Cosmopolitan yet chilled, endlessly popular yet lacking pretension, Sydney serves as the emblematic face of Australia for travellers from across the world.
Think of the nation’s first city and many iconic landmarks spring to mind: the magnificent harbour, Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks historic precinct, Sydney Tower, and a plethora of golden, soft-sand beaches. There’s so much to see and do here, and whether you’re a culture vulture, a sand-surf-and-sun seeker, a foodie or fashionista, you’ll find a wealth of experiences on offer.
This Sydney city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
Watch our video of ten top things to do in Sydney:
Enjoy discounted entry to many of the attractions listed in this guide by pre-purchasing a Sydney Flexi Attractions Pass. Passes are valid for three months from the date of issue. Choose a three, five, or seven-attraction pass, and save up to 40% as you sightsee!
You can also make a significant saving on entry to four of the Harbour City’s most popular attractions with a Sydney Attractions Pass. Visit your choice of Madame Tussauds, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Wild Life Sydney Zoo, and/or Sydney Tower Eye at up to 45% off standard entry prices. It’s more Sydney fun for your money!
Sydney’s arts and cultural scene rivals the best in the world.
Start by visiting the classically designed Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has a distinguished collection of local and international works. The excellent Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in The Rocks houses over 4,000 Australian works — many by Indigenous artists. While you’re there, enjoy a latte at the rooftop cafe with its stunning views. General admission to both galleries is free.
There are plenty of smaller public and privately owned galleries to explore. The Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills was the workplace of celebrated Australian 20th century artist Brett Whiteley. It’s open to the public from Friday to Sunday.
The sublime Sydney Opera House stages an extensive programme of live performances, including opera (of course!), ballet, theatre, stand-up comedy, orchestral presentations, and even concerts for children. Do the official guided walking tour for an informative introduction to ‘the House’. Sydney Theatre Company is the resident theatre company at the Opera House, and it also has its own venues. The city’s diverse fringe theatre scene is also worth delving into (find out what’s playing at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company during your stay).
There are lots of opportunities to step back in time in Sydney.
Indigenous Australians inhabited the region for thousands of years prior to European settlement. To learn more about their cultural heritage, join a guided tour of sacred rock art sites near the city.
The Rocks is Sydney’s best preserved colonial precinct. Here you’ll find charming cobbled laneways, gracious sandstone period architecture, and some of the nation’s oldest and most characterful drinking dens. Do a guided walking tour or browse in the bustling outdoor markets.
In March 1932, an estimated one million Sydneysiders turned out for the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can immerse yourself in the history of the bridge by visiting the Pylon Lookout museum, which is housed in the south east pylon. The museum is spread over three levels and there are stunning city and harbour views on offer from the lookout itself. Those with a head for heights may like to climb the 1,332 steps to the top of the soaring steel arches with Bridge Climb Sydney for what is undoubtedly one of the best views in the world.
Great places to eat in Sydney
For dining options that are award-winning, up-and-coming, and everything in between, Sydney has it covered.
Splurge on a fine-dining experience at Quay, Rockpool Bar and Grill, or Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House. The ambience, service, and of course, impeccable cuisine are worth the investment. You can also expect fabulous fare at mid-price picks Long Chim, Indu, and Mercado. They’re all clustered around Angel Place in the heart of the city.
For memorable meals that won’t break the bank, head for the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills. It’s home to a plethora of uber-cool eateries, including Firedoor and Nomad. Over in Chinatown, Golden Century, Din Tai Fung, and Mamak (join the queue!) are three must-trys.
Kensington Street in the once-gritty-but-quickly-gentrifying locale of Chippendale is another dining hot spot on everyone’s lips. Check out the fabulous French-style Bistrot Gavroche, the Old Clare Hotel’s trendy Kensington Street Social (which offers a menu of Mediterranean-inspired shared plates by British Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton), and Spice Alley (where you can choose from six different Asian food outlets).
If you’re staying in beachside Bondi, don’t go past Bills for breakfast (they’re renowned for their scrambled eggs and ricotta hotcakes!). You’ll also find them in Darlinghurst, Double Bay, and Surry Hills. In the evening, scoff down sensational pasta dishes at A Tavola.
