Western Sydney travel guide and things to do: 20 things that will surprise you

1. The "other" Sydney is more attractive than you think

Western Sydney is often the subject of dismissive stereotypes and generally ignored by tourists. True, it lacks an attractive harbour setting, but in less than an hour on the train from Central you can access new dining hotspots, historic towns and more activities and attractions than you'll ever find in Sydney's more conventional visitor destinations. Even Sydneysiders looking for a change from the same-old routine should turn their attention westwards.

2. Western Sydney has two World Heritage sites…

Site of the heritage-listed Old Government House, Parramatta. Supplied PR image for Traveller. Highlights of western Sydney for Brian Johnston article

Old Government House. Photo: Destination NSW

Parramatta Park is World Heritage-listed for its various convict-built cottages and other buildings and importance to early Australian settlement history. Old Government House, county home of the first 10 governors of NSW, is Australia's oldest remaining public building and houses a top collection of colonial furniture.

3. … and Australia's oldest intact European building

Elizabeth Farm in Rosehill was built in 1793 and is now surrounded by a recreated 1830s garden. John and Elizabeth Macarthur's home played a key role in the early development of NSW. You can wander around the homestead at will, as no velvet ropes constrain your curiosity.

4. You can still hit the waves

Friends enjoying the rides at Raging Water Sydney, Prospect near Blacktown. Supplied PR image for Traveller. Highlights of western Sydney for Brian Johnston article

Photo: Destination NSW

Okay, no surfing in Western Sydney, but you'll find Australia's largest wave pool and plenty of water thrills at Raging Waters Sydney, which features over 30 water-pumping slides and rides with names such as Riptide, Whirlwind, Tantrum and Typhoon. There's plenty of gentler splashing for kids, too.

5. Foodie hotspots will tingle your tastebuds

Parramatta has emerged as one of Sydney's best eating destinations for its variety of contemporary Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian and Taiwanese food. Auburn is worth exploring for Middle Eastern and Turkish food, Baulkham Hills for Italian, Cabramatta for Vietnamese and Harris Park for Indian. Taste Cultural Food Tours explores other suburbs and cuisines, too.

6. Discover Ethiopian cuisine

African cuisines are underrepresented in Australia's multicultural dining scene, which gives you a very good reason to head to Blacktown, whose Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant and Café serves an utterly delicious array of Ethiopian meat and vegetable stews – and a traditional pot of coffee afterwards.

7. You can visit Australia's only sake brewery

Sun Masamune Brewery in Penrith not only produces Australia's only sake (or rice-wine spirit) but even exports it to Japan. Although brewery tours are currently suspended, you can still view the production, taste sake and plunder the shop at the visitor centre any weekday.


8. Green space is abundant

Western Sydney Parklands fringing Blacktown, Fairfield and Liverpool is huge, with over 60 kilometres of walking, running and cycling tracks threading through open green space and bushland, plus plenty of picnic spots. You'll also uncover urban farms, wetlands, Chinese gardens and distant city views.

9. A farm experience is perfectly possible

The closest you can be to Sydney's CBD and stay on a farm is at Mowbray Park Farmstay near Picton, which has both various lodges and a campsite. Farm activities including feeding the animals (which include cattle, sheep, horses and alpacas), milking the cows, collecting eggs and pony rides.

10. Western Sydney has its own botanic garden…

The Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan is large enough to drive through, cycle around and provide enough green space for wallabies and nearly 200 bird species. You'll find children's playgrounds, themed gardens, mountain-bike trails, picnic areas and enough grass for the kids to run wild.

11. … and its own zoo, too

Sydney Zoo doesn't have the harbour views of Taronga, but it does have lions, tigers, cheetahs, giraffes, elephants, orang-utans, chimps and red pandas. Behind-the-scenes encounters get you up close to giraffes, camels and those perennially cute meerkats.

12. There are far more action stations

Western Sydney might lack beaches and harbour walks, but there are far more ways to get active than in the eastern suburbs. Vast Bicentennial Park has cycling, Segways tours and a skatepark. Penrith offers a wakepark, indoor skydiving, go-karting, paintball and climbing and ninja courses. You can skydive at Picton. And that's just for starters.

13. You can get high in Camden

Set the adrenaline levels surging on a jet-fighter or acrobatic flight with Air Combat Australia which will see you hit speeds of 900kph and endure barrel rolls and loops. You can also get close to being a bird with Southern Cross Gliding Club or take an early-morning balloon ride with Balloons Aloft.

14. You can indulge your need for speed

Sydney Premier Karting Park at Eastern Creek is the only place in the city you can take to super-fast 13HP Sodi RT8 karts. Meanwhile at Sydney Motorsport Park you can get behind the wheels of a V8 race car – or even better, let a pro drive you around a circuit to make your stomach lurch.

15. You can relive the Sydney Olympics

Couple enjoying a white water rafting experience at Penrith Whitewater Stadium in Sydney's west. Supplied PR image for Traveller. Highlights of western Sydney for Brian Johnston article

Penrith Whitewater Stadium. Photo: Destination NSW

A tour at Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush will take you back to the sporting moments of the 2000 Olympic Games but, with the Aquatic Centre currently closed for upgrades, head to Penrith Whitewater Stadium to actually experience an Olympic venue yourself as you tackle the white-water kayaking course.

16. Parramatta has a great bar scene

Couple enjoying food and drink at Nick & Nora's, Parramatta in Sydney's west. Supplied PR image for Traveller. Highlights of western Sydney for Brian Johnston article

Nick & Nora's. Photo: Destination NSW

Cocktail lounges and beer gardens, speakeasies and rooftop bars make Parramatta a terrific after-dark destination. Check out the 1920s-themed Nick and Nora's, hidden Uncle Kurt's (beneath a carpark, and with no signage) and the suave Heritage Lounge, among many others.

17. The arts scene is thriving

Supplied PR image for Traveller. Highlights of western Sydney for Brian Johnston article. Campbell Town Arts Centre

Campbelltown Arts Centre is one of Sydney's best art hubs, with a permanent collection of paintings by prominent Australia artists, changing art exhibitions, a program of performing arts, and public workshops. It also has a sculpture gardens and charming Japanese garden and teahouse.

18. Western Sydney is actually ancient

Aboriginal people have been living in this region for tens of thousands of years. Take a once-monthly indigenous guided tour in Dharawal National Park to experience this connection to country, or visit the Muru Mittigar Aboriginal Cultural and Education Centre in Rouse Hill to learn about the Darug people and enjoy bush-tucker tasting and painting workshops.

19. There's not much concrete in Camden

Western Sydney may be associated with concrete suburban sprawl but there's no sign of that in the historic town of Camden, which is crammed with nineteenth-century architecture. Follow the Camden Heritage Walking Tour for a stroll past churches, cottages and civic buildings from a bygone era.

20. Visit one of Australia's oldest farms

Belgenny Farm near Camden was built by convicts in 1805 for the use of John and Elizabeth Macarthur and has a rare collection of 15 intact farm buildings. Use the app to guide yourself around to learn more about one of the birthplaces of Australian agriculture.

See also: The 'other' Sydney harbour most visitors miss

See also: Take a walk on the wildside with these six Sydney hikes