The Rocks is Sydney’s historic district full of quaint old sandstone buildings, Sydney’s oldest pubs and a fantastic harbour view – but while searching out history is one of the best things to do in The Rocks, it’s not all you’ll find there. Check out our local’s guide to 18 other fun things to do in The Rocks.
1. Knit a Scarf, Have a Scone
The Tea Cosy at 33 George Street is one of the nicest cafes The Rocks has to offer, it’s a fantastic find – especially the cute and quiet garden at the back. It’s famed for its homemade scones and jam – and it’s tea cosies.
Walking inside you’ll find knitted versions of everything from Jack Skellington to the Irish Prime Minister! And should you get the urge to pick up the needles yourself, go at it – there are balls of wool on every table.
Oh, and it’s haunted – apparently, a friendly lady with red hair haunts the room called Nana’s Nook upstairs.
2. Hunt Ghosts
The Tea Cosy is not the only haunted place in The Rocks. With a past involving murders, crime and the odd case of the plague, it’s not surprising.
From Hamish, the friendly ghost who doesn’t like noise at the Lord Nelson Hotel to the more sinister sounding presence that stands over the bed of single women staying at the famous Russell Hotel you can’t wander around the Rocks without invading the space of a spirit.
For a full list of The Rock’s most haunted places, either take a ghost tour, The Rocks Ghost Tours is the best-known company, or check out this post on The Tea Cosy ghost and the rest of the areas more spirited residents and go hunting yourself.
3. Try a Silent Disco
If you’re in The Rocks on a Friday night you might notice a group of people wearing headphones boogieing their way around the back streets. This is the DiscoD Silent Disco and it’s a world of fun. Yes, at first you feel a little bit weird dancing along to a tune no-one else can hear, but you get past that and you’ll have a blast and learn a few things about the area.
Our night dancing our way around the Rocks saw us shake, shimmy and strut across zebra crossings like some millennial version of the Beatles – at one point there was also a particularly spirited rendition of Rock Lobster opposite the Belgian Beer Cafe.
And we did all of this while people doing normal things like eating pizza or drinking beer looked at us out of windows like we were all completely mad. IT WAS BRILLIANT.In fact, if you’re looking for something other than eating and drinking to do, I’d say it was one of the best things to do in The Rocks at night.
The tours start at Cadman’s Cottage on the Rocks side of Circular Quay and then boogie round the back streets for an hour. They cost $35 a person – but, if you have ten or more willing disco buddies DiscoD are offering a 15 percent discount on group bookings for Differentville readers until the end of June. Just book on their website and mention the code discoDtours. You can also email Sally at firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Visit the Alice In Wonderland Park
A tour guide I met recently described Foundation Park in Sydney’s The Rocks as the Alice in Wonderland park and it fits it brilliantly. Although, it’s not really a park…
Hidden off Argyle Terrace (take the alley between numbers 26 and 27), Foundation Park is based on the foundations of eight old houses that used to be on the site.
Between four and ten people lived in each of these and to show just how cramped and crowded this would be, an artist has added normal-sized furniture to the rooms. However, because the rooms are so tiny compared to what we are used to – all the items look enormous – which is why Alice in Wonderland Park is such a great name.
5. Drink a Margarita the size of your head
Talking of oversized items, Tex Mex restaurant El Camino Cantina in the Rocks serves huge margaritas – I mean massive. Here is The Boyfriend posing with a 24oz one for scale. They cost $16 for a 15oz glass and $19 for the 24oz.
The food there is also good, but the portions on this don’t quite match up to those in the margs – which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much you eat Bigger eaters can fill up on free chips and hot sauce though.
The bar can get very busy – especially on the weekends and so it’s a good idea to book.
If giant beer is more your thing, head next door to the Munich Brauhaus where they serve steins of German lager and giant schnitzels. Note: this is also one of the few places open for lunch in Sydney on Christmas Day – we’ve been there two years running and it’s definitely a good option when virtually everything else is closed. Just don’t pinch my table.
