At first glance, you might not think there’s a lot of unusual things to do in Chinatown, Sydney – but if you know where to look in the myraid of restaurants and small alleys full of shops that fill the area you’ll find all sorts of fun things to eat, see and do…. particularly eat. And in this post, we’re going to help you find them…
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Where is Sydney’s Chinatown?
It’s an area on the South western side of George Street in the Sydney CBD, close to Darling Harbour.
Dixon Street is the main pedestrianised thoroughfare that runs through the middle of Chinatown, but the area spans out a couple of streets either side east and west – and now, trickles into the trendy Darling Square district.
Hay Street runs east-west through Chinatown and is often seen as the heart of the area, but you could say the area spans up as far North as Liverpool Street and south roughly 3-4 higgly piggly blocks.
That’s the area we’re going to cover in the post – with a couple of forays a little bit east of George Street to pinpoint a few cool things you might also want to see while you’re in the area and that won’t fit into any other post I’ve got planned!
So, now you know where you’re going to have all this fun, let’s crack on with telling you about it.
19 Fun and Unusual Things to do in (or around) Chinatown, Sydney
1. Be Like Bowie
Fans of the Thin White Duke need to add Chinatown to their Sydney itinerary. You see, David Bowie spent a few years of his life living in Sydney.
He filmed his famous Let’s Dance video in Sydney (and a pub in Carinda, NSW), but what fewer people might know is that he filmed part of his China Girl video in Sydney’s Chinatown – specifically, on Dixon Street, on the street by the Nine Dragons restaurant sign, which is still there.
It’s the scene where he’s dressed in a black coat and is throwing a bowl of, what looks like rice, up into the air.
If you want to see more about all things Bowie in Sydney, including more video locations and which unassuming pub he used to drink in, check out our post on all the Bowie sights in Sydney.
2. Go for a Meat Barbie
Spice World in Sussex Street is fanous for a few different things.
Let’s start with it’s enormous size – which gives it enough room to sell a dish containing a metre long piece of lamb!.
It also sometimes has robot waitresses serving customers – and, most exciting for us. one of its dishes is called Meat Barbie.
Now, you might think this is where you get to cook your own steak on some kind of flame – this is Australia after all – but no, no, this is waaaay better than that.
The Spice World Meat Barbie is basically a doll dressed in a tiny edible version of Lady Gaga’s meat dress which you then peel off and cook in a soup broth – a broth which comes shaped like a bear!
Oh, and the soup base that you cook in – that comes in the shape of tiny bear, a fish or Hello Kitty – although, there might be some level of trauma at that point that said bear falls face first into the boiling soup that perhaps might not work so well with smaller actual children, rather than adults that just act like big kids!
But other than that….Why. Why wouldn’t you do this?
You’ll find Spice World at 405/411 Sussex St.
It’s not the cheapest place to eat around here – you’re looking at around $90 just for the soup base and the meat barbie – and you’ll probably want to add some other vegetables and things to cook in your hotpot – but it is fun.
3. Check Out The Flying Bird Art
This was the favourite thing I discovered on a recent tour of Chinatown with Local Sauce Tours (see more on that below).
The painting in question is located in the arcade that takes you to a restaurant called Kowloon Cafe (a popular Sydney Instagram spot) and it was created by a Shanghai-based art collective called Lui Dao.
The group describe themselves as a mix of tech geeks and collective talents and all their work is always a collaboration between artists rather than just one person creating one image.
Much of their work is a take on the mix of old and new China, but they are famed for mixing LED lightwork and traditional art.
Oh, and they like to stay anonymous so they tend to be photographed with full face masks!
At first this work just looks like a pretty picture of a tree with illuminated birds sitting in it, but, stand in front of it and clap – and then see what happens.
The art throughout the rest of the arcade is also rather cool so spend some time checking it out.
4. Get Dinner Cooked by Robot Chef
Robo in the trendy Darling Square district on the edge of Chinatown, serves dishes from all over Asia, but specialise in Hong Kong cuisine, and very tasty it is too.
But it gets its place on this list because it also employs a robot chef to help with the orders when things get busy.
Apparently Robot-Ramsey (as I like to call him) is in charge of certain dishes to help the human chefs get the orders out on time.
The place also has a cute space-theme which I rather like.
You also order from the screens on the wall which is fun – if you like to linger over a menu, you might want to have a look at the Robo website before you leave the house so you don’t feel pressured at the screen if they’re busy.
Sadly, you can’t see Robot Ramsey at work, but just knowing that he’s there makes me happy so I’m going with it.
