Sydney’s Gallery of Modern Art to open in December

Looking for a good reason to start planning your next adventure? In this series, we share the most captivating events, attractions and experiences that will have you booking a trip to the world’s most exciting destinations.

The summer in sydney Immediately conjures up images of bright sunshine, pristine beaches and copious amounts of sunscreen. But this year, the arrival of good weather also heralds the culmination of an ambitious artistic and architectural project. The new Sydney Modern, an extension of the Art Gallery of New South Walespromises a world-class facility to showcase the best in contemporary art, opening on Friday, December 3.

Rising from the oasis of Royal Botanical Gardens and the grounds of the estate, the expansion nearly doubles the art gallery’s existing exhibition space. Acclaimed Japanese architecture firm SANAA designed the building and, mindful of the abundant natural beauty that surrounds the expansion, the glass-enclosed exhibition spaces respond to the topography of the site.

The Tank space in the new building of the Art Gallery of New South Wales © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jenni Carter

A unique aspect of the project is the repurposing of a disused naval fuel bunker into The Tank, an underground exhibition space. There will also be a public art garden, accessible at any time of the day.

To celebrate the opening of Sydney Modern, nine artists have been commissioned to create works that respond to the project and its environment. Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens was recently featured in the 2022 Archibald Prize-winning portrait. Her work will connect the Sydney Modern expansion to the existing Vernon building, set in a niche in the original building’s sandstone facade. Taiwanese-American artist Lee Mingwei’s installation work interacts with the physical structure of the building, transforming the exterior wall into an intimate, introspective space.

Several events are planned to mark the opening week of the new gallery. Highlights include a series of talks with exhibiting artists and a performance by Djinama Yilaga opening the new Yiribana Gallery, which showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.

A woman is standing holding a round black piece of art with writing on it.
Karla Dickens, artist commissioned by the Sydney Modern Project © Natalie Grono

Admission to the gallery is free for public collections. If you plan to visit the new building on the opening weekend, you will need to book a free timed and dated ticket.

24 free things to do in Sydney

To eat

If you want to enjoy food without leaving the premises, the Sydney Modern extension will introduce new dining facilities. MOD Dining by Clayton Wells offers a modern dining experience and the take-out kiosk focuses on local ingredients, with every menu item chosen by Gamileroi Elder Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo. The Art Gallery restaurant, Crafted by Matt Moran and the Gallery Café are open in the pre-existing building. The multiple dining options will keep you fueled throughout a full day of art exhibiting, but can get crowded at lunchtime and they close when the galleries do.

The best areas of Sydney to discover the Harbor City

To reserve tables or have a dinner outside, you will have to cast your net a little wider than near the gallery. Fortunately, the nearby suburbs of Chippendale and Glebe are favorite haunts for Sydney’s creatives and are only a short bus ride from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Sydney Modern. While in the area, take the time to visit the White Rabbit Gallerywhich houses a world-class collection of modern Chinese art.

The White Rabbit Contemporary Chinese Art Collection, one of the largest collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world, was founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson
The White Rabbit Contemporary Chinese Art Collection, one of the largest collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world, was founded by Kerr and Judith Neilson © JAZZDOG / Shutterstock

Restaurant Chippendal Automata ⁠— also by Clayton Wells of the gallery’s MOD Dining ⁠— offers a fine dining experience without the prohibitive price tag. Wells’ goal is to reveal the depth hidden in seemingly simple ingredients. The six- and eight-course tasting menus change regularly, so you can plan to visit Automata again.

Glebe is known for its coffeehouse culture, particularly the institution which is Sappho Books, Cafe & Bar. Up front, you’ll find a charming, well-stocked second-hand bookstore with several rare and out-of-print titles. Upstairs is Da Capo Music, offering a wide selection of second-hand sheet music. Once you have selected your reading material, you can head to the courtyard cafe. It has a sizable vegan menu, great coffee, and regular poetry and live music events.

Just across the road is the Lillipad Cafe, which husband and wife duo Nyoka and Laszio Hrabinsky envision as a slice of Far North Queensland in downtown Sydney. The menu reflects Nyoka’s Yidinji culture, incorporating indigenous ingredients and flavors into many dishes. A Wild Country platter and acacia seed coffee are the perfect precursor to a visit to Sydney Modern’s Yiribana Gallery.


Sydney’s historic Rocks district promises everything from bottomless Sunday brunches to sumptuous evening drinks, all within walking distance of Sydney’s other great arcade, the Museum of Modern Art.

A dark wooden interior of a rustic bar.
Stop for a drink at Frank Mac’s © Frank Mac’s Bar

Co-owners Ciara Doran and Eoin Daniels run two of the Rocks’ most atmospheric bars, the House Doss and Frank Mac’s. Both bars have an intimate, old-world atmosphere, perfectly suited to whispered conversations across the table. Once a boarding house and opium den, Doss House’s historic sandstone building now houses over 150 varieties of whisky, including several rare ones. Gin lovers should head to Frank Mac’s, where you can try the wide selection of gins neat, with soda or in one of their carefully selected cocktails.

If you want to enjoy the summer sun, go for the brightest Maybe Sami. The bar’s retro design pays homage to the classic Hollywood era, which lives on in the names of their beloved cocktails. Dramatic drink prices range from their $13 minis (which drop to $7 at happy hour!) to a luxurious $330 concoction from the premium list.

For those of you looking for a simple pub serving regular beer, the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel got you covered. The Lord Nelson is Sydney’s oldest operating hotel and brews its award-winning beer on site.


Sydney Modern’s new extension is centrally located. Many international hotel chains are located in the CBD and Darling Harbour, both of which are well served by public transport. Potts Point also offers luxury accommodation options and is closer to the gallery but has fewer public transportation options. If you want to stay within Sydney’s creative community, look for accommodation in Surrey Hills, Chippendale, Darlinghurst and Paddington, the latter two being close to Sydney’s main fine arts universities.

Comments are closed.