6. Head to the Roof of the Art Gallery
I’d been to the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Rocks about three times before I realised it had a rooftop! Now, the first thing I do when I wander past is jump in the lift to the top floor.
The cafe up here can be a zoo, packed with people and pushchairs, but you’re not here for cake. Instead, you’re here to see whatever cool sculpture is currently on the roof and to get a great view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s also a good spot to nose at the upper floors of whatever cruise ship is in at the time.
Use the stairs to wander back down taking in the art as you go. The museum changes exhibits regularly and there’s always something intriguing to find in there.
Last time I went, there was a work involving stencilled rabbits and a line of coloured bags – it was pretty enough but it was only when I read what the work was made of that I thought eh?
The coloured bags weren’t just filled with coloured water as I assumed, it was household products like Pine O Clean and Fluffy fabric conditioner. No, I have no idea why either, but I liked it.
7. Admire Biggles
There’s a number of curious animal statues around Sydney, and the one in The Rocks is Biggles the dog.
Biggles lived in the Rocks and was a bit of a character riding around in a milk crate attached to the back of his owner’s motorbike while wearing a rugby shirt. If that wasn’t enough to get him noticed by the neighbours, his habit of leaping off the balcony of his house to chase cats did.
He died in 1995 (jumping from something he shouldn’t) and his statue is outside his old home on the corner of Playfair and Atherden Streets.
For the whole story on Biggles, check out this awesome piece in Family Dog magazine – warning, you may need a tissue to deal with that thing in your eye by the end!!!
8. Climb The Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon
Okay, it’s slightly outside of the Rocks, but the steps to access it are reached from Cumberland Street so I’m going with it.
While the normal Harbour Bridge Climb costs a few hundred dollars, the lookout point on the top of the first Pylon gives you fantastic 360 views of the Harbour (and a close up of the bridge itself) for just $15. It’s open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm.
9. Stargaze at The Observatory
Home to the Plantetarium and some super large telescopes which you can use to view the night sky on their evening tours, this is another good thing to do in The Rocks at night – but, it doesn’t have to be night time to enjoy the Observatory.
Tthey also do day tours which include the chance for you to peer in close up at the sun without losing vision! Check their website for details of the tours. timings and prices as they differ throughout the year.
If you don’t fancy a tour, the view from Observatory Hill is also one of the prettiest places in Sydney – and it’s a nice place for a picnic when the weather is right.
The quickest way to the Sydney Observatory from The Rocks is via the Cumberland Street tunnel, directly opposite The Australian pub. This is next to where you enter next to the steps to climb the Bridge And, while you’re in there…
10. Leave a Footprint in the Cumberland Street Tunnel
One of the more unusual things to do in The Rocks is to add your grubby footprint to the walls of this tunnel.
Why this started no-one knows but, the whole of the tunnel is lined with muddy footprints. They clean it off occasionally, but it’s a bit of a Sydney tradition so they soon come back.
11. Check out the Sirius Building
You’ll either love or hate the Brutalist architecture of this iconic building that towers menacingly over the Rocks. If you’re in the latter camp, you’ll be pleased to hear that its days may be numbered.
As I write this, the old public housing block built in the 1970s is up for sale for $100 million. While there’s been a massive public outcry to keep it and one pressure group is trying to raise the cash to buy it themselves, if it’s sold to developers it’s likely to be knocked down. It’s a shame as it’s such an iconic building.
While it is still here though, if architecture is your thing, take your last chance to have a look. You can see it from by Biggles’ statue, or for a closer look, head out of the doorway of Foundation Park and turn right. It’s empty so you can’t go in sadly.
12. Check out this Cool Mural
It’s by the Portuguese artist Vhils and if you look carefully you’ll notice it’s split down the middle by the steps.
The subject is Jack Mundey, the man without whom Sydney would look very different. He was head of the Building Labourers Union and, in the 1970s, he stopped his members working on the demolition of certain ‘slum’ areas of Sydney. Those areas include The Rocks and Sydney’s Surry Hills with its gorgeous old terraces.
