Planning a trip to Australia, and Sydney is on your itinerary? Wonder if there is enough to see and do for a couple of days in the city? Want to know what you need to prepare before travelling to Sydney? This Sydney Travel Blog post will provide you with everything that you need to know before you travel.
Sydney is the biggest city in Australia. Blessed with a mild to warm climate it is the ideal travel destination 365 days a year. Sydney is a great gateway to explore other destinations within Australia, but has so much to offer that it can be seen a stand-alone destination as well.
From white sandy ocean beaches to nature reserves to fantastic food to exciting attraction, there is something for everyone in this city.
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What you Will Find in this Sydney Travel Blog
In this Sydney destination guide I want share with you my very best tips for this beautiful city. Having lived in Sydney for 13 years myself, I know which parts are worth seeing and which are better left out.
I will equip you with quick tips on bucket list places, Sydney beaches, great dining options, kid-friendly activities and lots, lots more!
What you Need to Know About Sydney Before you Travel
Sydney airport as main entrance port is located around 9km south of the city centre (CBD). The Overseas Cruise Ship Terminal is situated right in the middle of the city near the Harbour Bridge in Sydney’s CBD, Central Station to the south of the CBD.
The CBD is a relatively small space within the greater Sydney Metropolitan region; luckily it is also the main location for all major tourist attractions that you can easily tick off your Sydney Bucket List.
If you need to travel a bit further, it is best to rely on public transport which you can pay for by using an Opal Card.
Sydney Bucket List
The following attractions and sights are must-do’s when you travel to Sydney for the very first time.
- Sydney Harbour Bridge: Iconic bridge connecting the Central Business District with the northern suburbs
- Sydney Opera House: World-famous opera building which dominates the skyline like no other building
- Circular Quay: Commuter ferry port and place where cruise ships dock
- The Rocks: Very first settlement in Australia established by white colonists and convicts. Former slum, today a tourist precinct with quaint shops, cobblestone streets, and lots of atmosphere. You can learn more about the history of this precinct at the free The Rocks Discovery Museum
- Royal Botanic Garden: Vast park right next to the CBD. Free entry, with lots of scenic views, interesting exotic plants and many places to relax
- Chinatown: Asian-focused part of the southern CBD around Haymarket. Lots of small restaurants, shops, international atmosphere
- Darling Harbour: Entertainment Precinct in Sydney, great for families. Home to many world-renown museums and attractions such as the National Maritime Museum, Madame Tussaud’s and WildLife World
- Barangaroo: Harbourside park with nice views of the harbour, great for picnics
- Queen Victoria Building: Historic shopping mall in the CBD with high-end and luxury shopping options
- Manly Beach: Seaside suburb in the north of Sydney with a number of ocean beaches. Can be reached via Manly Ferry
- Bondi Beach: Iconic Australian Beach, popular with surfers, students and backpackers and also the closest ocean beach from the CBD
If you would like to explore Sydney CBD on a self-guided tour, click here.
Exploring Sydney CBD (Central Business District)
It is handy to know that the north of the CBD is the financial hub of the city, whereas the south is still a bit cheaper when it comes to shopping and dining.
For main street fashion shopping, try Pitt Street Mall, the QVB, and World Square; for cheap souvenirs head to Paddy’s Market. Paddington Market is a great alternative for homewares, jewellery, designer clothes and bric-a-brac.
Discover some of the beautiful historic buildings and attractions between the modern steel-and-glass skyscrapers: St. Mary’s Cathedral, Town Hall, the Queen Victoria Building, The Strand Arcade, the Archibald Fountain at Hyde Park, and lots more.
Sydney is just about to finish building a new tramline which will connect Circular Quay in the north with Central Station in the south.
A great way to find your bearings in Sydney is by joining a free Sydney walking tour (which will be paid via tips depending on how much you can afford).
The Best Sydney Beaches
Sydney has hundreds of beaches to choose from. Some of them are located around the harbour and are perfect for families with small children. Others are ocean beaches with a proper surf and sometimes very strong and treacherous currents.
Among the most popular beaches in Sydney is Bondi Beach. You can reach Bondi easily by bus from the city or from Bondi Junction (the closest railway station).
Another well-known beach frequented also by tourists is Manly Beach. Manly is a small seaside suburb that is just a ferry ride away (from Circular Quay).
Countless other beaches can be found towards the opening of the harbour and up and down the coast, for example – from north to south – Palm Beach, Narrabeen, Dee Why, Curl Curl, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, Coogee, Maroubra, Cronulla.
Resource: If you are staying in Sydney for around 5 days, have a look at our popular 5-day Sydney itinerary for families and couples.
What to do at Night in Sydney
The nightlife is dimmed in the city due to harsh lockout laws for the CBD, however Friday nights are still popular with the after-work crowd.
Smaller, more intimate bars can be found in the suburbs surrounding the CBD (the Inner West) and in the seaside suburbs.
The red light district can be found in Kings Cross, the LGTB scene is concentrated around the Oxford Street strip.
And did you know that Sydney can be terribly romantic city? Read here our top suggestions for a date night or anniversary in Sydney.
