Terraces in Surry Hills

Surry Hills: Favourite places to visit in Surry Hills

Having spent days exploring Surry Hills with my little grandson means that the streets and laneways of this inner-city Sydney suburb are quite familiar to me. While Surry Hills is gentrifying, there is an edgy feel to the place.

What You’ll Find in Surry Hills

I am very fond of Surry Hills with its public art, galleries, great food, coffee and interesting street art. Shopping in Surry Hills is a very different experience from that of the Australian shopping mall.  There are designer stores, vintage outlets and specialty stores. Come with me on a walk past my favourite places in Surry Hills.

NSW Railway history

Railway history on the walls

Amalgamated Engingeering Building

Interesting Granite Building

Prince Alfred Park

Before heading up steep Foveaux Street from Central Station, I take a short diversion to Prince Alfred Park checking out the series of large murals, lining the brick station wall along the way. The murals depict workers and travellers over the years, celebrating 150 years of Railways in NSW and 100 years of Central Station.

Prince Alfred Park is a haven for local apartment living residents and visitors alike. There’s a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, a playground and plenty of grassy space. Elements in the playground reflect the circus pens of agricultural exhibitions held in an exhibition building here in the 1800s. There’s a hot air balloon and elephant for little ones to enjoy.

Prince Alfred Park

Kiddies Playground Prince Alfred Park

Prince Alfred Park

Prince Alfred Park

Across the road is an interesting granite building. The engraving over the door indicates it was the premises of the Amalgamated Engineering Union from 1851 to 1929. Now, let’s return to walk up the steep hill that is Foveaux Street and walk up and down Riley, Crown and Bourke streets.

Button Bar in Surry Hills

Button Bar

Riley Street Surry Hills

Frog Hollow reserve, is another of the many green spaces breathing life into the City of Sydney. In the early 1900s the houses of Surry Hills were packed together in a warren of streets and laneways. Frog Hollow once “one of the most depraved areas of Sydney” has changed. Much is gentrified and there’s plenty of building and renovation happening.

The Reservoir

Waterboard staff used to live in terrace houses in and around Reservoir Street where informative plaques explain that they worked in the water reservoir and pump house. Built in 1859, the Crown Street Reservoir still supplies water to the Inner City and is the oldest water supply reservoir still in use in Australia. If you are interested, another relatively nearby reservoir in Paddington has been converted into a great recreation space.

The Forresters Pub in Riley Street

Forresters Pub in Riley Street

Italian Restaurant in Riley Street

Italian Restaurant In Riley Street

The Sydney Police Centre

As I walk past the stark Sydney Police Centre and Surry Hills Police Station I recall the night I spent in the cells here (supporting a client). Behind the Police Centre in Goulburn Street you’ll find The NSW Police Force Service Memorial. It recognises police employees (police officers and support staff) who were killed or injured and then died while on duty.

Behind the Sydney Police Centre is the dog friendly Harmony Park. From the low red tiled wall, I watch a couple of dogs chasing each other and then make a quick detour to The Paramount Coffee Project and the Golden Age Cinema and bar in Commonwealth Street. This is where you can watch a movie in the former screening room of Paramount Pictures.

NSW Police Force Service Memorial

NSW Police Service Memorial

Harmony Park Surry Hills

Harmony Park

Crown Street Surry Hills

A slow walk along Crown Street reveals a diverse range of shops. Shopping in Surry Hills is nothing if not interesting. At the Oxford Street end, you’ll find a cluster of vintage clothing stores and as you stroll further down the street you’ll find specialty shops and designer stores.

Route 66 Vintage Store

Route 66 Vintage Store

Zoo Emporium Vintage Store

Zoo Emporium Vintage Store

Local children have attended Crown Street Public School since 1849. Strict heritage guidelines mean that the school buildings are as they were way back then apart from The Lone Soldier Cenotaph which was built in 1919.

