Sydney has a great public transport network and you can walk anywhere between the CBD, Darling Harbour and Circular Quay, so getting around to all the major attractions is easy and convenient.
New Year's Eve is the biggest event on the calendar, there is some great shopping to be had at the Queen Victoria Building, and be sure to read up about safety if you go swimming at Bondi beach.
All the essential information you will likely need before visiting Sydney is below, so take a look and get ready for a trip to this stunning city.
Sydney Essential Info
Getting Around Sydney
Most of the main attractions can be accessed on foot. The CBD is directly south of Circular Quay and The Rocks, whilst Darling Harbour is directly west of the CBD and the botanic gardens to the east. From the centre of the CBD(Martin Place), you can effectively walk to any major attraction within 10 minutes. A walk from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour takes around 20min.
Central Station, Sydney © Skint
Train / Metro
Several lines run throughout Sydney and all converge on the CBD. They can be a handy way to get from top to bottom of the city quickly - Central Station is Sydney's main train station, where regional and interstate trains arrive/depart. At the northern end of the city centre, there is a station directly above Circular Quay(with a great view) that provides a convenient interchange with the ferries.
If you base yourself in the CBD, the most likely reason you would use the train is to go to Bondi(via bus from Bondi Junction station) or the Airport.
You can pay by purchasing an Opal card or by tapping your credit/debit card or smartphone with google/apple pay enabled. A third option is to just buy Opal single tickets, but these are more expensive. Transport NSW has this page explaining the options with tourists in mind.
Note: whatever method you choose, you can use it on ferries and buses too.
Which option should you choose?
That depends on how much you will use public transport. If it's just a few times, tapping your debit card will likely be the easiest option. If you are using the train(and ferry or bus) fairly often during your trip, and you don't like the idea of getting your debit card out all the time, consider buying an opal card. They are widely available at many retailers and metro stations. Just note that, whilst the card doesn't cost anything, you need to top up by $20 as a minimum, so make sure you will spend it all. If you are a concession holder, this will not apply when tapping your debit card, but it will with an Opal card.
Fares are complex and based on distance travelled and whether you are travelling peak or off-peak. Off-peak offers a 30% discount. Single journey Adult Opal fares start around $2.60 for an off-peak trip under 10km and go up to $9 for a 65km+ journey at peak times. There is however a daily cap of around $16 during the week and $8 at weekends or on public holidays.
Ferry at Circular Quay, Sydney © Travel Unpacked
The iconic Sydney ferry boats offer a convenient way to reach a few tourist locations, but they are must try in themselves, even if you don't to really go anywhere.
The most common routes for tourists are for reaching Manly, Taronga Zoo and Cockatoo Island. There is also a route which goes between Circular Quay and Darling Harbour via Luna Park - very convenient and a good one if you just want to try the ferry out.
Fares are paid the same was as the train - see above. The rates are between $6 and $8 per trip per adult regardless of distance travelled or peak/off-peak times.
Light rail, Sydney © Luke White
Sydney has three light rail lines. One runs west from central station out through Pyrmont, which may be convenient for you to reach the Powerhouse Museum, Darling Harbour and the casino.
The other two lines cover largely the same route, from Circular Quay, down through the CBD(along George Street) to Central Station before going to Surry Hills and then diverging at Moore Park. This route can certainly be useful to save your legs in the CBD.
Fares, covered under the same Opal card system, are between $2 and $5 per trip, depending on distance and peak/off-peak.
Buses are useful where the trains and ferries don't reach. There are not really any major attractions that require using the bus though, except for the last leg of the journey to Bondi from Bondi Junction(2.5km) and getting back from Coogee if you decide to do the coastal walk.
Fares are similar to light rail and between $2 and $5 for adults.
Sydney can be a little hilly at times, but there are lots of great routes to get out and about on a bike. Take a look at the cities website - here - for more information. There are just two places to hire bikes in the city centre, both in The Rocks and they also offers tours. Click for Bonza and Bike buffs. There is also an operator in Manly, Manly bike tours, who can give you an option away from the city centre and by the lovely coastline.
Big Bus offer a hop-on hop-off open top bus tour of the city that, starting from $55 for one day, gives you a convenient way to quickly go between all the major attractions. One route loops around the CBD area and the second goes out to the eastern beaches(very useful), including to Bondi.
Free tours Sydney offer a bus tour that is not actually free(that name relates to their free walking tours) and is a 3hr guided tour to the eastern suburbs and Bondi. The tour is $18 but, similar to their walking tours, the guide is not paid so you are asked to 'pay what you feel' as a tip to them.
