Take a few hours to explore Darling Harbour, Sydney’s dedicated tourist playground. Then immerse yourself in the city’s hyperactive Chinatown, where brilliant museums, gardens, and restaurants await.
Start your journey west of Darling Harbour in Ultimo at the hugely popular (1) Powerhouse Museum (500 Harris Street; www.powerhousemuseum.com). This interactive science museum is housed inside the old power station of Sydney’s defunct tram system.
From the Powerhouse Museum, walk one block north along Harris Street then turn right onto Pyrmont Bridge Road—this will take you down Murray Street to the (2) Australian National Maritime Museum (2 Murray Street; www.anmm.gov.au) on the western shore of Darling Harbour. Exhibits here celebrate Australia’s ties with the sea, from Aboriginal canoes to tall ships and submarines.
Just south of the museum, cross Darling Harbour on the elaborate (3) Pyrmont Bridge, which opened to traffic in 1902 as the world’s first fully electric swing bridge.
Climb down the stairs on the far side of the bridge and visit two of Sydney’s big-ticket attractions: the (4) Sydney Aquarium (Aquarium Pier, Darling Harbour; www.sydneyaquarium.com.au) and the new (5) Sydney WildlifeWorld (Aquarium Pier, Darling Harbour; www.sydneywildlifeworld.com.au). In the Aquarium you can walk through underwater glass tunnels and get tantalizingly close to Australia’s underwater species. At the end of the pier, WildlifeWorld takes a broader approach, recreating nine different Australian habitats—koalas, snakes, butterflies, and birds seem right at home.
Feeling hungry? Continue north to the ritzy (6) King Street Wharf (www.ksw.com.au) dining and entertainment precinct or follow the crowds south for more of the same at (7) Cockle Bay Wharf (www.cocklebaywharf.com.au). Take your pick from the excellent seafood restaurants, casual bars, and busy cafés in both complexes.
Once you’ve refueled, walk south under the freeway flyovers, past the IMAX cinema, through Tumbalong Park, and retreat into the (8) Chinese Garden of Friendship (northwestern corner of Pier and Harbour Streets) (www.chinesegarden.com.au). Designed by Chinese architects for Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988, the tranquil garden features ponds, pavilions, waterfalls, and a Chinese Teahouse.
Continuing south, stop by the (9) Sydney Entertainment Centre (35 Harbour Street) and see who’s performing that night, then duck into (10) Paddy’s Markets (southwestern corner of Hay and Thomas Streets) (www.paddysmarkets.com.au), the commercial epicenter of Chinatown. There’s not much for sale here that you’ll want to take home with you (mobile phone accessories, cheap T-shirts, and sneakers prevail), but it’s a stimulating place to wander through.
Across Hay Street from Paddy’s Markets is the southern end of (11) Dixon Street, the historic heart of Chinatown. The opium dens and gambling lairs of the past are long gone, but a walk through here is still a sensory extravaganza: exotic cooking smells, noisy crowds of streetside diners, aggressive restaurant touts, neon-lit food courts, and colorful signage. If you’re here in late January/early February, the streets will be awash with Chinese New Year festivities. Pull up a seat and order some fabulous Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, or Thai food.
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