The Playmaker
Let's play
  • It's Saturday
    What day is it?
  • Now
    What time is it?
  • Anywhere in Sydney
    Where are you?
  • What do you feel like?
    What do you feel like?
  • And what else?
    And what else?
Flip the switch below
and discover Sydney by day or night.
By Tamar Cranswick
February 13, 2018
By Tamar Cranswick
February 13, 2018

From the beating heart of the city to the beauty of the harbour and around to Barangaroo, there’s a lot to soak up in the CBD and surrounds.

The best way to see everything the area has to offer is on foot. Take a wander through the CBD and then down to the blue of the harbour and onto the cobblestoned streets of The Rocks, stopping along the way for a bite to eat or to browse some of the best stores in Sydney.

Flick the switch above, and we’ll dim the lights to show you the best things to do once the sun goes down. You can also explore more inner-city suburbs here.

From the beating heart of the city to the beauty of the harbour and around to Barangaroo, there’s a lot to soak up in the CBD and surrounds.

When the sun goes down this is the place to be for your cultural fix — the options extend as long as your itinerary allows. Start by taking in a show at Sydney Theatre Company, seeing an arthouse flick at the State Theatre or catch a gig at the Opera House, and finish with a drink — either overlooking the harbour or down in the depths of a basement bar.

Flick the switch above, and we’ll turn on the lights to show you the best things to do pre-6pm. You can also explore more inner-city suburbs here.


The Queen Victoria Building was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Construction took five years, from 1893–98 and the site takes up an entire city block that was once home to a produce market and the Central Police Court.


Town Hall and Wynyard train stations are central to the CBD, while Circular Quay station meets the harbour and The Rocks areas. Ferries run from Circular Quay and Barangaroo Wharf, and there are plenty of bus services. Hit the pavement and take the new Wynyard Walk to Barangaroo or explore the hidden laneways of The Rocks by foot.


Walking around town can work up an appetite so grab a treat from Lorraine’s Patisserie, hidden underneath the Ivy building on Palings Lane, where you can watch the magic happen in the tiny, open plan kitchen. Lorraine’s cheesecakes are legendary, and rumour has it she made the wedding cake for a certain Prime Minister’s daughter.


Stretching from the Macquarie Street all the way to the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Garden is an oasis in the city. Do as the locals do and take a stroll through the gardens, read a book on the lawns, or just sit back and enjoy the view.


The Rocks has been keeping Sydneysiders and its visitors imbibed since colonial times and is home to Sydney’s oldest pub. So, who takes the honour? Well, that’s a matter of ongoing debate between the Fortune of War and The Lord Nelson, both of which lay claim to being the longest continuously licensed hotel in the city. Best discussed over a beer (or two).


Town Hall and Wynyard train stations are central to the CBD, while Circular Quay station meets the harbour and The Rocks areas. Ferries run from Circular Quay and Barangaroo Wharf, and there are plenty of bus services. Hit the pavement and take the new Wynyard Walk to Barangaroo or explore the hidden laneways of The Rocks by foot.


The harbour at night is a thing of beauty. See the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge illuminated from Circular Quay then make your way to Dawes Point to watch the lights from Luna Park on the northern side of the bridge smiling back over the water.


This is an area made for showing off water views, and locals take full advantage of the fact, usually with a drink in hand. From Sydney Theatre Company’s Bar at the End of the Wharf, the rooftop at Hotel Palisade, the heights of the Shangri-La’s Blu Bar, and Cafe Sydney, it’s all about the view.

How to do the Sydney CBD

Do as the locals do.


Coffee is serious business, and thankfully everyone is well served, from suits on coffee breaks to daytime harbour strollers.

1. Regiment

A bustling CBD cafe serving Five Senses coffee, soba noodle salad and hunks of caramel slice.

2. Brooklyn Boy Bagels

An NYC-style bagelry and deli serving up pastrami on rye, Mecca coffee and bagels with plenty of schmear inside Gateway Sydney.

3. South by Dukes

A Barangaroo home and cafe for one of Melbourne's best coffee roasters.

4. Gumption by Coffee Alchemy

A standing-only coffee bar in The Strand Arcade.

5. Industry Beans York St

The Melbourne coffee pioneer has brought its famed bubble tea-like cold brews to Sydney.

Restaurants and Pubs

Top-shelf takeaway joints, cosy pubs and sun-filled terraces ensure you won’t ever go hungry in the CBD — especially during the working week.

1. Matteo Downtown

Sister to Matteo Double Bay, this Bond Street restaurant boasts a dedicated mozzarella bar, a weekday aperitivo hour and a terrace primed for people-watching.

2. Jardin St James

A slice of Parisian paradise in the CBD.

3. The Australian Heritage Hotel

With a lengthy tradition of premium drinks, plus a killer view, it doesn't get much better than The Australian.

4. The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel

Sydney’s oldest continually licensed hotel and home of Australia's oldest pub brewery.

5. Chica Bonita CBD

Refined Mexican fare in a stunning restaurant on Clarence Street.


Beyond the big department stores the area is home to some of the best fashion, homewares and food shops Sydney has to offer.

1. Incu

The elusive mix of high-end and high-street will hook you in every time.

2. Sorry Thanks I Love You

Every message you need to say, you can say through these perfectly curated artisanal gifts.

3. Marimekko

World-renowned Finnish designer with a penchant for patterns.

4. Haigh's Chocolates

Replace your chocolate bunny with an artisan crafted bilby.

5. Shortstop Coffee & Donuts

Kick the sugar cravings with a cult-favourite doughnut.

Arts and Culture

Get to know the city better on a walking tour or at one of the many museums and galleries dotted throughout. Best of all, most of these are free.

