THE BEST SYDNEY TRAVEL GUIDE YOU’LL NEED FOR A FANTASTIC VACATION

This is the best Sydney travel guide you’ll need for a fantastic vacation. I’m not lying, it’s really good! I mean only if you don’t want to go to Australia and be disappointed with your experience. Now, let’s get started…

You’ll find all the places that are worth visiting, what things they have there that make them worth seeing, where you should stay, and more! Also, check here for tips like what you should pack and when is the best time to visit. All this information will come in handy as Australia is just opening its borders after lockdown!

And don’t forget to make time for a day trip to the Blue Mountains including Featherdale Wildlife Park and Hunter Valley!

Sitting on the steps of the Opera House in Circular Quay in Sydney
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WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT SYDNEY

Maybe it’s the weather; maybe it’s the history of a country born from convicts, Aussies have such a relaxed attitude and that goes double for SYDNEYSIDERS! To properly visit Sydney, you’ll definitely need casual attire and abbreviated speech. 

Sun kissed skin, surfers and slammin’ music festivals. Sydney is a vibrant city that caters to all. Whether you’re looking for good eats, physical activity or getting in touch with nature, Sydney is your city!

View of Sydney Harbour

Know Before You Go

Language: Prominently English. Mandarin comes in at a not so close second. Other languages include Punjabi, Filipino/Tagalog and Arabic.

Currency: Australia’s national currency is the Australian dollar (AUD), which comes in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Coins come in 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent and one and two dollar denominations.

Tipping: Hotels and restaurants do not add service charges to your bill, and tipping is always your choice. In upmarket restaurants, it is common to tip waiters 10% of the bill for good service.

Currency Exchange: Currency exchange is available at banks, ATM’s, hotels and international airports. Most places take credit and debit cards.

Emergency number: The emergency number for police, fire and ambulance is 000.

Tax: Australia has a Goods and Services Tax (GST) o 10%. You may be able to claim a refund for the GST paid on goods if you have spend AUD$300 or more with a single business, no more than 60 days before departing Australia.

Sydney Language

Before interacting with anyone in the Land Down Under, let’s get the strine down.  

  •  G’day Mate: Good day, friend. Australia’s famous greeting. 
  • Arvo: Afternoon
  • Root: Sexual intercourse. Please do NOT “root” for your team! 
  • Togs: Bathing suit
  • How ya’ goin’: A mix of how are you doing, How can I help you, Where are you going. Quite confusing, but the best response is “Good, thanks!” 
  • Ta: Thank you.
  • Bottle-o: Bottle shop, liquor store
  • Slab: 24-pack of beer
  • Barbie: Barbeque
  • Bogan: Redneck or uncultured person. If you need an example, just turn the telly to “The Bogan Hunters.”
  • Fair dinkum: truthfully, honestly 
  • Flat: when things are Dead (not people). Such as “my battery is flat.”

HOW TO GET TO SYDNEY

You’ll most likely arrive to this harbour city by plane and personally experience that impressive aerial view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

There are many airlines that fly directly into Sydney from major cities such as Singapore, Los Angeles and London. Then Sydney is a great place to visit other areas of Australia such as Cairns and Melbourne.

If you plan to arrive by air, Sydney’s airport code is SYD. Australia is a vast country, even if you are coming from another Down Under city, it may be best to fly into a Sydney airport anyway. We actually came from Cairns and took a direct flight Virgin Australia and had a short and relaxing flight.

There are 3 terminals at Sydney airport: T1 for international flights, T2 and T3 are for domestic flights. There is a domestic train between T2 and T3 terminals. Book your flight at the best possible rate at Airfare Watchdog.

There are a number of ways to get from Sydney airport to the city. The easiest way is via train or bus.

The Sydney Airport Link Train connects to Sydney’s rail network on the T8 Airport and South Line. Whether you are in the domestic or international terminal, follow the signs to the Link Train. It departs every 10-15 minutes during peak hours (weekdays) or 30 minutes off-peak.

