The Rocks is among Sydney’s most vibrant tourist precincts, fusing quaint cobblestoned laneways and centuries-old colonial history with some of the city’s top modern eateries and best boutiques, bars and cafés. Discover the top 10 things to see and do in the most historic patch of the Harbour City.
The iconic ‘Coathanger’ is one of Sydney’s most recognisable landmarks, and visitors can scale the Sydney Harbour Bridge with BridgeClimb Sydney on Cumberland St in The Rocks. You can book a BridgeClimb experience from as little as $168 for priceless views towering 134 metres above Sydney Harbour, and there will be even more packages – including express offerings and tours in Mandarin – available from October 1.
If scaling the arch sounds a little too scary (or pricey) for you, then The Rocks is also your gateway to a gentle stroll across the bridge. Pedestrians can access the walkway from two sets of stairs on Cumberland St for the 1.6-kilometre journey to Kirribilli – the walk across the Bridge is totally free, and offers jaw-dropping views over Sydney Harbour, Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House.
Another great-value vantage point for a spectacular vista over the water is the rooftop of the Glenmore Hotel, one of The Rocks’ favourite pubs. Climb three flights of stairs (and arrive early if you want a decent seat!) for a 180-degree panorama of the sparkling Sydney Harbour, providing pub patrons the perfect backdrop for their schooner and chicken schnitzel.
Melbourne might be Australia’s capital of art and culture but The Rocks is home to the country’s premier contemporary art gallery. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) – a grand Art Deco edifice next to Circular Quay – contains more than 4,000 Australian works as well as exceptional international and domestic exhibitions, attracting more than one million visitors through its doors every year.
The Rocks is one of Sydney’s oldest neighbourhoods, housing the working classes since the British colonised the Australian continent in the late 18th century. And visitors can trace that history at a number of historic sites – The Rocks Discover Museum is brimming with artefacts and interactive exhibits, Susannah Place preserves four terrace houses built by Irish immigrants in the 1840s, and Cadman’s Cottage is considered to be Sydney’s oldest surviving residential building, constructed way back in 1816.
The Rocks isn’t just full of old stuff – this corner of Sydney is also home to some of the city’s top modern eateries. Located in the upper level of the Overseas Passenger Terminal, Peter Gilmore’s Quay serves an envelope-pushing menu with a side serving of water views, Saké plates up award-winning Japanese cuisine, Pony Dining pioneered the wood-fired grill in the Harbour City, and the Cut Bar & Grill is one of Sydney’s most mouth-watering steakhouses.
The atmospheric alleyways of The Rocks are lined with lots of great cafés, including a handful with a distinctly French flavour. La Renaissance Patisserie and Café has been dishing up Parisian pastries since Bastille Day 26 years ago, and a minute’s walk around the corner, Creperie Suzette serves French-calibre sweet and savoury crepes and galettes. Across the border in Belgium, the Guylian chocolate café is another Rocks institution.
There are average backpacker hostels, and then there’s Sydney Harbour YHA. Located in the heart of The Rocks on Cumberland St, this luxe hostel boasts one of the city’s best water views from its spacious rooftop terrace, for use exclusively by guests. Sydney Harbour YHA features a mix of private and multi-share rooms in a state-of-the-art building perched above the archaeological remains of centuries-old settlements, adding a dose of colonial history to your stay.
The Rocks is at its quaint, charming best every Saturday and Sunday when the neighbourhood’s cobblestoned laneways are filled with the stalls of The Rocks Markets. Taking place every weekend between 10am and 5pm, the market brings together local fashion, handcrafted jewellery, independent artists, talented artisans and fragrant food stands, plus a food-only market on Friday nights after work.
If you didn’t spot something at The Rocks Markets, grab a souvenir at Squidinki, the suburb’s most unique and colourful boutique. This Nurses Walk store adds quintessentially Sydney designs to mugs, trays, bags, coasters, tea towels, notebooks, plates, playing cards and stacks of other memorable souvenirs, including ready-made Sydney Harbour gift packs to remember your time in The Rocks.