The Best Things To See and Do in Chinatown, Sydney

Sydney is home to the country’s largest Chinatown
Sydney is home to the country’s largest Chinatown | © martin berry / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jessica Ankomah
31 March 2020

Sydney is home to Australia’s largest Chinatown, renowned for its excellent food, lively markets, buzzing grocery shops and world-class entertainment. Chinese immigration to Australia dates back to the 18th century, and while Sydney’s Chinatown has been around for some time, it moved to the current location in the 1920s. Entry points to the area are marked by grand sculptures and dangling red lanterns, setting the scene for the vibrant neighbourhood beyond. Here, we round-up the best places to eat, shop and catch a show.

Located in Haymarket, in the southern part of Sydney’s central business district, Chinatown is just a 10-minute stroll from Central Station. Here, you’ll find an exciting mix of sights, smells and sounds unique to Chinatown. Influencer Amy Lyons – better known as Blondie in China – is a huge fan.

Visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney’s Chinatown | © ILYA GENKIN / Alamy Stock Photo

“Sydney’s Chinatown is my favourite in the world. I know it so well,” Lyons says. “Sydney has such a huge population of Chinese, so the food here is super authentic and really comparable to what you can find in China,” she adds.

The area spans numerous blocks from its heart on Dixon Street and these days the community has grown significantly due to an influx of international students. A stronger presence of young people in the area has put a fresh twist on the historic site, where modern and traditional Chinese culture meet. Here Lyons talks to Culture Trip about her favourite things to see and do in the area.

Meet the Robo-waiters at Spice World

Restaurant, Chinese
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Among one of the largest hotpot restaurants in Australia, Spice World always manages to draw a crowd, thanks to its futuristic interior and memorable quirks. Keep an eye out for the roaming robo-waiters, offering fruit and mints to guests who need relief from the spicy soups. “This type of restaurant is known as a Wang Hong Dian which means ‘hot internet place,’’ says Lyons.“People like to come not only for the food but for the atmosphere and little quirky details. It’s something to put on your social media”. The fun doesn’t end there; another showstopper is the kooky wagyu-gowned meat Barbie (think Lady Gaga’s iconic meat dress) served alongside simmering hot pots. Spice World is great for a laugh and a hearty meal; everyone should experience this place at least once.

Bag a bargain at Paddy’s Markets

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Fruit and vegetable stalls at Paddy’s Markets © Petteri Sulonen / Flickr
© Petteri Sulonen / Flickr

Open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm, Paddy’s Markets is ideal for an afternoon browse or budget shopping spree. There are over a thousand stalls selling fashion, jewellery and toys, as well as gifts, gadgets, cosmetics and plenty more. It’s also a popular spot for finding fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood at lower than usual prices. Check out Paddy’s traders directory to see what they have in store.

Enjoy a show at Capitol Theatre

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Capitol Square Hotel and Theatre
© Elizabeth Given / Alamy Stock Photo

Sydney’s stunning Capital Theatre on the edge of Darling Harbour hosts an array of world-class musicals, plays, ballets and concert performances. It’s the perfect destination for an elegant night out, with its lavish interior design, magnificent bars and multifaceted artistic programs. While the Capitol Theatre showcases acts from all over the world, it’s known for highlighting the rich cultural heritage of Asia, with shows including The Happiest Refugee by Ahn Do and displays from performing arts company Shen Yun. Check the schedule for the full list of offerings.

Savour the seafood at Golden Century

Restaurant, Seafood, $$$
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Open until 4am daily, this popular restaurant has been drawing in Sydneysiders for more than 30 years. Famous for the glass tanks of live lobster, fish and crab that line the window, this Cantonese restaurant is one of the busiest in Chinatown. Classic dishes include the pipis in XO sauce, salt and pepper squid and mud crab with shallots and ginger. “One of the things that I love about coming to Chinatown is you get the amazing Chinese food and authentic flavours but with Australian ingredients,” says Lyons. To match the enormous food menu, there’s an even bigger wine list. All the dishes can be customised too, which is great for picky eaters.

Shop the factory outlets at Market City

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Transdev Light Rail train passing Market City
© Sergi Reboredo / Alamy Stock Photo

For an eclectic mix of retail brands and factory outlets, look no further than Chinatown’s Market City. The multi-level shopping centre showcases some of the best in Asian trends and emerging designers as well as familiar brands like Dotti, Forcast, Seduce and Esprit. The discount shopping centre is open from 10am to 7pm daily (and to 8pm on Thursday) with 24/7 accessible parking.

Visit the weekly Night Markets

Market, European, Asian, Australian
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Paddy's night food markets
Courtesy of Paddy's Night Food Markets
Friday night’s market is when Chinatown really comes alive. Starting from 4pm visitors can lose hours browsing the hundreds of stalls selling snacks, knick knacks and to-die-for desserts. The free event can become quite busy, but the intense hustle and bustle really adds to the experience.

See the wondrous Golden Water Mouth sculpture

Architectural Landmark
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Close to 11 metres (36 feet) high, the Golden Water Mouth sculpture stands proudly on the corner of Hay Street and Sussex Street. Made of a eucalyptus tree trunk and dripping in gold, the artwork trickles a continuous stream of water from its high mouth onto its base set in the pavement. Created by Chinese artist Lin Li and installed in 1999, the work is a symbol of good luck and fortune as well as harmony between urban and natural environments.

Enjoy a little retail therapy at Morning Glory

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This cute-as-a-button stationery shop doesn’t stop at pens and paper. Its windows are filled with oversized stuffed animals and characterful goods to satisfy any and every childhood dream. Here, you’ll find all the best in Hello Kitty paraphernalia; there’s also Pikachu lunch boxes and key rings, cute socks and novelty phone cases in a rainbow of pastel shades. Once you’ve taken a look around, stop at the photo booth at the back of the shop where you can get a glittery snap.

These recommendations were updated on March 31, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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