Taxi / Uber
Uber operates in Sydney via their app. Taxis are present too and can be hailed if their light is on, indicating they are available.
You can also find water taxis in Sydney, but they are expensive and not often used by an ordinary tourist - they are more appropriate for small groups. These can be found in Circular Quay and Darling Harbour.
CBD road, Sydney © Ethan Lee
If visiting the major attractions in the city centre, driving between them is not really an option - best to leave the car in a car park or at your accommodation and use public transport or walk.
Car Rental / Share car
All the major car rental companies operate in Sydney. You can hire a vehicle across many suburbs, including at the airport and close to the CBD, particularly near Kings cross.
Car share operators are also present in Sydney. Most need an account set up to use first(with an annual fee), but this can be a very convenient option, especially if you only need a car for a few hours.
This link takes you to a useful free downloadable tourist map.
Restaurant at Sydney Opera House © Eriksson Luo
Food In Sydney
The CBD largely caters to lunchtime offerings, as it really quietens down once the working day is over. There are plenty of food courts for quick easy eats whilst you're going between attractions.
All the main tourist areas have extensive options: -
- Circular Quay has plenty of higher end options, as well as delicious gelato (Messina may be the best). Drinks are relatively normal prices, so it's worth a stop to take a break by the water and take in the amazing views.
- The Rocks has a bunch of restaurants to choose from and decent pub food.
- Darling Harbour is ringed with restaurants, so you should have no problem finding something you like. The mall also has a food court.
- Bondi and Manly both have dozens of options covering a wide array of styles.
Check out this guide that covers a lot of the most popular places to eat.
The Sydney.com website also has a decent guide here, especially if you're looking for higher end options.
Queen Victoria Building, Sydney © Hugo Kruip
Shopping In Sydney
The Queen Victoria building is notable for it's architecture but the high end shops there make it worth a visit too, including some good options for a café lunch.
Tourist focused shops can be found mostly in the Rocks and Darling Harbour.
Darling Harbour also has a shopping mall full of clothes shops, some tourist experiences and lined with restaurants along the water front.
Beyond the CBD, another Westfield can be found at Bondi junction.
Every weekend there is a market in The Rocks with some great artisanal products and delicious street food in great surroundings. One not to miss.
Paddy's market in Haymarket(between Central station and Darling Harbour) is Sydney's biggest market and is a more traditional market selling clothes, souvenirs and fresh fruit and veg.
New Year's Eve, Sydney © Andreas Dress
Events In Sydney
Sydney has many well known annual events that could be worth scheduling your trip around.
New Years Eve
Sydney has one of the most spectacular displays in the world with fireworks setting off from the Harbour bridge, Opera House and barges on the surrounding water. In addition to the midnight display, there is a smaller 9pm show for children at Darling Harbour, but this was cancelled last year.
It is an extremely popular event so getting a good spot either takes an expensive ticket or the dedication to spend time 'camping out' all day.
For a ticketed event, consider a boat cruise, a spot in the botanic gardens, a rooftop bar, Luna park or one of the many venues along the water's edge - the display can be seen from far and wide, so there are lots of options, even the zoo at Taronga. There are of course hotels and air bnb's with spectacular views also.
For a free spot next to the Opera House, get there early, possibly even in the morning, to get in to the fenced off area. There are many parks around the harbour that will be easier to get in later but are a bit further from the action. This situation was changed last year though, so it's difficult to predict the situation for coming celebrations.
More information here but note that things may change for 2021/22 due to concern over large crowds and social distancing needs, so check for the latest info before making any plans.
Australia's premier gay and lesbian event is a wild festival that takes place over three weeks beginning in mid-February, includes dozens of events and culminates in the main event - the pride parade that takes place on the first Saturday in March.
More info here.
This is a 3 week event in August that is best known for the multitude of fantastic displays that light up buildings across the city. "Vivid Sydney casts light on our lives through the creativity of Artists, musicians and thinkers".
More info here.
Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race
This boxing day sailing event is popular with spectators to attend to watch the race begin at Sydney Harbour bridge before the flotilla sails out of the harbour.
In addition to the Opera House, there are concerts ranging from massive stadium shows for major international acts to smaller local venues that cater to local bands.
Sydney plays second fiddle to Melbourne when it comes to major sporting events but you can find NRL, Cricket, AFL, Soccer, Horse racing, Motor sports, and many more.
Have a look here to find smaller events.
