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 around the Rocks area? 

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, free things to do in the Rocks as well as some of the best Pubs in Australia 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 in 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 right of the photo including the Museum of Contemporary Art 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 thousands of years. Some of the archaeological sites in the Sydney area date back to over 15,000 years ago and archaeologists believe they 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.

The Sydney Harbour YHA is not your typical hostel. It has rooms with bunks but also private rooms with ensuites. The photo below is the bedroom that we stayed in during our two-night stay. For the best budget accommodation in Sydney, we would definitely recommend the Sydney Harbour YHA. For that family staycation in Sydney, you can’t go past staying here either.

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 .

The YHA is located 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. The YHA is the best affordable accommodation in the Rocks Sydney.

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

10 Free Things To Do In The Rocks

  1. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art at 140 George Sreet Sydney
  2.  Visit the Discovery Museum at Kendall Lane The Rocks Sydney
  3.  Visit the Rocks Weekend Market in George Street
  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 at 110 George Street
  7. Have a picnic at the First Fleet Park at Circular Quay shoreline
  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
  11. Walk to the Sydney Opera House
  12. Visit the Art Gallery of NSW at Art Gallery Road

Free Walking Tours in Sydney

You can take free walking tours in Sydney. Although they are free a tip for your guide is expected.

I’m Free Walking Tours has a walking tour of the Rocks departing at 6 pm. Bookings are required. For more information click here.

Free Tours Sydney offers a complete Sydney and Rocks Walking Tour for 2.5 hours. For more information click here.

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.

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.

Option Six:

Hire a car from Sydney Airport for the duration of your stay. Parking around Sydney can be quite expensive.

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, but is more expensive.

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.

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

Discover the home of over 2,900 animals at your own pace with an entrance ticket to Taronga Zoo. Reach the zoo in Sydney Harbour by rocket ferry and ride the Sky Safari cable car on arrival. Get spectacular views of Sydney Harbour and more.

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 Sydney

The historical pubs in the Rocks are some of the best in Sydney. Between 5 pm and 6 pm some will offer happy hours so check before you head out.

Enjoy a guided historical walking tour of Sydney’s beautiful The Rocks, with this fantastic Pubs and History Tour.

With the assistance of your local guide, enjoy unique stories of convicts, settlers, bars and military coups. Coincidentally called the “When Rum Ran The Rocks” tour you only need one guess to realise rum tasting will definitely be included on this evening out.

Starting the tour at beautiful Circular Quay, you’ll discover a whole new side of this iconic area, one that dates back to the days of convicts, settlers, crime and alcohol. Winding through the back alleyways of The Rocks, you’ll hear all about some of Sydney’s oldest pubs, the first breweries, amazing convict tales, and the era’s most precious drink… rum!

Take a Walking Tour of the Rocks

90 Minute Rocks Walking Tour

Visit picturesque and historic sites of The Rocks on a guided walking tour and hear tales about ordinary people who did extraordinary things and began the compelling story of British Australian settlement. Take in the stunning views across Sydney Cove.

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 on Sundays. 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.

The 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 an old sandstone warehouse is 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. A classic ticket is for 24 hours but you can also purchase a premium ticket for 48 hours. Free wi-fi on board.

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

Sydney’s Popular Twilight Activity

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.

A romantic spin on the ever-popular Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, the Twilight Climb option will see you heading in the opposite direction of the sun as you ascend the iconic Sydney landmark while the sun slowly hides itself below the horizon, bathing the city in a magical dusky glow. As with the other climbs, you’ll spend an entertaining 3.5 hours harnessing up and then joining with your fellow climbers and friendly Climb Leader on a journey that will take you to the summit of one of Australia’s most famous feats of architecture and showcase the best of Sydney’s highlights under the cover of charming orange-pink haze.

Good to know: you will need to book in advance for this popular Sydney twilight activity

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

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.

If you want to reserve a table outside on the weekend you will need to book in advance.

Telephone: (02) 9247 2229

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.

For reservations telephone  (02) 9395 5151

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 its 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. The Tap Rooms is one of our favourite alfresco dining venues in the Rocks.

For more information on their speciality beers and menus 

To make a reservation telephone (02) 8592 5404.

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 

To make a reservation telephone 0457 880 180

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.

Things To Do at Night in Sydney The Rocks

  1. Go bar-hopping at the various historical Rocks pubs
  2. Take an evening Tall Ships Cruise with canapes and unlimited beer and wine – check availability here
  3. Do a night time Harbour Bridge Climb – check availability here
  4. Take an evening ferry to Manly and enjoy dinner at Manly Wharf in one of the many restaurants e.g. Hugos (bookings required)
  5. Enjoy a drink at the Opera Bar at the Sydney Opera House
  6. Take a Sydney Harbour Fine Dining Evening Cruise with drinks – check availability here
  7. If you dare take an evening Rocks Ghost Tour

What To Do in The Rocks For Kids

Wondering what to do with kids in the Rocks Sydney? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Visit the Rocks Discovery Museum
  2. Take a free walking tour
  3. Walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge – your starting point will be the pedestrian pathway at Cumberland Street – signpost Pylon Lookout
  4. Visit the Rocks Visitors Centre for information for latest events for kids in the Rocks
  5. Walk around Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House
  6. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art – free entry

Things to do in the Rocks for Teenagers

  1. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art
  2. Bridge climb
  3. Luna Park
  4. Take a free walking tour
  5. Visit the Rocks Weekend Markets

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

More Staycation Australia ideas:

Top Things to do in Palm Cove Queensland

What to do on Bruny Island in Tasmania

NSW Travel Guide

NSW Accommodation Guide

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Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed our Staycation Australia article on an affordable Staycation in Sydney. We spent 2 nights at the YHA after winning a competition. All opinions are our own.

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