Sydney Travel Guide

I hate saying that Sydney has it all but it really does. Part laid-back beach town and part glowing metropolis you really can do everything in this iconic Australian city. If you're looking for some of the best surfing in the world, head to Sydney. If you want to check out the most iconic landmarks the world has to offer, head to Sydney. And if you just simply want to shop in some of the best fashion-forward stores and eat at the worlds greatest restaurants, well, head to Sydney.

Planning a trip to Australia can feel intimidating. You are probably flying across the world, you'll want to make the most of it. This travel guide will help you plan your trip and give you helpful insights to ensure you have the best vacation in Sydney. There's a lot of information packed in here, below I’ve included links to help you navigate and jump to specific sections.

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| Best Time of Year to Visit Sydney | Do You Need a Visa to visit Australia? |
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Districts in Sydney | Sydney Airport Tips | Sydney International Airport to Sydney City Center | Is Uber Available in Sydney? | How to Get Around Sydney |
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Best Things to do in Sydney | Best Hotels in Sydney | Restaurants & Food Not To Miss in Sydney | Other Sydney Tips | What to Pack for Sydney | Guidebooks for Sydney |

Best Time of Year to Visit Sydney

Here is the good news. Sydney is a great option for tourists and adventurers to visit year-round. The city experiences (sometimes over) 300 sunny days each year! Don't forget that everything is opposite in the Southern Hemisphere. January is the hottest month, with temperature averaging 73ºF and July is the coldest month, with an average temperature of 55ºF.

Peak Season in Sydney

Because Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere their seasons are opposite of ours. This means peak travel season in Sydney is basically summer (December - February) with the largest crowds in the weeks around Christmas, New Year, and early January. You will have a lovely time visiting Sydney if you choose to plan your trip but it will be more crowded and the already expensive city will cost a bit more. Temperatures can vary. Most days will be reach around 79°F but the city has been known to reach temperatures of over 104°F a few days each summer.

Low Season in Sydney

Thanks to Australia's location in the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney's low season starts in May and lasts through August. The winter temperatures, which are actually quite pleasant, bring not only cooler days but also some insane hotel deals.

Shoulder Season in Sydney

If you want to save money I always suggest visiting a destination during its shoulder season. The months of September through November and March to May are considered the shoulder season months in Sydney. A couple of weeks off high and low seasons, you'll find travel to Sydney during these months fabulous. Comfortable temperatures. Manageable crowds. And, generally, cheaper airline prices.

Read on: The top cities you can’t miss on your first trip to Australia

Do You Need a Visa to visit Australia?

Yes, most travelers will need a Visa to enter Australia. This website makes it extremely easy to find and apply for the correct Australian visa before you arrive. The most common Australian holiday tourist visa is the Electronic Travel Authority (subclass 601) and although it is technically free to apply for it online you will have to pay an online application service charge of AUD$20. This visa allows you to stay for up to 3 months. When I applied for its approval time was only 24 hours.

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Districts in Sydney

Districts in the huge city of Sydney Australia. Understanding the districts is essential to planning a great trip to Sydney.

Sydney is a sprawling city with many different neighborhoods that will provide you with very different experiences. Wherever you stay will be a good time but you should do some research into what you want to see and do and pick a hotel based off of that. In Central Sydney, the main neighborhoods are City Centre (CBD), The Rocks, Darling Harbour, City South, City East, and City West.

City Centre

Also known as CBD, Central Business District, this is the busy center of government and finance. I stayed in CBD while visiting Sydney (read my full review of the Radisson Blu here). There are tons of attractions here like Hyde Park, the gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens, and of course the Opera House. You'll also find marvelous restaurants and excellent shopping.

The Rocks

Just to the west of Circular Quay, (and the iconic Opera House), this is a new hip area. The Rocks used to be the desolate area where the poor lived but gentrification happens around the world. Now, The Rocks is a neighborhood with history and unique pubs. You'll also want to visit the first colonial village of Sydney and the iconic Harbour Bridge.

Darling Harbour

This is the neighborhood you want to visit if you love shoreline pubs and glitzy restaurants. You shouldn't miss the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium or the Wild Life Sydney Zoo if you are traveling with kids to Sydney.

City South

If you want cheaper accommodation while in Sydney I would check here first. The Haymarket, Chinatown, and Central Station are all included in this area.