Sydney Opera House © Photoholic
Theatre and Opera In Sydney
The Sydney Opera House is obviously the most iconic venue. In addition to Opera, you can see concerts, theatre and even stand up comedy.
The Sydney Lyric Theatre is within the Star Casino complex in Darling Harbour. This is the place to go for Broadway style shows like Hamilton.
The Sydney Theatre Company has the Roslyn Packer Theatre and Wharf Theatre, both in Millers point next to the harbour bridge, which shows a diverse range of productions for the serious theatre goer.
Aside from these, there are some smaller theatres in the inner city suburbs and beyond. Take a look at this page for more information.
Nightlife In Sydney
The nightlife is Sydney is fairly spread out. The more upmarket places can be found in the Rocks and around Circular Quay, with the spectacular views of the harbour.
Darling Harbour has a more commercial offering and includes the Star Casino.
Kings Cross is the traditional home of the red light district and all the dive bars associated with it.
Oxford Street is the LGBTQ area.
Darlinghurst and many other inner city suburbs have plenty of offerings and Bondi and Manly have the most bars when it comes to beach side locations.
See this guide for more.
Sydney has some of the nicest weather in Australia. You'll find it similar to Perth and Adelaide, a bit warmer than Melbourne and cooler than Brisbane.
You can visit any time of the year and find it pleasant, but winter will likely have temperatures in the mid to high teens and summer can bring some very hot 30+ days.
Best Time To Visit Sydney
The weather is mostly good all year round, but avoiding the winter months(June - August) ensures a much lower chance of bad weather making your day difficult. Otherwise, you're good to go anytime, noting that News Years Eve will be very busy.
Bondi beach, Sydney © Travel Unpacked
In the CBD, there's nothing different about Sydney than any other major Australian city.
The beach does have some dangers in the form of rips. Many tourists come unstuck, especially at Bondi, when these rips take them out to sea. Take note of the flags on the beach and swim between them, look for specific safety signage at the beach, and speak to a lifeguard if you are unsure.
Follow this link for more info - surflifesaving.com.au/beach-safety
Several aboriginal tribes occupied the Sydney area for at least 30,000 years prior to British arrivals and there is estimated to have been between 4000 and 8000 people living in the area. The Cadigal people occupied what is now the CBD.
Things all changed in 1770 when Cook dropped anchor in Botany Bay on his ship, the Endeavor. In 1788, British colonialists arrived on the first fleet and Sydney is where they landed. After an initial failed attempt at settling in Botany Bay(just south of where the airport is now located), the settlers moved north to discover one of the worlds greatest harbours. When they moored their ship and settled in, it was the area now known as Circular Quay that they did this.
Clashes with the aboriginal people, as well as disease and competition for food, had a massive impact on their way of life. Whilst nothing would be the same, decedents of those people still live in the area today.
The Rocks became the location where most of the convicts were kept and is consequently the oldest part of Sydney. In the following years and decades, many former convicts, unable to get back to the UK, stayed and led lives that built the colony. As Sydney grew, convict transportation was no longer seen as a punishment and the final transports sailed in 1840. A gold rush in the 1850's propelled Sydney towards becoming the city that it is today.
Read more here.
Three Sisters, Blue Mountains © Travel Unpacked
Blue Mountains - Most people would head inland to the Blue Mountains to spend a few days taking in the views, attractions and to do a bit of hiking(although the highlights can be done in a day).
Southern NSW Coast - If beaches are more your thing, perhaps head down the coast for some stunning beaches around Wollongong and Kiama.
Central NSW Coast - North of Sydney is the central coast, with great beaches and the city of Newcastle, which has an ever growing reputation.
Country towns - have grown popular for weekend's away for the food, open space and historic towns. Try Orange, Bathurst or Dubbo.
Snowy Mountains - During winter, head to the Snowy Mountains for some skiing.
Cruises - Many cruises depart from Sydney, heading out to the islands of Norfolk, New Caledonia or beyond.
The Ghan - Take the train all the way to Perth(or Adelaide) on this luxury rail journey.
Road Trip - Epic road trips can be had into the NSW outback and onwards into other states. West from Sydney will take you to Broken Hill and South Australia. North West is the "true" NSW outback, with the towns of Bourke and Lightning Ridge, and the Queensland outback beyond.
Other states - Canberra is only a 3hr drive away. Otherwise, it's to the airport (or train) and onto more incredible Australian landscapes and cities.
Need info on 'How to get to Port Douglas?' or 'Where to stay?'
Go to the second page of our travel guide for the full run down.
Or, go to page 1 to discover all the 'Things to do'.