Recommended Day Trips from Sydney in New South Wales
There are a number of great day trip destinations around Sydney. Leaving the city for a day is a great way to re-connect with nature and see a very different side of Australia. Popular day trips from Sydney include:
- The Blue Mountains: Part of the Great Dividing Range, covered in fragrant eucalyptus forests that seem to go on forever. The Blue Mountains are popular for its famous lookout Echo Point from which you can see The Three Sisters, a rock formation with significance for the local Aboriginal community. The Blue Mountains are also popular for hiking, to see waterfalls, and for garden lovers.
- The Central Coast: The Coast north of Sydney is home to a number of pristine beaches that are great for swimming and surfing. Whale Watching and dolphin tours are a popular tourist activity. A number of scenic towns cater for day trippers from Sydney.
- Hunter Valley: The Hunter Valley is a wine-producing region just north of Sydney. It’s a great destination for wine lovers, but also for those that love great food, chocolates, olive oil, vodka, and cheese. Hot air ballooning, horse-riding, and nature walks are other favourite activities in the region.
- Southern Highlands: The Southern Highlands are a mountainous area in the south-west that is dotted with historic villages set in beautiful surroundings. Great for walks, afternoon teas and wildlife encounters.
- South Coast: The South Coast is another popular beachside destination with lots of unspoilt beaches that are great for swimming, surfing and wildlife experiences.
- Snowy Mountains: You can read the Snowy Mountains from Sydney in about 4 hours. They are very popular in winter, of course, as there are some great skiing and snowboarding fields to be found here.
For more detailed information on Sydney day trip routes, click here!
Must-do Things in Sydney
The following 10 points a bit tongue-in-cheek, but in my view they are true blue Sydney experiences that you cannot miss!
- Get caught in Backpackers’ Rip on Bondi Beach (and get rescues by the Bondi Surf Rescue Team)
- Eat a meat pie at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (Corner Cowper Wharf Roadway and Dowling St, Woolloomooloo)
- Explore the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk
- Climb Barrenjoey Headland at Palm Beach for amazing views
- Catch the sunset over Sydney’s Harbour Bridge from a Manly Ferry
- Explore Sydney’s quiet corners with a kayak
- Tour the Sydney Opera House from the inside
- Climb on top of the Sydney Tower for unforgettable views over Sydney
- Drink a pint at the iconic The Australian Heritage Hotel in The Rocks
- Take a picture of a giraffe in front of the Opera House at Taronga Zoo
Free Things to do in Sydney
I know that Sydney is a pretty expensive city, in particular for tourists from Europe. This can be quite a disappointing realisation.
But don’t worry: There are plenty of free things you can do in Sydney.
For example, you can enjoy the parks and beaches, explore the Australian bush on a walk, visit one of the many free museums (such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales), or enjoy the views from one of the many lookout points.
Where to Stay in Sydney for Tourists
If you are looking to stay in the city but haven’t found a suitable hotel yet, look no further with these 10 Sydney hotel suggestions.
Book Your Sydney Tour and Entry Tickets now!
What I Like Most About Sydney, Australia
Sydney is the city of blue skies and fresh air, best enjoyed on a boat on Sydney’s stunning harbour which can be so romantic (read here about recommended romantic activities in Sydney).
It is also a very family friendly city. Read here about the best things to do with kids in Sydney.
What I Don’t Like About Sydney, Australia
It is really hard to not like Sydney. But there is one thing I could never get used to.
The public transport can be a pain, and traffic jams are common during the typical rush-hour.
Sydney can also be pretty expensive but we have put together a long list of free or very cheap things you can do when you are in the city.
What to Pack for a Trip to Sydney
In summer make sure you pack your 30+ sunscreen (even better: 50+), a hat, shades and tops that cover your shoulders.
In winter you will need to have a jacket with you – despite what everyone says, Sydney can have really cold days in winter.
Recommended Sydney Travel Guide Book
Make sure you buy a suitable guide book before you travel to Sydney.
I recommend this one:
When is the Best Time to Travel to Sydney?
When choosing a time to travel to Sydney, you have to factor in two things: climate and school holidays.
Sydney has four distinct seasons, even though they much milder than many places in the Northern Hemisphere that most tourists come from. Remember that in Australia, winter is typically from June to August, summer from December to February.
January and December are the main travel season for Australians, so avoid at all cost where possible. It is also the hottest time of the year.
The best time to travel to Sydney, in my view, is in March or April when days are still warm and long and the ocean has warmed up over the summer season.
Sydney’s Hippest Suburbs
The hippest and best restaurant and bar scene can be found in the suburbs surrounding the CBD: Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Redfern, Chippendale, to name a few.
This area is also called the Inner West or the Eastern Suburbs, depending on which area you look.
What to eat in Sydney
Sydney has some great Asian food thanks to the multicultural influx of new immigrants.
Also, try the Sydney rock oysters, vegemite, tim tams and a burger with beet root.
I am not saying that you will like it, I am just saying that you should try it.
Some Souvenir Suggestions
Many visitors like to take home Ugg boots – do your research first if you don’t want to end up with a Chinese low-quality version (the price will give it away!).
Aboriginal artwork, didgeridoos and boomerangs are quite pretty to look at but make sure you support the artist and don’t buy imported counterfeit. Jerky made from native animals is available at the airport and make for a quirky gift for a friend back home.
Sydney Hotel Recommendations
Still looking for a place to stay? There are many great hotel options in Sydney. For first-timers and short-term visitors, we recommend a stay in the Central Business District.
Here are my recommendations for the 10 best value hotels in Sydney CBD.
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