Over the road, a sign “Holy Kitsch” hangs outside premises where Paris de Bono will tell your fortune. Further along, is Bills (of Bill Grainger fame), a great place for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) and the well-known Gelato Messino.

I have spent many happy hours pushing my grandson on the swings at Shannon Street Reserve. What is more interesting though is the paved area. Look closely and you will see that pavers are laid in such a way as to represent the layout of surrounding streets with street names carved into the sandstone pavers.

Shannon Street Reserve

Shannon Street Reserve

Village Voices Public Art

Changing Stories of Village Voices

Public Art in Surry Hills

A favourite public artwork is “Village Voices”, situated in a laneway next to 610 Crown Street. Created by Astra Howard it takes the form of a regularly changing short story posted on the wall in bold white plastic lettering. Local residents write the stories and often share quite personal experiences.

There is a wonderful mural “What Bird is That?” by Peter Day at the far end of Edgeley Reserve, Nickson Street. Take time to look for the little birds in the foliage. Opposite, street art on either side of a red roller garage door draws attention to The Pottery Shed, a place to learn or practice your throw pot making skills.

The Pottery Shed

Edgeley Street Reserve

Edgeley Street Reserve

The Brett Whiteley Studio

Not far away, in a side lane, you can identify The Brett Whiteley Studio by the smaller version of the Brett Whiteley’s “Almost once” sculpture mounted beside the door. This gallery is well worth a visit. You can see the room where the artist worked as well as current exhibitions.

To find great street art, take a couple of side trips down laneways and explore for yourself. There are many examples in and around the area between the studio and our next stop.

Brett Whiteley Studio

Brett Whiteley Studio

Street art Surry Hills

Parked too long?

Bourke Street Surry Hills

Work on the Light Rail has affected businesses in Surry Hills. Some shops have not survived. Bourke Street Bakery is weathering the disruption, and a long queue snakes out the door. Their pistachio ginger crème brulee tarts are to die for.

Bourke Street Public School is also heritage listed and dates back to 1884. I am fascinated by two circular entrances on either side of the main entrance. One is designated for girls, the other for boys. How things change. Over the road is the Police Lock Up which dates back to 1895.

Bourke Street Public School

Girls Entrance

Bourke Street Police Station

Former Police Station

Terrace Houses in Bourke Street

Now I walk slowly up Bourke street enjoying architecture and detail in the terrace houses. When I look up in Bennett Place look I am rewarded by seeing a large sculptured figure perched on the overhead bridge joining two buildings. The sculpture is “Bridget” by Gaby Porter, who had her studio in “The Warehouse” alongside the bridge where she created many iconic works. In Bennett Street itself, the cottages with matching wooden balconies remind me of times long gone.

McElhone Place

McElhone Place

McElhone Place

Cats rule McElhone Place

McElhone Place

Nearby McElhone Place is one of my favourite places in all of Sydney, never mind Surry Hills. Once a slum, this little lane demonstrates community in action. What started as a few pot plants outside one home, is now a lane overflowing with greenery with a large ginger cat sunning itself in the middle of the lane. Gardening on the footpath encourages people to meet and connect. As I wander through, a man greets me and says “there are worse ways to spend your time”.

Bennet Place Surry Hills

“Bridget” Bennet Place

South Sydney Rabbitohs

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Back in Bourke Street is Formaggi Ocello which sells an amazing selection of cheeses. If I was going straight home, I would get some for wine and cheese at our boatshed tonight.

Mary’s Place

Over the road is Mary’s Place where the brutal beating and rape of a lesbian woman is remembered by a lamp and inscription:

This is a lane with a name and a lamp in memory of the woman who survived being beaten and raped here. She happened to be lesbian. When the sun sets this lamp keeps vigil along with you who read this in silent meditation. 

