Pubs in The Rocks – Great Pubs for Sydney Visitors
There are 12 pubs in The Rocks Sydney, and while in a perfect world you would visit them all, you might need to spread your visits over a few days or make a shortlist of your top 5 for a fun day/night in Sydney’s oldest quarter.
History of Pubs in The Rocks in Sydney
From its earliest days, Sydney was a sailor town, and where there are sailors, there is likely to be a bar or two. If you want to combine learning about the history of Sydney with a few relaxing bevvies, then make your way to The Rocks, the oldest part of the harbour city, to begin your education.
The Rocks is home to over 100 heritage sites and, at last count, 12 historic “pubs” that could average out at eight or so sites a beer if you want to get serious about it ;-).
Before they reclaimed much of the area after the 1900 outbreak of the bubonic plague, there were pubs on almost every corner. Sadly, many were destroyed when buildings were demolished to help curb the spread of disease. Or as an excuse to clean up the slums and make the land available for development; it all depends on which version of history you believe.
While there are several newer bars in the Rocks, but we will leave those for another day as it’s unlikely anyone can get through this list in one sitting as it is!
Looking for bars with a view? Check out our guide to the best bars for watching the world go by.
Let’s start with some questions that come up when we show visitors around.
Why are bars in Australia called pubs?
Until the 1830s, liquor licencing laws were not in operation; you could basically hang a sign outside your house and open your front room to sell drinks to passersby. When laws were introduced, these establishments became known as public houses. Public houses were required to have bedrooms for guests and the owner, who had to live on the premises, and a dining room for meal service.
As we all know, Aussies like to shorten everything, so public houses quickly became known as pubs. Many pubs also include the word hotel in their name, likely due to the accommodation requirement of the law.
Which is the oldest pub in the Rocks?
Determining the oldest pub in The Rocks is a continuing conundrum, and a visit to their websites of several of the pubs below will show that three pubs lay claim to being the “oldest”.
- The Lord Nelson is the oldest continually licenced, opening in 1841 and remaining open at the same location ever since.
- The Fortune of War received its licence in 1830. Although it had existed in some form since 1823, it closed for renovation for a while in the 1920s before it continued trading on the same site.
- The Australian Hotel is less of a contender, it was listed in the media as operating on George Street as early as 1824 but moved to its current site until 1900.
Exploring the Pubs of The Rocks
The Fortune of War
Samuel Terry built the Fortune in 1828. Terry was a former convict sentenced for stealing 400 stockings and sent to Australia for seven years. He operated the pub until 1835, when it was taken over by brewing giant Tooth and Co.
The pub is an Anzac Day (April 25th) favourite with veterans who gather here each year after the Anzac Day March. It’s also popular with locals being the closest pub to the wharf, perfect for last-minute drinks. Their regular calendar of live music big draw card.
They offer a range of Australian beers and have a $12 tasting paddle perfect for visitors.
Tip: Try the Vegemite nut mix for a snack or a kangaroo sirloin steak for some local flavour.
You can order meals from the downstairs bar or dine upstairs at the First Fleet bistro; the same menu serves both areas. Head upstairs if you want a more formal space to enjoy your meal. We have eaten here a few times and have always enjoyed it, especially on weekends when downstairs can get a little noisy for dinner chat.
Where: 137 George St, The Rocks
When: 9 am till midnight most days (can be later on weekends)
More info: Check their website for the menu and what’s on the calendar
The Lord Nelson
Built by convict labour in 1836 using materials from Observatory Hill, this sandstone dwelling was initially home to William Wells. Wells operated a small pub on the opposite corner, but by 1841, he had converted his home into a hotel and obtained a liquor licence for what was to become The Lord Nelson.
It has been operating as a pub ever since and now holds the title of Australia’s oldest pub brewery.
After the plague hit, this remained one of only three pubs at the Millers Point end of the Rocks. Its Colonial Regency style is rare in Sydney today, and it is, in my view, the best looking pub in the area.
Tip: The grilled halloumi cobb salad is a winner in my book.
