Inner West, Sydney - Region Information

Sydney has three interesting suburbs within a relatively short bus or taxi ride of the city - Balmain, Glebe and Newtown.

They are old working class suburbs which became 'trendy' over the past 20 years or so, but have retained their original diversity and character.

Younger professionals and in some cases academics moved in, drawn by their closeness to the Sydney CBD. They restored or renovated old, often very simple houses. The best now appear in leading decorator and lifestyle magazines, though they are in the back streets and you have to go and look for them.

The newcomers blended in well with older residents whose families had lived there for perhaps three generations. The suburbs are attractive for their atmosphere, lifestyle and characters. Their main streets are far from pretty, but certainly interesting.


With more pubs than any other suburb in Sydney, Balmain was originally a working class suburb with a handful of wealthy merchants and industrialists. Its main industry was shipbuilding and repairs which flourished about the beginning of the 1900s. Later Balmain was 'invaded' by Bohemian types - mainly writers, artists and academics who could not afford to live in the Eastern Suburbs or preferred the more relaxed character of the place. The young executive and professional set found Balmain about the 1970s.

Just across Darling Harbour from the western side of the city, Balmain and East Balmain occupy a peninsula which juts into the harbour. They share a very long main street (Darling Street) which starts at a ferry wharf with regular services to Circular Quay. Arriving from the city, a left turn and a short walk will find you in the Illoura Reserve at Peacock Point, a pleasant spot with views back to the city and the Harbour Bridge.

East Balmain is mainly residential with some fine restored houses, a tiny shopping centre, and the obligatory pub. A public bus runs from the ferry to the town centre of Balmain, which is much larger and crammed with ordinary, everyday shops you would expect to find in a village. But it also has a string of restaurants, cafes and pubs along with a couple of old churches and a handful of restored historic buildings.

Balmain sidestreets are very narrow and quite confusing, but there are some very pretty restored workman's cottages. Fine if you like to walk, but an adventure to drive around.

Interesting shops sell books, bric a brac and arty things. There is a Saturday old wares and craft market in the grounds of a disused church where you might find the occasional treasure, though there is plenty of junk. But Balmain's main attraction is its atmosphere and pubs and cafes, and the chance for some people-watching in a laid-back environment. Several pubs have music on weekends and serve meals.

Entertainment is very much a moveable feast, so it is wise to look in the entertainment section of one of the city papers or one of several free publications which are generally distributed through pubs.


Glebe is a similar style of suburb to Balmain. It begins near Sydney University at Broadway, which is a continuation of the city's George Street. The main street is Glebe Point Road, which is one of the best eating areas in Sydney. Ranging from the up-market 'modern Australian' Darling Mills, the street offers Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Indonesian, Indian and a good bit more.

There are plenty of pubs, some with entertainment, and a Saturday street market. Glebe is home to one of Sydney's oldest off-beat movie houses, the Valhalla. It shows films from black and white classics to cult movies. Buses run from the city, but it is only a 10 to 15 minute taxi ride. Close to the university, it has a younger crowd of locals, many of them students. It was a wealthier suburb than Balmain and has some very fine old homes in the back streets.


The University of Sydney campus occupies a large site in the shape of a rough 'V' with Broadway where it turns into Parramatta Road forming the right fork, City Road, which is the main street running through Newtown, the left. Newtown is about the same distance from the city as Glebe by bus or taxi.

If you are into green, orange and purple hair all on one head, you will find it in Newtown. It is more 'alternative' than Balmain or Glebe, but it is also popular with the younger professional set.

The main street is nothing to look at, but it too has a string of good restaurants ranging from Asian to 'modern Australian', pubs and some interesting shops selling things like incense and the latest fashions in skin-tight leather.

While by no means exclusively so, Newtown is popular with the gay community. Once the stronghold of the Greek community in Sydney, Newtown still has some Greek residents, coffee and cake shops, delicatessens and restaurants.

It is on a train line, so you can catch a train from the city, walk the main street and stop for a drink or a meal, and get a bus or taxi back. City Road carries very heavy traffic and parking is hard to find, so don't bother driving there during the day.

While you are in the area, Sydney University has an imposing stone main building surrounding a grass quadrangle and housing a fine Great Hall. Visitors are free to walk around.