What's a good Sydney hidden gem worth exploring?

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Answered by: Alison , An Expert in the Australia & NZ - What to See Category
If you visit any new city long enough, one day you're bound to tick that last box on your bucket list of tourist hot spots. The only option left is to start hanging like a local, and it is then that the real exploration begins. In Sydney, Australia, this invariably means brushing the sand out of your hair, putting your shoes back on and heading west -- away from the beaches, as gorgeous and alluring as they are.

Beyond this sprawling city's aqua blue paradise, there is a bustling urban centre just waiting to be explored. Travel inland, and you'll find the arty, progressive and moneyed suburb of Paddington, within which lies a local favourite green space and Sydney hidden gem. Known as Paddington Reservoir Gardens, this recently developed, award-winning urban oasis is of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety, but well worth a quick visit.

As its name implies, this site was once a reservoir, and it served as a vital water source for a rapidly growing city in the mid-1800s. But as the city's needs shifted, the site was eventually abandoned, and it laid derelict for decades. In 2006 a group of architects was commissioned by the City of Sydney to thoroughly conserve, restore and rebuild the site. With stunning results (which include a clever recycling of industrial features from the original structure) the developers have created a leafy and architecturally unique retreat. And not only does it reflect 21st Century urban sensibilities with its mix of "old" and "new," but the space has helped to cement Paddington's reputation as an epicentre of up-to-the-minute charm.

Sitting just below busy Oxford Street, this small park (accessible by either staircase or elevator) is home to a verdant sunken garden set amongst the structure’s original stone-arch framework. This lends the entire space an air clearly reminiscent of Roman ruins — but with a modern twist. Salvaged brick and iron fixtures have been put to reuse as functional and artistic features throughout the site. One wall is covered in a vibrant graffiti mural, remnants of which harken back to the spot's more dissipated former life.

But today, these elements are attractively juxtaposed with lush greenery, wide timber boardwalks and a tranquil water feature. With ample seating on benches and deck chairs that are dotted throughout, the Gardens are the perfect space to relax with a picnic lunch or a cup of coffee. (Occasionally you will find a mobile cafe stand within the garden). Awarded the Australian Award for Urban Design in 2009 for its seamless integration of historic features and modern accessibility, this Sydney hidden gem now serves as a regular exhibition space for contemporary art installations, film festivals and artisan markets. It is also a favourite with local photographers, who enjoy capturing the daylight as it shifts across the space's architectural details. More importantly, it is free and accessible to anyone looking to escape the city’s hum for a spell.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens are open daily from 7 am to 7 pm. It is easily reached by bus lines 378, 380 and 382.

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