CUSTOMS HOUSE, SYDNEY – finding gems under the floor

Can you spot the Opera House?

Others may also have noticed that five year olds don’t like waiting.

Birthdays, holidays, trains – they take forever to arrive. If our perception of time is governed by its relationship to the length of our lives so far, a twenty-minute wait for a Sydney ferry is, for a five year old, the rough equivalent of a four-hour wait for me. Faced with such a prospect, I would need a distraction too.

Four hours at Circular Quay would be more than enough. It looks out on the Opera House, but the Quay is not itself an architectural wonder. It’s not even circular, for heavens’ sake. The elevated railway line and the notoriously ugly Cahill Expressway cut off the harbour from the Sydney CBD behind it.

Circular Quay - busy, exciting, but certainly not beautiful.

Luckily, there is entertainment available, just across the road from the Quay. In 1854 the Customs House was the centre for trade coming through Sydney Harbour. It’s still a public building, though now it has other functions.

Customs House - with a few surprises.

Inside are a café, a library where visitors can read current editions of world newspapers and magazines, free wifi and clean toilets (also important to five year olds – for them, holding it in for five minutes is the equivalent of me crossing my legs for…oh, forget it!).

The great joy of a visit to the Customs House is that under the floor in the foyer is a 1:500 scale model of central Sydney. The five year old can identify the Opera House, Circular Quay, the Dinosaur Museum…

‘Come on, we have to go now. If we don’t catch this next ferry there won’t be another one till… Come on!’

The view from above

Entry to Customs House is free.


Filed under Travel-Australia

10 responses to “CUSTOMS HOUSE, SYDNEY – finding gems under the floor

  1. I love the Customs House—and that scale model is inspired! Great pics.

  2. Thanks Margo. It’s a brilliant idea.

    And you were fast too! Waiting for hours/days/months for hits and comments to arrive on my blog is the equivalent of…

  3. Love the post and the great insight if how long 30 seconds is for my one year old. My solution to the many waits she has to endure, I’m planning to get her an iPad next year.

    Regards from the bad-parenting yet modern mother,

  4. Duncan Ball

    I love that Customs House under-floor model of Sydney. I’ve often been tempted to lie on the floor like the kids in your photos but have, thusfar, resisted. The Musee d’Orsay in Paris has an under-floor model of Paris. Once again, I resisted lying on the floor for a better view. But here’s a video of it from You Tube: (not mine)

    • Great link, Duncan! Thanks. It’s hard to see through the reflections on the glass without lying on the floor.

      So all the Customs House needs to do now is import a few impressionists and a bit of art deco furniture and it can be the Musée d’Orsay of the south?

  5. Adore Customs House – I love how the old building has been re-engineered to a modern use. Did you go up via the glass lift to Cafe Sydney on the top floor? (‘Tho perhaps not a venue for the smaller folk).

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