My first recollection of being in The Rocks District in Sydney was when I was on a year 4 excursion learning about the history of White Australia’s first settlement.
As I walked the cobblestoned streets and stepped into museums housed in old sandstone buildings, the stories of our unusual history enthralled me and my love affair with The Rocks began.
When I was a University student I fell in love with the Rocks for a very different reason, the pub and live band scene.
A trip to the Rocks was a big night out with friends as we pub crawled and danced the night away to the live music. Paddy’s Day saw us listening to Irish music, dancing the jig and drinking many pints of Guinness.
And now I return to the Rocks in Sydney to roam its historic streets, learn more about the stories of those who lived there many years ago, browse the weekend market stalls, stroll along the Harbour, eat great pub food, and have a few quiet pints of Guinness or Kilkenny draught.
When visiting Sydney, The Rocks has to be a must visit destination.
7 things to do in The Rocks
1. Stay at Sydney Harbour YHA, in the heart of The Rocks
Budget accommodation is seriously hard to find in the Rocks area. You are looking at mostly flashy resort chains and boutique hotels. You will not find budget prices in this area unless you stay at the Sydney Harbour YHA The Rocks.
Not only are you paying at least half of what you would in the other areas, but you are also going to get Harbour views, if not from your room, then one of the best views on their rooftop lounge area awaits you as you eat breakfast or have a quiet afternoon beer.
The Sydney YHA The Rocks is also built over an archaeological dig, so there is plenty of history within its walls for you to explore and discover. It is one of the best hostels we have stayed at.
2. Learn at the Rocks Discovery Museum
Yes, we all love free and this is what you will find when you visit the Rocks Discovery Museum.
Spend some time on the three floors learning more about the history of the area and the stories of those who lived there during the early years of white Australia.
The interactive touch screen displays will also give you information on places you can visit in the Rocks area beyond the museum for more history, such as historic hotels, colonial streets, and homes.
They often have special exhibitions on display, of which we saw an incredible Aboriginal photography display.
3. Walk the Streets and Discover the mix of Colonial and Cosmopolitan Sydney
Take a leisurely stroll through this unique heritage precinct of restored buildings situated on one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.
Explore the many cobblestoned streets and small museums you can visit, such as Savannah’s Place and Cadman’s cottage to learn more about early colonial Sydney, and try to find the best views of the Harbour Bridge for those photos.
Mixed amongst the past history is a cosmopolitan present with fine restaurants, cafes, museums, galleries, shopping opportunities, and bustling street markets.
4. Shop at The Rocks Markets
I am currently listening to the CD of a busker we discovered playing in the busy Saturday market streets.
Open every Saturday and Sunday, The Rocks Weekend Market is about more than just shopping – it’s a Sydney institution.
Set amid the sandstone and cobbles, the colorful markets have grown to include more than 200 eclectic stalls.
Visitors from near and far come to find fashion and accessories by emerging designers, locally-produced homewares, linen and beauty products and original photography, art, crafts, and jewellery.
5. Star gaze at the Sydney Observatory
Views from the Observatory Gardens
A beautiful sandstone heritage-listed building sits high on Observatory Hill in the heart of the rocks overlooking Sydney Harbour.
Millions of stars in the Southern Sky await your gazing eyes through high-powered telescopes and screening in the 3D space theatre.
Sydney observatory and its grounds form one of the most significant heritage and scientific sites in Australia. Explore more than 150 years of astronomy, meteorology and timekeeping.
Visitors of all ages will enjoy the Sydney Observatory and it is open day and night.
- General admission is free.
- 3D space theatre $7 adult, $5 child.
- Night viewings (bookings essential) cost $15 adult, $10 child, $45 family.
6. Admire the views with a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
Three different bridge climbs can be taken to the summit of the world famous Coat Hanger. Discover the architectural wonders of this iconic bridge as well as taking in the stunning panoramic views of, what I consider to be, the most beautiful Harbour in the World.
The Bridge Climb is not cheap, but might be one of those once in a lifetime opportunities you are happy to break your budget for.
If you don’t, you can always walk across the bridge for similar, yet obstructed by wire fence, views.
7. Eat and Be Entertained
The Rocks is one of the liveliest areas in Sydney to go out. Although it can be expensive, there can be some deals to be found if you look carefully.
Our favourite pubs are the Orient, the Mercantile, and the Observer. You will find live music drawing the crowds in each of these and each has a small beer garden to enjoy.
At The Orient, you can share a decent sized Nachos for $15.50 washed down with a $5.50 pint of Guinness or Kilkenny.
And these prices are cheaper than a schooner of lager. Go figure! Watch out for weekly specials here such as $10 bar food.
The Glenmore Hotel has fabulous views of the harbour from its rooftop bar. And the Australia Hotel’s kangaroo pizzas are said to rock the house
For something a bit more flash and modern, the Cruise Bar along the wharf of the overseas Passenger Terminal on the Harbour is famous for signature cocktails and spectacular views.