City East

This huge area can be divided into Kings Cross and Potts Point in the north and Surry Hills and Darlinghurst in the south. Both have busy nightlife, and some of the best coffee shops I could find in Sydney. Shopping is also great throughout.

Starting in the top of City East don't miss Woolloomooloo Wharf, and yes I spelled that correctly. The hotel inside is fabulous - if you have the money for it - but the large building is part history lesson, part art installation, part great restaurants. Further down in Kings Cross is the iconic Coca-Cola sign. Moving south Darlinghurst is the out and proud gay district of Sydney while Surry Hills is extremely hip with coffee shops and excellent restaurants/shopping on every corner.

City West

If you want to venture over to City West you'll want to wake up early. The main attraction is the fish markets which are a sight to visit in the early morning hours.

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Sydney Airport Things to Know

Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (Code: SYD) is Australia's busiest airport and will most likely be the airport you find yourself in after a long day of travel. It is only 9 km outside of Sydney's City Center making it very easy and quick to get to.

International Arrivals to Sydney

Sydney Airport has daily flights to destinations on every continent, this is why I assume you will be flying into SYD when you arrive into Australia. Direct flights from North America can be found via Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Vancouver. If you are coming from Europe you can find flights from London, Paris, and Frankfurt quite easily but you will have to stop somewhere in Asia or in Perth. From Asia/Pacific you'll find daily flights from Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai. Dubai and Doha in the Middle East also fly to Sydney non-stop.

Domestic Travel Within Australia

There are many flights to Sydney, mostly direct from all other Australian capital cities as well as many major regional airports. Sydney is only an hour and a half from Melbourne and Brisbane. The budget airlines in Australia are Tigerair and Jetstar. I flew both during my time in Australia and had great experiences. Cross-country flights are a bit longer. Sydney to Perth in the west or Alice Springs in the center of the continent come in around four hours each way.

How To Get From Sydney International Airport to Sydney City Center

Sydney Trains (Suburban trains)

From the airport terminal you can connect to the rail stations via lifts and pedestrian subways. You will need to purchase an Opal card. The Adult fare is around AUD$16 for peak hours and AUD$15 off-peak. The airport is located on the T2 Airport Line and trains arrive every 7 minutes during peak and every 10 minutes off-peak.

Pro Tip: If you are heading for the city center take a train from Platform 1.

Local bus

This is the cheaper option since you won't have to pay the Airport Station Access fee but it is more complicated. You have to take a train and bus to get to and from the airport. Again, buy an Opal card to use this service. The bus costs AUD$3.50 and the train AUD$3.38 for peak hours, AUD$2.36.

Here's how you do it... To the airport: The 400 local bus route towards Bondi Junction stops about 200m from the Mascot suburban rail station, which is one train stop from the Domestic Airport but free from the airport fee. Walk out of the Mascot rail station (heading south), cross the street at the light, and continue walking straight - it will be on the left side of the street. From the domestic terminal: the M20 bus will take you to Central, Wynyard, Town Hall and North Sydney stations. At the airport, the bus stops are located outside T1 and T3 (but not T2!!!). On the bus, there is very limited luggage space. But if you are traveling with a backpack or small suitcase it should not be a problem.

Shuttle Bus

A great option for tourists. The Shuttle Bus will drive passengers to the city and deliver them to the door of their hotel. You can buy a ticket for a shuttle bus to your hotel from the information desk at T1 or T3 for AUD$18. The cheaper option is to book online in advance, which will be around AUD$12.

Taxis

The easiest and most expensive option if you are traveling alone. Taxi's usually cost around AUD$40 (including tolls) to the city center. It will cost more if you are staying in a different Sydney neighborhood. (The Rocks $40-45, North Sydney $45, Manly $50, Parramatta $80-100). The fees associated with taxis are a $3.80 airport taxi levy and a $5.50 Eastern Distributor toll on top of the metered fare.

Long queues are common for taxis at Sydney Airport especially if you arrive on a Friday evening. Taxi drivers will sometime try and take you the long way from the airport to CBD. Don't be a victim of this, request to travel via Alexandria or Redfern than on the highway.

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Is Uber Available in Sydney?

