Our list of Sydney’s best buildings is a mix of old and new, covering various styles from Gothic Revival to modern skyscrapers. This shortlist of our favourites will help you learn more about Sydney’s tallest, oldest and most stunning buildings and where you can find them.
Sydney is a beautiful city, and although replete with natural wonders, its artificial structures can be just as impressive. Funny as it sounds, if you’re an architecture buff (or simply someone with an eye for beauty), a walk-through Sydney’s streets with your head craned upwards can be a very rewarding way to spend your day.
Big names in Sydney’s architectural scene include Francis Greenway, the city’s first architect and a former convict, James Barnett, a state employee who built many of the cities most loved heritage buildings and in more recent times, local Henry Seidler, and international architects Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry and Kengo Kuma.
So in no particular order, we present our favourite Sydney buildings…
- The Exchange
- Building 8 – aka Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at UTS
- One Central Park
- Crown Sydney aka One Barangaroo
- Aurora Place
- Strand Arcade
- Grace Building (Grace Hotel)
- 1 Bligh Street
- Hero of Waterloo
- Government House
- Conservatorium of Music
- Elizabeth Bay House
- Australia Square
- State Theatre
- Queen Victoria Building (QVB)
- Amalgamated Wireless Australia (AWA) Tower
- Commonwealth Trading Bank Building
- MLC Centre
- General Post Office, Martin Place
- Department of Lands building
- Great Synagogue
- Anzac Memorial aka Hyde Park War Memorial
- St Mary’s Catherdral
- Sydney Hosptial
- Sirrus Building The Rocks
- Registrar-General’s building aka Land Titles Office
- Indigo Slam
- Cadman’s Cottage
New to the city, the Exchange is the focal point of a rejuvenated Darling Square. Designed by a Japanese architectural firm headed by Kengo Kuma, this spiralling hive of wooden ribbons is a monument to movement at the heart of a bustling city.
Over 20,000 metres of Accoya softwood wood covers the six-story building, which features a library, childcare centre and dining options.Kengo Kuma & Associates
After grabbing some refreshments on the ground floor, make your way to the Sydney City Library, where you can venture out onto the balconies and see the wooden ribbons up close and the city beyond.
Related: If you decide to dine nearby, check this list of our favourite places to eat in Darling Harbour first.
Architect: Kengo Kuma
Address: 1 Little Pier St, Haymarket
Building 8 – aka Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at UTS
A popular addition to the city’s southern end, the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, is nothing if not unique. Celebrated by some for its fluidity and innovation in design, many have described it as a “squashed brown paper bag”, a name that has stuck.
“They named the building for Australian-Chinese business owner and philanthropist Dr Chau Chak Wing, who donated $20 million to the project.”University of Technology Sydney
The building houses the University of Technology Sydney Business School and was created using 320,000 specially designed hand-made bricks. The project, which cost 180 million dollars, is best viewed from the Goods Line between Central Station’s Devonshire Tunnel and Darling Harbour.
Architect: Frank Gehry
Address: 14–28 Ultimo Road Ultimo
One Central Park
An expansive building incorporating residential apartments and commercial businesses, One Central Park is best known for the beautiful hanging gardens that run down its glass walls.
Another eye-catching feature is the cantilevered heliostat, which reflects light down into the shopping centre.
Come darkness, the Heliostat turns into an artwork featuring an LED light display by artists Yann Kersalé.
One Central Park has won seven international awards for its sustainability, including Best Innovative Green Building in 2015.
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Address: 28 Broadway Chippendale
Crown Sydney aka One Barangaroo
One of the newest major buildings in Sydney, Crown Sydney, is also its tallest at 217.3m.
A very contemporary titan of twisting glass, Crown Sydney is a monument to money. You will need to be cashed up to spend time inside this shiny structure, whether visiting the yet open Casino, the opulent 6-star hotel or buying one of the 82 private residences.
According to Wilkinson Eyre, the tower “is derived from a sculptural form that is reminiscent of three twisting petals and takes inspiration from nature, being composed of organic forms without literal or direct reference”.
The rest of us can dine at one of the 14 restaurants or bars, including Japanese fine dining experience Nobu and buffet-style restaurant Epicurean.
Architect: WilkinsonEyre London
Address: 1 Barangaroo Ave
One of the ten tallest buildings in Sydney, Aurora Place, features two towers, one housing offices and the other private residences. However, these are no ordinary towers. Shunning the box, Aurora Place pays homage to the nearby Sydney Opera House, bulging and twisting like the harbour far below.
Those lucky enough to call one of the 17 residential floors home have views over the Royal Botanic Gardens while the offices face the city’s west.
