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Exploring Elizabeth Bay and Potts Point

East Sydney self-guided tour on the 311 Bus

I love using local transport to explore new cities. On this self-guided bus tour, you join locals on the 311 bus as it makes its way from Barangaroo in the centre of Sydney to the waterside suburbs of Elizabeth Bay and Woolloomooloo.

Barangaroo to Woolloomooloo – Exploring Sydney by Bus

Welcome to another instalment in our Exploring Sydney by Bus series, this 40-minute trip covers quite a bit of ground and is great if you want to get a little off the beaten track and discover the vibrant communities of the inner east of Sydney.

This short route includes

  • Oxford Street,  the centre of Sydney’s gay scene
  • Kings Cross, once seedy but now relatively cleaned up
  • Elizabeth Bay – one of the harbours beautiful and quiet bays.
  • Elizabeth Bay House
  • Potts Point with its great cafes and Sydney’s best collection of Art Deco buildings
  • Woolloomooloo and it’s historic Finger Wharf
  • The Rocks and Barangaroo.

So let’s begin – We are going to start from Town Hall Station you can join from Barangaroo if that is more convenient.

The bus travels up Oxford Street, the main route of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and past some popular bars and restaurants. My favourite cheap eats here is Mr Crackles – Do not click that link if you are hungry! Seriously delicious pork rolls with crunchy pork rind crackling. Worth stopping for!  

 

Now to the official stops

Stop 1. Kings Cross

Kings Cross Information Booth
Sydney City Council info booth on Darlinghurst Rd

Darlinghurst Road is the epicentre of Kings Cross’s seedy past. Over the last few years it has cleaned up remarkably, and during the day, it seems pretty much like any other city street with cafes, backpacker hostels and shops.

The recently introduced lockout laws have seen a downturn in activity at night, but there are lots of great bars and restaurants worth a visit if you are in the mood to celebrate.

About halfway along at the top of Springfield Ave is an info booth set up by the council. If you have not already downloaded the council’s history walk, Passion, you can pick up a paper copy here. It is also available in the app store

 

Stop 2. El Alamein Fountain and Fitzroy Gardens

 El Alamein Memorial Fountain
 El Alamein Memorial Fountain: the meeting place in Kings Cross

The El-Alamein fountain in Fitzroy Gardens is one of Kings Cross’s most iconic landmarks. Built in 1961, it is a memorial to the World War 2 battles at El-Alamein, Egypt and was a key work of Australian architect Bob Woodward. It is said to be the most copied fountain design in the world.

If you are visiting Macquarie Street during your stay, you can find another of his fountains in the foyer of Parliament House.

On weekends, Kings Cross Market turns the park into a is a hive of activity with fresh food, flowers, cooked food and other ethical products.

Kings Cross market Sydney weekends
Kings Cross market opens between 9.30-2pm Saturday and Sunday

From the fountain, walk down Macleay Street until you reach Greeneknowe Ave.

Turn right and stop to look at the building on the corner. That is Kingsclere, Australia’s first apartment building, completed in 1912. It was designed by the same architects that build the gorgeous Dymocks Building on George St in the city. Each apartment features two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two balconies that at the time offered spectacular views of the harbour. Apartments in this building have fetched over 3.4 million at auction.

red brick apartment building in Kings Cross Australia's first apartment building
Kingsclere, completed in 1912, was Australia’s first apartment building.

Stop 3. Elizabeth Bay House

Head down the hill until you reach the roundabout at Onslow Ave. This street is home to some fantastic art deco buildings. One of my favourites is Meudon, our own version of the NYC Flatiron. You will find it at 13 Onslow Ave.

Potts Point Art Deco Architecture Sydney

Continue along the street and you will come to Elizabeth Bay House.

elizabeth bay house
View from Arthur McElhone Reserve looking toward Elizabeth Bay House

Built in the 1830s and opened as a museum in 1977, Elizabeth Bay House was the home of Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay. Macleay was second in charge of the colony and engaged architect John Verge to design him a grand home fitting for his family.

The house features a large oval entry hall with a beautiful dome ceiling and an impressive cantilevered staircase. Make sure you visit the cellar to watch the dated but fascinating dramatisation of the Macleay family’s time at the house. 

Once surrounded by extensive gardens that ran down to the harbour, today it is one of the best-preserved colonial homes in Sydney.

From here head back to the road and take the stairs between 18-21 Billyard Ave to Macleay Ave.

Macleay Street is home to lots of cafes and my one of my favourite bookshops Potts Point Bookshop. They have a great collection of Australia material and I rarely leave without at least one book.

 

 Stop 4. Macleay St and Challis Ave

Challis Ave Kings Cross
Challis Avenue Potts Point

This area was the home of all things hip and happening in the 1960s and to be honest, not a lot has changed, at least, when it comes to food. Today the street is full of cafes and restaurants and is the best area on our walk today to stop for a bite or coffee.

Some stand out spots are

  • Apollo – for a Greek feast
  • Cho Cho San – for a modern Japanese experience
  • Yellow – for an interesting take on breakfast eggs and other hearty meals. Oh and if you are in the mood breakfast martinis – need I say more!

From here turn right into Challis Avenue, I love this street; it is full of well-restored terraced homes that date back to the turn of the last century.

At the bottom of the street, turn left into Victoria Road, and in about 150 metres, you will come to the McElhone Stairs

Woolloomooloo stairs
McElhone’s 113 Stairs, fitness fanatics love them, me not so much 😉

Until these stairs were built 1870, the only way direct to get between Potts Point and the slums below in Woolloomooloo was by using wooden ladders that ran down the rock face.

Today there are 3 sets of heritage-listed stairs, the Butler, McElhone and Hordern Stairs, connecting Victoria Street with Wooloomooloo below. They are particularly popular with runners who love to add them to their morning workout.

