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Hidden Sydney's Little Laneways - Historical Walking Tour

Home > Sydney > Free | Fun Things To Do | Outdoor | Tours | Walks
by Vanessa M (subscribe)
I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published June 1st 2015
Walking around Sydney, most people would keep to the main roads, but just a glance down some of the laneways suggests they're worth a look too. This free walking tour, put together by the City of Sydney, takes you through many of the ones located around the CBD. It takes about 1-2 hours to complete (it's self-guided) and you can download it here.

I went into the tour expecting a more scenic experience, but it's actually a very history-oriented interpretation of Sydney. These aren't always picturesque alleys and sometimes offer little more than the back entrance to buildings. You really need to be willing to read or listen to the history of each site to appreciate the full tour, otherwise you might want to pick and choose the laneways you want to visit.

The tour includes 22 points of interest (not all of them laneways) and starts up near Circular Quay opposite the Museum of Sydney, with Phillip Lane. This great little alley is the last of the 1840s laneways and leads through a hole in a magnificent old building. Don't bother actually going in though; it's one to look at from outside.

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Beginning the Hidden Laneways walk with a high

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Would you notice this lane if you weren't told to look for it?

After Phillip Lane you turn around and cross across forecourt of the museum to go right down Young Street. Towards the end is Customs House Lane, an example of an alley that's not exactly pretty, but is interesting; prior to the 1830s, the properties along here were on the waterfront. The strange angles of the street and buildings have to do with the mangroves and boat sheds once here.

Customs House Lane intersects with Loftus Lane, which offers more back entrances to buildings, as it always has (though in the past the buildings housed customs agents, shipping brokers and wool buyers). It comes out across from the Macquarie Place park, which is worth spending time in for its own references to Sydney's colonial days (the large anchor is from one of the First Fleet ships, for example).

Two different alleys then offer a route to Pitt Street. Towards water you'll find Reilby Place, where nineteenth century entrepreneurs Mary and Thomas Reilby lived on the waterfront. Alternatively, Bulletin Place leads directly from the park and was once home to The Bulletin newspaper, which means Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson both would have walked this stretch.

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Bulletin Place is the more exciting route to Pitt Street

Across Pitt Street is Underwood Street, where James Underwood built the city's first shipyard in 1798 (again, this was all once the waterfront, before Circular Quay was built). Dalley Street takes you to George Street, and then there's a bit of criss-crossing back and forth between it and Pitt Street, using Abercrombie Lane, Tank Stream Way, Bridge Lane, Bond Street and Curtin Place, then a few streets to look at around Wynyard.

The most exciting find at this end of the tour is down Palings Lane, a gap in the shopfronts of George Street that leads you to Ash Street. Residents of Sydney might already know about it, but this stretch offers very nice restaurants and bars, completely out of sight of the roads.

Angel Place takes you out of these laneways, with two choices of direction. Towards George Street there are two example of neo-Romanesque style introduced by American immigrant Edward Raht. However it's the other direction, towards Pitt Sreet, that you're supposed to take, crossing the road for Penifold Place and Hosking Place, before Martin Place and Rowe Street, with the last once full of chic shops and galleries.

If you come to this area and want something a bit more visual, you may want to do another self-guided tour, this time of public art, called the Sydney Sculpture Walk. If you want a truly hidden laneway, try The Nurse's Walk over in The Rocks. Up near Customs House, you will also find the beginning of the City of Sydney's 'Çolony' walking tour.

The entire range of walks created by the City of Sydney can be viewed here.
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Why? Explore parts of Sydney you might have never known about
When: Any day
Where: Sydney CBD
Cost: Free
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