Things to do in Sydney CBD | Local Area | Rydges
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Things To Do

You’ll find no end of things to do in Sydney or Surry Hills when you stay at Rydges Sydney Central.

Rydges Sydney Central accommodation is convenient to a host of activities and things to do in Surry Hills. Have a look at all that our location has to offer during your stay:

Sydney Attractions

Rydges Sydney Central is ideally located for guests to enjoy all of Sydney’s main tourist attractions. While it is easy to hop a train from Central Railway, take a bus, or hail a taxi, Sydney is one of the great walking cities with many, many attractions between Central and the Quay. Heading towards Sydney Harbour you can go up Elizabeth Street or Wentworth Avenue to either side of Hyde Park. The southern half of the park is home to the Anzac Memorial and the northern half has the Archibald Fountain.

Wentworth Avenue leads to College Street and, on the corner of College and William Street (changes here from Park Street), is the Australian Museum. A little further along is St Mary’s Cathedral. From here you can take a right to the Art Gallery of NSW and the Domain, or veer left to go down Macquarie Street where there are some lovely buildings and attractions. Here you will find St James Church, The Mint, the Sydney Hospital, St Stephens Church, the NSW Parliament, the State Library of NSW              , the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the Royal Botanic Gardens and, on the harbour, the stunning Sydney Opera House.

From the Opera House you can head around Circular Quay towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Sydney Museum is handy (corner of Bridge and Phillip Streets) and the bridge side of the Quay is home to the Museum of Contemporary Art.  The Rocks is steeped in history and home to Cadman’s Cottage, the Argyle Cut, art galleries, markets, fine old pubs like the Hero of Waterloo, the Garrison Church, cafés, restaurants and Bridgeclimb.

You could head back on George Street where there are some lovely, atmospheric shopping options like the Strand Arcade and the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) opposite the Sydney Town Hall. You might like to take a left into Market Street for a bird’s eye view of the city from the Sydney Tower Eye. From Town Hall Darling Harbour is to just the right.

Darling Harbour and its many attractions is also a walk from Rydges Sydney Central – head past Central Railway and cross George Street at the Haymarket. This will take you to Paddy’s Markets and Chinatown (the pedestrian mall, Dixon Street, is at the heart of Chinatown). This leads down to Darling Harbour and the Chinese Garden of Friendship, the IMAX Theatre and some of the city’s main tourist attractions. 

There will be some major redevelopment happening to make the Darling Harbour precinct even more popular but there’s a lot to see and do now including the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussauds, the Wildlife Sydney Zoo, the Australian Maritime Museum and the Powerhouse Museum. While in the precinct, there are lots of dining options (e.g. Cockle Bay).

Heading east from Rydges Sydney Central (straight up Albion or down Elizabeth and up Devonshire) will take you through Surry Hills where there are lots of terrific pubs, cafés and restaurants, galleries, historic houses and churches and it leads to Moore Park, home to the Sydney Cricket Ground, Allianz Stadium, the Entertainment Quarter and the Moore Park Golf Course and Club.

Australian Museum Sydney

The Australian Museum Sydney is on the corner of College and William Streets, pretty much in the heart of the CBD, just across the road from Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral. It is a pleasant walk from Rydges Sydney Central and you should allow at least a few hours to explore. If a few hours aren’t enough, your ticket is valid for the day so you can take a break if needed. It is a terrific outing for the whole family and children under 16 now gain free general admission. General admission for adults is $15, $8 for concessions and Members are free. Some temporary exhibitions may have an admission charge. The museum is open 9:30am to 5:00pm every day except Christmas Day.

For over 180 years the Australian Museum has been at the forefront of scientific research, collection and education. Australia’s first public museum was established in Sydney in 1827 with the aim of procuring ‘many rare and curious specimens of Natural History’. In 1829 William Holmes was appointed the first custodian of the fledgling collection which was in the old post office building in Macquarie Place - the institution was formally named the Australian Museum in 1836.

