Sydney is a fantastic holiday destination. There is so much to see here and so much to do that it’s easy to fill a whole week with lots of exciting things to do. Think of beaches, culture, history, and nature. Cute koalas, stunning locations, and a relaxed lifestyle.
Visitors to Sydney will find all of this very easily, the question is which of the myriad of options to pick.
As an ex- Sydneysider myself I get a kick out of designing itineraries for visitors to this city to ensure they cover all the must-do’s. Depending on what your preferences are you might want to focus on just a couple of aspects of my 5 day itinerary below, or you might want to do them all.
Swap and change as you please, and feel free to ask for help or comment below the post.
Hope you’ll be having a fantastic time in Sydney, Australia!
Day 1: Sydney’s shady past and a ride on a ferry
Start your stay in Sydney with a short but interesting history lesson. The best way to do that is by walking the streets of The Rocks.
This historic precinct is the first white settlement in all of Australia and traditionally the place were first the convicts and later the poorer classes used to live. This time is long gone.
Today, this vibrant quarter is a popular tourist attraction that never gets boring. As you walk the pebble stone streets and laneways enjoy some window-shopping as you pass the boutique designer shops, grab a snack from the market (if you are visiting on the weekends), listen to some live music, and simply soak up the fun atmosphere.
If you like some more detailed information on the history of the first Australian colony, visit the Rocks Discovery Museum (it’s free) or join one of the many tours. For lunch, pick one of the fine dining options or visit one of the historic pubs, many of which claim to be the oldest pub in Australia.
Then find your way down to Circular Quay where the commuter ferries and cruises stop and buy a ticket for the Manly ferry. Manly is a beautiful seaside suburb on the other side of the harbour. The 30 minute ride on the commuter ferry is way cheaper than any tourist cruise and still scenic and enjoyable.
From Manly Wharf it’s just a short walk along the Corso to the ocean beaches. Feel the salty spray, risk a dip between the flags or take a leisurely afternoon stroll to Shelly Beach – you might see a protected sea dragon lizard on the way!
Manly has many great options for dining, be it ethnic food, traditional Australian or high-end dining with water views.
Day 2: The Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Aboriginal Art
Stroll along the busy wharfs of Circular Quay, listen to the Aboriginal street artists and enjoy the views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A great viewing platform can be found on top of Cahill Express Way which you can access via the glass lifts in the south-eastern corner of Circular Quay – great for taking photos that include both, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
Walk further until you reach the Opera House. Have you booked a tour? If yes, join the tour, if no just continue around the Opera House for some surprising and spectacular views of this marvellous piece of architecture. Sometimes a seal will be sitting on one of the steps leading down to the water, but you have to be really lucky to meet him!
Continue along the water and enter the Royal Botanic Gardens through the gates. Follow the way around Farm Cove and enjoy the views of Sydney harbour, one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. The further you go towards Mrs Macquarie’s Chair the better the views get, perfect for this most iconic Sydney photo.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are probably one of the best parklands in the world, and Sydneysiders know it. They love picnicking on the lawns, playing ballgames, taking wedding photos, and jogging in the park. There are some exciting trees and flowers here, just keep your eyes open as you find your way down south towards the Art Gallery of NSW. There are two great cafes in the Royal Botanic Gardens that are great for a quick lunch.
The Art Gallery of NSW is perfect if you want to have a crash course in Australian art. Not only will you find here the best known Australian artists starting from the colonial days, there is also a wonderful Aboriginal exhibition that you cannot miss. Best of all, entry to the museum is free.
The Art Gallery hosts a number of changing exhibitions from Asia, Europa and America as well as the renown Archibald Prize, which are all highly regarded and very popular with Sydneysiders. Admission to these changing exhibitions is usually around $20 per person.
For dinner you may just want to stay at the Art Gallery or find your way down to Woolloomoolloo. The Finger Wharf is home to the rich and famous and has a number of restaurants such as Critini’s, a popular family pizza restaurant. Alternatively, walk on until you find famous Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, Sydney’s premier street food truck.
Dozens of photos prove that celebrities just dig this place. Personally, I can recommend the Chilli Dog but if you want to try a more traditional option, ask for Harry’s Tiger, a chunky beef pie with mushy peas, mash and gravy.
