Australia

The Ultimate Sydney, Australia Travel Guide

Established in 1842, and now the capital city of the Australian state of New South Wales, Sydney is the largest city in Australia by both population and by size.  While its size is impressive, the city is as busy as it is big, with roughly 10 million domestic visitors and 4 million international visitors coming to Sydney each year.  With over 200 beautiful beaches, ranging from a few feet in size to several kilometers long, it is no wonder that Sydney attracts so many people from around Australia and the rest of the world.   In addition to the beautiful beaches, the amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House are a few of the other popular tourist draws in the city. 

In case you aren’t familiar with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is the tallest steel arch bridge and the widest long-span bridge in the entire world.  Truly, it is spectacular to see in person and even more breathtaking if you take the time to climb it.  As for the Sydney Opera House, although it was estimated to cost $7 million to build, the actual cost of construction ran closer to $102 million when the building was completed.  Today, it hosts over 3,000 events each year, and over 200,000 visitors to the city tour its beautiful theatres.  If you love to eat when you travel, then you will also not be disappointed when you visit Sydney.  The city has some of the best cuisines in Australia and its fish market is the third-largest in the world.  Whatever attracts you to this amazing city, there is a wonderful adventure in store for you when you get there.

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In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Sydney, Australia.  I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip.  In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are.  With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Sydney will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.

At A Glance
Top Things to See
How to Get There
Best Time to Visit
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Recommended Tours and Excursions
Photo Gallery

At a Glance

Before you start making any travel plans, you will want to make sure to take care of all of the passport, VISA, and immunization requirements for your trip.   In addition, you will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what language they speak in Australia and what currency they use so that you can plan any translation needs you might have for your trip and exchange currency before your trip if necessary.  I have included some of this key information below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.

Passport requirements exist. See below for details.
Immunization recommendations are listed below.
The official language in Australia is English.
The official currency in Australia is the Australian dollar.

Passport, VISA, and Immunization Requirements

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Before you start planning your trip to Australia, you need to make sure that you have all of the entrance requirements covered.  In order to help make sure you are prepared to travel to Australia, I have included a link to my Australia Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors Guide below for you to review.  Once you have all of these requirements taken care of, then you can start to make your travel arrangements.

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passport
Australia Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors

Packing Tips

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Outside of taking care of the passport, visa, and immunization requirements so that you can get into Australia and don’t get sick, there is no more important pre-travel planning task than making sure you pack the right clothing and gear for your trip.  To help make sure you are properly packed and prepared, I have included links to some of my packing resources below for you to review.

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Suitcase Travel
The Ultimate Travel Packing Check List
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Overhead Bin Airplane
The Essential Carry-On Checklist

Top Things to See and Do

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One thing that the city of Sydney is definitely not in short supply of is fun and amazing things to see and do.  Whether you are looking to spend the day at the beach, tour some of the city’s infamous structures, get your adrenaline pumping on a bridge climb or at an amusement park, or if you are just looking to take a nice relaxing cruise around Darling Harbour, there is something to interest travelers of all types.  If you are starting to put together your itinerary and would like some suggestions on what to see and do, I have included a list of my top things to see and do in Sydney for you to review below.

Sydney, Australia Top Things to See and Do Map

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Sydney Opera House
Bondi Beach
BridgeClimb Sydney
Royal Botanical Gardens
Luna Park
Darling Harbour Cruise
SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
Taronga Zoo
The Rocks Neighborhood
Manly Beach
The Grounds Markets
Sydney’s Rainbow Crossing
Observatory Hill

See a show at the Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

One of the top tourist attractions in the city of Sydney is undoubtedly the Sydney Opera House.  If you are near Darling Harbor, it is really hard to miss.  The beautifully shaped building is one of the most famous opera houses in the world.  Over 200 million visitors a year take a tour of the opera house to get a behind-the-scenes look at this amazing structure.  If you are visiting Sydney and have the time, I would absolutely recommend taking a tour.  Even better, if you have the time and can afford it, I would recommend catching a show at the opera house.  The experience is something that you will never forget!

Visit Bondi Beach

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With over 100 beaches in-and-around the city of Sydney, it is safe to say that the residents of Sydney (and Australians in general) really love their beaches.  While there are a lot of great beaches for visitors to choose from, one of the most infamous beaches in Sydney is undoubtedly Bondi Beach.  In addition to being one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it is also a fantastic place for surfing and other water sports.  Every day, you will see plenty of people in the crystal blue water enjoying themselves.  In between catching some sun and surf, there is also a wide array of restaurants and shops near Bondi Beach for you to enjoy.

