The best music venues in Sydney
The pearly shells of the Sydney Opera House are synonymous with Australia's image – an iconic and irreplaceable part of Sydney's skyline. Their Music at the House program welcomes a myriad genres from electronica to mod rock. Then, of course, there are plenty of opera and classical performances on every week.
The Enmore has an old-world feel and offers a nice alternative to a trek into the city. There's seating, a mezzanine, parking... and its played host to some killer bands over the years – Modest Mouse to Wilco to Divinyls to Queens of the Stone Age – while providing sets from famous comedians too. When the show's over, spill onto Enmore Road for dinner and a drink.
OAF bridges the gap between hangout and venue with style. The two rooms host socialites and punters, divided by a drawing room and two bars. It's well decorated and interesting, and the lighting's great. The bill brings in obscure hip-hop acts and mainstream pop alike.
This baby's got all bases covered. Good sound? Check. Decent amenities? Check. A bar from which you can see the stage? Check. Another bar? Check. Since the early '90s, the Metro has showcased a splashing of all-ages gigs while presenting a showbag of musical genres across every night of the week. Bravo!
The Hordern does the job when it comes to bigger audiences. Ample seating wraps around the huge standing area – it's just damn spacious. There are plenty of amenities, the sound suits big gigs and it's easy to get to. Catch a drink beforehand at the Fox and Lion.
It may be a bit out of the way – so planning your journey there and back is essential – but the Qudos Bank Arena knows how to house a pop extravaganza. Formerly known as the Allphones Arena, this Olympic Park mega venue has played host to some of the biggest rock and pop stars Australia has seen.
Run by a roster of passionate volunteers, the Red Rattler is a creative playground for performers, musicians and artists. Fitted with a full PA, stage, LED lighting rig, projector and screen, licensed bar, two non-residential artist studios, and a rooftop garden, it's a hidden industrial gem perfect for catching a punk show or experimental electronic acts.
With its not-so-flash carpets and RSL-like interior, the Factory is a blank canvas for all kinds of shows, from hot-ticket internationals to fairly big-name local bands. There is serious room to move around with a slightly tiered floor perfect for the vertically challenged. Beer selection is as basic as the décor but if you’re early you can always mix it up at the Vic on the Park around the corner.
The Roundhouse is the University of NSW's student bar and live music venue. Non-students are still welcome though and you'll find international and local bands and acts, recent bookings have seen the Jungle Giants, Hockey Dad,and Triple J darlings Ocean Alley.
The trusty Vanguard is an intimate live music venue and restaurant that has long played host to the greats of Australian and international music. It has an almost vaudeville décor so that the venue sports a New Orleans-inspired look. The gig list swings wildly across the musical spectrum, so one night they could be playing host to long serving blues musos like Hat Fitz, followed by Afro groove and then a tribute show to the songs of Neil Finn. It's a real mixed bag.
The ICC Sydney is one the of biggest entertainment centres in Sydney, housing large-scale conventions, exhibitions and ludicrously huge gigs. Your place for once-in-a-lifetime shows from Kylie Minogue, Elton John, and Bryan Ferry. It boasts 270-degree views of the harbour and its surrounds have recently welcomed some excellent food and drink options.
With one millionth the visibility of its white-shelled cousin downtown on Bennelong Point, the City Recital Hall Angel Place has triumphed among concert-goers as one of the world's finest chamber music venues. Not only does it ring with the sounds of classical music but it also hosts some contemporary stars, creative cabarets and more from the expanded definition of live music.
Worth visiting for the space alone, Carriageworks' cavernous, industrial interiors have a limitlessness very different from the plush cocoons of most theatres. The large bays house art exhibitions, and experimental theatre on the reg but memorable shows from St Vincent, Neneh Cherry, and Grace Jones have cemented Carriageworks as an exceptional live music venue also. Don't wait for the international crowd-pullers though, catch a Klub Koori or one of the Mardi Gras shows to see for yourself.
There are still loads of tours coming through this tried and tested University music venue, which is a blessed relief since Manning's sightlines are among Sydney's best – and having a balcony where one can enjoy an alfresco drink or a cigarette while still being able to hear and (kinda) see what's going on is a rare pleasure these days.
ANZ Stadium is the unmissable whopper arena at Sydney Olympic Park. With a seating capacity of 83,500, it hosts some of the biggest games of rugby union, rugby league, soccer, cricket and Australian football and most recently Taylor Swift! Head here for the mega, mega stars of pop and rock.
If you ask a stranger, it’s a jazz bar. But ask even a semi-regular, and they’ll tell you Venue 505 is so much more than that. 505 has carved out its reputation as a refuge for independent music over several years and venues. Its current digs hold live shows six nights a week at least half of which are free entry, so you can spend that money on cocktails and chow down on their carb-heavy Italian menu to keep up your energy for the third set of the evening.
Sydney's State Theatre is a monument to another age; with elements of Gothic, Italianate and Art Deco design, this theatre itself offers a spectacle to rival the on-stage action. The opulent platform has held all manner of big names and the performances are very much angled towards a crowd that enjoys consuming a concert while sitting down. Upcoming shows from Norah Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Petula Clark and "easy listening" heroes should give you an idea.
Featuring live music seven nights a week and across two floors, this Marrickville venue hosts all genres of music and whilst it’s not always jazz, there’s regulars such as Sonic Mayhem Orchestra and renowned virtuoso of the electric bass, Steve Hunter. The rooms have a plush, quirky feel to them, the vibe is welcoming and cosy and there’s an eclectic grown-up vibe. Expect to pay a modest cover charge.
This live music venue located inside the Entertainment Quarter at Moore Park has gone through a few changes. It was originally known as the Forum before being renovated and renamed the Hi-Fi. Now it's known as Max Watt's – a play on the term "maximum wattage". It hosts a multitude of concerts (sorry, kids – they're all 18 and over) ranging from all-ages rock gigs through to blow-out EDM ragers.
The Big Top is a multi-purpose entertainment venue within Luna Park. There are two foyer bars and a main arena that holds nearly 3,000 people. Historically it has hosted everything from popstars through to nostalgia acts and major music festivals. The carousel of performers is exceptionally eclectic.
This theatre complex, owned by the University of Sydney, is home to a bunch of theatres that stage indie shows and musicals. Besides touring shows, the Seymour is also a satellite venue for Sydney Fringe and Sydney Festival, and during the warmer months hosts alfresco gigs in their regular Courtyard Sessions.
This community creative hub for the Redfern area houses a sound-proof performance space, a gallery, a cafe and bar, a workshop, and a permaculture garden on the roof. 107 Projects hosts sporadic live music nights that range from First Nations rock legends Coloured Stone to small fringe DIY shows.