The Rocks Sydney

how to have an affordable Sydney staycation in the rocks

Are you planning a Sydney weekend staycation or a midweek short getaway?  We will share with you how to have an affordable Sydney Staycation in the Rocks that won’t blow your budget from the best affordable accommodation, free museums to visit, things to do in Sydney The Rocks, some of the best Rock Pubs that offer the best of local cuisine and more.

As Sydneysiders, we have visited the Rocks hundreds of times over the years and each time we visit we experience something new and exciting. The Rocks never disappoint whether you are a regular visitor or a first-timer.  So grab your comfortable walking shoes and walk the Rocks with us.

Where is the Rocks – Sydney

When you visit Sydney one of the most popular areas to stay in and wander around is the Rocks. The Rocks area covers George Street, the harbour to the north and east to Circular Quay, to the West it reaches Kent Street and to the south Grosvenor Street.

The Rocks area of Sydney from the Manly Ferry
The Rocks to the left of the photo including the MCA taken from the Manly Ferry

Short History of the Rocks

The Rocks was the landing area in 1788 when the first Europeans sailed into the harbour to start a new settlement in Australia.

A fleet of 11 ships left Portsmouth Harbour in the UK in 1787 under the captaincy of Governor Arthur Phillip. The 11 ships carried 789 convicts, 247 marines and administrators.

The Rocks was named after the rocky outcrop on the western side of Sydney Cove where convicts had set up the first camp.  The Marines set up their headquarters near where Grosvenor Street is today and the administrators where Bridge Street is today.

The area was already inhabited by the Aboriginal people named the Cadigal. Their land reached from Darling Harbour to South Head. The Cadigal people have been in this area for years. Some of the archaeological sites in the Sydney area date back to over 15,000 years ago and archaeologists believe it could be even older.

Where To Stay on Your Affordable Sydney Staycation at the Rocks

For an affordable Sydney weekend getaway, we can recommend staying at the Sydney Harbour YHA.

Double ensuite bedroom at the YHA Harbour Sydney
Private double room with ensuite at the Sydney YHA Harbour

Latest Guest Review: “Absolutely fabulous location, close to public transport ferries, trains, light rail & buses. We had a room with an ensuite with a perfect view of the Opera House. And the rooftop view is sensational.”

You can’t beat the location of the Sydney Harbour YHA only minutes from Argyle Street, one of the main streets of the Rocks.  Their rooftop views are spectacular spanning the Rocks, Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

Views from the YHA Sydney Harbour
Stunning views from the YHA

Whatever style of room you choose you will be very comfortable.  Breakfast is available for a small charge. There are kitchen facilities for those who wish to self-cater.  The staff are extremely helpful and will be able to guide you on what tours are operating.

Check out the archaeological dig at the entrance to the YHA and the artefacts uncovered in the reception/dining area. When you visit the Discovery Museum some of the artefacts from the dig are exhibited there.

Address: 110 Cumberland Street, Sydney

Accommodation available:

  • Private double rooms with ensuite
  • Family rooms
  • Co-living rooms
  • Group accommodation from 10 – 110

Facilities include:

  • Free fast WiFi throughout
  • ATM
  • Kitchen facilities
  • Tour Desk
  • Rooftop dining with BBQ

Book your stay at the Sydney YHA here

10 Free Things To Do In The Rocks

  1. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art
  2.  Visit the Discovery Museum
  3.  Visit the Rocks Weekend Market
  4.  Get lost down the alleyways, Nurses Walk and more hidden gems
  5.  Head to Campbell Street to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
  6. View Cadmans Cottage from the outside
  7. Have a picnic at the First Fleet Park
  8. Head to the end of Atherden Street to find the statue of Biggles the Dog whose owner lived in the Rocks in the 1980s and 90s.
  9. See the Big Dig Archaeology site at the Sydney Harbour YHA
  10. View the sunset from Observatory Hill

How do I get to the Rocks Sydney?

Coming in from Sydney Airport:

Option One:

You can pre-book a Sydney Airport arrival transfer to Sydney CBD Hotels. For more details click here.

Option Two:

Take the train from Sydney Airport to Wynard Station

Sydney Domestic Terminal to Wynard: Adult $19.40 Child $15.40

How do you pay for the Airport Train? You can purchase the Sydney Opal Card at the Airport Station (there is a minimum balance required, check before you purchase), tap on and off with your credit card or purchase a single ticket at the Airport Ticket Office.

Option Three:

Uber is cheaper than a Taxi. Prices start from around $37 per journey.

Option Four:

A taxi from the Sydney Domestic Terminal to Sydney Harbour YHA – prices start from $60

Option Five:

If you are driving yourself:

Sydney CBD Weekend Parking

There are 2 parking stations close by:

  • Wilson Parking Quay West
  • Wilson Parking Clocktower

For the latest weekend rates click here.

Ferry From Manly

If you are coming from the Northern Beaches the best way to get to the Rocks is via the Manly Ferry. The journey takes 30 minutes and leaves on the hour and half hour arriving at Wharf 3. There is the Manly Fast Ferry as an option which takes half the time.