Formaggi Ocello

The Cheese Room

Mary's Place

Remembering an awful event

Resisting temptation, I walk past Christopher’s Cake Shop with its wonderful array of biscuits and pastries. Opposite, the 1847 Wesleyan church is now the Edward Egar Lodge which provides crisis accommodation. It is one of many services dotted around Surry Hills that supports homeless and other marginalised people.

Taylor Square

In Taylor Square, the distinctive “always was always will be” artwork by Reko Rennie has been painted over. At least his “Welcome to Redfern” artwork featured on my Redfern post is still standing proudly.

Reko Rennie Art work

“Always was, always will be” is no longer

"Always was always will be" no longer

Less interesting look these days.

Do Say Hello

Well, that’s a quick look at my favourite places in Surry Hills. If you visit on a Wednesday, you may see me there with my grandson. Do stop me to say hello.

Now that you’ve explored Surry Hills, you’ll enjoy discovering Newtown and Darlinghurst.
Or perhaps you’d like to explore Surry Hills’ Razor Gang Past. If so, read this post.
Next Stop: Blacktown

Useful information:

The inner city Sydney suburb of Surry Hills is immediately south east of the Sydney CBD

Plan your trip at transportnsw.info

Click this link  for an interesting read about the history of Surry Hills.

And for another interesting read click here.

Many galleries are view by appointment only. Check their websites by clicking on the links above.

Brett Whitely Studio is open Friday to Sunday.

Coffee shops in Surry Hills. Unfortunately, like the eclectic range of shops, they come and go. Here are a few that seem to be standing the test of time:

  • The Reformatory Caffeine Lab – 17-51 Foveaux Street.
  • Artificer is a specialty coffee bar and roaster – 547 Bourke Street
  • Reuben Hills is another boutique coffee roastery – 61 Albion Street
  • Paramount Coffee Project – 80 Commonwealth Street

A selection of Vintage Stores:

  • Miss Brown 332 Crown Street
  • Cream on Crown 277-285 Crown Street
  • The Zoo Emporium 180 Campbell Street
  • U-Turn 277 Crown Street

And other addresses:

Golden Age Cinema and Bar 80 Commonwealth Street.

The Pottery Shed 7 Nickson Street Surry Hills

And a map to assist you: (You can download it here) (NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):

Surry Hills Walk Map





















  1. Love reading your fortnightly ‘burb travels Jo. Always interesting.

  2. So interesting as usual Jo. I wish I had legs and youth to walk your interesting tours. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Thank you Marie. I am pleased that you travel with me in spirit. Jo

  3. What a great blog. Beautiful pictures, and I especially like the inclusion of the map!

    1. Author

      Thanks Sarah. I go to Surry Hills often these days and really enjoy what it has to offer.

  4. Thanks Joanne,

    After working for 6 years around Surry Hills it was interesting to see some things I had not been aware of!


    1. Author

      Thanks Philip. I really didn’t know Surry Hills at all well. I am pleased to say that now when my daughter talks about a place near where she lives, I can place it. And I have found a place or two that she didn’t know about. Cheers Jo

  5. A whole year of interesting posts! Well done, and keep up the good work, Jo.

    1. Author

      Thanks for noticing that it has been a year, Bronwen. I am still enjoying discovering Sydney, so you can expect the fortnightly posts to continue. Jo

  6. I enjoy your posts so much! I hope I can visit sometime and see these places in person.

    1. Author

      Thanks. You know you’re always welcome, Charlene.

  7. Love the murals and the mosaic…………very cool.
    Congratulations on providing one years’ worth of good travel info about your city, it’s always a pleasure to read your posts.

  8. The Bennett Place sculpture is “Bridget” by Gaby Porter, now at the Wombarra Sculpture Garden. She had her studio in “The Warehouse” alongside the bridge where she created many iconic works.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much for that information. I am working on a new post for Surry Hills – so much has changed – and I will add that to my new post.

    1. Author

      Thank you Lyn. I am learning so much on my walks through Sydney suburbs and having fun too.

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