A Stay At Sydney Harbour YHA Hostel, The Rocks District [Review]

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I am very much a feelings person. I trust my intuition and know in an instant whether something is right for me or not.

As soon as I walked into the Sydney Harbour YHA in the Rocks District, I immediately had the feeling that I was at the right place.

woman standing with views of opera house and harbour bridge in sydney
Amazing views for an affordable price

It had a fresh and inviting atmosphere that filled the air. My initial feeling did not disappoint me; I loved our very short stay at the YHA Sydney Harbour – it’s a place that offers more than just a bed for the night.

If you’re thinking of staying at the Sydney Harbour YHA but are not sure it’s right for you, then keep reading to hear my honest opinions in my review of our stay there.

About Sydney Harbour YHA

Caroline sitting on couch in hostel with big australia sign behind her

The Sydney Harbour Rocks YHA opened in November 2009 and is built over the archaeological remnants of colonial Sydney. It is, in essence, built over an archaeological site of white Australia’s first settlement and lies only 500m from where the First Fleet landed to start the colony.

I loved walking in and seeing the Big Dig in the center of the building, it’s the most unique feature I’ve ever seen in a hostel.

The remains of some of Sydney’s oldest buildings can be gazed upon as you walk throughout the building.

Sydney Harbour YHA the Rocks
Built over the archeological site

I couldn’t help but stare and imagine what life must have been like back then, which is often why I travel – to get an insight into the lives of those, not just around me, but who have been before me so I can better understand the importance and value of my life as it stands now.

Sydney Harbour YHA Education and archeological dig site

Throughout the building, information plaques explain what can be seen on the archeological site, what was found there, and the stories that lie behind those who once lived there.

We were lucky enough to be given a tour of the property by the manager, Ross Lardner, and learned fascinating information, not just about the dig site, but about the designs of the building that were so carefully planned to fit in with the historic site and highlight the amazing features of it.

If you don’t get a tour of the site you can see some plaques and artefacts around it that give you some information about the archaeology before you.

The Sydney Harbour YHA is the perfect blend of modern architecture and ancient (in white Australia terms) history. If you look at it from the outside (see picture below) you wouldn’t believe the history it contains on the inside.

exterior of Sydney Harbour YHA

I absolutely loved the uniqueness and vision of the hostel.

Check prices and availability for the YHA Hostel Sydney here.

Where is YHA Sydney Harbour?

Friends exploring The Rocks
The Rocks Sydney Credit: Destination NSW

The YHA Sydney Harbour is located in the historic district of Sydney CBD known as The Rocks. In fact, it’s the only backpacker hostel in The Rocks precinct.

Its location is in the heart of the city, just a few minutes’ walk from Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Circular Quay, and Wynyard Stations where you can catch the light rail to other parts of Sydney.

Before arriving at the Hostel, all I heard were reports of the magnificent Sydney Harbour views that could be had from the rooftop of the YHA.

I didn’t even know anything about the historical value that came with the site. This just added way more enjoyment to the experience of staying here.

The central location cannot be beaten, it’s right in the heart of The Rocks and nothing can beat the Opera House views that you can get from the rooftop terrace at the hostel.

You can see clearly out to the Harbour, taking in Australia’s two most well known icons; The Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

Enjoying the view
view of sydney cBD skyline
CBD skyline

And you can also see the Sydney CBD city skyline in the other direction.

There is no better place for you to sit with a beer of an afternoon than here.

Putting the views aside, you have the location of the Sydney Harbour only a few minutes walk away as well as close proximity to train stations, ferries, tours, and attractions. There are no other budget accommodation choices in the Rocks area.

On top of it all, Sydney airport is only 10 kms away.

Sydney Harbour YHA Rooftop views
Cannot beat those views

The hostel is set amongst the cobble-stoned alleyways, heritage buildings, and quiet laneways of this historic area; Australia’s first white settlement.

The Rocks is my favourite area of Sydney, and is the place I would recommend all travellers and tourists to spend time exploring. Staying at the YHA Sydney Harbour makes that so much easier, especially when the nighttime fun begins.

The YHA Sydney Harbour Environmental Ethos

Environmentally sustainable Sydney YHA harbour
Designed with the environment in mind

Being so modern means that the YHA is the first purpose-built environmentally sustainable YHA in a central city location.

