February 01, 2023
13 mins Read
The ongoing urban renewal of Sydney precincts determine that you don’t need to travel far to get a sense of escapism. There’s never been a better time to be a tourist in your own city as a raft of newly revitalised and renewed Sydney precincts make living in the NSW capital feel more thrilling than ever.
Whether you’re a long-time local, visiting with family or a new resident, Sydney precincts have you sorted. At every turn, you’re reminded that the city with the #feelnewsydney hashtag isn’t just a place to call home; the Greater Sydney precincts make the city a vibrant place to live.
Here’s the ultimate round-up of revitalised Sydney precincts that should be on your radar in Australia’s biggest city, from Barangaroo to Walsh Bay, from Quay Quarter to Kings Cross.
Sydney’s CBD has never been busier. In addition to an exciting roster of music, art and culture, the city recently celebrated the expansion of the world-class Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has a vast collection of fine Australian and international art. It’s one of the best things to do in Sydney’s CBD.
The CBD, located on the Traditional Lands of the Gadigal people, has also done a bit of an about-face thanks to the addition of new green spaces, the ongoing pedestrianisation of George St and a network of bike paths that make an eco-friendly exploration of the inner-urban grid a lot easier.
Mayor Clover Moore’s decision to extend free outdoor dining until June 2025 and a year-round calendar of great events are also building on that buzz. There’s a lot to discover on the food front too, from the flawless Shell House to Merivale’s MuMu, subterranean steakhouse The Gidley and the high-end cocktail bar and restaurant Kittyhawk.
After pressing pause during the pandemic, the French bistro is back better than ever with a revamped menu, cocktail and wine list. Expect a lot of fun, French twists to the menu curated by Leonard Michaud under the umbrella of Merlino & Co (The Lobo, Big Poppa’s and the oh-so brilliant Bartolo).
Sydney’s star is on the rise thanks in part to revitalised precincts such as Quay Quarter where Sydney’s architectural past has been fused with its future. One of the most ambitious projects in this new precinct is Hinchcliff House, the heritage jewel of the new precinct’s crown, which occupies a full corner of the CBD in Sydney’s newest neighbourhood.
Billed as a ‘lifestyle precinct’, this new pocket of the city is built around Quay Quarter Tower, designed as a world-first vertical village, and the character-filled Quay Quarter Lanes, which are no less ambitious. The character-filled lanes offer a diverse range of options for eating out and host Quay Quarter Lanes Markets on the second Wednesday of every month. This lifestyle precinct has added greatly to the amenity of the CBD and has some of the best restaurants in Sydney.
The worth of Walsh Bay can be measured in different ways. But one thing is for certain: the waterfront community has evolved over time to become one of Sydney’s most creative precincts, home to a line-up of some of the city’s most iconic creatives and innovators such as Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, Sydney Theatre Company, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Bell Shakespeare.
Walsh Bay Arts Precinct, Australia’s newest cultural precinct, received awards in four categories at the 2022 NSW Architecture Awards for reimagining the cargo wharves that were built between 1913 and 1920. The heritage-sensitive redesign of Wharf 4/5 and Pier 2/3 by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects has ensured the precinct remains an integral part of Sydney’s history.
In addition to being an exciting new chapter for the arts in Sydney, the amenity of the area has been greatly improved by having great places to eat and stay in Walsh Bay.
It’s all salty air and seagull songs in Woolloomooloo. The shoreline is torn around the edges of the Finger Wharf, an old cargo dock that has been rejigged to include fancy bars and restaurants with water views. The wharf attracts an extravagant clientele who hunker down here to lunch for hours before returning to their swanky accommodation.
On the cultural front, while there’s street art visible around the back streets, there are also exhibitions at the Artspace gallery on Cowper Wharf Road that shows contemporary and experimental art. And the character-filled pubs found on residential side streets add to the area’s air of grit and glam. Get onboard the Hop On Hop Off Bus which travels around the main areas of Sydney and includes a stop at Woolloomooloo. Get a sense of the city’s pulse by catching a show at the Old Fitzroy Hotel, home to Australia’s only pub theatre.
Potts Point is these days best known for its stately mansions, harbour views and heritage. The small stylish suburb has a lot going for it, with its great restaurants and proximity to some of Sydney’s star attractions top of the list. Potts Point, on Gadigal land, was once known as Woolloomooloo Hill and is one of the city’s oldest suburbs.
Bounded by the suburbs of Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay, Rushcutters Bay and Darlinghurst, it is also known for its bohemian denizens who were initially drawn by the colourful intersection between grit, glam, stylish and scuzzy. Named after rich landowner Joseph Potts, the suburb was also known for its razor gangs, petty criminals and impoverished artists who all helped shape the area, which has gone from seedy to one of the most sought-after inner eastern suburbs to stay and play in Sydney.
After enduring lockouts and lockdowns, Kings Cross has flickered back to life since the lifting of limited opening hours and the vibe is almost as electric as the iconic heritage-listed Coke sign that has been screaming out an incessant racket for decades.
Today, Sydney’s Kings Cross is not as grungy as it once was. It feels as if the party precinct has removed some, but not all, of its heavy eye makeup and combed its hair, maturing into a place that appeals to a more diverse group of people (read: not just the party animals).
