Old warehouses and bond stores have been converted into shopping arcades and restaurants, houses into craft shops and other small businesses. But today's respectability was often, last century, a hell's kitchen of taverns, brothels and violence.
Facing Sydney Cove is the city's oldest dwelling, the 1815 stone cottage of Superintendent of Boats John Cadman; around the corner is Sergeant Major's Row, a century-old terrace where Sydney's first street once ran; work on Argyle Stores began in 1826; St Patrick's (1844) is Sydney's oldest Catholic church.
Millers Point, reached through Argyle Cut, is a village in the middle of a city. It even has a green, Argyle Place, lined with 1840's houses which look across to the Garrison Church, built during the same period. Its interior is adorned with insignia of the redcoat regiments who worshipped here.
The rector's salary was ten shillings for every Church of England soldier stationed at the nearby battery, Nautical names are appropriate for the old pubs - the Lord Nelson, the Hero of Waterloo (licensed in 1833 as the Shipwright Arms) and the former Whalers Arms.
The Duke of Edinburgh laid the foundation stone in 1868. The result of six years' building is a monument to civic pride; a decorated and carved exterior of Pyrmont sandstone, and a handsome interior of high ceilings and red cedar, with a 1952-piece crystal chandelier in the main reception room.
The 1880's clock is still manually wound, and the hour bell weighs almost two tonnes. The 1906 lift was among the city's first electric elevators.
Among treasures gathered over the years is a Sevres porcelain vase known as the Vase de Rimini, which was presented to the city in 1880 on behalf of the French people.
The 2635-seat Centennial Hall was a leading concert venue before the opening of the Opera House. Its Grand Organ is among the largest in the world.
UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY
His masterpiece is the Great Hall, derived form the 1399 Westminster Hall in the British Houses of Parliament. Its Royal Window illustrates the monarchy from the Normans to Victoria.
Carving on Blacket's main building, whose clock tower contains a carillon which is the University's war memorial, took six years.
One of the prime movers behind the early builders was Vice-Provost F. L. S. "Futurity" Merewether. He gained the nickname because of his enthusiasm and certainty in the University's destiny.
An assortment of buildings has grown up around Blacket's, until the university covers 56ha with courses for more than 17,000 students.
The Fisher Library contains more than 400,000 volumes, while the Nicholson Museum of Antiquities has been built around a collection presented by Charles Nicholson, who in 1854 was appointed the first Chancellor.
The 225m main block was designed to take a British regiment of those times, 800 men, and a sentry has manned the gate 24 hours a day for more than 130 years.
The oldest armament is a showpiece 1779 six-pounder cannon. Every Tuesday morning, except in high summer, the guard is ceremonially changed.
The first houses were built for workmen employed on building Victoria Barracks in the 1840's. A pump installed in 1868 to provide the district's first water supply has been preserved on the main street.
Radio listeners tuned into Test matches from Sydney Cricket Ground know the familiar phrase: "......and now, coming into bowl from the Randwick Road end.....". A statue to Captain Cook erected in 1874 has mariner looking toward his landing place, Botany Bay.
Edmund Blacket, who designed the church, lies in the cemetery alongside explorer Thomas Mitchell, scientist and first president of The Australian Museum Sir Alexander Macleay, and Major Edmund Lockyer, who founded the first settlement in Western Australia.
Many older buildings have disappeared as a result of the development, which has attracted many advertising agencies and their associated concerns.
The oldest survivor is Don Bank, an 1853 slab cottage. St Thomas Anglican Church is considered among the finest built by Edmund Blacket.
The stone font was carved in 1845 by artist Conrad Martens, who helped design an earlier church on the site. Famous marine surveyor Owen Stanley and Martens himself are among several famous figures buried in the churchyard.
EXPLORE AUSTRALIA - THE COMPLETE TOURING COMPANION (BOOK)
SYDNEY'S COLONIAL PAST Pages 30-31
At the first settlement at Sydney Cove Captain Watkin Tench of the Marines wrote "to proceed on a narrow, confined scale in a country of the extensive limits we possess, would be unpardonable....extent of Empire demands grandeur of design".
Such "grand design" began in 1810, when the vision of the new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, was put into practice by the convict architect Francis Greenway, giving us a heritage of splendid buildings, many of which are landmarks today.