Today the Australian Museum continues its roles in research and education. From a ‘beautiful Collection of Australian curiosities’, the Museum has grown to an internationally recognised collection of over 18 million cultural and scientific objects. The Museum plays a leading role in research, and at its research station at Lizard Island conducts significant research on coral reef ecology. Through exhibitions and other public programs the museum continues to inform and amaze generations of visitors about the unique flora, fauna and cultures of Australia and the Pacific.

Australia is known world-wide for its dangerous animals. For example, 20 of the world's 25 most venomous snakes are Australian – and we’ve got funnel-webs and redback spiders, box jellyfish, bluebottles, paralysis ticks, crocodiles, stonefish, sharks, bull ants and bees… lots of things to niggle us but are they really that threatening?

The museum is home to an array of dinosaurs, birds, fishes, mammals, frogs and insects as well as photographic, art and cultural exhibitions from international and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait collections. There’s a large Natural Science Collection in lots of categories – arachnology (spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites and other eight-legged critters), entomology (insects like flies, cicadas, moths, bugs, cockroaches, fleas and bees), herpetology (reptiles like snakes, lizards, crocodiles, frogs, turtles and tortoises), ichthyology (fishes – there are over 32,500 species!), malacology (the molluscs that sometimes find their way onto a menu – clams, mussels, octopus, squid and snails), mammalogy (the mammals – from rodents to whales to marsupials to monotremes to primates), mineralogy (minerals), petrology (rocks), ornithology (birds – from tiny hummingbirds to huge ostriches), palaeontology (fascinating fossils), vertebrates (animals with backbones) and marine invertebrates (specimens from all the invertebrate groups apart from molluscs, insects and spiders).

Here is a link to the Australian Museum official website for more information on the museum including what’s currently happening.

Powerhouse Museum Sydney

The Powerhouse Museum Sydney is a fabulous attraction with lots of permanent and temporary exhibitions to excite and fascinate visitors of all ages. It is a walk from Rydges Sydney Central – just head past Central Railway to Darling Harbour and out the other side. The Powerhouse is located at 500 Harris Street, Ultimo in the old Ultimo Power Station.

The Powerhouse is the flagship venue of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Its unique and diverse collection spans science, technology, design and decorative arts, engineering, architecture, health and medicine, fashion and contemporary culture. With the focus on creativity and curiosity, 12 permanent exhibitions are complemented by a changing program of temporary exhibitions and displays. There are regular tours and demonstrations, performances, workshops, forums and other special events.

The museum opens daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm (except Christmas Day) and during holidays it may open at 9:30am. Make sure you allocate plenty of time because there is a lot to see and take in. Admission costs – adults $15, seniors and concessions $8, Members and children under 16 year free. The museum is very disabled-friendly. Visitors can access the main levels of the museum via ramps and an elevator (best for manual wheelchairs). Wheelchairs can be borrowed at no charge from the cloaking desk in the main entrance foyer. Feel free to take photos for personal use (no flash). Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the Museum and the cafes.

Some of the popular permanent attractions are Experimentations, The Kings Cinema and Locomotive No 1.

Experimentations is a place where you can explore, witness science in action and discover by doing – you can experiment with heat, light, chemistry, electricity and movement.

The Kings Cinema is an art deco cinema in the style of the 1930s. Sadly, this exhibition is only possible because so many of the city’s old buildings have been demolished. The foyer of the Kings Cinema includes interior fittings from the Queen Victoria Building. Inside, the seats are from the Manly Odeon, built in 1932 and demolished in 1985. In the theatre you can watch Australian newsreels and films from the 1920s and 1930s and hear the magical sounds of the Fotoplayer, a mechanical musicmaker used to accompany silent movies.

Locomotive No. 1 brings to life the age of steam travel, which began in 1855 when this very locomotive hauled New South Wales’ first train. The exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum recreates a journey from Sydney to Parramatta in 1863. Visitors can peer at the characters and overhear their conversations on a typical 19th century train journey, sitting in the vastly different first, second and third class carriages. A fascinating audio-visual tells the story of Locomotive No. 1 and a history of railways in NSW. It is extremely rare for any country or state to retain its first locomotive and it is believed to be the only known example of its type in the world.

