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The Harbourside Shopping Centre on the western side of Darling Harbour. Photo: Sathit Plengchawee (more pics below)
Darling Harbour is one of Sydney's "buzz" places comprising cafes, restaurants and food hall, as well as an IMAX cinema, maritime museum and Chinese gardens - all contained within an area that skirts around a tiny harbour.
A former dockside area, the small harbour has been transformed into a major tourist site and leading convention and exhibition centre.
A monorail service used to run from the Central Business District to Darling Harbour and back, but the monorail was always a point of contention with city administrators and Sydneysiders and it was shut down some years back. Now, a modern, more-fashionable light-rail service runs past Darling Harbour connecting to Central Railway Station and the Star City Casino.
The advent of the the Cockle Bay Wharf restaurant and cafe complex has added a new dimension to Darling Harbour and boosted the number of visitors, particularly at night when Darling Harbour is splendidly lit up.
Cockle Bay is set immediately to the west of Sydney’s CBD, just a few blocks from the city’s main commercial artery, George Street.
Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour are ringed by the high-rise buildings of Sydney andt is a busy zone of visitor attractions, shops and restaurants yet it is easy to find a quiet space to take in all the bustle.
You can watch the world go by from benches set close to the water or seated at one of the many cafes and restaurants.
You can watch the ferries ply their way from the wharfs beside the Dockside Pavillion to open waters beyond Cockle Bay and Pyrmont Bridge which spans the bay.
Set just behind the Sydney Visitor Centre to the south of the bay is the Chinese Friendship Garden where you can find repose among its elegant pavillions and harmonious garden settings. For the children there is the nearby Darling Harbour Children’s Playground.
Next to the visitor centre is the Imax Theatre which boasts one of the largest cinema screens in the world (NOTE: My Explore Australia 2005 books says it is the largest screen in the world but this could be superceded by now). Screenings are on the hour every hour and feature standard Hollywood blockbusters as well as films that are specially made for the massive Imax screens.
Walking past the shops of the restaurants of Cockle Bay Wharf, in the midst of which is set the iconic brolga water sculpture and past Pyrmont Bridge is the triple visitor attraction centre that incorporates the Sydney Sealife Aquarium, Madame Tussaud’s Sydney and Wild Life Sydney Zoo, which are run by Merlin Entertainments Group, the world’s second largest visitor attraction operator.
There is a wide range of hotel accommodation options in Darling Harbour.
Harbourside Shopping Centre
Chinese Garden of Friendship
South Steyne restaurant
Sea Life Sydney Aquarium
Wild Life Sydney Zoo
Chinese Garden of Friendship : was designed in China to celebrate the Australian Bicentenary. The garden was a gift to Sydney from its Chinese sister city of Guangdong. It is one of the largest of its type outside Asia. The gardens were designed by landscape architects and embody principles dating back to the 5th century.
The gardens present visitors with a green and peaceful sanctuary in the midst of a major bustling city and an ideal escape from the concrete surrounds of Darling Harbour. If you want an hour or two of solitude, this is the place to be.
Cockle Bay Wharf: is the new "in" place to be, with a mix of budget outdoor eating places and posh restaurants. A large complex on the city side of Darling Harbour, it has given the harbour a much-needed boost.
IMAX Theatre: is a giant movie screen, more than eight stories high, with films shot in the ultra high-definition 75mm format. Some of the brilliant IMAX films in recent years include a voyage around the earth on the Space Shuttle, a climb to the top of Everest and an excursion to Antarctica. Watching one of these films is almost like being there. Sound plays a big part, with speakers placed in different parts of the theatre and behind the screen to create a sense of realism. An IMAX theatre presents the ultimate cinema experience and is something that should not to be missed.
Sydney Sea Life Aquarium: is one of the largest aquariums in the world with more than 5000 different Australian fish displayed in their natural habitats. Visitors can "walk on the ocean floor" through 145 metres (480 ft) of acrylic underwater tunnels. The aquarium is open 9.30am-9:00pm daily, with the last admission at 8:00pm.
Australian National Maritime Museum is a museum devoted to Australia's maritime history.
Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre: Sydney's major venue for exhibitions and conferences.
Harbourside Shopping Centre: is a shopping complex with 150 shops on two levels, several waterfront restaurants and the International Food Court with 40 outlets. Many of the shops are souvenir-type retail outlets, with plenty of boomerangs and Oz gear.
EATING: while wandering around Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay take the time out to enjoy a relaxing lunch or dinner at a selection of restaurants, cafes or eateries.
Entertainment: takes place on a regular basis at points around Darling Harbour. You can check out what's on at Darling Harbour.
Darling Harbour is an ideal venue for fireworks and spectacular outdoor shows. Strolling around the harbour on a balmy evening taking in the sights and sounds you can be unexpectedly entertained.
Getting there: take a train to Town Hall station and, once having exited the station, turn right into Druit Street, walk down two blocks and turn right into Sussex Street. Then, walk a further block to Market Street, turn left and walk across the pedestrian bridge.
Alternatively, you can catch the monorail service from near the corners of Pitt and Market Streets.
Feeling lost: to help you find your way around Darling Harbour call into the Sydney Visitor Centre located at 33 Wheat Road, just around the corner from the IMAX theatre.
A replica of Captain James Cook's HMS Endeavour is moored alongside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour. Photo: David Steele
People sit on the steps outside resturants and cafes at Cockle Bay. Photo: Alias Jalaludin
The peace and serenity of the Chinese Gardens of Friendship provides visitors and Sydneysiders alike the perfect place to momentarily "escape" the big city.