The historic heart of Sydney is the area between Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge known as The Rocks, because of the soft sandstone ridge on which it stands.
Standing on the harbour front, it was always a rough, disreputable district, and after an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900 the New South Wales Government took steps to flatten the entire area. The interruptions of two world wars and the disruption of building the approaches to the Harbour Bridge in the 1920s meant that a substantial number of historic structures survived into the 1960s.
An energetic campaign by a residents’ group in the early 1970s secured the conservation of the Rocks area, and now it is a tourist magnet, especially interesting for the overlays of successive historic periods on the oldest colonised site in the whole of Australia.
Among the places to see is Cadman’s Cottage, named after John Cadman, one of the government coxswains, an English publican transported for stealing a horse. It dates from 1816 and is the third oldest building in Sydney.
The history of The Rocks is well interpreted in The Rocks Discovery Museum [http://www.therocks.com/sydney-Things_To_Do-The_Rocks_Discovery_Museum.htm], set in an 1850s warehouse restored by the National Trust.
What must have been the roughest collection of pubs in Sydney is now a variegated succession of tourist honeypots – the Fortune of War (1828) [http://www.fortuneofwar.com.au], the Lord Nelson (1841) [http://www.lordnelsonbrewery.com], the Orient (1844)[http://www.orienthotel.com.au] and the Russell Hotel & Wine Bar (1887) [http://www.therussellwinebar.com.au] – among many others.
A good way to start a stay in Sydney is to have dinner in the open air at Circular Quay, watching the ferries come and go, and then to take your pick of the watering-holes along George Street towards the Harbour Bridge.
The big city seems far away, though actually it’s just over the hill.