Walk 124: Sydney city centre – G’Day!

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Probably about 6.5 miles (10.5km) for the main part of the walk

Time to walk: Pretty much all of the places we visited in the central part of the city can be done in a day without rushing, however, if you have a few days, it’s worth spreading it out as there’s so much to see

Difficulty: Easy & all on flat, hard paths

Parking: We used public transport

Public toilets: Good on yer mate – anywhere you can find!

Map of the route: None as this is a combined stroll

We visited Sydney as part of a touring holiday in March 2019. The first thing we always look for when visiting a new city is whether there’s a “Free Walking” tour. These are normally run by students who’ve grown up in the area & you only pay for what you think the tour was worth at the end

Melbourne had a great one & the same company, “I’m Free!”, operated another, twice-daily walk, in Sydney. This walk therefore follows their downtown walk, but then we’ve also included additional places we visited, so as to try & give our overall impression of this great city, together with some recommendations if you are lucky enough to visit

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales & the most populated city in Australia. Located on the east coast, the city is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas & 15 contiguous regions. Indigenous Australians have inhabited the Sydney area for at least 30,000 years. During his first Pacific voyage in 1770, Lieutenant James Cook & his crew became the first Europeans to chart the eastern coast of Australia, making landfall at Botany Bay & inspiring British interest in the area

In 1788, the first wave of convicts founded Sydney as a British penal colony, the first European settlement in Australia. The city was named ‘Sydney’ in recognition of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. Penal transportation to New South Wales ended soon after Sydney was incorporated as a city in 1842

A gold rush occurred in the colony in 1851 &, over the next century, Sydney transformed from a colonial outpost into a major global cultural & economic centre. After World War II it experienced mass migration & became one of the most multicultural cities in the world

Despite being one of the most expensive cities in the world, Sydney is ranked 10th in terms of ‘quality of living’. It also, for many years, vied with Melbourne to become the Capital of Australia, but in the end the Government chose Canberra – we found that rivalry is still very evident today

Sydney has hosted major international sporting events such as the 2000 Summer Olympics & is amongst the top 15 most visited cities in the world, with millions of tourists, including us, coming each year to see the city’s landmarks

Shall we go & have a look then…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts right in the middle of the city, at Town Hall Square, also known as Sydney Square…

The clock tower was the second tallest landmark in Sydney for a quite a long time, & the building was officially opened on the 23rd of September, 1976, by Alderman Leo Port MBE, the Lord Mayor & also attended by the Archbishop of Sydney, as the cathedral occupies the opposite side of the square. The area was once occupied by the first graveyard in old Sydney Town until the bodies were re-interred at the Newtown Graveyard. It appears the removal, however was not as complete as claimed, as when the square was upgraded to what it is now, a number of bones were found

2. As mentioned, St Andrew’s Cathedral sits on the opposite side of the square…

The cathedral is a heritage-listed & is the seat of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney & Metropolitan Bishop of New South Wales. It’s one of the city’s finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture & was built between 1837 – 1868. It was ready for services & consecrated in 1868, making it the oldest cathedral in Australia. Let’s have a look inside…

3. It’s time to get moving, so we head a short distance away from the square along George Street towards the amazing Queen Victoria Building. When we visited, George Street was a mess, because a tram system was being installed across the city – when it’s finished it will be amazing & make getting around much easier

4. This is one of Sydney’s most iconic buildings &, yet from this angle looks quite innocuous…

The Queen Victoria Building (known by everyone as the QVB) is a late 19th century building designed by the architect George McRae & was constructed between 1893 & 1898. The building fills a whole city block & therefore is very long behind that facade. Over many decades the concert hall become the city library, & offices with a variety of tenants including piano tuners, palmists & clairvoyants

Drastic ‘remodelling’ occurred during the 1930s & the main occupant was the Sydney City Council. As recently as 1959, the QVB was threatened with demolition. Today it’s a testimony to the original vision for the building & the superb craftsmanship of the artisans who put it all back together again

5. Look across to the left to see the fountain with the statue of the “talking dog”, Queen Victoria‘s favourite pet dog, a Skye Terrier called Islay…

