Sydney Holidays: 10 Things to Do in Darling Harbour
Planning to stay in the Darling Harbour area during your Sydney holidays? You may be wondering what the best Darling Harbour attractions are, or which Darling Harbour restaurants are worth visiting.
Darling Harbour is named after Lieutenant-General Ralph Darling, who was the governor of New South Wales in the early 1800s. A neighbourhood with a rich and storied past, the harbour was once Sydney’s working port, and home to shipyards, factories, warehouses, and crowded slums. Falling into disuse in the 1980s, the area was fortunately given a fresh start as a retail and entertainment precinct. Today, Darling Harbour is a must-visit tourist spot—with big-name attractions and a wide range of dining and nightlife options, you could spend an entire day here at least!
Not sure where to go in Darling Harbour? Our team at PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney, has put together a list of the best places to go in Darling Harbour, which includes:
If you’re looking for accommodation, we invite you to retreat into PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney, a top-notch hotel anchored by modern comforts and attentive service.
Set sail with us as we help you navigate the top things you can do at Darling Harbour in Sydney!
Places of Interest in Darling Harbour
Begin your travel experience with these much-vaunted attractions in Sydney’s most popular tourist hangout.
1. Fall in Love with the Ocean at SEA Life Sydney Aquarium
With over 13,000 spectacular sea creatures housed in realistic marine-themed environments, SEA Life Sydney Aquarium is certainly worth a visit! Spend a morning or afternoon weaving through the aquarium’s habitat zones—such as Jurassic Seas, Penguin Expedition, Shark Valley, and Dugong Island—to spark your interest in the beauty and wonder of the ocean.
“SEA LIFE Sydney truly represents the best of Australian marine creatures,” raves a staff member. “[W]e have a very clear purpose in our roles, which is to inspire our guests to protect our amazing oceans.”
Something to note: apart from their thrilling no-cage shark dive experience, SEA LIFE Sydney is a place to see the rare dugong (“sea cow”) in captivity. Mistaken as mermaids in the past (probably by short-sighted sailors!), dugongs are extremely challenging to care for, as they thrive on a specialised seagrass diet. They are considered a vulnerable species due to their low reproduction rate, coupled with the threat posed by human activity.
Get directions to SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium (11 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
2. Visit a Pioneering Australian Museum
Established in 1827, the Australian Museum is Australia’s very first museum. Initially envisioned as a repository for “Australian curiosities,” it now boasts over 21 million scientific specimens and cultural objects in its collections.
(If you’re wondering: “specimens” refers to natural objects such as minerals, animals, and fossils, while “cultural objects” are items that have been made by people for a particular use—these include domestic, trade, ceremonial, and artistic objects.)
The Australian Museum's mission is to make the continent’s nature, its indigenous cultures, and its science accessible and relevant to visitors. The collections will give you an insight to the fauna, geology, and cultural heritage of Australia and the region. The museum is temporarily closed for major renovations, but it will open its doors again from mid-2020, bigger and better than before!
Get directions to Australian Museum (13 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
3. Unleash your Curiosity at the Powerhouse Museum
The Powerhouse Museum (currently adjacent to Darling Harbour) is relocating to Parramatta—but in stages, from 2020 to 2023. During the transition period, Darling Harbour visitors will still be able to enjoy at least some of what the museum has to offer.
The Powerhouse Museum is Australia’s contemporary museum for excellence and innovation in the applied arts and sciences, and it has been around since 1879. The museum’s eclectic interests range from science and technology to design and decorative arts. Visitors can also explore exhibits in the fields of engineering, architecture, contemporary culture, health, and medicine.
From July 2020 to June 2021, visitors will be able to access the Powerhouse Museum via its Harris Street entrance. The Museum’s permanent exhibitions will close in June 2020, while its programme of temporary exhibitions, along with its café and store, will continue to operate until June 2021. Check the website for updates on its operations beyond June 2021.
Get directions to Powerhouse Museum (13 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
Free Things to Do in Darling Harbour
Wish to conserve your holiday funds while you’re at Darling Harbour? Consider making time for these top free attractions.
4. Go on a Self-Guided Darling Harbour Walking Tour
Feeling adventurous or prefer to explore the Darling Harbour area on your own? Download the City of Sydney’s self-guided “Renewal Tour,” a two-hour history-themed walk that begins at Pyrmont Bridge, one of the world’s oldest surviving electrically operated swing bridges. This walk will take you to the key industrial and maritime sites in Sydney. (For guests at PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney, Pyrmont Bridge is just a 10-minute walk away.) To explore other parts of Sydney on foot, visit the City of Sydney website for more downloadable walking guides.
