Parramatta may not be a household name, but it is certainly on the cusp of becoming Australia’s “Next Great City.” It already possesses the cosmopolitan mix of a modern city—almost half of its over 230,000-strong population were born overseas, and its residents speak over 140 languages. The city’s diverse mix of Aboriginal, European, and Asian influences makes it easy for travellers from any country to interact with people from different cultures without feeling out of place.
If you are in Sydney, make time to visit Parramatta while it is still under the radar—it is a mere 30-minute train ride from Sydney’s Central Station. The PARKROYAL Parramatta team has put together a guide of fun things to do in Parramatta that will encourage you to pay attention to your surroundings, appreciate life’s blessings, and emerge refreshed and recharged, ready to take on the world.
Address: Pitt St & Macquarie St, Parramatta NSW 2150, Australia
Phone: +61 2 9895 7500 (Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)
Opening hours: 24 hours daily
Old Government House
Address: 1A Pitt St, Parramatta NSW 2150, Australia
Phone number: +61 2 9635 8149
Opening hours: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily
Parramatta Park is no ordinary park, for it has a storied past that dates back at least tens of thousands of years. The original custodians of Parramatta’s land were Aboriginal people known as the Burramatta clan, and they not only sought food and shelter here—it was on this land that they built their identity.
But, as history would have it, this would come to pass:
New South Wales, a state in southeast Australia, was founded by the British as a penal colony in 1788. Over the next 80 years, more than 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, in lieu of being given the death penalty. (Source: BBC)
The governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip, initially established a settlement in Sydney Cove. However, he was soon compelled to look elsewhere for arable land, which he found in Parramatta. This was how Parramatta became New South Wales’s second British settlement. Inevitably, the Burramatta people saw this as an invasion, because their lives were severely impacted.
From 1799, the Old Government House was built by the convict population on Parramatta Park grounds. Colony governors took up residence there until 1858, when the area was made available for public use. Today, the Old Government House has the honour of being Australia’s oldest surviving building, and you can gain entry by joining a guided tour conducted by the National Trust.
To retrace the steps of the park’s early inhabitants, download the park’s self-guided tours for a walkabout. You will encounter the plants and raw materials that the Aboriginal people used for food and medicine, and explore sites that were significant during and after the colonial takeover.
Parramatta Park also hosts regular cultural events where you can hear more stories about the history of Parramatta city. Check out their events page to see if something exciting is happening when you’re there.
Get directions to Parramatta Park
One of the best ways to learn about different cultures through travel is to sample their cuisines—this is what Taste Cultural Food Tours aims to promote. Here’s why you should support them: they’re a social enterprise that offers food tours to build cross-cultural understanding, and their profits are channelled towards providing work opportunities for migrants and refugees.
More importantly, their Parramatta food tour has received glowing reviews for showcasing the “delicious eclectic mix” of Parramatta restaurants. The 3.5 or six-hour fully guided tour is available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and kept to small groups (of at most 14 people) so you can comfortably enjoy the food.
On the tour, you’ll get to enjoy Australian classic and modern fusion dishes, including Asian and Middle Eastern delights, as well as treat yourself to handmade chocolate. Vegetarian options are available, and the tour caters to dietary restrictions. As you walk from one stop to another, you’ll learn about some of the city’s traditions within the context of its pre-colonial and early settlement history.
Another highlight is the Indian and Pakistani Street Food tour at Harris Park on specified Saturdays, spanning 3.5 hours and very friendly to vegetarians and gluten-free folks (but please give prior notice).
Darcy St Project Brew Bar
Address: City Center Carpark Shop 4, 4/71 George Street, Parramatta NSW 2150, Australia
Phone: +61 1300 824 324
Opening hours: 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Monday to Friday); 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (Saturday); closed on Sundays.
It’s one of the stops on Taste Cultural Food Tours’ Parramatta itinerary (see above), but if you’re pressed for time, head directly to the Darcy St Project brew bar—it’s the most meaningful place in Parramatta to grab your morning pick-me-up.
This coffee bar believes in “good coffee doing good,” and they run training and work experience programmes for youth-at-risk, Aboriginals, refugees, the homeless, and aged workers. By doing so, these everyday heroes hope to prepare them for employment in the cafe or hospitality environment.
Harbour a desire to be a barista? Why not sign up for a day course while you’re here? Visitors are also welcome tolearn.
Darcy St’s passion and commitment to quality is clear: read the reviews and you’ll see that great coffee is guaranteed. If you get a chance to meet the founder John Cafferatta, you may just catch him sharing inspiring stories about the lives that have been transformed on his watch. You too can do your bit to spread the love, by offering to pay in advance for someone else’s coffee. It could be a ray of hope for someone who is disadvantaged, or simply going through a rough patch.
Get directions to Darcy St Project Brew Bar
Wondering where to go in Parramatta for a quick energy boost? Being in the presence of nature for just 20 minutes can revitalise you, and a walk by the Parramatta River can be invigorating for both body and soul. For a short but purposeful stroll, you can view Aboriginal murals at the Riverside Walk along the River Foreshore Parramatta, by following these directions:
If you plan to visit Parramatta by ferry, you can begin the walk from the wharf, but you can also start from Church Street near the Visitor Information Centre. From the visitor centre, instead of crossing Lennox bridge (one of the oldest stone arch bridges in Australia), walk down a small flight of stairs to access the aboriginal-themed riverside walkway. (Source: Weekend Notes)
The murals were developed by Aboriginal artist Jamie Eastwood in collaboration with the Parramatta City Council. Through the murals, they sought to interpret the interaction between the early settlers and the Aboriginal people with Parramatta and its river. Said Eastwood of his works:
“I hope that the pathway artworks will provide an insight into some aspects of Paramatta’s history prior to colonisation... and give recognition to the Burramattagal people and neighbouring clans that originally occupied the area.”
For other river activity ideas, you can read Discover Parramatta’s guide to the river, or follow the City of Parramatta’s recommended walking routes.
Get directions to Parramatta Wharf
Get directions to the Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Information Centre
Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta/Riverside Theatres
Address: Corner Church and Market Streets, Parramatta NSW 2150
Phone: + 61 2 8839 3399
Operating hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Monday to Friday);
9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (Saturday)
“Of course we all come to the theatre with baggage. The baggage of our daily lives, the baggage of our problems, the baggage of our tragedies, the baggage of being tired,” said the veteran English actress Vanessa Redgrave. “It doesn't matter what age you are. But if our hearts get opened and released—well that is what theatre can do... and everyone is thankful when that happens.”
Put this on your list of things to see in Parramatta: a soul-stirring performance delivered at Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta, where diversity, inspiration, and transformation are central themes.
A must-watch is Stolen, which had a successful run when it premiered in 2016. The play charts the lives of five individuals from the “Stolen Generations,” a term which refers to indigenous children who were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 as a result of various Australian government policies. In the pipeline at the National Theatre are other equally moving productions that you can catch throughout 2018.
Get directions to Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta | Buy tickets