the Royal Botanic Gardens, on the corner of Macquarie Street and Shakespeare Place, the state library houses a remarkable collection of Australian books, records, personal papers, drawings, paintings and photographs, most of which are regularly displayed in the library’s five public galleries.
The magnificent Mitchell Library Reading Room is a highlight, as is the exquisite mosaic on the floor of the lobby, which depicts Abel Tasman’s map of Australia.
Just outside the library, check out the statues of Matthew Flinders and his beloved cat Trim. Stolen at least four times, Trim now perches on a sandstone ledge, well beyond the reach of souvenir hunters.
Open 9am–8pm Mon–Thurs, 9am–5pm Fri, 10am–5pm Sat–Sun.
Royal Botanic Gardens
A landscaped oasis on the edge of the harbour, the gardens are a wonderful place in which to stroll or relax with a picnic.
Aside from its sweeping parklands, there are several formal gardens, including the Aboriginal garden, Cadi Jam Ora, and a stunning rose garden.
Stock up on bush tucker, take in the botanical drawings at the Red Box Gallery, see a film by moonlight (summer only), or even adopt a tree. Ask at the Gardens Shop for details.
Mrs Macquaries Rd; (02) 9231 8125.
Government House is located in the north-west corner of the Botanic Gardens, close to Macquarie’s old stables, now the Conservatorium of Music.
Built in 1845, Government House is an elaborate example of the Gothic Revival style, with extensive gardens and harbour views. Free guided tours of the state apartments are available.
Free tour, Fri–Sun 10.30am–3pm (but call to check it isn't closed for an official function); (02) 9931 5222.
Separated from the Botanic Gardens by the Cahill Expressway, the Domain falls into two distinct parts. South of the expressway, it’s a wide green park where soapbox orators and an attendant crowd of hecklers once gathered each Sunday to debate the issues of the day.
Now a place where office workers come to soak up the sun and play some lunchtime soccer, this area comes into its own in January when it hosts popular jazz, opera and symphony concerts.
North of the Cahill, the rest of the Domain runs along the promontory to Mrs Macquaries Chair, a bench that was carved out of the sandstone bluff specifically so that Elizabeth Macquarie could sit in comfort as she watched for ships arriving from England with longed-for letters from home.
The Art Gallery of New South Wales
The gallery sits opposite the South Domain. Built in an imposing Classical Revival style with ultra-modern additions, it houses an impressive collection of both Australian and international artworks, including a large permanent collection of Aboriginal art and a superb Asian collection.
Art Gallery Rd, The Domain; open 10am–5pm Thurs–Tues, 10am–9pm Wed; general admission free; 1800 679 278 or (02) 9225 1744.
Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool
A sensational place for a quick dip, a swimming lesson or a leisurely bite at the harbourside café. Boy Charlton was just 14 when he won a major swimming championship and became a national idol. His status was confirmed when he beat the Swedish world record holder Arne Borg three times in early 1924, and he went on to compete in three Olympic Games (1924, 1928 and 1932).
Mrs Macquaries Rd; (02) 9358 6686; 6am–8pm in daylight saving, and 6am–7pm in other months of Sep–May (closed during winter).