Historic Buildings Walking Tour (Self Guided), Sydney

One of the main cities in Australia, Sydney is also the country's oldest metropolis. It has no shortage of impressive historical buildings, some dating back as far as the early 19th century. Many of the local landmarks, such as Sydney Town Hall, Queen Victoria Building (QVB), Hyde Park Barracks and others, are wonders in their own right and fit to delight any history buff. If you wish to visit these and other heritage sights in Sydney and to learn the city's story, embark on this self-guided walking tour.
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Historic Buildings Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historic Buildings Walking Tour
Guide Location: Australia » Sydney (See other walking tours in Sydney)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Sydney Town Hall
  • Queen Victoria Building (QVB)
  • Saint Mary's Cathedral
  • Hyde Park Barracks
  • Sydney Mint
  • Parliament House
  • The Justice and Police Museum
  • Customs House
  • Susannah Place Museum
  • Cadmans Cottage
1
Sydney Town Hall

1) Sydney Town Hall

The offices of the Lord Mayor and Councillors of the city are located in the Sydney Town Hall. It is an ornate sandstone building constructed on the site of a former cemetery. Before the inauguration of the Opera House, it was Sydney’s Concert Hall and many notable music performances took place at the venue.

The Sydney Town Hall was built between 1868 and 1889. The foundation stone was laid by Prince Albert, the Duke of Edinburgh. When it was completed, it was the grandest public building in the British Empire. The original structure was designed by architects, Wilson, Bell and Bond. The architectural style is Grand Victorian Second Empire Italian Renaissance. The clock tower was built in 1881 and the clock was installed in 1885. The Town hall underwent extensive repairs and refurbishment to suit modern office requirements and the renovated structure was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992.

The Centennial Hall at the centre of the building has the largest pipe organ that uses tubular pneumatic action in the world. The interiors have a wealth of carved figures, mosaic floors, and stained glass. A 20-minute tour takes visitors around the building explaining the history of the City.

Why You Should Visit:
Free for a quick look – it's good to see grand old buildings preserved virtually as they were built.
The surrounding square is also great in summer when the City Council puts out deck chairs for the public to use and relax in the sun or just eat lunch.

Tip:
Try to visit during one of the free organ recitals held every month, as nothing beats hearing the organ in operation.

Opening Hours: daily: 8:00 - 18:00
2
Queen Victoria Building (QVB)

2) Queen Victoria Building (QVB) (must see)

The Queen Victoria Building is a large shopping mall in the heart of Sydney. The hundred-year-old structure has been recently restored and its ornate façade and interior displays carefully preserved.

The QVB was designed by architect George McRae. The architectural style is Romanesque Revival and it was built with the purpose of providing employment to jobless skilled workers during a recession. The building was opened to the public in 1898 and named after the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. A statue of the queen greets visitors at the entrance. At the time of its inauguration, it contained cafes, showrooms and a concert hall. Later it housed the central library and government offices. Between 1984 and 1986, the Malaysian firm, Ipoh Garden Berhad leased the run down and neglected Queen Victoria Building and restored it to its former splendour.

A notable architectural feature is the large central dome with glass on the inside and copper on the outside. There are four floors and stained glass windows allow light into the interiors, patterned floor tiles and ornately wrought iron balustrades. Today, it has over 200 shops selling high-end products including fashion, jewelry and traditional Australian crafts.

Why You Should Visit:
The renovations are very respectful to the era of the original build and everything about this building oozes sophistication.
If not for the high-end boutiques, you can still enjoy a stroll through and marvel at the two beautiful clocks that still hang from the ceilings.
It's also lovely to sit on the 2nd or 3rd levels at one of the cafés looking out at the unique clocks.

Tip:
Sydney was built over tunnels and underneath the QVB are two levels of tunnels for additional shopping.
At night the building is beautifully illuminated, the shops are closed and you can wander through and gaze at ease.

Opening Hours:
Mon, Wed-Sat: 9:00-18:00; Tue: 9:00-21:00; Sun: 11:00-17:00
3
Saint Mary's Cathedral

3) Saint Mary's Cathedral (must see)

The mother church of Australian Catholicism, St. Mary’s Cathedral is the largest church in Australia. It is a functioning place of worship and an important landmark in Sydney.

