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Balmain Travel Guide

Balmain: History, location and things to do

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Balmain, which is located on the Balmain peninsula just west of Sydney's CBD, was originally given as payment to William Balmain in 1800. Balmain, who was NSW's principal surgeon and First Fleet surgeon, sold the property off just one year later, and all 550 acres were eventually subdivided into separate parcels. By the 1850s, Balmain had become a growing suburb largely occupied by ship builders, sailors and other ship workers. As the population increased, so did their need for services. A local government was installed, and schools, police, a hospital and churches soon followed. The suburb thrived, and the Balmain Literary Institute, the Balmain School of Arts and the Balmain Working Men's Institute were established.

Balmain, New South Wales - Darling St c1888.jpg
"Balmain, New South Wales - Darling St c1888" by Adam.J.W.C. - The name of the file in the gallery is Darling Street, Balmain, ca. 1880. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The prosperous little suburb attracted many in search of new opportunities, but by the 1900s, the peninsula was clearly overcrowded. Poor planning resulted in factories being built next to houses, and streets were badly organised. As unemployment levels rose, the suburb lost its affluent character. The railroad was established, and a coalmine opened, which led to the area becoming known as a rougher, working-class suburb. Balmain began to change again: The mine closed within a few decades, and an immigrant population began to move in during the 1950s. The desirable waterfront location, proximity to Sydney's CBD and influx of immigrants began to reinvent the suburb of Balmain.

Exchange Hotel Balmain 12.JPG
"Exchange Hotel Balmain 12" by Andy Mitchell (Amitch) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

The suburb today, which is now gentrified, retains many of its historic buildings. The post office and fire station are listed on the Register of the National Estate, as are many of the original public schools and churches. Just a 10-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, Balmain is known for its artistic vibe. It has borne some of the country's best-known musicians, artists, actors and writers. Balmain features quaint bistros, delightful little cafés, bookshops, quiet pubs and bustling weekend markets displaying diverse cuisine, handmade jewellery, antiques, upcycled art and more.

Although Balmain may be a small village, you can still find plenty to do here. Launch out on a harbour cruise, or sample some macaroons, tarts and pastries at the renowned Adriano Zumbo Patissier. Take a dip in Australia's oldest swimming pool, or lounge in the sun on its deck. Picnic amongst the roses at the Illoura Reserve, or take a walk through Gladstone Park. Get a massage, or talk to an artist at one of its many art galleries.

Balmain combines all the pleasant features of a quiet country village with all the perks of a large city suburb. When you visit Balmain, you can relax and enjoy the laid-back coffee culture, explore fun flea markets, check out the friendly boutiques, browse designer shops that feature local designers and explore the many historic buildings. Although its industrial roots are apparent at every turn, Balmain has evolved into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan village that can keep you busy for days and provide you with both the relaxation and fun you crave.




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