Here is a link to the official Powerhouse Museum website for more information and what is currently happening at the museum.

Queen Victoria Building

The Queen Victoria Building (QVB) is an absolute delight. As well as being home to terrific retail outlets, the architecture and ambience make it a much more rewarding experience than just a trip to the shops. It’s an easy walk from Rydges Sydney Central (head up George Street just past the Town Hall). Town Hall is the best rail station and it has direct access to the QVB via the Lower Ground Floor. The QVB Bus Station is on the York Street side of the building and there is undercover parking for 700 cars.

The QVB takes up an entire city block. It was designed by George McRae and completed in 1898, replacing the original Sydney markets on the site. Built as a monument to the long reigning monarch, construction took place in dire times, during a severe recession. The elaborate Romanesque architecture was planned for the grand building so the Government could employ out-of-work craftsmen (stonemasons, plasterers, and stained window artists) in a worthwhile project. Originally, a concert hall, coffee shops, offices, showrooms, warehouses and a wide variety of tradespeople, such as tailors, mercers, hairdressers and florists, were accommodated.

Some dramatic Art Deco remodelling happened in the 1930’s and from 1959 to 1971 the building was facing demolition because no-one could work out what to do with it. After murmurs of turning it into a casino, a massive restoration project was given the green light in 1982 and the fully-restored building re-opened her doors in 1986. Since then there have been additional refurbishments like restoring the ballroom plus new escalators, balustrades, bathrooms, signage and painting throughout. It is a monument to the talents of the original builders and artisans as well as those who undertook the restoration and refurbishment – it is a building of grace and beauty that beautifully balances history and architecture with retail and commercial outlets.

Oh! Nearly forgot that bit - there are over 200 shops that offer ladies and men’s fashion, children’s wear and footwear, gifts, accessories, arts & antiques, jewellery, health and beauty, homewares and ATMs as well as a fine selection of restaurants and cafés. Here is a link to the QVB stores, listed by category.

You can experience the history and grandeur of the QVB with a guided tour ($15, runs approximately 45 minutes) on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:30pm. To book, contact the QVB Concierge on the Ground Floor or ring (02) 9264 9209. There are also chocolate tours to tantalise the tastebuds at 2:30pm on Wednesdays ($65, runs approximately 90 minutes). And you can enjoy lunch or a coffee break with free high-speed Wi-Fi.

The QVB is disability friendly with lift access to all floors (at both ends and middle), there is a disability access bathroom on the Lower Ground Floor and wheelchair hire is available from the security desk. The Concierge Desk is on the Ground Floor (near the centre dome) and the friendly team there can assist with directions, general info and a free city map to assist getting around town.

Chinese Garden of Friendsip

The Chinese Garden of Friendship is nestled at the south end of Darling Harbour and a short walk from Chinatown. From Rydges Sydney Central just head past Central Railway and cross George Street at the Haymarket End.

Entering the garden is like walking backwards in time into the quiet solitude of ancient Chinese architecture and its relationship with nature. The garden combines plants with stone and architecture. Guarding the entrance to the garden are two Foo-dogs (Chinese lions), which have been carved from rare Chinese granite. A hybrid of dog, lion and dragon they represent loyalty, strength and prosperity.

Running water, towering trees, cool lagoons with lotus plants and large colourful fish all make this an idyllic spot to read a book or just relax, reflect and recharge your batteries. Escape the city bustle, breathe deeply and feel the sun on your face. It really is a special place. The garden features waterfalls, lakes, pavilions, sculptures, hidden pathways, exotic plants and local wildlife such as the water dragon, koi carp and several species of birds. Willows weep in the breeze and there’s a Teahouse that serves Chinese Tea and dim sum. Highlights include the Dragon Wall, Twin Pavilion, Dragon Rock and the Penjing Courtyard. Here is a link to a self-guided map with more info on the Garden Highlights.

