Hyde Park Barracks is one of the most significant convict sites in the world. Built in 1817-1819, this UNESCO World Heritage listed site was a crossroads for tens of thousands of people, it played a central role in the world’s largest and longest-running system of convict transportation.
On a recent trip into the city, I wanted to explore this gorgeous building in the centre of the city and the history behind it. It is a great place for primary school children, teenagers and adults to visit. Little ones under 6 will appreciate a few spots of dressing up too. Don't forget to pickup a Kids' Rats' Trail at front desk which takes the kids through the museum to collect historical clues and receive a stamp upon completion.
It is so fascinating to walk within the building, read up on such times and still see parts of the building as they stood back in the 1800s.
Kids can follow Ratty's Rat Trail and read up on vivid stories about what it was like to be a convict, or to be an orphan shipped across the world to make a new life.
Level 1 of the Barracks houses the Convict Period: 1819 - 1848. More than 50,000 convicts passed through the gates of the Hyde Park Barracks between 1819 to 1848. The convicts were a motley crew of thieves, protestors, robbers, pirates, slaves, bushrangers and repeated offenders. However through hard work and obedience some gained their freedom.
After 1848, the barracks became an Immigration depot and Asylum until 1886. It was then a Courts & Offices quarter from 1887-1979. In 1979 conservation works began where 120,000 artefacts were recovered from the site including beneath floorboards. And later in 1984 the Barracks then opened as a Museum.
You will find little Ratty signs and boxes throughout the building keeping it interesting for little ones showing artefacts, asking questions and more.
On level 1, you will find the Convict Sydney: People room where kids can see what convicts ate, dress up as a convict, try on leg irons and admire all the different tools on display that convicts used back in the day.
The convict Sydney: Place still on level 1 shows where the Barracks were in these early colonial days and places convicts went to work and who they were. The maps, images and panorama in this room are quite interesting to look at too.
Level 2 houses the Immigration Depot & Asylum Period: 1848-1886. The Barracks back then provided safe haven for around 40,000 immigrant women some with children. The women slept in iron beds in dorms on level 2 and 3. It then became an asylum.
Kids can sit on beds and dress up as the women did back in the days in this room and adults can admire the remaining of the pressed ceiling (ok maybe that's just me ha!).
On the same level, kids can admire the archeology exhibits on display, very interesting for little historians in your family. Visitors can also discover artefacts found beneath the ground at floor spaces and see some fascinating items.
Still on the same level, visitors can look at different models of how the Barracks and site have changed over time and understand the rich timeline.
My favourite area in the building would have to be level 3 where the Courts and Offices were located. The building's ceilings and beams are just stunning. This level includes a silhouettes gallery where visitors can hear sounds and voices of convict life. You can also listen to the hourly chime of Australia's oldest continuously functioning public clock on this level - such a beautiful piece of machinery and also checkout the hammocks room.
Don't forget to peep through the holes of the rooms to see through the Hammocks Room. Kids can sit in the hammocks of this reconstructed convict dormitory and ponder how life would have been as a convict sleeping on these hammocks. Very comfy however I'm not sure how I would sleep on these for long periods without falling ha!
Kids and parents will enjoy visiting the Hyde Park Barracks and learning about this site's rich history. Kids will enjoy following the Rats' Trail and follow Ratty's clews around the building, dressing up, exploring and laying in a hammock.
- The Hyde Park Barracks Museum is located at Queens Square, Macquarie Street, Sydney CBD.
- The Barracks Museum is open 10am to 5pm daily except on Good Friday & Christmas Day.
- Admission is $12 per adult, $8 per concession, $30 per family, Members and Kids under 5 go free.
- Free guided tours and audio tours are available.
- The Museum is only pram and wheelchair friendly on the ground floor of the building as upper levels are only accessible via stairs. Limited pram parking too.
Busy City Kids were invited to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum for the purpose of a review. All opinions & feedback are genuine & truthful. Travel and food were self funded.
For more ideas on what to do with the kids in Sydney, head to our blog, our daily spots list or pools & beaches or playgrounds list. And for a full list of parents rooms around Sydney, head to our parents room page.