Darling Harbour is an extensive area almost completely dedicated to entertainment and tourism. For many decades acting as the core of the working port of Sydney, Darling Harbour was developed for the Australian Bicentenary in 1988. It has the National Maritime Museum, Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife World, and a Madame Tussauds museum.
Normally home to Sydney's largest exhibitions and conferences, the convention centre is currently under large scale redevelopment, due to complete in late 2016. A temporary exhibition space is located at Glebe Island, as well as permanent facilities at Sydney Olympic Park.
Darling Harbour is a small inlet, ringed by attractions and pedestrian boardwalks facing the water. The Pyrmont Bridge is a wide pedestrian-only swing bridge that crosses the inlet, linking the two sides and forming a loop walk around the area. The area has fantastic water views, ice-cream, playgrounds, parks, fountains and often free attractions on weekends.
There is nowhere to swim, but if it is hot, feel free to run child-like under the many fountains in the area.
During the day, the area attracts visitors, city workers, and exhibition and convention attendees, getting busy on summer weekends and school holidays. On weeknights it has a particular vibe, with popular restaurants by the water, and people just out strolling around. On Friday and Saturday nights, the place is populated by club goers and can be quite crowded.
The Pyrmont Bridge forms a historic centrepiece to the area, but don't expect any other history to discover - outside of the museums that is. The redevelopment of the area has swept away all that used to be. However, the suburbs of Pyrmont and Ultimo, just 200 metres or so from the waters edge have many of the original pubs and terraces that were previously inhabited by the dockers and warehouse workers during previous life of the area.
Darling Harbour is within walking distance of most points in the Sydney CBD.
- From the Pitt St Mall: From the northern side, walk west down King St until you come to King St Wharf and the Darling Harbour footway. From the southern side, walk west down Market St to the Pyrmont Bridge.
- From Town Hall walk downhill (west). Follow the signs from Town Hall Station and the Kent St Arcade.
- From Chinatown and central station walk west (downhill) past Paddy's Markets and the Entertainment Centre into south Darling Harbour.
There are a number of access methods to Darling Harbour that have steps, but a level alternative route is signposted, or an alternative lift is provided. The Darling Harbour access at the west of Market Street has level access with a lift at the eastern end of Pyrmont Bridge providing access to the bridge and water level.
Catch a Sydney Trains to Central or Town Hall stations. From Town Hall, follow the signs to Darling Harbour out of the station, exiting via Town Hall Square. Walk downhill (west) for two blocks to the eastern edge of Darling Harbour. From Central walk down into Haymarket (Chinatown), and then walk west to the southern end of the Darling Harbour district.
By light rail
The Light Rail is the ideal way to access Harbourside, The Star Casino or the Fish Market. You may board from its starting point at Central station or catch it en-route at Capitol Square or Paddy's Markets in Haymarket. It runs 24/7 between Central Station and The Star, other stations have services every 10-15 minutes between 6AM and 11PM (midnight on Fri/Sat).
If you are going to Cockle Bay, the aquarium, or King St Wharf on the eastern side of Darling Harbour from the City, the light rail will take you further away from where you want to be. It only serves the western side of Darling Harbour, and you will have to walk back to access Cockle Bay or Aquarium.
There is level access at all light rail stations.
Darling Harbour is accessible by car:
- From the north cross the Harbour Bridge and head west onto the Western Distributor and then take the exit to Darling Harbour.
- From the city, head down Market St (west), and follow the signs and exit at Darling Harbour.
- From the east or south of the City, consider the Cross City Tunnel (toll applies), and follow the signs.
Like the City, parking in Darling Harbour is expensive but a number of parking stations are available. Expect to pay up to $30 for a day of parking. Some cheaper parking options are around near the Ultimo end of Darling Harbour, for around $15. It's often worth booking ahead online.
Sydney Ferries depart Circular Quay wharf 5. They accept Multi tickets, or a single ticket will cost $5.80. They stop at Darling Harbour King St Wharf 3 on the eastern side, and at Pyrmont Bay Wharf at the very northern tip on the western side, past the Maritime Museum. Ferries depart approximately every twenty minutes, and run from 6:45AM to 10PM M-F, and 8AM to 10:15PM on weekends and public holidays.
Matilda Rocket departs from the Harbour Master's Steps on the west (left) of Circular Quay. They arrive just by the Aquarium very close to the Pyrmont Bridge, at a different wharf to the Sydney Ferries. They charge $5.70 for a single ticket and issue their own tickets. They don't accept the Multi (but do issue their own day passes, just for their ferries). The frequency varies, depending on demand. They run at least every hour from 10AM until 5PM.