The cost is roughly $17AUD adult and $14AUD child off-peak one-way and $18AUD adult and $15AUD child for peak to get to the city. Purchase a reusable Opal Card (which can be used for public transportation in the city as well) or use a contactless credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay.

TRAVELER’S TIP: the airport is located in the MASCOT, however the Mascot stop is a long way from the airport, so make sure you do not exit here if you want to get to the airport!

Sydney Airport Buses operates a timetabled service, local Route 400 goes to and from Sydney airport and get on/off at Bondi Junction. Be prepared, the ride will take a while, like an hour, as the bus stops from at every local stop, but is the cheapest option at roughly $4AUD.

At the airport, follow the signs in T1 international and T3 in domestic to the bus location. You’ll need an Opal card for payment.

Taxis and rideshare are the most convenient, but expensive ways to get to the city. Trips take about 20 minutes and will run you about $45-$55AUD each way. There are also several hotels that offer complimentary shuttle services to and from the airport.

These are some of my favorite travel outfits for international traveling to stay cute and comfortable!

HOW TO GET AROUND SYDNEY

Cruise ship docked in Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour

As a visitor to Sydney, one of the first things you will want to do is explore. The best way to do this is by using public transport. There are buses, trains and ferries that can take you all over the city for little cost to see all that Sydney has to offer.

The first thing you should do is download the free Transport NSW app. This will show real-time train, bus and ferry information along with timetables for all public transport services in Sydney. All of this information can help you plan your trip around the city to ensure that it’s as easy as possible!

Then get the Opal Card (if you don’t already have it from taking the Airport Link Train), a reusable smart card that can be used to pay for public transport services, including trains, buses and ferries.

Opal cards are currently available in adult or child form as monthly / weekly / daily tickets or as an add-on stored value ticket and can be purchased or re-loaded at most convenient stores. Ideal for occasional travel such your vacation.

TRAVELER’S TIP: Travel as much as you want with the Opal card and never pay more than the caps! Daily cap is $15AUD; weekly cap is $60AUD and $2.50AUD every Sunday for Family Funday Sunday!

The best way to get around Sydney is by train. The CityRail network of suburban lines which cover more than 20 stations across Sydney and extend into Greater Western region’s Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands areas.

But Sydney is a great place to walk. The Central Business District (CBD) is close to Darling Harbour and Circular Quay and the Rocks. All these best things to see and best places to explore can easily be explored by walking, and breaking to eat, of course.

THINGS TO DO IN SYDNEY

Sitting on the steps at the Opera House in Sydney

Sydney’s impressive city skyline brings visitors into awe each time they step foot onto these dockside shores-no matter if you have been living here all your life or are just exploring what the city has offer.

Whether it’s your first time in Sydney or not, there are so many free things to do in Sydney that’s listed below, including just relaxing. Such as a good reason to hang out at Circular Quay is to watch and wave to the colossal cruise ships heading in and out of the Pacific Ocean.

As I said, I like to walk a city, so take a walking tour that includes stopping at restaurants or pubs for good food.

Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay

Opera House in Circular Quay Sydney

“The sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building.”

Louis Khan

Sydney would not be Sydney without the magnificent Opera House. A landmark structure since its construction back in1973. The iconic landmark, with its white sails billowing proudly in water that mirrors their own pristine form and elegant curves, this UNESCO World Heritage Site must surely be on the top of your list to see.

I stayed across the way at the Park Hyatt so I could begin and end my days with this magnificent view. It’s one of my favorite past-times when I’m not exploring the city or enjoying an afternoon drink at The Royal Botanical Gardens. Just admiring the “sails” of the Opera House, anchored in Sydney waters, nestled in the harbour on three sides and the Royal Botanic Gardens to the south.  

Take your time here as it’s the perfect place to enjoy some great restaurants and open-air forecourt or just sit on these steps overlooking Circular Quay while watching ships come into port below you – there isn’t anything else quite like this place anywhere else in Sydney…

The Opera House is also a world-renowned venue that has been welcoming audiences for decades. It holds biggest and grandest Concert Hall with 2,690 seats and the best acoustics. It may be famous as one of Australia’s most iconic buildings, but it’s also home to many other events from dance studios, theaters and symphony concerts all the way down to rock n’ roll shows!