The little pup runs through its speech on a speaker every 40 seconds saying “Hello, my name is Islay. I was once the companion of the great Queen Victoria. Because of the many good deeds I have done for deaf and blind children, I have been given the power of speech. If you cast a coin into the wishing well now, I will say thank you… Thank you. Woof, woof

6. Let’s go inside & enjoy what’s an amazing building over several floors…

What we loved about the QVB was we were told it has several underground “shopping” tunnels that can take you to different parts of the city..we descend one & continue through the “underground” complex…

7. Eventually we emerge up the steps next to Hyde Park where directly ahead’s St Mary’s Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral is the main church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney & has the greatest length of any church in Australia (although it’s neither the tallest or largest overall). We loved its interior…

8. We exit the cathedral, cross the road & walk down Hyde Park to arrive at the impressive, & poignant, Anzac Memorial, behind the Pool of Reflection…

The memorial is the focus of commemoration ceremonies on ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day & other important occasions. It was built as a memorial to the Australian Imperial Force of World War I. Fund raising for a memorial began on 25 April 1916, the first anniversary of the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landing at Anzac Cove for the Battle of Gallipoli

Go inside & spend a few quiet moments looking at the eternal flame & memorials. It really is a moving place…

9. On the way back to the cathedral, look for the World War II memorial of the giant shells…

Across the junction with William Street is Australian Museum, the oldest museum in Australia with an international reputation in the fields of natural history & anthropology

10. Exit Hyde Park at the opposite end to the ANZAC Memorial & cross the road into Macquarie Street. When you walk around Sydney you’ll hear & see the name Macquarie many times

Major General Lachlan Macquarie was a British Army officer, who served as the 5th & last autocratic Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821, & had a leading role in the social, economic & architectural development of the colony. He’s considered by historians to have had a crucial influence on the transition of New South Wales from a penal colony to a free settlement & therefore to have played a major role in the shaping of Australian society in the early 19th century

Every ‘ying has a yang’ though & Macquarie has a dark side amongst the Aboriginal people. In 1816 he gave orders that led to the Appin Massacre of Gundungurra & Dharawal people. Our visit to the Melbourne Museum didn’t help our opinion of him

On the right’s Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks is a former barracks, hospital, convict accommodation, mint & courthouse, & now museum & cafe. It was originally built between 1811 & 1819 as a brick building & compound to house convict men & boys. The site is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as amongst “the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation & the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence & labour of convicts”

11. Behind & above us is Sydney Tower

Sydney Tower is Sydney’s tallest structure & the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere. What we love about Sydney though, is that over the road, it still retains its old colonial buildings – a real mix of the old & new

12. Further along’s the buildings of the Sydney Hospital

Many of the 736 convicts who survived the voyage of the First Fleet from Portsmouth arrived suffering from dysentery, smallpox, scurvy & typhoid. Soon after landing a tent hospital was established to care for the worst cases. Subsequent convict boatloads had even higher rates of death & disease

Upon his arrival Governor Macquarie discovered that the Sydney Cove’s hospital was a combination of tents & temporary buildings. Macquarie set aside land on the western edge of the Government Domain for a new hospital & created a new road where we’re now standing to provide access to it. Plans were drawn up, but the British Government refused to provide funds to build the hospital. Consequently, Macquarie entered into a contract with a consortium of businessmen to erect the new hospital

They were to receive convict labour & supplies & a monopoly on rum imports from which they expected to recoup the cost of the building & gain considerable profits. The contract allowed them to import 45,000 gallons of rum to sell to colonists & was signed on 6 November 1810. In the event, the hospital did not turn out to be very profitable for the contractors

Today, although there’s no longer a tot of rum given to patients, it’s still a major hospital in Australia, specialising in ophthalmology & hand surgery

13. Next door to the hospital’s NSW Parliament House & the State Library. Parliament House was originally one of the wings of the hospital & was converted to accommodate the first NSW Parliament House in 1829 because it was the largest public building in New South Wales at that time. Housing the Colonial Representative Government, it was the first Parliament in Australia

