Discover the art scene of Sydney – a self guided walking tour
8th December 2023
Sydney is well known around the world for its diverse, eclectic, and ultra-modern art scene. In fact, it’s somewhat legendary! Insider tip: the best way to discover Sydney’s art scene is on foot!
Art has become synonymous with Sydney – the city is a melting pot of galleries, museums, festivals, graffiti, sculptures, and public art. While you could easily book onto a tour to gallery hop, a much better way to explore the Sydney art scene is actually to walk.
You’ll be amazed at the art you uncover in Sydney’s side alleys and streets that line the route between major museums. The stand-alone sculptures, the views of the skyline, and ancient aboriginal art. In fact, not walking would mean you miss much of it (click here for other Sydney walks).
While many walking tours are focused on a specific niche, such as street art, contemporary art galleries, or sculpture walks, we’ve put together a comprehensive one day self-guided Sydney walking tour. Follow our tips for a well-balanced dive into Sydney’s art scene to fully appreciate the diversity it has become so famous for.
This 5-hour self-guided walking tour takes you from the front door of View Sydney to our highly curated art destinations. Live like a local with a tour of art installations, hidden sculptures, and the city’s most iconic architecture.
This is the best of Sydney art – let’s walk!
Insider tips: March 2020 is art month in Sydney, so from 6 – 29 March there is a huge range of panels, talks, exhibitions, and events to keep an eye out for.
Walk Across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The most famous piece of art in Sydney is undoubtedly the Harbour Bridge, officially opened in 1932, and nicknamed ‘The Coathanger’ for its arch-based design. Your first museum stop will be the Museum of Contemporary Art, but why catch a cab across the bridge when you can get up close and personal with the iconic steel construction, and walk it!
For a hotel near the Sydney Harbour Bridge, View Sydney is perfectly positioned as the start of your walking tour. It’s an easy 10-minute walk to Milsons Point Station, where you’ll find the stairs to the bridge (or 2 minutes from North Station, from where you can catch a quick train to Milsons Point). Not to be confused with the expensive Bridge Climb, there’s a safe, flat, pedestrian walkway that is free and allows you to walk from one end to the other.
Walking the bridge takes 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how long you take to stop for photos. There’s mesh wiring for safety, though a gap at chest height allows you to take unobstructed photos. Walking from North Sydney means the harbour opens up right in front of your eyes, giving you a birds-eye view of the city skyline, and Sydney Opera House – another impressive piece of architecture.
Once you’re on the other side, you can grab a coffee at Circular Quay after having a delicious breakfast at LB’s Restaurant. If you’re still craving harbour views, stop in at the Pylon Lookout before walking over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Climbing the 200 stairs to the top of Pylon Lookout is $15, and offers incredible views of the harbor (and bridge) from the top.
Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is Australia’s most recognized collection of modern art, and it’s become very famous on the world stage. A 10-minute walk from Pylon Lookout (900 meters), the art deco building is home to more than 4,000 works by Australian artists, from 1989 until today.
The mission of the museum is to make contemporary art available to everyone, so entry is free, with an eclectic range of art and installations, from paintings, sculpture, photography, and moving images. There is a particular focus on highlighting works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, to support and celebrate the diversity, creativity, and histories of Australia’s first people.
Insider tips: There’s a roof-top terrace cafe which has fantastic views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and you can take in these views even if you’re not buying anything to eat or drink. Expect to spend 40 minutes exploring the museum.
‘Edge of Trees’
It’s 22 minutes to walk directly from the Museum of Contemporary Art to the Art Gallery of NSW, however, there are some interesting points of interest for art lovers in-between, namely, the Sydney Museum, and sculptures throughout the Royal Botanic Gardens.
While not specifically an art museum, the Museum of Sydney (8-minute walk), has been built into the remains of what was Australia’s first Government House. It celebrates the stories that shaped the city, from 1788 until today, though also features ‘Edge of Trees’, a public art installation in its forecourt.
This is a forest of wood, steel and sandstone pillars, which reach towards the sky in a cluster at the museum entrance. Each pole has the name of an original Aboriginal clan who inhabited Sydney at the time of British colonization, as well as the signatures of first fleeters, carved or burnt into the wood. As you walk between the forest, indigenous voices call out the names of places in the Sydney region that have since been lost to time.
