Welcome to The Rocks, a little part of central Sydney lined with cobblestone streets, historic buildings, cosy cafes, shops and weekend artisan markets, from where you can catch one of the best views of the Opera House. The Rocks go way back, from the start of the European settlement, this was exactly where it all began and the first fleet landed.
From here is a mere 10-minute stroll along the water to Circular Quay and an easy 20 minutes will get you right to the stairs that lead up the Opera House. They claim, The Rocks is one of the most buzzing quarters in Sydney and there truly is a lot going on at any day of the week!
Here are all the top things you cannot miss when visiting The Rocks.
Of course you cannot miss to explore the Harbour Bridge, because it’s right there! Walk over it, bike it, have a picnic under it or even climb it if you dare to get to great heights. I’ve done the climb years ago, and I remember my knees shaking, it’s definitely pure exhilaration and I’d totally love to do it again! There are different climbs to choose from, so you could be watching Sydney at dusk or dawn or in all its glory throughout a sunny day.
Take in the views of the Sydney Harbour and Opera House from the promenade, lounge on one of the benches, grassy spots or restaurants along the water. For one of the best views of the Opera House head to MCA Cafe and Sculpture Terrace which is located on level four of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Dawes Point is another of my favourites as you get really up close with the bridge and realise how big it actually is. As you walk around the point, you will see the Opera House peeking into sight underneath the bridge. In exactly this spot I have actually spent New Years Eve a couple of years ago – the views of the Opera House were absolutely incredible and even though the bridge is right above your head, it really is an awesome spot.
If you have a picnic in mind or simply want to relax away from the hustle bustle of the streets, head to Observatory Hill, a calmer spot on top of a small hill which also houses, as the name suggests, an observatory where you could do some star gazing. The hill itself has a lot of grassy spots and overlooks the Harbour Bridge.
The Arts & Markets
There are so many cute shops that are just waiting to be browsed in The Rocks. On the weekend, you will also find The Rocks Markets setting up their various stands where arts and crafts can be shopped. The Rocks Markets are open Friday from 9am to 3pm and both Saturday’s and Sunday’s from 10am to 5pm and really are worth a visit when you are in the area. Mind you though, they are touristy and higher prices may be expected.
If you love art, the Museum of Contemporary Art will offer you various collections of contemporary Australian and international modern art. The building itself is really cool too as it sits in an art-deco style former Maritime Services Board Building.
One of the best ways to really dive deep into The Rocks and its history is by joining a walking tour which will take you around the area introducing you to all its charming alleyways in about 1,5 hours.
Alternatively, you could also join a guided bike tour or rent a bike and discovered it all by yourself. The Rocks are a bit hilly, so bear in mind that you will need to paddle a little bit.
Also, located in a restored sandstone warehouse from the 1850s, the Rocks Discovery Museum brings a timeline of pre-European settlement days until the present to life. Great for a rainy day!
Feel like diving deeper into Sydney’s dark past? Well then, a ghost tour may be your thing. Accompanied by lantern light you listen in to stories about The Rocks and the rowdy criminals that once lived around here.
Another little gem to visit is Cadmans Cottage, the second oldest residential building in Sydney that has survived until the present day.
The Food & Drinks
For drinks with a view, visit The Glenmore Hotel, a pub serving gourmet food and cocktails overlooking the harbour. Alternatively, find The Australian Heritage Hotel to sample on one of the 25 rotating Australian beers on tap or try something different and order kangaroo pizza or salt water crocodile pizza.
If you want to splurge a little, be sure to visit Altitude Restaurant on level 36 of the Shangri-La Hotel which boasts with stunning views sitting high above the Sydney skyline. You will love the floor-to-ceiling windows while enjoying contemporary Australian food.
I love Japanese food! If you do too, Sake Restaurant is your stop to get your fix on delicious Sushi, Sashimi and more.
Finish it all off with a visit at the Royal Copenhagen Ice Cream on George Street or head into La Renaissance Cafe to grab some French delicacies or a coffee. And if you ask me as an absolute crazy Belgium Chocolate lover, Guylian Cafe will not disappoint with their hot chocolate and pralines.
The Place To Stay
Uniquely positioned on George Street and right between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and opposite the Opera House, the Holiday Inn Old Sydney is a great spot to lay your head if you want to be central to all the things there is to discover in The Rocks.
Walking into the hotel, which is set in a heritage listed building, you are greeted with a huge open lobby with comfy seats – and a fireplace which is lit up and a cosy place to hang out in winter, which I definitely welcomed as I was there in the middle of it – in July.
There are a total of 176 rooms, all equipped with LCD TVs, free Wifi throughout, a safe, air-con, hair dryer and 24h reception service.
The real stunner of the Holiday Inn Old Sydney is the rooftop pool which has an outdoor pool as well as a spa tub. From here you have a 360 degree view overlooking the harbour, the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge as well as the city’s skyline.
Absolutely stunning! I could just sit here for hours and watch the boats cruise around the harbour and the world go by.
Breakfast is served buffet-style at the Playfair Terrace Restaurant, which is sumptuous and where you can squeeze your own juice and eggs are made to order.
The Rocks is not only one of the oldest parts of Sydney, but it also is truly very diverse boasting with markets, great restaurants, little shops and its proximity to the water and the Opera House. If you want to be central to all the main sights of Sydney while also being able to dive into history, this is the area you will want to stay at.