Although I now live on the rural fringe of Sydney, I travel back into the city frequently as there’s nearly always something new to see or experience. As well as the bridge, the beaches and the bars, Sydney is also a popular destination for lovers of the arts. In the inner-city precincts there are numerous galleries, museums, heritage buildings and interesting architecture.
Here’s some of what’s on offer culturally in Australia’s largest city of close to six million people.
Sydney is home to many renowned art galleries with a roster of world-class exhibitions. On the eastern side of the city near Hyde Park is the Art Gallery of NSW, which presents more than 30 exhibitions each year, including the flagship Archibald Prize.
Its collection spans colonial and 19th century Australian works, European masterpieces, modern and contemporary art and galleries dedicated to the work of Asian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
At The Rocks in central Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art presents more than 4,000 works by Australian artists, also with a strong commitment to work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Its permanent collection includes photography, sculpture, painting and moving image, complemented by a calendar of regular exhibitions.
On weekends, there is also The Rocks Markets for handmade artisanal wares and gourmet street food. The cobbled streets and heritage alleyways come alive with a variety of tempting stalls, starting with the Friday night markets.
White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, just off the city centre, showcases one of the world’s most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art.
Opened in 2009, the gallery today has a collection that includes more than 2,000 thought-provoking works by almost 700 artists.
In the nearby suburb of Surry Hills – take a City Circle Line train to Central station or the light rail to Surry Hills – you can visit the Brett Whiteley Studio, a gallery housed within the acclaimed artist’s former workplace and home.
In the 1960s Whiteley left Australia to live and paint in Europe and the United States and later in Fiji. He became the youngest artist to be purchased by the Tate Gallery in London when it acquired his only two works at the time, Red Painting and White Painting. He won the Art Gallery of NSW Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes several times, including first place in the Archibald Prize in 1976 for Self Portrait in the Studio, pictured above.
After returning to Australia he bought the former warehouse in 1985 and converted it into a studio and exhibition space. He lived and worked there from 1987 until June 1992, when a drug overdose ended his life at the age of 53.
Visitors are offered the unique opportunity to experience the atmosphere of the space – the studio with his unfinished paintings, art equipment and collections of reference books, and the graffiti wall covered with quotes and images. The living area has memorabilia such as photographs, objects, postcards, furniture, his music collection and sketchbooks.
While in Surry Hills, evening options include catching a performance at Belvoir Street Theatre, one of Australia’s most celebrated theatre companies. For more than 30 years, this much-loved venue has engaged prominent and promising playwrights, actors and directors for an evocative annual program.
If you feel a desire to get your hands dirty, but in an artistic way, you can try a wheel throwing class at Clay Sydney in the inner-west suburb of Marrickville, about 15 minutes from the city centre by car or train.
Its 90-minute Wheel Throwing Master Class offers an introduction to working with clay, teaching the process of stoneware ceramics and basic vessel forming techniques.
Places to eat and drink
For lunch nearby, head to Two Chaps in Marrickville. It’s a “from-scratch” café, with a seasonal menu that supports local suppliers and producers.
Also, in Marrickville, the gin hall at Poor Toms is well worth a visit. At this discreet gin bar, tucked beside a motorcycle repair shop, you can sample the spirits in a tasting flight or cocktail, with a sandwich on the side.
In inner-city Redfern is concept café Henry Lee’s, located within the warehouse space and courtyard of the 16 Eveleigh Street Creative Precinct. There you can admire original artworks including Lucky Penny, designed by Vince Frost of Frost Collective, and the Secret of their Merit mural (below) by local Redfern artist Gemma O’Brien.
In the late afternoon, a good place to sit down to a glass of wine while curating your own cheese board is The Stinking Bishops in Newtown, a 15-minute drive from the city centre. Choose from 40-plus artisanal cheeses, along with meat boards, snacks and light dishes.
Although I haven’t dined there yet, boutique restaurant Chin Chin comes highly recommended. Located in Surry Hills, Chin Chin fuses Australian and Southeast Asian flavours in a modern converted warehouse space on the fringe of the city centre. The popular ‘Feed Me’ tasting menu offers a selection of mouth-watering share plates.
Places to stay
Back in Chippendale, The Old Clare Hotel is a good place to stay and in keeping with the arts theme of this itinerary. Perhaps splash out on the Showroom Suite that features a vintage bar, salvaged and restored from the former brewery building onsite.
The beautifully appointed room includes vintage furniture and lamps, a super king-sized bed and a modern oversized bathroom.
And tucked into the former headquarters of Paramount Picture Studios in Surry Hills, Paramount House Hotel blends heritage details with modern comforts. Each room has its own theme, while guests can enjoy access to the rooftop Paramount Recreation Club with a day pass. Guests and visitors can catch a movie at Golden Age Cinema right downstairs.
Of course, there are plenty of well-established and perhaps better-known attractions as well, not least of which are the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Then there is Darling Harbour and the Maritime Museum.
And finally the old Pyrmont Bridge, now a pedestrian walkway and cycle path.
When circumstances permit, enjoy a visit to the vibrant and constantly evolving city of Sydney.