History of Sydney

Highlights

Enjoy a fascinating tour

From Aboriginal heritage tours of beautiful Sydney Harbour to World Heritage-listed convict sites and tall ships at a maritime museum, Sydney is a fascinating city to explore. Discover the rollicking colonial past on a walking tour in The Rocks, visit rock engravings in national parks, see intriguing artefacts in museums, and travel by ferry to an island where convict buildings still stand.

  • Hero of Waterloo, The Rocks
  • Campbells Cove, The Rocks

Discover Sydney's heritage and history

Sydney is named after Lord Sydney, who was British home secretary when Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet arrived in January 1788. In a letter, Phillip described Sydney Harbour as 'the finest harbour in the world' in which 'a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security'.

Aboriginal people have a much longer connection with the harbour, dating back at least 50,000 years before Phillip chose Sydney Cove as the site of Australia's first penal colony. You can learn about Aboriginal cultural heritage on tours, such as Tribal Warrior Harbour Cruise and The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour, and at museums including the Australian Museum.

The colony's early years were harsh. After four governors and a military revolt, known as the Rum Rebellion, governor Lachlan Macquarie was put in charge. He restored order and charted a new course. The Rocks Walking Tours and the Museum of Sydney provide insights into early colonial times. You can also uncover Sydney's buried past at The Rocks Discovery Museum built around the site of the first colonial settlement. 

Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour National Park. Image credit: David Finnegan.jpg.

For more convict stories, visit sites with World Heritage status - the Hyde Park Barracks Museum in the city centre, Cockatoo Island on Sydney Harbour, Old Government House and the Domain (Parramatta Park) in Parramatta, and the Old Great North Road, near Wisemans Ferry, in the Hawkesbury.

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 popular science, technology, arts and music.

  1. Elizabeth Bay House

    Built between 1835 and 1839, Elizabeth Bay House was known as 'the finest house in the colony'. Designed by the most fashionable and accomplished architect of the day, John Verge, for the Colonial Secretary,...

  2. The Rocks Discovery Museum

    The Rocks Discovery Museum, housed in a restored 1850s sandstone warehouse, tells the story of The Rocks from pre-European days to the present. Home to a unique collection of images and...

  3. St Stephens Uniting Church

    St Stephen's Uniting Church's is located within Sydney's political, financial, business and medical district on Macquarie Street. The church is open during the week.St Stephen's offers a monthly lunch time...

  4. Susannah Place Museum

    Built in 1844, Susannah Place Museum is a terrace of four houses that incorporates a recreated 1915 corner store. Rare in the city of Sydney, it has a continuous history of domestic occupancy by working class families...

  5. State Theatre

    The State Theatre is without doubt a truly magnificent and unique building. The palatial interiors feature artworks and fixtures of rare significance. The Dress Circle gallery houses artworks by significant Australian...

  6. Action Stations

    Action Stations offers a new and exciting way to experience and discover over 100 years of history of the Royal Australian Navy.Join the action and feel what it is like to be on board a warship...

  7. Fort Denison

    A former defence facility, Fort Denison is located on a small harbour island in the centre of Sydney Harbour just a stone's throw from the Botanic Gardens. Once under attack from US friendly fire in WWII, Fort Denison...

  8. Capitol Theatre

    Sydney's beautiful historic Capitol Theatre is host to world class musicals, theatre, ballet, concerts and performers.Don't just go for the show, visit the Capitol Theatre for a great and total night out!...

  9. Hyde Park

    Hyde Park is Australia's oldest park. Divided by Park Street, the southern section of Hyde Park contains the ANZAC Memorial building and visitor centre, the pool of reflection and numerous monuments and statues. The...

  10. Sydney Harbour National Park

    Sydney Harbour National Park protects islands and foreshore around Sydney Harbour. Explore Sydney's history on a school excursion or guided tour to enjoy coastal walks, picnics and swimming.Sydney Harbour...

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