Sydney is the urban jewel in the glittering crown of Australia.
Think of the nation’s first city and many iconic Aussie landmarks spring to mind: the magnificent harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks historic precinct, Sydney Tower and a plethora of golden, soft-sand beaches, including fabulous Bondi.
Cosmopolitan yet chilled, Sydney attracts over 30 million visitors annually. There’s so much to see and do here, and whether you’re a culture vulture, a sand-surf-and-sun seeker, a foodie or fashionista, you’ll find a wealth of experiences on offer.
Enjoy this Sydney travel guide.
Need to know
Capital of: New South Wales
Base yourself: City, Darlinghurst, Elizabeth Bay, Pyrmont
Average hotel price per room/per night: $200 AUD
Best breakfasts: Bondi, Manly
Great coffee: Marrickville, Newtown, Alexandria
Top spots for a beverage: The Rocks, Balmain, Manly
Must-do tours: Harbour cruise, Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, Blue Mountains day tour
Best times to visit
Sydney is a year-round destination, but summer is the best time to experience the city’s enviable harbourside lifestyle. Winter is a beautiful time to visit the magnificent Blue Mountains. Challenge yourself to compete in the annual City2Surf fun run in August alongside 80,000 other participants. The event attracts everyone from serious runners to walkers in colourful costumes.
Spring and autumn in Sydney are crisp and cool, and each offers a diverse calendar of events for residents and visitors alike to enjoy.
Sydney tours & experiences
Save on top Sydney attractions
Consider an Australia Multi-City Flexi Attractions Pass for your visit. You’ll save up to 40% on many of the top attractions and things to do listed in this Sydney travel guide. Choose from five, seven or ten attraction passes. Passes are valid for three months from the date of issue.
Planning a visit to Sydney’s fabulous Luna Park? Pre-purchase your unlimited rides passes and sail in through the gates without having to queue.
Sydney has a thriving arts and cultural scene that rivals the best in the world.
Art lovers – start by visiting the classically designed Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has a distinguished collection of local and international works. The excellent Museum of Contemporary Art in The Rocks houses over 4,000 Australian works – many by Indigenous artists. While you’re there, enjoy a latte at the rooftop cafe with its stunning views. General admission to both galleries is free.
There are plenty of smaller public and privately owned galleries to explore. The Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills was the workplace of celebrated Australian 20th century artist Brett Whiteley. It’s open to the public Friday to Sunday.
The world-famous Sydney Opera House offers an extensive programme of live performance, including opera (of course!), ballet, theatre, stand-up comedy, orchestral presentations, and even concerts for children. Sydney Theatre Company is the resident theatre company at the Sydney Opera House, and it also has its own venues. The city’s fringe theatre scene offers plenty of additional diversity. Try the Darlinghurst Theatre Company.
There are lots of opportunities to step back in time in Sydney.
Indigenous Australians inhabited the region for thousands of years prior to European settlement. Join a guided tour of sacred rock art sites near the city.
The Rocks is Sydney’s best preserved colonial precinct. Here you’ll find charming cobbled laneways, gracious sandstone architecture, and the nation’s oldest drinking dens. Join a ghost tour, have a drink in a heritage pub or browse in the bustling outdoor markets.
Evidence of Sydney’s early history isn’t confined to The Rocks. Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour is another amazing time capsule of remnants from the past. In fact, throughout the city and suburbs you’ll find intriguing evidence of days gone by. Join one of the many specialist guided walking tours to get more of the city’s backstory.
The list of museums to check out in Sydney is endless. Some of the highlights are the Australian Museum – with its emphasis on natural history and Indigenous culture, the excellent Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour, and the Hyde Park Barracks Museum – another of the city’s most significant colonial sites.
In March 1932 an estimated one million Sydneysiders turned out for the official opening of the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can climb the 1,332 steps to the top of the soaring steel arches with BridgeClimb Sydney for what is undoubtedly one of the best views in the world.
For dining options that are award-winning, up-and-coming, and everything in between, Sydney has it covered.
For memorable meals that won’t break the bank, Surry Hills has a plethora of cool eateries (Firedoor and Nomad are hot choices) while Chinatown offers excellent Asian fare at Golden Century, Din Tai Fung and Mamak (join the queue!).
Head to one of the new specialty dining precincts that have popped up around town. Kensington Street in the gritty-but-quickly-gentrifying locale of Chippendale has an ex-brewery site that has been converted into the Old Clare Hotel. It’s also home to several exciting eateries, including French-style Bistrot Gavroche, Spice Alley for hawker-style Asian, and trendy Kensington Street Social (by British Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton) for Mediterranean shared plates.
