When I first moved to Melbourne, I went on a free walking tour to better learn about my new city, very conscious that I knew didly squat. It was the best idea. (Of course, I wrote about it, so you can read what I learnt over here).
Naturally since moving to Sydney I’ve been in a hurry to do the same thing, so I could feel somewhat educated on my new city. Waiting for a non-shitenhouse, rainy day (because I’m a whimp and didn’t want to do it in the wet), last week I finally found myself ready to play tourist.
About I’m Free Walking Tours of Sydney
Rain, hail or shine, the I’m Free Sydney Sights Walking Tour runs twice daily, departing from Town Hall Square on George Street (right near Town Hall Station) at 10:30am and 2:30pm. You don’t need to book, you just rock up; and they take about two-and-a-half to three hours to complete, covering three and a bit kilometres at a leisurely walking pace.
By 10:30am on this sunny Sydney day a large group had gathered around two green shirt-wearing guides out the front of Town Hall. People were introducing themselves and I became acutely aware that everyone was a legitimate tourist, not an ill-informed local like myself. I remember feeling the same when I did the tour in Melbourne and panicked making up some faux story, complete with accent, about being from London. This time I owned my localness like a badge.
We split into two groups and I found myself in Justine’s group, who informed us that it was her business (massive girl fan respect). She started it eight years ago with a business partner because there was a gap in the market for cheap, uncommercialised, meaty tours of Sydney.
What do you learn?
I learnt lots of stuff on this free walking tour of Sydney. Here’s a small taste:
- Sydney’s Town Hall sits on the site of the first cemetery of NSW (the Old Sydney Burial Ground), which was once considered the outskirts of town. Yet, by the 1830s it was no longer used and because it had been poorly constructed and maintained, it smelt horrendous, attracted wild animals and ultimately had to be moved. Making way for the Town Hall of today to be built in the 1880s.
- If you look closely you’ll notice that St Andrew’s Cathedral (located next to Sydney Town Hall) was built backwards. In the 1830s it was commissioned to face a major street. Yet by the time it was finished in 1868 that street no longer existed and instead George Street had become the city’s main thoroughfare. It now permanently sits with its arse facing George Street.
- There’s a sealed letter within the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) from the current Queen that can’t be opened until 2085, which will mark the centenary of the opening of the restored QVB. No-one knows what it says (except for the Queen) – I’m thinking it’s something salacious.
- The penthouse in the ‘Toaster’ building (you know the really controversial apartment block in Circular Quay that blocks everyone’s views of the Royal Botanic Garden of Sydney) sold for $22 million in 2015.
- New South Wales’ Parliament House is part of the old convict-built ‘Rum Hospital’, which explains why it’s so much uglier than the rest of the country’s stately homes of parliament. The building of the ambitious for-its-time hospital has a fascinating back history, with Governor Macquarie financing it through a plan to offer rum merchants a monopoly within the new colony.
- Sydneysiders were paranoid that the Sydney GPO building was going to get bombed during World War II, so they removed the clock tower and bell to reduce its visibility. It was not replaced until 1964, when the original bell was bought out of storage.
- There are two Governor Macquarie statues within a block of one another in the city. In one he looks quite handsome, the other not so much.
The I’m Free Walking Tours: Sydney are…
I asked a couple of friends if they wanted to join their flag-flying nerd of a friend on this walk. They mailed me crickets back in response. Their loss, it’s fabulously informative. And I feel like I can wear my NSW Driver’s License with pride now, knowing all the quirks of Sydney.
Be prepared that tips are expected at the end of the tour. And you’ll feel compelled to tip well because the guides are passionate, knowledgeable and do a damn fine job of keeping the group’s attention. They also offer up helpful tips on extra things people visiting Sydney should see and do, and good authentic restaurants and bars to try that don’t charge a tourist tax. The tours are well run and just an all-round great introduction to Sydney, says someone who lives here.
Now I just need to find an equally non-rainy day to do The Rocks night-time walking tour and freak myself out with stories of murders, muggings and mysteries.
I’m Free Walking Tours: Sydney
Tours leave everyday, excluding Christmas Day, at 10:30am and 2:30pm from between Town Hall and St Andrew’s Cathedral, George Street, Sydney, New South Wales