Where can I take a Ferry in Sydney?

Why not take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly which departs from Wharf 3, takes 30 minutes and it departs on the hour and half hour.

You can also take the ferry to Taronga Park Zoo from Circular Quay, or book a tour that includes your entrance ticket to the zoo, the 2-day ferry pass and a ride on the Sky Safari on arrival. For more details click here

Giraffe enclosure at Taronga Zoo
The Giraffe Enclosure at Taronga Zoo – image credit Experience Oz

Great Ideas for a Staycation at the Rocks

What places to visit in Sydney on a weekend?

You can either spend all your time discovering the Rocks area or adding on Darling Harbour and Chinatown. If you have more than 2 days we would recommend a visit to the famous Bondi Beach.

Top Things to Do in The Rocks Sydney

Visit the Rocks Centre

Address: Argyle Street and Playfair Street

Visit the Rocks Information Centre for maps and suggestions on what to see and do and visit a range of speciality shops within the Rocks Centre.

Opening hours: 7 days from 09.30 am to 5. 30 pm (closed Good Friday and Christmas Day)

Visit the Rocks Weekend Market

The Rocks Market in Sydney are on every weekend between 10 am and 5 pm.

You can shop for locally made goods, enjoy some tasty treats from the artisan stallholders.

Visit the Bars in the Rocks

Visit the Pubs in the Rocks on a Pub, History and Rum TastingTour. Whilst learning about the history of the Rocks and the Pubs you can enjoy rum tasting as well. Book here.

Take a Walking Tour of the Rocks

Enjoy a 90-minute guided walk around the Rocks whilst learning about the early settlement of Sydney.  Wander the hidden back lanes and alleyways and discover courtyards and more. For more information and booking click here

Enjoy A Sunday Morning Yoga Class in the Park

Located by Circular Quay is the First Fleet Park where Yoga in the Park happens from 09.30 am. Bookings are not required by numbers are limited.

Yoga in the Park at the Rocks in Sydney
Enjoy yoga in the park

Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art is highly recommended whether it is raining or not in Sydney. The entrance is via George Street and is free.  Check out their special exhibitions.

MCA Cafe is very popular.  You cannot book but be prepared to wait especially over the weekend. The prices are very reasonable for the varied menu.

Opening Hours: 7 days from 10 am to 5 pm. Wednesdays 10 am to 9 pm.

Plan to spend at least 2 – 3 hours depending on the latest exhibitions.

Visit The Discovery Museum

Housed in old sandstone warehouse the Discovery Museum is just off Argyle Street beside the Rocks Centre. Listen to various stories on the top floor, discover the history of the Rocks and see many artefacts found in archaeological digs around the Rocks. Plan to spend at least an hour here.

Entrance is free

Opening Hours: Open 7 days from 10 am to 5 pm (closed Good Friday and Christmas Day)

Hop-on Hop-Off Bus – Big Bus Sydney & Bondi

24 hour Sydney and Bondi Beach hop-on hop-off ticket with 34 stops available. Classic ticket is for 24 hours but you can also purchase a premium ticket for 48 hours. Free wi-fi onboard.

Big Bus ticket
Purchase in advance your Big Bus Hop-on Hop-ff ticket – image credit Experience Oz

Book your tickets in advance here.

Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb at Twilight

A small group of maximum 14 people for the best 360-degree views of Sydney on your Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb at twilight.

Twilight Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
Twilight Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb – image credit Experience Oz

Book in advance here.

More options for your Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb:

1.5-hour Sampler Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb – more information click here

3.5-hour Day Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb – more information click here

3.5-hour Night Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb – more information click here

Cadmans Cottage – Historical Site in the Rocks

Cadmans Cottage was built in 1816 in sandstone and is one of a few Sydney buildings that remain from the first 30 years of the first settlement.  It used to be located beside the harbour but was moved to make way for the construction of Circular Quay. Over the years it has been headquarters for water transport, sailors home and a water police station.

Cadmans Cottage The Rocks
Cadmans Cottage The Rocks

Free guided tours of the grounds and bottom level of the house are available. They run on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month from 9.45 am to 10.15 am, excluding public holidays.

Address: 110 George Street Sydney

Where To Eat and Drink in the Rocks Sydney

You will be spoilt for choice for restaurants in the Rocks in Sydney. From Mexican, steakhouses, Italian fare, Seafood, Asian, German, Middle Eastern and more. There are over 40 restaurants, cafes and bars to enjoy.

Our recommendations:

Australian Heritage Hotel:

Address: 100 Cumberland Street, The Rocks (just down from the Sydney Harbour YHA)

Kitchen Trading Hours: 1130 – 2200

The 1914 Australian Heritage Hotel is the longest-running licensed pub in the Rocks. They have on offer over 130 of the best Australian craft beers. Want to try kangaroo, emu or crocodile? The Australian Heritage Hotel offers gourmet kangaroo, emu or crocodile pizzas, salad bowls, burgers and excellent pub food.

