water feature in Darling Harbour, Sydney
Sydney’s Darling Harbour is full of water.

Darling Harbour, which is located just to the west of Sydney’s CBD, extends from Chinatown to Pyrmont and encompasses Cockle Bay, King St. Wharf and Port Jackson. Darling Harbour is one of Sydney’s top entertainment districts and features fun activities for the entire family, diverse entertainment venues and a vibrant nightlife. It has won numerous awards for tourism and construction, but it has not always been so popular.

The first inhabitants, the Cadigal people, originally named it Tumbalong, which means, “where the seafood is found,” but it was later named Long Cove by the European newcomers because it was so unusually long. Tumbalong was later renamed Darling Harbour in honor of Sydney’s then-governor, Ralph Darling, and it became a part of Sydney’s commercial wharf, a busy marketplace.

The face of Darling Harbour began to change as factories and warehouses were developed, and Darling Harbour became largely industrial in nature. By the late 1800s, Darling Harbour had become the largest seaport in the country, and it flourished until the end of World War II. By that point, the lack of terminals became sorely obvious, and Darling Harbour began to be abandoned. By the 1970s, the harbour was a ghost town of abandoned warehouses and empty wharfs.

Neville Wran, premier of NSW, announced the redevelopment of the area, and in 1988, the harbour reopened with a flourish to the people of Sydney during Australia’s bicentennial celebration. Since that time, Darling Harbour has hosted the Sydney Olympics, and it continues to be a premier destination for both Sydneysiders and tourists.

Visitors to Darling Harbour can enjoy the Sydney Entertainment Centre or browse the Harbourside Shopping Centre, which features a flight simulator, bowling alley and laser skirmish. Browse Paddy’s weekend markets, or take your family to Tumbalong Park and the Chinese Gardens of Friendship. Try your luck at the Star Casino, or stroll through Madam Tussaud’s.

Darling Harbour also features cultural and educational attractions, including the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Aboriginal Centre, the Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World and the Powerhouse Museum. It is home to numerous restaurants, including cafés, pubs, take-aways outlets, concession stalls, al fresco bars and more.

Aerial view of National Maritime Meseum in Darling Harbour, Sydney
Aerial view of National Maritime Meseum in Darling Harbour, Sydney

Cosmopolitan festivals bring excitement and colour to Darling Harbour all year long from the Serbian National Day Celebration in February to the Japanese Festival in December. Brilliant fireworks light up the night sky every Saturday in November, and from 24 November until Christmas Eve, Santafest will focus on getting kids and adults alike into the holiday spirit.

Because Darling Harbour has grown and evolved so extensively over time, its original design no longer effectively serves its purpose. Large convention centres, concrete paving and little green space make this area less friendly to the millions who visit it every year. Developers are planning a green space nearly as large as Hyde Park on the western edge of the city centre. In order to open up more access to pedestrians, the Western Distributor will be sunken rather than elevated so that promenades, parks and a rejuvenated foreshore can be created.