The Rocks Walking Tour, Sydney

The Rocks Walking Tour (Self Guided), Sydney

The Rocks is a historic area and the oldest neighborhood in downtown Sydney. It was the site where on 26 January 1788 a Union flag was raised to announce the establishment of the first British penal colony in New South Wales. Many of the old stone buildings are made of quarry stones hand-chipped by early convicts, which gave the area its name.

Today's Rocks is a thriving locality packed with narrow streets, numerous museums, historical buildings, cafes, pubs, restaurants, markets, and a host of other sights that make this one of the areas to visit when in Sydney. And the place offers some great views of the harbor and surrounds!

A highlight here is the city’s oldest pub, the Fortune of War (since 1828) – a must, particularly if you like fish and chips! Follow that with a visit to the Rocks Discovery Museum to see what it was like a couple of centuries ago, as well as the Cadman Cottage and the Susannah Place to see examples of the early settler dwellings.

For a genuine 'Ye Old' world, don’t miss the Argyle Stores housing retail, fashion and eateries around a cobbled courtyard. And, finally, go sample some boutique beers brewed at the historic Australian Hotel, which also serves good Aussie-style pizzas like “peppered kangaroo”.

Follow this self-guided walking tour to savor Australia’s earliest European settlement at your own pace!
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The Rocks Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: The Rocks Walking Tour
Guide Location: Australia » Sydney (See other walking tours in Sydney)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Author: australia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Circular Quay
  • Fortune of War Hotel
  • Gannon House
  • The Rocks Discovery Museum
  • Cadmans Cottage
  • ASN Co Building
  • Argyle Terrace - Caminetto's Restaurant
  • Playfair Street Terraces
  • Argyle Stores
  • Australian Hotel
  • Susannah Place Museum
1
Circular Quay

1) Circular Quay

Circular Quay is where the majority of ferry activity in Sydney takes place. Some of the city's top attractions, including The Rocks, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Sydney Opera House, are all accessible via a ferry ride from this location. Although this area is a transportation hub, it also has its own vibrant cultural life.

Buskers are a frequent sight in this area, amusing visitors that pass through here daily. There are several outdoor eating spots where visitors can quickly grab something quick to enjoy. The nearby Royal Botanic Gardens provide a beautiful scenic backdrop for dining.

Walking along the quay's promenade is the perfect way to savor views of The Rocks and the bridge. Several cafes and restaurants are along this promenade area, as well as shops. Another nice treat that awaits is in the form of market stalls that sell a wide selection of goods.
2
Fortune of War Hotel

2) Fortune of War Hotel

Fortune of War Hotel has been a part of Sydney's landscape since 1828 and is the oldest pub in the city as well. Troops and sailors from the Australian Armed Forces have considered this tavern a favorite place to stop in their travels, giving it a colorful history. Tooth & Co, a brewery in the city since 1835, took charge of rebuilding Fortune of War in 1921.

Since 1948, members of the Armed Forces and veterans have met at the pub every ANZAC Day, and there are plenty of photos that commemorate these service members. This bar is a top-of-the-line entertainment venue, with a beer garden that hosts regular performers.

Lunch and dinner are both served seven days a week. The First Fleet Bistro proudly serves favorites such as burgers, schnitzel, and steak. There are 15 beers on tap, 17 wines, and a full range of cocktails.

Fortune of War Hotel was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register in 2002 for its historical and cultural contribution to The Rocks area.
3
Gannon House

3) Gannon House

Gannon House is a heritage-listed retail building in the inner city Sydney suburb of The Rocks. It was designed by Michael Gannon and built from 1839 to 1840 as a residential house and stables. As of 2019, it contains an Gannon House Gallery (an art gallery) and La Renaissance Patisserie (a cafe). It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register in 2002.

The building comprises a two-story structure in a wide U-shape with the base towards Argyle Street. This integrated construction is typical of a low-cost development of the property during that time.