Architect: Renzo Piano
Address: 88 Phillip St Sydney
This three-story heritage-listed arcade sits in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, connecting Pitt Street Mall to George Street. Named after The Strand (shopping street) in London.
The arcade’s custodians have worked carefully to ensure that the shopfronts’ ornate Victorian styles are exact replicas of the pre-Federation originals.
Did you know: Sydney once had 3 Victorian style arcades, Piccadilly, Imperial and the Royal Arcade.
Architect: John Spencer
Address: 412-414 George St, Sydney
Grace Building (Grace Hotel)
Inspired by the world-famous Tribune Building of Chicago, the Grace Building is stately neo-Gothic on the outside and gorgeous art déco within. When the building opened, it was the headquarters of the Grace Bros Department Store.
General MacArthur liked the building so much he made it his headquarters during WW2.
Today you can enjoy the building by booking one of the 382 rooms at the Grace Hotel or dining in one of their restaurants.
Architect: Morrow and Gordon
Address: 77-79 York Street, Sydney
1 Bligh Street
Towering over Circular Quay, this shining modernist construction has won awards for both its beauty and its features.
The building’s facades cut glare, cooled beams maintain the temperature, and a plant in the basement recycles 90% of the building’s water, earning a converted 6-star green status.
In 2012, 1 Blight Street won two international awards, the Best Tall Building Award in Asia & Australasia in the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s Skyscraper Awards and the International Highrise Award.
Two eye-catching features are the building’s green wall on the Bligh street side of the building and the colourful James Angus Sculpture on the O’Connell Street corner.
Architect: Ingenhoven in collaboration with Architectus
Address: 1 Bligh Street Sydney
Hero of Waterloo
Right on Sydney Harbour at Millers Point, the Hero of Waterloo is a classic corner pub oozing with heritage, so much so that it has earned a place on the National Trust List.
Ask about the pub’s mysterious tunnel leading towards Darling Harbour.
The pub is said to be haunted by Anne Kirkman, the wife of one of the publicans who fell (was pushed?) to her death down the pub’s stairs in 1849.
Tip: The Hero of Waterloo has great Old Time Jazz and folk music sessions most weekends.
Architect: George Paton
Address: 81 Lower Fort St, Millers Point
A brilliant example of Gothic Revival, next to the Royal Botanical Garden, Government House has been home to the Governors of New South Wales since the 1840s.
Much of the premises remains open to the public, and you can join one of the free tours to learn more about the building and its residents.
Within the gates of the Royal Botanic Gardens, you can visit Government House’s own garden every day of the week between 10am and 4pm unless hosting official functions. If you are exploring the Botanic Gardens, take a few minutes to pop in.
Architect: Mortimer Lewis and Edward Blore
Address: Conservatorium Road Bennelong Point.
Conservatorium of Music
Built by famous convict architect Francis Greenway, Sydney’s Conservatorium, part of the University of Sydney, began life as a Gothic picturesque stable for Governor Macquarie.
Known as “a palace for horses”, the building was so expensive it caused Macquarie to be recalled to Mother England.
Today you can visit the building to attend one of the many concerts put on by students or stroll the outside when touring the Botanic Gardens.
Architect: Francis Greenway
Address: 1 Conservatorium Rd, Sydney
Elizabeth Bay House
Once called “the finest [house] in the colony”, this sumptuous villa has a classical feel. Constructed in Greek Revival style, it was allowed to decay during the middle of the 20th Century before the villa and accompanying grotto was painstakingly restored.
The property was home to Alexander Macleay and his family, and at the time they lived here, its gardens ran to the water’s edge. Today it’s part of the Sydney Living Museums properties, allowing you to tour the beautifully furnished property.
Architect: John Verge
Address: 7 Onslow Ave, Elizabeth Bay
Want to learn more about Sydney’s Architecture? Renaissance Tours offer several themed day tours led by highly experienced guides.
When Australia Square was built in 1967, it was the tallest structure in Sydney and the first modern skyscraper in the country.
Although long since eclipsed by its neighbours, Harry Seidler’s Australia Square remains a modernist Australian architecture landmark.
At the base of the complex is a popular lunchtime food court and bar. Head to level 47 for O Bar and Dining, a revolving restaurant that is the perfect place to take in a Sydney sunset. Facing George Street, you will find a work by American sculptor Alexander Calder.
Architect: Harry Seidler
Address: 264 George Street, Sydney
Built to be “the Empire’s Greatest Theatre” at the peak of the Jazz Age, the State Theatre combines Gothic facades with a neoclassical interior and baroque auditorium, giving visitors a glimpse of the show business of yesteryear.