The Nelson is a great place to grab lunch or afternoon drinks when exploring the Rocks. We had a great serving of sausages and mash here on our last visit, and while I am not much of a beer drinker, my friends assure me that the beer is pretty special. The on-site brewery brews six 100% natural ales with no sugar or preservatives. Check reviews of the beer here.
There is both bar food and a brassiere upstairs if you want something fancy. They also have rooms with ensuite or shared facilities from $220 a night—an excellent choice for anyone on a budget. Check here for details.
Where: 19 Kent Street The Rocks
When: Mon-Sat: 11 am – 11 pm and Sun: Noon – 10pm
More info: visit the website for details of the menu and brewery.
The Australian Heritage Hotel
The third contender for the oldest pubs in the Rocks titled The Australian Heritage Hotel began life on George Street just near the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1824. The pub moved after the 1900 plague to its current site on Cumberland Street.
If you have a mission to try as many Aussie beers as you can, then this should be on your list of stops. These guys don’t just sell Aussie beer; they ONLY sell Aussie beer. There are 20 beers on tap and 120 craft beers from around the country. They even offer an Aussie beer passport (inner-west favourites Wayward, Young Henrys and Grifter among the brews included).
Tip: The crocodile spring rolls and coat of arms pizza featuring Kangaroo and Emu are popular with visitors.
If you are here on a Friday night, you can witness another Aussie tradition, the pub meat raffle.
The Edwardian style architecture is in perfect condition, and the pub has kept most of its original design and fittings. Weekends are very popular, especially the outdoor seats that provide front-row views of the Harbour Bridge. If you fancy a really big night, you can book a room here.
Where: 100 Cumberland St, The Rocks
When: Mon-Sat: 11 am – 11 pm and Sun: Noon – 10pm
More info: Check their website for more information.
The Hero of Waterloo
Named after the Duke of Wellington, who came out on top at the Battle of Waterloo, George Paton built The Hero of Waterloo in 1844. Paton was a stonemason who constructed the nearby Garrison (Holy Trinity) Church in 1842. The sandstone used in the building is said to come from the Argyle Cut.
When it was built, the Hero was popular with soldiers who worshipped at the Garrison Church and visiting sailors frequenting the docks at Miller’s Point. The old Colonial Regency style is the same as The Lord Nelson, and the solid sandstone makes for great streetscape photos.
Under the pub is a tunnel that goes down to the harbour. This tunnel was supposedly used to smuggle rum, but there are also stories of drunks being secured in small cells in the basement overnight and waking the next day to find they had been sold to ship captains as labourers and deckhands.
Tip: Ask the staff, and if they are not too busy, they might show you the cells.
These days the pub is famous for live music, which can be hard to find in this part of town. Jazz, folk, soul and R&B all feature and the fun starts at 3 pm on weekends, so it’s a great place to end your Rocks walking tour. It’s also the perfect spot for a winter drink with a cosy fireplace and a friendly vibe.
Where: 81 Lower Fort Street, The Rocks
When: Mon-Sat: 11 am – 11 pm and Sun: Noon – 10pm
More info: You can find more about the fascinating history of the Hero on their website.
Glenmore Rooftop Hotel
The Glenmore was one of the first pubs built by brewer Tooth and Co. in 1921. A pub of the same name originally sat on the other side of the street and was moved brick by brick to its current home, as the old site was needed to construct the southern approaches to the Harbour Bridge.
The Glenmore Hotel is a good old-fashioned pub. Best known perhaps for its rooftop bar that offers excellent views of the Opera House, the pub always seems to have a good buzz and is busy with locals on Thursday and Friday nights as workers celebrate the end of the week with plenty of drinks.
Meals are much cheaper earlier in the week, and there is also a regular quiz night. Check their website for what’s coming up event wise.
Tip: The Glenmore has lots of small rooms on its middle floor perfect for group use.
The design is Inter-War Georgian Revival, and the pub retains many of its original features, which were restored in 2016. Some of the second-floor rooms are particularly lovely.