The ferry trip takes 25 minutes or so, as the route isn't that direct by water. The ferries all need to pass under the Harbour Bridge to get to Darling Harbour. The white ticket booth at Circular Quay is selling tickets for the Matilda Rocket. Proceed to Wharf 5 directly if you wish to board a Sydney Ferries service.
Again, if your interest in getting in is purely utilitarian, it may be quicker to walk, or take a train or bus service. To get from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour by ferry can easily take 50 minutes if you just miss a ferry. By comparison it is only around 30-40 minutes to walk there. However if you need a reason to take to the Harbour on a ferry service, then this is the perfect excuse!
The 389 bus from Bondi and Town Hall does a whole loop around the entire Pyrmont and Ultimo area, going to the Star City Casino, and the Maritime Museum lower level road. The bus runs every 10-15 minutes from around 6AM until midnight.
If you have a Sydney Explorer pass, the red Sydney Explorer buses have several stops around Darling Harbour, stopping on the roadside of the Maritime Museum, and at the transport interchange between Harbourside and the Convention Centre, and by the side of IMAX.
Pyrmont Bridge, the centrepiece of Darling Harbour, is a shared pedestrian and cycle space. Separated cycleways lead east into the city and Kent St cycleway, west to Union Square and Anzac Bridge, and south along Darling Drive towards Central and Ultimo. Cycling around Darling Harbour itself is tolerated in the quieter times of the morning, but crowds make it all but impossible at the busier times of day.
The area is designed for walking. It is generally flat, car-free in most parts, with footways connecting to the Casino and to the Powerhouse Museum. There are directional signs to the major sights scattered around and maps available at the tourist information.
There is a little motorised train that does a loop around precinct, useful for tired little (or big) legs. At $4.50 for adults and $3.50 for children one-way, this makes it one of the most expensive one-way trips for children anywhere in Sydney, so it's best to think of it as a ride rather than a form of transport. It does go all the way from the far side of Tumbalong Park to the Aquarium, so it can save some walking, but is slow and won't save much time compared to walking, if any.
If you are right at the southern end of Darling Harbour by the Entertainment Centre or the Powerhouse Museum, then it might be worthwhile getting the light rail if you are going right to the Northern end at the casino.
Around the water's edge and the surrounding parkland, the terrain is flat and accessible to wheelchairs and prams. There are lifts to access Harbourside, King St Wharf, and Cockle Bay Wharf. Darling Harbour is a newer area and accessibility has been considered in its design.
There are lots of fountains at the southern end of Darling Harbour, and you will have to walk around them. If you notice people taking an apparently long route, and can see a quicker way to cut across Tumbalong Park, you will find that you have to join the main pathway to go around the fountains. If time is of the essence, then following signs and people who look like they know where they are going, will usually be quicker than meandering around the landscaping.
Darling Harbour is a great place to take in the city lights at night time, as you walk through the district or sit by the bay.
- Sydney Aquarium, 1-5 Wheat Rd (eastern side of Darling Harbour just to the north of the Pyrmont Bridge walkover), ☎ +61 2 9262 2300. 9AM-8PM (last entrance at 7PM) daily. A massive aquarium. In addition to various display tanks (penguins, seals, platypus, various fish species), it has three underwater walks where visitors walk in glass corridors underneath and between the dugongs, sharks, rays and tropical fish. Consider going on a weekday evening, to avoid some of the crowds. Adults $35, child $20, various concessions and family tickets available. Save 10% online, but pay $4 booking fee.
- Sydney Wildlife World, Aquarium Pier, ☎ +61 2 9333 9288. 9AM-6PM daily (last ticket sales at 5PM). If you don't have time to get out to the zoo, then this offers the chance to see Australian wildlife close to the city. adult $35..
- Pyrmont Bridge, ☎ +61 2 9299-7541. Opens weekends and public holidays at 10:30AM, 12PM, 1PM, 2PM and 3PM (weather permitting). The Pyrmont Bridge is an old swing bridge, that historically was a main thouroughfare into Sydney. Now it only carries pedestrians across the harbour. See the centre span swing and a tall ship leave the bay. Tours of the control cab by appointment.
- Chinese Garden of Friendship (southern end of Darling Harbour, near the Sydney Entertainment Centre and adjacent to Chinatown), ☎ +61 2 9240 8888, e-mail: email@example.com. 9:30AM-5PM. Modelled on the typical private gardens of the Ming Dynasty, the garden offers an insight into Chinese heritage and culture. Adults $6 children $3.
