The Rocks is sandstone buildings, history, laneways, culture and Australiana by day, and a busy pub scene by night. It is the historical precinct of central Sydney immediately to the north of the City centre on the western side of Sydney Cove, and where the First Fleet set up their first convict settlement. The Rocks is very different in character and atmosphere from the neighbouring commercial and retail centre of Sydney. Last but not least, it is the southern terminus of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
It retains a certain sense of charm from its days as a British convict settlement, from its old buildings and watering holes to lovely Victorian-era flats, and reflects its status of being the main trading port of the city.
To get to The Rocks, you have to get to the City Centre first. From there you can walk north along George St, or along Harrington St from Wynyard, or along the western shore of Circular Quay and Sydney Cove (keep the water on your right).
By train, Circular Quay station is located at the waterfront, and served by T2 (Inner West and Suburbs), T3 (Bankstown), and T8 (Airport and South) services. However, if coming in from the North Shore, Western Sydney, or Parramatta, T1 (North Shore/Western) and T9 (Northern) lines call at Wynyard, which is not overly far from The Rocks.
By light rail, the T2 and T3 light rail call at Wynyard, Bridge Street, and Circular Quay, all of which are close to the area. Services run every 5 minutes from Central and the Eastern Suburbs.
By bus, services in the area include:
- 311, 324, and 325 run into the western part close to Barangaroo Reserve, Observatory Hill, the southern end of the Harbour Bridge, and Walsh Bay. Buses head to Town Hall, Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, and Watsons Bay.
- Others routes run from Circular Quay, which is convenient for George Street and the southern part of The Rocks. Buses useful for tourists include the 333 to Bondi Beach, 373/374 to Coogee, 377/397 to Maroubra, and 520/M52 to Parramatta.
- Sydney Explorer sightseeing buses — which depart every 18 minutes throughout the day from Circular Quay — stop at the Sydney Visitor Centre and Campbell's Cove / Dawes Point in the Rocks.
By ferry, all ferry routes call at Circular Quay and again a short walk to the south of the area.
By driving, The Rocks isn't signposted as a destination on city roads. Follow the signs to City North, and then just drive north along George St. Some of the streets are closed for the markets, and for pedestrian safety on Friday and Saturday nights. There is parking in The Rocks area, but expect to pay in excess of $50 a day to park there on a weekday, the prices are just as expensive as the heart of the city. There are usually all day deals to be had on a weekend and in the evening.
The Rocks is best explored by foot. The area by the harbour and George St is flat and accessible. Away from the harbour there are a maze of steep laneways and streets. There are extremely limited parking in The Rocks.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an unmissable landmark of Sydney. It is fondly known as the "Coat Hanger" and is visible from many parts of the Rocks, and elsewhere in the City Centre. It isn't the longest bridge or hold any other records for size. However the sheer scale of the structure right in the centre of Australia's largest city is unrivalled. For example, it takes 10 years and 30,000 litres of paint to paint the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and when they finish they have to start again at the other end.
There are many ways to see or experience the bridge. If you cross from the Rocks to North Sydney have a walk around Luna Park and a go on the Ferris wheel before returning. If you are on a fitness regime, a walk over the bridge and a swim at North Sydney Olympic pool by the harbour is a perfect start to the day.
- There is a harbourfront walk from Circular Quay, skirting the Rocks area and continuing on under the Harbour Bridge. The walk goes in front of the Overseas Passenger Terminal, and will take around 45 minutes. The walk is free. The City of Sydney has an app available for the self-guided tour, and can be joined to walks to Observatory Hill.
- You can walk over the bridge on the pedestrian walkway on the eastern side of the bridge. The views are great and admission is free. On the southern side the entrance to the walkway is hard to find. The entrance on the western side is on Fort St near Observatory Hill. On the eastern side the entrance is on Cumberland St near Argyle St. If coming from the city, Cumberland St is closed at the Wynyard side. Walk along Harrington St and follow the small, hardly noticeable signs past Susannah Place. Alternatively, you can get the lift up to the Cahill Walkway from Circular Quay, and walk around towards the Bridge for about 10 minutes. Don't follow the road signs or any roadway on to the Bridge. You may be intercepted by police before you meet a worse fate with the traffic. The entrance at the northern side is easy to find, about 30 m south of the Milsons Point Station. There is no way to access the bridge by foot without using stairs. There are many flights at Milsons Point and Cumberland St, and two flights from the Cahill down to the Bradfield Highway. If you aren't good with stairs, take the walk next to the harbour. If you want to drive to the walk, there is extremely limited parking in Cumberland St and around the Rocks. Limited 2 hr meter parking is also available near the northern entrance at Milsons Point. The walk is often busy, but there are no queues or crowds. You can walk one way, and take the train the other way if you wish.
