Sydney, the sunny city on the east coast of Australia that many people hope to visit one day. So what are the places that you must do and see when visiting Sydney these days? Providing a bunch of insider tips from locals, including several lovely, bit upscale restaurants you should definitely enjoy!
Sydney Opera House
An obvious yet not to miss highlight of Sydney is of course the Opera House. This landmark designed by a Danish architect is the symbol of Sydney since its completion in 1973. The building cost $102 million and receives more than eight million visitors a year. It’s something you really want to put on a picture when you are in Sydney, right?! I can tell you: it’s a lovely sight to finally see the Opera House for real!
Sometimes the Opera House is illuminated at night, such as New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year (also with lanterns). Got something special to celebrate? Book a romantic Sydney Harbour dinner cruise as a surprise for your lover. Other points for great views of the Opera House include: North Sydney Wharf, Mrs Macquaries Point, Milsons Point and Dawes Point.
Tip: No matter how short you are in Sydney, have at least a drink at the Opera Bar, right next to the Opera House. Cheers!
How many people can say they have actually been inside the Opera House? With over 40 shows a week at the Sydney Opera House there’s something for everyone. Check in advance if you could attend a show of your interest. A once in a lifetime experience not to miss when in Sydney! Or take a guided walking tour.
Manly by ferry
The beach is part of life in Sydney. Many Beach is one of the best, a fun (half) day trip! You can reach Manly by taking the ferry from the city centre’s Circular Quay Wharf to Manly Wharf (30 minutes). The ferry to Manly provides a great view on the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, etc. Get that seat at the front deck!
To pay for the ferry ride either use your Opal card, or buy a single ride ticket in the Opal machine (more expensive). Opal is the public transport payment card in Sydney, also for the ferry. Should you not have an Opal Card yet, go to the Transportation Information desk at Wharf 5. Tell them you want to go to Manly Beach, costs AU$20 pp.
Tip: The Opal machine opposite the Transportation Information desk (wharf 5) is way less busy than the one at wharf 3 opposite Hungry Jack’s.
To catch your ferry to Manly, go to wharf 3 (or 2 for the fast ferry). The ferry goes pretty frequent, every 20-30 min or so. The screens tell you the next departure time. Should you have to wait awhile for the next boat; treat yourself to an ice cream at Gelatissimo or Royal Copenhagen. They have interesting flavors such as frosé, ginger beer, bountiful, etc. Card payment no problem!
Have an early lunch at Hugo’s right at Manly Wharf for delicious pasta, seafood and Blushed spritzer cocktail. Try to get there before 12:00h for the best tables at the water front terrace.
From Manly Wharf you can easily walk to Manly Beach in 5-10 minutes. Just go straight ahead once you get out of the ferry terminal (via The Corso), you can’t miss it. It’s a beautiful beach, enjoy! There are also several very nice clothing shops around, like Billabong and Sunburn (bought a cute skirt there). A friend of mine used to live here, wow, so cool!
Manly to Spit trek
If you are fit, got enough time on your hands and it’s not too bloody hot, do the Manly to Spit trek! It is 10km one way (3-4 hours), starting at Manly Wharf. When exiting the ferry terminal go left and simply follow the signs. You will be rewarded with some amazing beach views. And check out the aboriginal engravings at the pinnacle!
Ku-ring-gai Chase NP & Taronga Zoo
Another walk worth exploring is the West Head Army Track in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Not easy (steep) and takes about 1.5 hours to complete. Public transport is not really a realistic option to get there; take an Uber or day tour including catamaran cruise.
Dying to see a koala in real-life but not traveling out of Sydney? Visit the Taronga Zoo by ferry.
Another Sydney landmark: the Harbour Bridge! The heritage-listed steel through arch bridge from 1932 allows rail, vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic to go between Sydney CBD and the North Shore.
The Harbour Bridge is already impressive from the outside, but if you really want to experience the majesty up close, go for the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. Best views at dawn, dusk and night.
One of the skyscrapers in the CBD (Central Business District) of Sydney is Shangri-La, a wonderful five star hotel not everyone can afford. So why am I telling you about this place? Non-hotel guests can also get a drink at the hotel’s Blu Bar on the 36th floor for great views!
The Shangri-La hotel is located on a 5-10 min walk from the ferry terminal and 15-20 min from the Opera House. Check the opening hours of the Blu Bar in advance since it is not open all day every day (Mon-Thu from 17:00h, Fri from 16:00h, Sat from 14:30h, Sun from 15:00h).
Have you ever watched the TV series Bondi Rescue? Young men with six packs doing push-ups, movie worthy fit girls underneath the outdoor shower, life guards, surf dudes, turquoise waves… Bondy Beach baby!
Sydney has no beach clubs with sun beds so bring your own towel. There is a no-alcohol policy!
Icebergs Swimming Pool
Not a surfer and would like to do some laps? Icebergs Swimming Pool is your place to be! This pool is actually one of the most Instagrammable sights of Sydney. The entrance fee is AU$8, closed on Thursday for cleaning (changes sometimes, call the pool for more information).
Bondi has many restaurants serving healthy, low carb food like sushi and poke bowls. Those killer bodies must be maintained, right?! So if you are in the mood for that kind of food, go to Bondi for a high concentration of healthy food spots.
- The latest hip and happening place is called The Pacific Club. Lovely décor and menu options!