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One of my favorite things to do around Bondi Beach is to enjoy the Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk.  This cliff-top coastal walk provides you with some spectacular views of beaches, rock pools, and ocean-side cliffs.  The entire walk is roughly 3.7-miles (or 6-kilometers) long and takes roughly 2-hours for the average walker to complete.  On a beautiful sunny day, I cannot think of a better way to relax and enjoy the beauty of the coastline around Sydney.

Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Nicknamed “the Coat Hanger” by locals, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge and the widest long-span bridge in the entire world.  In addition to being one of the largest bridges in the world, it is also one of the world’s prettiest bridges.  However, what many people don’t know is that the grey color chosen to paint the bridge wasn’t exactly chosen by choice.  In actuality, it was the only color of paint that the designers could acquire in enough volume to paint the bridge, which is why the color was chosen.  Regardless of how it was chosen, the bridge has become an iconic landmark in Sydney and something that you absolutely must experience when you visit.

If you are up for the challenge, one of the best ways to experience the bridge is to climb it.  The Sydney Bridge Climb Experience is one of Sydney’s top adventure excursions, not only because of the thrill of getting to climb this iconic landmark, but the views of Sydney from the top of the bridge are out of this world.  On the tour, you will be strapped into a safety cable and led up a combination of stairs and ladders until you get to the top of the bridge.  In all, you will climb 1332 stairs on your way to the top of the bridge, which is an amazing workout.

If you aren’t up for climbing the bridge, but would still like to experience the beauty of the bridge and get some fantastic photographs of Sydney, I would recommend visiting the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout.  You will need to pay a small fee to climb to the top of the pylon, but the views from the top are wonderful.  Not only will you get some great views of Sydney, but you get some great views of the bridge itself.  In case you are looking for the Sydney Bridge Climb headquarters or the Pylon Lookout during your visit to Sydney, I have included a map for you to review below.

Sydney Harbour Bridge Viewpoints Map

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Walk Thru the Royal Botanical Gardens

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One of the prettier areas near Darling Harbour is the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Not only are the gardens situated in one of the most beautiful areas around the harbor, with breathtaking views of the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the downtown area, but the beautiful canopies, stunning flower arrangements, and peaceful expanses of green lawn in the gardens make the views even more beautiful.  The gardens showcase a breathtaking array of oriental gardens, exotic plants, lovely flowers, and native and exotic trees.  One of my favorite spots in the gardens is Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, which is a big rock carved into the shape of a seat.  It marks the spot where it is rumored that the governor’s wife would sit to watch the ships come into the harbor.  Today it is one of the best places to take pictures of the opera house and the bridge. If you would like to visit this spot, I have marked it on the map below for you to reference.

Mrs Macquarie's Chair Viewpoint Map

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Get Some Thrills at Luna Park

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If you look across to the other side of Darling Harbor from the Sydney Opera House, you might notice a large, spooky face with its mouth wide open.  Don’t fear, it’s not the set of an 80’s horror film, it is Sydney’s beloved theme park, Luna Park.  Located right on the water across from Darling Harbor, and with some of the most breathtaking views of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Luna Park is a great place to go when you are looking for some fun and excitement in between city tours, a show at the Opera House, and restaurant reservations.  Inside the park, you will find plenty of fun rides and games such as a Ferris wheel and the Tango Train for both kids and adults to enjoy.  The park is open year-round, so it is a great addition to your itinerary no matter when you decide to visit Sydney.

Take a Circular Quay and Darling Harbour Cruise

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While the views of Darling Harbour and Circular Quay are beautiful from the shoreline, they are even more pretty from out on the water.  If you want to get a better look at Sydney and are looking for a unique way to explore the iconic city, then I would suggest booking a harbour cruise.  From lunch and dinner cruises, coffee and desert cruises, to simple sight-seeing only cruises, there are a variety of harbour crusies for you to choose from.  Typically, the boat rides take you out of Darling Harbour and out towards Manly Beach and then back.  Not only do you get wonderful views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, but you are also able to see some of Sydney’s most iconic beaches from out on the water.  This was definitely one of my favorite experiences in Sydney and something I would recommend for all travelers to the city.

Check Out the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

Sydney Aquarium

The city of Sydney has the deepest natural harbor in the entire world with 504,000 megalitres of water filling the space.  To put that into perspective, one mega liter is equal to roughly 264,172 US gallons.  That is a lot of water.  In that water is some of the most amazing wildlife that you will see in the world.  Sharks, sea lions, and an incredible array of fish and other marine plants and animals.  If you would like to see some of the wildlife that is native to the Sydney area, a great way to do so is to visit the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium.  Here, you can see and learn about some of the breathtaking wildlife that is found in the waters off Australia.  It is a great way to spend an afternoon in Sydney with kids and one of the best things to do in the city if the weather is bad.