Insider tips: It’s worth a stop even if you don’t go into the museum (which you don’t have to view this piece). Edge of Trees is free, while the museum entrance is $12 – $15.
Royal Botanic Gardens Sculpture Walk
If you fancy a stroll in the Royal Botanic Gardens after the Museum of Sydney (4-minute walk), this is a treasure trove of sculpture art. From the Sydney Museum, cut up Bridge Street towards the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where you’ll come to a bronze statue of King Edward VII on horseback. Moving north up Macquarie Street along the edge of the gardens, it’s a four-minute walk to reach ‘Memory is Creation Without End’.
‘Memory is Creation Without End’ appears to be a random assortment of huge sandstone blocks that are haphazardly strewn across Tarpeian Way, protruding from the earth as if they were genuine relics of a lost city (while now parkland, Tarpeian Way was Sydney’s oldest sandstone quarry, which provided the stone for Sydney’s earliest buildings). The blocks are in fact pieces from demolished Sydney buildings like Pyrmont Bridge, salvaged and brought together on this hill, embedded into the earth to signify the loss of each heritage structure. This artwork is a showcase of Sydney’s archaeology.
Do a northern loop of the gardens following the outer paths, and you’ll find many more hidden sculptures, including work by Bronwyn Oliver. Of course, the landscaping and arrangement of thousands of different plant families throughout the park is an art in and of itself – a showcase of Australia’s native plant species, and open-air museum of nature if you will!
Insider tips: Your sculpture and nature walk only takes 25 minutes if you walk without stopping, though give yourself up to an hour to truly appreciate the gardens. There are also many cafes and restaurants here if you wish to stop for lunch. Once you reach the aptly named Art Gallery Road, it’s a quick jump up to the Art Gallery of NSW.
Art Gallery of NSW
At the southern end of the Royal Botanic Gardens sits the Art Gallery of NSW. With over 45,000 pieces of art, spanning 5 levels, this is one of the most popular art museums in the country (having opened in 1871, it’s also one of the oldest), with the most diverse and extensive collections.
The gallery features a rich diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Asian art, Australian art, Contemporary works, Pacific art, and photography, as well as art from the Western world. There are five floors that showcase a fascinating evolution of culture, style and changing social values.
Insider tips: Entry is free, and you can either wander through the gallery yourself or join a free guided tour. Every Wednesday night until 10 pm is an event called Art After Hours – this is a great time to visit, and you can catch workshops, lectures, celebrity talks, concerts, films, and other special events.
Sydney East Art Walk
After spending time at the Art Gallery of NSW, it’s a 10-minute walk up to Firstdraft, where you can begin the Sydney East Art Walk. This is a recent initiative, where 16 – 20 of Sydney’s leading contemporary art galleries have come together, and several times a year will put on an afternoon of drinks, food, and art. The public is encouraged to walk between them all. It’s definitely worthwhile checking if your dates align with a scheduled art walk, though you can follow the same route on any day of the year.
The gallery hop will lead you between:
- Jerico Contemporary
- APY Gallery
- Australian Design Centre
- Chalk Horse
- The Cross Art Projects
- Disorder Gallery
- Gallery 9
- King Street Gallery on William
- Kronenberg Mais Wright
- Liverpool Street Gallery
- Robin Gibson Gallery
- STACKS Projects
- Stanley Street Gallery
The walk between all of them will take around 2.5 hours, so if you can only visit a couple, Firstdraft (free entry) is particularly worthy. It’s an artist-run space with exhibits from new and emerging local artists. Artspace is another space you shouldn’t miss – a modern art gallery in a historic warehouse, which provides residency for local contemporary artists (also free entry).
Insider tips: As part of the art month in Sydney, STACKS Projects is holding an Opening night event on 4 March. The exhibition ‘Shadow Palette’ will run from 5 – 22 March, and celebrates artists who have abandoned color in favor of light and shadow.
At the end of the day, you’ve probably spent enough time walking, so catch a cab or the train back to View Sydney for a well-earned feast (or, massage treatment for your feet!). While this itinerary offers an option for exploring art by day, there are many art by night walking tours you can undertake as part of art month in March 2020.