Each year, on the first weekend in November, Sydney opens its buildings – historic, important, trailblazing or still in progress – for us to explore. So on with the walking shoes and let’s go.
Hundreds of volunteers join Sydney Living Museums staff to guide, answer questions, and generally help thousands of visitors to over 60 different Sydney Open sites. It’s a great day and a fabulous opportunity to get under the skin of the city. Architecture has a starring role. It’s supported by tours, lectures, stories, music and many other activities that provide cultural context, scientific or historical information or just sheer delight and enjoyment.
What’s In Sydney Open
Whether you’re interested in colonial, convict, modernist or today’s cutting edge architecture and design, Sydney Open has you covered.
There’s a core of culturally important buildings open every year – Parliament House, the Great Synagogue, Hyde Park Barracks and so on.
Then there are favourites which may not feature every year but are regularly brought back through public demand – such as Australia Square, Reserve Bank and the Masonic Centre.
And every year about a quarter of the sites are new to Sydney Open. They often include the spanking new buildings we’ve watched go up in the CBD. Or they may open a new part of the inner city, perhaps around the perimeter.
There are always different architectural offices open, offering insights into what’s on the drawing board for future Sydney. Many of them offer talks throughout the day explaining both the old and the new, the whys and wherefores of the Sydney built environment.
Sydney Open Focus Tours
The weekend starts with more specialised tours on Saturday – focus tours of places otherwise inaccessible with knowledgable guides. These cover sites such as the dome of the QVB, bell towers complete with bell ringing demonstrations and disused railway tunnels. Most of these have very limited space available and are sold out within a very short time of their release. So, to all intents and purposes you can forget Saturday unless you’ve booked way ahead of time.
Get the Most Out of Sunday
Sunday is the day for the general public – that’s you and me – to get into all those other spaces that are not quite as constricted. There are too many – miles too many – to be able to see them all and you will need to make choices.
You can decide to focus on one particular area – a good strategy as you don’t spend too much time between places. Or, if your interest is in a particular time or subject, you can pursue this.
Realistically you should count on visiting a maximum of eight Sydney Open sites in the day. Yes, some people manage more but they rush, they don’t stop for a bite to eat and they don’t let themselves linger over anything.
Many people visit less. Allow for queues in the more popular places – an hour can be spent standing in line sometimes. (Hint: buy a VIP pass for priority access.)
So, how do you get the most out of Sydney Open? First of all, if you have a smartphone, download the app from the Sydney Open website. Not only will this give you every building that’s open, maps, transport details and times of talks or other activities, it will also let you know, in real time, important information as to waiting times, if any at each site. It’s the best way to plan and then stay on top of what’s happening on the day.
If you don’t have a smartphone, or if you prefer to have a paper map to scribble on, each site will have these available.
There is an official Sydney Open bus that loops around many of the sites. I’d recommend you also explore the public transport options on your preferred route and use your Opal Card.
Remember it’s capped at $2.50 per person on Sundays and you may find it faster.
Walking between sites is the speediest of all if you’re sticking to a relatively small area.
Sydney Open Passes
A Sydney Open Pass gives you free flow access to more than 40 buildings across the city on Sunday 5 November.
It’s not free. Sydney Open is something in the nature of a fund raiser for the Sydney Living Museums trust, to help defray the costs of the properties they look after. These include the modernist Rose Seidler House, the Justice and Police Museum, the Museum of Sydney and many, many more.
An adult pass is $49. Concession, household, membership and VIP passes are also available. Details are on the app and the website and you can buy them online.
Special Discounted Pass Offer
SydneyCloseup readers are offered Sydney Open Passes at the discounted price of $42 per person.
To claim the discount, simply enter the code sydopen17 into the Promo Code field on the ticketing page and validate. The discounted ticket price will appear and you can buy as many tickets as you like.
If you don’t decide you want to go until the last minute, you can still buy your ticket online.
You can then pick up the pink bracelet, which gets you in to Open Sydney buildings, from one of a number of nominated locations.
Or you can do the whole transaction there, at the box office. But do yourself a favour, save time and at least do the purchase online. Picking up is always faster than buying.
Go, It’s Great
If you’re in Sydney it’s definitely worth doing. You will get to see the inside of buildings you simply would not get to see otherwise. It will give you insights into where Sydney came from and where it’s going. And you’ll have fun.
It is a day of goodwill and camaraderie in the streets and buildings. And even (especially?) in the queues.
I’ve been a Sydney Open volunteer for many years, each year in a different building, and they all have something to offer.
Volunteers go through training and orientation courses to learn about the buildings they will be helping visitors to see. There’s lots of private research done, on top of this, so that we can answer questions and properly understand the role the building plays in Sydney’s culture.
We’re identifiable from a long way off, in bright pink t-shirts, and we all wear name tags. So, as you go through the day, keep an eye out for me and come and say hello. I’d like that.
Sydney Opera House ‘Under the Skin’
If you enjoy getting under the skin of a building, there’s a lot to know about Sydney’s pre-eminent site, the Opera House. It will increase your enjoyment when you go there. Have a look at the way it all started and the shenanigans around its construction.