Visit the Famous Taronga Zoo

Sydney Zoo

If you are an animal lover, then you are not going to want to miss a visit to the infamous Taronga Zoo while you are visiting Sydney.  Located in Mosman across Darling Harbour from the Sydney Opera House, not only is the zoo located in one of the most beautiful locations you could possibly imagine for a zoo, but the zoo itself offers a breathtaking diversity of wildlife for visitors to see.  The zoo is constantly enhancing its animal exhibits to improve the welfare of the animals and enhance the viewing experience of visitors.  In addition to being the location of Australia’s first live elephant birth and home to some of the few remaining Sumatran tigers, you will also find a wide variety of wildlife that is native to Australia in the zoo.  In fact, the zoo’s kangaroos and wallabies are allowed to roam the zoo freely, so there is no telling when you will bump into them.  If you are traveling with kids, visiting the zoo is a must as they will love it.  However, even if you aren’t with kids, a stop at the Taronga Zoo is a great addition to any Sydney travel itinerary.

Grab a Bite to Eat in the Rocks Neighborhood

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When you are ready for a break from sight-seeing in Sydney, I would strongly suggest taking a stroll through one of Sydney’s oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods to do a little shopping and get a bite to eat.  With pretty cobblestone streets, plenty of history, and a countless number of delightful restaurants, cafes, and shops, the Rocks neighborhood of Sydney is one of the most popular locations in the city for both tourists and locals.  If you visit on the weekend, you will also find fun artisan markets in the neighborhood to explore as well.  However, one of my favorite things about the Rocks neighborhood is all of the amazing restaurants, bars, and cafes to enjoy. If you are looking for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there are plenty of top-notch restaurants in the Rocks to enjoy.  If you are looking for some restaurant recommendations, I have included a number of highly recommended options for you to review in my Where to Eat section below.

Check Out Manly Beach

Manly Beach

Despite having a reputation of being too far away from the city to fit into most traveler’s action-packed vacation itineraries, Manly Beach is actually only a 30-minute ferry ride away from downtown Sydney.  Located on the northern edge of Sydney, Manly Beach isn’t typically as busy as beaches closer to the city center like Bondi and Coogee Beaches.  This is one of the things that is most attractive about Manly Beach because you aren’t dealing with the large crowds that you might encounter at the other beaches.  Many would say that the laid back surf vibe of Manly Beach is much closer to the authentic Australian beach experience for that very reason.  In addition to the 10 beaches in the area, there are also plenty of walking trails and water activities to enjoy.  These include snorkeling, surfing, boating, and even cliff jumping if you are up for it.  So if you want to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of Sydney for a day, I can think of few better ways than a day trip to Manly Beach.

Enjoy the Grounds of Alexandria Markets

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If you are looking for an interesting and memorable shopping experience while in Sydney, then the Grounds of Alexandria Markets are exactly what you are looking for.  In addition to having a number of interesting shops that you can browse thru, the grounds are set up with a number of interesting and beautiful areas that have become famous Instagram photo spots (like the one you see above).  You will find everything from old cars, holiday displays with lights, to fountains to look at, photograph, and enjoy.

Photograph Sydney’s Rainbow Crossing

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When the original rainbow crossing at Oxford Street was painted over in the middle of the night (allegedly for safety reasons), it sparked quite a bit of community protest.  In early 2019, a new Rainbow Crossing (which is pictured above) was painted at the intersection of Bourke and Campbell Streets in Surry Hills.  This symbol of equality attracts quite a few tourists who visit Sydney each year and is a popular Instagram photo spot for visitors.  When the new rainbow intersection was painted in early 2019 it was said that its long-term future would be evaluated after 6 months.  So far it is still there, but I would check to ensure it hasn’t moved again before you visit Sydney.

Snap Some Photographs From Observatory Hill

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As a travel photographer, I am always looking for amazing photography locations when I travel.  When I was doing my research for photo spots in Sydney, one of the locations that I was most excited about photographing from was Observatory Hill.

How to Get There

Getting to Sydney

Much like the United States, the country of Australia is incredibly large.  Unless you have a whole lot of time to explore, it will take you quite some time to drive from one part of the country to another.  If you have the time to do that on your trip, that is fantastic.  Taking a long road trip across Australia would be an absolutely epic adventure!  However, chances are that you have a limited amount of time to explore this beautiful country.  If you are visiting Sydney from outside Australia or from another location within the country, the easiest way to get to Sydney is by airplane.  In the event that you are visiting from elsewhere in Australia or plan to travel elsewhere in the country after your visit to Sydney, I have included a map below with the airports and flight times for other destinations in Australia for you to review below.