The theatre is referred to as the “Palace of dreams”
Seating 2,034 people and filled with an impressive collection of classic art, including work by William Dobell, sculptures and stunning chandeliers, if you want to learn more amount this amazing property, book one of their guided tours. At the very least, wander into the foyer as you walk past.
Architect: Henry Eli White
Address: 49 Market St, Sydney
Queen Victoria Building (QVB)
Filling an entire city block, the building is named in honour of Britain’s greatest monarch, who stands just outside with her faithful talking terrier Islay.
The Romanesque building’s exterior has been carefully restored. Journey inside to see the reconstructed caged lifts that take shoppers from one stylish boutique to another.
In 1959 they floated a plan to demolish the QVB and build a car park! It was not until 1971 that the building was protected, and in 1974 it was placed on the National Trust.Dictionary of Sydney
Tip: There are two clocks in the QVB that visitors should not miss. The Great Australian Clock at the Market Street end of the building features 130 hand carver figures and 27 paintings detailing key moments in Australian history. The second, the Royal Clock, at the southern end “performs” on the hour between 9am and 9pm.
The building was constructed during an economic depression to employ the cities, stained window artists, and stonemasons. Its renovation in the 1980s restored its beauty.
Architect: George McRae
Address: 455 George St, Sydney
Amalgamated Wireless Australia (AWA) Tower
Built in 1939 in Art Deco style, the AWA Tower and the building beneath might remind the onlooker of Clark Kent’s Daily Planet, evoking a Golden Age of Radio and media.
The 15 storey building is topped by a radio transmission tower and was the tallest building in Sydney until the 1960s.
The tower was modelled on Berlin’s Funkturm Tower, and the Eiffel Tower inspired both in ParisDictionary of Sydney
Architect: Morrow and Gordon
Address: 47 York St, Sydney
Commonwealth Trading Bank Building
Known affectionately as the Money Box by locals, the Commonwealth Trading synthesises Classical Greek influences with contemporary Art Deco. Built just after federation, the building symbolised the government’s growing power over the national economy.
It features Ionic columns on the exterior facing Martin Place, Corinthian columns framing the balcony doors, and Doric columns on the roof.
Take a walk inside and check out the towering Eucalyptus coloured marble columns. While the ground floor is still a functioning Commonwealth Bank branch, the building is now home to Macquarie Banks’ global headquarters.
Architect: H E Ross & Rowe
Address: 120 Pitt St, Sydney
Regarded as one of Harry Seidler’s masterpieces, this white Bauhaus tower blends elegance with functionality to house some of Sydney’s most sought-after office space.
It features an octagon floor plan of 67 floors with some breathtaking views of the city offered from offices here.
The MLC Centre was the tallest office building in Sydney from 1977 to 1992
The street level features a large food course and supermarket. The mushroom looking building in front of the tower is part of the original construction. It is home to the Commercial Travellers Club, which offers rooms, a bar and bistro and meeting facilities for members.
Architect: Harry Seidler
Address: 19 Martin Pl, Sydney
General Post Office, Martin Place
“The finest example of the Victorian Italian Renaissance Style in New South Wales”, the General Post Office is built from Sydney sandstone.
Long a landmark of the city, the central Australia Post office until 1996, you will now find a small post office that shares the floor space with cafes, galleries and boutiques. It is also home to the Fullerton Hotel.
Tip: Head to the basement of the building, where you can view a piece of the Tank Stream that once supplied water to Sydney.
Architect: James Barnett, Walter Liberty Vernon
Address: 1 Martin Pl, Sydney
Department of Lands building
The Department of Lands was vital to New South Wales’ expansion as a colony, and its headquarters were suitably grand: three stories of Victorian Renaissance Revival. Though now in private hands, its ornate façade is heritage listed.
The building features 12 niches on each facade that were designed to be filled with statues of explorers. Only 23 statues were placed at the building’s completion, and while two more were suggested, Kingsford Smith and Bert Hinkler, they were sadly not added. A statue of James Meehan was added in 2009.
Among the explorer included are Bass, Blaxland, Bourke, Flinders, Hovel, Hume, Lawson, Leichhardt, Oxley, Parkes, Phillip, Roberton, Sturt, Wentworth and Wills.
Architect: James Barnett, Walter Liberty Vernon
Address: Bridge Street
Since before Federation, Sydney’s Great Synagogue has served the city’s Jewish community and is the earliest surviving synagogue still in use. Combining Gothic architecture was the Eastern inflection of Byzantine Revival, the Great Synagogue is a one-of-a-kind building.
