The Rocks Discovery Museum

A museum charting the history of The Rocks from pre-European times to the modern day.

TravelCurious Tip

If you are lucky, you may be there when one of the staff members is heading out to the nearby archaeological dig – they are usually more than happy to take a few curious visitors along for the ride.

Located between Circular Quay and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Rocks Discovery Museum is an informative, family-friendly place which tells you the history of this part of the city from the pre-colonial era to the modern day. It is housed in an atmospheric sandstone warehouse which was restored after several decades of disuse.

A Thousand Years on The Rocks

The layout of the museum is divided into four distinct historical periods. First is the Warrane period (pre-1788), named after the original moniker of Sydney Cove, during which this land was occupied by the Aboriginal Cadigal people. Next comes the Colony period (1788-1820), when the first Europeans arrived and The Rocks was established as the convicts’ side of town. After that is the longer Port period (1820-1900), which saw the area taken over by the whalers, sailors and traders who developed the burgeoning Sydney trade empire. Finally, the Transformations period (1900-present) covers everything from the 20th and 21st centuries, including the impact of war on The Rocks and an interesting series of union-led protests in the 1970s.

Interact with the Past

For what is really quite a small building, the curators have managed to pack in a huge amount of information and insight into this timeline. That is not to say that the displays are overwhelming; they are clearly and intuitively presented, incorporating a range of touch-screen activities and interactive audiovisual setups. There are also regular short films shown which give accessible historical overviews that are engaging for children and adults alike.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Sydney
Sydney Opera House
One of the most iconic buildings of the modern era, designed by Jorn Utzon and opened in 1973.
Port Jackson
This natural inlet was the first site of European colonisation in Australia.
Circular Quay
The main departure point for most of Sydney's ferries; see if you can spot the man with the didgeridoo.
The Rocks
Established shortly after Sydney's formation and now in the shadow of the harbour bridge, this neighbourhood has character in spades - and the city's oldest pubs.
Cadmans Cottage
Sydney's oldest surviving residential building, one of the last remaining of the original colony.
Harbour Cruise
Getting out on the water is the best way to see Sydney in all its glory.

Related Tours

The Rocks: Convicts and Rebellion private tour
Hidden to some degree under the shadow of the Harbour Bridge, The Rocks neighbourhood is as old as Sydney itself.  Although gentrified these days, The Rocks retains the old architecture, historic pubs and mazy streets of its turbulent and fascinating past.

History of Convicts and Rebellion

You will start your tour at The Rocks Discovery Museum which chronicles the remarkable history of the area all the way from pre-European times to the modern day.  This will serve as a light overview for the tour to come, moving from the British landing in 1788, to the convict struggles in the 19th century, to the transformations that have shaped The Rocks we see today.

The chief of these changes is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which looms over the historic Rocks as a constant reminder of modernisation.  Your guide will walk you and talk you through the ins and outs of this world-famous bridge that was at the cutting-edge of architectural design when it opened in 1932.

Pubs and Eateries

With its rough, working-class, convict roots, it is no surprise that the oldest, most-atmospheric pubs can be found in The Rocks.  Your guide will take you past three of the oldest: Fortune of War, the Lord Nelson Brewery and the Hero of Waterloo, and there’ll certainly be time to have a quick taste.  On their sandstone facades, be sure to look closely for the fine etchings made by generations of convicts.

Finally, you will be taken through more alleyways to Cadman’s Cottage, one of the oldest and best preserved buildings in Sydney.


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