A trip Down Under is simply not complete without spending some time in Sydney, Australia. This city is often the first stop on Australian travel itineraries, and there’s no question as to why. This city is iconic; filled with history and culture. It’s safe. It’s gorgeous. And it’s easy to get around. Having lived in Sydney for a year, this place holds a very special place in my heart and I’m so excited to share it with you. If you’re visiting for the first time, this guide to Sydney, Australia has everything you’ll need to know.
Sydney has a lovely, sunny climate with mild winters and warm summers. Summer in Sydney lasts from December to February, where the temperature normally ranges from the mid-60s to the high 70s (18-26 C). This warm weather is perfect for enjoying Sydney’s many gorgeous beaches. From March to May, the Autumn season brings temperatures from the high 50s to the low 70s (14-22 C). This cooler temperature is great for hiking and enjoying the outdoors. Winter lasts from June to August, bringing the coolest temperatures of the year, from the high 40s to the low 60s (8-17 C). This is also when rainfall is at its highest. Finally, September to November brings the lovely Spring season, where temperatures are warmer (low 50s to mid 70s; 11-23 C), but the air is less humid than in summer.
Currency in Australia is the Australian Dollar. Most places in Sydney will accept bank cards, but you’ll want to have some cash for smaller shops and markets. There are plenty of ATMs around the city, so you should have no problems with getting cash.
Australia does have a reputation for being a more expensive place to visit. Still, there are plenty of ways to keep your costs down while you travel in Sydney. Eating cheap street food, walking, and choosing less expensive AirBnb accommodations will help you save money. Here is $40 off your first AirBnB booking, and a list of 15 free things to do in Sydney that will help keep costs low.
Aside from Australian and New Zealand citizens, all travelers need to obtain a visa before arriving in Australia. There are a few different visas available, depending on how long you’ll be in Australia and what you intend to do while there. Most visitors will apply for an eVisitor visa, an Electronic Travel Authority visa, or a Visitor visa. Check online to see which visa is right for you.
Most likely, you’ll be flying into Sydney via Kingsford Smith Airport. The city is connected to the airport via public transportation. The T2 Airport line will leave you directly in the heart of Sydney, within just 13 minutes. Taking the train will cost you between $16-18AUD. You can also take a taxi, which will be located outside the airport. These will usually be pricier, but helpful if you’re not confident in how to navigate the public transportation system. There are several car rental options in Sydney as well. Just remember, Australians drive on the left side of the road!
The Opal Card
What is an Opal Card? Before taking any kind of public transportation, you will need to obtain an Opal Card. This is a smartcard ticket that you can load and reload with money to use for public transport. The Opal Card can be used for trains, ferries, buses, and light rail across Sydney and the surrounding suburbs.
Where do I get my Opal Card? Obtaining an Opal Card is very easy. You can buy them at the Airport train station and at many city convenience stores and news stands. You can also purchase them online, but will have to pay a postage fee. It’s really just easier to pick one up once you’re in Sydney.
How much money do I put on my Opal Card? If you’re not sure how much money you should load onto your Opal Card, I suggest loading $10-20 per person and reloading additional funds as needed. Cards can be reloaded at card retailers and at certain transportation stations.
How do I use my Opal Card? You will see the Opal Card symbol on readers at each station. Before boarding, hold your Opal Card against the symbol and you’ll hear a sound, which indicates that your card has been read. When exiting a station, repeat this action and you will see your fare deducted from your card. This is known as tapping on and tapping off. If you’re struggling to figure it out, just do as the locals do.
Forms of Transportation
- Trains: The easiest and most effective way to get around Sydney is via train. The train lines run all around the city, and connect the main areas of Sydney with the outer suburbs. Network maps are very easy to read and informational signs will help you determine which train to board.
- Buses: Another way to get around Sydney is by using the bus system. Buses can be a cheaper option, compared to trains, but can make a journey longer, depending on traffic. Bus stations around the city are well-marked with blue and yellow signs. Many will also have timetables and maps posted. In general, buses are best used in combination with trains.
- Lightrail: This is the easiest form of transportation to figure out, because for now, it is just one line. They are working on expanding the lightrail, so this may be out of date. The lightrail connects popular points within the city of Sydney and can be used to quickly get from one point to another.
- Ferries: Sometimes the quickest way to get from one point to another is by crossing the Sydney Harbour via ferry. Ferries are a great way to reach several port areas within Sydney, including Circular Quay, Waston’s Bay, Manly Beach, and the Sydney Olympic Park. Plus, ferries offer some great views of the harbour and the city itself.
- Taxi: There are many different taxi companies in Sydney, and therefore taxis do not have a uniform look. However, there is usually some kind of identifier that’s plan to see on the car. Taxis are a great option for locations that are not connected via public transportation.
- Cycling: There are lots of bike rental facilities around Sydney. If you’re wanting to navigate your own path and cover a lot of ground, consider renting a bicycle to ride around the city. Remember to wear a helmet and abide by all Sydney traffic laws.