The foundation stone of St. Mary’s Cathedral was laid in 1821 by Governor Macquarie and a simple structure was completed in 1835. The cathedral was destroyed by a fire in 1865. Father McEnroe, the then Archdeacon commissioned the building of the present structure designed by architect William Wardell and completed in 1882. The dedication mass was held by Archbishop Vaughan who also gave the first peal of bells. Work on the church continued after its dedication and improvements have been continually made to embellish the structure. It was given the title of a minor basilica by Pope Pius XI in 1930 and was the focus of World Youth Day in 2008 when it was visited by Pope Benedict XVI.

St Mary’s Cathedral’s exterior is clad with dressed Pyrmont stone and the architectural style is Gothic Revivalist. It has twin towers facing south and a cruciform design with a central tower where the nave and transepts meet. The interiors have windows with picturesque stained glass, intricate sculpture and a poignant monument to fallen soldiers.

Why You Should Visit:
The impressive flight of stairs leading up to the entrance and the two slender spires pointing to the sky make this elegant minor basilica amazing, chiefly when the walls glitter in gold light in the sunbeams.

Tip:
The best view of the Cathedral is probably from College street. Pick your visiting time carefully because of the regular services and the irregular but very frequent weddings. During the weddings, you can't walk in to see the Cathedral.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 6:30-18:30; Sat-Sun: 6:30-19:00
4
Hyde Park Barracks

4) Hyde Park Barracks

The Hyde Park Barracks served to house the large convict population who were transported to Australia from Britain. It is now a museum dedicated to the history of the building.

The Hyde Park Barracks was designed by emancipated convict architect, Francis Greenway. It was built by convict labour between 1817 and 1819 as the first permanent shelter for convicts. They roamed the streets and crime was rampant until the construction of the barracks. It is located at the centre of a walled compound covering 2.16 hectares and has three floors. Other buildings inside the walls included a cookhouse, a bakery and quarters for soldiers. It was closed in 1848 and had many uses since. It became a dormitory for emigrant women who awaited the arrival of their families, an asylum for destitute women and was later converted as government offices and law courts.

In 1981, the Hyde Park Barracks became a museum run by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. The first floor recreates the arrival of the first fleet with convicts and the life and times of the early convicts including a confinement box and leg irons. The second floor recreates the history of the building after it ceased to be convict barracks. The top floor recreates barrack rooms with hammocks showing the dwelling place and conditions of convicts at the time.

Why You Should Visit:
To understand more about Sydney's past either at your own pace or with the aid of an excellent audio guide that helps to bring the stories to life.
Incredible levels of detail and unique displays throughout that mix modern technologies with the old building and stories.
The staff at the gift shop and reception area are very friendly and informative.
Set on beautiful grounds, the area is just beautiful to stroll around.

Tip:
There is a cute little restaurant right outside the museum that serves great lunch and drinks – it's fun to eat in the courtyard with ivy climbing up the walls behind.
The bathrooms are also located outside and behind the main barracks building which requires you to return your audio guide on the way out and recover it when you return.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
5
Sydney Mint

5) Sydney Mint

The Sydney Mint functioned as a "rum" hospital for convicts and the poor from 1816 to 1854. From 1855 to 1926, the building served as a Royal Mint branch, minting 1,200 tons of gold into 150 million sovereigns. The building would become host to government offices from 1926 to 1997. During this time, the government hosted over 20 courts and departments here.

Bullion Bar and Dining is a French Bistro on the site of the Mint. Christophe Briet, the chef, has Parisian training that gives the foods served an authentic feel. Australian produce helps provide a localized feel to the dishes. As an extra treat, the restaurant also hosts a daily High Tea.

The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection gives visitors the most in-depth look at how the space inside the building has been utilized over the years. All of the tours of this site are self-guided, allowing you to explore everything at your leisure.
6
Parliament House

6) Parliament House

Parliament House Sydney is a complex of buildings home to New South Wales' Parliament, enjoying World Heritage Site status. The oldest part was built in 1816 in the style of Georgian architecture, with neo-Gothic additions. The front verandah area has colonnades that make the facade even more impressive.

The building for the Legislative Assembly is where the lower house meets. A Speaker's chair and ceremonial mace on its table are some of the highlights. Seating areas for assembly members flank the Speakers' chair, and there is also a gallery where members of the press sit. The Legislative Council Chamber, for the upper house, contains a vice-regal chair made from red cedar. Seven busts of former Council members are also in this chamber, with four sporting ceremonial dress and three with Roman-style togas.

