Past and the present collide in the historic district of The Rocks.
By Ellie Schneider
Explore Sydney's colourful convict history in The Rocks, the harbourside quarter where European settlement began. Wander down cobbled laneways and discover stories around every corner. The Rocks is home to artisan markets, friendly pubs and some of Sydney’s liveliest celebrations.
- See some of Australia's most acclaimed art
- Sample craft beer in Sydney’s oldest pubs
- Delve into The Rocks' colonial past
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Top things to do in The Rocks
Go back in time
The cobbled streets of The Rocks sprawl out to the western side of Circular Quay and beneath the imposing steel arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Step off the harbour foreshore to find some of Sydney's oldest sandstone terraces and cottages. Built in 1816, Cadman’s Cottage is one of the few remaining buildings from the first 30 years of the colony. During its time it has served as water transport headquarters, a sailors’ home and a water police station. Visit the Susannah Place Museum (by guided tour only), a terrace of four houses built by Irish immigrants in 1844 that was home to more than 100 families. At Circular Quay head to the Justice and Police Museum, once a courthouse that processed criminals from Sydney's rowdy waterfront. Peer into the old remand cells and imagine events in the restored 1890s police charge room. To delve deeper into the dark side of early Sydney, join a ghost tour around The Rocks and hear grisly tails as you walk through narrow alleys by lantern light.
See cutting-edge art
Facing Circular Quay is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). It presents a diverse program of exhibitions and events that run the gamut of contemporary art. In conjunction with the MCA Collection – containing more than 4000 works by Australian artists, including significant representation of works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists – the gallery also hosts major international exhibitions, regular workshops and performances. Free guided tours run daily from the MCA foyer and offer a great introduction to the art, artists and their stories. While you're visiting The Rocks drop in to the Ken Done gallery, which houses the most extensive collection of Done’s works, including signed limited edition prints.
Shop at the markets
The Rocks Markets are held every Saturday and Sunday (10am to 5pm) and provide a fantastic opportunity to shop for uniquely Australian gifts and one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Meet the makers at this open-air market, where you'll find everything from handmade arts and crafts to photography, homewares, jewellery and clothing. Each Friday, food lovers flock to The Rocks Foodie Market (9am to 3pm) to sample a range of flavours from around the world. From freshly baked bread to handmade preserves and cured meats, there's plenty to tempt your tastebuds. For lunch, order the famous roast pork roll from Phillip's Foote, served with signature crackling. Or delight in a scoop of traditional Italian gelato from Giorgi's Gelato.
Visit some of the city’s oldest pubs
The pubs in The Rocks are some of the oldest in Sydney. Start your bar crawl at The Australian Heritage Hotel, built in 1824, and take your pick from an all-Australian beer and wine list. There are 25 rotating Australian beers on tap as well as 100 different Australian craft beers by the bottle. Pair with The Australian pizza: crocodile, mushroom, fresh mozzarella, olives and eggplant. Down the road, the Glenmore Hotel dates back to 1921 and continues to be one of Sydney's most popular spots for post-work drinks. Head upstairs to its spacious rooftop to enjoy 180-degree harbour views. Also at The Rocks is the Hero of Waterloo, a charming pub granted heritage landmark status. It's rumoured to house the ghost of Anne Kirkman, allegedly murdered by her publican husband in 1849.
How to get there
The Rocks is a five minute walk from Circular Quay, a 15 minute walk from Town Hall station or a 10 minute walk from Wynyard station. The Airport Link train travels from Sydney's domestic and international airport to Circular Quay and takes about 20 minutes.