- You can cycle over it. There is a cycle lane on the western side of the bridge, dedicated to cyclists. There are usually multiple share bikes near the Milsons Point entry that you can hire for 30 minutes. However, the cycle will only take you five minutes before returning you to the city roads. The distance is more suited to walking.
- climb up the Southeast Bridge Pylon, ☏ . The pylon is open 10AM-5PM every day except Christmas Day. to the Pylon Lookout. Entrance is from the pedestrian walkway on Bradfield Highway approach to the bridge. (Note there is no entrance at the base of the Pylon in Dawes Point.) As you climb the 200 steps within the pylon, you pass 3 levels of exhibits describing pictorially the history of the bridge. The view at the Pylon Lookout is as good as from the Sydney tower, maybe better, as you are out in the open air and next to the harbour. It may be the cheapest way to take aerial photos of the harbour, including the Opera House. (Note that you may not take a camera with you on the bridge climb.). Admission is $13 adults, $6.50 children under 13, and free for children under 7.
- Bridge Climb, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. You can climb to the top of the arch of the bridge. For those who are good with heights and enjoy an spectacular view of the harbour, there are organised climbs to the top of the bridge. This climb is more demanding than climbing a set of stairs, although it is not so demanding as the name implies. You will be fitted with special climbing suits and secured by safety tethers, you must be 10 years old or over to take the climb. The climb takes 3.5 hours and a group leaves every 10 minutes. You can ascend during the day, at twilight and at night. Book your climb as early as possible as the climb is very popular. Loose items including cameras are prohibited on the climb; Bridge Climb staff will take a photo of you, but you may not take photographs yourself. Standard rates are $160 adults and $100 children (Monday to Thursday, day and night climbs), $185 adults and $125 children (Friday to Saturday, day and night climbs), and $225 adults and $175 children (all week, twilight climbs). Peak rates are in place between the 25th December and 9th January and are $195 adults and $125 children (day and night climbs) and $250 adults and $175 children (twilight).
- You can have a picnic under it. There are nice parks at both ends of the bridge where you can appreciate the massive scale of the pylons and the height of the bridge. They are all weather parks, sheltered high above by the bridge platform.
- Natural Wanders, ☏ . The Bridge Paddle tour takes you kayak paddling under the bridge on a tour exploring the northern shore. They do this as a private tour - just you and the guide. $150 for one person or $120/person if two or more.
- You can sail under it on a ferry or a cruise ship.
- 1 Cadman's Cottage, 110 George Street North (harborside, below street level), ☏ . Mo-Fr 9.30AM-4.30PM, Sa-Su 10AM-4.30PM, closed Christmas and Good Friday. The last relic of the small, relatively plain buildings that once ringed Sydney Cove in the early colonial period, this small sandstone cottage was built in 1815-1816. The building has survived largely because of constant government or institutional ownership. Restoration began in 1972 and the building is now used as an information centre by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Cottage was originally built by the water side - with reclamation over the years, the shoreline of Sydney Cove is now 100 meters distant. Free admission.
- 2 Argyle Cut, Argyle St. Follow Argyle St through this historic sandstone road cutting made between 1843 and 1867, made with the effort of both convict and paid labour. The sights and sounds of the convict labour, still bound in chains and working only with crude tools, horrified the locals and the cutting was abandoned after just three years. A long interlude lasted before the city council eventually linked Millers Point and The Rocks together with the use of paid labour and explosives.
- Garrison Church, 60 Lower Fort St, ☏ . The colony's first military church, it is still an active Anglican church.
