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QVB Sydney high tea and ghost tours: where history meets the shops

For many who work in the city the QVB Sydney is something they walk past, or under, or through almost every day. For tourists, it’s a pretty building with nice shops. But there’s more to this old dame than meets the eye.

After years of using her as a thoroughfare myself when I started exploring her upper levels again I gained a new appreciation for how beautiful the Queen Victoria Building is. And I’ve found some curious things along the way.

If you head to the information desk you can get a pamphlet to take yourself on a bit of a self guided tour. And while the guided tours have been temporarily paused for Covid times, when we’re able to do them again they’re a bit of a lesser known gem I’d highly recommend.

When I last joined a tour our guide Janet took us through the history of the QVB Sydney and pointed out things I’d seen, but never really understood before along the way.

QVB Sydney is full of history as well as some great shops and high tea

For instance, the slightly sloping floor on the ground level. I’d seen that in the past but never really understood it. If you stand slightly north of the centre of the building, and look lengthways down towards south, you’ll see a slight tilt to the floor, heading towards the Hilton.

That’s because back when the architect George McRae designed the building there was a slope there, so he kept it. Well, not quite… though there was a natural slope at the time.

It was more because it was so it was easier to roll barrels and carts around. Much better than having steps that people would have to try to negotiate. And that’s something I’m sure people in wheelchairs and women with strollers are happy about to this day.

There’s another theory that it made it easier to hose the place out when it got messy, after horses came around to the York Street side of the building to catch a lift down into the basement to make their deliveries. Those were the days.

It was also interesting to discover that Sydney was in a severe recession at the time the Queen Victoria Building was built back in 1893. A rather grand creation for the government to give the green light to in the down times, but there was method to the madness.

By deciding to create such a large Romanesque building the government created jobs for out of work stonemasons, stained window artists, and all sorts of tradespeople.

So they built this impressive establishment, which takes up a full city block, between George, Market, York and Druitt streets, and they turned it into a concert hall, with offices and showrooms and mixed businesses under the one, glamorous roof.

Over the years, the old girl has had her ups and downs. In fact, they wanted to rip her down more than once, and I for one am so glad she’s still up.

Mind you, the only reason the QVB is still with us and looks the way she does is because a Malaysian company stepped in and saved her. In 1980 her future was looking a bit dodgy again, and Sydney City Council asked for submissions for her restoration.

The Malaysian company Ipoh Ltd came up with a restoration scheme, and in 1983 the council granted them a 99 year lease in return for the work.

There aren’t many signs that it’s now owned / leased by a Malasyian company, unless you know where to look. For instance, in the beautiful stained glass window facing the Hilton, there are three panels, and one has the letters I.G.B which stands for Ipoh Gardens Berhad.

And in case you’re thinking how cheeky of them to replace a panel in such an old, beautiful window with their own initials… the entire cartwheel stained glass window had to be replaced after it was destroyed by the Hilton bombing in 1978.

I could go on and on about the interesting things to watch out for in the QVB Sydney. Including how the statue of Queen Victoria out the front is a relatively recent addition, or how the time capsule our current Queen has had put in the building will be opened in the year 2085 (see you all there).

But I’d rather leave some of the fun stuff to be discovered when you go on your own tour.

So how can you do that? I’m glad you asked.

QVB Sydney Tours:

While they are on hold for now due to Covid-19, when the tours start up again they will once again take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11.30am.

QVB Sydney tours cost $15 if you book ahead by calling the QVB Concierge on 02 9264 9209 or $20 if you turn up on the day. While you may want to save it as a great thing to do in Sydney on a rainy day to make sure you have a spot you’d be better off booking ahead (and saving the $5 too). When it’s time to join the tour you meet at the concierge on the ground floor (underneath the main dome).

While I’ve saved the ghost stories for the tour guides you’ll hear a few of their stories on the main tour and in winter there’s a special night time QVB Sydney Ghost Tour. We may have missed those in 2020 but they should be back for 2021.

A QVB High Tea is a special way to finish a QVB Sydney tour

And to finish your tour in tasty style you can also choose to take part in a QVB High Tea Tour. When tours are running again they’ll be taking place on Thursdays at 11.30am with a 45 minute tour followed by High Tea in The Tea Room with sweet and savoury treats, scones and sparkling wine for $65pp.

It’s worth visiting the Tea Room QVB just to see their stunning Baccarat Crystal chandeliers hanging from those ornate ceilings, and as soon as you see the treats on those cake stands you’ll want to stay for the full experience.

And remember, while we may not be able to do the formal tours at the moment you can still take yourself on your own tour around this beautiful building and learn new things.

And when you do say hello to the ghost for me. He sounds like he was a pretty amazing guy.

Looking for more fun Sydney ideas? Check out my list of 20 great tours and things to do in Sydney for every budget.

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