As part of Sydney’s oldest remaining complex of public buildings, Parliament House has been at the centre of the history of New South Wales & continues to play a key role in its as the seat of government today

The Library is the oldest library in Australia, being established in 1826

14. On the opposite side of the street’s the Reserve Bank of Australia, which also contains the Bank’s museum, telling the story behind the country’s banknotes…

Walk down the side of the Bank, crossing into Martin Place. We’re now firmly in the central business district of the city & a place that’s been described as the “civic heart” of Sydney

It’s also become a national Australian icon in popular culture for attracting film & television productions. As well as many heritage buildings, it also contains the 1927 World War I ANZAC Cenotaph, water fountain, entertainment area, railway access & pedestrian seating to admire all around you

15. The massive building on the left’s the General Post Office which took 25 years to build

It served as the headquarters of Australia Post from its completion until 1996, when it was privatised & refurbished. The scaled back day-to-day counter postal services are now located around the corner on George Street. What we loved was the description of the emblem above the entrance, showing the Emu & the Kangaroo

The description was…”Neither can walk backwards, & we eat both!”

16. Want to explore a rather secret Sydney place? Then walk down the narrow passage on the right…

You emerge into one of Sydney’s most quirkiest spots…Angel Place with its empty birdcages that hang overhead. The artwork is called “Forgotten Songs” & was designed by Michael Thomas Hill. As you stand underneath the birdcages you can hear the sounds of the birds that once inhabited Sydney before the city became built up to what it is today. As day becomes night, the sounds of the birds change too!

17. Come back out into Pitt Street & turn left for a couple of hundred yards where, on the left we reach Australia Square

…which is an impressive office & retail complex. We loved some of the statues you could sit next to…

18. Continuing down Pitt Street, look out for Bridge Street on the left, which was named by Governor Macquarie in 1810 & derived from a small bridge located near the intersection with Pitt Street. The bridge used to cross the Tank Stream in the early days of the colony, with the stream now flowing underground via a series of suburban tunnels

This Macquarie chap seems to be popping up everywhere at the moment &, across the bottom of the street, we’re now entering into his “Place”.

Macquarie Place Park is a former town square & memorial, public park & monument named in honour of Governor. It was the first formally laid out public space in Sydney in 1810 as the town square. Along with Hyde Park, it’s the oldest public park in Australia. An obelisk from 1818 records the distance to various locations in New South Wales along the earliest roads developed within the colony

Later an anchor from the “Norfolk Island” wreckage of the First Fleet flagship, HMS Sirius, together with a cannon from the ship, were placed in the park

19. Continue down to Customs House…

Customs House served as a customs house & then the head office of New South Wales operations of the Government Agency until 1988. We really recommend you go inside & look at the glass floor, which has a full scale model of the city beneath it

20. We’ve finally arrived at Circular Quay, part of Sydney Harbour & somewhere that everyone comes to this city will head for, as it contains two of its most famous sights. Initially we head down the left side, past where all the cruise liners dock

To the left, the large building is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is dedicated to exhibiting, interpreting & collecting contemporary art, both from across Australia & around the world. It’s housed in the former Maritime Services Board building

21. This area of the city we’re now entering, on the peninsular, was one of our favourite…The Rocks, & we’ll see more of it shortly. The small house on the left’s called Cadmans Cottage, which was built in 1816, & served as barracks crews of the governor’s boats. It’s also Sydney’s oldest surviving dwelling

The cottage is named after John Cadman, a convict who was transported in 1798 for horse stealing. He became coxswain of government craft & given a full pardon, subsequently being made superintendent. At that time he moved into this property. It’s difficult to imagine that this house once stood on the edge of the quay – there’s been quite a bit of land reclamation over the years

22. Looming ahead & above us now is the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge carries rail, car & lorry, bicycle, & pedestrian traffic between the central business district & the North Shore. The dramatic view of the bridge, the harbour, & the nearby Opera House is an iconic image of Sydney, & Australia itself that most people associate with it. The bridge is nicknamed “The Coathanger” (no reasoning required)

