11 Ideas For What to do in the Rocks, Sydney

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If you’re looking to explore one of Sydney’s most vibrant neighborhoods, you’ll find there are many things to do in The Rocks, Sydney.

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.

Views of The Rocks through to Sydney CBD, Sydney.
Credit Destination NSW

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.

Despite being full of historical attractions, it’s considered the birthplace of Sydney and the White Australia colony. With the arrival of European settlers in 1788, it was here that the convicts first set up house and shop.

When I was a University student I fell in love with the Rocks for a very different reason, the pub and live band scene.

Friends enjoying rooftop drinks in The Rocks with views of Sydney Harbour.
Plenty of great views in the Rocks Credit: Destination NSW

A trip to the Rocks was a big night out with friends as we pub crawled and danced the night away to 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.

Planning your trip to The Rocks, Sydney last-minute?

Don’t forget to plan ahead when visiting Sydney! Here are some of the top tours, hotels, and useful items you may need before your trip!

Top Experiences and Tours in Sydney

  1. From Sydney: Blue Mountains Full-Day Trip with Cruise
  2. Taronga Zoo Ticket with Return Ferry
  3. Sydney: Opera House Guided Tour with Entrance Ticket

Top Accommodation and Hotels in The Rocks Sydney

  1. Sydney Harbour YHA The Rocks: Affordable prices with some of the best views in the Rocks and archeological digs!
  2. Shangri-La Sydney this 5-star luxury hotel has the most sought out position on Sydney Harbour!
  3. Park Hyatt Sydney is a residential style retreat right near Harbour Bridge with iconic views of the Opera House

Things to Do in The Rocks Sydney

1. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)

exterior of museum of contemporary art australia lit up with murals at night

If you’re a fan of modern art, then you must make a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is one of Australia’s leading art museums and contains some of the best examples of contemporary art to date.

The galleries not only contain international and Australian art, but they also regularly hold special exhibitions and events both at their gallery and outside, to offer recognition for some of the most emerging artists.

The museum is not only filled with incredible pieces of artwork and sculptures, but it’s also an architectural gem located on the Circular Quay in Sydney’s CBD.

It’s also free to enter, making it one of the best free things to do in The Rocks Sydney. Come by at night when it’s all lit up!

2. Learn at the Rocks Discovery Museum

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 in this restored 1850s warehouse 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 touchscreen 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

historick buildings in the the rocks sydney
Sydney Rocks District

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 Sydney Harbour Bridge for those photos.

historic brick building in the rocks
Savannahs Place The Rocks

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

Friends enjoying food from a market stall and exploring The Rocks
Credit: Destination NSW

I still listen 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.

Visit the quirky gift shops and pick up some souvenirs to take home.

5. Star gaze at the Sydney Observatory

Observatory Hill, Sydney, Australia
View from Observatory Hill

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 which 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

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, nicknamed coathanger, as well as take in the stunning panoramic views of, what I consider to be, the most beautiful Harbour in the World.

The Bridgeclimb Sydney 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 a wire fence, views. Or visit the Pylon Lookout for some great views of the bridge.

7. Enjoy The Nightlife of The Rocks

Couple enjoying an evening out in The Rocks, Sydney.
Credit: Destination NSW

The Rocks is one of the liveliest areas in Sydney for nightlife. Although some cocktail bars can be expensive, there can be some deals to be found if you look carefully.

Our favorite pubs are the Orient and the Mercantile. You will find live music drawing the crowds in each of these and each has a small beer garden to enjoy.

Friends enjoying drinks in the afternoon at the Orient Hotel, The Rocks.
Orient Hotel Credit: Destination NSW

At The Orient, you can get a Friday Steak Special for less than $20 and wash it down with a 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 discounts on bar food.

The Glenmore Hotel has fabulous views of the harbour from its rooftop bar. And the Australia Hotel’s kangaroo pizza is said to rock the house.

people on the glemore rooftop bar
Glenmore Rooftop
yellow pub on corner sydney
Australian Hotel

Of course, you can’t skip one of Sydney’s oldest pubs, The Fortune of War, which is located on George Street. They claim to be Sydney’s oldest pub since it was established in 1828.

For a more sophisticated place to eat in The Rocks, head over to The Tea Cosy for high tea, which is nestled in a heritage-listed building. You can savour the taste of delicious scones that are baked fresh every day or enjoy something a bit heartier.

For something a bit more flashy and modern, the Cruise Bar along the wharf of the overseas Passenger Terminal on the Harbour is famous for signature cocktails and spectacular views.

8. Explore Circular Quay

ferry passing the sydney opera house with the botanic gardens behind it
At the entrance to Circular Quay

It’s impossible to visit the Rocks in Sydney and not explore Circular Quay. All roads in the Rocks tend to lead there. Circular Quay is one of the most famoust places in Sydney. On one end of its half circle you have the Harbour Bridge, on the other is the Sydney Opera House.

There are stunning views all around and in between you’ll find street buskers, restaurants, cafes, bars, and Sydney ferries coming in and out to take people all over Sydney. It’s also a major transport hub for trains and buses.

Small group enjoying a ride around Sydney Harbour with Bonza Bike Tours, The Rocks.
Biking the Quay Credit: Destination NSW

Walk from the bridge to the Opera House. One of my favorite views is from the train station platform or Cafe Sydney – if your budget allows, you will want to eat or have a drink here.

