Cultural Experiences in NSW

Top 10 Cultural Experiences in NSW

When you think about a trip to Australia, thoughts of bronzed Aussie surfers, summer beachside BBQs and Skippy The Kangaroo might spring to mind. Don’t worry: you’ll still find all that here 😉 . But what’s more, Australia has a rich cultural landscape that is every bit as exciting to discover.

It begins with the world’s oldest living culture that dates back to over 60,000 years ago: Aboriginal Australians. There’s no shortage of ways to experience and further understand Australia’s fascinating Indigenous culture, from ancient rock carvings to sacred Aboriginal sites to Dreamtime stories.

As well as exploring our First Nations heritage, Australia’s multicultural modern cities, arts and music events, foodie experiences (including a coffee culture like no other!) make for a diverse cultural experience Down Under.

With all that in mind, it’s time to explore! From unique Indigenous experiences to city must-dos, we’ve taken a deep dive into our top 10 cultural experiences in our corner of Australia, New South Wales, to inspire your Aussie adventure.

Celebrate NAIDOC Week in Sydney

NAIDOC Week (The National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) takes place in July every year. The week celebrates the culture, history and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with incredible art exhibitions, installations and traditional workshops. In Sydney during NAIDOC week, you can visit The National Indigenous Art Fair in Circular Quay. Here, you’ll gain an insight into Aboriginal arts and culture, with weaving workshops, live music, art performances and markets. Keep an eye on the NIAF website for dates.

Visit Sydney’s oldest area ‘The Rocks’

When European settlers arrived in 1788, they set up shop in Sydney in an area we now know as ‘The Rocks’, right on the edge of the harbour next to Sydney Harbour Bridge. The area has evolved from a lively settlement of convicts and sailors into a thriving, modern district with cobbled streets, cosy cafes and Australia’s oldest pubs.

While you can wander around freely, The Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour is a great way to explore and learn more about the history of this area and its connection to Aboriginal culture. The tour (90mins) departs daily (except Christmas Day and Good Friday) from 10.30am and costs $59pp.

Wake Up! recommends: Check out The Rocks Markets(Saturday & Sunday) for gifts, art, handmade products, live music and food stalls.

Soak up the Aussie surf culture

As a country surrounded by coastline and ocean with world-class waves, it’s easy to see why surfing is such a big part of Australian culture. From the shores of world-famous Bondi Beach up to the surf capital of Byron Bay, you’ll come across all levels of surfers, from beginner to professional. While away your beachy afternoons watching the surfers or give it a go yourself!

Tip! Guests at Wake Up! Bondi or Wake Up! Byron Bay can enjoy free surfboard hire as part of the hostels’ perks and inclusions.

Connect with nature in Byron Bay

Byron Bay has a special energy like nowhere else. The area is surrounded by natural beauty, from gorgeous beaches and lakes to lush rainforests in its nearby national parks. So if you’re looking to get your nature fix whilst soaking up a little beachside paradise, Byron is the place to be. The area has a rich Indigenous history offering many opportunities to connect with the land. Check out our guide to Arakwal Country for tours and cultural experiences.

Feast in Chinatown, Sydney

As big foodies, we can’t get enough of Sydney’s bustling Chinatown. Thanks to Chinese immigrants arriving in the 1800s, this area is teeming with delicious Asian food options from China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and more. We like to head here in the evening when the streets come alive with hawker-style dining, tucked-away food halls, lively markets and karaoke. Wake Up! Sydney is located just a 2-minute walk from Chinatown.

Visit Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, NSW

A short 45-minute drive north of Sydney will take you to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. This huge national park is home to one of the largest concentrations of recorded Aboriginal sites in Australia. The 5km Aboriginal Heritage Walk takes about 3-3.5hours and will take you past a number of unique sandstone rock-art sites, estimated to be up to 5,000 years old. As well as some epic ancient history, the views along the track across the Hawkesbury River are stunning.

Catch a show at Sydney Opera House

For a special cultural experience why not catch a show at one of the world’s most iconic music venues? Sydney Opera House offers a whole range of arts and music performances including ballet, theatre, dance, symphonies, comedies, circus and cabaret shows and more.

The forecourt (graced by award-winning music artists including Florence And The Machine, Crowded House and Aussie-born Tame Impala) offers one of the most beautiful outdoor music venues with stunning views of Sydney Harbour and the city’s twinkling skyline.

At sunset every evening you can watch the sails of Sydney Opera House light up with ‘Badu Gili. This is a free installation that you can watch from the steps of the Opera House. The projection lasts around six minutes and explores the stories of six female First Nations artists. 

Wake Up! Recommends: Aussies love to drink! If you’re looking for a place to enjoy a couple of cold ones, you can’t beat Opera Bar for live music vibes and views of Sydney Harbour bridge.

Explore Worimi Conservation Lands on a Quad Bike

Between Sydney and Byron Bay, you’ll find Port Stephens and Worimi Conservation Lands, home to the epic Stockton Sand Dunes. The area is an important cultural Aboriginal site owned by the Worimi Aboriginal people and visited by people from all over. The dunes are recognised as the largest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere with the shifting sands uncovering ancient Aboriginal cultural sites and tool-making artefacts.

One of the best ways to explore is on a quad bike tour with Sand Dune Adventures, owned and operated by the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council. Sandboarding tours, horse riding and camel rides can also be done here.

Drink in the coffee culture

We can’t talk about Australian culture without mentioning the coffee culture here. We’ll be the first to admit that we are OBSESSED with great coffee. A form of art in itself, whether you’re a ‘soy latte with extra froth’ drinking coffee snob or flat whites (coffee with milk) are more your thing, you’ll find it hard to find a bad coffee in Australia! You’ll find baristas serving up simple, yet utterly delicious brews made with quality coffee beans in practically every Aussie town you visit. 

If you’re a coffee-making connoisseur and are planning a working holiday in Australia, check out our guide to the best backpacker jobs in Oz including hospitality, cafe and bar work.

PS. Did you know, Wake Up! Sydney Central has an onsite cafe, so you can roll out of bed and enjoy barista-made coffee in an instant.

Head to The Hunter Valley Wineries

One for foodies and wine lovers, The Hunter Valley region is one of Australia’s most famous wine regions. There are countless wineries, cosy cellar doors, country-style bistros and stunning views, not to mention delicious vino galore! You can get there in just a few hours from Sydney with a guided day tour, or by car.

Ready to explore? Stay at our affordable and award-winning hostels in Sydney, Bondi and Byron Bay and join in on our free daily activities including city and beach walks and social events.

Wake Up! respects and honours First Nations Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of First Nations People on this land and commit to building a brighter future together.

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