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Costume Hire at the Chinese Garden of Friendship

Home > Sydney > Afternoon Tea | Cheap | Fun Things To Do | Gardens | Kids
by Shannon Meyerkort (subscribe)
Writer. Storyteller. Find out more at
Published December 10th 2013
There’s an Empress in All of Us

'Excuse me,' a delicately accented voice said. 'Can I please take your photo?'

It kept happening. Complete strangers were approaching me and asking for my photo.

Now I'm not a celebrity, I'm not drop-dead gorgeous, I don't have two heads. However, I was dressed in full traditional Chinese royal regalia, from an elaborate headpiece to a richly embroidered dress. Um, why? You ask.

Costume hire Chinese Garden
Empress Shannon and her royal daughter

My daughter and I were visiting the Chinese Garden of Friendship in the heart of Darling Harbour, Sydney. We had been the year before and my two eldest daughters had gotten dressed up before they paraded around the gardens to many smiles and much hilarity.

This year, as it was just myself and my eldest daughter, I thought I would get dressed up as well, and the other tourists thought it was fantastic.

Built in 1988, the Chinese Garden of Friendship is a beautiful, serene oasis in the middle of a bustling busy city. Founded upon traditional Taoist principles of Yin-Yang and Qi, the garden is a photographic paradise with appealing vistas everywhere.

Yet somehow, walking over the majestic bridges and enjoying tea at the Traditional Teahouse in shorts and thongs isn't quite the same as when you are dressed as traditional Chinese Royalty.

Her behaviour changed as soon as she was dressed up, I'm thinking of dressing her like this all the time

For the very reasonable price of $5 for children and $10 for adults, you can be dressed as an Imperial Princess, Empress or soldier.

With a choice of colours and costumes you are first offered a petticoat underskirt, then wrapped in a richly detailed tunic. With your hair pinned back, you then have elaborate headpieces with combs and flowers attached. Finishing touches include a fan.

Boys are able to dress up as soldiers, and there are a range of (non-lethal) swords available.

Once you are dressed, you are asked to sit on the specially designated throne, and (free) photos are taken with your camera.

You are then able to walk (or parade) around the garden for as long as you like in your Imperial costume.

I had never dressed up before at the Garden, but I certainly wasn't the only adult doing so that day. It certainly added to the experience, even if it was just making my daughter feel special that her Mum was getting involved.

Although the costume hire is not available in wet weather, I would caution against getting dressed up in very hot weather, as they can be quite warm. It also looks a bit weird carrying a backpack or handbag around when you are a regal princess, but you can safely leave your bags and belongings in the costume shop, and simply take your camera with you around the garden. And a camera is an absolute necessity.

A very English afternoon tea

To make the experience even more special you can choose to have tea and scones (or tea and dim sum) in the traditional teahouse. For only $5 extra when you buy your entry tickets ($6 adults, $3 children under 15 years), you have the choice of English or jasmine tea, plus either two scones with jam and cream or a bamboo steamer full of dim sum buns.

If you prefer, there is a larger menu available at the teahouse where you can buy drinks and snacks separately including salads and light meals, cakes and sweet treats and a small selection of beers and wine at very reasonable prices.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship is open from 9.30am to 5.30pm daily (except Good Friday and Christmas Day) bit it's important to note that the costume hire is not available until midday. There is no limit to how long you stay in the garden or in costume.

You don't have to be a kid to enjoy dressing up

Be prepared to make a bit of a scene, and have your picture taken. Or you can do what I did, and gently pushed my (much more photogenic) daughter forward and suggest they take her picture instead. She loved it, and will now be a part of happy travel memories of tourists around the world.
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Why? because it’s fun
When: noon to 5pm weekdays, 11am to 5pm weekends (not during wet weather)
Phone: (02) 9240 8888
Where: Pier Street, Darling Harbour
Cost: Costume hire is $5/$10. Total cost of entry, costume hire and afternoon tea was $21/$13
Your Comment
Did you dress up as princesses or empresses? Can girls get dressed up as soldiers?
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12626) 2706 days ago
Wow - you did some great things on your holiday!
by ROF (score: 2|313) 2705 days ago
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