A decade ago, this vibrant hub was best known for its jumping nightlife and seedy underbelly. And while Kings Cross is increasingly getting its mojo back as a popular place to party, it’s also shaping up as a playground for those who prefer going out for dinner at a nice restaurant and enjoying a quiet drink after dark.
The redevelopment of the area is set to continue with plans by property developer Iris Capital to expand into the area with a $65 million hotel and apartment block. There is also a range of great accommodation within staggering distance of Kings Cross.
To really get under the skin of Sydney, you need to get lost amid the historic laneways that thread around The Rocks. The Rocks is located in the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge and is a popular place for temporary pop-ups such as Playfair Street, and Elevate Sydney as well as long-standing festivals such as Sydney Fringe and Vivid, which make this revitalised precinct shine as bright as a coloured drawing by Ken Done (whose gallery is located on Hickson Road, The Rocks).
Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood is one of cobblestone streets and federation-era warehouses as well as charming buildings from the 19th century. While The Rocks were once controlled by local razor gangs, these days you’re more likely to encounter sunburned backpackers and iPhone-toting tourists who’ve arrived via cruise ship at the Overseas Passenger Terminal.
Find yourself transported back to another era while wandering around the labyrinth of laneways and backstreets, which include the Suez Canal and Nurses Walk. While Sydney has more than its fair share of great restaurants, you will find some of the best places to eat in The Rocks, as well as chic hotels to rest your head.
If you’re researching the best bush walks in Sydney, the Pyrmont Bay Walk Trail probably won’t make the cut. But it should. It’s a bit of an urban secret. The 3500-step route gains an elevation of about 11 metres and includes a section of clifftop that provides a great vantage point for peering out over Pyrmont. While the area was seen as a slum in the 19th century, it’s now a thriving waterside hub, with beautiful colonial heritage, Victorian terraces and the landmark Jones Bay Wharf.
Some evidence of the suburb’s industrial past remains on the Pyrmont peninsula and a walk down Harris St, with its tiny terraces and pubs and soaring sugar refinery, will give you an insight into the area’s history during the colonial era. Prior to this, the Eora tribe inhabited the area and the Aboriginal name for the area was Pirrama.
The new vision for Pyrmont and Ultimo is to transform it into a tourist hub that rivals London’s West End or NYC’s Meatpacking District. Major businesses such as The Star Sydney, Google and Sydney Fish Markets continue to draw people to the precinct and there are plans in the pipeline for improved transport around and within the area. Some of the best places to eat in Pyrmont are located in this precinct thanks to The Star Sydney, where visitors can enjoy a #starcation at Sydney’s first and only Forbes five-star hotel, The Darling at The Star.
You will find swarms of joggers racing around the peripheral paths that hug the cliffs around Barangaroo Reserve, Sydney’s newest Harbour foreshore park.
The Sydney precinct has also become a destination for wining and dining with some of the city’s best places to eat in Barangaroo. There’s a lot to take in at Sydney’s newest landmark waterfront destination from its infrastructure and architecture to its public spaces and experiences (some of which have courted controversy).
From its laneways with local and international designers to its world-class accommodation, this newly revitalised precinct has taken a section of the city’s oldest industrial sites and flipped it into a six-hectare pocket of green space. The waterfront haven also has two world-class dining precincts – Barangaroo South and Crown Sydney – only a few minutes from Wynyard Station.
Darling Quarter is the newest pocket of Darling Harbour and this modern cultural and entertainment precinct is packed with great bars, restaurants and things to do.
The harbourside playground is one of the most family-friendly spots in Sydney, it’s also rich in history and heritage dating back to the Wangal and Gadigal clans of the Eora nation. The Eora people called Darling Harbour Tumbalong, meaning a place where seafood is found, and there’s a world-class park named in honour of the Traditional Owners.
Darling Harbour celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2009 and a quick flick through the book, A History of Sydney’s Darling Harbour shows how the precinct has been revitalised since it was developed in the 80s. Darling Square has played a major role in breathing new life into the precinct and you will find great places to eat within proximity to Darling Habour.
From the mini dining precinct that is Steam Mill Lane to the new iconic Exchange Building, which is wrapped in 20km of pale accoya timber strips, and the Maker’s Dozen, a Euro-style culinary marketplace, Darling Square has helped make the harbourside precinct of Darling Harbour one of Sydney’s hottest new hubs. It’s a prime spot for a staycation in Sydney.
Circular Quay’s location, sandwiched between the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, has in the past meant it rested on its laurels and relied on its position to some of Sydney’s star attractions.
But the arrival of the Light Rail has skewed the scene here to be a bit more local. There are now a plethora of great places to eat in and around Circular Quay, as well as luxe places to stay.
Any guide to Sydney precincts must include the strip of rambunctious bars at Sydney Opera House, which includes The Harbour, a nostalgic fish and chip shop that popped up over summer. Add to this the ferries that crisscross Sydney’s waterways and the Overseas Passenger Terminal, which brings in thousands of visitors every time a cruise ship enters the harbour.
Circular Quay has both form and function: in addition to having major wow factor, it is bordered by Sydney Harbour and Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, and is one of the city’s major transport hubs. You can also embark on an adventure to Cockatoo Island and take a tour with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.
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