- Walking: Sometimes there’s no better transportation than your own two feet. Sydney is a very easy city to navigate, and many city sights and attractions are within walking distance.
Notable City Suburbs
The city of Sydney is broken down into smaller city suburbs. The main part of the city is called the Sydney Central Business District (or CBD), but there are other places within the city that you’ll definitely want to check out.
This historical area of Sydney is very popular with tourists. The charm of the old buildings, souvenir shops and historic pubs draw people in. In this area, you can find Sydney highlights such as the Observatory, the Lord Nelson pub, The Museum of Contemporary Art, and delicious Pancakes on the Rocks.
Darling Harbour is located to the west of Sydney CBD. There are a number of attractions here such as the Harbourside Shopping Centre, the Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney Aquarium, the Powerhouse Museum, The Australian National Maritime Museum, and the Chinese Friendship Gardens. There are also a number of great dining options along the harbour.
Located next to Darling Harbour, you can find the busy area of Haymarket. Sydney’s historical produce markets were located here, and today it is home to Paddy’s Market: a large produce and flea market, great for purchasing cheap Australian souvenirs. Haymarket is also home to Chinatown and Thaitown, making it a great place to find delicious Asian cuisine.
Newtown is located south west of Sydney’s CBD and is often overlooked by tourists. This area has a large number of restaurants and other dining establishments that will delight any foodie. If you want something a little off the beaten path, definitely check out this hidden gem.
No visit to Sydney is complete without spending some time on the gorgeous beaches. There’s just no better way to cool off in the summertime. There are dozens of different beaches accessible from Sydney, but for your first visit in Sydney, these are the ones you should check out.
This beach is one of the most visited sites in Sydney, and it’s no wonder why. The soft white sands, the sweeping views, the warm ocean waves- this place is just lovely. Swimmers will want to head to the north end of the beach, for the calmest water, while surfers will want the southern end. Be sure to get here earlier in the day, as the beach tends to get crowded in the summer. In addition, you’ll want to check out the Bondi to Coogee walk. This 6km coastal walk offers incredible views over the ocean, that you won’t want to miss!
How to get there: It generally only takes about 30 minutes to reach Bondi. From Central Station, you can get on the Eastern Suburbs line (T4) and ride it until Bondi Junction. From there, Bus 380, 381, 382, or 383 will take you to the beach.
Manly is another popular beach for visitors, is one of the easiest beaches to get to, and is also a great beach for surfers. The area around Manly Beach has lots of tourist shops and restaurants to check out if you need a break from the sun. You’ll also want to get here early, as the summer heat draws people to the beach.
How to get there: Manly Beach is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Sydney. The F1 route runs directly from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf. Step off the ferry, and you’re practically right on the beach.
Camp Cove Beach
If you’re looking for something a little less touristy, try visiting Camp Cove Beach. This beach is significantly smaller than the other two, but is more hidden from the tourist trail. In addition, this beach has some stunning views of the city.
How to get there: In just under a half an hour from Circular Quay, take the F7 ferry to Watson’s Bay. Once you arrive in Watson’s Bay, walk up Military Road to Cliff street, where you will take a left and follow Cliff Street until it dead ends at the beach. This walk will take less than 10 minutes.
Dining in Sydney is remarkable. With the city’s vast cultural diversity, you will find foods from all over the globe. From cheap street eats to fancy sit-downs that require reservations months in advance, Sydney has everything to satisfy all kinds of eaters.
- Waterfront Dining: Sydney’s unique location means travelers have lots of opportunities to dine along the waterfront. Check out Darling Harbour and the Circular Quay area for upscale restaurants with a view!
- Centrepoint Tower: If you really want to eat with a view, there’s no better place than at the top of the Centrepoint Tower. This restaurant slowly revolves to give its guests a 360 degree view over the city of Sydney. Make sure to make reservations.
- Ethnic Food: Eat your way around the world as you discover foods from Asia, Italy, Hungary, The Middle East, and more. Not sure where to go? Just follow your nose.
- Vegan/Vegetarian: Those of you with alternative dietary needs are not overlooked in Sydney. There are tons of vegan and vegetarian options throughout the city. Here’s a list of some of the top restaurants for vegans and vegetarians.
- Cafes: Australians take their coffee seriously. If you want a real Aussie experience, order a flat white and enjoy the cafe scene.
- Pubs: If Australians love anything more than coffee, it’s beer. Sydney’s historical pubs are not to be missed. Head to The Rocks and join a pub tour to see the best of the best.
- Dining on a budget: You’ll quickly discover that eating out in Sydney can get costly. Luckily there are some budget friendly ways to eat in the city too. Order an Aussie meat pie and chips to-go. Visit the Chinatown Night Market on Fridays. Many places also have steep discounts during the weekdays. Check out this list for other cheap eats in Sydney.
What To Do
Sydney is a big city, and it will take a long time to see and do everything that this amazing city has to offer. Aside from eating and enjoying the beaches, here are some of my recommendations on how to fill your time.
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