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A Walking Tour of Sydney’s Historic Sites

A Walking Tour of Sydney’s Historic Sites

Sydney is a city rich in history, art, and culture, and many of its main attractions are free to explore on foot. Follow this walking tour to discover the beauty of the city, uncover some hidden gems, and learn about the stories behind some of its most iconic landmarks.

Sydney Harbour Bridge (©Susan Kuriakose)
Sydney Harbour Bridge (©Susan Kuriakose)

Begin your journey by taking a train or ferry to Milson’s Point, located at the base of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From here, walk back across the bridge using the pedestrian walkway on the eastern side for stunning views of the harbour. Once you arrive at the other side of the bridge, continue walking up to the Sydney Observatory and Observatory Hill. The Observatory was built in 1858 and is listed as a heritage site. It played a pivotal role in the history of timekeeping, meteorology, and astronomy for the colony of New South Wales. It is now a museum and public observatory, which houses an 1874 29cm lens telescope for public viewing during ticketed tours. However, you can explore the beautiful grounds and take in the panoramic views of the harbor for free. Before leaving, take a quick look at the remnants of Fort Phillip, which was built in 1804.

Moving on, stroll downhill into the historic Rocks district, Sydney’s first European settlement founded as a penal colony by Captain Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet in 1788. It boasts over 100 heritage buildings and sites like Cadman’s Cottage, the oldest house built in 1816, and Dawes Point Battery, the oldest remaining European structure built in 1791. Walk through the cobblestone laneways to discover the rich history of this fascinating part of Sydney. The Rocks Discovery Museum, situated in a restored 1850s sandstone warehouse, is free to the public and showcases archaeological artifacts discovered in the area. The museum also includes interactive exhibits that highlight the story of the First Nations people who lived in Sydney before the arrival of Europeans.

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (©Fidel Fernando)
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (©Fidel Fernando)

The Rocks also offers plenty of cafes, restaurants, markets, and live entertainment for visitors to immerse in the local culture. After enjoying The Rocks, head to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), a leading contemporary art museum in Australia. Entrance to most exhibitions is entirely free, allowing you to take in over 4,000 cutting-edge Australian and international art pieces, including those by Aboriginal artists. The MCA is housed in a grand art deco building and features a rooftop café that offers a spectacular view of the Sydney Opera House.

Next, take a leisurely walk through Circular Quay, where the iconic Sydney ferries arrive and depart. If you have the time, take a ferry from here to visit Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, Watson’s Bay, and Manly. At the end of Circular Quay stands the magnificent Sydney Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. The iconic performing arts venue has become one of the world’s most recognizable buildings since its opening in 1973. Regular performances by the Australian Ballet, Opera Australia, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra take place here. You can book a ticketed event like a show or a guided tour or just stroll around the sails and up the stairs for a closer look.

Royal Botanic Gardens- The Calyx (©Ethan Lee)
Royal Botanic Gardens- The Calyx (©Ethan Lee)

A wild, long-nosed fur seal affectionately nicknamed “Benny” has been known to sunbathe on the northern VIP steps of the Opera House, so be sure to keep an eye out for this furry friend. Afterward, move on to the Royal Botanic Garden. The heritage-listed Royal Botanic Garden sits on the Sydney Harbourfront and offers beautiful gardens, sculptures, an eel pond, and an array of flowers. It is home to The Calyx, where a free exhibition, “Plants with Bite,” tells the story of carnivorous plants. Among the many attractions, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a bench carved into the sandstone rock by convicts in 1810 for Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, provides a magnificent vantage point for Sydney Harbour.

State Library of NSW (©Arie Oldman)
State Library of NSW (©Arie Oldman)

Finish your journey at the State Library of NSW, the oldest library in Australia, established in 1826. The library is open to the public, and visitors can browse various exhibitions, take heritage or gallery tours, and visit the richly embellished Shakespeare room. Nearby, the Art Gallery of NSW showcases paintings, photographs, sculptures, and drawings from local and international artists, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works, Erwin Olaf, and Eugène Atget, to name a few. The gallery also includes a vast selection of 19th- and 20th-century European art, featuring works by masters like Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and John Constable.

In conclusion, Sydney’s walking tour is a perfect way to discover the city’s history, art, culture, and secret gems while enjoying breathtaking views and exploration of free attractions.

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