Sydney, though not the actual capital of Australia, is definitely the tourism capital. The vibrant
city offers tons of activities, from iconic beaches, to internationally known landmarks, to exciting day trips. It’s simple to use transit system makes it really easy to get around to see everything you want to see! There’s much more to see here beyond the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, so make sure to spend a few days here. Sydney was by far one of our favourite big cities on our trip, and easily one of our favourite stops in Australia.
How to Get There
We bought a hop-on/hop-off greyhound ticket between Cairns and Melbourne for $520, but the individual trip between Byron Bay and Sydney costs about $105 and took approximately 14 hours. If you’re coming from Melbourne the trip takes 12.5 hours and costs about $120. You’ll have to switch buses in Canberra. Night buses are the best way to save time and money on those long trips! For more info you can check out our post on Transportation in Australia and New Zealand.
Where to Stay
- Jolly Swagman Backpackers – A colourful hostel with a wicked name, Jolly Swagman was sufficient for what we needed. We had a private room for $90 AUS which was really nice and clean. It included a mini fridge, a sink and heating/AC. One of our window panes was missing which was an issue and the front desk took a while to sort it out. Even though we only wanted a piece of cardboard to board up the hole, they decided to move us to a room across the hall, then back again in the morning after they fixed it (with ironically enough, a piece of cardboard…). There is free breakfast (toast and cereal), and free wifi (only in the common room) which was useful. The front desk also set us up with cheap tickets to the Taronga Zoo which included a free ferry trip to get there. Jolly Swagman is located at 27 Orwell St in the King’s Cross District. It’s 3 quick stops away on the train leaving from Central (where the bus will drop you off), and the stop you get off at is King’s Cross. You can book your stay at the Jolly Swagman here.
What to Do
- Blue Mountains – A great day trip that allows you to get out of the city and into the scenic Australian landscape. You can take a train from Central Station using your Opal Card, and it takes about 2 hours to get to Katoomba Station. Leave early so you have lots of time to explore the trails and beautiful sights of the Blue Mountains. For the full explanation of our route check out our post on the Blue Mountains here!
- Taronga Zoo – We visited the Taronga Zoo our first day in Sydney and it was a surprisingly great place to start exploring the city. We got a deal through our hostel for $45 AUS per ticket, and that included the ferry to the zoo. If that’s not available the ferry ticket costs $6 with your Opal Card and the zoo admission costs $46 AUS at the gate, $41 online. The ferry leaves from Circular Quay which is right beside the famous Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. You get great views of both landmarks on your 15 min ride over to the zoo, and excellent photos ops. The zoo itself is built into a hill overlooking the famous Sydney Harbour, so you’re constantly treated to views of the water and city. There are a ton of exhibits, and lots of native Australian animals you might not be able to see at your local zoo (such as platypus and Tasmanian devil). Our highlights were the Australian Walkthrough where we walked through an enclosure with free roaming kangaroos, wallabies, quokkas and emus, and the Lemur Forest where we came face to face with ring-tailed lemurs. It’s a really well run zoo, and a great place to explore for half a day.
- Bondi Beach – One of the most well known beaches in Sydney and all of Australia, Bondi was our favourite out of the two beaches we visited. The surrounding suburb was very colourful and gave off a hippie beach vibe. Lots of cool restaurants and shops. The beach itself is about 1 kilometer long and the surf is amazingly picturesque. There’s also free wifi! Take the train to Bondi Beach stop and then Bus 333 the rest of the way until you can see the water.
- Manly Beach – A more commercialized tourist spot, Manly has a large restaurant and shop area you walk through before getting to the beach. The beach itself was very crowded but still really nice. Definitely get ice cream from Royal Copenhagen and load it with toppings, then chill on the beach and watch the surfers. You can catch a ferry to Manly Beach from Circular Quay that takes about 40 mins.
- Sydney Opera House – Unless you want to shell out some serious cash and you’ve brought a tuxedo in your pack, you probably won’t actually go see an opera. But walking around the opera house and taking the obligatory selfies is a must, or else people might doubt you went to Sydney at all. If you’re really into it you can take a tour of the inside for $37 AUS. The Opera House is located at Circular Quay train stop.
- Royal Botanic Gardens – Located right beside the Opera House at Circular Quay, these gardens provide a lovely relaxing walk. We recommend that you head here in the late afternoon, as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair Point in the garden provides awesome sunset views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Grab a picnic and watch the sunset over these iconic Sydney landmarks.
Where to Eat
- Birichina Cafe – Located on Lambock St near Bondi Beach, we were pleasantly surprised at how good our meals were at this little hippie-esque cafe. We sat at a funky table on the sidewalk with a great view of the water and enjoyed our awesome sandwich and salad.
- Fish & Chips – We had fish & chips at multiple outlets, and loved them all. So if you’re ever at a loss of what to eat here, go for the fish & chips.
- The Glenmore – The Glenmore is a classy bar a short walk away from Circular Quay. It boasts a great rooftop patio with a nice view over the city the Opera House. Drinks aren’t cheap in Sydney, and this bar is no exception, so be aware of that!
- Newtown – Some areas in Sydney are under “lock out” laws, including Kings Cross. This means no entering bar venues after 1:30am and no alcohol served after 3am. We hopped between a couple bars in Newtown until about 4am and had a great time.