Walk past these stairs, you will be taking another set further along Victoria Street.

Victoria Street has an interesting history, many of the properties are protected by National Trust orders. The 19th-century terraces combined with the beautiful London Plane trees make for a very attractive street.

Three of these terraces have been turned into a luxury hotel, Spicers and I can highly recommend this property for anyone after a little bit of a splurge!

Victoria Street Potts Point Hotel
Restored 19th-century terraces in Victoria Street now the Spicers Hotel

We owe much to the protestors of the 1970s who fought hard to protect this street from highrise development. Green Bans which had been imposed by the Builders Labourers Federation to stop the destruction of housing and heritage to produce office towers and luxury complexes.

Number 202 Victoria Street is particularly notable as the home of Juanita Nielsen, a journalist and activist who disappeared in 1975. In 1973, 393 long term residents were evicted from the street in preparation for demolition. A small number including Juanita remained and fought on. She has never been found and no one charged.

The Butler Restaurant and Bar located just across the road from 202 Victoria Street has named their front bar Jaunitas and also have a cocktail named in her honour. Pop in and get one, but head out to the back verandah for great views of the city while you enjoy it.

Bulter Potts Point sydney skyline view
We waited out a storm which resulted in 3 cocktails being consumed – oops!

Ok so now its time to head down the stairs and into Woolloomooloo.

Stop 5 – Harry’s Cafe de Wheels

Harrys Pies at Cafe de wheels

Just at the bottom of the stairs and a few hundred metres along is Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. Harrys has been serving its famous Aussie meat pies since the 1930s. The signature dish is called Harry’s Tiger; it consists of a meat pie topped with mashed potato and mushy peas with a ladle of gravy on top.

Harrys Tiger Pie Sydney
The famous pea floater pie from Harry’s

The much-loved business is included in the National Trust Heritage list. There are several franchises in the city, including one in Haymarket and another at Bondi.

Stop 6 – Woolloomooloo Wharf

Wooloomooloo wharf see sydney by bus on the 311
This wharf is the longest timbered-piled wharf in the world

Once a busy working dock used by traders and later cruise liners today the Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo is home to fine dining restaurants, a marina, apartments for the rich and famous, including Russell Crowe and a 4.5-star hotel the Ovolo Sydney.

Along the waterfront around the wharf are various significant artworks from Artbank – which has a gallery across the road if you fancy stopping in for more art.

Detour: From here you can either continue walking into the city by taking the stairs to the Botanic Gardens and rejoining the bus in Park Street.

If you want to continue to Barangaroo, cross the road directly opposite the wharf and wait for the 311 bus which runs every 20-30 mins. If you have just missed the bus, you can kill some time in one of the two pubs near the bus stop, the Tilbury and the Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel.

Stop 7 – Barangaroo

Barangaroo See Sydney by bus
Barangaroo Reserve

The bus ends its journey at Argyle Street in Millers Point right by Sydney’s newest park, Barangaroo. A visit to this park is an excellent way to end your day and see the harbour from a new angle. It’s ideal for an afternoon visit as the sunsets to the west over Darling Harbour and the Anzac Bridge.

The bus stops near the Rocks end of the Park. When you have walked through the park, you can either retrace your steps back to The Rocks or follow the signs to Wynyard Station and bus stops.

The 311 bus runs every 30 mins between 6 am and, at least, midnight seven days a week.

Check out more Sydney tours by bus 

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16 thoughts on “Exploring Elizabeth Bay and Potts Point”

  1. Does the 311 turn around and go back the way it came? Or does it meander in a loop? i.e. how do I get back to Finger Wharf from The Rocks? Dumb question, I guess.

    Reply
    • Hi Fred
      You can take the 311 to the Rocks – it takes about 25 mins as it heads back towards Park St before going to the Rocks. You can also walk there in about the same time if you have the energy. Paula

      Reply
    • Hi Beth
      I think the fountain design was eventually named dandelion and went on to inspire many more similar designs. Perhpas you can write something about using public transport in Orlando. I managed to even use a few LA bus routes for walking tours so it can be done!

      Reply
  2. Paula, I am in awe of your post. This is such a comprehensive and consuming guide. Sometimes, coming to a new city and using its public transportation feels intimidating. Did I miss the stop? What is the next one? Should I even take this bus? There are so many questions that go unnoticed by locals, but, pardon the pun, throw visitors under the bus. By explaining every little detail along the bus route, your guide gives a so needed peace of mind. Speaking of landmarks along the way, the fountain looks amazing. It reminded me of a dandelion’s head with its downy tufts. The Australia’s first apartment building sure has close relatives on the East Side NYC.

    Reply
    • Thanks Elena
      I have to admit my husband is a bus driver here in Sydney so I have a lot of inside knowledge 🙂 We try to use public transport whenever we travel too because I think it’s one of the best ways to get a local view of a city.

      Reply
      • Great to see another public transportation enthusiast (ha, whatever the right word is). Absolutely agree with you – this is the best way to immerse in any new environment. Happy travels!

    • Some locals complain but I think we are really lucky with our public transport in Sydney. I have not visited Texas but my experiences in the USA suggest it can be challenging there.

      Reply
  3. Buses can be overwhelming when visiting a city so it’s great to have local tips like this! Good idea! I left Sydney while they were still building Barangaroo. I’ll make sure I visit it next time I go, it looks great!

    Reply
    • I agree Eloise, I rarely venture on buses in other cities unless I have picked up some tips from a forum or blog. Hopefully, this will encourage people to try a few buses in Sydney.

      Reply
  4. Great insights from a local’s perspective and a great alternative take on discovering Sydney. BTW, a chilli dog at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is a must! Chew away and check out the dozens of celebrity photographs!

    Reply

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