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 21 other fun things to do in The Rocks.
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1. Knit a Scarf, Have a Scone
The Tea Cosy at 7 Atherden Street is one of the nicest cafes The Rocks has to offer, it’s famous for its homemade scones and jam – and its 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.
2. Hunt Ghosts
There is a lot of 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 in Room No8 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, or if you prefer to go things alone check out this post on the haunted areas in the Rocks and go hunting yourself. (Note: The Tea Cosy has moved since I wrote that post, I’m not sure their new home has a ghost.)
If you feel like channelling the spirits in a more personal manner – or just finding out what the future holds, then pop into Argyle Oracle at 41 Geroge Street. They have a resident psychic and tarot reader – it’s also the place to stock up on all things mystical.
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. 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.
It’s also included in this walking tour of The Rocks which also gives you a chance to hear more about the area.
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 or Taco Tuesday 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. Try an Escape Room
There’s a few of these in Sydney, but Paniq Room is the one you’ll find in The Rocks.
You can choose from different themed rooms and some, like the prison cell aim to add an element of fear to the escape experience. They also have a Jumanji themed room.
You’ll find them at 13 Cumberland Street in The Rocks – you’ll need to book in advance so check things out here.
7. 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 wow, that’s different.
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.
8. 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!!!
9. Enjoy Some Pop Art
The Rocks are full of quirky independent shops and this one, pretty much next door to Biggles, is one of my favourites.
It’s an art gallery specialising in brightly coloured pop art by Singaporean artist Ness. The canvases are bold, bright and fun – and they aim to keep things affordable. A share of the profits of the sale of each canvas also goes to charity.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to meet the gallery’s bulldogs, Rocky and Bubba.
You’ll find them at 4 Atherden Street. See their website for opening hours.
10. 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 10 am to 5 pm.
For more details on the Pylon and what you might find up there – including some amusing pictures of me looking a little bit nervous, check out this post.
The entrance to the Sydney Bridge Climb is also to be found in The Rocks. If it’s on your list of things you have to do in Sydney, then you will need to book in advance. Click here to check the different packages on offer.
11. Stargaze at The Observatory
Home to the Planetarium 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.
They 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…
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Admire 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.
15. 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), the Mercantile, home to the second-best pie in Sydney, and The Argyle as I like the courtyard, but only in the week. It’s too full at weekends.
If you’re travelling solo, or just fancy some more company with your drink, then check out this Pub Tour of the Rocks which will take you to some of the older establishments in the area. A drink in each pub and lunch is included. Click here to check timings and make a booking.
16. 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.
If you are interested in the criminal history of The Rocks – and the rest of Sydney, you might want to check out the True Crime tour which starts in The Rocks and reveals tall tales of misdemeanours gone by. Click here to check timings and availability.
17. Shop for Scents
Dux Collection is another of The Rocks most original shops. They specialise in scented products – including the most amazing relaxing oil that actually alters smell as it disappears.
A doctor makes all of the products, and they were originally created to help their daughter who was unwell. Now though the range caters for everyone.
Their Sydney-themed soaps also make great souvenirs.
Find them at 23 Playfair Street (right by where you go into Foundation Park). Check opening hours here.
18. 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.
19. Discover the Chefs of the Future
William Blue restaurant is a training school for the hospitality industry. The chefs and waiters are all learning their trade – meaning you might get to taste dishes from the new Matt Moran or Kylie Kwong.
It’s open for lunch and dinner and is considerably cheaper than other fine dining restaurants in the city. – in fact, you’d probably spend more having three courses in a pub! If you want to taste great, modern Australian cuisine without blowing the budget, it’s definitely worth checking out.
20. 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.
21. 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
Where to Stay in The Rocks
The Rocks is full of accommodation options and is a fantastic place to stay as it’s full of pubs and restaurants, but where are some of the best place to stay in The Rocks. Well, we’d suggest you have a look at some of these…
Sydney Harbour YHA. It’s one of the cheapest options in the area but the view from the roof is worth a million dollars (see below). The Double rooms are modern and clean and you’ll find a full kitchen onsite if you want to self cater Dorm rooms are also available. They also offer discount drinks and snacks some evenings.
A friend of mine stayed here when she came to visit me in Sydney (my house is too small for guests!) and I was really impressed with the place. Click here to see rates and availability.
The Park Hyatt: If money is no object, this is the property for you. The view of the Opera House from the bar or the Opera View rooms is jaw-dropping. It also has a rooftop pool and a full spa. Click to take a look round the property and check rates.
Rydges Sydney Harbour: A good middle ground between the two ideas above, it offers simple rooms inside an old heritage building. The rooftop pool has a great view over the harbour. Click here to see more.
Prefer to try Airbnb. There are few properties in the Rocks to have a look at. Three that look particularly special are…
Entire Apartment Hosted by Lina: If you love the look of the old terraced buildings in Sydney with their pretty wrought-iron balconies, Lina’s place gives you the chance to stay in one. The two-storey,one-bedroomed house has water views from the bedroom balcony and sleeps 3. Click to see more pictures, reviews and check availability here.
Luxury Colonial Terrace House in the Rocks: If you’re travelling with friends or family, you might want to look at Lincoln’s home that sleeps six in four bedrooms – and frankly, looks like a boutique hotel! It also has a beautiful garden which considering it’s right in the middle of central Sydney with every attraction of The Rocks on your doorstep is amazing. See the pictures and other details here.
Historic Gloucester, in the heart of The Rocks: Lastly, for a more contemporary look – but still in a building steeped in history, have a look at Anne’s place. It’s located opposite the Australian pub and sleeps four in two bedrooms. There’s also a small terrace to enjoy. Note it’s not suitable for children under 2. To see more details, click here.
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If you liked the ideas in this post, you might also want to read our Fun Things to do in Circular Quay one too.