You’ll find Robo at 80 Hay Street.
5. Try Boozy Fingerpainting
I’ve always wanted to do one of those ‘drink wine and create a masterpiece’ classes that have appeared every where in the last couple of years – but, I have zero art ability.
My evening would therefore be more likely just turn into me crying into my paint as I produced something even my own mother wouldn’t put on the fridge.
Boozy fingerpainting though sounds fun!
Teacher Stephen says ‘finger painting’ is used to create fast, dramatic, scenic paintings’ – personally I’d probably just be going for coloured blobs while trying not to get paint all over my face while sipping Chardonnay, but hey scenic sounds good too.
The classes are held in Darling Square. And, if you’re looking for a fun hen night or birthday suggestion, you can book a private session for you and all your friends.
If the classes are being held there on the night you want to try it, you can also book in for classes at Redfern.
6. Take a Historic Food Tour
I went on Justin from Local Sauce’s Chinatown tour for the snacks, but came away with a new appreciation of how much of a role Chinese settlers have played in the history of Sydney.
The tour is the perfect mix of history lesson and food stops – but the thing I loved most was that it doesn’t just take you to big shiny food places.
In fact, we went to places I’d walked past a few times but not been brave enough to go in because I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be letting myself in for.
Yummy food is the answer!
The soup dumpling spot he takes you to is AMAZING and the tiny hole in the wall serving ‘Chinese Hamburgers’ was a huge surprise.
And that serving hatch to the left of the bakery there is one of Sydney’s most iconic food experiences – the Emperor’s Puff. If you live in Sydney, you’ll know about that one, but I promise you might not have tried the others.
He also gives you a list of other stops to check out that I’m going to be ticking off for a while yet.
If you want to book in, you’ll find the tour on Airbnb Experiences. It’s called the Aussie Chinatown Experience.
7. Drink Super Cheap Jugs at The Palace Hotel
The pubs located in and around Chinatown in Sydney tend to be pretty down to earth – but of the choices, our favourite is The Palace located just to the east of Chinatown.
It’s got lots of outside seating that gets the sun in the early evening (rare, despite how sunny it is here), it’s great for people watching – and their jugs of beer for around $13 (a jug is roughly two pints) is one of the best beer deals in Sydney.
If you prefer to sit inside, there’s two main bars and this indoor but outdoor area out back!
If you’re there in the early evening and see someone in there who looks like me, sitting with a follicularly-challenged man (aka Mr Differentville) there’s a good chance it is me, so come say hi!
8. Coo Over The Bear Cake
The Mango Bear mousse cake from Bengong Black is one of the cutest things to eat in Sydney’s Chinatown – perhaps a bit too cute, as, putting in the spoon to taste the goey cake, mousse and mango confection feels a little bit like commiting bearicide.
You’ll find them at 91 Harbour Street, Little Hay Street.
They also sell smaller versions of the puppy-shaped cake that was making waves when I was in Taiwan a while back – now that WAS traumatic to cut!
Oh and talking of puppies….
9. Paint Your Pooch
Classes on pet painting are held at the Iikomasesoba restaurant in Darling Square – and you get noodles while you immortalise your fluffy favourite.
10. Admire the Steamer Building
Everyone in Sydney has a different idea of what the Exchange building in Darling Square reminds them off – for me, it always gives me a craving for crispy duck as it reminds me of the steamer that the pancakes come in!
The building that was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, is wrapped in 20,000 metres of wood.
Inside it’s home to a library – but more fun is the fact that the bottom floor is home to Maker’s Dozen.
This food court tends to attract quite innovative vendors.
It’s home to Toastie Smith and their imaginative eggy toast dishes, Simulation Senpai who do the prettiest displays of sushi and sashimi (admittedly for a price!) and Uma Curry and Roti.This Burmese stand is run by social enterprise Parliament on King, a Newtown restaurant that works with refugee and asylum-seeking chefs.
11. Get Insulted at Karen’s Diner
Karen’s Diner is a 50’s style American Diner with good burgers, amazing alcoholic milkshakes – and really, rude staff
But that’s all part of the fun.
It’s not strictly in Chinatown, but the World Square area that is home to Karen’s Diner is close enough to it to find a home in this post.
If you already know that you want to add a visit to Karen’s to your Sydney trip, then you’ll find it on the first floor of the World Square complex. See their website here.
12. Drink Beer from a Boot
Opposite Karen’s is the Bavarian Beer Cafe which is famous for it’s German lager – but also the fact that some of them are served in a glass-shaped like a boot!