Gannon House is of State heritage significance for its historical, aesthetic and cultural values, and for its associations with the early development of the precinct and contribution to The Rocks area.
4
The Rocks Discovery Museum

4) The Rocks Discovery Museum

This free museum located in Kendall Lane in The Rocks, Sydney tells the tale of the location from the time it was inhabited by the aboriginal people to the present. It is one of the most interesting and informative museums in the city.

The Rocks Discovery Museum is housed in an 1850 sandstone warehouse restored by the National Trust. It covers three floors and the exhibits are divided into sections. There are many interesting historical objects on display and computer generated audio visual displays. The four sections include the Aboriginal, the Colonial, Port and Transformations.

Objects at the museum are from many archaeological excavations. Visitors can learn about the Cadigal Aboriginal people who first resided at the Rocks, the European settlements, political and social movements, union protests in the seventies and recent events like the evacuation of local residents for the development of a commercial zone and their fight against the demolition of historical buildings that would have removed all traces of the first colonial settlement in Sydney.

Interesting exhibits like Aboriginal spearheads and beer bottles used by the early European settlers are on display. Visitors can also view three informative short films on the history of the Rocks. The museum holds temporary exhibitions and special programs to introduce children to the culture of the Aborigines.
5
Cadmans Cottage

5) Cadmans Cottage

Cadmans Cottage is one of the few remaining buildings that go back to Sydney's early colonial years. Some of the highlights of this building's history include having been a water transport station, a home for sailors, and a water police station, in addition to other essential functions.

This cottage still features the original sandstone design. The home's architecture is very typical of buildings from the era. Restoration work that has occurred in recent years has helped to restore the building to its early appearance. Some of the noteworthy changes include the harbor's boundary being 100 meters from its original location due to Circular Quay's construction.

One of the cottage's highlights is its status as a Heritage site, presenting its importance in the life of New South Wales. Guided tours of the home's lower story are available. These tours also include visits to the grounds, which have been well-preserved over the years.
6
ASN Co Building

6) ASN Co Building

The ASN Co building is a heritage-listed property in The Rocks, Sydney. Completed in 1885 in the Pre-Federation Anglo-Dutch style under the direction of William Wardell and his associate, Walter Liberty Vernon, the building served as the principal offices and warehouse for the Australasian Steam Navigation Company until the company's merger in 1887, when the Government of New South Wales acquired the land used for ordinance facilities and later as government administration offices. The building was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 10 May 2002.

The building is currently used as an art gallery to display the works of Ken Done. Ken Done is one of Sydney’s most famous artists and a true Australian icon. His gallery and store have a variety of Ken Done artworks, as well as everyday items sporting Ken Done designs. Done’s art is characterized by bright, contrasting colors and childlike abstraction. Australian landmarks – from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney Harbor – always feature strongly in his work.

A set of twin Ken Done coasters will set you back AU$9.95. Ken Done Calendars are AU$20.00 and there are a variety of Ken Done prints available. There are also silk ties for AU$79.00 or a baby bib for AU$19.95. Ken Done Gallery and store are located at 123-25 George Street, in one of Sydney’s most historic areas, The Rocks, which sit just below the Sydney Harbor Bridge and a stone’s throw from the Opera House and Circular Quay. The gallery and attached store are open 7 days, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
7
Argyle Terrace - Caminetto's Restaurant

7) Argyle Terrace - Caminetto's Restaurant

The Argyle Terrace - Caminetto's Restaurant is a heritage-listed former residence and now restaurant located in the inner city Sydney suburb of The Rocks. It was designed by built for Thomas Playfair from 1883 to 1884. It is also known as Former Harry's Bar and Sorrentos. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register in 2002.

Today Argyle Terrace houses an Italian restaurant with a beautiful location inside sandstone walls, with a courtyard. The site in The Rocks helps provide some of the best views in Sydney for outside dining. This trattoria-style restaurant has been proudly serving locals and visitors for over 20 years.

