The Rocks. Village in Sydney, New South Wales

The Rocks

Village in Sydney, New South Wales

The Rocks Photo © Enrico Sartori

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The Rocks

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The Rocks is the oldest neighborhood in Sydney, Australia. It is located in the heart of the city center and near other major landmarks, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The Rocks lies in the north of the Central Business District and on the southern shore of Sydney Harbour. The site of the first European settlement in Australia, Circular Quay, is located adjacent to The Rocks.

The Rocks is basically the birthplace of Sydney. Originally a loud and unsafe place of soldiers, convicts, and sailors, it now is one of the most culturally significant area in the city. There is a huge selection of restaurants and bars, a lot of which are among the oldest in Sydney.

The area consists of cobblestone alleyways, sandstone buildings, narrow lanes, and old cottages. Many visitors are attracted to The Rocks’ lively markets, museums, historic sites, galleries and eateries, and accommodation with excellent harbor views.


Before the arrival of the Europeans, the area had been inhabited by at least nineteen Aboriginal tribes for several thousands of years. The Rocks used to be part of the home country of the Gadigal people. They used the shores and harbor for food and transportation. Unlike some other tribes, the Gadigal survived the arrival of the Europeans and the diseases they brought with them. It is known that they kept a semi-traditional lifestyle until as late as the 1840s at Millers Point. Nowadays, their descendants still live in the Sydney area.

Those first Europeans to step ashore and start a colony did so in 1788 at Sydney Cove, present-day Circular Quay, a few minutes from The Rocks. Shortly after, The Rocks was established; most of the area’s buildings were built with local sandstone, which is also how the area got its name. The earliest maps do not show any prison buildings. The convict’s penalty was ‘transportation’, not ‘incarceration’; the country itself was their prison. About a decade and a half later, there were seventy huts, two windmills, a church, a wharf, storehouses, and a military battery. George Street was visible on maps from 1791 onwards. Nowadays, The Rocks is home to more than a hundred historic buildings and heritage sites. Cadman’s Cottage (Wikipedia Article), built in 1816, is the oldest house, while the Dawes Point Battery is the oldest European structure, built in 1791.

For the very beginning, The Rocks had a terrible reputation. It was a place frequented by sailors, prostitutes, and gangs. It kept this reputation until the late 19th century. This was also a time when the richer people moved out of the area and to quieter and more sophisticated neighborhoods.

The beginning of the 20th century posed challenges to The Rocks and Sydney is a whole. There was an outbreak of the bubonic plague, which resulted in the inspection and demolishing of thousands of houses. The building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway required more demolishing. By 1970 the remaining residents of The Rocks started to protest, fearing that they may lose their homes. A ban was imposed in 1973, which ultimately saved many historic houses and homes in the neighborhoods. The Heritage Act was passed in 1977.

Nowadays, The Rocks is a hub of culture, trade, cuisine, and history in Sydney, although there still are some problems such as poverty and street crime in the area. Things have improved a lot and keep improving though.

Things to See and Do

First of all, The Rocks is located a short walk from Sydney’s two major icons: the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Circular Quay lies within minutes and is one of the main transportation hubs in the city, making reaching The Rocks a piece of cake.

The neighborhood is home to several old restaurants, bars, and pubs. Some of them are among the oldest in the entire city and visitors can learn about their history on a walking tour. Culture is found in the Sydney Theater Company and the Museum of Contemporary Art, while history took place at Cadman’s Cottage, Sydney Observatory and Dawes Point Battery. In The Rocks Discovery Museum, visitors can learn all about the history of the area.

Each weekend, the Rocks Market attracts lots of people. In addition to this lovely market there are also boutiques and craft shops.

The best way to visit The Rocks is around Christmas and New Year’s. Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge are the focal point for the magnificent and world-famous New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Similar Landmarks

Other historically significant sites can be found all over Sydney. Most of the foreshores and old city parks are protected by Sydney Harbour National Park. Nearby landmarks are the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and, a little further, Darling Harbour.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Jan 08, 2015


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