Where:96-98 Cumberland Street, The Rocks
When: 11 am-midnight (1 am on Fridays)
More info: Check the website for menu and event information
Harbour View Hotel
Work started on this collaboration between the Sydney Harbour Trust and Sydney Tooths Brewery Hotel in 1922-23. The pub quickly became popular with workers on the Harbour Bridge and the city circle railway tunnels. Another hotel bearing the name The Harbour view was built in the 1840s and sat where the bridge’s pylon now stand. It was demolished to make way for the bridge, and this new Harbour View opened in 1927.
The Inter-war Free Classical style pub closed in 2000 and opened after a quality restoration project. The pub’s decor features plenty of bridge memorabilia, and the rooftop cocktail bar has you staring up at the bridge. If you can’t afford a Bridgeclimb on your visit, then a cocktail with a view might be a good option.
Tip: Breakfast is served every day until 3 pm.
Open mike nights on Thursdays can be fun. For some Aussie flavour, try the Kangaroo salad. There is also a good meal and beer deal early in the week for bargain hunters.
Bit of trivia – my favourite local 1980s film, Starstruck featured the Harbour View.
Where: 18 Lower Fort St, Dawes Point
When: 11 am-Midnight (Sundays till 10 pm)
More info: Check the website for menus and events.
A pub known as the Palisades stood on Munn Street and Bettington Street as early as 1880. The one you see today was built by the Sydney Harbour Trust in 1915. It was popular with wharfies working in Walsh Bay and was said to be a great place to pick up some bargain goods ;-)
The five-story Federation freestyle pub was closed for seven years and underwent a 5 million dollar restoration, reopening in 2015. The downstairs bar has retained its original character and is a great spot to grab lunch after walking around Barangaroo Reserve. Prices are reasonable, with main course salads ranging from $13-20 with burgers at similar prices. There are some great daily deals, including 2 for 1s, listed here.
Tip: Happy Hour between 4-6pm each day.
The top floor bar, known as the Henry Deane, offers 360-degree views of Sydney Harbour and provides a fantastic view of the sunset. The menu up here features share plates and is perfect for a catch up with friends. If you can nab one of the sofas in the glass corner, you will probably find it hard to leave.
If you are looking for a bed with a view, the rooms at the Palisades are lovely – check the photos here.
Where: 35 Bettington St, Millers Point
When: 12 pm – 12 am Monday to Friday, from 11 am – 12 am weekends.
More info: Check the hotel’s website for details of the various bars.
Sadly, this hotel appears to be closed at the moment, but we hope it will reopen sometime soon.
This little pub has a long history, first appearing as the Observer Tavern in 1844 and operating until a newly built Observer Hotel opened in 1909. The art nouveau facade that faces onto George Street is the most one of the most photogenic shopfronts on the street. Sadly, most of the inside has been renovated, and it does not retain much of the original character.
While the inside may not have much history on show, there are several comfortable spots to relax, from the main bar to the seating area in Mill Lane and a small courtyard bar.
Tip: There is an archeological dig in the rear of the property.
The pub has been closed since the pandemic, and I am not sure of any reopening date.
Where: 69 George Street, The Rocks
When: 11 am to midnight weekdays, 10 am opening on weekends.
More info: Check the menu and events here
The Mercantile Hotel
Another Federation Free Style design, the Mercantile, opened in 1915 and has traded ever since. The tile work and the gorgeous wooden bar and well worth a pit stop to check out. As you have probably realised by now, the pubs around here all like a label, for the Mercantile, is Australia’s oldest Irish pub.
The pub has also been voted Australia’s best Irish pub twice. If you need a Guinness, this is the place to go. They also serve Irish classics like Guinness pie, Irish stew and a big Irish breakfast. Live (mainly Irish) music features from Thursday to Sunday and affordable meals make this a popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
Tip: Happy hour 5 pm to 7 pm $5 drinks
If you like the idea of staying a while, you can sleep in one of the 16 rooms in the Mercantile.
Where: 25 George St The Rocks
When: 11 am to midnight on weekdays, 10 am opening on weekends.