You immediately sense this when you walk in and are hit with so much natural light and space from the design of the building.

Some of the environmentally friendly features of the building are key card-activated lighting and air conditioning for rooms, sliding external shutters for bedroom windows, solar hot water, and rainwater tanks.

Our Experience Staying at The Sydney Harbour YHA

people sitting in common room of hostel
The hang out area

We have spent many of our travels in run-down beat up hostels, with plenty of cockroaches running around and the threat of toe jam in every shared shower cubicle.

It was so refreshing to stay at the modern YHA hostel, where everything is clean and modern.

One thing that was really noticeable was the wide variety of travelers staying at the hostel. It was not just backpackers, but digital nomads, families, and elderly tourists. It really caters to all tastes.

Love the stainless steel kitchen

The kitchen is large and spacious and had an alleluia ring out from me when I saw that it was stainless steel.

There are large common rooms both in the main foyer, and upstairs there is a TV room coming off the rooftop.

Each of these is tastefully decorated, filled with plenty of comfy couches, and has glass-covered coffee tables filled with artifacts that have been dug out from the historical site that sits below the building. Very cool!

Cheap Deals and Tours at the Rocks YHA

Sydney Rocks YHA

Sydney Harbour YHA offers many inexpensive tours and meal deals. Twice a week they have a rooftop barbie and Sunday hangover bacon and egg brekkies.

Once a week they run a free archeological tour of the site, which is definitely one to get yourself on. They have upcoming digs coming up that you can volunteer for in the hopes of uncovering something under the dirt. They also offer some discounts off tours in the local Sydney area.

The best deal of all would have to be the New Year’s Party that is held on the rooftop. In other venues with similar views, prices could be up to around $1000 just for your entry.

Sydney Harbour YHA charges a fraction of this price for the roof-top party, including drinks and food. It is the best seat in the house for those spectacular fireworks on New Year’s Eve over Sydney Harbour.

But, understandably there is a catch. You have to be ready to book 9 months in advance when they sell out really quickly, and you have to have a 5-night minimum stay at the hostel over the New Year break.

Plan it well and you could have the best Sydney New Year’s experience ever.

The Rooms at the Sydney Harbour YHA

two bunk beds in dorm room at sydney harbour yha
Sydney Harbour YHA dorm room

Designed for the modern-day traveler, you will find the spacious and clean rooms have all the amenities you need such as free wifi, laundry facilties, a communal area to mingle with other travellers, and even art facilities for the creative visitors.

In the dorms, each guest gets their own locker and two personal electrical charging stations. Each dorm room has its own bathroom, which I found to be a great feature.

The toilet, bathroom, and sink are all separate so no one has to get stuck. Beds are made up for your arrival and are arranged so that you still have privacy and personal space.

private room sydney yha the rocks-2
Private room

Private rooms come in double, twin, or family room. They also come with complimentary towels, coffee, water, and the biggest chocolate bars I’ve ever seen!

Now that we are a little older and have kids, we have evolved a little from dorm rooms.

We love the communal feel of hostels and the budget accommodation prices but do enjoy a little comfort and privacy.

These rooms were the perfect fit for our new travelling style. I would even recommend my parents stay here.

They also offer continental breakfasts.

The Verdict: Is It The Best Budget Accommodation in Sydney Harbour?

The prices of the Sydney Harbour YHA are a little more expensive than other hostels in the Sydney area. But, for the location of the hostel, uniqueness, and amenities you cannot beat the price!

Our private double room, with views of the Opera, was around $242 AUD a night (as of April 2023). Those staying at the Hyatt down the road would be paying quadruple for the same views. You would not find any hotel room in The Rocks area that ran anywhere near that price.

For those of you who are happy to be sharing dorm rooms then your prices will run from $80 AUD (as of April 2023), which is a little steep for a dorm bed but unfortunately this is Sydney and prices are high.

But of course, YHA members receive a 10% discount, and you can also get a deal if you book for more than a week.

Sydney Harbour YHA will be the only hostel I stay in now when I visit Sydney. It’s not the cheapest hostel but its amenities, location, and uniqueness, in my opinion, make it the best.

It has everything. And I highly recommend it to anyone – not just backpackers – traveling to Sydney as a place to stay.

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