- Left of the Bondi Beach Public School there is a cute little sushi bar called Sushi Train with conveyor belt. Their Bondi Junction location is slightly better though.
- Staying in Bondi? Have breakfast, brunch or lunch at Trio Café, Parida or Porch and Parlour.
B&B: Bondi Beach House
Sydney is not particularly short on beaches. Watsons Bay however is a pretty special spot, loved by many locals. The beach club of Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel is a nice place to eat (not so fancy). Like many restaurants in Sydney, the kitchen closes early, usually 21:00h straight. A sore spot many Sydneysiders would like to see changed as it is not very customer friendly. So better get there in time to order some food!
Tip: Hit the nearby Milky Beach for a fantastic sunset skyline view.
Hotel: Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel
The popularity of this small, stylish neighborhood squeezed between Sydney’s CBD and Woolloomooloo is comparable with that of Greenwich Village or SoHo in New York City. Potts Point includes some well-known buildings worth seeing, such as the Rockwall villa in Rockwall Crescent, Tusculum in Manning Street, Kenilworth in Roslyn Street and Manar in Macleay Street. Art Deco is also something you will see in Potts Point and the rest of Sydney such as Double Bay.
There are many lovely terraced houses in Potts Point, Victoria Street is a great example. Plus some excellent restaurants! Try to get a table at The Butler. Great exotic flavored décor, wonderful skyline view and delicious food! My favorite was definitely the buttermilk chicken, sooooo good!!
Hotel: Spicers Potts Point
Right next to, and party part of, Potts Point is Kings Cross. Ten years ago this used to be a pretty shabby area, attracting strange and whorish figures in bad bars. In 2019 Kings Cross is all hip & happening; people fighting over the few houses and apartments that become available for sale or rent.
Other sights to see
- Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden
- Royal Botanic Garden (free entrance, seasonal opening hours)
- State Library NSW
- Art Gallery of NSW
- Darling Harbour and National Maritime Museum
- SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
- Sydney Tower Eye
Visiting multiple attractions? Consider the beneficial Sydney Attraction Pass.
How to get there & around
For flights, check Skyscanner. Take into account at least 1 hour to get from your airplane outside the airport. The Airlink trains connect Kingsford Smith International Airport (SYD) with Sydney’s city center. A train ride from the airport to Sydney Central Station costs about AU$17 and app. half an hour of your time. Sydney has busses, ferries and trains but no metro line.
Tip: Sydney’s Big Bus hop on and off bus is a very easy way to get around the city and see a lot of places in a short time frame.
As mentioned earlier in this blog post, Opal is THE card that will get you around with public transport in Sydney. Opal is like the Oyster, Suca or OV chip card of Sydney; you can put money on it via the machine or app and pay your public transport rides with it. You can get your Opal card at the airport, or for example at the ferry terminal when going to Manly.
To be honest, Sydney is a great place to be, but public transport is not particularly perfect and not cheap. Another sore spot for the Sydneysiders and a gap in the market that Uber and other taxi services fulfill. A taxi ride from the airport to for example Double Bay costs approximately AU$60 by regular taxi and AU$40 by Uber.
Tip: to/from the airport ask the driver to take the old domestic terminal route, also for international flights. Many accidents happen in the tunnel on the international terminal route; in that case it’s highly likely you’ll miss your flight.
Biking is unpopular in Sydney and in summer temperature rises to a level where nobody wants to walk much longer than 5 or 10 minutes. I love Uber and used it a lot in Sydney (and other cities). It saves so much time (and sweat) to get from A to B and we met so many friendly Uber drivers! If you are on a tight budget, consider a shared Uber Pool or airport shuttle.
How relaxed the Australians are in daily life, how aggressive they can be on the road driving a vehicle, jeez! Glad the Uber drivers handled that.
Staying a bit longer in Sydney, revisiting and/or would like to see some more out of the city? Check out these fun tours and trips:
- Blue Mountains Nature and Wildlife Day Tour
- Hunter Valley Wineries Small-Group Tour
- Port Stephens Day Tour with Dolphin Watching, Sandboarding and Australian Wildlife
- Walking with Wild Kangaroos Private Half-Day Trip from Sydney
- Figure 8 Pools Hike and Royal National Park
- Sydney Whale Watching by speedboat
Where to stay in Sydney
Obviously the best accommodation for you in Sydney depends on your budget, duration of stay, points of interests, etc. Any of the accommodations mentioned above are cool in their very own unique way in a specific area of the city. Coming to Sydney for a few days as a regular tourist, wanting to stay somewhere comfy and central, I would recommend staying at Primus Hotel Sydney. It has an excellent location in Sydney CBD, a great rooftop pool, comfy rooms, great food, etc. Sleeping in style! The outdoor bar is also popular with some sophisticated locals in their 30s and 40s.
If that’s not what you had in mind because you are a low budget backpacker, then I would suggest checking out The Pod.
Mobile friendly map
This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and more!! It is smartphone friendly; you can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. To customize the map to your interests, simply (un)select categories. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.
Do I need a visa for Australia?
The answer to that question highly depends on your nationality, how long you wish to stay, what you plan to do (tourist or other), etc. Check for example the website of iVisa to learn whether you need a visa or not.
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Have you ever been to Sydney? Or would you like to go? Share your experiences or drop a question in a comment below.