Museums and galleries
- 3 Sydney Observatory, Watson Road, Observatory Hill, ☏ . Daily 10AM–5PM. Closed Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.. Australia's oldest observatory. It has a variety of exhibitions, a “beanbag planetarium” and of course, telescopes. The parks and views of the harbour from the Observatory Hill are exceptional. It's worth a visit even if you have no interest in astronomy and are not even going into the building. You can book a night tour guided by an astronomer, where you're allowed to use the telescope and see what is visible during night time. The old telescopes here aren't the most powerful around; the portable telescopes set up are just as powerful as the large ones in the domes. It makes for a fun, informative night out. Children are catered for in both the daytime and evening sessions. Daytime admission is free. For night tours adults $20-22 and children $14-15..
- 4 Susannah Place, 58–64 Gloucester Street, ☏ , fax: . Daily 2pm-5pm (closed Christmas Day and Good Friday) - guided tours only. Owned by Sydney Living Museums. Built in 1844, Susannah Place Museum preserves a row of four terrace houses that incorporate a re-created 1915 corner store, providing a rare opportunity to construct patterns of domestic working class life from the mid 1840s to the late 20th century. It is evidence of the rich community that once existed in The Rocks. The modest interiors and rear yards illustrate the restrictions of 19th century inner city life. Adult $15, child/concession $12, family $38.
- National Trust Centre, Observatory Hill, Upper Fort Street, Millers Point. Weekdays, 9-5. The headquarters of National Trust NSW, it was once a military hospital and state school. The SH Erwin Gallery is located within and hosts exhibitions every now and then. Free entry, prices apply for special exhibitions.
For the things you can do on the Harbour Bridge - see the See section above.
The Sydney Theatre Company (STC) is based in the Rocks. They have a season of shows at both the Wharf Theatre and the Sydney Theatre, which are across the road from each other. The company has a mix of local and international dramatic productions.
Between times, there are often some other shows on at the theatres. You never quite know what you are going to get at an STC production. A story that falls flat, or a production to remember. The production values are high, but you certainly won't be seeing the latest production of Wicked, or the Lion King there. Try the theatres in the City Centre or at Star City for that.
- The Wharf Theatre, 4/5 Hickson Rd. Pier Walsh Bay. Situated on an old, renovated finger wharf. There is a bar and restaurant open during the show and at intermission. Booking for the restaurant is a good idea.
- Sydney Theatre. A larger, more modern theatre across the road from the water, and around 300m further up Hickson Road. Again, it has a bar open before shows and at intermission. It is a larger theatre than the wharf theatres, seating nearly 1000.
- Bonza Bike Tours, ☏ , ✉ service@BonzaBikeTours.com. Offers a range of guided bicycle tours that start in The Rocks and take in various precincts throughout Sydney. Bicycle hire and bike rentals are also available.
- Sydney Bike Tours, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Hire a bike and explore one of three self guided bicycle tours. Bike the Sydney Harbour Bridge, explore the city's parklands, and ride to the Sydney Fish Markets for lunch.
- The Rocks Ghost Tours, ☏ 1300 731 971 (local rate). Tours depart 6:45PM (April-October) or 7:45PM (November-March), Wise to book ahead. Mo-Su, $34.
The Rocks is a great place to shop for Australiana. Many shops selling Aboriginal art and crafts, Australian designed clothing, line the streets and arcades. Likely more expensive then less touristed areas.
- Rocks Market, ☏ . The, far northern end of George Street, open every weekend, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM, managed by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, info - With over 150 stalls under colourful canopies, pick and choose from art and crafts, jewellery, photography, indigenous artwares and tasty food stalls.
There is a choice of restaurants and bars, and you will read good and bad reviews of most of them. The rule seems to be that you can expect to pay a premium to eat at The Rocks. They all tend to get very busy at times, and have high staff turnover, so your experiences will vary. It is difficult to go dismally wrong choosing a nice restaurant for a night out in the Rocks. On the other hand, deciding that 11pm on a Friday night is a good time for a pizza at Zia Pinas is unlikely to be a rewarding experience, either for the food, ambience, service or value for money.
There are a few restaurants which cater almost exclusively to the tourist crowds Many of these fill by the coach load, and are otherwise quiet. These places are usually apparent by the menu or the style, and are usually easily avoided if you aren't after that experience. Most restaurants in The Rocks draw a mix of locals and visitors.
