Only in Australia will you experience the diversity of mountains, beaches, outback and rainforests, alongside sprawling urban metropolises, consistently ranked among the most livable cities in the world. As I reflect on my first year in Sydney, I can’t imagine one day leaving the city that continues to amaze at every new rising and setting of the sun.
Between perfect year-round weather, beaches, friendly people, and laidback lifestyle, Sydney makes for the perfect getaway for families, couple, and solo travellers alike. With an abundance of experiences, sights, and adventures to be had, give yourself at least a week to experience the city in all its glory. Trust me, Sydney won’t disappoint. Today I have compiled an itinerary of my favorite spots around Sydney, to pick and choose your own adventure and make the most of your stay.
Day 1: City Walk of Beautiful Views
Spend your first day in Sydney strolling the city and soaking it all in. Begin at Circular Quay where you will stare in awe of the sails of the iconic Opera House and massive arch of the Harbour Bridge.Don’t be afraid to swallow your pride and stop for that cliché tourist photo in front of these famous landmarks (I still do it 1.5 years later) Bonus if you bust out the selfie stick!Continue on for a wander through Sydney’s historic Rocks District, where you will find heritage architecture and cobblestoned laneway, amidst eclectic restaurants, and pubs. Peruse the open air markets on Fridays and Saturdays for jewelry, home wear, art, or a sweet treat. In the summer months you may catch a bustling festival of wine, chocolate, or coffee! The Rocks is the perfect blend of culture, cuisine and experiences that are worth savouring. To the East of the Opera House, enter the gates to the Royal Botanic Gardens, a lush, green spread of native Australian plants. From the provocative rare and threatened plants of the world to the romantic rose garden, oriental garden, and fernery; the themed gardens showcase the diverse natural beauty of the area.Amidst the 30 hectacres of flora and fauna, expect to be treated to continuous views of the Opera House, Bridge, and city skyline. A stroll through the gardens is the perfect way to relax after the hectic tourist area of Circular Quay. Mrs. Mcquarie’s Point sits directly east of the Opera House, providing excellent panoramic views across the harbour with the Woolloomooloo Wharf and the Mountains in the far distance. Don’t miss Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a historic carving out of a rock ledge for Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth, as she was known to visit the area and sit enjoying views over morning coffee.Observatory Hill offers a perfect view of the harbour and bridge for a peaceful picnic or book. Check out these spots best panoramic views of the Sydney skyline. She sure puts on a show from every angle, eh?
Day 2: Beach It
Sydney boasts over 200 beaches, each offering their own unique spin. With at least nine warm months out of the year (October to May) and easy accessibility via ferry or bus from the city, you have plenty of time to explore them all and find a favourite of your own! Set aside 2.5 hours for the scenic Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. This six kilometre walk reveals five Sydney beaches (Coogee, Clovelly, Bronte, Tamarama, Bondi) and stunning views of cliffs, waves, bays, rock pools, and even a 19th century cemetery! As one of the most famous surfing beaches in the world, Bondi is constantly buzzing and packed with locals, hipsters, and tourists alike. Personally, I prefer to relax with a book on the beach, but if you’re in the mood for a bit of eye candy and cheeky arvo drinks, Bondi is your spot.Bondi does boast an awesome graffiti laced boardwalk that is everchanging with new, vibrant works of art!And the Bondi Icebergs are a pool within the ocean! The home of *winter* swimming since 1929! Both Members and Visitors alike can enjoy a delicious meal from the Bistro, or simply sit and enjoy a quiet drink overlooking the bay.
