Sydney Culture Trails: The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney & surrounds

Sydney Culture Trails:

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney & surrounds

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and surrounds trail delves into Sydney’s religious, political and penal past and guides you through majestic gardens, past powerful cultural monuments and along the harbour city’s water-edged beauty.


Hyde Park

(Map Point A)

There’s no better place to begin your jaunt of the city’s green spaces than at Australia’s oldest public parkland, Hyde Park. Emerge from heritage-listed Museum Station at the southernmost end of the park and wander among the monuments under a canopy of long-established fig trees. These 16 hectares of lushly landscaped park is bordered by towering buildings and was named after its counterpart in London, as was the fashion in 1810.

Hyde Park at night

Archibald Fountain, Hyde Park. Image courtesy of City of Sydney, image credit: Robert Billington.

As you make your way to the Australian Museum, stop at The Anzac Memorial, which commemorates all Australians who lost their lives during the first World War and is a beautiful union of art and architecture. Also on the way is Yininmadyemi Thou Didst Let Fall is a powerful piece by Indigenous artist Tony Albert, which acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served, sacrificed and survived.

Archibald Fountain is further northwards and was created by French sculptor Francois Sicard. Its fantastical Greek mythical figures belie its actual subject matter of a bond between Australia and France during World War I.

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney City

In full view of the Archibald Fountain is the jaw-dropping Gothic-Revival St Mary’s Cathedral. Consecrated in 1905, after the first iteration burnt down in 1865, this catholic house of worship is a must-see for lovers of architecture and history. Its elegant spires cut a dramatic silhouette and anchor the modern city in history.

Fuel Stop:

If you’re ready for a little sustenance, stop at the nearby Bambini Trust Wine Room, which is housed inside a heritage building opposite Hyde Park, for a glass of wine and small bites.


Australian Museum

(Map Point B)

Free entry

Across the way from the cathedral is the heritage-listed Australian Museum on William Street. Housing fascinating temporary and permanent exhibitions, from dinosaurs to ‘Surviving Australia’ and Indigenous collections, there’s something to enthral all ages and inspire interest in our natural world.

Fuel Stop:

Just a short walk from Australian Museum, Flour & Stone bakery sells perfectly flaky croissants, warm lamb pies and tasty sourdough sandwiches.


Hyde Park Barracks

(Map Point C)

Admission fee applies

Carry along towards Circular Quay from Hyde Park and you’ll encounter the Heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks. A fascinating portal into colonial Australia, the Barracks were originally built to accommodate convicts, but today are an enthralling museum that delves into Sydney’s occasionally dark past.

Hyde Park Barracks. Image Credit: James Horan

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney City - Credit: James Horan


The Mint

(Map Point D)

Free entry

For a deeper peek into our penal history, wander next door to The Mint. This former, 200-bed convict hospice was once called the ‘Rum Hospital’ as it was rumoured to have been financed by 45,000 gallons of the spirit. Following its role as a place of respite for the those of ill-repute, it became the Royal Mint in 1855, then housed offices for government departments before becoming a heritage site in 1977.

Fuel Stop:

Enjoy an elegant high tea on the Macquarie Balcony at Bullion Bar and Dining inside The Mint.

Continue ambling along Macquarie Street and you’ll soon pass the Parliament of NSW. Apart from being of ongoing political significance, the heritage building is the oldest surviving building in the CBD and is Australia’s first parliament. You can take a free public tour most weekdays or simply admire its stately architecture from the street.


State Library of NSW

(Map Point E)

Free entry

Positioned at Shakespeare Place, the elegant façade of this institution leads into many fascinating worlds through its collection of reading and resource materials to regular events and exhibitions. The State Library of NSW is a moment of quietude amid the bustle of Sydney. Check out what’s on during your visit and pop in for a hit of literature and culture.


Museum of Sydney

(Map Point F)

Admission fee applies

As you make your way to Circular Quay, a stop at the Museum of Sydney is a must. Carefully rising from the remains of Australia’s first Government House, the modern museum is a fascinating journey that winds from the first Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, onto Sydney’s colonial establishment, and celebrates those who have shaped the city we know today.

Museum of Sydney

Museum of Sydney. Image Credit: James Horan/Sydney Living Museums

Fuel Stop: 

Meat and Wine Co., inside the lobby of heritage-listed InterContinental Sydney Hotel on Macquarie Street, has an opulent old-world interior with a deliciously modern steak menu – try the Express Lunch with a glass of wine.



Sydney Opera House

(Map Point H)

Bookings required for tours

Stroll out of the shaded city and along Circular Quay to find yourself at Australia’s most iconic house, The Sydney Opera House. With its gleaming white-tiled sails that, in 1959, propelled the city into the future and placed it on the world map, architect Jorn Utzon’s brave, new opera house soon became a symbol of modern Sydney, despite early criticism. Today it remains an unmissable stop on any Sydney itinerary and its design and the performing talent housed within is as awe-inspiring as ever.

Time your visit with an event, such as the opera, ballet, music concert, talk, or a theatre production. Or take a tour of this incredible and enduring architectural marvel that goes behind-the-scenes and unravels the inner workings of complex productions.

Fuel Stop:

You could also simply enjoy the Sydney Opera House from the enviably positioned Opera Bar, taking in the sparkling harbour spanned by the equally impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge. Or dine at Bennelong, set within the House and offering one of Sydney’s most celebrated culinary experiences.


The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

(Map Point I)

Free entry

From the Opera House, you are right on the edge of the stunning Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. With a long history dating back to 1816, this expansive oasis sandwiched between the CBD and the harbour offers plenty for day-trippers and overnight visitors to explore. Enjoy a stroll, pack a picnic lunch or come for one of the many memorable events held in the lush antipodean-accented parklands.

Beside the garden and just south of the Sydney Opera House is the grand Government House, with its impressive turreted Gothic-revival style. The gated five-hectare gardens are open to roam freely and they offer virtual tours of the state house of NSW, where you can learn about its rich history. 

Government House Sydney

Government House Sydney. Image Credit: Government House Sydney 

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is a charming landmark in the garden on a peninsula with a beautiful view to the north-west for the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Commissioned for Governor Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth, the sandstone seat offers one of the best views in Sydney. Bring your swimmers along and take a detour for a dip at Andrew Boy Charlton Pool. Named after the Sydney local Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer, Andrew Boy Charlton Pool is one of the most scenic places to do laps in the city and is adjacent to the garden and overlooking Woolloomooloo Bay.

Fuel Stop:

Botanic House in the heart of the gardens serves unique South East Asian cuisine using native Australian ingredients. You can pre-order a picnic basket or grab takeaway from the casual dining space underneath Botanic House: Farm Cove Eatery.

Located on the edge of the garden across from Shakespeare Place, The Calyx is also a must visit on the way (with entry by donation). The architectural marvel is a modern glasshouse style and home to the largest vertical floral display in the Southern Hemisphere. It houses exhibitions, events and even stargazing.


Art Gallery of NSW

(Map Point J)

Free entry, admission fee applies to some exhibitions

Make your way out of the gardens and explore the Art Gallery of NSW, positioned on the fig-fringed Art Gallery Road. Celebrating 150 years in 2021, the gallery is one of Australia’s most important art institutions and houses absorbing collections across a range of genres. Access to the gallery is free and you can easily lose hours diving into the permanent and touring exhibitions. Currently embarking on a new standalone building to double the gallery’s space, the Sydney Modern Project is set to open at the end of 2022 and is designed to unify art, architecture and landscape in a sustainable manner.

Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney

Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney

Things to do & places to stay