- Darling Harbour (Harbourside) Fireworks, Cockle Bay. Harbourside Fireworks are on from 8:30PM every Saturday on Cockle Bay Harbour. They last for only 15 minutes but are fun to watch especially if you have kids. A good trick is to get a balcony seat around some of the restaurants and you can see the fireworks whilst having dinner or drinks.
- Madame Tussauds, Aquarium Pier, ☎ +61 2 9333 9240. 9AM-8PM daily (last ticket sales at 7PM). Sydney's own version of Madame Tussauds has recently opened. It features a variety of personalities, mostly Australian such as Hugh Jackman. Adult $35.
- Australian National Maritime Museum, 2 Murray St (just by the western side of the Pyrmont Bridge), ☎ +61 2 9298 3777, fax: +61 2 9298 3780. Two floors of internal exhibits, outlining the maritime role in Australia's history. Houses significant full scale exhibits. Outside there are ships and submarines to explore. Galleries & exhibitions: $7 adult / $3.50 child & concession / $17 family / free entry to permanent galleries on first Thursday of the month. Additional charges for vessels..
- Tumbalong Park. At first look, appears a bit like an oval, but is actually a large open space with a stage for outdoor performances. Something going on here most weekends, and a good place to lay out a picnic blanket free.
- Sydney Entertainment Centre, 35 Harbour Street, Darling Harbour (south of tumbalong park and the fountains), ☎ +61 2 9320 4200, fax: +61 2 9281 2682. The Entertainment Centre is one of Australia's largest indoor entertainment venues and events frequently include shows by major Australian and international acts.
- Play on the free children's playground.
- Jump through the fountains and run up and down the spiral fountain outside the Convention center.
- Strike Bowling Bar, King St Wharf. Bowling, Karaoke, music, drinks
- Gamble (The Star), 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, ☎ +61 2 9777 9000, toll-free: 1800 700 700. Has undergone a large renovation to market a wider range of experiences, with new gambling tables and machines and bringing in several celebrity chefs. Mostly inwards facing and doesn't make the most of its views. Still offers a good choice of bars, cocktails, sports bars and food open until late. No significant access to under 18s.
- IMAX, 31 Wheat Rd (On the water at the tip of the bay), ☎ +61 2 9281 3300. Largest rectangular IMAX screen in the world. Plays a selection of new release IMAX movies in 3D and big screen. Check the details when you arrive so you can see the movie of your choice
Depart from the King St Wharf on the eastern side of Darling Harbour, or from Circular Quay in the City There all types to choose from.
- All Occasion Cruises (AO Cruises). All Occasion Cruises operates Private bookings on Sydney Harbour dinner with food and beverage packages to suite all budgets.
- Magistic Cruises. Magistic Cruises has Sydney Harbour dinner cruise,wine cruises, lunch cruise and sightseeing cruises.
- Sydney Show Boats. Showboat Cruise has dinner with live cabaret show performances and comic magician.
- Captain Cook Cruises. The Sydney Harbour Explorer Cruise allows hopping on and off at a number of attractions, or a 1 1/2 hour cruise of the harbour. Coffee cruise departs at 10AM and 3PM
- Matilda Cruises (Wharf is next to the aquarium entrance). Departs 12:15PM daily. Seafood lunch cruise.
- Harbourside at Darling Harbour has a large collection of souvenirs, and other Australiana. Its open until 9PM most nights, whereas the rest of the City shopping usually closes at around 6PM. There is also a selection of fashion, arts & crafts, and music.
- Fresh fish from the Sydney Fish Markets. Note that Sydneysiders stock up on seafood in the week before Christmas, and at Easter, making it exceptionally busy.
There are lots of places to eat at Darling Harbour. It is literally lined with restaurants, alfresco cafes, bars, and take-aways, and is a great place to go in an evening for dinner overlooking the water and the city skyline. On popular days there are concession stalls selling ice-creams, drinks etc. all over the place, again, at higher prices than you would expect to pay elsewhere.
Generally no need to book a restaurant on a weeknight, as it is always possible to get a table somewhere by just strolling around the harbour, picking something that appeals.
Those with an aversion to second hand cigarette smoke, should note that smoking is generally permitted at some of the outdoor alfresco bars overlooking the water. Sitting inside means that you won't get bothered by cigarette smoke, but you also miss the best locations. Smoking laws now mean you can't smoke in eating areas, so sitting in areas that serve food eliminates this issue.
King St Wharf
King St Wharf is a newer development on the eastern side of Darling Harbour, adjacent to the city at the western end of King St, north of the aquarium.