Day 3: Play Tourist
Of course you have to play tourist for a day and see Sydney from above with the Harbour Bridge Climb. Warning, it runs around $250 but you can do the shorter sample version by climbing the bottom arch to save a buck. I’ve heard it’s beautiful at twilight or night but these options are more expensive. A free option is walking across the walking path of the Harbour Bridge for equally stunning panoramic views on a lower level or visit the Pylon Lookout for just $11 to get a bit of history. Next stop on the agenda is a visit to the world class Taronga Zoo, situated right on the shores of Sydney Harbour in a natural bushland setting with spectacular views. Take a quick 12 minute ferry from the city for a fun filled family outing.You will encounter a wide variety of animals native to Australia including koalas, kangaroos, platypus, echidnas, and emus. Unfortunately, it is illegal to cuddle a Koala in Sydney, so you will have to venture to Queensland to make that dream a reality!The zoo is a bit pricey at Adults $44, Children (4-15 years) $22, Children (under 4) Free, but so worth it! An alternative option is Featherdale Wildlife Park, 30 minutes out of the city.
Day 4: Arts & Fests
I am lucky to call the alternative and colourful inner-west neighbourhood of Newtown home! Wander the main strip of King street for great coffee, over 140 restaurants offering ethnic cuisines, funky bars, beer gardens and interesting people watching. Not a huge fan of museums, but the street art tucked into the suburbs is amazing. Check out Newtown and Sydney Uni Graffiti tunnel! Come springtime, every weekend in Sydney is packed with festivals. Between music, craft beer, food & wine, chocolate, coffee, Vivid, and The Sydney Festival, there’s bound to be something on you will enjoy!One thing I really regret missing is the fireworks over Sydney Harbour for New Years Eve. (You have to stake out a spot half a day early and the crowds are crazy!) If you aren’t here during that time, a beautiful firework display is put on every Saturday at 8pm over Darling Harbour.If you visit from May to June, you can’t miss Vivid, a unique festival that lights up the entire city in vivid colors for three weeks a mesmerising free public exhibition of outdoor lighting sculptures, a cutting edge contemporary music program and the spectacular illumination of the Sydney Opera House sails.
Day 5: Cruise the Harbour
As a harbour city, one of the most magical ways to explore Sydney is from the water. A vast range of cruises are available from sightseeing and whale watching to dinner and dancing. Just a short ferry ride from Circular Quay, explore the historic island of Cockatoo Island, uncovering a fascinating living legacy of maritime history in a haunted naval storage facility. Explore the abandoned shipyards, WWII structures that date back to mid 1800’s when the island operated as a convict penal establishment. Once worn and weary from a day of exploring, relax in the sunshine with an umbrella in your drink at Island bar, famous for its tropical cocktails and wood-fired pizza.
Looking for a taste of Australia?Visit The Australian Hotel for the Coat of Arms Pizza topped with kangaroo and emu, red onion, bush tomato, capsicum & cranberries Australia is the only country which eats their national animals!
Looking for dinner with a view?The Boathouse offers several beachside locations with a bit of everything – fresh market flowers,, deli style food + cheeses, delicious breakfast, good coffee with quirky designs.
O Bar and Quay offer charming views of the harbour but prepare to pull out your wallet. Check out even more restaurants to dine with a view.
Looking for a sweet treat? Cow & Moon Gelato in Newtown You must try this award winning mouth-watering almond affogato gelato! It combines caramelised almonds sourced from Italy with single origin coffee on a Madagascan vanilla base. A salty sweet dream.
Looking for refreshing beachside eats?Indulge in Fishmongers Gourmet Fish & Chips in Manly or Bondi Beach. There is a prevalent British influence in Australian culture, so expect to see fish and chips every where you go.
Looking for an instagram-worthy brunch?The Grounds of Alexandria is a hot spot for Brunch. Choose from a variety of cafes in one place.
Looking for a romantic night out?Dine under the stars in a laneway at The Winery in Sury Hills. Food is perfectly paired with wines from regions of the world for a high class experience.
Looking for ethnic cuisines?
King Street in Newtown is filled with ethnic foods galore. Try Thai at Thai Patong, Turkish at Yenikoys, Italian at Pastizza Bar. With over 100 restaurants including Japanese, Vietnamese, soul food and more, you’re sure to find a favorite!