1. Customs House

Lose a few hours exploring the multi-storey library and contemporary exhibitions.

2. Museum of Sydney

A salute to Sydney: past and present.

3. Justice and Police Museum

Discover the dark history of Sydney's real life cops and robbers.

4. Art Gallery of NSW

Soak up some contemporary art and earn serious culture cred at this Sydney institution.

5. The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour

Take a journey into Dreamtime and Aboriginal culture.


Unwind in stunning gardens by the sea, swim laps in a waterside sea salt pool or channel your inner tiny dancer with some of the best in the business.

1. Royal Botanic Garden

So much more than a pretty park.

2. Observatory Hill Park

Take in the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the water and the skyline from one of the best vantage points in the city.

3. Andrew 'Boy' Charlton Pool

Make sure to admire the Sydney Harbour views as you come up for air.

4. Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

The ultimate rite of passage for Sydneysiders and visitors alike.

5. The Rocks Friday Foodie Markets

Why wait for the weekend to get your market fix?

Locals Love

We asked, you answered. These are the spots you love to frequent during the daylight hours, especially in the Barangaroo area.

1. The Grounds of the City

The Grounds of Alexandria's new CBD venue sets an impossibly high standard for themed dining in Sydney.

2. Cirrus Dining

A cloud-shaped Barangaroo restaurant from the Bentley team.

3. RivaReno Gelato Barangaroo

The Surry Hills favourite brings its pistachio, mascarpone and, of course, cremino harbourside.

4. Mr. Wong

A classic CBD eatery loved for its dim sim, mud crab and vintage setting.

5. Belles Hot Chicken Barangaroo

Finger-licking fried chicken goodness.

How to do the Sydney CBD

Do as the locals do.

Restaurants and Pubs

You’ll find some of the best restaurants in the city in this area, and with the Barangaroo precinct now added to the menu, there’s even more to choose from.

1. Restaurant Hubert

High-class French food in a subterranean space on Bligh Street. The chicken fricassée is the stuff of legend.

2. Indu

The new Indian food we've been waiting for.

3. Continental Deli Bar Bistro CBD

A shrine of cocktails, charcuterie and canned stuff in the CBD.

4. Long Chim

Prep your chilli tolerance for a visit to David Thompson's Thai fine dining restaurant.

5. Bistecca

An underground CBD restaurant specialising in one cut of steak.


Whether you're looking for a rooftop for midweek bevs or want to take in the sights sipping a cocktail, there’s plenty of top spots for a tipple.

1. Bar Topa

A pint-sized tapas bar serving up innovative snacks and $8 half-size cocktails.

2. Kittyhawk

Combining a French military aesthetic with an end of war party vibe, and stocked with over 900 spirits — expect banging cocktails.

3. Cantina OK!

A standing room-only mezcal bar in the CBD by the Tio's team.

4. Old Mate's Place

Creative cocktails, Philly cheesesteaks and old-school library vibes tucked away in a Clarence Street office building.

5. Hotel Palisade

Boarded up for close to a decade, this bar gained a new lease on life in 2015. Keep things casual downstairs, or head upstairs for cocktails and a killer view.

Live Music

The CBD's live music scene caters for classical music aficionados, avid rock fans and everyone in between. Plus, you'll find yourself in some incredible venues.

1. City Recital Hall

Featuring the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Pinchgut Opera and much more within the creative orbit.

2. Sydney Opera House

The word iconic is overused, but not when it comes to the harbour city’s crowning glory. See the best live acts from around the world under the sails.

3. Frankie's

Part dive bar, part New York-style pizza parlour, part blast from the past in the form of 80s metal.

4. The Orient Hotel

The Rocks pub has reopened with a 3.30am licence and a new cocktail terrace.

5. Since I Left You

This could be your CBD paradise.


Browse beautiful boutiques, a 60-year-old bottle shop and one-off designs all after 6pm.

1. Muji

Fans of Japanese minimalist, everyday design, get to The Galeries.

2. The Oak Barrel

As one of the oldest bottle shops in Sydney, the range is something to behold.

3. MCA Store

More than just a museum store.

4. Books Kinokuniya

Pick up a book (or three) at this Japanese megastore.

5. The Strand Arcade

A gorgeous Victorian-era emporium with everything from cafes to milliners and Australia’s top fashion designers.

Arts and Culture

When the sun goes down there’s plenty to do — catch a play, take in an exhibition or simply look up at the stars.

1. Sydney Theatre Company

The cream of Sydney's creativity crop.

2. The Rocks Pub Walk

Go for a wander and discover some of Sydney's oldest watering holes.

3. State Theatre

Old-world opulence awaits in this heritage-listed performance space.

4. Sydney Observatory

Yes, the CBD has its own stargazing spot — head here after dark and discover the magic of the southern sky.

5. MCA Lights on Later

Get to know the MCA after hours.

Locals Love

We asked, you answered. Here are your favourite evening haunts in the CBD.

1. The Baxter Inn

A cavernous whisky bar where the bartenders know their stuff and good times are at the top of the agenda.

2. Bar Luca

Go for the Blame Canada, stay for an outrageous weekly special.

3. The Glenmore

This pub in The Rocks has a rooftop with one of the best views over the harbour.

4. Opera Bar

A must-do with out-of-towners or when you're seeing a gig at the Opera House.

5. Palmer & Co.

A hidden, but well-known, cocktail bar reminiscent of Sydney's notorious past of speakeasies, sly grog and razor gangs.

Find Your Way Through the CBD

Track down the must-visit local haunts.


CP's Picks

Some of our favourites from around the suburb.

Explore more of Sydney and your favourite suburbs through the eyes of other locals by following #sydneylocal on Instagram.

Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x