The most populous city in Australia, Sydney is home to 4.9 million people, is Australia’s oldest city, and has a great worldwide reputation as a tourist destination.
From nature to food to history to culture to beaches, there is something for everyone when you visit Sydney, and I’m going to explore that more in depth throughout this post.
In terms of getting to Sydney in the first place, check out my post about how to find cheap flights to Australia.
Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport is the main airport in Sydney, and is also the busiest Airport in the country, so this is where you’ll most likely be landing. It’s located about 9 kilometres (~5.5 miles) from the city centre, and you have several options for this trip, all of which are fairly easy.
Trains leave very frequently from the airport, with a one way single ticket costing around $16 AUD (Roughly $12 of this is for the GatePass fee) and trains headed towards the city depart from Platform 1. You can see the schedules and other relevant info at the Sydney Trains website.
There are a number of shuttle bus services operating between the city centre and the airport. You can typically just buy your ticket when you’re ready to leave for roughly $18-$20 AUD, however, it’s often cheaper to book online. One example of these types of services is Airport Connect where you can book online for $15 AUD.
If you’d prefer, you also have the option of renting a car from many of the options available from rental companies at the airport. Lastly, even though you can get a taxi from the airport, it’s definitely not worth it as it’ll often cost you about $40 AUD to get to the city. If you’re not renting a car, then definitely go with either the local train or shuttle bus option.
Where To Stay
Given it’s location, Circular Quay is a hugely popular area for tourists to stay. It’s the starting point for many of the various ferries and cruises that travel around Sydney, it’s very close to the Sydney Opera House so you will likely be spending some time in this area even if you don’t stay here.
It’s a very vibrant area with many bars and restaurants around, and being by the water is always nice. The one downside, though, is that it can be quite expensive.
Just around the corner from Circular Quay is The Rocks. Like Circular Quay, The Rocks is also a very popular area for tourists, as can be confirmed by seeing how busy a lot of the bars and pubs in the area get most nights.
What To Do
Here are 6 things to do in Sydney:
Visit Bondi Beach
Bondi is the closest beach to the city centre of Sydney, only 7 kilometres (~4.3 miles) away. While we don’t consider it the best beach in New South Wales, it is definitely the most famous and as such, the most popular among visitors to the country.
If you can look past the crowds, Bondi has a very welcoming community and laidback culture, much like most of Australia. While there, consider going along the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk (6 kilometres / ~3.7 miles) which contains some great views and places to stop for something to eat or drink.
Watch a Rugby League Match
I said in our Melbourne post that Melbourne was footy mad. Sydney is, too, just a different type of football. Rugby League (Not to be confused with Rugby Union) is the main sport in the state, with 10 of the 16 teams in the NRL (National Rugby League) based in New South Wales. As you can imagine, it’s an important part of the sporting culture in Sydney.
In addition to the NRL, there is also a State Of Origin series that has been running since 1908. It’s effectively a series of All Star games made up of the best players in the NRL all representing their home states, New South Wales or Queensland, and can be a great way for you to gain an understanding of how important the sporting culture is to Australians.
See the Sydney Opera House
The most prominent building in Sydney, and all of Australia, is the Sydney Opera House which is in the heart of the city centre.
In addition to the great views and restaurants and bars in the area, there is also plenty of things to keep you entertained in the Opera House itself, both during the day and at night.
Explore the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains is a very accessible natural beauty in New South Wales, a roughly 90 minute drive from the Sydney city centre. It was listed as a World Heritage area by UNESCO in the year 2000, and is a very popular tourist destination.
You can experience the Blue Mountains via horseback, guided walks, or if you’re more adventurous, even abseiling or by 4WD. There are wilderness tours, wildlife parks, day spas, lots of hiking options, wineries, and much more.
You can also experience the Blue Mountains via a Scenic World tour. Honestly, you could probably spend several weeks here and not run out of things to do.
Catch a Ferry to Darling Harbour
There are many options for cruises and ferries leaving from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour. The typical Circular Quay -> Darling Harbour ferry costs about $14.00 AUD and you will cruise both past the Opera House, and underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
You also have options such as whale watching, entry to Shark Island, or even luxury dining cruises.
Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
When you visit Sydney, consider climbing the Harbour Bridge. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be 134 metres (~439 feet) above sea level, right in the heart of the city and with some incredible views.
You’re not allowed to carry cameras with you on the bridge due to safety reasons, however, the guides who take you on the climb will take photos for you. Depending on which options you choose, it can be quite expensive at anywhere from $150 to $300 AUD for an adult, but it’s a very unique travel experience.
Even though Sydney is much more spread out than somewhere like Melbourne, in terms of the places you’re likely to be spending your time in Sydney, just about everything will be accessible via public transport, consisting of trains, buses, ferries, and light rail.
Similar to the Oyster Card used for public transport in London, the Opal Card is a pre-paid touch-and-go card that works for all modes of public transport in Sydney. You simply “touch on” via the card reader at the beginning of your journey, and again when you get off so the system knows how far you travelled.
You can get an Opal Card from many different places, including convenience stores. Use this map to help you find somewhere close by to where you’re staying. Also, another thing to note is that there is a $60.00 AUD maximum weekly spend, so if you’re visiting Sydney and using public transport extensively, everything after that amount has been spent is free for the remainder of the week.
Trains and Buses
Sydney has both an extensive train and bus network. The only hours the trains don’t run is between 12 AM and 5 AM throughout the week, and 1 AM and 5 AM on Friday and Saturday nights.
For all timetables, planning your trips and other information pertaining to buses and trains in Sydney, check out the Transport NSW site.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this post already, Circular Quay is the central hub for ferries in Sydney. There are many options whether you’re just trying to get to another part of the city, or are going on a tour or cruise.
Although no where near as extensive as the tram network in Melbourne, there is a short 7 kilometre (~4.3 mile) long light rail in Sydney. It can be quite useful for getting between the city centre and Darling Harbour or the casino. The system is both very frequent, and reliable.
Both taxis and also Uber are other options that you have in Sydney. Although the other options may generally be better, this may be your only option late at night when the buses and trains aren’t running. It can often be easy enough to flag a cab down in the city, however, be aware that drivers change over at 3 PM / 3 AM, so it can be difficult to find a taxi between 2:30 – 3:30 both PM and AM.
Other Things You Should Know
- Just like Melbourne, Sydney also has a strong coffee culture, stemming from the big wave of European immigration in the 1950’s.
- Wear sunscreen. Seriously, wear sunscreen. The Sun is very unforgiving in Australia.
- Almost 50% of people living in Sydney were born overseas. It’s a very multicutural city, so definitely try out the many different types of cuisines on offer.
- Shopping centres in Sydney generally close by 6:30 PM, with most being open until 9:00 PM on Thursday nights, so get things done early.
- Lockout laws. A while back now, the Sydney government decided to introduce some archaic and reactionary lockout laws which has significantly hurt the Sydney nightlife. Basically, no one can enter a licensed venue after 1:30 AM (You just have to be inside before then), and last drinks are at 3 AM.
How are you planning on spending your time in Sydney?