Sydney is an incredible city in the state of New South Wales, Australia, and well worth a visit. Famous for its iconic landmarks, the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the city offers lots of memorable sights and activities. This guide will help you make the most of your time there.
For those of us who live in Europe or the US, Australia is a long way to go. It can mean 20+ hours cramped on a plane, and the flights are by no means cheap. (Pro tip: set a price alert and watch for deals and you may get lucky.)
This means if you are going to make the effort to travel to Australia, it’s worth visiting as many places as your schedule and budget allows. There are many fantastic places to go, such as Melbourne, Brisbane, the Great Ocean Road, or Cairns to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Flying is the easiest way to travel around Australia, due to the size of the country.
Chances are you will be arriving at Sydney airport. From there you have several options to get to the city centre, known as Sydney CBD (Central Business District – the Australian version of downtown).
This is the option we chose. Trains run regularly from the airport directly into the city, but beware! There is an additional AU$14.30 airport access charge to get on or off at the airport, on top of the usual fare. We avoided this by walking to the next station, Mascot, which took about 20 minutes. This worked for us as we were travelling with just a backpack each, but if you have lots of luggage that may not be feasible.
You can get an airport shuttle for approximately $17 one way, which is about the same price as the train when you factor in the airport access charge. The best way to arrange a shuttle is to contact your hotel, who will be able to recommend one that can drop you off at the door.
Sydney has a relatively good bus system, but it will take considerably longer to get where you need to go. You can view full bus routes and timetables here. One good option is to get the 400 Bus to Bondi Junction, and get off at the first stop, Mascot Station. From there you can get the train to the CBD without the extortionate airport access fee.
Taxi or Rideshare
In the interest of saving money so that we can travel for longer, we are trying to avoid getting Ubers wherever possible. However, if money is not an issue, this is one of the easiest ways to get directly from the airport to your hotel in comfort. There is a taxi rank just out the front of the airport, and you can expect to pay $45-$55 for the journey.
Don’t forget your Opal card
The Opal card is the ticketing system that most of the public transport in Sydney uses, including trains, buses and ferries. It’s a card that you top up with money before tapping on and off to travel. Make sure to purchase one at the airport, as they are not available from every station and you cannot travel without one.
The Opal cards have a daily cap of $15.40, so once you have exceeded that amount the rest of your travel for the day will be free (although note that does not include the airport fee). The daily cap on a Sunday is only $2.60, so you can save money by scheduling activities that require transport on a Sunday.
Where to stay
There is an abundance of great hotels and hostels to suit every budget in Sydney. We chose to stay in Siesta Sydney, which offered great value in a fantastic location – we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go.
Sydney is formed of several districts, each with something different to offer.
- Central Business District – this is where we stayed. Right in the city centre and you are able to walk everywhere you need to go.
- Circular Quay and The Rocks – home to Sydney Harbour, perfect for visitors that want to stay right next to the famous landmarks.
- Darling Harbour – stunning views and lots of places to eat and drink, this was our favourite place in Sydney to spend an evening.
- Inner City (Darlinghurst, Surry Hills) – for those that want something a little more artsy, foodie and hipster. It’s the centre of the city’s LGBTQ scene, and you can expect lots of cafes, bars, one-off boutiques, and exciting nightlife.
- Bondi – Bondi Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Australia, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a picturesque beach with a laid-back surf lifestyle. However, it’s not that easy to get to and from the city so unless you plan on spending most of your time on the beach, we would not recommend staying at Bondi.
Things to do
We would strongly recommend taking the free bus tour of Sydney towards the start of your trip. (Not actually free; it costs $18 each plus a tip, but worth it and still cheaper than any other bus tours we found.) The bus stops so you can take pictures at several locations, such as Mrs. Macquaries point – the best place to get a picture of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge – and several gorgeous beaches and bays. The bus goes through the main districts in Sydney, and the friendly tour guide tells you all about the things to do in each one so you can decide how best to spend the rest of your trip.
The final stop of the tour is Bondi Beach, and you can choose whether to stay there for the rest of the day or ride the tour bus back to the city centre.
Bondi is one of the most iconic beaches in Australia and it’s easy to see why. With sweeping white sands and glistening blue water, the crescent bay is a popular destination for locals, celebrities, and tourists alike. Take on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk for landscape views from the clifftops. The beach can be accessed by bus if you’re staying in the town centre.
The beach can get very busy, especially at weekends, so it’d be good to go during the week if your schedule allows it. If you visit in the afternoon or early evening, be prepared to queue to get on.
Circular Quay & The Rocks
Home to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, this area is what most people think of when they picture Sydney. No trip would be complete without coming to admire the country’s most famous landmarks. You can easily spend a full day in this part of the city, with lots of bars and restaurants around.
While you’re there, check out Sydney Observatory to see some historic and modern telescopes and other instruments, and learn about the stars, moon and sky. The top of Observatory Hill offers some great views of the city.
Darling Harbour was our personal favourite place to spend an evening. There are lots of waterfront restaurants, bars, and clubs to choose from. Make sure you’re there for sunset, which looks absolutely spectacular reflected in the water.
Chinatowns can be quite similar from city to city, but they’re always a fun place to visit and eat some Asian food. Our biggest regret with our trip was not making it to the Chinese Garden of Friendship, which looks absolutely stunning!
Hyde Park is the perfect place in Sydney to stop for a picnic. Sit by Archibald Fountain and take in the views of St Mary’s Cathedral. There are Australian White Ibis wandering around the park, easily recognisable by their long downward-curved bills. The architecture of the cathedral is stunning and it’s free to visit.
The Blue Mountains National Park is close enough to Sydney that you can choose to either take a day trip or spend a little longer for hiking, camping and sightseeing. Look out for the Three Sisters, an iconic sandstone formation and sacred Aboriginal site.
Our favourite places to eat and drink
Located on the roof of World Square, this was my personal favourite meal of the trip. Pick your own toppings and watch it made right in front of you! Not only was it delicious, but at $22 for pizza and a beer it was great value for money. Sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the light sculptures and skyscrapers towering over you as you eat.
The menu and quality of food is pretty standard for a museum cafe, but the real reason to eat here is the spectacular view of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
Share a bottle of wine as you sit outside, watching the setting sun cast a warm glow over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. While it does get busy, the outside area is large so you should find somewhere to sit.
Other things to remember
The local currency is the Australian Dollar. At the time of writing, £1 is worth almost AU$2, so everything seems crazy expensive when you arrive! Most places accept card, so you shouldn’t need to carry too much cash throughout your stay if you don’t like to.
Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, with reversed seasons from what we are used to in the UK/USA. We travelled in their summer, and the weather was gloriously hot. Sydney stays relatively warm throughout the year, as the weather is moderated by proximity to the ocean.
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