This walled garden of solace respectfully recreates the philosophy and harmony of a traditional Chinese garden. The garden is open every day apart from Good Friday and Christmas Day from 9:30am to 5:00pm (5:30pm during Daylight Saving). Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children under 12 years – it is $15 for two adults and two children, $3 for concession and $4.50 for seniors. An annual pass for adults is $50, which is great value if you can visit regularly for some stress-free R&R.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship was built as a symbol of friendship between Sydney and Guangzhuo in China to mark Australia’s bicentenary in 1988. It was designed and built by Chinese landscape architects and gardeners following the Taoist principles of ‘Tin-Yang’ and the five opposite elements – earth fire, water, metal and wood. Yin-Yang plays such a vital role that just one missing element would disrupt the garden’s harmony and balance. Unlike western-style gardens there are no planted flowerbeds or manicured lawns. Instead, wild aspects of nature are recreated in landscapes that feature waterfalls, mountains, lakes and forests. The art of Chinese Garden design began in imperial parks 3,000 years ago and later flourished in private gardens of the rich and powerful. This garden is a small-scale version of a typical garden from this time.

The pathways in the lower garden are accessible for wheelchairs and prams but the upper part of the garden has steps and rocky pathways. There is a fully upgraded accessible toilet and baby change facilities. Free public programs and other events, including school holiday programs, are offered throughout the year. Check the Chinese Garden of Friendship website to find out what's on.

Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

The Royal Botanic Garden is somewhat of a well-kept secret for both visitors and locals. It is hard to believe that such a lovely expanse of interesting parklands can coexist with a bustling CBD. It is the oldest botanic garden and scientific institution in Australia and is home to an amazing collection of plants from around the world with a particular focus on flora from Australia and the South Pacific.

It all began in 1788 when the colony’s first farm, Farm Cove, was established by Governor Phillip. In 1816 Governor Lachlan Macquarie founded the Botanic Gardens of Sydney on this site and if you visit the gardens, Macquarie Street runs right alongside with some of the architecturally wonderful buildings that Macquarie also commissioned.

The Botanic Gardens are a delightful spot for a stroll, to explore or just have a sit and relax. At the northern end the Botanic Garden sits on Sydney Harbour, next to the Sydney Opera House. It is surrounded by the unfenced parkland known as the Domain, which is open to the public 24 hours a day. The Botanic Garden sits at the heart of Sydney’s cultural domain as well with art galleries, museums and performing arts part of its makeup. The gardens and parklands host to some of Sydney’s biggest festivals, celebrations and events and play an important role in providing recreational, sporting and relaxation facilities for the city’s workers, residents and visitors.

One of the best ways to explore the Royal Botanic Gardens is to take one of the self-guided walks on offer. They are all themed, have different points of interest (which can be downloaded from the links provided below) and it will be best to allow 90 minutes to a couple of hours so you can enjoy at leisure.

There’s the Memories of World War One Walk… start at the Eucalyptus Gum Tree - During World War One the troops would receive gum leaves, enclosed in their letters, from families and friends. Each evening in the trenches it was tradition to burn the leaves so the Australian soldiers could share the smell of home. The Heritage Walk has significant examples of the early history and development of Sydney since European settlement. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk highlights the significance of native plants to Aboriginal culture. Early Aboriginal inhabitants, the Cardigal, were hunters and gatherers and were intimately associated with their environment. The Domain Walk starts at the Opera House and returns to Government House – en route from Bennelong Point it takes in Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Woolloomooloo Gate, the Art Gallery of NSW, St Mary’s Gate, The Mint and Hyde Park Barracks, The Bent Street Entrance, The Garden Palace, Old Government House Site (1788-1845) and the Conservatorium of Music. And the Arts and Memorials Walk follows a path to focus on the fountains, sculptures and memorials in the gardens - there are 55 points of interest on this walk!

The Royal Botanic Gardens (including the Domain) must rate as one of Sydney’s best attractions and entry is free.

