Surry Hills, Newtown, and Glebe are brimming with interesting things to do and see and full of interesting people to meet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, after a good coffee or a trip to a bookshop, a gallery, a cheap meal, a fancy restaurant, a small bar or a busy pub, in most cases, you’ll find just what you’re looking for. You might say that all these neighbourhoods have a kind of Bohemian feel, but the truth is they’re full of all sorts.
Walking down King Street in Newtown is the best introduction to the area you’ll get. For about 2km, from the University of Sydney all the way down to St Peters Station, you’ll find a couple of hundred of your new favourite places.
You’ll probably need some coffee and sweets to get through it all, so head to Black Star Pastry on Australia Street consistently voted one of Sydney’s best. It’s a little nook, full of watermelon cake, lemon myrtle sponge and the always-amazing Ginja Ninja biscuits. If it’s a sunny afternoon, the best place to head is The Courthouse Hotel, just up the road on Australia Street. The beer garden is always busy, and if you’re lucky enough to find a spot under the big frangipani tree, you should order a jug of ale and settle in for a few hours (Reschs and Young Henrys are the local favourites).
Being so close to the University of Sydney, Glebe is a great central spot for anyone new to town. Broadway Shopping Centre is on the corner of Parramatta Road and a handy place to pick up all the essentials.
For something a little more interesting, the Glebe Markets are held each Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm at Glebe Public School. They are one of the best markets in Sydney, with second-hand music and clothes, artist-run stalls and lots of good food options – the Turkish gozlemes are a real crowd-pleaser: grilled pastry with spinach or spicy beef filling.
Just the other side of Central Station is Surry Hills. If there’s something cool happening in Sydney, it’s probably happening here. The warehouses at the lower end have slowly been converted from garment workshops to artist and creative studios. Crown St, just up the hill, runs from Oxford Street all the way down to Cleveland Street and is very much the place to be. An outside table at Kawa with a fruit smoothie is a nice way to pass the morning. You can’t go wrong with pizza and beer at Pizza Birra (as the name suggests). For lovers of jerk chicken and rum cocktails, Rosie Campbell’s is a New York style diner serving up quality Jamaican cuisine.
While Surry Hills is home to some of Sydney’s fanciest restaurants, there’s also some good cheap eats to be had. El Loco is a Mexican-style cantina at the back of the Excelsior Hotel on Foveaux Street – tacos are $5 so you can grab more than one! The vibe is relaxed and street-style, just right for a busy Friday night or any old Tuesday when you can’t be bothered with cooking.
In Newtown, there are almost as many Thai restaurants as there are bus stops, each as inexpensive and delicious as the next. For something a little different, try Tamana’s, a North Indian diner that does quick and easy thali plates (1-3 curries with rice and naan) for less than $15. The curries are pre-prepared and right there on the counter so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Just a few blocks away on Enmore Road, Saray is a bit of an institution for local takeaway connoisseurs. Serving Turkish pizzas and kebabs, this place is most famous for being a late-night treat.
Carriageworks is a large multi-arts centre on Wilson St in Eveleigh (just next door to Newtown). Housed in the old Eveleigh Rail Yards, it is an extensive and beautifully converted industrial space that hosts local and international exhibitions as well as workshops, performances, and public events. There’s a great bar and café and on Saturday mornings between 8 am and 1 pm, the city’s best farmers’ market takes over. Buy your weekly fruit and vegetables, or just explore, making sure to taste the range of baked goods and artisan products on hand.
Known for old terrace houses, converted warehouses and big apartment blocks, you should be able to find a private 1 bedroom unit for about $500 a week, or close to $600 for a 2 bedroom unit.
The best measure of price in these areas is a good cup of coffee. Most places charge $3.50 for a regular takeaway. If you’re after something a little more fun, a cocktail at Newtown’s Corridor comes at less than $20, which is cheaper than most city bars. Expect to pay a little more in Surry Hills when it comes to drinks and food – partly for the area, partly for the scene.
Camperdown Park in Newtown sits just behind King Street and is a community meeting spot. The Newtown Festival comes around each November to kickstart summer, and there is live music, food stalls and art shows.
The Victoria Park Pool is so close to the University of Sydney that you can see it from the library! It’s a council-run centre that offers student discounts and has a gym, a crèche and lots of space to dry off in the sun after your swim.
The main campus of the University of Sydney is an easy walk from Newtown and Glebe and close to the Parramatta Road and King Street bus routes. Redfern Station is the nearest train line and about a 15-minute walk. The campus has a number of libraries and reading rooms, a range of cafés, bike parking, and a fully-equipped fitness centre. The Manning Bar, the ‘uni bar’ offers live music and DJs most nights.
Carrot cake at the Bourke Street Bakery
It’s rare to walk past this little gem when there isn’t a line-up, no matter what hour of the day. The shop front is tiny and nearly bursting with fresh bread and pastries. Their carrot cake is widely acknowledged as the best; they are famous for their rhubarb tarts and their raspberry and dark chocolate muffins sell out quick. Oh, and their range of pies and especially their pork and fennel sausage roll are a kind of local heroes as well.
633 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
The book collection at Gould’s Books Arcade
If you have a spare hour or two, or indeed a whole day, Gould’s Books Arcade in Newtown is the kind of bookstore you have to see to believe – it’s more of a warehouse than an arcade. Spread across two levels, it feels almost cavernous, piled high with an extensive range of out-of-print texts, all the classics, and then some.
32 King Street, Newtown
While Newtown, Glebe and Surry Hills sprawl in location and each have a distinct feel, they also have a lot in common. In particular, terrace houses. Originally, families often lived in a single level of the terrace with their children and rented out the other rooms like a guesthouse.
In the years between the wars, it wasn’t uncommon to have several people living in an otherwise three-bedroom house. And the toilet was always outside.
These houses are kind of iconic now, and certainly well sought after. In Surry Hills, previously considered a slum, houses sell for millions, and the bathrooms have long since been renovated! What remains are beautiful old homes with high ceilings, narrow staircases, and sunny balconies on quiet streets.