Nowhere in the district is far from a restaurant or cafe, but there are a couple of distinct restaurant precincts. Campbells Cove is a small waterfront precinct, between the International Passenger Terminal and the Park Hyatt, usually recognised by the one or two tall ships at the wharf there. It is a pretty spot, with boardwalks and sandstone. There are a few fancy restaurants surrounding the precinct including the Italian Village and the Imperial Peking. At International Passenger Terminal there are a strip of restaurants and bars, including the famous seafood restaurant Doyles, and the fine dining Pier.
Just about every pub in The Rocks will serve some sort of food, usually for only a subset of their opening hours. For pubs like the Lord Nelson and the Australian, food is a speciality.
There aren't many cheap or takeaway options to choose from. If you are there during the markets, there are usually a few reasonable cheap options from the market stalls. Otherwise, there is a Subway, and little fast food cluster in Playfair St, if you need to feed the kids quickly and cheaply.
- Phillips Foote, 101 George St (in the center of The Rocks Area), ☏ . Select your steak or fish from the display, and cook it yourself on the large BBQ grills in the courtyard. Add some salad, grab a beer from the bar and you are all set. If the steak isn't cooked to your liking, complain to the chef. $28.
- Pancakes on the Rocks, 10 Hickson Road, ☏ . A Rocks institution since 1975, serving mouth-watering pancakes stacked high. This restaurant can still draw queues that go right along the stairs, and have waiters that hand out menus to the people in the queue. The popularity likely as much due to the scene, as to the food, and certainly popular with the teenage crowd.
- Löwenbräu Keller. Corner Playfair and Argyle Streets, +61 2 9247 7785. An authentic Bavarian German restaurant located in a convict-built cellar. Has a good vibe, usually with a combination of a visitor and local crowd, and usually a few noisy groups. Serves steins of a variety of beers in the German genre. If you want a sensible credit card bill at the end of the night, be careful not to get carried away with how many steins you have. They may taste good, and go down easily, but you'll be left with one serious bill to add to your headaches the next morning.
- La Renaissance Patisserie Francaise, 47 Argyle St, ☏ . A sweet little cake shop serving the finest handmade cakes, pastries, savouries and chocolates in The Rocks. Also does Teas and Coffees.
- Sailors Thai, 106 George St, The Rocks. Mon-Sat noon-10pm. One of the Thai restaurants owned by David Thompson, probably one of the best Thai chefs in the world. Sydney Thai is unique, combining Thai flavours and spices with the quality ingredients available in Australia. The canteen upstairs is casual with a long shared table, but there is a more formal restaurant downstairs. Also has a branch in Potts Point (71a Macleay St). Main dishes under $30.
- Rockpool, 107 George Street, ☏ , fax: . Neil Perry operated restaurant. Fine dining in the Rocks since 1989, sophisticated seafood with an Asian fusion influence, winner of the prestigious mains starting from $54-$70.
- Pier (At the Overseas Passenger Terminal).
- Quay, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, ☏ . Quay has won the Good Food Guide Restaurant of the Year several times and has truly spectacular food, service and views (of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House). The cuisine is Modern Australian and the produce used is top quality. Set menu for $155 per person before wine, but don't expect too much change from $400-500 including wine and tip.
The Rocks pubs get busy most nights. It is a popular night spot for tourists and locals alike. You can walk along George St from Circular Quay and pass several popular pubs that attract a crowd. Late at night, especially on Friday and Saturday night that strip (starting from Jacksons at the Quay and streching as far as the Observer Hotel) can have a vibe, or be rowdy, depending on your point of view. Away from George St the mood is quieter.
- Fortune of War, 137 George Street. Makes a claim to be Sydney's oldest pub and continuously licensed since 1830. A wide range of beers on tap, including Guinness and a variety of Australian brews. Very popular amongst office workers and can get cosy in the evenings and at weekends, not helped by its small size.
- The Orient, ☏ , fax: . Housed in an historic building of the 1850s. Multiple floors, dance floor.
- The Mercantile Hotel, 25 George St, ☏ . Irish pubs, Guinness on tap.