It continued through nearly a century of growth and lofty ideals to create a prosperous and busy metropolis - a great symbol of colonial aspirations.
As it developed, Sydney was both "mean and princely", a mixture of broad, tree-lined avenues and narrow streets and alleys, grand buildings and crowded cottages and terraces. Its switchback, craggy hills around the sprawling indented harbour made orderly Georgian style planning impossible, and the grand outlines of earlier days soon became blurred by the city's growth from first settlement to colonial seat, to state capital, to modern city.
In modern Sydney, however, with its gleaming towers, its crowds and its traffic, substantial and fascinating remnants of old Sydney remain. Some parts of the city, such as The Rocks area, adjacent to Circular Quay, are almost pure history.
The old pubs and bandstands, sandstone cottages and terrace houses, The Argyle Cut and Agar Steps, the Garrison Church and the village green are an oasis separated from the bustling city by Flagstaff Hill, where the old Observatory stands, and the Harbour Bridge.
There are many other inner suburban areas that are reminiscent of the feeling of old Sydney. Paddington is the show-place historic suburb, with its picturesque terraces and cottages, many of them superbly restored by proud owners. The narrow streets of this once working-class suburb provide and intimate, neighbouring feeling.
Balmain, Leichhardt and Redfern are becoming popular as the advantages of inner suburban living and sandstone cottages attract owners who are conscious of the aesthetic quality of the old houses.
In the city itself, the street which best reflects the past is probably Macquarie Street, which overlooks the Domain where Government House, the National Gallery and the Conservatorium of Music are situated.
Governor Macquarie planned fro the east side of the street to be occupied by official buildings and for the west to contain town houses of wealthy citizens, which are now mainly occupied by members of the medical profession.
Among other interesting buildings in Macquarie Street are Parliament House, a verandahed sandstone building which was known as the Rum Hospital; the adjoining Mint Building of the same age; the Richmond Villa in Gothic Style - now in Dent Street; Sydney Hospital; the Royal College of Physicians; and the Hyde Park Barracks (1819), now the Law Courts. In nearby Queens Square is the classically designed St James's Church.
At the harbour end of Mrs Macquarie's Road is a natural reminder of the Macquarie era - a sandstone shell known as Mrs Macquarie's Chair. The Governor's wife is said to have sat here and gazed out upon the great harbour, now one of the world's busiest and most picturesque waterways.
There are a number of other major buildings in or near to the city; buildings like Elizabeth Bay House, in Regency style, now beautifully restored and show-place for the rich furnishings of the time when it looked out over a harbour verged by cliff and woodland.
The General Post Office in Martin Place, completed in 1887 in classic Renaissance style; the Great Hall of Sydney University , and St Andrew's Cathedral, designed by William Wardell; the Greek Revival courthouse in Taylor Square, designed by Mortimer Lewis; Vaucluse House, former home of William Charles Wentworth, the father of the NSW Constitution.
But perhaps the most striking example of colonial architecture in Sydney is Victoria Barracks in Darlinghust. This two-storey sandstone building of severe Georgian style, 74 metres long, with white-painted upper and lower verandas, is a model of elegance.
As settlement extended from the harbourside colony, villages were established, first in the upper Hawkesbury region to the north-west, then to the south and, finally, as the Blue Mountains were breached, out to the western plains and throughout New South Wales.
In the upper Hawkesbury valley are the sister towns of Windsor and Richmond, beautifully sited on the river and retaining the peaceful charm and many of their earlier days.
Windsor has a number of fine buildings: Claremont Cottage, St Matthew's Anglican Church, the Macquarie Arms, Tebbutt's Observatory, Doctor's House, the Toll House, and the courthouse, to name but a few.
At Richmond are the mansion Hobartville, Toxana House, St Peter's Anglican Church, the School of Arts and Belmont.
In the Southern Highlands, the settlements of Campbelltown, Camden, Moss Vale, Berrima and Bowralare full of historic interest. Berrima is perhaps the best example of a colonial town, as the Berrima Village Trust has preserved it as it was in the nineteenth century.
Sited in a valley, it contains a number of fine sandstone buildings grouped around a central common, among them the gaol and court-house, the Surveyor-General Inn, the Church of the Holy Trinity, Harper's Mansion and Allington.
There are many other historic towns and properties throughout New South Wales bearing the hall-marks of a nation's foundation, though Berrima is the best preserved.