One of the most accessible areas to the general public is the Fountain Court, which is an exhibition area featuring an impressive fountain. The theaterette has 166 seats, perfect for whatever types of shows you might catch while you're there. There is even a roof garden above the theaterette.

Free guided tours are available every day and the guides are very knowledgeable. You can learn a lot about the history of the building and Australia.

Why You Should Visit:
To see an old architecture from the earliest time of Australia contrasted by the modern Fountain Court in the heart of the building, which is an amazing sight.

Tip:
If you're most interested in how democracy works in the NSW Parliament, you should go on sitting days which is when Parliament is in session, you can listen to the debates but you will see less because the visit is restricted to the Visitors' Galleries. On non-sitting days, both historic chambers can be visited.

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 9:00 - 17:00
7
The Justice and Police Museum

7) The Justice and Police Museum

The Justice and Police Museum is dedicated to this history of law and order and crime fighting from the arrival of the convicts to the twentieth century. It is housed in a building that was used by many law enforcement agencies throughout history.

The building had several uses before it became a museum. It served as a Water Police Court, a Water Police Station, a Police Court and Traffic Court. The rooms have an array of displays about crime fighting, famous criminal cases and heroic policemen. There are also many photographs and crime fighting equipment on display.

The Justice and Police Museum contains many interesting exhibits for visitors. There is an intact prison cell in the building, an original front desk area that formed part of many police stations, a collection of weapons used by the police down the ages, a well preserved courtroom where visitors can sit in the judge’s chair or take the witness stand and a torture chamber for misbehaving prisoners. One of the rooms contains many objects and pictures to pay homage to the policemen fallen in the line of duty. A recent display called Sin City showcases the history of crime in Sydney from the time the city served as a prison colony to the present.

Hours: Saturday-Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
8
Customs House

8) Customs House

The Customs House in Sydney has been open since 1845 and is one of the city's most famous heritage buildings. This building has traditionally served as the entry point for all kinds of goods. There are many exhibits to help visitors learn more about what has gone on at the Customs House in the past. Exhibitions have included a photographic exhibition focusing on 1900 to 1920, exploring the city using cryptic clues, and an outdoor interactive display available all the time.

There is also a scale model of Sydney's downtown area, easily accessed by climbing the helix staircase. The miniature versions of some of the city's most famous sights give you a great idea of how to spot them in your travels. Fiber-optic lights come on at night to illuminate the scale model, a wonder for all ages.

One of the fascinating aspects of local history that the Customs House highlights is how British settlers initially encountered the Eora or Aborigines. The nearby seashore outside the building is host to shell middens that are evidence of how these early inhabitants lived.
9
Susannah Place Museum

9) Susannah Place Museum

The Susannah Place Museum highlights the life of the working class in Sydney from 1844 to 1990. It is located in the Rocks area of Sydney which was once a slum and rough neighbourhood.

The Susannah Place Museum consists of four sandstone houses. These are the last of the sandstone structures that were once found in abundance in the area. They were originally built in 1844 for Edward and Mary Riley. There is also a corner shop adjacent to the buildings. They have been the home of many working class families after the Rileys. The interesting part of the museum is that restoration has been performed only to make the structures safe. All other aspects have been left undisturbed.

The houses have layers of paint and peeling wallpaper, a 150 year old lounge, an 80 year old kitchen and a 100 year old bedroom. The brick type toilets to the recent flushing toilets are depicted to show the changing sanitary methods used in the city. The backyard shows the changing methods of washing from the tub to the washing machine used in a working class neighbourhood. The museum has a short DVD on the history of the The Rocks and photographs on how the road looked before the building of the Harbour Bridge. The corner shop is decorated to reflect the richness of working class community life and sells 19th century products over the counter.

Hours: Monday-Sunday 14:00 – 17:00
10
Cadmans Cottage

10) Cadmans Cottage

Cadmans Cottage is one of the few remaining buildings that go back to Sydney's early colonial years. Some of the highlights of this building's history include having been a water transport station, a home for sailors, and a water police station, in addition to other essential functions.

This cottage still features the original sandstone design. The home's architecture is very typical of buildings from the era. Restoration work that has occurred in recent years has helped to restore the building to its early appearance. Some of the noteworthy changes include the harbor's boundary being 100 meters from its original location due to Circular Quay's construction.

One of the cottage's highlights is its status as a Heritage site, donating its importance in the life of New South Wales. Guided tours of the home's lower story are available. These tours also include visits of the grounds, which have been well-preserved over the years.

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