About 16 times a day, I find myself wondering why did I ever leave Australia?.
Then I quickly remember it was for the very simple reason that my visa ran out.
But that doesn’t stop me daydreaming about still being there, driving around in my Subaru Forester and heading to a new beach every day once again. Sydney was the first city that I visited in Australia.
I landed there on a red-eye flight from Singapore, and I remember just walking around that first day unable to wipe the colossal grin off my face. I was finally in Australia, and a new chapter of my life was beginning.
So much happened in those 18 months that I have to thank Australia for.
I won’t digress into them now, as I’m pretty sure that you came here for a Sydney itinerary and not for a trip down memory lane for Claire, but I just wanted you all to know that Sydney holds a very special place in my heart.
I spent my first 3 days in Sydney frantically running around seeing as much as I could – from famous Australian landmarks like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, to the cool, leafy suburbs of the city.
On subsequent trips to the city, I saw some of the lesser explored places and did a few day and weekend trips from Sydney.
And now, I’m putting together everything I learned in an extensive 3 days in Sydney itinerary, just for you.
Enjoy Sydney, enjoy Australia – and if you’re landing on Aussie soil for the first time in Sydney, I hope you find as much magic in your first few days in the country as I did.
How to Get to Sydney
Sydney’s a long way from most places.
If you’re flying from London, as nearly every backpacker in Australia seems to do, you’ll have to change somewhere in Asia or the Middle East. If you’re flying from North America, you’ll also stop somewhere in East Asia. Popular layover locations include Dubai and Abu Dhabi, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand.
If you’re already in Australia, you can fly internally – I only really travel overland though so can’t really advise on that.
How to Get Around Sydney
Sydney has a very efficient public transport system, which you will probably find yourself taking advantage of a lot while you’re here.
Get a top-up card, called an Opal card, which will enable you to check in and out on underground, buses and trains around the city and beyond. It costs $15 per day and $ on a Sunday.
For visiting Manly, the ferry is the best way to go – and it gives you a great view of Sydney Harbour. It normally costs Uber is also common in Sydney, although rates can be expensive.
WiFi in Sydney
WiFi in Australia… it ain’t great.
If you’re staying in a hostel in Sydney, you might find that you need to pay for it. Higher end hotels generally have free WiFi, but I wouldn’t rely on it always being decent. My advice is to go with an unlocked smartphone (I use and recommend the Samsung Galaxy S9) and get a Telstra SIM there.
For about $40 you can get 6GB of data and can hotspot it to any other devices. Telstra is also perfect if you’re planning on going to any more remote areas of Australia (like these outback towns) as it has the best coverage by far.
Sydney Itinerary Day 1
Walking tours are a great way to acquaint yourself with a new city, and I’d recommend them for any traveller in Sydney. If you’re staying at a hostel, they might organise a walking tour for you. If not, check out the I’m Free Walking Tours.
Also operating in Melbourne, these free walking tours are a great way to see the country. The tour explores all of the main sights of Sydney CBD, talks about Sydney culture and history and offers ideas for free things to do in the city. It’s a great way to get a feel for Australia’s biggest metropolis. Tours start at 10:30am and last for 2 and a half to three hours. The meeting point is at the Town Hall, and tours run every day apart from Christmas Day.
Historically where Sydney convicts were placed, The Rocks is now one of the coolest areas in the city. Here you can drink and dine at some of the historic pubs (I loved the Australian Heritage Hotel!) and learn about its convict past.
There is Cadman’s Cottage which was a water police station, the headquarters of water transport and home of policemen. Also around the area is the Susannah Place Museum and the Justice and Police Museum.
Sydney Opera House
I don’t doubt that you’ll have wanted to head to the Sydney Opera House the second you got to the city. It is one of the icons of Australia after all; and one of the most notable buildings in the world. That makes it undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Sydney!
You’ll get your first look at it on your morning walking tour, but I would recommend heading back later in the day so you can take your time to look around. You can even do a Sydney Opera House tour to learn about all the secrets of this building. Learn more about the tour and book it by clicking here.
You’ll be right near the ferry to Manly after visiting the opera house, so head over to Manly for the rest of the arvo (that’s Australian for afternoon, in case you didn’t know!).