You’ll find the Jack Mundey Mural at the end of Globe Street which runs between George and Harrington Streets next to The Russel Hotel.
13. Eat Kangaroo Pizza at the Australian
Most of the pubs around The Rocks do okay food so it’s easy to find somewhere to eat, but if you want something a bit different, hit up The Australian for one of their exotic pizzas.
You can choose from emu, kangaroo and crocodile (and other less quirky stuff).
They are pretty good pizzas (even if they could be a bit crispier), I also think some of them have too much meat and not enough vegetables (I’m talking to you Tandoori Chicken), but I’ve been told that’s a daft thing to say!!!
The one above is The Australia, which has crocodile, olives, mushroom and aubergine – yep, crocodile tastes kind of like chicken – albeit chewy chicken.
The Australian is one of the best pubs in The Rocks; other favourites include The Glenmore (for its amazing rooftop view – get there early to bag a seat) and The Argyle as I like the courtyard, but only in the week. It’s too full at weekends.
14. Wander down Suez Canal
I must have walked past this tiny, atmospheric alley 100 times and never knew it was there until I started writing this post and made it a rule that I would walk every inch of The Rocks to spot cool stuff.
The alley was named because whenever it rained a flood of water poured down it, Back in the day it was the haunt of the gangs who frequented The Rocks and pretty much a no-go area for anyone not looking for trouble. Now, it’s lined with historical facts and details and is a great place to get yourself acquainted with The Rocks as they used to be.
15. Combine Old and New
This is one of the quirky things to do in the Rocks – spot where old and new sit side by side together. For example, in one place you’ve got The Fortune of War, one of the many boozers that claim to be Sydney’s oldest pub, and a few doors down is a shop selling Louis Vuitton’s latest handbag!
My favourite parts of this though are the displays where they show you exactly how old and new combine like with the mural below that you’ll find at the end of Gloucester Street.
Further down Gloucester Street you’ll also find The Big Dig where you can see, not only old walls and household treasures dug up during excavation, they have pictures showing how the lanes nearby used to look (and how little has really changed).
16. Marvel at the Paintwork in Susannah Place Museum
Visiting the four terrace houses that make up the Susannah Place museum is one of the best things to do in The Rocks if you really want to get a sense of its history.
These four houses are one of the few truly original houses in The Rocks and have been kept as original as possible from a variety of dates in history from 1840 to the 1970s.
They run $12 tours in the afternoon that last an hour. Only eight people are allowed on each tour to protect the insides of the homes – so, give them a call first to reserve a spot. – the paintwork really is a sight to behold.
If you can’t get on a tour, at least visit the shop in the last building which has been restored and sells such treasures as HP Sauce, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and Caramel Wafers.
17. Find The Crushed Car
This sculpture, called Still Life with Stone and Car stands at the roundabout in Hickson Road – and was created by artist Jimmie Durham.
My favourite thing about it is the ‘warning artwork’ signs on the road as you approach it – just in case anyone thought a meteor had come down and hit some poor unsuspecting Ford Fiesta I guess! The stone also has a face drawn on it!
The quickest way to reach the sculpture is via the set of steps between Lower Fort Street at the end of The Rocks and Hickson Road. You can then take the scenic route back along the waterfront and get a picture postcard view of the Opera House from Hickson Road Reserve.
18. Have a wine at the Gantry
If you’ve made it down to the crushed car, you deserve a reward so head to one of my favourite bars in Sydney, The Gantry in the Sebel Pier One hotel.
It’s generally fairly quiet as, other than hotel guests, hardly anyone seems to know it’s there, and you can kick back one of their comfy sofa lined booths with a beer or a wine and watch the world float past on the water. Hopefully, the perfect end to a fun day exploring my favourite fun things to do in The Rocks. Cheers.
If you do want to do them all in one day, here’s a map so you can see how everything relates
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