Yes! Always a good thing to hear, Uber is now functioning all around Sydney. Previously, they were NOT allowed to pick passengers up at the airport but things have recently changed. Ubers are now allowed to pick up passengers from the designated passenger pick up areas. Once you deboard your flight, follow the signs marked from the airport exit. Uber is usually significantly cheaper than regular taxis and oftentimes more comfortable. Although it does depend on your luck.

If you've never used Uber before you can use this link to get $2 off each of your first 3 Uber rides. Use code 'tessaj350ue' to sign up.
Details:
https://www.uber.com/invite/tessaj350ue

How to Get Around Sydney

Public transport in Sydney is extremely user-friendly and, generally, the fastest and cheapest way to get around. You will need an Opal smart card to use any of the trains, buses, light rail, and ferries. I suggest picking one up immediately on arrival.

The 411 on Opal Cards in Sydney

If you have visited London or Hong Kong you will be familiar with the concept of the Opal Card in Sydney. In London they are known as Oyster Cards, in Hong Kong, they are called Octopus cards. All are the same basic idea. The Sydney Opal card is a touch-and-go contactless card that can be pre-loaded for easy and quick access to public transport.

The major advantage of these cards is the convenience and lack of headache that comes with the card automatically calculating your fare (by distance traveled). Opal cards can be bought through the official website or at over 1000 retailers throughout the city including at newsstands and in most rail stations. If you are sight-seeing on a Sunday travel is only $2 all over the city.

How to use the Sydney Opal Card

To use the Opal card simply hold it against the card reader until you hear a 'ding'. Keep it handy until you have completed your journey, you will do the same when you get off the bus or exit a ticket gate. This system calculates how far you traveled and deducts the correct amount from your card balance. If you do forget to 'tap off' (or use the card as you exit) you are charged a default fare of the maximum possible distance. This is most likely significantly more than you have traveled so try to remember to tap out.

Opal readers can be found near the doors on buses, on ferry wharves, and on ticket barriers at major train stations.

The only downside is attempting to not leave the country with a balance on the card. An Opal card is 'free', unlike in London or Hong Kong where you put a deposit down for the card itself. But, it can only be topped off in multiples of $10. Getting a refund for the unused credit is overly difficult. You must download a form from their website and then mail it back along with the Opal Card to an address in Australia. Your refund is then sent to you via check. Yes, overly challenging indeed.

The best public transport for tourists in Sydney

Subway/Rail Lines of Sydney: All of Sydney's rail lines are easy to navigate for even the most hesitant of travelers. The main line you will be using as a tourist is the City Circle line. It has a number of the city's best things to do right outside its stations.

Public Buses: While cheap and convenient, I don't suggest using the bus system. Just like the rail system in Sydney, it is extremely easy to use but Sydney traffic can be horrendous at times.

Ferry: This is a must-do for the views alone! While in Sydney we took the ferry from Circular Quay (Sydney main ferry port, near the Opera House) over to Manly Beach for sunset and dinner. The 18-minute ride had some of the best views of the city and the roundtrip cost was only around AUD$32 each.

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Best Things to do in Sydney

Like any big city, Sydney can be done and seen many different ways. You probably won't want to miss out on the famous beaches or gazing at the Sydney Opera House. Below is a list of some of the best attractions in Sydney and here is a detailed list of the top things to do in Sydney.

Best Hotels in Sydney

Sydney is an all-around expensive city. I used apps like Hotel Tonight to book a hotel for cheaper. While in Sydney I stayed in CBD (central business district) and loved the location. We booked the Radisson Blu and loved our stay. Read my whole review here.

If you’ve never used HotelTonight I encourage you to check it out. The app is incredible for booking amazing hotel deals tonight (like the name of the app suggests) and beyond. I’ve used it for booking deals up to a week or two before. Use my promo code TETORRENTE and you'll get $25 off your first booking.
Download the app here: https://txt.htltn.com/cHfQa9qp3U
*Bookings must be made on the app with a room charge of at least $135 USD (excluding taxes and fees).

Hostel Prices in Sydney

Even if you are going on a budget, hostels in Sydney are very expensive. King’s Cross area tends to have cheaper hostels. 8-bed dorm starts around 25ish AUD, while a 4-bed dorm starts around 30 AUD. Private rooms range between 70-130 AUD per night. Prices are very dependent on factors like location, time of year, and even if the bathroom is shared or private.

