All over the world, Sydney is seen as the place to visit in Australia. This was still one of our favourite stops on our year long adventure in Oz. There are just so many things to do in Sydney! We’ve gone through some of our favourites as well as the practical tidbits to maximise your stay here.
Surprisingly, the vibrant city divides opinions all over the country and there seems to be a fair bit of interstate rivalry. Western Australians told us it wasn’t the ‘real Australia’ and even the Melbourne Museum gift shop had a ‘Sydney… It’s not that great’ tote bag! Despite all the bad press we had heard since arriving, we couldn’t possibly miss out so we got in the van and off we went to Sydney.
Thanks to an amazing house sit only two stops on the train from the centre, we had the perfect base to explore one of our favourite Australian cities.
Population: Over 5 million making it Australia’s biggest city
Currency: Australian Dollar (AUD$)
Timezone: GMT +11
Cost: $$$ expensive
Plug type: Plug type I – two flat pins in a V shape + grounding pin
When to visit
During our time in Australia, Sydney’s weather featured on the news more than any other city. There were frequent hail storms, dust storms, thunderstorms, all sorts of storms. The Northern Territory and Queensland are known for their bizarre weather but from our time in Australia, these states had a clear wet and dry season, whereas Sydney had a mix of weather throughout the year.
Popular opinion: September – November & March – May
Most people recommend coming to Sydney at this time as it is either side of the high season. There are a few benefits of visiting during these months. The temperatures aren’t uncomfortably hot like in the high season but are still warm, around the mid-twenties. As it isn’t high season, the crowds won’t be as manic and transport not as packed. You can also expect the accommodation prices and flights in and out to be cheaper than in the summer months. If you aren’t too bothered about the spectacular New Years Eve events and would rather slightly cooler temperatures, this is the time for you.
Our opinion: November – January
For us, a couple of Brits who seek out warmer climates, we didn’t mind the heat that summer brought. Statistically, these months have the least rainfall and the most sunshine hours. So on paper, these months are perfect. In reality, we still had a good amount of rainfall and a few impressive storms (mainly on NYE while watching the fireworks) but on the whole, the weather was good.
Where to stay
Although we landed a house sit for our stay in Sydney, through friends and family’s opinions we’ve compiled their accomodation recommendations…
Low Budget Hotels
Siesta Sydney – Absolutely prime location within minutes of all the major sights. You won’t find cheaper accommodation in as good a location as this. We’ve not heard any bad words about this place so if you’re on a budget check it out.
Kings Cross Backpackers – A little bit further out but still only a
Cockatoo island – If you fancy a night camping under the stars just a ferry ride away from Sydney Harbour, look no further! Cockatoo island is a UNESCO world-heritage listed island with a unique overnight experience. They have a range of camping packages varying from pitching up your own tent (no campervans) to a deluxe, waterfront package. It’s something a little different for those who love the outdoors!
High Budget Hotels
Meriton Suites – There are quite a few Meriton Suites across Sydney and all of them are very highly rated. The Kent Street Meriton has the most central location but also comes at a higher cost. Thanks to Gab’s parents, we managed to experience Meriton Suites Zetland and it was definitely a luxury stay.
Veriu Central – If you’re looking for a high class stay in a high class location, this is for you. This place boasts seriously high reviews with a polished, sophisticated interior. You get proper bang for your buck.
Sydney transport, on the whole, is very good. Even in the high season, none of the transport seemed too busy and most ran almost on time! The ‘Opal’ card is the tap on/off card you need, unlike Melbourne the card itself is free so you only have to top up as needed. Sydney is also ahead of its Victoria rivals as they have the debit/credit card tap on/off feature. So handy when you’ve forgotten your wallet but have Google pay! You can travel as much as you want on trains, buses, ferries and light rail within the Opal network and never pay more than $15.80 a day, $63.20 a week, or $2.70 on Sunday. Winner.
Money saving tip! The ferries are also a great way to see the harbour without having to pay the expensive river taxi prices. The boat tours of the harbour can cost $30pp, if you get the public ferry on a Sunday you can ride it all day for $2.70pp. That’s a decent saving to put towards a nice meal out or an activity.
Hiring a car would only be necessary in Sydney if you were wanting to venture far out of the city. Even a day trip to the Blue mountains can be done on public transport as a train takes you all the way into Katoomba. if you did want to hire a car for a bit more flexibility check out the rates here.
Sydney is a popular starting destination for backpackers due to its huge international airport and proximity to other major cities. If you’re starting your trip here and wanted to buy a campervan, check out our post detailing all you need to know about buying a vehicle in Australia and start driving those amazing road trips. If you can’t decide between a campervan or Greyhound coach, we’ve written a comparison on that to help you out too. After Sydney, we drove the Sydney to Brisbane road trip which we would highly recommend you do too!
