Fun things to do in Darlinghurst NSW


Popular activities in Darlinghurst

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(within 5 kms)


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Darlinghurst has been described a number of ways by visitors and locals, with some recommending it “for those who like the good life” and others describing it as “the hippest part of Sydney” (1). According to the same raving fans, the region is most often associated with business professionals, young singles, tourists, and students who are looking for an exciting nightlife, close proximity to CBD, and a range of diverse eateries and cafes.


If any of these characteristics appeal to you, Darlinghurst just may be your favorite part of Sydney. But what really makes this place unique? Along with a plethora of exciting events, festivals and opportunities for shopping, the history of this region is sure to intrigue newcomers.


The very name of this suburb invokes a shady background by conjuring up the image of Governor Ralph Darling, who served the office from 1825 to 1831 (2). As a former dictator in Port Louis, Mauritius, Governor Darling ruled over New South Wales with something of an iron fist, dedicating much of his time to ensuring the rigidity of the law. His unyielding commitment to Sydney’s original function as a penal colony created tension in a city attempting to reform its criminal status.


After the unlawful and perhaps cruel treatment of two criminals under his watch, Darling’s unpopular image was solidified, and he faced the end of his appointment. Perhaps not altogether ironically, the suburb of Darlinghurst would go on to house one of the most renowned jailhouses in the larger Sydney area, a true testament to the Governor’s legacy.


The jailhouse, the Darlinghurst Gaol, was erected in the early 1820’s on an elevated ridge to act as a visible symbol of Sydney’s status as a penal colony (3). However, by 1840, in the wake of Darling’s removal from the public sphere, the significant shift towards freedom and a more humane interpretation of criminality truly transformed the region’s cold identity.


Over the next hundred years, for instance, this historic building would become a center for vocational training and eventually serve as the National Arts School for some of Sydney’s prominent artists. Today, it is lauded for its beautiful sandstone facade and acts as home to the well-known Cell Block Theatre, a gorgeous venue for parties and weddings.


In fact, an exhibition is currently being planned to take place at the National Arts School in December, in which graduate students will showcase their work within the historic walls of the Darlinghurst Gaol (4).


Along with this artistic college, the overall Darlinghurst community is a hub for upcoming artists, filmmakers and theater performers. Palace Verona, a theatre on Oxford Street, for example, is a great meeting-place for the artistic community (5), with various film festivals throughout the year from Italy, Greece, the Middle East, and South Asia. The venue even screens performances from the Metropolitan in New York and the Australian Ballet, among others.


Additionally, there is a seemingly endless supply of new galleries popping up in the area, and art connoisseurs are invited to take part in the annual Darlinghurst Gallery Walk to meet other enthusiasts and support local artists (6). 


There are many other facets of Darlinghurst that differentiate it from its harsh and punitive past, as well. In fact, a stroll around this historic region lends little indication of its former status, but instead invites its visitors to relax and enjoy this bustling suburb.


A very popular endeavor in the area is to explore one of the many great bars that dot the Darlinghurst map. A great place to start is the traditional Gaslight Inn which houses a cozy pub in the basement of the hotel (7). Located just off of the busy Oxford Street, the Gaslight, affectionately names Gaso, houses a group of tightly-knit locals perched happily around a large wrap-around bar. This traditional set up is balanced by a more modern lounge just upstairs which caters to a younger crowd of late-night drinkers.


If you’re looking for a nightlife experience with even more pizzazz, the Gin Mill Social is a glamorous event to fill the Gatsby-enthusiast niche (8). The party takes place once a month at the Slide, another well-known bar located on Oxford, but this venue is much more exclusive, with well-dressed attendees admitted only after sharing the password at the door. Men are asked to don their best suits while women dress to the nines in pearls and even some flapper attire.


Perhaps the biggest scene of the year is Darlinghurst’s very own Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a fun and unique take on the colorful European festival that has been adopted by a variety of nations across the globe (9). Sydney adopted the tradition in 1978 in solidarity with Gay right’s movements in the United States, hoping to spread awareness about the LGBT community within the city. The first march, which began at Taylor Square and made its way down Oxford Street to Hyde Park, was quickly met with police violence that would only encourage participants and allies to participate more fully in the subsequent years.


Today, the legacy of that single march is an entire season of festivities in February and March, offering dozens of art exhibits and performances, an all-day picnic named Fair Day, the Mardi Gras march, and a wrap-up party. The events attract upwards of 70,000 participants and its a well-loved and greatly-anticipated festival.


Overall, Darlinghurst has undergone an incredible transformation since its early days of colonial settlement. The only remnants of the past are the creative uses of historical buildings and maybe a slightly askew assortment of roads and alleys that characterize this intriguing suburb.


If what the locals have to say about this neighborhood is true, you’re well-advised to explore the vibrant nightlife, cultured art scene and highly popular annual festivals that make Darlinghurst the place to be.









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