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Explore Sydney: The Ultimate Travel Guide for Every Visitor

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Explore Sydney: The Ultimate Travel Guide for Every Visitor

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. The number of tourists (from overseas and interstate) visiting the city is around 40 million per 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 long to allow?

Min 2 days

Our fav. spots

Opera House, Darling Harbour, Bondi & Manly Beaches

Best season

From September to March

How to get to Sydney?

From Overseas

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.

Within Australia

By Plane

If you’re coming from another city in Australia, the best mode of transport is by plane or bus. The rail network is not very well developed in Australia, so trains are not the best option. Buses are generally cheaper (expect to pay around $60 for an overnight bus from Melbourne), but here too the journeys are long… If you don’t leave it to the last minute, it is possible to find cheap flights. For domestic flights in Australia, the low-cost airlines to check out are Virgin and JetStar. Flying is generally more expensive but much quicker than taking the bus or train. Check the prices of both options before making your choice, you might find a good flight deal.

On a road trip

If you’re on a road trip, you can also plan to reach Sydney from Melbourne by van or car. See our 7-day Melbourne to Sydney itinerary.

If you’re arriving from the north, then check out our Sydney – Brisbane itinerary to make sure you don’t miss anything on the road!

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.

visit sydney 2

Best season to visit Sydney

Even though winter in Sydney is much milder than European winters, it’s not necessarily the best time of year. The ocean is cold and you won’t be able to swim. But it’s a great time for whale watching. Summer is a very busy time because of the summer holidays (from Christmas to the end of January). In addition, summer in Sydney is hot but often rainy. Nevertheless, the climate in Sydney remains pleasant all year round.

Accommodation guide in Sydney

Accommodation in Sydney is very expensive. There are different options depending on your budget and comfort, here are a few:

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.

AirBnb: You stay with locals and share local experiences. This is a good option for short term visits.

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

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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 1,800 shows each year. Discover the stories, history of the Sydney Opera House with a 1-hour long guided tour. 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 by booking a guided tour. Many travellers choose to do this amazing activity. Catwalks and ladders take you to the top of the outer arch, where the steady incline to the summit leaves you free to focus on the view. Admire the view of the Opera House and the tall buildings as far as the Blue Mountains to the west on a clear day.

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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.

The Rocks

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. Don’t miss The Rocks weekend market on George and Playfair Street (every Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 5pm).

Darling Harbour

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.

Paddy’s Market

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.

Coastal 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.

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Manly Beach

Manly is a place that attracts an all kind 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 you 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.

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Watsons Bay

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.

Activities & Excursions

Taronga Zoo

Taronga is a huge zoo with a great view of the city. In just a few hours, you encounter all Australian animal species. See almost 4,000 animals including many native Australian animals, exotic species, and 20 daily shows and keeper talks. You can book your tickets here. You get there on a ferry from Circular Quay. Visit the zoo while you are in Sydney.

Whale Watching

Book a whale watching tour from June to November to make the most of your trip in Sydney. It is more common for whales to venture into the bay and sometimes even into the waters near the Opera House. In any case, leaving for half a day or a full day to observe those incredible creatures will be a superb memory.

Luna Park

A funfair-like amusement park in Sydney. A mix between entertainment and dreams. Welcome to Luna Park! Located at Milsons Point (North Sydney), this park is easily accessible by train, ferry or bus. High in color and sensations, you can explore its many attractions such as Big Deeper, SledgeHammer, Boomerang. A great day ahead.

Learn to Surf

Book a surf lesson and learn to surf in Sydney… such an amazing experience and lots of fun ahead. One of the best option to learn is to start in Bondi… so ride on!

Sydney Tower Eye

Sydney Tower Eye is the tallest structure in Sydney, and the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere. 250 meters above the streets of Sydney, you can enjoy unparalleled 360 degree views of the city and beyond. Spot the iconic landmarks and hidden gems of the city, and on a clear day you can even see the Blue Mountains, 80km away! The top of the Tower also has a restaurant that rotates 360°!

You can decide to admire the view from the tower or even venture to the Skywalk (a little adventure of an hour and a half outdoors!). The Tower is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (entrance until 7 p.m.). Prices vary depending on the activity chosen.

Info & booking: HERE

Scenic Flight

Book a flight by helicopter or seaplane is an ideal way to discover the bay. Many companies offer different types of flights: a scenic tour, a flight where you will be dropped off for lunch in a magnificent setting, or even a helicopter day trip. By seaplane you can also admire the sunset.

