Given Sydney’s status as a world-class city, everyone is familiar with its most iconic sights — the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach… But if you wander around Sydney’s hidden corners, you might just find a smattering of unusual surprises. Here are just a few of our favorites, guaranteed to bring a degree of quirkiness to your trip.
In most urban settings, you’d be hard-pressed to encounter any birds besides pigeons or sparrows, but Sydney pays homage to the species that used to make their home in the city. Forgotten Songs is an installation of dozens of birdcages that dangle above a pedestrian street, and there’s more to this display than initially meets the eye.
Listen carefully while you stroll beneath the cages, and you’ll hear chirping. Here, birdsong recordings play constantly, featuring the trills of 50 different species that were once native to Sydney. Depending on the time of day you visit, you’ll either hear birds that are active in the daytime, or you’ll listen to their nocturnal counterparts.
To reach this spot, head to George or Pitt Street, then make your way to pedestrianized Angel Place. Of course, you can also hear the birds themselves (or at least some of them) if you head to the outskirts of the city, where a few species still nest.
SS Ayrfield shipwreck
Just a short distance from Sydney Olympic Park, you’ll find Homebush Bay, which operated as a shipbreaking yard in the 1970s. Today, a few ships still float in the bay, including the SS Ayrfield, a rusting hull completely overtaken by mangrove trees.
The 107-year-old Ayrfield is an eerie, Instagram-worthy sight, with its bow pointing directly at the shore — in fact, if you use your imagination, it might look like the Ayrfield is sailing straight at you. Grab your camera and click away!
Part of the ship is submerged, although the stern remains above the waterline, making the Ayrfield just as beautiful from above as it is from the shore. If you’re traveling with a drone, Homebush Bay just might be the perfect shooting location!
Museum of Human Disease
If you have a weak stomach, you might want to sit this one out. Located just southwest of Sydney, at the University of New South Wales, the Museum of Human Disease showcases about 2,000 specimens of human tissue, all collected during surgeries and autopsies.
The specimens include examples of both infectious and non-infectious diseases, and the museum is home to exhibits on smoking, obesity, drugs, mental health, and the effects of alcohol. You’ll also enjoy the interactive computer lab, where you can use virtual reality to test your bionic vision or even walk through an artery. A visit to the museum is a veritable field trip through the human body, making it the perfect excursion for doctors, nurses, medical students, and anyone interested in physical health.
If you’re a cinephile who would love nothing more than to spend an evening fully immersed in a movie set, then you’re in luck! Underground Cinema brings the silver screen to life in secret locations around Sydney and Melbourne.
Here’s how it works: movie fans purchase tickets to a screening event. Shortly before the big night, they receive information on what to wear and where to find the event. When they arrive, they’ll be whisked into another world, thanks to an elaborate set and in-character actors who interact with the guests (for example, if Underground Cinema streamed “Psycho,” the event might take place at an old motel, and actors might play the car salesman, the sheriff, or a few townspeople). At the end of the night, all the guests watch the featured movie together.
Tickets are expensive, but Underground Cinema offers a one-of-a-kind experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
Newtown street art
Although Sydney is an aesthetic city, one particularly artistic suburb really stands out. Newtown has embraced street art by commissioning murals and graffiti from local artists — in fact, property owners can even ask the local council to match an artist to their blank exterior walls.
Newtown’s love for street art dates back to August 1991, when two artists asked the city if they could paint a huge mural on King Street. Although the city never granted permission, the artists decided to proceed with their project in secret, painting it in the dead of night. The original mural still graces King Street, featuring a globe, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the famous words “I have a dream.”
Today, you’ll find murals all over Newtown, so you can while away the hours with an art walk through the suburb. Enjoy!
Cover photo by Lina Hayes