Check out Collins Beach, where a penguin lives, and the main beachfront area. When the sun goes down, either head to Coles to purchase some BBQ staples and use one of the free barbies (this is one of the best things about travel in Australia – there area free to use BBQs everywhere) or dine at one of the best restaurants in Manly.
Make sure you don’t miss the last ferry back – it’s an expensive cab ride from Manly to the CBD! Check the times here.
Sydney Itinerary Day 2
Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk (in reverse)
Sydney’s famed for its beaches, and although you spent a little time at its beaches on day one of your Sydney itinerary, this city has so much more to give. Today, we’re heading to some of its most famous beaches. First up, the Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk.
It’s more commonly known as the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, but we’re going to do it backwards, so you can enjoy your arvo at Bondi. Taking in some of the most dramatic scenery of the region, it’s astonishing that the walk is so close to the city centre. It takes you to five of Sydney’s best beaches, many of which have their own baths as well as, of course, the beckoning ocean.
It takes two hours to do this walk without stops – however long you want to spend on each beach, and in each bath (most of the beaches have their own baths which make for a great alternative to ocean swimming) is up to you! You’ll get the chance to enjoy Bondi, Tamarama Beach, Bronte Beach, Clovelley Beach, and Coogee Beach. Quite a few beaches for a morning!
You’ve probably worked up an appetite by the time you get to Bondi. Either grab some picnic or BBQ food from the local store, or head to one of Bondi’s restaurants.
Bondi Beach often ranks as one of the best beaches in the world. I’m going to be completely honest – the beach itself is a bit underwhelming. However, Bondi has attractions like the famous baths, lots of restaurants and bars and the chance to do watersports. As you’re in Australia, I’d recommend a surfing lesson – you can find more about one here.
After heading back into the city, I’d recommend journeying further west to check out the vibrant area of Newtown. Definitely dine at Lentil As Anything – this is a restaurant with chains both in Sydney and Melbourne (check out my post about the Melbourne branch here) which operates on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis. While you can pay exactly what you want, don’t be cheap and do pay what you can.
A lot of people eat at places like these because they can’t afford to eat in other places, and the model runs off of people’s generosity. So do give kindly! Newtown is also a fun place to grab some drinks in the evening. There are loads of bars lining the street of this funky suburb, and often live music is on, so find a bar, get a beer, and toast to a successful day in Sydney.
Sydney Itinerary Day 3
On day three in Sydney, let’s check out some of the different regions of the city.
Surry Hills is a lovely, leafy suburb near the city’s centre. It’s got lots of cute cafes and vintage shops, and makes for a really pleasant stroll, a classic Aussie brunch, and maybe some shopping if you’re so inclined!
For lunch, head to Darling Harbour. This waterfront area is perfect for relaxing and admiring the views. It’s very much the ‘new city’ (not that much of Sydney is old!), with high-rises and modern embellishments. Eateries here are pricey, but still well worth checking out!
If it’s your first time in Australia, you might be wondering exactly what nasties are out to get you in the Land Down Under. Here you can learn about that all and more – from Australia’s funky animals to ancient Aboriginal cultural relics, this museum has it all!
Sunset at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
The best place in Sydney to watch the sunset is debatable, but I consider Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to be a strong contender. To reach the spot, you’ll first need to stroll through the Botanic Gardens and then reach the point itself. You’ll get an epic view of the sun going down by the Opera House, which makes for some amazing photo opportunities!
Other Things to do in Sydney
Day Trips from Sydney
The beautiful Blue Mountains are located in one of the most spectacular national parks in the country. Tinted blue because of the eucalyptus that tinges the landscape.
As well as amazing landscapes including the famous three sisters photo spot, there are numerous hikes, trails and beautiful camping spots. Tours do leave from Sydney to the Blue Mountains – book a day trip here – but if you have time, do consider hiring a car and camping in the Blue Mountains.
It’s worth it, trust me.
Or, to do a DIY tour, you can take a train to the Blue Mountains from Sydney and then book a hop on hop off bus to take you around the park. Click here to reserve your ticket.
Located about three hours south of Sydney CBD, Jervis Bay has some of the most spectacular beaches in the country. The main attractions here are the stunning beaches, but the national park slightly inland is well worth checking out as well.