The best place to take the kids in Sydney is by far Darling Harbour. While there are many constructions going on here at the moment this is the prime location for Sydney’s best established museums and zoos. The beauty of it is that all attractions are close together, saving you lots of time, and you can buy combo tickets that will save you heaps of money (book in advance to save even more).
Depending on your interest you can choose between three major attractions. Madame Tussauds is our very own Australian version with the likes of Kylie Minogue, Dame Edna, Steve Irwin and so on. Good fun as you can take your own photos using the props provided or buy from a professional photographer.
The Sydney Aquarium is featuring a fascinating shark tunnel, dugongs, and a marvellous Great Barrier Reef display.
Wildlife World gets you up close to Australia’s native wildlife. Despite its looks from the outside you will be surprised to find all common Aussie animals on the inside, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, snakes, spiders, butterflies, wombats, and so on. If you choose, you can opt for a photo session with a koala on the rooftop. A great souvenir!
The area around Darling Harbour caters very well for families, so for lunch and dinner all you need to do is pick a cuisine of your choice and ask for the kids menu. The Harbourside Shopping Centre on the other side of Pyrmont Bridge is perfect for budget options and also for souvenir shopping.
Alternatively, find your way down to Sydney’s Chinatown and eat in one of the many Asian restaurants – Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian… it’s all in one place. If you do go the Chinatown direction, make a quick stop at Paddy’s Market Haymarket (from Wednesday to Sundays only) for some cheap and tacky souvenir shopping.
Day 4: A day trip to the bush and mountains
Sydney is great if you want to see the urban side of Australia, but for a true blue bush experience you will either need to take the train or book a tour to the nearby Blue Mountains. The mountains are just around 2 hours away and a popular day trip destination for Sydneysiders. Named for the blue hue that derives from the eucalyptus vapour that can be seen lingering over the tree tops, the Blue Mountains are a protected national park that covers a vast area of wild and untamed bush land.
The best place to start is the famous Echo Point viewing platform in historic Katoomba. From here you get a quick and easy first impression of the stunning mountains landscape and the dense bushland. You will also see the famed Three Sisters, a rock formation that plays a pivotal role in local legends. The nearby tourist information centre is able to give you a hand with booking tours for the day. Alternatively, there is a hop-on-hop-off bus service as well as standard public busses that will help you get around in the string of historic mountain towns.
For some bushwalking, take a bus to one of the sign-posted walking trails and check out local lookouts and waterfalls. Make sure you stay en route as visitors do tend to get lost in the bush from time to time. If you are not very mobile or travelling with kids, a short hike to the Three Sisters from Echo Point will do just fine.
There are plenty of restaurants in Katoomba, catering for all budgets.
Day 5: Sydney’s surf culture
When you ask people about the biggest difference between Sydney and Melbourne it surely needs to be the fantastic surf culture that we have in this city. The best way to explore the vibe is by taking a walk along the coast, starting at Sydney’s best known beach, Bondi Beach. You can easily catch train and bus or a direct bus from the city to Bondi Beach, home to celebrities, artists, surfers, backpackers. Have an early lunch here in one of the takeaways before you get on your way south.
The Bondi to Coogee coastal walk is probably one of the most beautiful, most fascinating things you can do in Sydney. This six kilometre walk will take you along the Pacific Coast and its many beaches, most notably Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and lastly Coogee. If you are keen you can continue all the way down to Maroubra to complete the 6km walk.
The Bondi to Coogee walk is perfect to soak up the sun, enjoy the dramatic coastal scenery, to watch the surfers, take a dip yourself, and take lots of wonderful photos.
In October, it is home to the immensely popular Sculpture by the Sea open-air exhibition.
It can get busy at times, so the key is to take your time and just enjoy the scenery. Make sure you take plenty of sun screen, a hat and water with you.
Highlights of the walk include the famous views of the Iceberg’s Club right in Bondi Beach as well as Waverley Cemetery.
You can finish the walk at Coogee Pavilion for a family friendly dinner right by the beach. If you are starting the other way around and finish in Bondi, check out the Bucket List Bondi for some cool beers in the afternoon sun.
Here are more tips from our Sydney Travel Guide!
Recommended Book on Sydney
The Best Sydney accommodation
Wondering what hotel to book in Sydney? Check out my handy guide to no-nonsense hotels in the CBD here.