- Hero of Waterloo, 81 Lower Fort St, ☏ . Built in 1843, this sandstone and timber pub has a great colonial ambiance
- The Lord Nelson, sandstone building on the corner of Kent Street and Argyle Street - Established in 1842, a micro-brew pub, with a variety of beers brewed on the premises. Nice bread and cheese, pie and peas. Popular, but usually not so crowded on a weeknight that you can't get a table.
- The Argyle, 12-18 Argyle St, ☏ . Raw timber columns shoot to the ceilings among the daybeds which are set against a backdrop of sandstone walls. The venue has five bars and is a great evening all up. Often holds big functions on Friday and Saturday night, so it can be difficult to get in.
- Blu Bar on 36, Shangri-la Hotel Level 36, 176 Cumberland St, ☏ . Amazing views of Sydney Harbour.
- The Bar, Park Hyatt Hotel, 7 Hickson Rd, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Cosy, comfortable hotel bar with a quieter ambience and views. Pricey.
- The Australian, 100 Cumberland Street, ☏ . The Australian boasts a prodigious range of Australian beers, and very good gourmet pizzas (ranging from vegetarian to crocodile). As the Australian coat of arms features a kangaroo and an emu, you shouldn't be surprised that the "Coat of Arms" pizza contains meat from these animals. Can be hard to get a table between around 6PM and around 9PM. Usually attracts a more mature and quiet crowd than the pubs closer to George St.
The Rocks is not really the prime backpacker area of Sydney. It has some of the premier low-rise accommodation in Sydney, some in historic buildings, and others with unbeatable harbour views.
- Old Sydney Holiday Inn, 55 George Street, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Rooms from $184.
- 1 The Russell Hotel, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 143a George Street. Boutique Bed and Breakfast in the heart of the Rocks. Rooms from $250 per night twin share.
- 2 Harbour Rocks Hotel, 34-52 Harrington Street, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 4-star, boutique hotel housed in a 150 year old hertitage listed building which is on the site of Sydney's first hospital. Rooms from $179.
- The Australian Heritage Hotel, 100 Cumberland Street, ☏ , toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Pub-style accommodation.
Hotels on Circular Quay are listed under City Centre.
- Observatory Hotel, 89-113 Kent Street, ☏ . The Observatory Hotel in Sydney has a European feel to it. Located on a quiet part of Kent St, a couple of min to walk to the Rocks, across from the Observatory park.
- Park Hyatt Sydney, 7 Hickson Road, The Rocks (under the Sydney Harbour Bridge), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Quite possibly Sydney's best hotel, the Park Hyatt has a superb setting, positioned on the harbour shore at Dawes Point next to the Harbour Bridge and directly opposite the Opera House situated across Sydney Cove. If you get a harbour view room, the view probably doesn't get any better. Rooms start from about $800/night and are rarely if ever discounted.
- Sebel Pier One Sydney Hotel, 11 Hickson Road, ☏ . Low rise, absolute waterfront hotel, just to the west of the Harbour Bridge. Has panoramic Sydney Harbour views a contemporary chic hotel based on a heritage wharf. Rooms cost approx $300-$400 a night.
- 3 Shangri-La Hotel, 176 Cumberland Street, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3pm, check-out: 11am. A high-rise, modern hotel if you want to splash out. Beautiful views over the harbour, fantastic service, located at the Quay.The corner suites are spectacular, ideal for honeymoon accommodation. Double rooms approximately $300 per night..
- Quay Grand Suites Sydney, 61 Macquarie Street, ☏ . Luxury accommodation with harbour view rooms and spa baths.
- Quay West Suites Sydney, 98 Gloucester St, ☏ , ✉ H8764@accor.com. Views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
The Rocks is a busy area, with late trading, and a comfortable feeling. Late at night, the concentration of pubs can inevitably lead to some alcohol fuelled violence. The area is well patrolled by police, but some fights do occur in the pubs and on the streets. Use common sense when interacting with drunk people, and you will just be a spectator.
The Rocks police station is on the corner of Argle and George, just opposite the Argyle Hotel. It is one of the major central Sydney police stations, and is easily accessible at all hours of the day.