Sydney's nightlife is diverse, laid-back, and fun—much like the city itself. Whether you're looking for a fancy cocktail bar or a typical Aussie pub, the Harbour City has got you covered. In fact, over the past five years, the city's nightlife has moved away from large clubs and late-night revelry toward smaller venues, instead.
This transition is largely due to a set of regulations that were introduced by the NSW state government in 2014 with the aim of reducing violence. New rules, like 1:30 a.m. lockouts and 3 a.m. alcohol service cut-offs, were mandated in the Central Business District (CBD) and King's Cross, as well as bans on selling shots and other high-alcohol content beverages after midnight.
However, the lockout laws are set to be rolled back in January 2020 everywhere except King's Cross, so Sydney's nightlife will continue to evolve and change in the future. Here's our guide to partying in Australia's largest city.
From secret speakeasies to wine bars to rooftop views, Sydney has it all when it comes to bars. These are a few of our favorites:
- Kittyhawk: This charming French cocktail bar in the CBD also features live music on Thursdays.
- Opera Bar: With a beer garden right on Sydney Harbour, Opera Bar is the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
- Bulletin Place: A quintessentially Sydney cocktail bar in Circular Quay.
- Shady Pines Saloon: You'll feel right at home at this Old West-themed bar in Darlinghurst.
- Isabel: A chic, Japanese-influenced cocktail bar in Bondi.
- The Wild Rover: A lively whiskey bar in Surry Hills.
- Tio's: Tequila and Mexican beer guarantee a fun night out at this joint in Surry Hills.
- Love, Tilly Devine: A cozy wine bar in Darlinghurst showcasing local and natural drops.
- Freda's: An artsy bar in Chippendale with regular late-night events.
- The Scary Canary: Sydney's most popular backpacker bar, with themed nights throughout the week.
- Slims: On the rooftop of Hyde Park House, this is a colorful oasis in the CBD.
Nightclubs in Sydney can be surprisingly hard to find, but there are still a couple of hotspots that locals flock to for a late-night boogie:
- Home: In Darling Harbour, this is the city's biggest nightclub with nine bars playing house and dance music every weekend.
- Arq: Darlinghurst's beloved LGBTQ club parties into the wee hours from Thursday to Sunday.
- El Topo: Under a Mexican restaurant in Bondi Junction, this basement is packed on Wednesday and Saturday nights thanks to live DJs.
- Marquee: Marquee at the Star Casino takes the title of Sydney's most glamorous club, as one of the few to offer bottle service. DJs hit the deck on weekends.
- Chinese Laundry: Sydney's iconic underground club in the CBD, open Friday and Saturday nights.
- Slyfox: Long-running queer club night show Birdcage happens at this Enmore neighborhood establishment every Wednesday, as well as guest DJs on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Goodbar: Make your way to this two-story club in Paddington for house and techno on Friday and Saturday nights.
Sydney's eateries generally close around 10 p.m., but there are some exceptions. Fast food restaurants like McDonald's stay open late, as do many of the city's beloved kebab shops.
If you're looking for something a little more upmarket, try Frankie's in the CBD or Big Poppa's in Darlinghurst for Italian, Butter in Surry Hills for fried chicken, Golden Century in Haymarket for Chinese, Mary's in Newtown for burgers, Bar Topa for tapas, or Hubert for French.
Any pub (also known as a hotel, due to the fact that they traditionally also offer accommodation) worth its salt has live music on weekends, whether its an '80s rock cover band or an up-and-coming local performer. There are also a couple of larger live music venues in Sydney, like the Enmore, Oxford Art Factory, and the Metro, where you can find national and international acts. Check out these options for a taste of Sydney's musical talents:
- The Lansdowne Hotel: In Chippendale, the Lansdowne is one of the city's most reliable live music venues, with gigs from Wednesday to Saturday.
- The Imperial Hotel: The Imperial in Erskineville is a cornerstone of Sydney's LGBTQIA+ community thanks to events like Drag n' Dine, which includes drag performances over dinner from Wednesday to Sunday.
- The Chippo Hotel: Also in Chippendale, the Chippo has live music Thursday to Saturday, leaning towards hip-hop, hard rock, and dance.
- The Brass Monkey: Head to Cronulla for old-school pub rock, plus jazz, blues, roots, and funk, from Wednesday to Saturday night.
- The Vanguard: This intimate live music bar and restaurant in Newtown has an eclectic lineup, covering everything from blues to burlesque.
- Venue 505: Hear jazz, roots, reggae, funk, gypsy, Latin, and more in Surry Hills from Monday to Saturday.
The Sydney Comedy Festival happens during April and May each year, bringing local and international acts to stages across the city. Year round, check the calendar at the Chippo, the Comedy Store, Giant Dwarf, Enmore Theatre, Factory Theatre, and Cafe Lounge for weekly events.
Festivals and Events
Australians love attending music festivals, especially during the summer months. Sydney hosts its fair share of large, one-day festivals, like Field Day, FOMO, and Electric Gardens, while camping festivals like Lost Paradise take place a couple of hours drive north of the city.
Throughout the year, smaller street parties like the Newtown Festival celebrate the local community. Sydney's biggest event, Vivid, is a festival of light, music, and ideas that brings the city to life from mid-May to mid-June.
Tips for Going Out in Sydney
- The dress code in Sydney is relaxed at all but the most exclusive bars. Enclosed shoes are a good idea, as are long pants for men.
- The legal drinking age in Australia is 18, but most pubs, clubs, and other venues will ask you for identification if you look under 25. Some accept international driver's licenses, but others will only take your passport.
- Nightlife in the city center shuts down around 3 a.m., so don't be afraid to get started early. Bars are often busy by 10 p.m. and closed by 1 a.m.
- Many streets, beaches, and parks are alcohol-free zones and are signposted as such. Police officers have the power to confiscate alcohol in these areas.
- It is illegal to drink alcohol or carry an open container on public transport, as well as at bus stops and train stations.
- Tipping is appreciated but not necessary in Australia. Feel free to round up to the nearest AU$10 if you were particularly impressed by the service.
- Clubs will often have a cover of AU$10 to $20 while bars and pubs are generally free to enter (though you may have to wait in line!)
- Most people use Uber or another ride-sharing app to get home after a night out. However, there are some 24-hour bus routes, and NightRide buses replace most train services between midnight and 4:30 a.m.