13. Sleep in a Capsule
Capsule hotels might be more common in a post about Japan, but you get them here too.
In fact, there are two Capsule Style hotels in Sydney – both of them just a few steps from Chinatown.
Pick from The Capsule Hotel which is located above the Century Pub.
See more about their set up and see pictures of the capsules here.
Or Space Q which is just a short walk away from all those cheap beers at The Palace Hotel.
Both are actually a pretty cheap place to stay – especially if you’re travelling solo for just a night or two.
14. Visit The Chinese Garden
This pretty garden is a great place to go if you want to find some peace and quiet in Sydney – or, just want to feel like you’ve been transported somewhere a few thousand kilometres away.
It’s full name is the Chinese Garden of Friendship, and it was built to celebrate the connected between Sydney and the Chinese city of Guangzhou.
It’s amazing, once you’re in the garden, how much of the city noise fades away.
There’s a small entrance fee – as I write this it’s $8 for adults, $4 for children, but it’s worth it to escape for a bit.
15. Watch out for the Water Lizards
The Chinese Garden is home to a number of water lizards that like to also take strolls out into Darling Square – and they aren’t that bothered by people!
Keep an eye out for them sunbathing on the stone walls that surround the gardens.
16. Get Lucky in Kimber Lane
Kimber Lane is a back alley full of bins that runs parallel to Dixon Street in Chinatown, so telling you to get lucky in it, might sound a bit dubious!
But it’s also home to one of Sydney’s coolest bits of street art, especially at night when it glows.
The piece called In Between Two Worlds is by artist Jason Wing and it aims to represent the spirit worlds of their Chinese and Aboriginal heritage – but the clouds are also said to bring good luck.
So, you never know what might happen if you make a wish.
If you’re interested in street art in Sydney, you might want to check out our post on a local artist called Will Coles who’s responsible for some interesting art in the city. Or, see our guide to Faversham Lane in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west which is lined with celebrity themed art.
17. Go on An Art Hunt
There’s a few bits of art around Sydney’s Chinatown – and much of it is hidden in plain sight.
So, why not go on a hidden art hunt and see how many you can tick off.
Start by look out for the golden tree on Hay Street.
At the junction of Little Hay Street and Dixon Street, you’ll spot the lacy circle that is Heaven – it doesn’t look much during the day but it lights up at night.
Walking down towards Darling Harbour, you can’t really miss the large piece on the side of the Novotel Hotel by Matt Adanate, one of Australia’s best known street artists who is famous for his large paintings of faces – but once you get towards Darling Square things become harder to spot.
In fact, I didn’t realise how many there were until I read this list on the Darling Harbour website.
One of the most noticeable is The Canopy which is installed under the bridge just past the Pumphouse bar.
But there are also a number of sculptures dotted around outside the Chinese Garden and the Convention Centre, if you’re not really looking for them, you can easily walk past them as many of them are now hidden by trees and bushes.
Keep an eye out for these sandstone blocks with rings in by Ken Unsworth, the finely etched work on the wall of the Exhibition Centre by Danie Mellor and Datascapre – a multi media piece on Moriaty Walk
If you’re here on a weekend evening this is also one of the places you’ll see dancers practicing their moves. This end of Darling Harbour has become the place for teens to come dance – there’s even a spot on the map now known as Dancer’s Alley.
Weekend days and evenings are the best time to find them.
18. Learn to Juggle
World champion juggler Kenny says he can teach anyone to juggle and in this one hour class held close to Darling Square you can test out whether that’s true or not!
Juggle yourself over to this link to find out more about what’s involved and to check dates, times and prices.
19. Try a Sharknado
Goobne is a Korean Chicken restaurant in Darling Square which is famous for it’s UFO – a cheese fondue into which you dip fried chicken (which just sounds genius) – but they also have a couple of fun cocktails on the menu including the bright blue Sharknado which comes with it’s own nose-down Jaws replica – and the pretty pink Flamingo – guess what comes stuck in that?
Find Goobne at 16e Tumbalong Bvd.
So that’s it. Our list of the fun and unusual things to do in (and around) Sydney’s Chinatown. But, we already know of a few more things we want to add to this list that weren’t open the day we went scouting – so, you might want to check back on this again in the future.
Oh and if you liked this post, why not check out our other Sydney posts and see if there’s something in the other areas you’re planning to visit.
Or, sign up for our newsletter where you’ll automatically get sent our latest fun finds right into your inbox. There should be a little box sliding in from your right to do that any minute now – or, if it doesn’t scan down a bit and you’ll find a handy form.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.