Chinatown Sydney

Rydges Sydney Central is handy to lots of restaurants – it’s a walk to some of Sydney’s best Lebanese, Greek, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Korean and, of course, Chinese cuisine... Just head across George Street towards Darling Harbour to the city’s famous Chinatown (the Haymarket end).

Dixon Street is always buzzing with restaurant front-of-house and owners inviting passers-by in to dine, working the tables and whipping their staff into gear.  There's inside and al fresco dining options, a great passing parade and street happenings like massages from mobile 'therapists'. The pedestrian thoroughfare is framed by two gated arches and, in Chinese, these are known as ‘paifang’. Before deciding on a restaurant, we suggest you do a lap of the street and check out what other diners are enjoying – and before sitting at a table, check if they are only serving yum cha if you prefer to choose from a menu.

The Chinatown location came about through ‘migration’. In the late 19th century, The Rocks area was home to Chinatown and it moved south to relocate near Market Street, Darling Harbour and settled in its current location in the 1920’s. It has also ‘migrated’ from being a home to opium dens and sly gambling to today’s exciting mix of neon lights, restaurants, grocery shops and quirky gift and clothing outlets. While Dixon Street is at the heart of Chinatown, other streets include Factory, Goulburn, Little Hay, Thomas, Kimber Lane and parts of George and Sussex Streets. A quick point of reference it to look at the signs for the street names – within Chinatown they are in both English and Chinese.

Apart from the terrific restaurants, food halls and noodle bars, Chinatown is simply a vibrant, fun place to visit with the atmosphere and buzz of an Asian marketplace. The symbolic entry point is at the eastern end of Chinatown (corner of George and Hay Streets) where there is a sculpture by artist Lin Li called Golden Water Mouth. Standing over 10 metres high the sculpture is made from the trunk of a yellow-box eucalyptus tree, partly covered with gold leaf and mounted on a terracotta base set into the footpath. The sculpture represents positive energy and good fortune and the five natural elements (wood, water, earth, fire and gold) give harmony to the natural and urban environments with the gold also reflecting a link to early Chinese settlers and the gold rush era.

The Chinatown streets are busy day and night, especially on Fridays when the Chinatown Night Markets on Dixon Street swing into action (from 4:00pm to 11:00pm). The market is an opportunity for Asian students, artists and designers to sell clothing, jewellery, candles, lanterns, smart phone accessories and street food with a very multicultural mix.

And, of course, the best time of year to visit Chinatown is for the Lunar New Year celebrations. The annual event (February) is more than a one-night celebration – it has become a vibrant arts festival with cultural events, exhibitions, entertainment, Dragon Boat races and, of course, more food!

Paddy's Markets

To get to Sydney’s wonderful Paddy’s Markets from Rydges Sydney Central just head towards Darling Harbour, go past Central Railway, across George Street to the Haymarket and, opposite Chinatown, on the corner of Hay and Thomas Streets is Paddy’s. Paddy's has held a central place in Sydney's history for over 150 years. They are Sydney's biggest markets and have a wide variety of stalls selling food, fashion, gifts and gadgets in a true market atmosphere.  The markets open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00am to 6:00pm.

These days there are two Paddy’s Markets – the Haymarket one and the other at Flemington. Combined they have over 1000 stalls but the Flemington ones are more about fruit and vegetables and lack the fun and atmosphere of the Haymarket site, which is much more a ‘flea-market’ in style.

As they say, one person’s treasure is another person’s trash and chances are you will find a smattering of both. Vendors will be offering souvenirs, sporting goods, gifts, clothes, cosmetics, sunglasses, craft, CDs, phone accessories, flowers, jewellery and more. Prices start at value and work down from there if you don’t mind a bit of friendly banter and haggling. On weekends you will find the volume increases slightly when the fresh fruit, vegie and seafood vendors spruik their wares at wholesale prices. 

