Balmain had a reputation as a rough working-class area of Sydney. The industrialisation of Balmain created a demand for cheap housing. This was satisfied by the dock owners selling small blocks of land to entrepreneurs who then built tiny cottages and rented them to the workers. The post-industrial gentrification of Balmain has resulted in a suburb of considerable charm and interest where the modest, pretty houses command prices that would not have been dreamt of by their original tenants. As peoples’ desire increased for stylish housing close to both the city and the harbour, Balmain’s unrenovated cottages of sandstone or timber suddenly became highly sought after. As an old suburb, Balmain has many heritage buildings and the suburb now is filled with magnificent Victorian public buildings (such as the Court House and Town Hall), character-filled local pubs, renovated houses, and industrial sites which have been restored and transformed into elegant inner-city apartments, trendy loft homes and townhouses.
These days the area is generally populated with business executives who value the convenience of being just minutes away from the CBD via car, bus or ferry. Old world charm and a friendly village atmosphere are two of Balmain's greatest attributes. Balmain is often regarded as a trendy and affluent precinct and widely recognised as one of Sydney's premier suburbs. The main artery of this peninsula is Darling Street, Balmain's main tapartments, contemporary horoughfare, which features boutique shops, quality restaurants and cafes alongside old drinking establishments. Landmarks on this street include the Post Office, Balmain Town Hall, the historic Westpac Bank and Balmain Fire Station.
Other commercial developments are scattered throughout the suburb. With a wide range of trendy cafés, restaurants, pubs and shops, Balmain Village continues to enjoy widespread popularity and a thriving community atmosphere. The large variety of parks (Elkington, Gladstone, Punch, Ewenton, Mort Bay and Birrong Parks as well as Ann Cashman Reserve) make the suburb an attractive area for families, while Balmain Sailing Club, Dawn Fraser Pool, Rose Street Tennis courts, Balmain Bowling Club and Balmain Fitness Gym provide further features for those who enjoy sports activities. Balmain markets, held every Saturday at St Andrews Congregational Church in Darling Street is one of Sydney’s most popular markets, and features antiques, estate jewellery and ingenious art and craft items.
Trams once ran all the way down Darling Street to the Wharf at Balmain East. Sydney Buses have now replaced these tram services and allow easy access to Birchgrove, Rozelle, Canterbury, Millers Point and the City. Balmain has several ferry wharves that are serviced by the Inner Harbour ferry services and run to Circular Quay on a regular basis. These are located at Thames Street, Elliot Street and in Darling Street, Balmain East.