- I Thai, King Street Wharf, 19 Lime St, ☎ +61 2 9299 8999. Upstairs and waterside seating. Basic, tasty food, and a selection of set menus for around $30-40 per head. Fully licenced, and good coffee for Thai place. Mains $25.
- The Malaya, King Street Wharf, 39 Lime St, ☎ +61 2 9279-1170, fax: +61 2 9279-2570. Large serves of spicy Malay food. Try the salt and pepper prawns Mains $25-$35.
On the eastern side of Darling Harbour, adjacent to the city, at the western end of Market St. South of King St Wharf.
- Blackbird Cafe, Balcony Level, Cockle Bay Wharf, ☎ +61 2 9283-7385, fax: +61 2 9283-7381. Moderately priced and popular cafe one level up at Cockle Bay Wharf.
- Chinta Ria (Temple of Love) (First floor, Cockle Bay). Indian influence. Great food and value for the location. Casual atmosphere, with kitch chairs, incense, and a large Buddha at the entrance. mains $17.
- Nick's Seafood Restaurant (On the waterfront promenade, Cockle Bay). Seafood focus, as the name suggests. mains $30-$40.
- Lindt Chocolat Cafe, Shop 104, Cockle Bay Wharf (Near the fountain), ☎ +61 2 92678064. 10AM to 7PM Mon to Wed, 10AM to 10PM Thu, 10AM to 11:30PM Fri to Sat, 10AM to 8PM Sun. The Lindt Chocolat Cafe is a concept store and cafe featuring Lindt chocolate and cakes and hot chocolates made with it. The hot chocolates are particularly indulgent, arriving with their own small jug of molten chocolate to mix in.
- Coast (Upstairs). Fine dining restaurant, with modern Australian cuisine. Seats arrange to all face the view. Price tag to match.
On the western side of Darling Harbour, over the Pyrmont Pedestrian Bridge from the city and Cockle Bay.
- Food Court (In the centre, by the arch). til 9PM. Good for quick meal, offers the usual range of fast food, Indian take away, sandwiches, pies, pizza, coffee and ice-creams. Expect to pay a little more than the food courts in the city
- Jordons Seafood Restaurant, 197 Harbourside (Ground level, outside, at the southernmost tip of Harbourside), ☎ +61 2 9281 3711. Jordons is the mainstay of premium seafood dining at Darling Harbour. Its been there since opening, and continues fo be popular. Once, clearly the premium restaurant in the area, the competition now is fierce.
- Zaaffran, 345 Harbourside (Upstairs in the centre of Harbourside), ☎ +61 2 9211 8900. open lunch and dinner. A premium Indian restaurant, upstairs in Harbourside. Great for a banquet, but not cheap.
The Darling Harbour provides a lovely and relaxed venue for eating out. There are also some very good Thai, Malaysian and Indian restaurants providing very good food at reasonable prices in Darling Harbour.
- Sydney Fish Markets, Bank Street, Pyrmont, ☎ +61 2 9004-1100, fax: +61 2 9004-1177. Wholesale auctions from 5:30AM, retail from 7AM daily. The Fish Market is both a trade market for retailers and a place for the general public to get their hands on the day's catch. The fish market has a number of vendors who will cook your fish for you, and a cooking school. An early lunch at the fish markets is a local institution. Watch out for the swooping seagulls.
- Viva Goa, 2-4 Scott Street, Pyrmont, ☎ +61 2 9566-1311. A small Goan restaurant. Try their vindaloo, and ask for a table outside if the weather is right, because it gets noisy inside. Mains $15.
- The Little Snail, 50 Murray Street Pyrmont, ☎ +61 2 9212 7512. Where else can you have Kangaroo marinated and cooked in a French mustard sauce? Try the snails for starter. Does a 3 course lunch menu, including escargot, for $36.
For a modern styled bar, with plenty of space, facing the promenade to the water, try:
- Bungalow 8, King Street Wharf.
- Cargo Bar & Lounge, King Street Wharf. With a waterside location, Cargo has become one of the most hottest locations in town. Be sure to grab a drink there at sunset for some impressive views. Caters for a diverse crowd, from younger party-goers to after-work business types, and tourists. Hard to feel out of place there.
- King Street Brewery, King Street Wharf. A range of craft brews on tap (including the home 'Red Tape' beers), and a good wine selection. Vibey place, good water views from the front, and a quaint pool table and pinball machines inside (no gambling machines here). Food available. Busy most nights, but very busy Fri nights. mains $20-$30.