You can take a guided tour to admire the building’s grand architecture and learn about its turbulent history. Tour sizes are limited so be prepared to wait. Also, be prepared to walk…and there’s stairs (disability accommodations are available.) It’s a working venue so some areas may be closed and you may not see everything you hoped.

However, one of the best ways to see the Opera House is just to buy tickets for a performance. This way, you also get access to the Opera restaurants that are for ticket holders only. And the Opera Bar that has amazing views of the harbour and good food all day.

Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay

Harbour Bridge and Opera House at night

Opened in 1932 and affectionately called the “Coathanger,” the Bridge a veritable landmark of Sydney as it’s the sixth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world. Take a FREE stroll across (or bike it as I just said it’s pretty massive) for the best views of the harbour and the Opera House.

If you take the train, get off at Milson Point station and you should be right at the stairs that lead to the pedestrian walkway. You can cross the Bridge in about 30 minutes and take photos until your phone goes flat.

The four pylons that make up Sydney’s iconic harbor bridge have been a point of interest for many years. They were created simply because they looked good, but now-a days people use them in more ways than one!

One houses a museum and the Pylon Lookout; another helps manage traffic by using CCTV cameras atop it as well as sheds where you can see all those crazy cars navigating through such narrow streets below; while two others serve their original purpose: to vent out steam coming off vehicle tires when there’s too much heat from driving on long stretches like these roads leading towards Centennial Park or Down Recess road.

A better place to enjoy Harbour Bridge if you want to test your physical fitness and have money to spare is to do the Bridge Climb

Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair

View of Harbour Bridge from the Botanic Gardens

The Royal Botanic Garden is a public park in Sydney, Australia that was established in 1816 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie granted land to Major John White for “the cultivation of vegetables”. It now houses over 200 different species Arabica Coffee plants from all around the world!

Visit the Gardens to see orchids, begonias, shrubs shaped like koalas and you can even find these beautiful trees under glass domes or deep greenhouses where they thrive on rich volcanic soil fertilized by chicken droppings (yuck).

But, it’s also perfect for basking in the sun in the arvo, inhaling the floral fragrances and bogan hunting. Have a picnic, play with the kids, unwind and enjoy the view…

If you’re into horticulture and a change of scenery, the landscapes at Hyde Park come with more modern elements like skyscrapers and bridges, Centennial Park has an amazing view over Sydney Harbour, and the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Darling Harbour are other great places to catch a nice bloom. 

Summer trees around a walkway at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney

Mrs Macquarie’s Chair was formed by exposed sandstone rock then carved by convicts into a chair in 1810. Governor Macquarie commissioned the chair for his wife Elizabeth who was a kind woman known for helping women convicts and local Aboriginals. The chair sits at one of the best vantage points for a great view of the sights of Sydney Harbour.

It was rumored Mrs Macquarie’s favorite past-time was to sit on the rocks and spot the ships sailing in from Great Britain.

The Rocks, Circular Quay

The Rocks market at Harbour Bridge with food and a live band

Just a short walk from Circular Quay, the Rocks is where the British first settled when they landed in Australia in 1788. Making it one of the oldest neighborhoods in all of Sydney.

This historic area is currently home to many colonial buildings that resemble its early European settlement that can be seen throughout. The narrow streets make you feel like you’re actually walking through history with their fine architecture lining each side street. Its old-time feel and proximity to fun things to do makes it one of the trendiest places to stay in Sydney.

The Rocks Market is a must-see for anyone who has an interest in Australian culture or wants to buy some souvenirs. The weekend market is where you can find stalls selling souvenirs, crafts, and food, and listen to live music. But since it’s always the cool thing in Sydney, don’t expect any bargains.