Right near the Opera House is Sydney Botanic Gardens which are beautiful for a picnic, a rest or a walk through. There are also stunning views here of the harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge, especially from the famous Mrs. Macquarie’s chair.

I also highly recommend taking a Sydney Harbour cruise or even catching the ferry to Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo or Watson’s Bay for a day trip.

Here is a hop on hop off Sydney Harbour ferry cruise, a guided commentary cruise, or a harbour cruise with buffet lunch.

9. Stay at Sydney Harbour YHA, in the heart of The Rocks

view from the Sydney Harbour YHA

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 are 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.

10. Take a 90-Minute Walking Tour

Friends exploring The Rocks
Credit: Destination NSW

One of the best free things to do in The Rocks is to join a 90-minute walking tours that take you past some of the most iconic sites in Sydney such as The Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour, before turning into the quiet streets and hidden alleyways of The Rocks.

The walking tour takes you past all the main sites in the historic district such as Campbell’s Cove and Cadman’s Cottage.

Learn about the history of Sydney and how the area came to be, and hear stories of rebellions, plagues, and battles.

Tours run every day from 10.30am or 1.30pm. Unfortunately, these tours are no longer free. You can book your spot on the tour, via our preferred partner Get Your Guide who offer free cancellation up to 24 hours before tour starts!

You may also love exploring Sydney’s convict history on the Sydney Convicts, History & The Rocks 2.5-Hour Walking Tour.

11. Walk the Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk

a man standing on a beach and smiling
Tamarama Beach

While not at the Rocks, it’s certainly worth doing the Coogee to Bondi Beach coastal walk while staying at the Rocks. You have to break up that unique history with a bit of natural beauty, and of course, exercise.

The Coogee to Bondi Beach coastal walk is one of our favorite activities in Sydney as it takes you out of the hustle and bustle of the city and transports you into beautiful nature.

It only takes 1.5 hours to walk from one beach to the other, and it’s pretty easy too. Plus, you get to stop off at some of the most beautiful beaches in Sydney along the way.

Final Thoughts on Things to Do at The Rocks, Sydney

light projections on a the sydney opera hoes of aboriginal man with spear
Vivid Festival

The Rocks is one of the coolest areas of Sydney and one of the best things to do there is just walk around and take it all in.

It’s packed with historic buildings, hidden bars and restaurants, cosy cafes, and boutique stores. There’s so much to discover here, it’s best to just go in with your eyes open and look around.

I hope this guide helped give you some ideas for what to do in The Rocks Sydney and helped you plan your trip.

If you’re visiting during the winter, you won’t want to miss the Vivid Festival held in the Rocks and Quays area.

More Travel Tips for Sydney

Are you planning to stay in Sydney for a while and need inspiration for things to do? Then these other guides may be useful to you…

Have you been to the Rocks in Sydney? What were some of your favourite things to do? Let us know in the comments.

29 thoughts on “11 Ideas For What to do in the Rocks, Sydney”

  1. Jessalyn Pinneo

    The Rocks might just be my favorite part of central Sydney, it’s such a great neighborhood to explore. The busker in your photo was actually there the first time I went to The Rocks Market and I bought his CD!

    1. How cool is that!! Isn’t it a great CD. I’m always disapponited every time I listen to it though as there are only 4 songs and I want more.

  2. Let me put in a vote for the Glenmore. That rooftop is awesome! Plus I remember they have (or used to have) a particularly messy but tasty burger – we called them Glenmore burgers.

    1. We still haven’t got up there as each time we go there is a private function or it is way too busy! Thanks for the burger recommendation

  3. Soo much to see in Australia. Can’t wait for the chance to get down there, one of the areas I really am kicking myself for not making it to yet! Looks like some great insights into the city.

  4. I think The Rocks is a pretty cool place to visit when in Sydney. I love the live music scene and the stargazing at the observatory. My friend and I is visiting Sydney this coming November and I think I have to include this place on my list.

  5. It seems old.I like the idea of a Hostel dig.The calling of the city is a bit strange,but there is always New York,New Found Land,Ice Land,Green Land,etc.

  6. My favorite bars are in The Rocks. I love Hart’s Pub and Vivaz. The Ghost Tour is fantastic and a visit to the markets is a must.

    All very good ideas. There’s a few here I still need to try myself 😮

  7. The Kangaroo pizza at the Australia Hotel is delicious!!
    Also you must get breakfast at the place called “Pancakes on the rocks” there is also one in Darling Harbour soooooooo yummy!
    And “The Argyle” is one of my favorite bars there 🙂

  8. Glenmore Hotel Rooftop bar is great! Unfortunately my memories of The Rocks aren’t that great. My drink got spiked there, got robbed and later hit by a car. I’ve spent 2 weeks in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst afterwards…

  9. For phenomenal food, try Pancakes on the Rocks! Great environment and the best pancakes you’ll ever find.

  10. The Rocks are one of my favourite areas in Sydney. So steeped in history and there is alway something going on there and more often than not it is usually free. I’ve just released a book with all the wonderful free things that can be done in The Rocks and in Sydney so more people can enjoy this beautiful city.

  11. starting my bucket list this year and my first stop is Sydney, Cairns, Brisbane then a cruise to Hobart and Melbourne. As the song says “I’m so excited” be there on February 5th thru 25th we’re from Florida U.S.A. so we’re used to hot and humid. I write after our trip.
    tommy “b”

  12. I’m visiting the rocks on Friday , I’m looking for the ghost experience at the rocks … could anyone plz help me to locate the website please ?
    I would be much appreciative
    Kind regards

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