Colony History Walk (Part 1) – Customs House to The Big Dig

It’s a different feeling when you decide to explore your own city as a tourist. And that is exactly what I am doing currently in Sydney. Due to COVID, we have been under restrictions and to travel interstate, we need to go through the 14 days quarantine. So, as part of our 3 weeks shutdown period, I decided to find some hidden things in Sydney. And during my hunt, I stumbled upon the Colony History Walk. The walk is divided into two parts – Part 1: Customs House to The Big Dig and Part 2: The Australian Hotel to Dawes Point. In this post, I have talked only about the Part 1: Customs House to the Big Dig.

Sydney CBD Colony History Walk
Sydney Central Business District (CBD)

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Colony History Walk

The Colony History Walk is along the Circular Quay, The Rocks and Millers Point. The walk is through the peninsula where colonial Sydney laid down its roots. It is said that the early settlers, convicts, sailors, soldiers and the whalers, all of them walked this route.

Part 1: Customs House to the Big Dig

The walk starts at the Customs House in Circular Quay and ends at the Big Dig in the Rocks. It takes around 1 to 1.5 hours to complete this walk at a leisure pace. Note: There are steep stairs along the way.

  • Starting point: Customs House.
  • Finishing point: The Big Dig.
  • Total distance: 2.2 kilometres.
  • Total time taken: 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • Grade: Easy.
  • Path: Customs House — Site of First Government House — Bridge Street — Grosvenor Place — Church Hill (St Patrick’s & St Philip’s Church) — The Big Dig.
Map - Customs House to The Big Dig
Customs House to The Big Dig: Source: Google Maps

Stop 1: Customs House

Customs House in the Circular Quay is a heritage listed museum. Opened in the year 1845, Customs House now hosts a library and a restaurant. The building once served as a head office of the New South Wales (NSW) operations for Department of Trade and Customs until the year 1988. The building is of the Victorian Georgian style architecture and is built on the land of traditional Indigenous owners, the Eora people.

Definitely dine at Cafe Sydney. The food and the view of the Sydney Opera House are absolutely amazing, especially at nights.

The closest train station to the Customs House is Circular Quay train station. The Sydney city line goes to Circular Quay from Central train station. For up-to-date and recent information on the public transportation is found on the Transport for NSW website. Note: The fare for transport can be paid either using credit/debit cards or Opal transport card. Paying by Opal attracts a discounted fare rates.

Stop 2: Site of First Government House

Opened in 1789, the First Government House was the first residence for the governors of NSW. The house was used until 1845 and was demolished in the year 1846. The building had two storeys containing six rooms, two cellars and a rear staircase. Captain Arthur Philip, the first governor laid the foundation stone and was the first to move into the house. Due to its poor condition of poor mortar and white ant infestations, the house had to be demolished. Currently, some of the site is now used by the Museum of Sydney and there is a stone foundation displaying that it is the site of the First Government House.

Visit the Museum of Sydney that has the historical collection and exhibit.

Stop 3: Bridge Street

Bridge Street is Sydney’s one of the oldest and earliest streets. The street runs for 500 metres comprising of many significant buildings and sites. It was named by Governor Macquarie in the year 1810.

Stop 4: Grosvenor Place

Grosvenor Place is a prestigious commercial building on George Street of Sydney. The building has 44 floors and was designed by the architect Harry Seidler. It has won 10 awards till date, including the Green Globe award which is the 10 years sustainability achievement award.

Did you know that my first job in Sydney was located in Grosvenor Place on the 21st floor with the harbour views?

Grosvenor Place Sydney
Grosvenor Place Sydney

Stop 5: St Patrick’s Church

Founded in the year 1840, St Patrick’s church is an active Catholic church in The Rocks. The church was designed by William Fernyhough and John Frederick Hilly. It is now currently owned by the Trustees of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. The church is open Monday to Friday 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

St Patrick's Church Sydney
St Patrick’s Church

Stop 6: St Philip’s Church

The oldest Anglican church parish in Australia is the St Philip’s church. Located in the Church Hill, the current St Philip’s church was opened in the year 1858. The original church built in 1793 was built using the convict labour, which was later burnt down in the year 1798. A second stone church was built in 1856 which was again of poor materials and had a reputation of the ugliest church in Christendom.

The church is listed on the Register of National Estate.

St Philip's Church Sydney
St Philip’s Church

Stop 7: The Big Dig

The Big Dig is a heritage listed archaeological site located on the Cumberland street. It reveals what homes and lanes were in old Sydney. These were foundations of the places built by early settlers in Australia.

Ensure to check out the Big Dig Archaeological Education Centre.

The Big Dig Sydney
The Big Dig

Safety for Solo female travelers

Sydney is one of the safest cities I have traveled in. I have never faced too many issues while traveling within the city. However, like any other city be cautious and know your surroundings especially at nights.

10 Instagram worthy pictures from Sydney

Closing notes

The Colony History Walk: Customs House to The Big Dig is one of the most beautiful walks I have done in the city. The walk provides an awesome insight in Sydney’s history and it was so amazing comparing what things were back then to what it is now. I had a lot of fun doing this walk and I would definitely recommend it for everyone.

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PIN for later reference – Colony History Walk – Customs House to The Big Dig

20 thoughts on “Colony History Walk (Part 1) – Customs House to The Big Dig”

  1. You know like you I also wish to different cities of USA by walking. I believe that it is best way to learn about the city’s culture, history and other fun things to do. With each post of yours we readers are getting a virtual tour of Sydney and this colony history walk seems so fun and exciting.

  2. It seems like I was taking the colony history walk with you. Your photography is just mesmerizing. Now that my best friend has returned from Sydney, I would still like to visit the city someday. More specifically, I’d like to take a walk from the Customs House to the Big Dig.

  3. Like you I have discovered lots of new places during the lockdown of 2020 and now I will be doing the same in 2021 as we are in lockdown again. It is good to immerse yourself in your home town from time to time and appreciate what is on your doorstep. This colonial walk looks really interesting – thanks for sharing.

  4. Isn’t it funny how COVID made us all explore our own cities? I did the same, being forced to stay close to home. It’s surprising to see how much downtown Sydney resembles Los Angeles. I hope to take more than a virtual tour of Sydney and if I do, your post will come in very handy. It’s very informational, with lots of details and good directions.

  5. this is so clever Raksha. Enjoyed reading and so jealous that I cant do it now. For sure when I am in Australia you are going to be the first person I call and ask to accompany me. Love your style of exploring the city. – Urvashi

  6. We too have been happy to discover new things staying close to home. We hope to put Australia and Sydney back on our travel plans when things re-open. So this will be an interesting walk to do. Love this view of the history.

  7. I like a history walk like this. You’re not only learn about the past, but you get to burn some calories, too. Haha… The Customs House doesn’t look much different from when it erected in 1845. Too bad the First Government House couldn’t stand the time. It looked beautiful.

  8. I love Sydney, I’m not sure how I missed most of these on my previous visits and we walked everywhere. I remember visiting St. Patrick’s Church but everything else looks unfamiliar. I’ll have to do it again on my next visit. Love the handy links to Google maps. 

  9. Pandemic has brought us back to where we should be. We tend to forget visit small but fantastic places we live around in the hoard of going outside. Well, loved your post because this is exactly what I am doing.

  10. The current travel restrictions have really made everyone explore the city/country they’re living in. Colony History walk would definitely remind me of the colonial history of my own country. I’d be intrigued to do that. Big Dig is the most interesting place for me to visit. Archaeological finds always captivate me! Bridge street is the next most interesting. The street is a standing witness of so much of history!


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