I did find, and paid full price, for a nice silver ‘roo necklace with an opal, the national gemstone of Australia. You’ll also find plenty dining options if hunger strikes before an evening at some local pub or bar.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rocks

The Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art is a FREE modern, state-of-the art museum that houses one the best collections of modern art in Australia. Housed within its walls you will find works from artists such as Picasso and Renoir to name but two – these pieces provide an insight into our society’s changing perspective on culture over time.

In addition there are many smaller galleries housing some truly awe inspiring exhibits which give visitors new perspectives through media platforms like installation photography or video installations depicting contemporary life. Some exhibits are regularly changing and charge a fee, for example Ann Leibovitz and Yoko Ono. You can also buy a ticket for a guided tour.

Art Gallery of NSW, CBD

If you’re looking for a great museum with an awesome collection of artwork from around the world, then look no further than Art Gallery of New South Wales. This famous gallery is located near Royal Botanic Garden and features many international artists like Fred Williams paintings and Robert Mapplethorpe photography and good displays by Aboriginal culture art and Asian art.

Admission to most galleries are FREE with exceptions for Wednesday night’s Art After Hours where you can catch interesting exhibits until 9pm—there’s even an after dinner lecture! If your stomach starts rumbling in anticipation though there’s no need worry because they serve food here too (although I’ve never tried it myself).

If you get famished after all this browsing of artwork, there is a fine dining restaurant from Matt Moran – CRAFTED – which is definitely NOT free! Be sure to note that after emerging from lockdown, the restaurant will open in November and check the schedule for opening hours.

The Sydney Tower, CBD

The Sydney Tower Eye stands 1,013 feet (309m) to the very top. The Tower’s observation deck is a great spot to take in 360 degree views looking through glass windows and even has two levels of restaurants if you just want to hang out high above Sydney’s CBD.

Head out to the Skywalk if you dare! Step out to a platform 879 feet (268m) up for breathtaking views of Sydney during the 60 minute skywalk tour. The tour guide will identify Sydney’s iconic landmarks and share stories about Sydney.

If you book in advance, admission to the observation deck is $24AUD or $60AUD for the deck and Skywalk tour.

Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, CBD

Queen Victoria building in Sydney for upscale boutique shopping

The Sydney CBD is a bustling, energetic area that houses some of Australia’s most iconic buildings.

Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, known as QVB, is located near the center of town on George Street. It was built in 1982 and contains many government offices, including those for foreign affairs as well as housing some Australian embassies abroad. The Sydney Queen Victoria Building was the first skyscraper in Australia and remains a symbol of modernity to this day.

Although an architectural gem for Sydney, it’s now the go to place for high end shopping and restaurants. Shop ’til you drop! Then visit the amazingly large tea room at the top.

TRAVELER’S TIP: Although the QVB was was first built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, another queen, Queen Elizabeth II sealed a letter to be read by the future Lord Mayor of Sydney in the hear 2085. Guess we’ll all have to be present to find out what the letter says!

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach and pool in Sydney
Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia

Surf’s up!  Grab your togs and board and head over to Bondi!

Surfing at the famous Bondi Beach is more than just a sport, it’s an art form. At sunrise, it starts buzzing with activity. Swim, surf, shop, stroll, or just people watch on its famous golden sand beach or the “grassy knoll.”

You even have people who come here only for the winter pool and not the beach. Fair dinkum this is not your average beach!  

The large waves and strong currents combine with skillful maneuvering to produce surfing that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in Australia! From Bondi or Manly (on Sydney’s east coast) you can enjoy the thrill of catching some big ones all while watching out for seagulls swooping down from overhead looking too hungry even dare land near your toes as they hunt their next tasty treat.

Take a surf lesson here, but if you aren’t into waves, Bondi has a swimming pool, like an ocean pool where you can hang out instead.

But if you can’t decide on one beach, the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk is a great way to see the coast, other beautiful beaches, Aboriginal engraving sites and Instagram worthy views. The walk is about 2-3 hours being 4 miles (6.5 km), so grab a slab and get going!

TRAVELER’S TIP: You can also take the ferry from Circular Quay to another famous beach that rivals Bondi – Manly Beach.  Offering cheap eats and the Manly Surf School, there’s no shortage of famous beaches or surf boards in Sydney. And if you feel really athletic, walk the 6 miles (10km) Manly Scenic Walkway starting at Sydney Harbour National Park to Manly Beach.

