Among the State Library's over five million tomes are James Cook’s and Joseph Banks’ journals and William Bligh’s log from the mutinous Bounty. It's worth dropping in to peruse the elaborately sculpted bronze doors and grand atrium of the neoclassical Mitchell Wing (1910); note the beautiful map of Tasman’s journeys in the mosaic floor. The main reading room is an elegant temple of knowledge clad in milky marble. On this level and upstairs are some excellent new exhibition galleries highlighting the collection.

Highlights of the exhibitions include journals from passengers on the First Fleet (all of which are digitised on the library's website) as well as diaries of Australian soldiers in WWI. Six of the collections are on the Unesco Memory of the World register. Also worth poking your head into is the Shakespeare Room, with its ornate ceiling and facsimile of the second Folio (the library holds originals of the first four). A sculpture of the Bard and some of his characters stands marooned in the freeway island outside. Round the corner, on the Macquarie St side of the building, is a sculpture of explorer Matthew Flinders; look for his intrepid cat Trim on the windowsill behind. There's a decent cafe in the modern extension, named after the feline.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby attractions

1. Parliament House

0.07 MILES

Twin of the nearby Mint, the venerable Parliament House (1816) has been home to the Parliament of New South Wales since 1829, making it the world’s oldest…

2. Macquarie Street

0.09 MILES

A swathe of splendid sandstone colonial buildings graces this street, defining the central city's eastern edge. Many of these buildings were commissioned…

3. Calyx

0.11 MILES

This striking exhibition pavilion in the Botanic Garden incorporates a cool, curving glasshouse space with a living wall of greenery that requires some 18…

4. Sydney Hospital

0.12 MILES

Originally the Rum Hospital, built by two Sydney merchants in return for a monopoly on the rum trade, Australia’s oldest hospital has a grand Victorian…

5. Reserve Bank of Australia Museum

0.13 MILES

Hidden inside the Reserve Bank is this surprisingly interesting museum detailing the history of Australia's banknotes, from pre-Federation to the polymer…

6. The Domain

0.18 MILES

Administered by the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Domain is a large grassy tract east of Macquarie St, set aside by Governor Phillip in 1788 for public…

7. The Mint

0.18 MILES

The stately Mint building (1816) was originally the southern wing of the infamous Rum Hospital, built by two Sydney merchants in return for a monopoly on…

8. Governors Phillip & Macquarie Towers

0.18 MILES

Clad in steel, granite and glass, Governor Phillip Tower (1993) is one of Sydney's tallest buildings (254m including antennae). Its distinctive metallic…