One other nifty tip is to check your Uber rates. We experienced first hand that Uber prices were sometimes $5 more expensive than the local taxi rank. It’s always worth checking!
What to do
Sydney Opera House
Let’s start with the obvious! In our opinion, one of the best things to do in Sydney. Go and visit the tourist icon of Australia and fill your camera roll with snaps of the Opera House! It’s necessary and expected, then it’s out of the way and you can carry on with your sightseeing.
If you’re looking to experience the Opera House in all it’s glory then check out their events listing here. On a budget? No drama, there are two free shows at sunset and 9pm where they light up the sails of the Opera House for public display. Lovely.
Luna Park in Sydney is the younger brother of the Luna Park in Melbourne. We’re sure there’s rivalry here too but Luna Park Sydney was just as impressive as Melbourne, plus the added bonus of free entry! You can get there via the (free) walkway over the Harbour Bridge (more on that in a mo).
The park itself is full of kid friendly rides and slightly disturbing looking mascots. It’s fun to have a walk around, grab some (as they say down under) fairy-floss and enjoy the atmosphere. If you’re heading to Sydney with kids, this is a must-do.
Be sure to check their opening times/days, in specific months the park is closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Don’t be caught out, plan ahead here.
Walk across the Harbour Bridge
While we would have loved to have the budget to climb over the bridge, this can set you back around $200 per adult. Yikes. If you’re there for a holiday and you’re in splurge mode, go for it. We’re jealous!
If your purse strings are as tight as ours but still want the views, don’t despair. There are two options to still get some great shots but not have to spend $400.
Option one is to simply walk across the bridge via the pedestrian walkway on the eastern side. You can start your climb via Milsons Point steps, these lead you straight up to the bridge.
The views of the harbour and the Opera House are pretty good from up there. The only battle you have is trying not to drop your smart phone over the edge as you precariously dangle it over the water to avoid the fence in your photos. As we were being super thrifty it was a risk we were willing to take and enjoyed a stroll next to the traffic over to Luna Park.
The second option is to climb to the top of the Pylon lookout. This is only $15 per adult and offers a higher vantage point. While it’s not quite as high as the actual bridge climb, this is as close as you can get on a budget. Plus no fence! The lookout is open seven days a week, 10:00am – 5:00pm (last entry 4:45pm) and it’s closed on Christmas day.
Australia’s major cities all boast seriously impressive botanic gardens. We’ve managed to visit Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and honestly I think Sydney was up there (the view of the Opera House and a pop-up bar selling espresso martinis might have swayed us slightly).
There are great events on at the Calyx, a gorgeous building at the heart of the gardens. We managed to catch ‘Plants with Bite’ a free exhibition on carnivorous plants. There’s also talks, workshops and tours – you can check out their full events list here.
It’s worth setting aside a couple of hours or half a day to take in the full garden, take a picnic and go and enjoy the views. If you walk around to Mrs. Macquarie’s Point, you get a beautiful view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It’s hard to decide which is more impressive, the grounds or the setting.
If you’re in Sydney for New Year’s Eve, the Botanic Gardens also offer a free viewing area to watch the fireworks over the harbour. As it’s free the queues start early, so make sure you get your spot in line. It’s worth the view!
Bondi to Coogee Walk
Bondi is one of the most famous and popular beaches in Australia. If you’re looking for a gorgeous, scenic walk – why not start at Coogee beach and take the 6km trail to Bondi. The pathed walk takes you up and downhill, round the coast and offers some incredible photo opps and a chance to cool off in some pristine coves.
After all that walking you’ll need a cocktail. Enjoy the view and a sex on the beach at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar.
A real highlight of our trip! Hop on a ferry over to Taronga Zoo for a perfect family day out. Opened over 100 years ago, Taronga has delighted tourists since 1916. There’s heaps of work going into conservation for the park, we managed to blag a private tour around the Taronga Institute of Science and Learning. It was so interesting to hear how specific each field is, we even learnt how there are experts in something as niche as chicken feet. Yes really!
There’s over 350 different species at Taronga. The highlight was finally seeing a platypus, we know it’s probably not on par with seeing them in the wild but it was still exciting for us! We also enjoyed the shows but note they get busy early so grab a sandwich and get there well before the starting time.
The park is in an incredible setting and has a nifty cable car to get from the bottom of the hill to the entrance/exit back down to the ferry. We caught the cheap shuttle bus (you still have to tap on and off with your Opal card) up to the entrance then caught the cable car down once we were finished. We could highly recommend doing it this way as the queues for the cable car as you get off the ferry are ridiculous and we hopped straight on with no queuing to get back down the hill.
