Things to do at Elizabeth Bay House


Explore Elizabeth Bay House

The cellars

Visitor wandering down stone stairs to stone floored cellar, underground at Elizabeth Bay House
Museum visitor wandering down stone stairs to the stone floored cellar at Elizabeth Bay House. Photo © Haley Richardson and Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums EBH13_0178

Elizabeth Bay House has two large and entirely separate cellars. To the north is the wine and spirit cellar, which could be accessed internally via a set of stairs that would have allowed the house butler or footman to swiftly deliver drinks to the Macleay family and their guests. The cellar in the south wing contains the larder as well as space for dairy and coal storage.

The house’s original owner, Alexander Macleay, was once a London wine trader, so the family never lacked for variety or quantity when it came to drinks. In fact, eagle-eyed visitors can still spot original handpainted labels for sherry, sauterne, madeira, claret and brandy on the stone walls of the cellar.

The grotto

A pair of sepia toned photos showing a large sandstone rock overhang forming a resting place and scenic lookout in thick bushland above Sydney Harbour.
Natural grotto and scenic lookout in the grounds of Elizabeth Bay estate, Sydney. Photo attributed to Robert Hunt, c1858. Sydney Living Museums

Elizabeth Bay House was originally surrounded by a 21 hectare garden that included a famous collection of both native and exotic plants. However, as subdivisions and leaseholds slowly divided the estate, these features began to disappear and today little remains of what was once a truly spectacular garden.

One surviving feature is the grotto, attributed to the architect John Verge. Designed to provide a shaded place to view the harbour, it’s a hidden gem that can be found about 100 metres south of Elizabeth Bay House along Onslow Avenue. Tucked within the stone walls that support the garden terrace above, it features stone seats with a roof carved from an overhanging rock.