Living in Surry Hills
Surry Hills can be a hard district to summarise because, from one block to another, it can be perceived as either very beautiful or very ordinary. Like most edgy parts of an inner city suburb, Surry Hills has a mess of extremes that both attract and repel. This area sits next to Oxford Street on the west side, and from South Dowling Street it slopes downhill to Central Station. The higher the altitude, the more "user friendly" the suburb becomes. Formerly the territory of 1990's warehouse parties and the rag trade, the suburb is now half grey-boned remnants of its dodgier days, and half cutting edge trends. Where drug dealers lived, designers now reside. Where brothels once housed working girls (and some still do), PR/events/website companies prosper. Surry Hills can definitely still claim ownership of some shady areas, but it also now proudly adds daring and stylish enterprise to its mix.
Terrace housing is very common in Sydney at large and can especially be seen in Surry Hills. Capitalising on what little land is available in this well-positioned suburb, one, two, three and four story terraces sit pressed tightly together. They offer very little in the way of front or back yards, but a there is a great deal of "community spirit". This will be the most prevalent type of housing available in the area - ranging from terraces split into shoddy Bachelorette rooms in sharehouses, to large renovated Victorian terrace homes.
There has been an increasing amount of apartment development sitting around the peripheries and some small housing commission flats still keep the area "real", but it is almost impossible to find free standing houses with large private yards - those with large dogs take heed. As with any inner city housing, it is advised to take sensible precaution with home and personal safety. While the area is not especially dangerous, anywhere outside of quiet, suburban areas should not take this for granted. On street parking can be tricky and pricey ad, depending on the area, the parking officers can be ruthless.
Surry Hills locals are loyal to the not-immediately-obvious beauty of their area. Most musicians, artists, writers, or students passing through or living in Sydney will at some point live in Surry Hills - or at least a few of their friends will. As there are still many under-developed terraces, accommodation is somewhat affordable for its proximity to the city at large. The general demographic, at a visual street assessment, would be 18-40yrs, fashion conscious but perhaps not as well heeled as those living in surrounding areas of Paddington and Darlinghurst. Residents appear to make the most of stylish retro (read: affordable) clothing and furniture, and still have a love of cosy old pubs, schooners of beer and live music. Those who work in more demanding corporate jobs in the CBD also chose to live, renovate and socialise here, however even this bunch are as down-to-earth about their lifestyle as anyone else in the area. This is certainly a graffiti-on-designer-threads environment.
As Surry Hills still houses some community welfare centres, drop-in clinics for those on drug/alcohol related addiction programs, and a government housing complex or three, the area retains a grittiness that makes Surry Hills the dichotomy that it proudly is.
Pubs, Clubs and Entertainment
If Darlinghurst or Kings Cross is the destination for those wanting nightclubs, Surry Hills is certainly home for those wanting to imbibe but still sit, communicate, or even eat. Pubs are aplenty, and The Cricketers, The Gaslight, The Clock and The Dolphin are but a few of many great places to lose weekend hours easily. The Hopetoun has great live music, the White Horse has a more sophisticated approach to alcohol, and the Shakespeare keeps it real for everyone by remaining fiercely attached to the same decor, beers (and possibly patrons) from 20 years ago.
The Surry Hills Festival, held in March/April each year sees at least 10,000 people wash through the area to enjoy live music, food and market stalls. Additionally, outside of the constantly buzzing cafe culture here, Surry Hills also holds a large market once a month on Crown Street. The community spirit is strong and, as such, those who are after a quiet, private and secluded lifestyle would be better off heading elsewhere. Make the most of the social options here and it will become a place that suddenly grows exponentially in appeal.
Parks and Recreation
By and large, Surry Hills is not a place of great natural beauty - its attraction lies within its culture. This is not to say that there is nothing pleasing to the eye, just that it's more likely to be in a window display or independent art gallery rather than in an uninterrupted view of the skyline, or flora and fauna. There are a few small outdoor areas to enjoy in sunnier weather, however there is a premium placed on great venue fit-outs or interior and exterior design here, so relaxing is either exported to the beach or parks in neighbouring suburbs, or undertaken with coffee, beer or lunch in hand at one of the many great pubs, restaurants or cafes.
Shops, Restaurants and Takeaways
Three shopping centres (Coles on Cleveland Street, Duffy's on Oxford Street, or Woolworths on Bourke Street), at least 50 restaurants on almost every street, and a littering of local stores means that you can find pretty much anything you're looking for Surry Hills. The options are as large as the requests, and specialty is food is available for reasonable prices. An Indian meal can be had for cheap on Oxford Street, while dining at the more upmarket cuisine secrets tucked into Commonwealth Street will cost more. Local pub counter meals are also a very popular and common choice.
Due to its location, transport doesn't exactly run "through" Surry Hills, but rather around it. As Central station is a main depot for buses and trains to almost anywhere in Sydney, or NSW, and beyond, the best way to get from A to B is on foot, or on foot to the station and onward. Also, buses do run down Cleveland Street and Oxford Street, and taxis are readily available along most streets - though it's advisable to phone for one after dark.
Areas of Sydney