Your Travel Guide to Sydney, Australia

Sydney. The name alone conjures images of eternal sunshine, champagne sands, and the iconic harbor buildings of this city by the sea.

Inextricably linked with the legendary beaches are an inescapable surf and food culture, creating the ideal city to hang out in, whether you have time aplenty or not. The perfect climate and outdoor lifestyle mean ample opportunities to dine alfresco and stroll along the cliff tops.

Your Travel Guide to Sydney, Australia

The sun setting behind the Sydney Opera House.

Visit in Sydney

Sydney’s main sights are clustered around the harbor, with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge adjacent to one another at the centrally located Circular Quay, with the nearby Old Customs House also worth checking out. Although accessible close-up, some of the best views of these landmarks are from the countless vantage points around the harbor inlet, including Rose Bay and Watson’s Bay.

It’s likely that any visit to Sydney will include a lot of beach time, and rightly so. The eastern suburbs, close to the city centre, boast a stretch of long, sandy and lively beaches to choose from, including Bondi and Coogee. Alternatively, head across the harbor to the northern beaches, including Manly, a short ferry ride from Circular Quay. This cool suburb boasts one of the city’s most highly rated beaches, perfect for lazing on or enjoying from outside a nearby cafe.

If you fancy a break from the sand, head to Taronga Zoo, via the ferry which is included in the price of admission. Home to an array of Aussie icons and exotic animals including a group of Western Lowland Gorillas, Taronga also has fine views of the harbor. The zoo’s pelicans have an open-air enclosure and can be spotted hanging out at nearby beaches and wharves.

Your Travel Guide to Sydney, Australia

Sydney’s cityscape, as seen from a vantage point between Watson’s Bay and Rose Bay.

Best Walks

With breathtaking scenery and an idyllic climate, Sydney is a city best taken in on foot. Just a few miles from the centre is a craggy coastline just waiting to be explored. Weekend walks are immensely popular with Sydneysiders and are perfect for viewing both the myriad beaches and the harbor’s world famous skyline.

The 3.5-mile cliff top Bondi to Coogee walk can be enjoyed over a leisurely couple of hours; it also encompasses Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Gordon’s Bay beaches, so don’t forget your ‘swimmers’ as they say down under. In addition to the sand and sea, it is possible to spy passing dolphins and, between May and November, migrating humpback whales. Gordon’s Bay also offers a 2,000 feet long underwater nature trail, perfect for snorkeling. A little further along the coast is Watson’s Bay, from which you can walk to Rose Bay, taking in the stunning harbor panorama as you stroll.

For a longer, quieter stroll, go for the Spit Bridge to Manly walk, longer at around 6 miles. Winding its way around a multitude of bays, passing Aboriginal rock engravings at Grotto Point Lighthouse, the walk ends at one of Sydney’s finest beaches. Follow a morning walk by flopping down on the Manly sand and cooling off in the surf.

If you have time, the Blue Mountains are certainly worth a trip out from the city. Around two hours west by train, this National Park offers around 90 miles of cliff top and valley hiking trails with spectacular scenery, including the famous Three Sisters rock formation.

If using an Opal card for public transport, only the first eight trips of the week are paid for; once this is surpassed, even long journeys such as this can be taken for free.

Surfers and bodyboarders congregate along the Bondi to Coogee walk.

Surfers and bodyboarders congregate along the Bondi to Coogee walk.

Be seen in Sydney

The ever-popular Bondi Beach must be visited, combining a long, arching beach with hip cafes and bars. However, don’t stop exploring at Bondi; more sun, sand, and sea-view watering holes await at most of the eastern suburbs’ beaches. Along the coast from Bondi, Coogee is home to the Coogee Bay Hotel and the newly opened Coogee Pavilion; both are perched a few footsteps from the sand and are perfect for cold drinks in the afternoon sunshine.

Eat in Sydney

A day can only begin with a customary Sydney brunch in the health-conscious eastern suburbs, especially if you’re planning on the Bondi to Coogee walk. North Bondi’s Porch and Parlour serves delights from the traditional BLT to the über-healthy spinach and kale crammed Green Breaky Bowl. Alternatively, delve into a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern inspired menu at Shuk, which incorporates a bakery and deli, perfect for picnic food.

