As far as budget accommodation goes in Sydney, you can’t find a hostel with a better reputation than the Sydney Harbour YHA.
With a killer location, killer facilities, and that million dollar view (think sushi from a rooftop terrace directly overlooking the Bridge and Opera House), booking a room is the best choice you’ll make.
But not only is the hostel clean, affordable, friendly, with spacious, stylish communal areas and all the amenities you’d expect from a modern hostel, it also wraps around the archaeological remains of colonial Sydney.
The Big Dig Archaeological Site is an area of land with archaeological remains from the late 18th century, the time of Australia’s first European settlement. The excavations are part of the hostel itself, and this remains one of the largest urban archaeological dig sites in Australia.
With rooms built around the excavated foundations of over 30 homes and shops from 1795, and with artifacts on display throughout it’s halls, this is one of few opportunities in the world to spend the night on an archaeological dig site.
Spend the Night on an Archaeological Dig Site: Sydney Harbour YHA Hostel Review
The Location & View
Sydney Harbour YHA is located at 110 Cumberland St, The Rocks, and is the only budget accommodation in the heart of Sydney’s historic Rocks precinct.
The Sydney Opera House takes about 15 minutes to reach on foot, you’re a 4 minute walk from the Sydney Habour Bridge Climb, and within walking distance from major attractions like the Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park, and Darling Harbour.
You’re perfectly positioned by restaurants (and grocery stores if you plan to self cater), though it’s hard to eat out when you can order in, and pull up a seat on their rooftop terrace, directly overlooking the Opera House, Harbour, and Bridge.
And that’s exactly what we did.
The rooftop terrace on the second floor offers some of the best, unobstructed views of Sydney Harbour. There are picnic tables, beer barrels with bar stools, outdoor couches, and BBQ facilities, and you’re literally getting a million-dollar view.
You won’t find this type of view from any other restaurant in Sydney, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset, and the city skyline come alight as the evening sets in; fairylights on the rooftop once the sunsets add to the magic.
Photos of The Rooftop Terrace
When you’re spending time at the Sydney Harbour YHA, you’re not spending time in your room, as they lose out to the sparkling view of the rooftop terrace, and the fascinating archaeological remains.
But the rooms are still clean, modern, and everything you would want from a hostel, with the choice of mixed or same-sex dorm rooms, or private rooms if you’re after your own space.
Rooms are spacious, and simply decorated, and both the dorms and private rooms offer private ensuite bathrooms with a walk-in shower. This hostel luxury means you don’t have to go wandering through the halls in your towel and shower shoes.
The largest dorms sleep up to six people (starting from $34 AUD per night), and you rent them by the bed. They come with lockers, and well thought out power points, with electrical outlets in both your individual locker, and one attached to each bed.
Family rooms and private rooms offer kettles and closest instead of lockers, and if you book a premium private room it comes with a TV and harbour views, along with the standard AC, free Wi-Fi, hairdryers, tea and coffee in all private rooms.
Because of the mix of dorm and private rooms, the hostel has become a stylish hub for not only backpackers, but family’s and group bookings too. This is not a party hostel; the atmosphere is chill and family friendly, and welcoming of travelers of all ages.
Our 6 Bed Dorm Room
Facilities / Amenities
You’ll find all the must have amenities you need at the hostel, including an ATM, BBQ, laundry, a food store, free, fast Wi-Fi, a tour desk with information, games room with TV, communal kitchen facilities, a book room, and even a home theatre (request DVD’s from reception).
The laundry room is coin operated with 5 washing machines and four dryers, and there’s a a utility sink and an iron/ironing board for use too. If you want to get rid of your clothes, there’s a clothing recycling station there too.
There’s a large communal kitchen with refrigerators, multiple stoves, and a ton of counter space, and while there’s a huge communal chill space in reception, with comfortable couches and dining tables, it’s well worth the short trip to the rooftop terrace to enjoy your food.
The activity board next to reception is full of what’s on in Sydney, things to do, public transport information, as well as events at the hostel itself, like DIY pancake breakfasts, BBQ’s on the rood, or historic pub crawls.
Throughout the halls, and within the communal sitting areas within reception (which are more stylish than your average hostel), you’ll find information and displays with artifacts uncovered from the Big Dig – the hostel is not only a hostel, but an archaeological site and free museum too.
Photos of Facilities / Communal Areas
The Archaeology Site
The Sydney Harbour YHA is literally built on history (though only impacts 1.8% of the site), and as mentioned in our title and introduction, this is one of the only places in the world you can stay on an archaeological dig site.
The hostel opened in 2009, and the site was specifically chosen because of its unique heritage value. The building was designed around the archaeology, purposely with minimal impact, made of lightweight steel that ‘floats’ above the remnants.
Known as The Big Dig, archaeological excavations began in 1994, and a team of 20 archaeologists and 400 volunteers uncovered the foundations of over 30 homes and shops, the earliest built in around 1795, and over 750,000 artifacts.
The site provides a rare insight into early urban life in Sydney, and the hostel was cleverly built with all rooms facing a central airshaft, so that you can look down onto the dig from any floor, though direct access is available on ground level.
In many of the houses that were excavated, rubbish was disposed of under the floorboards; bottles, old plates, jewelry, dolls, toy soldiers. And it’s this rubbish that tells us much about the daily lives of the people that lived on the site.
The Big Dig may no longer be an ‘active’ excavation site, but as a guest of the hostel you can explore the artifacts that were uncovered, which are on display in the common areas and throughout the floors, and get up close and personal with the ruins.
“Visiting this hostel is more than just a place to rest your head, it also takes you on a journey through the ruins back to the late 1800s where a few hundred early settlers first lived.”
Photos of The Big Dig
How to Visit / Book
It’s not hard to understand why the Sydney Habour YHA is constantly voted as one of the best hostels in Sydney and in the world.
It’s clean, modern, stylish, family friendly, has all the amenities you’d ever need, is in a great central location, and you’re getting a million-dollar view of the harbour for as little as $34 AUD a night.
Not to mention the actual experience of staying on the Big Dig Archaeological Site.
To book a room at Sydney Harbour YHA visit www.yha.com.au
Even if you’re in Sydney, but not staying, the free public museum is about 10 mins walk from the site and is called The Rocks Discovery Museum.
The museum covers the whole of The Rocks, though around a third of the artifacts there are from The Big Dig site. They’re marked in the displays as ‘CuGl’ for Cumberland and Gloucester Streets site, this being the official name for site.
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We were guests of the YHA Sydney Harbour Hostel in April 2021. Thankyou to their incredible team for hosting our stay.