The Sydney International Airport (SYD) is conveniently located near the city and there are plenty of transportation options that you can take advantage of to get you to your hotel from there.  When we visited, we booked a round-trip shuttle service that couldn’t have been more convenient.  They dropped us off at our hotel and we were able to schedule our return trip to the airport in advance, so we knew exactly where to be and when well in advance.

Sydney, Australia How to Get There Map

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Best Time to Visit

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Average Temperature (°F)

If you are planning on visiting Sydney to see some of the city’s amazing beaches and you are looking for the warmest weather when you visit, then you will definitely want to target the summer months of December thru February.  However, these also tend to be the busiest tourism months in Sydney, so you will most likely have to contend with crowded beaches and higher hotel and hostel rates.  Instead, I would target the shoulder months of November and March when the weather is still quite warm, but the crowds aren’t so large and the accommodations aren’t so pricey.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

If you are hoping to enjoy a lot of sunshine when you visit Sydney, then you will undoubtedly want to target the spring and early summer months of August thru Decemer.  These tend to be the driest months in the city with the lowest average rainfall.  On the contrary, the autumn and winter months of March thru July tend to be the wettest in Sydney, so be prepared to deal with some rain if you plan your trip during these months.  March thru May are especially wet in Sydney, with the highest average rainfall occurring during these months of the year.

Where to Stay

Sydney Hotel

One of the most important decisions you are going to have to make when planning your trip to Sydney is where you will stay.  When you travel, the accommodations you choose are oftentimes amongst the biggest expenditures for your trip.  So not only do you need to be comfortable where you are staying, but you also need to be comfortable with how much you are paying to stay there.  Finding the right accommodations for your trip involves looking at the amenities, the location, and most importantly, the price.  If you are starting to plan your trip to Sydney and want some hotel and hostel suggestions, I have included some great options at different price points below for you to review.  As always, don’t be afraid to expand your search to room sharing sites such as Airbnb or VRBO if you aren’t finding a hotel or hostel that meets your needs.

Sydney, Australia Hotels and Hostels Map

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Sydney Harbour YHA – The Rocks ($)
Blue Parrot Backpackers ($)
Hotel Challis ($$)
Mariners Court Hotel ($$)
Rydges Sydney Harbour ($$$)
Vibe Hotel Rushcutters Bay Sydney ($$$)
Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney ($$$)
Hotel Swissôtel Sydney ($$$$)
Four Seasons Hotel Sydney ($$$$)
Hilton Sydney ($$$$$)
Park Hyatt Sydney ($$$$$)

Where to Eat

Rocks Restaurant

When most people plan a trip, the primary focus is one how to get there, where to stay, and what is on the list of things to see and do.  What many travelers neglect to plan, is where to eat when you are there.  Granted, it is sometimes fun to be spontaneous when choosing a restaurant while traveling, and it is always smart to get recommendations when you arrive.  However, it can also be advantageous to have some ideas of restaurants you would like to try during your trip written down beforehand as well.  This way you can be assured that you won’t miss out on a highly recommended culinary experience that you will regret.  To help you decide on some restaurants in Sydney to add to your list, I have included a list of some highly recommended options for you to review below.

Sydney Restaurant Recommendations
Restaurant Cuisine Price
The Grounds of the City Contemporary, Australian, Veggie $$-$$$
Pancakes On The Rocks Breakfast, Australian $$-$$$
Lotus Dumpling Bar Chinese, Asian, Fusion $$-$$$
Farmhouse Kings Cross Australian, Veggie $$-$$$
LuMi Bar & Dining Italian, Australian, Veggie $$$$
monte restaurant French, European, Australian $$$$

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There is an abundance of amazing things to see and do in the Sydney area and one of the best ways to experience those things is on a tour.  If you are looking for fun tours and excursions to fill out your trip, I have included some category links to recommended tours and excursions you can review below.

Cruises, Sailing & Water Tours
Cultural & Theme Tours
Food, Wine & Nightlife
Multi-day & Extended Tours
Outdoor Activities
Walking & Biking Tours
Water Sports

Sydney is an absolutely breathtaking city with a wealth of amazing things to see and photograph.  If you would like to see some of the fantastic photos that I was able to take during my visit, I have included a gallery for you to review below.

Sydney, Australia

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8 replies »

  1. A sure lot seems to be happening around that harbour and I’m a big fan of the Sydney Opera House. First, it has an interesting tale of how the initial designer abandoned the project and second, it’s an awesome prop for movies staged in the area.
    Love it, love it, love it!

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