Circular Quay was the site of Australia’s first farm. Today it features rich historical and cultural offerings, and the Royal Botanic Gardens have taken the place of that first farm. Located near The Rocks on Sydney Cove, Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia, was once a critical location for merchants, whalers and passenger ships. The area now features shopping, green spaces, dining, walks and public transportation.

The History of Circular Quay

Settlers first arrived in the area that is now known as Circular Quay in 1788. After Botany Bay was determined to be inadequate for settlers, Governor Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet to Sydney Cove, which was named after the British Secretary of State, Viscount Sydney. Sydney Cove offered fresh spring water and convenient access to ships. Convicts and free settlers built Circular Quay and many of the buildings in The Rocks, which still contains many of the original homes and businesses. Customs House is located on the site where the Aboriginals watched the First Fleet arrive, and the Aboriginal flag still flies here today in their honour.

Much of the original architecture still exists as well, including Customs House and Cadman’s Cottage, the oldest surviving home in Circular Quay. Visitors can explore the history of the area more fully by visiting the Sydney Visitor Centre in The Rocks or checking out the Susannah Place Museum, which is a complex of four homes that reveals how Sydney’s first residents lived.

Circular Quay Today

Sydney Cove retains its importance as the centerpiece of Circular Quay. Ferries and cruises are housed at a large terminus in Circular Quay, and shopping, dining and walking tours are all popular activities. Diverse shopping opportunities include high fashion boutiques, jewellery stores, Australiana, gourmet shops, craft stalls and souvenir shops. Visit the Sydney Opera House Gift Shop on Sundays, or take a leisurely walk to The Rocks, with its weekend markets and quaint antique shops. Restaurants include cozy cafés, al fresco dining, fusion restaurants, Mediterranean restaurants and fine Australian cuisine, including kangaroo and crocodile. Featured walks include a leisurely stroll from Customs House to Millers Point, from Milsons Point past the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or through the Royal Botanic Gardens and past the historic structures on Macquarie Street.

Circular Quay, Sydney
Circular Quay, Sydney (photo courtesy of Tourism Australia)

What to do in Circular Quay

The central location and intoxicating atmosphere combine to make Circular Quay a place where visitors can lose themselves for hours. They can explore the historic The Rocks, visit Observatory Park and discover its windmill, or visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. When you visit Circular Quay, take the opportunity to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge or try a bridge climb. Check out the Justice and Police Museum, which allows you to investigate the region’s convict history and more than 150 years of crime and justice in Sydney. You will never be at a loss for learning opportunities, exciting discoveries or historic sightseeing in Circular Quay.