A bit of Paddy’s history – in 1834, the Governor of NSW, General Richard Bourke, moved the cattle, grain and hay markets to Campbell Street (hence the name ‘Haymarket’). Opposite the markets was a site that was a favourite with circuses and the combination of sideshow attractions and bustling markets gave the place a carnival atmosphere and that somehow got into the markets DNA. A fruit market opened on the former circus site in the 1890’s and stall holders had to apply for space or leave the area. These days it is very much the same – here’s a link to the official Paddy’s Markets website and you will see that there are casual stalls available as well as permanent stands for sale.

When the markets moved to Flemington they included a new “Sydney’s Paddy’s Markets” in the complex and that opened in 1975. While the Flemington incarnation is fabulous for fresh produce and is Australia’s largest flower market for fresh cut flowers as well as Australia’s largest fresh fruit and vegetable market you just can’t bottle and transport atmosphere.  Due to its nature and reason for being, the Flemington markets has a far more ‘serious’ approach to operating – you sometimes get the feeling at the Haymarket Paddy’s that the vendors are there as much for fun as for business.

While Paddy’s a fabulous Sydney attraction in its own right, the Haymarket location makes it ideal for combining with a visit to the Darling Harbour attractions (Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds, Powerhouse Museum, Maritime Museum, IMAX Theatre, Chinese Garden of Friendship etc)… and if the markets drum up an appetite for restaurant dining, Dixon Street in Chinatown is just across the road.

Moore Park Preinct

If you are a guest at Rydges Sydney Central and looking for Sydney attractions, the obvious direction to look is into the CBD or towards Darling Harbour but heading up through Surry Hills to Moore Park can also reap rewards.

The Sydney Cricket Ground is arguably the most beautiful sporting arena in Sydney and, as well as the SCG, this is where you find Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Sports Ground. There’s also the SCG Museum, which is dedicated to collecting, documenting, preserving and displaying the unique sporting and social activities that have occurred at these grounds. Here is a link to the official SCG Museum website for more details and tour times etc.

Rugby League fans will enjoy the Heroes & Legends Rugby League Museum that is open from 10:00am to 3:00pm Monday to Friday with free entry. It is a tribute to the history of the ‘Greatest Game of All’ and contains a lot of memorabilia including a cap worn by Dally Messenger, the game’s first premiership trophy, famous jerseys and tributes to the Team of the Century and the Immortals Hall of Fame.

Moore Park is also home to EQ (the Entertainment Quarter). Every Wednesday and Saturday you can see, taste and indulge at the EQ Village Markets from 9:00am to 2:00pm. The markets offer a superb variety of top produce at excellent prices. It’s a lively atmosphere that has a terrific picnic area and activities for the kids including a children’s playground, jumping castle, the Choo-Choo Train and bungee trampoline.

The Hordern Pavilion has long been one of Sydney’s best concert, dance and events venues if you are attending a show or sporting match or going to the markets or museums, the Bavarian Bier Café Entertainment Quarter is a vibrant venue for family-friendly dining.

Golfers are often surprised to discover the Moore Park Golf course and entertainment complex just 10 minutes from the CBD in the heart of the Entertainment Quarter. It is an 18-hole championship course that is open to the public as well as members. If you don’t have time to tackle all 18 holes there are options to play just the back eight holes or the front ten holes.  There’s also a 60-bay all-weather driving range, putting and chipping practice greens, free parking for patrons, an historic club house with two function rooms (Park View Bar and Patio Bar), a fully-equipped Golf Shop and you can hire clubs (right and left handed) and carts.

Iconic Centennial Park is a picturesque parkland in the heart of Sydney and there’s lots on offer for both locals and visitors. It is a great spot for a picnic and/or barbeque (there are eight free electric BBQs, each with two hotplates), bird watching is popular, there’s a public stone labyrinth, you can hire bicycles (from beginners to mountain bikes to pedal cars) or do a spot of horse riding (also for beginners or experienced riders).  There’s rollerblading, activities for the kids and a choice of some lovely self-guided walks. Here is a link to the official Centennial Parklands website.

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