It claims to have the whitest sand in the world (a few places in Australia also claim this, but the sand is pretty damn white) and there are some gorgeous rockpools to explore. At the right time of year, you can also take part in a whale watching cruise – click here for tickets.
If you’re a fan of Aussie soap Home and Away, this is a place for you. If you’re not, Palm Beach is still worth checking out. Technically in the ‘Northern Beach’ region – but far enough from Sydney CBD to warrant a space in the day trip category – Palm Beach offers great beaches, classy eateries and spectacular views from Barrenjoey Lighthouse. Check out my post about weekend trips from Sydney for more ideas!
Where to Stay in Sydney
Whether you’re looking for a backpacker’s hostel or some of the best Sydney hotels with harbour views, here’s where to stay in the city.
Hostel: Wake Up! Hostel
Likely one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in, Bounce Hostel is perfect for backpackers – especially those who have just landed in Sydney. Located minutes from Sydney Central Railway Station, Wake Up! Hostel has social events, a well-equipped kitchen, roomy dorms and amazing views from its rooftop.
While any backpacker is welcome in Wake Up!, it’s especially good for those arriving in Australia looking for work, with local job ads and accommodation listings. It’s not an in-your-face party hostel, but you’ll always be able to meet people to share a bag of goon and go out with.
There are also plenty of chill out areas. The disadvantage of Wake Up! is the price – it’s the most expensive hostel I stayed at in Australia by far, and extras like WiFi cost more. Click here for rates and to book.
Hostel: Railway Square YHA
Bounce is close to Sydney Central, but Railway Square has a slight advantage in that it’s actually in the station! You can choose to stay in the building or a disused railway cabin that has been converted into dorms.
There are also private rooms, a huge eating and dining area which are great to meet other travellers and plenty of chill out spots. It’s the reliable YHA brand who have hostels all over the country.
Again, it’s not the cheapest – but is a great first place to stay in Sydney.
You can check out my full review of YHA Railway Square or click through to book here.
Budget Hotel: Sydney Park Hotel
Sydney Park Hotel offers spacious rooms at great value. All bathrooms are shared (which accounts for the discounted price tag), but the rooms are private and comfortable. It is located in the vibrant Newtown district, and has a bar and restaurant on site. Click here for more information and to book.
Mid-Range Hotel: Avonmore on the Park Boutique Hotel
Located in Randwick suburb, this 4* property enjoys being close to Coogee beach while also in proximity to Sydney’s city centre. The boutique hotel is located in a restored Victorian mansion, with each of the historic rooms being individually styled. Click here for rates and to book your stay.
Luxury Hotel: Spicers Potts Point
This luxury 5* property is located a short walk from Sydney’s City Centre. Located in a modern townhouse, but with refurbished rooms, Spicers Potts Point is a fantastic place to enjoy luxury living in Sydney’s CBD.
The rooms have chic features like modern bathrooms with roll-top baths and large bay windows, and there is a bar on site. Click here for prices and more information.
While Sydney is a modern city where you can purchase any commodities that you’ve forgotten, prices can be high so there are some things that you might want to purchase before travelling here.
- Comfy shoes for walking – click here to purchase
- An Australia Lonely Planet – click here to buy one
- Unlocked Smartphone – I use the Samsung Galaxy – click here to buy the latest
- Good Camera – I recommend the Fuji x-a5 – click here to purchase it
- Sunscreen – click here to purchase
Health and Safety in Sydney
Sydney is pretty safe. Like all large cities, common sense must be practiced – make sure that you don’t walk around late in unknown areas, don’t flash valuables in busy locations, and don’t keep phones or purses in unzipped pockets. There is very little violent crime here. You don’t need any special vaccinations to visit Australia, just routine, and the tap water is drinkable in the city. Australia has a bit of a rep for dangerous animals, but you won’t find any on land in Sydney’s city centre – but do follow precautions for sharks when swimming and surfing.
Otherwise, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! I blog about sustainable and overland travel, so do hang around if you like road trips, trains and buses while learning about history and local cultures. I’m also on Instagram and YouTube – check out my most recent adventure below!