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.

Highlights

  • 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.

Tips

  • 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.

Transport

  • 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.

History

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.

Interesting Facts

  • 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.

13 Reviews

  1. lilyardenlao
    lilyardenlao
    Philippines 75 Comments
     -  27 Apr 2018

    For the artsy and history buffs

    So many things to do in The Rocks! There’s the prison, the museum and galleries, and the weekend market! My mom particularly loves this place because she finds the best prints and other artworks in the shops. If it’s your first time, I suggest going on one of the walking tours.

  2. Hannah Pigram
    Hannah Pigram 23 Comments
     -  04 Nov 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    The Rocks is one of the prettiest areas of Sydney. Head there on a weekend to visit the markets with amazing, well-crafted gifts and stalls. And for an awesome view go to The Glenmore pub for a few drinks in their rooftop bar.

  3. Tara 2517
    Tara 2517 15 Comments
     -  02 Nov 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    We got lost for hours walking around the „old Sidney“. Very vibrant and great ambiance, architecture, charming boutique shops, galleries, bars and restaurants. Missed the market unfortunately but visited Cadman’s Cottage. Haven’t noticed street performers, would be interesting. Most shop prices ok.

  4. Dennis
    Dennis 15 Comments
     -  12 Oct 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    One of my favourite parts of Sydney to walk around in. A mixture of old and new vibe. It’s ideal for a stroll around the harbour to get a view of both the Opera House and the Bridge. Inside are a lovely network of small streets and historical buildings.

  5. karafox
    karafox
    United Kingdom 87 Comments
     -  17 Sep 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    My favourite part of Sydney. This is the oldest part of the city and converted from the Victorian slums that went up as the penal colony became a residential area. There are some lovely historic buildings, many of which are now converted into funky art galleries, hotels or cafes. Take the ghost tour at night if you can as it gives a creepy insight into the early history of Sydney and modern Australia.

  6. travelbloggerKT
    travelbloggerKT 43 Comments
     -  12 Sep 2017

    Excellent

    Great place to walk around in Sydney and enjoy. You can walk here, then to the Opera House! Fantastic markets – great ambience, and great buskers and locals enjoying their time. Particularly nice to visit on a weekend, with great surrounding shops.

  7. Mademoiselle_MM
    Mademoiselle_MM
    Yugoslavia 17 Comments
     -  21 Aug 2017

    Excellent

    One of the most stunning places I have ever been! This place really has a “soul” and it’s totally different from other parts of Sydney. The food there is great, nothing better then enjoying pancakes on a sunny day in Australia, even though the food is expensive, make sure you have enough money. And the market is cool, you can find a lot of souvenirs there, but it’s crowded, especially during the weekend.

  8. Jovelyn Delos Santos
    Jovelyn Delos Santos 31 Comments
     -  30 Jun 2017

    Excellent

    This historical place is in contrast to the skyscrapers that you get to see just after the circular quay train station. The rock is an exceptional find for people who loves history, and great food. You need a day or two to truly enjoy The Rocks, Sydney Harbour and the Opera House, which are all in one accessible location. Bring enough Australian Dollars to spend on shopping and food as things could be a bit pricey in these areas. 🙂

  9. tabibu 16 Comments
     -  29 Jun 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    I simply loved this part of Sydney and could have spent much more time there than I did, It’s only a short walk from the harbour, too! Sitting there and having ice cream was definitely a little highlight of our sunny day in Sydney. I love that a small old part of the city was preserved!

  10. chisomo1206
    chisomo1206 10 Comments
     -  11 Jun 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    For anyone looking to experience the true spirit of Australia then this is the place for you – Probably the oldest part of Sydney, constricted in the late 18th, early 19th Century. Market is on most weekends which sells souvenirs and food but can be crowded. Also has art galleries some specialising in Aboriginal art. Highly recommend visiting

  11. MarijaA
    MarijaA 10 Comments
     -  17 Mar 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    One of the oldest and most authentic places in Sydney. There are a lot of pubs around, so you can do pub-hopping while tasting the most delicious beers. Maybe the best time to visit is Friday or Saturday, when the market is there, and buy some craft-art. Really great place, I’ve visited it 3 times during my stay.

  12. Karlics
    Karlics 10 Comments
     -  12 Feb 2017

    Fantastic attraction

    Great for a morning walk and get the best shots of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Don’t miss Pancakes on the Rocks restaurant, they are open 24/7.!!

  13. bpastore 11 Comments
     -  20 Jan 2017

    It was good

    This spot has a great view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. While there are some worthwhile shopping opportunities, its location in a tourist center means that prices are usually higher than elsewhere, especially if there’s a cruise ship in town.

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