What's new in Sydney - a cultural travel guide - review by Rusty Compass
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What's new in Sydney - a cultural travel guide

| 15 Jul 2023
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What's new in Sydney - a cultural travel guide
15 Jul 2023

Sydney is changing fast. There are loads of new things for travellers to see and experience in the city from museums and galleries to new public spaces and a new vibe. This is our independent cultural travel guide to what's new in Australia's largest and most-visited city. Check out the two videos and you'll find the details of the places listed in the article.

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

These videos are our take on what's new in Sydney in 2023 for cultural travellers. To get more info on the places in the videos, read on below.

VIDEO 1 - What's new in Sydney?

A new gallery - Sydney Modern

The Art Gallery of New South Wales has long been a highlight of a visit to Sydney. Behind the grand neo-classical facade sits a superb collection of Australian and international art.

In 2022 a $300 plus million expansion of the gallery opened in a spectacular structure right by the original. Unofficially known as Sydney Modern, the new gallery features a mix of Australian and international contemporary art. Highlights include a major lift in the prominence and scale of the Australian First Nations collection in the Yiribana Gallery.

The Tank, a repurposed World War II era oil storage tank on the site, has been transformed into a dramatic exhibition space.

See our guide to Sydney's public galleries here -

Sydney Modern Gallery
Photo: Mark Bowyer Sydney Modern Gallery

A new Sydney museum - Chau Chak Wing Museum

Sydney University has been exhibiting art, artefacts and natural history in small museums across the campus for over a century. In 2020, three museums became one thanks to a donation from Chinese property developer and philanthropist Chau Chak Wing. The collection is wonderfully diverse and the museum is refreshingly compact. 2 - 3 hours will excite your curiosity across a wide sweep of subjects.

I love this museum - it includes everything from Australian and global natural history to a fascinating art collection. Impressive Egyptian and Roman pieces are especially intriguing in Sydney. It's a good spot for curious kids too.

At a time when museums are increasingly needing to account for themselves and how they obtained the things they exhibit, it’s a tad disappointing that the Chau Chak Wing doesn’t provide much context on the origins of its collection.

See our guide to Sydney museums here -

Tasmanian Tiger - Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Tasmanian Tiger - Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney

Sydney's neighbourhoods blossom


Sydney’s wonderful neighbourhoods don’t get much attention in travel recommendations. In this video we mention two - Marrickville and Glebe.

Marrickville was rated by Timeout as one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods in 2021. One of the multicultural centres of the city, it’s long been a great place for Greek and Vietnamese cuisine. In recent years, craft breweries, cool cafes, live music and a bizarre new shrine / pub /brewery dedicated to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, have given new energy to Marrickville. Spend some time there.

Here are the Marrickville places we feature in the video - there are loads more! You can cover most of it by wandering around Marrickville Road and Illawarra Road.

Marrickville Pork Roll - Banh mi stall
Illawarra Rd Marrickville

Banh Cuon Ba Oanh
Illawarra Rd Marrickville

Bob Hawke Beer and Leisure Centre

Lazy Bones Live Music
Illawarra Rd Marrickville

Illi Hill Cafe
Illawarra Rd Marrickville

Side Story Cafe - Marrickville Library
Marrickville Rd


Nearby Sydney University and the Chau Chak Wing Museum, Glebe has long been a bohemian enclave. Sydney’s property madness and gentrification are pushing out a lot of Glebe’s character, but it’s still a place of heritage, cafes, eateries and some of Sydney’s best small bookshops. The weekend markets are good and it’s great place to wander - all the way down to the harbour.

Bara - the first prominent monument to Sydney's First Nations peoples was inaugurated in 2022
Photo: Mark Bowyer Bara - the first prominent monument to Sydney's First Nations peoples was inaugurated in 2022

A new visibility for Australia's First Peoples

For decades, one of the most obvious features of a visit to Sydney has been the near invisibility of the cultures that inhabited the place for 30000+ plus years before the invasion and colonisation of 1788. International friends have long commented on how strange it is that Sydney doesn’t have a museum of Indigenous history and culture and other recognition.

Change comes slowly but it’s happening.

Bara, a new sculpture looking across Sydney Cove (Warrane) to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, is a stunning new addition to this iconic spot by Queensland Aboriginal artist Judy Watson. It’s the first major piece of First Nations art in such a key Sydney location. Don’t miss it during your visit.

While you’re enjoying the spectacular view from around Bara, you’ll also notice the Aboriginal flag flying on Sydney Harbour Bridge. The flag became a permanent fixture on the bridge in 2022 - another welcome development.

These symbolic shifts matter. In 2023, Australians will vote in a referendum on constitutional change to recognise our First Peoples and create an Indigenous “Voice” - a consultative body - to Federal Parliament. You’ll hear more about the voice as you travel Australia.

Approaching Sydney Opera House in the late afternoon
Photo: Mark Bowyer Approaching Sydney Opera House in the late afternoon

Old Compass Travel - new walking tours in Sydney

In 2023 we’ve also officially launched Old Compass Travel cultural and historical walks in Sydney. We operate two daily walks - An alternative walking tour of The Rocks and Sydney - Tales of the City, each covering fascinating Sydney stories and beautiful Sydney vistas. We also run special tours with authors and historians. Customised walks for the specific interests of visitors in and around the city can also be arranged.

