Sydney is one of the biggest cities in Australia and is famous worldwide, especially for its Opera. It attracts a growing number of tourists each year, whether local or international. In September 2018, the number of tourists visiting the city was around 10 million in one year. Not only is the surfing culture very prominent, Sydneysiders in general are described as “laid back”. Here is our complete guide if you visit Sydney, so you won’t miss a thing during your travels in Australia!
How to get to Sydney?
From Europe or America, the flight to Sydney takes a long time, about 24 hours with at least one stopover.
Check regularly price comparison websites such as Skyscanner or Kayak, and avoid flying during school holidays.
If you come from another city in Australia, you can either fly in, drive or take the bus. The rail network is not very developed in Australia, which makes taking a train the last option. Flying is usually more expensive but much faster than riding buses. Check the prices of both options before making your choice, you might find a good flight deal.
How much time do you need?
If you are in a hurry, Sydney’s must-sees can be ticked off in 2 days. You will have to plan these two days a bit, so you get to see everything. Check out our 2-day Sydney itinerary to get an idea.
Nevertheless, you won’t get bored if you have more time to stay around, quite the opposite! You will have enough time to really get to know the city and also its surroundings … beaches, national parks, and more. You will definitely enjoy your visit to Sydney.
What to see in Sydney?
Visiting Sydney without seeing the Opera or Bondi Beach is a bit like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower … Here is a list of places you should see:
Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge
Known worldwide for its original form and structure, the Sydney Opera House hosts approximately 1,500 shows each year. Don’t miss the opportunity to have a drink at the Sydney Opera Bar, from where you have a breathtaking view of the Harbour Bridge. It is also possible to climb the Harbour Bridge to admire the view of the Opera and the tall buildings from up there. This is a must to visit in Sydney.
Royal Botanic Garden
It is a lung in the heart of the city! The park is full of flowers and trees, which makes it the perfect spot to relax, with an incredible view of the Opera. It is open every day from 7 to 17 or 20 o’clock, depending on the season. The park also hosts many festivals and events throughout the year.
You get to this historic district from Circular Quay. Once there, enjoy the view and a drink at Glenmore Hotel. There are free guided tours through the neighbourhood that tell you all about its history.
Visiting Darling Harbour at night is amazing! Crossing the Pyrmont Bridge, you can admire the city lights. It’s also a nice place to visit at daytime, including Barangaroo on one side, and Cockle Bay Wharf on the other.
Located in the heart of Chinatown, Paddy’s is the place to be for buying souvenirs. You will be spoiled for choice at unbeatable prices. You can also buy fresh produce (fruits and vegetables). Paddy’s Market is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Sydney Fish Market
As the name suggests, this is the perfect place for fish lovers! On the terrace, you enjoy freshly caught fish and shellfish at affordable prices. The market is a little bit out of the centre but easily accessible by bus.
Walk from Bondi to Coogee
On the Coastal Walk, you see Bondi and the beaches on the way to Coogee in about 2 to 3 hours return. You cross the beaches of Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and finally Coogee. Take the time to do this walk early in the morning. There is only one place to get food in Tamarama, so remember to take water and snacks with you.
Manly is a place that attracts an all kinds of people: surfers go there for the main beach, hikers for a walk to Spit, window-shoppers for its small shops and art galleries, and beach fans for Shelly Beach and its crystal clear waters.
You can take the ferry to Manly from Circular Quay. We advise you to return to Circular for sunset. At that time, you see the red reflections of the sun on the Opera and the buildings of the city centre. You should visit manly if your are in Sydney.
If you want to be a bit more active, do the walk from Manly to Spit, which lasts several hours (18km round trip) and is well worth the detour.
You can walk to Gap Lookout and continue on the Gap Bluff Walking Track. Then head to Camp Cove Beach for a swim. Pass Lady Bay Beach (beautiful nudist beach), to reach the Hornby Lighthouse, with a beautiful view of the bay.
If you are hungry when leaving the ferry at Watsons Bay, we recommend Doyles Seafood. The Beach Club is also a popular place for locals to enjoy a drink and nibbles.
