The Rocks is a popular tourist precinct and historic area in Sydney, located between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. An interesting blend of old and new, The Rocks offers a chance to explore Sydney’s history, and experience the stylish additions that have made The Rocks the unique area it is today.
- Rocks Markets – The Rocks Markets run every Saturday and Sunday all year round, and they’re not just for shopping. They are the best way to experience the unique atmosphere of The Rocks while walking around the cobblestone laneways and sandstone built by convicts. Home to over 200 diverse stores, you’ll find everything from homewares to arts and craft, from 10am to 5pm every weekend.
- Cadman’s Cottage – One of the only buildings to remain from the first 30 years of colonisation in Sydney, Cadman’s Cottage was built in 1816. In it’s long history it has been used as a water transport headquarters, sailor’s home, water police station and more.
- Sydney Observatory – A working museum surrounded by beautiful panoramic views on top of Observatory Hill, the Sydney Observatory is another historical building located in The Rocks. The observatory has opening times during the day and night, to allow visitors to observe the stars of Sydney.
- Sydney’s Oldest Surviving Pub – There’s debate about which is actually the oldest surviving pub, as both the Fortune of War and the Lord Nelson claim to be the oldest. They are worth a look at, among a number of other historical, and historically themed pubs in The Rocks area including the Observer, the Orient, the Mercantile, the Palisade and the Hero of Waterloo.
- Art Galleries – The Rocks has become something of a centre for arts in Sydney, and is home to a number of significant art galleries. These include the S.H. Ervin Gallery, one of Sydney’s leading public art institutions, the Aboriginal Art Galleries, showcasing some of Australia’s best indigenous art and artists and the famous Museum of Contemporary Art, educational home of contemporary art in Australia.
- Museums – Being such a historical centre, The Rocks also contains some very interesting museums, which like the galleries, can be included in a day of sightseeing the area. Museums worth seeing include The Rocks Discovery Museum, which tells the story of The Rocks’ history, and the Susannah Place Museum, where you can step back into The Rock’s history yourself.
- Tall Ship Tours – Of course, if seeing The Rocks from a museum isn’t enough, there’s also a chance for modern day visitors to step back in time with a Tall Ship Tour. These tours take place on a replica 1850s tall ship, exploring the harbour area, including famed convict holding centre Goat Island, and allowing a true experience of the sailing life at the time. Tours leave from The Rocks regularly, and bookings can be made online.
- Sydney Visitors Centre – Local Sydney experts are on hand in the visitors centre in The Rocks to help out with maps, brochures and personalised information. There’s also a gift shop, and complimentary travel booking services available inside for tours, attractions and interstate travel. Bilingual staff are available for most major languages.
- Unearth The Rocks – A educational undertaking by the Sydney Foreshore Authority and the Australian Museum of Contemporary Arts, Unearth The Rocks is an online portal where you can learn about the history of The Rocks before you arrive. See how The Rocks used to be, and get some insight into the intriguing human stories that make up this amazing Sydney precinct.
- Other Attractions – There are so many things to see and do in The Rocks area, including a variety of shops, hotels and historical landmarks that show the unique nature of the area. While you’re in The Rocks, try and see the Museum of Contemporary Arts, and consider taking one of a number of quirky and historically factual tours of the area run by local companies. Full details of the many attractions are available here.
- Nearby Attractions – The Rocks is very centrally located, and there are a number of famous Sydney attractions near by that are worth visiting in the same day. These include the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the amazing Sydney Opera House.
- Walk: The Rocks is a 15-minute downhill walk from Town Hall Station, 10-minutes from Wynyard Station, and just a two-minute walk from Circular Quay.
- Train: Alight at Circular Quay, and head towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge and you’ll find yourself in The Rocks. Otherwise from Wynyard, just walk down George Street towards the harbour.
- Bus: Take a bus travelling along Elizabeth or George streets, alight at Bridge Street and walk north to reach The Rocks.
- Ferry: Take any ferry that stops at Circular Quay and it’s only a short walk to The Rocks.
- Car: There are a number of secure parking facilities, more information can be found here.
- Taxi: There are taxi ranks on George Street near Playfair Street, on George Street at the Metcalfe Arcade, at the Overseas Passenger Terminal and at Alfred Street at Circular Quay.
The Rocks was established very soon after the formation of Sydney’s colony in 1788. It’s name derives from the original buildings constructed on site, which were mostly made from local sandstone. Despite it’s current reputation as a tourist hub, it was once little more than a slum, popular with prostitutes and sailors. This reputation didn’t start to change until the 1870s.
At the start of the 20th century, many of The Rocks’ historical buildings were falling to pieces, and over the next decades hundreds of buildings were demolished. This was partly to make way for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but also due to the decaying nature of the site.
Both world wars stalled plans to demolish the entire space, but this plan was suggested again in 1968. The Rocks Residents Group was formed in opposition to the plan, as they were worried about the effect on the long-term residents of the area. They eventually succeeded, and The Rocks was renovated instead of demolished, turning it into the popular commercial and tourist area it is today.
- Cadman’s Cottage used to sit right on the water, but since Circular Quay was constructed, the harbour is now 100 metres from the cottage.
- Although The Rocks is in many ways a luxury area, it still contains a number of Housing Commission properties, left over from early days, meaning urban poverty and street crime are still particularly high in the area.