Chris Pritchard contrasts a glimpse of the Australian city’s historical past with tranquil gardens and Aboriginal art.
JUSTICE and POLICE MUSEUM
A good crime yarn is hard to beat, particularly if true. The rambunctious tavern-of-the-seas history of Australia’s biggest city (with more than four million of the country’s 22 million people) is graphically illustrated in one of Sydney’s lower-profile, though easy-to-find museums. The Justice and Police Museum at 8 Phillip Street showcases some of Sydney’s most spectacular crimes, events plucked from a sinister underbelly but now largely forgotten. Some of this law-breaking occurred in the British colonial era, while the rest of it happened more recently.
Stand facing Circular Quay with the marina’s twin glories, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, to your left and right respectively. Look right and you’ll see the museum. The former courthouse and jail is a historic sandstone pile that occupies a location deliberately chosen so that the port’s criminally minded would be constantly aware that the forces of law and order were watching. Exhibits chronicle past crimes that hit headlines, as well as a corridor of cells and imaginative handmade weaponry devised by notorious lawbreakers. Open daily 9.30am-5pm. Entry is A$10 (£6.70).
Head back to Circular Quay and buy a ticket for a 12-minute ferry ride to Taronga Zoo (A$5.30/£3.50). With limited time, one of the harbour’s full-length cruises (offered by several companies) must be omitted but this is a largely ignored next-best-thing. Don’t bother going to the zoo unless you’re really interested and have time (although it is one of the southern hemisphere’s best). Instead, use the ferry ride as a mini-cruise. After arriving, just take the next boat – they run every 30 minutes – back to the city. Taronga Zoo (taronga.org.au), incidentally, is much used by professional photographers to take pictures of Sydney’s steel-and-glass skyline, of which it offers splendid vistas. Visit sydneyferries.info
Located to the left of Circular Quay, alongside the Overseas Passenger Terminal and opposite the Opera House, is the original part of Sydney, the historic Rocks precinct. The Rocks’ buildings – a number of which have been reborn as boutiques, galleries and restaurants (both upscale and cheap and cheerful) – are mainly sandstone, a popular material for construction in the 18th and 19th centuries when they were built. Many of them were hand-hewn by convicts deported to Australia after being found guilty of petty crimes in Britain. A prime tourist zone, it has some of Sydney’s oldest pubs, including Fortune of War at 137 George Street, which dates back to 1801 and claims to be the oldest in the district. Pause for a schooner of beer before moving on to your next stop. Visit therocks.com
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
Alongside Sydney Opera House, a few minutes’ walk from Circular Quay, is the 30-hectare Royal Botanic Gardens on Mrs Macquaries Road – it’s a tranquil world away from the bustle. Take the harbour-edge walkway, which makes for a pleasant amble. The gardens are awash with unique Australian flora as well as foreign plants and flowers. Among more than 10,000 examples of local and foreign species are trees planted nearly 200 years ago. The Royal Botanic Gardens adjoin the Domain, another of Sydney’s green “lungs”, a vast lawn-like expanse crossed by paths heading to downtown’s high-rise rim. Entry is free and opening hours change seasonally. Visit rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES
Along Art Gallery Road, which cuts across the Domain, is the free Art Gallery of New South Wales. A sandstone structure built in 1896, its neoclassical façade and old wing are precursors to later additions. Regarded as one of Australia’s best, collections include European old masters, modern Australian works, Aboriginal art, and examples from South Pacific countries such as Papua New Guinea. Open daily 10am-5pm. Visit artgallery.nsw.gov.au
QUEEN VICTORIA BUILDING
Walk to the Domain’s downtown edge and across to Macquarie Street, Sydney’s answer to London’s Harley Street (many prominent doctors have surgeries here). Several imposing buildings are in situ, including New South Wales’ state parliament. Navigating the business district’s grid system, aim for George Street – the city’s main drag, parallel to Macquarie – and Market Street, where one of Sydney’s grandest buildings occupies an entire block. The Queen Victoria Building – with a statue of an unamused-looking monarch standing outside – was built in 1898 to be a concert hall and trading area. Sydney was in the grip of recession and construction of this ornate Romanesque edifice was intended to provide work for craftsmen. The Queen Victoria has since served as government and private-sector offices, and is now a shopping arcade. A refurbishment that was completed in 2009 cost A$48 million (£31 million) and has made it a major tourist attraction. Visit qvb.com.au