- Pontoon Bar, Cockle Bay, next to the bridge. Nice views, good on a summer afternoon or warm evening. Busy on Friday and Saturday nights. Basic Australian barbecue food, not too pricey, sausages and salad, etc. Upstairs from Pontoon is the Wallaby Bar, but there is no wildlife, just tributes to the Australian Rugby Union team all around the room. However don't expect a quiet place to watch the rugger, its is very busy location, with a young crowd, and queues Friday and Saturday nights.
For a more traditional pub feel, try:
- Pyrmont Bridge Hotel, 96 Union Street, Pyrmont (Just continue off the western side of Pyrmont Bridge and its is right in front of you), ☎ +61 2 9660 4933. Simple, no fuss establishment, popular with the locals and hospitality workers in the area as well.
- Slip Inn, 111 Sussex St (Just up from Darling Harbour on the edge of the CBD), ☎ +61 2 8295 9999, fax: +61 2 8295 9949, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Very popular pub. Serves food as well, but worth making a reservation if you intend to eat there.
- Pumphouse Tavern (Between Tumbalong Park and the Entertainment Centre). Around 10 beers draught on tap, and around 100 available in total. Modern faux-rustic in style, attracts a young after work crowd. Generally busy, but even more before events at the Entertainment centre and after work on a Friday evening. Balcony restaurant upstairs. Pizza served in the bar area. View out onto the courtyard, good for people watching but no water views. Beer from $6 to $30 bottle, pizza around $15, mains in restaurant around $30.
For nightclubs try:
- Home, Cockle Bay Wharf, Darling Park, ☎ +61 2 9266 0600, fax: +61 2 9266 0611, e-mail: email@example.com. Purpose-built "international super nightclub". Big and international with a cover charge of at least $10 to match.
- Carlton Crest Hotel, 169-179 Thomas St, Darling Harbour (A hort distance from the southern end of the Darling Harbour precinct). Ideally located in the theatre district, Carlton Crest has over 251 rooms, with guests having access to a rooftop bar, heated pool and acclaimed restaurant.
- Four Points by Sheraton, 161 Sussex St, ☎ +61 2 9290 4000, fax: +61 2 9299 3340. Darling Harbour. Australia's largest hotel, with 630 rooms at a location on the CBD side of Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour at the door, and a short walk to the city centre.
- Hotel Ibis Darling Harbour, 50 Murray St, ☎ +61 2 9563 0888. Economy international hotel, right on the western edge of Darling Harbour, near Harbourside $129-$169 a night..
- Medina Grand, Darling Harbour. Great location, right next to King St Wharf on the city side of Darling Harbour.
- Novotel Sydney Hotel on Darling Harbour, ☎ +61 2 9934 0000. great views and the convenience of three modes of public transportation at your doorstep. $200-$400 a night.
- The Star Hotel, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, ☎ +61 2 9777 9000. The obligatory large hotel located in The Star casino complex. Don't expect the kind of accommodation deals you would find in Las Vegas however, unless you quality for admission to the Inner Sanctum.
All the pubs in Pyrmont have accommodation, varying in quality, offering a real alternative style from the normal city accommodation.
- Holiday Inn Darling Harbour Hotel, 68 Harbour St Darling Harbour, ☎ +61 2 9291 0200. The Holiday Inn Darling Harbour is located at the southern end of Sydney's precinct. You can travel around the city area on the local free bus or efficient Light Rail from the nearby stop at Paddy's Markets Starting at $267.30.
There is a police station and first aid station at the tip of the harbour. The area is quite well patrolled, and generally busy, and it is a comfortable area to walk in the daytime and into the evening.
Late on a Friday or Saturday night there is drunken behaviour. After 10PM or so on a weeknight the area can get quiet, if there are no events on that night.
There is no fence around the harbour, and the water is deep. Watch young children don't fall in. Ladders are located at regular intervals, and life rings are scattered around as well.
Toilets are located under the Pyrmont Bridge on the eastern side, next to first aid, in Harbourside and Cockle Bay Wharf, and next to the curtain fountain at the southern end precinct. They are available at several other locations as well. Baby change facilities are available there too.
There are coin operated internet access terminals on the ground floor of Harbourside. There are public phones distributed about the precinct.
If you are attending a convention, ask the conference organisers about Wi-Fi access in the convention centre.
There is a McDonald's restaurant in Harbourside, with a free Wi-Fi hotspot that covers a section of the food hall. Really easy to use without buying any food there.
The rest of the city is just at your eastern doorstep, but if you have made it this far west, why not keep going to Sydney's Inner West. Still plenty of restaurants and cafes, with a more inner-city residential feel.