Australian Heritage Hotel
Visit the Australian Heritage Hotel

The Glenmore Hotel

Address: 96 Cumberland Street The Rocks

Good to know: The best table in the house is in the Rooftop Bar with breathtaking views over Sydney Harbour and the Opera House. Book in advance to secure this table, it is worth it for the views and the food.

The Glenmore Hotel
The best table at the Glenmore Hotel

The 1921 Glenmore Hotel offers outdoor dining on the Rooftop and the Public Bar on the ground level.  For a cocktail or two head to the middle level and enjoy your drink in the 1920s Hollywood Bar. There are also private dining rooms available.

The Tap Rooms

Address: 39 – 43 Argyle Street The Rocks

The Tap Rooms The Rocks
The Tap Rooms

Opening Hours: Monday and Tuesday closed

Wednesday and Thursday – 12 pm to 10 pm

Friday and Saturday – 12 pm to Midnight

Sunday – 12 pm to 10 pm

The Tap Rooms are a joint venture between the Endeavour Brewing Company and Applejack Hospitality which have 6 venues and 2 cafes in and around Sydney. In 2019 Applejack won the Australian Operator of the year under the helm of owners Hamish Watts and Ben Carroll.

The 600-litre brewhouse on the ground floor of the Tap Room brews some of the best beers in the Rocks.

Tasting Paddles are available – a choice of beers for $15.

The Tap Room offers NSW wines poured from a keg, bottled beer, wine and cocktails.

Not only famous for their beers the Tap Room also offers a delicious food menu to enjoy. They specialise in house-smoked meats which include grain-fed black Angus beef brisket, wild kangaroo and pork sausage, smoked paprika rubbed free-range chicken, burgers and salads.

If you are after something lighter we can highly recommend the smoked chicken wings with a herb dip and a very tasty flatbread with harissa eggplant, yoghurt, pine nuts and parsley.

You can dine alfresco or inside, it is a perfect venue for lunch or dinner.

For more information on their speciality beers and menus click here.

The Doss House

An underground whiskey bar in the Rocks? Yep! Not only do they offer the largest menu of whiskey we have seen they offer Guinness, spirits, wines and cocktails as well.  The bar has a past, like all buildings in the Rocks. The 1840s building has been a doctors surgery and a boarding house, and has housed opium dealers and bootmakers as well.

The Doss House The Rocks
The Doss House at the Rocks

For more information on the Doss House and its different dining areas and menus click here.

More Restaurants/Cafes in the Rocks

The Tea Cosy

Address: 7 Atherden Street The Rocks

The Tea Cosy Cafe at the Rocks
The Tea Cosy

Opening Hours: Wednesday to Friday 10 am to 4 pm

Saturday and Sunday from 08.30 am to 4.30 pm

Famous for their scones and Devonshire teas.

Caminetto Italian Restaurant

Address: 13-17 Playfair Street The Rocks

Opening Hours:

Caminetto Italian Restaurant
Caminetto Italian Restaurant at the Rocks

Monday – Thursday 11.30 am to 8.00 pm

Friday 11.30 am to 9.30 pm

Saturday 9.00 am to 9.30 pm

Sunday 9.00 am to 8.30 pm

Relax in their courtyard and enjoy the best of Italian cuisine.

Special Events in the Rocks

Chinese New Year Lunar Markets at the Rocks

One of the special events held yearly at the Rocks is the Chinese New Year Lunar Markets. You can enjoy dining alfresco at many of the Food Trucks down Playfair Street.

Chinese New Year Markets at the Rocks
Chinese New Year Lunar Markets at the Rocks

Visit the Gateway Building at Circular Quay at specified times to enjoy one of the lion dances performing to chase away the evil spirits and to give good luck for the new year.

Vivid Sydney

Vivid Sydney is held around The Rocks, Circular Quay and Darling Harbour and many other locations around the city of Sydney. The annual event is a festival of lights showcasing artists and musicians.

Vivid Sydney
Vivid Sydney image credit Pixabay – DesignnPrint

FAQ’s: Visiting the Rocks – Sydney

Why are the Rocks in Sydney called the Rocks?

When the first fleet arrived the area where the convicts were settled were to the west of Sydney Cove.  This area was a rocky outcrop.

What can you do around the Rocks if it is raining?

The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Discovery Museum is perfect to visit on a rainy day around the Rocks.

Can you visit the Rocks on the Hop on Hop off Bus?

Yes, the Big Bus covers the Rocks Area and all the major tourist areas of Sydney including Bondi Beach.

What are things to do on a Sunday in the Rocks?

On Sundays, we would recommend starting off with breakfast at The Tea Cosy. Then wander through The Rocks Sydney weekend markets, a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Discover Museum and then head to one of the pubs in the rocks for a late lunch or early dinner.

Do the Sydney Weekend Cruises depart from Circular Quay?

As Circular Quay is beside the Rocks area you can take a Sydney Harbour cruise for lunch or morning or afternoon tea.

Flight Deals to Sydney

For the latest flight deals to Sydney click here

More Staycation Australia ideas:

Top Things to do in Palm Cove Queensland

What to do on Bruny Island


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