Also try Hurricane’s Steakhouse or Blacke by Ezard for a medium rare. Crinitis or Osteria Balla for Italian, Alpha House for Greek, Billy Kwong for Chinese, Moon Park for Korean, Palings Kitchen for Thai or Din Tai Fung for rainbow dumplings! Feeling ambitious? 50 meals to eat before you die in Sydney.
Warning: Many places only accept cash so be sure to keep $100 AUD on you. The majority of restaurants won’t split bills, so you will need to settle with friends on your own.
Note: Tipping is not expected and taxes are already included in the price, so what you see is what you get. Tips also aren’t expected for other services such as haircuts, help at the airport, taxis, etc.
How easy is it to navigate public transportation in the city?
Sydney has an amazing public transport system. Grab an Opal card (for free!) at a local convenient store to get discounts on fares. Expect each trip to be $2-4 AUD. Ferries are $6 each way. After 8 trips in a week, the rest are free. This can be used on trains, buses, ferries, and light rails! Better yet walk the city to soak it all in!
What is the typical cost of a taxi to get from one side of town to the other?
$30-40 – Pretty expensive-I would recommend public transport unless you’re in a pinch or have a few people to split the cost. Uber is also a more personal and slightly cheaper option. A train trip from the airport is $17 so you are better off in a cab if there is more than one person.
If you prefer an ocean nearby, Eco is a green, earth-friendly option with hip art-deco vibes and just across the street from Bondi Beach. Get that morning surf in!
Cambridge Hotel is situated in the hip suburb of Surry Hills, surrounded by a variety of restaurants and shopping. Large rooms, comfy beds, and friendly staff at a decent price. Can’t go wrong.
If you are craving a night out on the town, begin by heading down to King Street Wharf as the sun goes down. Check out Bungalow 8 for a Hawaiian tiki bar, Meat District Co for good burgers and beer at happy hour prices with a waterfront view!Opera Bar in Circular Quay is a great place to sit a while and soak in Sydney as the sun goes down. From dive bars to serious cocktail dens and glistening rooftops to wine haunts, check out this roundup of the 50 best bars Sydney has to offer.Argyle in The Rocks District or The Ivy Pool Club in the CBD are fun options where you can transition from cheeky outdoor patio drinks after work to a nightclub vibe as the night heats up. The Glenmore offers an awesome roof top terrace with views over the Harbour or check out Baxter’s Inn, a hidden whiskey bar among other great underground bars in the city. If you’re looking for a more lowkey night, head to Newtown for rooftop bars and beer gardens galore. My favorites are Bank Hotel, Zanzibar and Corridor. (ps. Hotel is another term for pub) I reccomend steering clear of Kings Cross, the red light district that has strict midnight lock out laws.
To the west, Sydney is backed by the Great Dividing Range, running down the east coast of Australia. The Blue Mountains is now a UNESCO World Heritage site for it’s stunning natural beauty.The Blue Mountains are a gorgeous sight which you can reach by train or coach bus. Be sure to leave early and plan for an entire day as it’s 2 hours out of the city. While in the Blue Mountains, be sure to check out the famous Three Sisters and ride the world’s steepest railway.
If you are a wine-o like myself, you will love the Hunter Valley region. Two hours from the city, it is worth the trip to see the beautiful rolling hills and try the boutique wines you won’t find at a supermarket!
Newtown’s King Street offers unique and quirky stores, retro and vintage fashion, music and books, furniture and homeware, collectables. On the weekends heck out the eclectic markets of Bondi, Paddington, Glebe, Kirribilli and the Rocks filled with food, fashion, art, and so much more!
Darlinghurst’s Oxford Street is the famous shopping street offering designer brands, funky boutiques, retro, and vintage. Queen Victoria Building is the place to go for the finest fashion boutiques, jewellery and homeware. Pitt Street Mall and Westfields offer seven levels of famous departments stores, Australian designers, and world class dining.Sydney is a destination you can enjoy any time of the year and at any point in your travels. Cheers, you beautiful city!