History of Sydney

Highlights

Sydney's story is a fascinating tale of survival and growth, with a legacy that endures today. From the profound history of the land's ancient inhabitants to the city's ultimate profusion as a multicultural home to millions, Sydney has continued to grow, evolve and flourish. Visit the amazing legacies and stories that make up this fascinating and historic part of Australia.

  • Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour
  • Campbells Cove, The Rocks

Sydney heritage and history

Tall Ships, Sydney Harbour

When the British arrived in Sydney in January 1788, NSW had been inhabited for more than 50,000 years by Aboriginal people. In Sydney there were many clans living in the area from Botany Bay to Broken Bay and as far west as Parramatta.

Learn more about fascinating Aboriginal culture, history and art at Sydney’s many museums and sites. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has one of the largest collections of Aboriginal art in Australia. At the Museum of Sydney you’ll find Aboriginal artefacts, paintings and film that bring Sydney’s Aboriginal heritage to life. Visit the Australian Museum for an immersive cultural experience with one of their Indigenous tourism packages. Further south at Kamay Botany Bay National Park you can visit over 30 Aboriginal sites, which are home to preserved rock art and engravings.

Sydney has a colourful history of settlers who were a combination of transported convicts and free settlers. Follow the fascinating convict path to Sydney's shores at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, one of only 11 Australian Convict Sites with World Heritage status.

You can also uncover Sydney's buried past at The Rocks Discovery Museum built around the site of the first colonial settlement. This museum features interactive exhibitions covering Sydney’s history from pre-1788 to the present day. 

Over the past half century, Sydney's character has been transformed into one of the world's most ethnically diverse cities, with more than 180 nationalities calling Sydney home. Find out more about Sydney's history and heritage at the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street in the city centre, or visit the Powerhouse Museum to discover an incredible collection of more than 500,000 landmark objects spanning science, technology, arts and music.

For an equally impressive display of aquatic power visit the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.