More info: Check the menu and events here
The Victorian Regency building that houses the Orient Hotel was built in 1844 and started life as a butcher shop. The premises were converted to a public house in 1851, and over the years, it had several names, including the Marine Hotel, before finally settling as the Orient Hotel in 1884. A name said to refer to the Orient Line ships that frequented Sydney.
The Orient recently underwent a massive renovation, with the ground floor bar restored to its former glory circa 1844. A new rooftop bar, Mrs Jones, is a great addition and offerings an interesting menu with plenty of share plates, good cocktails and even three kids’ meals.
Tip: Plenty of sport here on the ground floor from the NBL Playoffs and Rugby League.
Considered one of the Rocks landmarks, mainly due to size and position on the corner, two of the Rocks main thoroughfares, it is also a standout for offering live music seven days a week.
Where: 87-89 George Street
When: 10 am to 3.30 am Friday and Sat and midnight weekdays
More info: Check the website for more details on events
The Captain Cook Hotel
When it opened in 1874, Captain Cook Hotel was one of 18 pubs that served Millers Point; by 1928, only six remained. Today, only three of the originals survive, The Lord Nelson and The Hero of Waterloo being the other two. This is probably the most local of the pubs in the area and your best chance of striking up a conversation with a friendly resident.
Local beers Young Henry’s and Four Pines are on tap.
The kitchen is open all day and serves well-priced tapas along with a selection of burgers and other pub favourites. Try the croquettes; they are our favourite. Regular curry nights are popular, too, so keep an eye out for those. In need of an early morning snack, check out their tradies breakfast deal for an interesting (not that your dr would approve) start to the day.
Where: 33-35 Kent St Millers Point
When:Monday – Saturday: 8am – 11pm, Sunday: 8am – 9:30pm
More info: Check their website for events
Tip: If you are a local or in town for a while, the pub has its own fishing club
Initially, the buildings that make up the current Harts pub were a large private estate that consisted of 3x two-story terraces. They survived the demolition of the plague-ridden parts of the area in 1900 and became one of the first venues in the city to focus on craft beers.
The Rocks Brewing Company, a brewery based in Alexandria, brews are always available here along with 12 craft beers on tap, mainly local, and these rotate regularly. The menu features all the pub favourites you can imagine, and there is plenty of seating spread across two floors and an outdoor courtyard.
Tip: Happy hour Monday to Thursday 4.30pm-6.30pm
Tuesday night trivia is always fun, and big sports events play on screens around the pub keeping local workers hanging about after knock-off time.
Where: Corner of Essex & Gloucester Streets The Rocks
When: Sun-Wed: 12pm-12am, Thurs-Sat: 12pm-1am
More info: Check their website for deals and events.
Which Rocks pub is best for what?
Best pubs in the rocks for live Music
The Mercantile, The Observer, The Orient or Fortune of War – all on George Street offer the best in live music.
The best pubs for drinking locally brewed Aussie beers
Australian Hotel, Lord Nelson and Harts all have a good range of Aussie brews on tap and in bottles.
Pubs in the Rocks with a view
Glenmore Roof Top for views of the Opera House, The Harbour View for unbeatable Harbour Bridge Views and the Palisades for 360-degree harbour and city views with unbeatable sunsets.
Rocks Pub Map
Create your own Rocks Pub Crawl by following the order on this map, or create your own walk.
Take a Rocks Pub Tour
If you like the idea of getting your general Rocks history with a side of beer, then one of these tours might be just what you are after. They are also great if you travel solo and don’t enjoy drinking alone.
The Rocks Pub Walk
This 2.5-hour walking tour will visit four heritage-listed pubs, including the haunted cellar at the Hero of Waterloo. Taste a local brew at each stop and hear stories of the people and places that will bring the Rocks to life.
The tour is offered three times a day and begins at Hart’s Pub. Get details and prices here.
About the author: Paula Morgan, a born-and-bred Sydney resident, has been sharing this city and its secret spots for over 15 years. She’s not just about the iconic landmarks; she’s all about the hidden alleys adorned with street art, and the joy of discovering a new café or a fabulous restaurant tucked away in a corner you never knew existed and weekends away exploring regional NSW.