Did you know: There were 8 Jewish convicts on the first fleet
Free tours of the building are usually offered on Thursday, but during 2021 they have postponed these. You can, however, make private bookings. See their website for details.
Architect: Thomas Rowe, Walter Liberty Vernon
Address: 166 Castlereagh St, Sydney
Anzac Memorial aka Hyde Park War Memorial
Like the Opera House, the design for this memorial resulted from a competition. Of the 117 entries received, Bruce Dellit’s was a popular winner.
You can visit the memorial on weekdays, but because of current social distancing requirements, you need to book. Entry is free, and there are several exhibitions to view.
Architect: Bruce Dellit and sculptor Rayner Hoff
Address: Liverpool Street, Hyde Park South Sydney
St Mary’s Catherdral
Once a small chapel, St Mary’s is now an English Gothic basilica and the home of Sydney’s Catholic community. It is a beautiful building lit with stained-glass windows; its interior is filled with priceless devotional objects and a magnificent pipe organ.
You can take a free tour of the cathedral on Sundays after the 10:30am Mass. Join the tour near the college street doors.
The Cathedral’s southern spires were installed in 2000 and completed the architects’ original design.
You are also welcome to attend events or masses.
Architect: William Wardell, Augustus Pugin
Address: St Marys Rd, Sydney
Sydney Hospital is Australia’s first hospital. It was referred to as ‘The Rum Hospital’ because it was built with finance from local business owners in exchange for rights to a monopoly on the city’s rum trade.
The original site comprised three Colonial Georgian buildings, the central facility that remains a working hospital today and a north and south wing, which became Parliament House and The Mint, respectively.
“In 1868, Lucy Osburn established the first nursing school in Australia at the Sydney Hospital site after being sent to the colony by Florence Nightingale following a request by the colonial government.”South Eastern Sydney Local Heath District
Tip: I highly recommend wandering into the central courtyard to view the beautiful fountain. You can also take a museum tour between 10am and 3pm on Tuesdays (closed public holidays) on level 1, Nightingale Block. ($5)
Architect: John O’Hearen (unconfirmed but considered most likely)
Address: Macquarie St, Sydney
Sirrus Building The Rocks
Sydney’s most divisive construction, the Sirius building, is possibly Australia’s most famous example of Brutalist architecture. Easily visible as one drives over the Sydney Harbour Bridge or departs Circular Quay on a ferry, it has remained a polarising construction since they completed it in 1980.
Originally designed as public housing to provide homes for locals who had been displaced from run-down properties in The Rocks, they sold the building off in recent years. After a strong campaign to save the building, it has been announced they will keep it intact and renovated. It is expected it will offer 89 private units and some retail space.
Architect: Theodorus (Tao) Gofers
Address: 48 Cumberland St, The Rocks
Registrar-General’s building aka Land Titles Office
Formerly the depository of the state’s records, the Land Title’s Office (or the Registrar-General’s Building) was vital to New South Wales’ bureaucracy in the pre-digital age. Although now defunct, it remains a heritage-listed example of the Federation Gothic style.
Architect: Walter Liberty Vernon
Address: 1 Prince Albert Rd, Sydney
The private residence of art collector and philanthropist Judith Neilson (AM), who owns White Rabbit Gallery. Indigo Slam is the most recent Brutalist style structure to be completed in Sydney. They gave the architects the brief to design a sculpture that could be lived in.
The Building has won 18 architecture and design awards and features a dining space to seat 60 guests. The three-story property with a basement is considered one of the most beautiful private homes in Sydney.
Architect: William Smart and Smart Design Studio
Address: 51 O’Conner St Chippendale
Located on what was once the shoreline of Sydney Harbour, Cadman’s Cottage is the second-oldest surviving residential building in the city. Built in 1815 as the home of the government coxswain.
They named the building after its first resident John Cadman, a convict transported for life for stealing a horse. He lived there until his retirement and, after several years, become a water police station.
Architect: Francis Greenway (unconfirmed)
Address: 110 George Street The Rocks
Triangular in design, the Meudon is a high-rise apartment block reminiscent of the famous Flatiron Building of New York. Flats in this Art Deco gem offer a great view of the harbour and go for astronomical prices.
The building overlooks Sydney Harbour, and when one of the 18 properties occasionally hit the market, they sell quickly. In 2018 an unrenovated apartment sold for 2.15 million.
Architect: Architects Crane and Scott
Address: 13 Onslow Avenue Elizabeth Bay
There you go; we could have easily added a dozen more, but for now, what is your favourite? We would love to hear?