In the beachside suburb of Bondi, scoff delicious pasta at A Tavola and authentic Italian-style pizza at Da Orazio (a family friendly favourite). For a breakfast in Bondi, don’t go past Bills (renowned for scrambled eggs and ricotta hotcakes!). You’ll also find them in Darlinghurst and Surry Hills.
The new Barangaroo harbourside precinct is fast becoming the city’s dining destination du jour. It started with the Noma pop-up in early 2016 and continues with Turkish-inspired Anason, and Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro for tastes of the Mediterranean.
For a more casual foodie experience, download the City of Sydney’s food truck app. Depending on who’s around, expect anything from lamb ragu pasta and Reuben sandwiches to Vietnamese banh mi and slow-cooked tacos.
Sydney’s world-famous beaches are every bit as spectacular as their reputation.
Top picks are Shelly Beach for snorkelling, any of the Northern Beaches for surfing and Balmoral Beach for families. Bondi is great for people-watching (the popular TV series Bondi Rescue is filmed here) and the starting point for the must-do Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. Keep a look out for whales and dolphins!
For something less energetic, pack a picnic and head for the newly opened Barangaroo Reserve. It offers lots of amenities and fabulous panoramas of the harbour and bridge.
No visit to Sydney would be complete without getting up close and personal with majestic Sydney Harbour. There are endless options for harbour cruises, including morning tea and BBQ lunch options. Whale-watching trips take to the open ocean from April to November.
Review: Venustus beauty & body lab
Nestled in the heart of Paddington’s Oxford Street in Eastern Sydney, the boutique Venustus beauty and body lab offers a heavenly experience.
Owner Jeannie Bourke designs all the treatments on offer, along with the products sold – which are based on the health and beauty benefits of plant and flower extracts.
My therapist, aptly named Fleur, leads me away down the pristine white corridor to the treatment room. The treatment takes the best past of two hours. It’s a combination of Hawaiian and deep tissue massage, Shiatsu, therapeutic meditational chat, Reiki, a facial pore clean and a clay mask.
Fleur’s voice has a rich, grounded quality (à la Cate Blanchett), which soothes away random thoughts that bubble to the surface. The space is calming and anchored. It’s cleaned with white sage before the session and I feel like I’m in the hands of true experts (and in good company – Nicole and Keith are among the lab’s celebrity clientele).
All too soon the treatment comes to an end and I float home on cloud nine clutching some Rose Elixir oil and face cream. Heavenly.
381 Oxford Street, Paddington
Reviewer: Ruby Boukabou
For drinks with a view, don’t miss the Manly Wharf Bar, Watsons Bay Hotel and Opera Bar – with their enviable waterfront locations. If you have little ones in tow, both Coogee Pavilion and The Newport are fun and cater to families.
When it comes to exploring further afield, bushwalking and sightseeing in the scenic Blue Mountains, wine-tasting in the Hunter Valley, and sand dune surfing in Port Stephens are all easily doable as day trips or tours from Sydney.
Make sure you enjoy a dose of retail therapy during your stay in Sydney.
The suburbs of Paddington, Kirribilli and Bondi have regular open-air bazaars selling unique quality design, art and fashion items, and general bric-a-brac. Paddington Markets is the go-to place for stylish and on-trend clothing, accessories and jewellery from emerging designers (the globally successful womenswear brand Zimmermann started here). At Kirribilli Markets you can rummage through the General Market stalls for pre-loved fashion and curios, or snaffle a unique creation at the Art, Design and Fashion Market – usually held once a month (check the website for dates). Bondi Markets are also a treasure trove of vintage gear and new discoveries from local creatives and craftspeople.
Shop ’til you drop on Pitt Street Mall, the main retail precinct in the CBD, where you can find major department stores, local fashion chains, and international designer and high-street brands.
Do you have any tips to add to our Sydney travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Cindy Bingley-Pullin considers herself a writer, wanderluster, corporate bee and happy homemaker. In between analysing spreadsheets in the office and washing cot sheets at home, she pursues her combined passions of travel and freelance writing. Her work appears in publications such as Virgin Australia’s Voyeur, International Traveller and Fitness First magazines, and the Sydney Morning Herald. To date, her travels have taken her everywhere from the ancient Angkor Wat temples at dawn to the soaring skyscrapers of NYC at dusk, and from sleeping under the stars in central-west NSW to dining at Michelin-starred restaurants in the south of France. She has volunteered at an orphanage in India, bathed elephants in the river in remote northern Thailand, waved glow sticks at an underground rave in San Francisco and cautiously navigated an active volcano in Hawaii. The first thing she does when she comes home to Sydney is pop by her local cafe for a decent flat white.
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