Taronga is a huge zoo with a great view of the city. In just a few hours, you encounter all Australian animal species. You get there on a ferry from Circular Quay. Visit the zoo while you are in Sydney.
More information on: What to do around Sydney
Activities & Excursions
Things to do in Sydney
- Visit the trendy neighbourhoods in Sydney (Surry Hills, Paddington, and Newtown)
- Book a surf lesson (Find out more: Where to surf in Sydney)
- Relax at one of the many beaches in Sydney, for example Bondi Beach
- Have a BBQ on the beach. There are many barbecue areas available for free!
- Kayak or paddle in the bay
- Book a flight by helicopter or seaplane
- Book a whale watching tour (June to November)
Day trips from Sydney
To visit the vineyards in Hunter Valley, do a tour that takes you about 3.5 hours. Most of them will take you to the heart of the vineyards, where you enjoy wine, sometimes accompanied by cheese or chocolate.
Royal National Park
Accessible only by car, you will see the famous Figure 8 Pool and the Wedding Cake Rock.
Ideal for walking and exploring a slightly wilder beach accessible by public transport, only about 70 minutes by car or 2 hours by bus.
The Blue Mountains are accessible by train from Central Station. There are many hiking trails and lookouts, the best known is certainly the Three Sisters.
More information: Visit the Blue Mountains
Port Stephens (Anna Bay / Nelson Bay)
Located 2.5 hours from Sydney by car, Port Stephens Bay reveals landscapes that are very different from those around Sydney. Don’t miss the view of Tomaree Head, a camel ride to Birubi Beach, sand-boarding, Little Beach Reserve for its pelicans at the end of the day and Stockton dunes to visit in a 4×4.
Located a 3-hour drive from Sydney, Jervis Bay is a breathtaking place with white beaches. It is recommended to rent a car to be really flexible. Hyams Beach is considered the beach with the whitest sand in the world. Greenpatch, Cave Beach, and other incredible places to explore, and you will spot parrots and kangaroos.
More information on: Weekend in Jervis Bay
Accommodation in Sydney is very expensive. There are different options depending on your budget and comfort, here are a few:
AirBnb: You stay with locals and share local experiences. This is a good option for short term visits.
Hotels: Prices increase on the weekend and it is almost impossible to find a private room with ensuite for less than 130 AUD in the city centre. However, a good option if Sydney is the first place you visit after a long flight.
Hostels: Dorms (mixed or female/ male) or private rooms. Good for short a short visit in Sydney.
Temporary sublets: Many travellers or expats go on short vacations and sublet their rooms. You find heaps of them on Facebook.
Shared Houses: If you plan to stay for several weeks, this is the most affordable solution. Just post an ad on Flatmates or Gumtree.
More information: Best suburbs in Sydney – Accommodation guide
The public transport system makes it easy to get around. Just buy an Opal card at the airport or in town and recharge it. It is not possible to get on a bus without having a ticket. The principle is simple: we must “tap on” when getting on, and “tap off” when getting off the bus. Prices vary depending on the distance.
The Broadway Shopping Centre is worth visiting for its architecture
The CBD and Haymarket (Chinatown) include many Asian restaurants of all kinds: Chinese, dumplings, Korean barbecues, Japanese, etc. At Darling Harbour, you will find more diverse tourist restaurants with a beautiful view of the harbour.
In trendier neighbourhoods like Paddington, Surry Hills, and Newtown, you’ll find nice restaurants that offer expensive food called “fusion”. Barangaroo is the new business district with a nice view of the harbour.
Not all restaurants are willing to split bills, that is, to allow customers to pay separately.
The trendy neighbourhood Surry Hills is a great place to go out for drinks: The Clock, Beresford, Dolphin, Surly’s, and live concerts … You’ll be spoiled with options.
Finally, if you want to go out the Australian way, just go to the neighbourhood pub! The sound volume may be very high, don’t be surprised.
– Take your ID card absolutely everywhere. It is required in any bar at night.
– In the centre of Sydney, there is a lockout: Bars don’t serve alcohol after 1:30
In the center of Sydney, there is a curfew: the bars serve no longer alcohol after 1:30am
Find more Sydney travel tips:
Updated on the 14/11/2019. Initially published on the 20/05/2019.