For a Darling Harbour walking route that includes food and shopping suggestions, you can follow the self-guided tour by GPSmyCity.
Get directions to Pyrmont Bridge (10 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
5. Discover Sydney’s Indigenous Heritage at Barangaroo
Thanks to urban renewal, this suburb on the edge of Sydney Harbour now has something for everyone. At Barangaroo, you can indulge in great food and shopping, admire the neighbourhood’s innovative architecture, or participate in intriguing indigenous tours.
The history of Barangaroo dates back thousands of years; large shell middens and rock engravings provide evidence of Aboriginal activities in the area from about 6,000 years ago. After European colonisation, the site began to flourish as its maritime and industrial activities grew—its waterfront had many jetties where goods were traded within Australia as well as around the world. After the site ceased its function as a container terminal, plans were eventually made to rejuvenate the area, beginning with a new name, Barangaroo, in honour of a powerful Aboriginal woman who was influential in the early years of European colonisation.
To enjoy a day out at Barangaroo, you could start with an Aboriginal cultural tour at Barangaroo Reserve (ticketed, 10.30am from Mondays through Saturdays), before heading to the dining and shopping belt to relax and unwind. Pop in at the fashion-and-lifestyle Collector Store for some Sydney souvenirs (or just to browse), and check out the highly rated Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro, where the beverage of choice is, naturally, vermouth. Note that both the reserve and the dining/entertainment precinct are accessible from Wynyard Station.
For guests at PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney, Wynyard Station is a 16-minute walk or a 7-minute drive away.
Get directions to Barangaroo Reserve (10 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
Get directions to Barangaroo Entertainment Precinct (16 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
6. Join a Free Tour of St. Mary’s Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral stands on the site of the first Catholic chapel in Australia—Australian Catholics are said to regard this as their “Mother Church.” Built from local sandstone, the church was designed in the Gothic Revival style, which pays tribute to Europe’s great medieval cathedrals.
Architecture buffs will lap up the details here. Look out for the text of the Ave Maria and other invocations carved high up on the walls or gaze at the cathedral’s carved saints and gargoyles—during the Gothic period, gargoyles were used both inside and outside churches to ward off evil spirits. For more historical insights, join the church’s free guided tour, which takes place every Sunday following the 10.30am mass service. The tour begins at the pews next to the organ console area, located inside the College Street entry doors.
Get directions to St. Mary’s Cathedral (16 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
The Best Darling Harbour Restaurants and Nightlife Spots
This is the real reason for holidaymakers to visit Darling Harbour—its food, glorious food! Take your pick of these choice culinary options or indulge in all of them.
7. Visit Sydney’s Liveliest Community Hub
Experience the best of Sydney at Darling Quarter—a cultural precinct and community gathering space attracting gastronomes and non-gastronomes alike. Here, your entire family can eat, drink, and make merry. The area features a host of restaurants, cafes, and bars; a well-designed children’s playground; the acclaimed Monkey Baa children’s theatre company; and the Village Green public open space, which has a year-round programme of free events and experiences for audiences of all ages.
Get directions to Darling Quarter (2 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
8. Chill Out by the Waterfront
Enjoy the best of Sydney’s waterfront at King Street Wharf and Cockle Bay Wharf. Both are vibrant hubs of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues, and they draw visitors from all over the city, especially those who wish to relax and enjoy the nightlife down by the water. For guests at PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney, these areas are easily accessible by walking (10-13 minutes).
Get directions to Cockle Bay Wharf (10 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
Get directions to King Street Wharf (13 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
9. Enjoy Australia’s Best Ramen
Would you like to try what some have called the “best Ramen in the Southern Hemisphere?” Gumshara Ramen is a popular (and budget-friendly) ramen stall located within the Eating World Harbour Plaza food court, which is minutes away from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney. Their house speciality, the spare ribs ramen, is restricted to a limited number of servings per day—an indication that it is well worth a try. The broth is thick, rich, and satisfying to the max. Get there early to make sure you don’t miss out!
Get directions to Gumshara Ramen (7 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
10. Hang Out in a Cool Darling Harbour Bar
Highly recommended by Time Out, Papa Gede’s Bar can be found at the end of a cobblestone alley, and it is a CBD cocktail bar with a neighbourhood vibe. This cozy candlelit den has funk, soul, and reggae as its soundtrack—it is the perfect spot for a date or an intimate get-together with friends. From home-brewed elixirs to cocktails and craft beers, there will be something to please you here. If you need more to smile about, be sure to drop in for one of their entertaining comedy nights!
Get directions to Papa Gede’s Bar (9 minutes’ walk from PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney)
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