These secret ’hoods of Sydney are Down Under the radar

Bustling Sydney may be best known for its famed Opera House.

But some 4 miles inland by taxi from the city’s harbor — away from the throngs of tourists — stand three emerging districts: Chippendale, Newtown and Redfern.

Akin in many ways to the Williamsburg and Bushwick neighborhoods of Brooklyn, these Sydney districts are in various states of change — either fully gentrified, or very up-and-coming. And each area grants visitors the perspective of locals.

Here’s how to make the most of each one.

Chippendale

These secret ’hoods of Sydney are Down Under the radar
Browse works by local artists at edgy Galerie Pompom in Chippendale.Docqment

A former slum turned trendy suburb — now a stomping ground for trendy residents and students of the nearby University of Sydney — Chippendale is where great art and tasty cuisine collide.
First, bop around some area galleries. Chippendale is home to the White Rabbit, a 2009-opened space that specializes in contemporary Chinese art. It houses a vast exhibition area, where “Ritual Spirit” — an exploration into rising spiritualism in China — is on display until January. Also visit nearby Galerie Pompom, which shows contemporary paintings and video art by Aussie artists.

For a quick lunch, head to nearby Kensington Street’s buzzy Spice Alley — an outdoor Asian food market where paper lanterns hang overhead and graffitied geishas adorn the walls. It features Malaysian bites at Old Jim Kee, bowls of pho at Viet and Singaporean fare at Alex Lee Kitchen, where favorites include beef rendang with roti.

Meanwhile, chef Tiw Rakarin’s Mekong, which overlooks Spice Alley, serves up tasty southeast Asian dishes for a sit-down dinner. Burmese king prawns and clams poached in Hanoi Beer pair well with fried bok choy and green papaya salad. Meanwhile, it’d be a mistake to miss out on a meal at Ester — arguably Sydney’s coolest eatery right now. Simply decorated, with globe lights hanging from beamed ceilings, this hot spot lures hipsters who sip wine while munching on dishes — like plump rock oysters, raw kingfish and rich potato pasta — prepped by chef Mat Lindsay.

Newtown

These secret ’hoods of Sydney are Down Under the radar
Vibrant street art (left) is one of the Newtown area’s main draws — as are its culinary credentials. Don’t miss Black Star Pastry’s famed strawberry watermelon cake (right).Culture Scouts; James Horan

In Newtown, a suburb some 2 miles from Chippendale by cab — where we encountered several drunken vagrants roaming about in daytime — street art is king. The area is known for its black-heavy goth fashion scene, but it glows thanks to blocks on end decked out with awe-inspiring murals.

A quick walk from Newtown’s train station to nearby Camperdown Memorial Rest Park leads past multicolored works painted by local hands — and it’s just a fraction of the art Newtown has to offer. One prominent piece proclaims “I have a dream,” from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech, above an image of the Aboriginal flag, an apparent nod to rights for Australia’s native population. Painted in 1991 by artists Juilee Pryor and Andrew Aiken, it’s said to be the most photographed piece of street art in the country.

Not far away, more recent works include two by UK-born, Sydney-based artist Steven “OX King” Nuttall. One, near Camperdown, runs along the side of a small building and shows a woman with her cats in blue hues. Nuttall painted another blue-tone mural, “Wyrd Sisters,” along a wall in the park itself with portraits of three women.

These secret ’hoods of Sydney are Down Under the radar
A centerpiece of Sydney’s Chippendale district, Spice Alley is a delicious outdoor Asian food market, where you can stumble upon and grab some tasty noodle dishes (right).Paul Lovelace / Alamy Stock Photo; Tobias Rowles Destination NSW

After, take a walk down nearby Alton Lane as it curls around a corner to Denison Street. This block has impressive two-story-high murals featuring graceful ballerinas and bold comic book-inspired images; all immerse visitors in color.

Newtown also has great snacks and drinks. For starters, head to Black Star Pastry for a slice of its iconic strawberry watermelon cake. Rumor has it that this is Australia’s most-Instagrammed dessert, with a thick slice of watermelon fruit topped with frosting, strawberries and dried rose petals. Need something savory? Nearby butcher shop Macelleria sells burgers and chops that can be grilled and eaten in-house. Wash it all down with craft beer at Young Henrys — a brick-walled brewery that sits on a lane clad entirely in street art.

Redfern

Redfern, a longtime home to an Aboriginal population and a suburb 20 minutes by foot from Chippendale, is a district in transition. It hasn’t always had a great reputation; at one point, area violence was so bad that it was reportedly referred to as Sydney’s “Gaza Strip.” But little by little, it’s filling in with amenities for new hipster residents, like cafés and bars, and a growing crop of visitors seeking more low-key settings to wine and dine.

There’s nothing more Aussie than a flat white — a latte-style espresso drink, but with less milk — and in Redfern, grab one at Baffi & Mo Espresso (94 Redfern St.; +61-2-9690-0877). Don’t like coffee? The Rabbit Hole is a chic tea bar, where visitors can sip everything from English Breakfast to a white blend with rose and chamomile accents.

After dark, we recommend grabbing a seat inside Cake Wines Cellar Door — a cozy bar that boasts a number of Aussie wines, as well as cocktails, beer and ciders — and staying awhile. Food choices include chorizo pizza and charcuterie platters. Best of all, the space hosts events almost daily. This month’s offerings include a musical performance by Aussie band HTRK + Julianna Barwick ($36) and a pitch night for hopeful TEDxSydney participants to rehearse their speeches in advance of the 2018 event (free).


  • Lowdown
These secret ’hoods of Sydney are Down Under the radar
Stay in the thick of things at Chippendale’s Old Clare Hotel, located in an old brewery.chris court

Tours: While any of these nabes can be traversed solo, guided excursions organized by plugged-in tour companies and led by savvy locals are a great way to see the best of each area. Culture Scouts provides in-depth tours of Chippendale, Newtown and Redfern (the street art tour with expert guide Melinda Vassallo is a particular favorite) from $45 per person. Meanwhile, My Detour creates custom itineraries for these three areas — and a trek would include a visit to the Redfern studio of New Zealand-born artist Hugh Ramage ($190 per person with two-person minimum).

Stay: All three of these areas offer a collection of Airbnb rentals for apartment and house stays, with prices as low as $28 per night. But those who prefer a hotel stay in the thick of it should consider the 62-room Old Clare Hotel (from $245). This stay, which partially occupies a former brewery, features a trendy bar and light-filled rooms steps from Spice Alley.

Fly: Sample round-trip fare in December was $2,331 on Virgin Australia.

The author was a guest of Tourism Australia.