For more head over to Old Compass Travel - we’d love to meet you in person and take you for a walk around Sydney!


VIDEO 2 - What's new in Sydney?

Sydney’s new light rail

During the pandemic, Sydney belatedly opened a new light rail service through the  centre of the city. It runs between Circular Quay (Sydney Harbour), through the centre of the city, down to Chinatown and on to Surry Hills and the inner eastern suburbs. The new network has made navigating the city easier than ever. It also means you don’t need to stay by the harbour to enjoy great access to the best of the city.

Sydney's new Light Rail gets you around the city centre
Photo: Mark Bowyer Sydney's Light Rail gets you around the city centre and has taken out the cars

Improved walking in downtown Sydney

The light rail has transformed the feel in the centre of Sydney. The removal of cars dials down the tension and congestion of George St and makes Sydney’s main street far more amenable to walkers. It’s a big win for visitors.

A casual walk along George St minus traffic, gives you a good chance to survey the architecture from the modernism of Australia Square (just north of Wynyard), to the grand colonial edifices in Martin Place and towards the Queen Victoria Building and Sydney Town Hall.

Sydney probably doesn’t get all the credit it deserves as a city of architecture - that’s apart from the Opera House of course. Take a walk along George St and around Martin Place between Circular Quay and Sydney Town Hall to check out the architectural depth of the city.  

At Old Compass Travel, we're in the process of putting an architecture walk together.  You can check that out soon.

Queen Victoria Building, Architecture walking along George St, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Queen Victoria Building, Architecture walking along George St, Sydney

Heritage touring in Parramatta

For travellers interested in history and heritage, Parramatta is Australia’s best kept secret. New cycling and walking paths make exploration of Parramatta’s colonial past easier than ever.

Parramatta is busy spruiking its new highrise commercial and residential developments. We don’t need a reminder that the city has been run by property developers for half a century. Over the same half-century, Parramatta has been studiously ignoring its deep connection to Australia’s colonial past.

Parramatta is where you’ll find the oldest colonial heritage buildings in Australia. These buildings connect with huge Australian stories like the frontier wars and dispossession of Australia's Indigenous peoples, the development of the agricultural economy. Many of the most influential figures in early colonial history have a Parramatta connection too.

In the video, we take a bicycle tour to visit Old Government House, Parramatta, - the oldest public building in Australia, The Dairy Cottage (1798) as well as Elizabeth Farm (1793) - the oldest residence in Australia, and the newly restored Female Factory Precinct.

Heritage cycling in Parramatta - the 1798 Dairy Cottage
Photo: Mark Bowyer Heritage cycling in Parramatta - the 1798 Dairy Cottage

National Art School (NAS) - a new drawing gallery

The National Art School in Darlinghurst has several small galleries that are a nice option for art enthusiasts visiting Sydney. The Drawing Gallery opened in 2021.

The NAS is located in the old Darlinghurst Prison complex. The prison is an outstanding example of the 19th century panopticon prison design and was once the main prison in downtown Sydney.

National Art School, Sydney was Darlinghust Prison until 1922
Photo: Mark Bowyer National Art School, Sydney was Darlinghurst Prison until 1922

New architecture in Sydney

Sydney's tallest building - Barangaroo - bars, restarants and a new massive public space and Quay Quarter development

Sydney's tallest building, the Crown Casino at Barangaroo has been one of  the most controversial developments in the city's history. The deal that created the development, between a State Premier and a casino mogul had an unpleasant odour. And many Sydneysiders (including this author) are uneasy about such a flamboyant monument to their city's toxic vice.

Barangaroo casino - a monument to Sydney's love of gambling, is hard to miss anywhere in the city
Photo: Mark Bowyer Barangaroo casino - a monument to Sydney's love of gambling, is hard to miss anywhere in the city

There are some more positive things about Barangaroo for visitors.

Next to the casino is a strip of bars and restaurants that are a good place for a Sydney meal or  drink with views over Darling Harbour.

Our favourite Barangaroo things are the Barangaroo Parkland and the Marrinawi Cove Harbour pool. The whole northern end of the Barangaroo development is a massive park with a lovely swimming spot. This mightn't be Sydney's best ocean pool but it is the closest to the heart of the city - a short walk from The Rocks.

Rocky and smallish - Marrinawi Cove wins for the location in the city centre.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Rocky and smallish - Marrinawi Cove wins for the location in the city centre.

Quay Quarter is Sydney's other major new development. It's managed to avoid major controversy too (apart from scandals embroiling its owners AMP). It's an innovative and eco-friendly development. It's also the most significant Danish designed Sydney development since the Opera House. That's special.

QuayQuarter has brough innovative design and eco-cred to Sydney's skyline
Photo: Mark Bowyer Quay Quarter has brought innovative design and eco-cred to Sydney's skyline

And this year marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Opera House too!

 Join us for a Sydney walking tour of Sydney history and beautiful places - www.oldcompasstravel.com

Sydney Opera House turns 50 in 2023
Photo: Mark Bowyer Sydney Opera House turns 50 in 2023


Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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