For dinner, it’s time for an Aussie east coast specialty; oysters are ubiquitous in Sydney, and always heavenly. Monopole, in Pott’s Point, serves some of the best, alongside the unmissable scallop ceviche and an extensive wine list comprising Australian and international options. Food arrives piecemeal, one small dish at a time, making it ideal for sharing.

If Asian food is more your thing, you’ve come to the right place. Southeast Asian influences are in abundance, with Thai food particularly delicious and reasonably priced. Bangkok Bites in Bondi offer traditional dishes with western twists, all of which arrive in huge portions (leftovers can, and will, be taken away). Combined with the proximity to Bondi Beach and the suburb’s bars, this is a winning formula.

guide to sydney, australia

Spectacular scenery in the Blue Mountains.

See The View

A city of views, Sydney’s focal point is, of course, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, which can be enjoyed from many vantage points. The highest point is the Sydney Tower, also referred to as the Westfield Tower, which offers dinner or drinks with an exquisite 360-degree panorama.

For a more up-close-and-personal vantage point, hit up Bridge Climb Sydney for the chance to scale the heights of the spectacular landmark. Choose from a number of packages, including sunset and nighttime climbs for an inimitable experience of Sydney’s famous harbor.

Watch in Sydney

With its exterior so iconic, it’s easy to forget that the Opera House also hosts a wide-reaching variety of performances. For listings, check out www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/index.aspx.

During the summer months, roughly December to March, Sydney’s parks host numerous outdoor cinemas, so drag up a beanbag, crack a beer, and make the most of those balmy evenings. Budget-friendly Moonlight Cinema, located in Centennial Park, has a laid-back, sit-on-cushions atmosphere and food and drinks can be purchased or brought in. Overlooking the harbor and Opera House, St. George OpenAir Cinema boasts a restaurant and seated amphitheater.

Crashing waves at Bronte Beach.

Crashing waves at Bronte Beach.

When to visit

Opposite to the US, Sydney’s summer months stretch over Christmas and New Year. The winter months, May to September, are still hospitable and great for walks, but not scorching enough for a day of beach basking. Heating up from late October, the city really comes alive between December and February, the peak summer months. Bars are busier, beaches lively, Sydneysiders out from their winter hibernation, and there’s an intense buzz in the air.

Stay in Sydney

For budget digs, King’s Cross is the place to start. Love it or hate it, this lively (and sometimes seedy) suburb contains the widest array of hostels. Jackaroo is adjacent to the train station (from where it’s two short stops to Bondi) and in the thick of the bar scene. Dorm beds begin at Aussie $36, with private rooms between $89 and $99. This family-run joint has a comfortable lounge area, large kitchen and laundry facilities. They can help organize trips, both within and outside Sydney, and also have a branch in Queensland’s Mission Beach.

For those wishing to distance themselves from King’s Cross’ hedonism, plenty of accommodation is located around Central Station, or by the beaches in Bondi and Coogee, although it tends to be pricier. Alternatively, Airbnb is hugely popular in Sydney, with some residents wishing to recoup some of the area’s sky-high rental costs. Great options can be found on Airbnb for that perfect seaside stay.

Get Around Sydney

Sydneysiders love to hate their public transport system but, with a combination of bus, train and ferry, it is possible to traverse the city relatively quickly. Convenience aside, how many cities can boast iconic scenery from the deck of a boat as part of its transport network? Hubs include Central Station, Circular Quay, and Bondi Junction, making these areas good bases from which to explore. Top-up, tap-on Opal cards can be bought and used across all modes of transport.

Getting to Sydney

Sydney is one of Australia’s most accessible cities, with good international links, including direct flights from Hawaii and California. It is also well connected domestically, making it a good base from which to travel the country. Visas are required for citizens of most countries, and can be applied for online; see http://www.border.gov.au/ for more details.

Sydney will be the first or last stop of your Australia East Coast Classic and if you prefer to get up to Queensland for an urban escape, check out these 5 Reasons to Visit Brisbane. And see our Australia Archives for other great articles!

All photos by Benjamin Starkey