Where to shop in Sydney
The suburbs of Paddington, Kirribilli and Bondi all host weekly open-air markets, which bring the city’s emerging designers, artisans and creatives together.
Paddington Markets is the ‘go-to’ for fashion, accessories and jewellery (the globally successful womenswear brand Zimmermann started right here). Rummage through the general market stalls at Kirribilli Markets for pre-loved fashion and curios, or snaffle a one-of-a-kind item at the Art, Design and Fashion Market — usually held once a month (check the website for dates). You’ll find a bit of everything at Bondi Markets, including a trove of vintage wear.
For a shopping experience steeped in history, head to the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) or the Strand Arcade in the CBD. Both are elegant Victorian-era buildings, which have been restored to their original glory.
Ways to relax in Sydney
Sydney’s world-famous beaches are every bit as spectacular as their reputation.
Top picks are Shelly Beach near Manly for snorkelling, any of the Northern Beaches for catching a wave, and Balmoral Beach on the North Shore for families-friendly facilities. Bondi Beach is the city’s most famous patch of sand (the popular TV series Bondi Rescue is filmed here) and is the starting point for the popular Bondi to Coogee coastal walk.
For a relaxed stroll in an urban setting, head to Central railway station’s Devonshire Street tunnel to access The Goods Line. Like Manhattan’s famous High Line, this 800-metre-long elevated city park is built along a disused rail corridor. You’ll pass the Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, which is better known to locals as the ‘paper bag’ building. Continue heading north to bustling Darling Harbour — one of the city’s key tourist precincts.
If you’re up for some harbourside R&R, Barangaroo Reserve is a great spot for a picnic. It offers a range of recreational amenities and shimmering panoramas of the inner harbour.
No visit to Sydney would be complete without spending some time on this majestic waterway, and harbour cruises depart from Circular Quay and Darling Harbour all year round. From April to November, whale-watching boats head out onto the open ocean. See the harbour highlights along the way and meet the giants of the deep as they migrate up and down Australia’s east coast.
Budget-friendly airport hotels aren’t generally known for going out of their way to provide a memorable stay, but the Travelodge Hotel Sydney Airport breaks the mould. The hotel opened in 2017 and offers comfortable king and twin rooms, that are contemporary in style. Basic kitchenette facilities are provided, and Wi-Fi is complimentary. The late 11am check-out is a nice touch.
Downstairs, T’s Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are regular lunch specials, and the dinner menu features plenty of hearty Aussie favourites. There’s a very affordable wine list to go with it. The lobby bar is open until late.
Take a tour of the Travelodge Hotel Sydney Airport:
We recently had the opportunity to take a look around the snazzy Travelodge Hotel Sydney Airport (which opened in late 2017), and to put together this video preview. If you are looking for somewhere cost effective to stay at Sydney Airport that offers more than just the basics, this is the option for you.
Travelodge Hotel Sydney Airport is located a short distance from the domestic airport. In theory you could walk it, but a well-priced shuttle service is available.
Sydney Harbour YHA
For Sydney digs with a bit of a difference (there’s a pun in there, which will soon become apparent), the Sydney Harbour YHA is located on Cumberland Street in the heart of The Rocks and encompasses The Big Dig archaeological site — an excavation of colonial remains between Cumberland and Gloucester Streets. Staying at the hostel is superb value given the location. It offers shared and private rooms, all with ensuite facilities. Anyone can stay at the facility. You’ll automatically become a YHA member when you check in. The rooms are modern, clean and comfortable.
The Big Dig is visible from the central atriums of the accommodation wings, which adds to the experience — as do the artefacts on display around the hostel. Free Wi-Fi is provided in the communal recreation area, which also features a fully-equipped shared kitchen. The views of the bridge, Opera House and city from the rooftop deck and BBQ area are superb.
Browse our range of Sydney tours and experiences here.
Do you have any tips to add to our Sydney city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Cindy Bingley-Pullin is a Sydney-based freelance writer, wanderluster, corporate bee, and happy homemaker. In between analysing spreadsheets in the office, she pursues her combined passions of travel and writing. Cindy’s work has appeared in Virgin Australia’s Voyeur magazine, International Traveller, Fitness First magazine, and the Sydney Morning Herald.