Sydney Fish Market, Darling Harbour

For a long time, Australians have been enjoying fresh fish from the nearby Sydney Fish Market. Right near Darling Harbour is the Sydney Fish Market. Take the train and get off at the Fish Market stop and viola! you are about a five minute walk from some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat.

One of Australia’s most famous and historic buildings, the Sydney Fish Market is a must for any foodie. This market not only sells fresh fish but also has an on-site abattoir that exclusively feeds some of your favorite seafood dishes.

And yes, go for the big stuff like oysters, lobster and sushi. Pair it with fine wine or something from the cafe. Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Just don’t feed the birds as it attracts more birds…and well, there’s already plenty of them too.

The market is also a place where fresh and oily fish are bought, sold or traded. Every day hundreds of people come here to get their daily catch from one seller who auctions off all that he has caught for the highest bidder. Auctioning off fish is an attraction in itself.

TRAVELER’S TIP: Bring cash as not all stall accept credit cards.

Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour

Walk to the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour in Sydney

The Australian National Maritime Museum is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive collections on maritime arts and history, with priceless treasures dating back centuries. You can board the boats, such as the navy vessels and submarines and get a first-hand look at what’s inside.

The trips they offer are worth every penny because you get so much for your money! They also provide information about how ships were used in ancient times, what life was like on board during World War II – even if it isn’t related at all- and some really interesting artifacts from around Australia that will make anyone want more history lessons with this place.

DAY TRIPS FROM SYDNEY

Sydney is a dynamic and exciting city. There are so many day trips you can take from the city, but it’s hard to decide on just one!

Luna Park Sydney

View of the north shore of Luna Park in Sydney

Luna Park first opened in Coney Island, New York. It was so popular that Melbourne opened one, followed by Sydney.

Luna Park has an old-fashioned feel to it with its Victorian architecture and lush green surroundings just on the opposite side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the north shore, so feel free to take a stroll over to the Park. Or better yet, take the ferry from Circular Quay.

There are so many things to do in Luna Park, which is FREE to enter though the smiling manic clown. The amusement park has all the favorites from the Big Dipper to a wooden roller coaster to the merry-go-round and of course, a ferris wheel that lights up at night.

Then there’s the carnie food and souvenirs. So why not spend an afternoon here?

Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo is a ferry ride away from Sydney and is home to one of the largest zoological collections in Australia. The zoo houses over 5,000 animals from around 200 species and it’s easy for children (and adults) alike because there are paths that lead kids through all different habitats.

Taronga even offers visitors the option to stay overnight either in accommodations or tent-like structures to get an immersive experience among the wildlife.

I’m really not a fan of most zoos and here’s a great article about why we really should stop visiting zoos. However, I did visit Taronga on a trip to Sydney after reading about their conservation efforts. But I will say, I will not be returning.

Need more ideas? Check out this post to help you decide on choosing 5 awesome day trip or trips from Sydney!

WHERE TO STAY IN SYDNEY

Park Hyatt Sydney in Circular Quay with Harbour Bridge in the background

Sydney has an abundance of options for where to stay. There are boutique hotels, apartments, AirBnB or even hostels.

I reviewed these Hyatt hotels the times I went to Sydney. Each are conveniently located near the city center, Sydney attractions and famous landmarks. You can check out my hotel review right here.

Ready to go to Sydney? You can book your great priced hotel right here.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON SYDNEY TRAVEL

It’s time to go on a trip! If you’re looking for the best city in Australia, I recommend Sydney for a fantastic vacation. No matter what your interests are there is something for everyone as well as plenty of things to do and see.

Sydney is one of my favorite cities because of the people, food and activities. I also love that it’s vibrant and never a dull moment. I booked most of my activity right here on Viator and you can too!

Download this easy guide for your next trip to Sydney!

Check out my guides before planning your next vacation.

Originally posted: October 21, 2019

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