It was designed & built by British firm, Dorman Long & Co Ltd & opened in 1932. The bridge’s design was influenced by the Hell Gate in New York & is the sixth longest spanning arch bridge in the world & the tallest steel arch bridge. It was also the world’s widest long span bridge, until construction of the new Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver which was completed in 2012

We suggest you visit it at night when it’s even more spectacular…

Thousands of people every year part with their well-earned cash to undertake the Bridge Climb. The smile on one of our party’s face, Eric along with his well-earned t-shirt, was a joy to behold

23. Across from the Bridge is Sydney Harbour’s other iconic sight…the Sydney Opera House, one of the 20th century’s most famous & distinctive buildings

We’ll go round the Quay & have a more in-depth look at it later. However, as part of our visit, we were lucky enough to have a dinner Harbour cruise & grabbed one of our favourite photos of the holiday from the bow of the boat as the rain came in

24. But for now, let’s walk up the side of Cadmans Cottage into the area known as “The Rocks” which was established shortly after the colony’s formation in 1788. The original buildings were built of wattle & daub with thatched roofs, & later of local sandstone, from which the area derives its name. From the earliest history of the settlement, the area had a reputation as a slum, & the arriving convicts’ side of town, often frequented by visiting sailors & prostitutes. After November 1790, many of the inhabitants were also aborigines. During the late 19th century, the area was dominated by a gang known as the “Rocks Push”. It maintained this rough reputation until the 1870s

Today “The Rocks” has a bohemian feel about it, but also retains a slight edginess. It’s pedestrianised with a great indoor market & at night comes alive with lots of bars & restaurants – we loved it!

25. Walk up the hill & look for the archway, leading to Argyle Stairs on the right… we wonder where this will lead us to?

It’s quite a climb, or you could take the lift part of the way, but at the top, turn right & walk out onto…the Sydney Harbour Bridge…WOW! No need to climb it – just use the walkway

It’s time now to just enjoy the view, & what view! As always don’t forget to look back at the city skyline too. We’re now beginning to see why people think this is one of the greatest cities in the world

26. Let’s walk back down & all the way round the Quay to have a look at the Opera House. What surprised us more than anything else is that, across the harbour, the building looks solid. It’s not…it’s an optical illusion with an amalgamation of several buildings as the pictures below show…

27. The Sydney Opera House is a multi-venue performing arts centre & was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, & formally opened on 20 October 1973. Though its name suggests a single venue, the building comprises multiple performance venues which together, host well over 1,500 performances a year that are attended by more than 1.2 million people

On 28 June 2007 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whilst we loved being there, our recommendation is to wait until night time when it’s much more spectacular

It’s also worth staying until after dark to look back at the whole of the city skyline…

28. Leaving the Opera House, we walk back past Customs House & continue across the Expressway into the beautiful Sydney Royal Botanical Garden which covers 74 acres. It was opened in 1816, & is the oldest scientific institution in Australia & one of the most important historic botanical institutions in the world

The garden is open every day of the year & is free to visit. It’s well worth spending half a day exploring the garden & looking out for the wildlife

The ibises are also know as the “bin bird” for obvious reasons….

If you do visit, don’t forget to walk round the water’s edge too…

29. To end this brief look at the centre of the city we simply walk out of the Gardens, passing Government House which is the residence of the Governor of New South Wales…

…& head back down to Circular Quay, where it’s maybe time to enjoy a drink in one of the many bars & restaurants, especially in The Rocks area

Needless to say we loved Sydney & the vibe it has. Our hotel was close to Darling Harbour, which is a great place to visit in the evening for dinner or drinks. You get another “wow” here in the evening

The other thing we’d highly recommend is the “Hop on, Hop off” bus routes which take in many of the city’s sights & sounds. It also gives you the opportunity to try out your surfing skills on the world famous Bondi Beach

So, Sydney you charmed us, as did all of the east coast cities of Australia. It has a great feel to it & was safe to walk round the central areas. All of the major tourist spots lived up to their expectation & it’s definitely a place we can recommend putting on a “must see” list

It’s amazing!

Go Walk!