Budget Hotel Prices in Sydney

Just like hostels, hotel prices vary greatly in the city and depend on a number of factors. The more center you want to stay the higher they will be. It may be worth it to look into getting a private room at a hostel as opposed to a hotel room downtown. Single rooms in a budget hotel can be found for around 80 AUD per night but this isn't always possible. A double will run you around 160-200 AUD and get more expensive as you get closer to the city center.

AirBnb in Sydney

Renting from a local while in Sydney is a great option. You will definitely get better value for your money and may luck out into a great location. A quick search showed on Airbnb, a shared room in a home averages about 33 AUD per night. You can find whole apartments starting around 105 AUD per night.

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Restaurants & Food Not To Miss in Sydney

There are too many fantastic places to eat in Sydney and this article is already way too long. For a full list including my favorite budget restaurants check out this article.

As for food you shouldn't miss while in Australia, here is a small list:

  • Meat pies: Vegetarians will have a hard time with these, they are traditionally a meat and gravy-stuffed and then baked pastry. In Bondi, there is an excellent vegan meat pie shop called Funky Pies you shouldn’t miss.

  • Damper: Soda bread made over a campfire

  • Vegemite: Yes, it's gross. But it's just one of those things you have to do while in Australia. The paste is best described as a bitter yeast spread you can add to toast (with a bit of butter on top).

  • Tim Tams: You can find these in any convenience or grocery store and all over the airport. This chocolate covered cookie comes in an array of flavors. Australians love them. You can look like a local by trying the 'Tim Tam Slam'. Here's how: bite off a Tim Tam's two diagonal corners, sip coffee through the holes (pretend it's a straw) and then eat (quickly before it dissolves) the rest of the cookie.

Tipping in Sydney

Taxis Drivers: Tips are not required, but many cab drivers will encourage foreign customers into leaving a tip. It is ok to not tip.

Restaurants: Tips are also not required when dining out at restaurants unless exceptional service is provided. High-end restaurants may add a tip of 10% to the bill.

Other Helpful Tips for Traveling Sydney

  • Pack a converter: Electricity is Type I, aka three-prong plug or two-prong. Most nice hotels have USB ports in the room but be sure to pack a converter for your electronics. I suggest this one.

  • Currency: Australians use the Australian dollar (AU$). When I was there the exchange rate was .72 for every US$1. Be sure to check the current exchange rate before you leave.

  • Language: Australians use English but you can expect to hear a lot of interesting phrases. ‘brekkie’ and ‘mate’ are common enough and easy to figure out. Here is a whole list of Australian to English translations.

  • Driving: Aussies drive on the left side of the road. When crossing a road be careful. Look to the right, then the left and then right again before crossing the street.

  • Bars and drinking: The drinking age in Sydney is 18. The majority of bars close before 3 AM and some will close as early as 11 PM if there are close to residential buildings. A limited number of venues have 24-hour licenses.

  • Crime and safety: Pickpocketing and theft aren't common in Australia and the rates they happen are actually lower than in big cities in Europe /Asia. Even still, keep an eye—and hand—on your belongings.

  • Swimming in Sydney: If you plan on swimming at a Sydney beach be sure to stay between the yellow and red flags. These flags are placed each day by lifeguards and help tourists and even locals stay in the safest area of the strong ocean currents. These currents can be extremely dangerous and it is very important you pay attention to the flags.

  • Sharks in Sydney: The beaches of Sydney all have shark mesh nets plus they are regularly patrolled by air for sharks. If any are sighted you will hear a shark alarm alerting you to get out of the water. Please understand though, the risk of a shark attack while swimming on a patrolled beach, especially between the flags, is basically zero.

  • Budget trips: Uber shares are your best friend, drink local beer, and take advantage of public transport. Read all my tips for how to plan a budget trip to Sydney here.

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Final Thoughts

Planning a trip to Australia in general, can be overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion on this beautiful location and you may be frozen and unable to plan anything. Rest assured that no matter what you choose to do in Australia or where you choose to stay in Australia you're going to have a beautiful time. 

One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing an Australian travel guide along with you. Here are some of the travel guides I used during my trip...

Also, a super common question I get is: What camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D5600 and I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens which I am genuinely obsessed with.

My full list of travel gear, that I take on every trip can be found here.

And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com). 

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