Sydney is one of those rare cities that surpasses your expectations. There’s a focus on the good life – great shopping, surfing, meeting friends for coffee with an unlimited supply of flat whites, long blacks, and green juices, and a palpable devotion to the arts.
You can find excitement in the centre of this beautiful city, but just drive a short distance, and you will hit the golden sand of popular beaches like Manly and Bondi. Plus, with endless stunning nature on its doorstep, Sydney is an ideal destination for repeat visits, with its fresh air and locals who know a few things about living life to the fullest.
Preparing for your Sydney visit
Before buying your flights and booking hotels, check your visa requirements. All visitors to Australia (except Australians and New Zealanders) require a visa to enter Australia, and you must apply in advance — visas aren’t issued on arrival, as they are in some countries. Citizens of many countries will be issued with an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority); you can find information about ETA Australia here.
When it comes to where to stay in Sydney, the best options are available in the central business district (CBD) overlooking the Opera House and the harbour. These include hotels like Shangri-La or Park Hyatt.
However, accommodation options are available at all price points, from hostels, to AirBnBs, to five-star hotels.
Popular neighbourhoods in Sydney
Circular Quay: This is where you will find the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Take in the stunning view with tasty drinks and delicious snacks at Buckley’s, and finish off your day with a tour of the Opera House.
Sydney CBD: This neighbourhood is the heart of Sydney, with numerous high-rise buildings and offices, including the iconic tower, Sydney Tower Eye. This is where you will find the most prominent commercial shopping outlets.
The Rocks: This historic neighbourhood is located in the northwest of the CBD. Take a stroll down the streets and visit the Rocks Markets, some of Australia’s oldest.
How to get around Sydney
Public transport: Getting around Sydney by public transport is pretty straightforward and involves various modes of transportation including ferries, buses, and trams. Purchase an Opal card from a retailer and top it up (online or at a top-up machine) when and as you need it.
Car: There are dozens of rental car options throughout Sydney, including Avis, Hertz, and Budget. Expect to pay around A$40 per day if you need a standard-sized car for up to five passengers. It is important to note that most of the vehicles by default are manual transmission (stick shift); if you need an automatic, ensure that you check the details carefully before booking.
Taxi: Taxis around this city are convenient, but they are not the most practical due to traffic. Fare prices are about A$3 per mile while most rides throughout Sydney vary between A$15 to A$40.
Rideshare: Uber and a range of other rideshare services are available in Sydney.
What to do in Sydney for free
The Art Gallery of New South Wales: This (free to enter) museum sits in expansive parklands overlooking Sydney Harbour, and its art is nationally iconic. The creative and contemporary works of Aboriginal and Australian artists are given a well-deserved platform.
Experience the tranquillity of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens: These gardens are beautifully kept, featuring everything from herbs to succulents, as well as a tropical greenhouse. It is an ideal picnic spot in the heart of the city.
Visit Luna Park: There are no entry charges to this stunning historic fun park. However, rides cost $10 each.
Visit Rocks Discovery Museum: Entry to this museum is free, making it a good starting point for an exploration of the city’s oldest neighbourhood, as well as the area’s rich Aboriginal heritage.
Queen Victoria building: This giant building spans an entire block of downtown Sydney and sparkles from tip to toe with stained-glass windows and mosaic-tiled floors. It’s home to over 200 specialty shops, so it’s a must-visit location for the serious shopper.
What to do in Sydney: Paid
Sydney Harbour jet boat ride: Experience Sydney Harbour in a distinctive way: a 30-minute ride in a Thunder boat, capable of slides, wave riding, twists, and fishtails. Between tricks, you can take in the views of Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, Sydney Opera House, and other popular harbour landmarks.
Harbour tour by helicopter: Enjoy views of Sydney and beyond during a stunning helicopter flight over Sydney. Take to the skies for a flight that will give you brilliant panoramic views of Sydney’s eastern coast, Sydney’s spectacular harbour, the Harbour Bridge, and the Sydney Opera House.
Blue Mountains day tour: While you can head to the Blue Mountains National Park by yourself, it’s worth going on a group excursion with a guide who knows the area. Enjoy the rainforest railway ride and learn elements of aboriginal culture.
Where to next
Before you leave Australia, if you’re looking for another city break, head to quirky Melbourne or sunny Brisbane. For an iconic Australian experience, fly to Alice Springs for a trip to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock). Alternatively, make your way to lesser-visited Adelaide or Perth, or pop down to Tasmania for a few days.
Due to the distances between cities, you’re likely to be leaving by air, though a road trip up or down the coast is also a fantastic option. Sydney is a popular central hub for flights to other parts of the country as well as to Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world.
Popularly known as a harbour city, Sydney is full of fun and surprises. With famous beaches, interesting architecture, history, and culture, it is the ideal holiday destination, which the whole family can enjoy.