In addition to a courtyard, the restaurant also has a full bar and private rooms. These areas of the restaurant have a distinct Italian and Mediterranean flair that you'll savor as you enjoy your meal. There are even musical performances that you can enjoy during your dinner that make everything even more relaxing.

All of the food served here is cooked to order, ensuring maximum freshness. Some of the most popular dishes include home made pasta, as well as pizza. Veal and seafood are also popular choices on the menu and are cooked to order as the popular Italian dishes are, too.
8
Playfair Street Terraces

8) Playfair Street Terraces

The Playfair Street Terraces' origins go back to the 1870s when the buildings were residences. These former homes are on the State Heritage Register, ensuring their current and future preservation.

The buildings in question are excellent examples of home styles popular in the late Victorian period. Each floor has a two-room configuration that has been preserved despite other renovations. The grouping of buildings is the only one in The Rocks area containing cantilevered balconies, an architectural feature that is not as common in modern homes in the area.

Today, this neighborhood plays host to a variety of shops. One of the most popular is Get Drenched, a bath bomb, candle, and soap store that enjoys high popularity. Other popular shops include Hunting Hue, which is a gift store, SIM Travel, a travel agency, and Honeybee, a hardware store.
9
Argyle Stores

9) Argyle Stores

Argyle Stores occupies a building dating back to 1826, originally serving as both a customs house and bond store. During its heyday, the facility housed various goods such as flour, sugar, tea, tobacco, cheese, wine, and brandy. By 1845, the functions of the Custom House had transitioned to another location on Circular Quay, and in 1854, the building transformed into a bonded and free store.

The building is notable for its amalgamation of architectural styles. It features Colonial Georgian architecture initially, with later additions including Victorian Warehouse and elements of Art Nouveau Chicago. Noteworthy features include a stone facade adorned with sandstone arches and hipped roofs.

While renowned for its historical significance, the building has adapted to modern times, now hosting restaurants, shops, and clubs. El Camino Cantina The Rocks is a favored Tex-Mex eatery, while The Argyle offers a contemporary bistro experience within an authentic 1820s ambiance.
10
Australian Hotel

10) Australian Hotel

The Australian Hotel is a heritage-listed site dating back to 1914. The building itself is quite attractive from an architectural standpoint and is a well-preserved example of Edwardian style, featuring quality finishes, fabric, and other details. Despite undergoing several renovations over its century-long existence, the hotel has maintained its distinctive charm.

The outdoor pub on the premises has become a beloved gathering place for locals since its inception, significantly contributing to the ambiance of The Rocks area. It proudly supports the Australian craft beer industry by exclusively offering locally-made brands, along with a selection of Australian wines.

Guests can indulge in a variety of cocktails and uniquely flavorful dishes while enjoying the pub's atmosphere. Signature culinary delights include salt and pepper squid, couscous and pumpkin bowls, and pizzas topped with emu and kangaroo meat. Yummy!
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
11
Susannah Place Museum

11) Susannah Place Museum

Situated within the former slum and rugged neighborhood of the Rocks, Susannah Place Museum highlights the lives of Sydney's working class from 1844 to 1990. Comprising four sandstone residences, it stands as the remaining vestiges of the once abundant sandstone architecture. Erected in 1844 for Edward and Mary Riley, these homes, along with an adjoining corner shop, have sheltered numerous working-class families across generations. Notably, the museum's restoration efforts have focused solely on ensuring structural safety, leaving all other elements untouched.

Within these dwellings, layers of paint and peeling wallpaper unveil a narrative spanning 150 years, featuring an antique lounge, an 80-year-old kitchen, and a century-old bedroom. From brick-type toilets to modern flushing mechanisms, the evolution of sanitary practices in the city is vividly portrayed.

Likewise, the backyard showcases the progression from tub-based washing to the adoption of washing machines within the working-class neighbourhood. Complementing this immersive experience is a brief DVD presentation on the Rocks' history and archival photographs illustrating the pre-Harbour Bridge landscape. The corner shop, adorned to capture the vibrancy of working-class community life, offers 19th-century goods reminiscent of its bygone era.

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