There’s heaps on offer if you’re looking for a spot of retail therapy in Sydney. The Westfield centre and Pitt Street Mall are home to all the known favourites, while the impressive Queen Victoria Building and Strand Arcade host stylish boutiques, antique stores and cafes.
They’re definitely a sight during the holidays and could even rival the likes of London’s Oxford Street. The whole of George Street pedestrianises from November – February for your ultimate shopping experience.
Visit the ANZAC Memorial
As we mentioned in our Melbourne Guide, the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) memorials here are super impressive. They’re designed beautifully and they’re an incredible tribute to Australian forces.
The memorial in Sydney, situated in Hyde Park, is no exception. The facility was recently upgraded at a cost of $40 million and opened by Prince Harry and Meghan in October 2018. (We just missed them!)
New Year’s Eve
This one is on everyone’s bucket list and we were lucky enough to be one of the 1.5 million people who were out to see Sydney’s biggest celebration in 2018.
There are various ticketed and free venues across the city. We had tickets to Barangaroo Reserve which was absolutely amazing. Even with tickets and the gates not opening until 5:30pm, Gab insisted we get there at 2pm to guarantee a good spot. We’re still not convinced this early was entirely necessary but it’s definitely worth getting there a few hours before opening to get that perfect spot on the hill.
There was entertainment via various DJs throughout the evening and food and drink stalls scattered around the park. There isn’t really a bad viewing spot at Barangaroo, especially as there are lots of firework barges up and down the harbour. The tickets were also very reasonable compared to most of the other venues so overall this place has our recommendation.
If you’re planning to go to a free venue, we strongly recommend queuing early (like 8am early) and try to get into the Botanic Gardens for views of the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge in the background, perfect!
Check out Sydney’s official NYE website for all the information you need and where to buy tickets.
Where to eat and drink
Sydney has always had a large migration population. The 2016 census showed that 57.1% of Sydney’s population were born in Australia with the remaining being from China, India, Vietnam, UK and New Zealand.
Thanks to the multi-cultural population, there are fantastic restaurants specialising in cuisines from all around the world. There is an especially big Asian influence of which we enjoyed some delicious Malaysian and Indian food.
Our favourite spot for food and drink was Darling Harbour. There is a great vibe around this area every night of the week with bars and restaurants looking out over the water.
After something Malay-zing?
If Malaysian food is your thing, The Malaya at King Street Wharf is an absolute must. It’s quite expensive but the food here is incredible and 100% worth the money. If you’re going to order one thing off the menu go for the Szechwan Eggplant. It’s incredible!
Or maybe something Delhi-cious?
Prefer Indian cuisine? Across the water is Zaaffran which offers a range of very good dishes in a refined dining atmosphere.
The Murgh Makhani (aka Butter Chicken) is amazing and to be honest all the dishes we tried were better than our favourite local back home!
Get the inside scoop with our favourite ice-creamery
For pudding, a short walk towards the Chinese Garden of Friendship will bring you to the best ice cream we had in Sydney, maybe Australia. Gelatissimo doesn’t disappoint with a huge range of flavours including our favourites, any of the cheesecake flavours.
Day trips from Sydney
The Blue Mountains
A must-do when in Sydney is a trip to the Blue Mountains. You can reach Katoomba in under two hours by train or car, you’ll be whisked away to spectacular views and waterfalls galore. We did a weekend in the Blue Mountains and would recommend it to everyone – it’s great for kids and families or the avid walking couple. Even if you’re just looking for your next scenic post for the ‘gram, this place has it all.
We have a full post on the Blue Mountains with all our recommendations which we’d love you to check out!
Oh Man(ly) this is one place you’ve got to make time for. It’s well worth hopping on the ferry from the main harbour for a day out in Manly. Make sure you pack your swimmers and snorkel mask and head to Shelley beach.
It’s a gorgeous walk along the coastline, pop into the local stores and pick up a postcard or rent a SUP board for an hour or so. Shelley beach is at the end of the walk and it’s plain to see why it’s so popular. It’s easy to snorkel straight from the beach and has a host of sea life to view; during the winter months, Shelly Beach is also home to a school of Dusky Whaler Sharks! What more could you ask for?
If you’re not a fan of water, Manly has some lovely shops and coffee shops. Overlooking the main stretch of beach has a range of restaurants to enjoy different dishes as you watch the surfers do their thing.
It has a really relaxed vibe and reminded us of Fremantle in Western Australia.
Looking for something a little more boozy? We don’t blame you. Check out the Hunter Valley Wine region, home of over 120 wineries. You’ll be spoilt for choice of wines and stunning views. If you want to experience it all from the air, you can grab a balloon ride! Could that be any more perfect?
You can book a tour from Sydney here.
Safe to say there’s heaps to do in Sydney. It’s probably been our favourite destination so make sure you make that stop off! We’d love to know if we’ve missed anything off, comment below!
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