Surry Hills is Sydney’s answer to London’s Notting Hill – a village bursting with creative energy, stylish restaurants, galleries, small bars and unique shopping experiences. There’s a lot to take in when exploring this vibrant part of town. Here’s a guide to the must-do experiences in this inner-city haven.
A microcosm of the very best Sydney has to offer, Surry Hills is a must-visit on any traveller’s list. This village – with plenty of hills that give the area its name – is on the southern outskirts of the Central Business District, and a short stroll from Central Station.
It’s not hard to see why Surry Hills is as beloved by locals as it is by first or even second-time visitors to Sydney. A hub of fine dining, boutique shopping, quirky bars and community events ensure this neighbourhood remains a city gem. From catching classic films to taking part in legendary pub trivia and lining up for a scoop of the best ice cream in town, here’s the ultimate bucket list to the best experiences in the 2010 postcode.
When it comes to finding a place to enjoy the first meal of the day, Surry Hills leaves visitors spoiled for choice. Make life easy with a stroll down Bourke Street to the legendary Bourke Street Bakery. Sydney does freshly baked goods extremely well, and the heady scent of artisanal pastries and breads that fill the interiors of BSB confirm why it’s been a local favourite for years. While all the homemade pies, pastries and tarts are winners, it’s hard to pass up the lamb sausage roll with almond and harissa.
Held on the first Saturday of each month in Shannon Reserve on the corner of Crown and Collins Streets, the Surry Hills Markets are a must-visit for everything from vintage fashion to antique decor, upcycled goods, handmade beauty products, ceramics and fashion from up-and-coming local designers. The market is held come rain, hail or shine, and funds raised go towards the local Neighbourhood Centre, adding some social good to the experience.
“I love that there is such an eccentric mix of different kinds of vintage, from 1990s streetwear to beautiful early-1920s beaded dresses. Surry Hills really has it all,” says designer and local resident Zoe Ellis, of Australian sustainable label Chief Studio. “I love ZOO Emporium, it has the most wonderful mix of accessories, clothing and jewellery. I particularly love going in there to look at the shoes and hats,” Ellis adds. “Fabrique Vintage on the border of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst on Oxford Street is another one of my favourite stores, it is overflowing with all the best vintage staples like Hawaiian shirts, silk scarves and denim overalls – I always have to be careful I don’t go too crazy in there!” As for Ellis’s top tip for shopping for vintage treasures? “I think the most important thing is to just be open to trying things on and being a bit crazy, a lot of my favourite vintage purchases had no hanger appeal!” she says. “And before buying, I always give the garment a thorough check, to make sure there aren’t any holes, stains or seam slippage.”
Ask a local for the top ice-cream place around and only one name comes up: Messina. This gelateria has now opened franchises in other suburbs including Bondi and Newtown as well as in other Australian cities: Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. It set up shop on Surry Hills’s Crown Street in 2002 and has been drawing the crowds ever since. It’s not hard to work out what it is exactly that makes Messina so popular. It’s both the fact that the gelateria is always inventive with five special flavours that change weekly, and that the ice cream is just so good.
For many bars and pubs across town, Tuesdays mean Trivia Night. Pub trivia is a great way to bond over a couple of beers, but be warned, the competition heats up quickly. Book a table at Tuesday Trivia at The Forresters, on the corner of Riley and Foveaux Streets, for one of the most atmospheric general knowledge quizzes in Surry Hills. There’s a special burger meal deal on offer to help get the brain ticking, but the pizzas are also well worth a taste. There’s also a cash jackpot up for grabs, as well as bar tab prizes to help keep the night going.
Housed in the fabulously Art Deco Paramount House Building is Golden Age Cinema and Bar, one of Sydney’s best arthouse theatres. The 60-seat cinema hosts a diverse programme of film festival favourites, cult classics and a mainstream release or two thrown into the mix. It’s recommended that tickets are booked in advance to ensure seats are saved (the third row from the back is a staff favourite). And eschew popcorn for a cocktail and a Big Cheese Toastie to take movie snacks to another level.
The maroon-hued Belvoir St Theatre has fostered the talents of some of Australia’s biggest names in creative arts, including Cate Blanchett and playwright Tommy Murphy. Belvoir is owned by a syndicate of 600 actors, artists and patrons passionate about maintaining the theatre’s position as one of Sydney’s most important cultural institutions. Many of the plays will have special free talks known as ‘Belvoir Briefings’ beforehand, giving audience members a chance to find out more about the stories behind the productions.
Surry Hills is home to many of Sydney’s most exciting contemporary art galleries, such as the sophisticated Michael Reid Sydney on Kippax Street, the Brett Whiteley Studio on Raper Street (the actual home and studio of the acclaimed Aussie artist), and the hip m2 Gallery, which is a lively space just a short stroll from Central Station, where visitors can check out the work of established and up-and-coming local artists. Stu Mullins, director at m2 Gallery, explains, “Averaging more than 40 exhibitions each year, m2 has played host to a diverse selection of local talent from Archibald finalists, street art extraordinaire, theatrical performance and music launches.”
Asking a local to choose their favourite watering hole is a little like choosing a favourite child. Surry Hills’s bar scene is so diverse, where to go really depends on your mood. The Clock on Crown Street is great for a sundowner on the terrace, while The Winery up the road offers a slightly more sophisticated setting and a weekend brunch with bottomless Bellinis to boot. For small bars with killer cocktails, it’s hard to look past the pirate-themed Button Bar or the Japanese-inspired cocktails at Tokyo Bird on Belmore Lane. For those in the mood for a more raucous atmosphere, buzzy Irish whiskey bar The Wild Rover and the hallowed tequila-filled halls of Tio’s Cerveceria deliver the goods.
Sydney is not short of fabulous karaoke bars, but since setting up shop on Mary Street in 2016, Goros has become a firm local favourite. Evoking the spirit of a late-night Japanese izakaya, Goros is an ideal spot for cheap and cheerful late-night plates of pan-fried gyoza, chicken wings and more. To take the night up a notch, there are also three karaoke rooms that are free to book. If there’s a need for a little bit of liquid courage before taking to the mic, an extensive list of sake and whiskies lie in wait behind the bar.