From fireworks and tropical fish to tranquil gardens and theatre, Darling Harbour is Sydney’s must-visit destination – a melting pot of unique experiences for people of all ages.
As a tourist destination, Darling Harbour already has it made. With its glittering waterfront and abundance of restaurants, shops and green open spaces, it doesn’t have to work hard to provide a rewarding day out. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a surprising array of experiences to discover. Read on for 10 things you don’t want to miss in Darling Harbour.
Sure, Darling Harbour has plenty to offer above sea level, but if you want a relaxing few hours of calm, go below the water. At SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, you can bliss out beneath the graceful wings of manta rays, watch sharks glide by silently and observe the antics of the adorable dugongs. Enjoy an underwater journey of discovery that takes you from The Great Barrier Reef to Shark Valley and from Sydney Harbour to a South Coast Shipwreck. You’ll be mesmerised by the beauty of Australian sea creatures including tropical fish, jelly fish, moray eels and seahorses – not to mention spectacular coral formations and touch pools. Want to add a bit of adrenalin into the mix? SEA LIFE also offers experiences which allow you to swim with the sharks. Just make sure they’ve been fed first.
1-5 Wheat Road, Darling Harbour, Sydney 2000, sydneyaquarium.com.au
Who knew Darling Harbour was such a hotbed of native Australian fauna? And yet, at Wildlife Sydney Zoo, you can almost get nose-to-nose close with our iconic critters from koalas, kangaroos, platypus and Tasmanian Devils to Salt Water Crocodiles, wombats and quokkas (to name a few). Head into the nocturnal exhibit to get an insight into what our animals get up to at night, step into the koala enclosure to meet some of our most famous marsupials or enjoy the butterfly house, where the beautiful insects fly around freely, sometimes stopping to land on your shoulder. 1-5 Wheat Road, Darling Harbour, Sydney 2000, wildlifesydney.com.au
Visiting Darling Harbour with the kids? Spending some time at the Darling Harbour Children’s Playground ought to be non-negotiable. There are two main benefits for visiting this brilliant, immersive play land. For starters, the water-play area, climbing ropes, super-swings, slides and a 21 metre flying fox will keep kids of all ages entertained. Secondly, you can grab a coffee or a snack from one of the surrounding cafes, and kick back as your offspring slide, climb, swing and scramble. Win-win. darlingquarter.com/play/the-playground/
Just a ten-minute walk from Darling Harbour, you’ll find yourself in the middle of Sydney’s buzzing CBD, which is an adventure in itself. Stroll down bustling Pitt Street Mall for a dose of retail therapy; visit the iconic Queen Victoria Building for its upmarket boutiques and stunning architecture, and for a drink with a spectacular outlook, head to the O Bar in Australia Square and have a drink as the revolving restaurant gives you a 360-degree view of the city from the 47th floor. Slightly further afield, follow George Street all the way down towards the Harbour Bridge, until you hit historical precinct The Rocks, a vibrant spot with heritage buildings, harbour views, plenty of interesting shops and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Just a few minutes walk from the throngs of Darling Harbour’s promenade, you’ll find respite from the crowds in the tranquil surrounds of the Chinese Garden of Friendship. It’s one of the largest gardens of its kind outside Asia, encompassing pavilions, lakes, waterfalls and a Chinese teahouse. Designed in China and gifted to Sydney in 1988, by its sister city, Guangdong, it’s reminiscent of principles dating back to the 5th Century, combining water, plants and stone. Marvel at majestic willow trees, stroll around the lagoons with their colourful fish and lotus flowers or simply find somewhere to sit and enjoy the serenity. It’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a bustling city when you’re enjoying the meditative effects of plant life. Pier Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney 2000
Discover Australia’s maritime history at the intriguing Maritime Museum which also happens to house the largest collection of floating vessels in the world. Core exhibitions encompass maritime aspects of Indigenous culture, European exploration, immigration, sport and leisure, defence and Australia's maritime links with the USA and there’s plenty to delight kids and adults of all ages. For an immersive experience (literally and figuratively) climb aboard the decommissioned submarine, HMAS Onslow and get an insight into the secret world of submarine warfare. Fascinating. 2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney 2000, sea.museum
Head to Darling Square and discover this foodie paradise which will surprise and delight your tastebuds. Start at Maker’s Dozen in the Exchange Building, where you’ll find everything from craft beer and desserts to intriguing fusion food. In Little Hay Street, you’ll enjoy vibrant cafes and cool drink spots until long after dark. Meanwhile, Steam Mill Lane is the larger-than-life little laneway populated by some of Sydney’s most well-loved food concepts from Banh Mi to bubble tea. Stroll around, soak in the atmosphere and satiate your appetite. It’s a culinary experience to be reckoned with. Darlingsq.com/eatdrinkshop
The unique design of The Exchange, that houses Darling Square Library – wrapped with over 20 kilometres of timber ribbons – is your first clue that this is a library with a difference. The brand-new development is a hub for learning, creativity, collaboration and innovation, set over two floors. Free Wi-Fi, study space, meeting rooms and a colourful children’s area (with weekly bilingual story time sessions) are just the beginning. Head to the Ideas Lab on level 1 to participate in one of the many workshops, covering topics including 3D design and printing, robotics and electronics. Alternatively, you can borrow one of the 30,000 books, just waiting for you to turn their pages. Levels 1 and 2, The Exchange, 1 Little Pier Street, Haymarket Sydney 2000.
You don’t have to wait for Sydney’s iconic New Year’s Eve to get a taste of the pyrotechnical spectacle that goes off over the water. Every Saturday night is a celebration at Darling Harbour. Simply head to Harbourside with its 240 metres of waterfront dining (along with numerous jewellery, souvenir and retail shops, food court and entertainment venues), grab a seat and enjoy. The fireworks go off every Saturday night at 9pm, lighting up the night sky and delighting everyone below. https://darlingharbour.com/whats-on/fireworks/
This fully integrated convention, exhibition and entertainment centre only opened its doors in 2016 and already has hosted some of the most exciting, inspiring and innovative events the city has seen. From world-famous musicians and thought leaders to industry expos, theatre and entertainment – there’s always something happening at the ICC. 14 Darling Drive, Darling Harbour, Sydney 2000, iccsydney.com.au