Where to go out?

Bars

The Opera Bar (Sydney Opera House, Macquarie St)

This bar/restaurant is located at the foot of the Sydney Opera House and offers a superb view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Its outdoor terrace has the best seats for enjoying the view. This place is very popular with tourists and locals, so it’s often crowded.

Other Bars

  • Bar 83 (Stunning views of Sydney Bay)
  • The Glenmore Hotel (for a city view from The Rocks)
  • Scary Canary (to start the evening on Kent St)
  • Maybe Sammy (award-winning cocktail bar at The Rocks)”

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.

Clubs

Here too, you’ll have plenty of choices for partying in Sydney. If you want to party in an international hotspot popular with backpackers, the trendiest places are Ivy (a nightclub with an upstairs pool), Establishment, and Sash on Sundays.

Tip: Take your ID card absolutely everywhere. It is required in any bar at night.

Shopping in Sydney

There are many malls in Sydney, which are the main shopping destinations. Westfield is a chain of shopping centers in Australia. If you are in the city center, Westfield on Pitt Street offers a wide variety of shops and a huge food court. For incredible architecture, don’t miss the Queen Victoria Building, with slightly more upscale shops and the official UGGS store.

A bit out of the center, the Broadway shopping center is worth a visit for its architecture and green walls.

You can also do your shopping at the Westfield shopping center in Bondi Junction, which has a large number of international brands.

For a more bohemian shopping experience in Sydney, you might want to explore these areas:

  • Known for its eclectic and alternative vibe, Newtown is filled with vintage stores, quirky boutiques, and unique finds. King Street is the main thoroughfare, where you can browse through second-hand bookshops, retro clothing stores, and artisanal craft shops.
  • Surry Hills is a trendy neighborhood great for vintage and designer clothing, as well as unique homewares and art galleries. Crown Street and its surrounding lanes are dotted with independent boutiques offering everything from handcrafted jewelry to bespoke furniture.
  • Famous for its Saturday markets, Paddington is a haven for those who love unique clothing, handmade crafts, and one-of-a-kind accessories. The Paddington Markets are a must-visit, and the surrounding streets are lined with boutique fashion stores and galleries.
  • Held every Saturday, the Glebe Markets are a great place to find vintage clothing, books, records, and handmade goods. It’s a vibrant spot where locals and tourists alike come to shop, eat, and enjoy live music.
  • For a mix of historic charm and modern bohemian flair, The Rocks offers a range of artisanal markets and small boutiques. The Rocks Markets, open on weekends, feature a variety of stalls selling unique gifts, local art, and fashion.

Public transport in Sydney

The centre of Sydney is not very big. You can easily walk across the CBD, Darling Harbour, the Opera, the Royal Botanic Garden etc.

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 idea is simple: we must “tap on” when getting on, and “tap off” when getting off the bus. Prices vary depending on the distance.

If you don’t want to get an Opal card because you’re only staying for a few days, you can pay with a bank card when boarding the bus. Check the city’s website for more information.

Day(s) trips from Sydney

Sydney is a city rich in exceptional places. But its surroundings are full of other treasures. So don’t hesitate to make time to visit the Sydney region.

Hunter Valley

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. Be careful where you step as there are many snakes in the national park.

Palm Beach

Ideal for walking and exploring a slightly wilder beach accessible by public transport, only about 70 minutes by car or 2 hours by bus.

Blue Mountains

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, book your tour here.

Jervis Bay

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

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Practical Information

Visa

To enter Australia, you will need a valid visa. Here are some of the options: a tourist visa if you are holidaying in Australia, a WHV if you are less than 35 yo and want to travel and work in the country or a TSS visa (sponsorship) if you are sponsored by a company in Australia.

Where to eat?

Sydney, being a very cosmopolitan city, is full of restaurants. Depending on the neighbourhood you’re in, you find that some types of cuisine are more represented.

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.

Events in Sydney

Here is the list of the main events in Sydney :

  • Sculpture by the sea (October-November)
  • Vivid Sydney (May-june)
  • New Years Eve (31 December)
  • Mardi Gras (Feb – March)
  • City 2 surf (August)

Tips & Tricks

Bring your ID card absolutely everywhere, it will be required in any bar at night.
In the center of Sydney, there is a curfew: the bars serve no longer alcohol after 1:30am
There are many tips for saving money in Sydney.
To find all the tips, check out Sydney Travel Tips and Deals
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