Sydney Opera House

Australia is open, it’s wonderful and you should totally go. When you do, Sydney should be one of your first thoughts. And yes, you should have others, like Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and so many more, as well.

Sydney is definitely in the big hitters conversation when it comes to the worlds best cities. To blend full on metropolis vibes with gorgeous, laid back beaches is no small feat, and adding in knockout nightlife, food, shopping and activities makes it a place truly hard not to fall in love with.

If you’re making it all the way to Australia, chances are you’ve had a long trip, so we’ve saved you some time and made a list of things you won’t want to miss out on whilst you’re there, no matter how brief the stay – after all it’s a long way back.

Sydney Opera House with pointed roof and a body of water

Stroll Around Mrs Macquaries Chair

This is the perfect way to stretch out those plane legs and take in some of those iconic views of the CBD, including Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Just wander through the beautiful botanical gardens along to Mrs Macquaries Chair where you can admire those picture worthy Sydney shots. The peaceful walk is lovely any time of day, but if you time it for sunrise or sunset you may get some colourful skies for a stunning backdrop, and fewer crowds.

Snap Photos On The Coogee To Bondi Walk

If you’ve seen those unreal looking pictures of clear blue swimming pools against crashing waves and beautiful sunny skies thinking “I want that”, then this is where you want to be.

Depending on the heat and how fit you’re feeling, you can either start at Bondi Icebergs Club and walk towards Coogee, turning back whenever you feel like it; or you can get your Uber to drop you directly in Coogee, or Maroubra for a longer walk, and the coastal path will take you all the way back to Bondi.

Coogee to Bondi is about 6km, with Maroubra slightly further away but also with far fewer people – which is a bonus. Wherever your starting point, this is a must.

There are refreshment stops along the way and you can always take a dip into the ocean and rock pools to cool down. Just don’t forget the sun cream.

a pool with umbrellas and a beach in the background with Bondi Beach in the background

Take The Ferry To Manly, AKA Paradise

In case you hadn’t already heard, Sydney does spectacular beaches like Roger Federer does tennis, and this little rip doesn’t disappoint – and not just for the pretty ferry ride.

Manly is about a 30 minute trip from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf and offers a buzzing beachside town with shops, cafes and lots of surfers. Think Santa Monica at its best.

It’s a perfect place to relax for a morning or afternoon and if you’re up for walking another couple kms, head towards Freshwater beach which is slightly quieter. Pilu at Freshwater is also great for a spot of lunch – which you’ll deserve after all that walking.

Explore Delicious Dining And Drinks In Potts Point

Potts Point is a fun, hip neighborhood that requires multiple visits to soak in all the delicious drinking and dining. If you’re a cocktail fan, then The Butler is a must for your first stop. Request a table on the lower terrace for iconic views of the city, like this.

Just around the corner, Chester White Cured Diner is a small, simple space that cooks fresh dishes in a place that can only be described as a minimalist bar. The carbonara is unbelievable and mixed right in front of you, as is the truffle spaghetti served right out of a Parmesan wheel.

Yellow does excellent vegetarian dishes and if you walk down Llankelly Pl. You’ll find some good, casual cafes for a quick lunch. Basically, you’re bound to find something great here.

a street with buildings and trees

Take A Side Trip To Balmain

Balmain is yet another great reason to take the snap happy ferry and put your Opal card to use. Hop on at Circular Quay, or wherever the nearest stop is to you, and head to either Balmain East Wharf or Balmain Wharf.

A short walk will lead you up to Darling St where you’ll be rewarded with boutiques, cute cafes, restaurants and a relaxed, local feel. If you didn’t feel addicted to Sydney before, you will after this. This is perfect for a bit of morning shopping and a spot of lunch, or a good night out.

Hit The Weekend Markets

If you happen to be in Sydney over the weekend, then it’s worth heading to one of the beautiful outdoor markets the city is so famous for. Carriageworks Farmers Market is full of wonderful fresh, local, seasonal produce, wines, coffee and so much more – with plenty of tempting tastings and occasionally some famous chefs to spot. It’s worth the trip.

If you’re staying in the CBD and want simplicity, the Rocks Market is also fantastic, with buzzing stalls selling anything from chocolates, soaps, clothes, jewellery, paintings and more. It’s an excellent place to grab a few gifts to take back home.

a colorful cube on a beach

Live Your Dreams With Animals

If you don’t want to leave Australia without hanging out with some kangaroos and koalas, your best bet is to head to Featherdale Wildlife Park, a smooth 45 minute drive from the city center. You can book different experiences to enjoy personal encounters with the animals, or just a normal day pass. Yes, you can pet kangaroos or wallabies here.

For more convenient and general animal sitings, Taronga Zoo makes for a fun day out, especially if you have kids with you. The zoo also offers animal encounters you can book, but get there early because the spots fill up fast. Plus, it gets kinda hot mid day.

Hike And Explore Blue Mountains

It’s easy to get lost in a city as wonderful as Sydney, but sometimes a day trip outside is just what you need. The World-Heritage listed Blue Mountains are stunning, and getting there is surprisingly easy.

If you want to make the day as simple as possible, book a guided tour – which takes care of transportation, hiking guides, and perhaps food, depending who you book with. Don’t feel like you need a guide though. If you’re looking to save a couple hundred dollars, getting the train is cheap and hassle free.

Trains run regularly from Central Station and the express journey will get you there in under two hours. You’ll see some beautiful scenery on the way and can cover a lot in a day, or if you want to dig deeper, you can take advantage of solid accommodations.

a room with a bed and a window

Check Out Neighbourhood Gems

The best way to really get a feel for a city is almost always to explore different neighbourhoods outside of the most central areas. Surry Hills, Redfern and Chippendale are all right next to each other and offer up some cool spots that will make you feel like a local in this sprawling city.

Koi Dessert Bar is amazing when in need of a fancy afternoon sugar hit, or quirky dinner experience. While you’re there, head to Spice Alley on Kensington St, which will wake up your taste buds with lots of casual spots bursting with Asian flavours.

Just wandering around these pretty neighborhoods will definitely lead to some more gems too.

Take Advantage Of Enviable Shopping

If you enjoy a bit of retail therapy every now and again, then Australia is a great place to be. There’s something cool about wearing something that you can’t get in the rest of the world and since the country is at least 8 hours from most of the rest of the world – that’s kind of a thing.

To find some genuine boutiques and Aussie designers, head to Paddington, the East end of Oxford Street near the Paddington Reservoir Gardens (a pretty stop also over that way) and down William Street and Glenmore Road.

The Strand Arcade in the CBD, which was built in 1891, still stands strong with lots of character, cute shops and some good restaurants too. From there you’re really close to the gorgeous Queen Victoria Building, as well as the Westfield shopping mall where you’ll find most of the shops you get in the rest of the world. Not exciting, no, but great if your currency is performing well against the Aussie dollar!

And as we’ve already mentioned, neighbourhoods such as Balmain, Redfern and Potts Point, as well as the weekend markets are also great for finding little gems. Now you just need to make sure you have enough room in your suitcase.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Don’t forget to claim the GST back when you leave the country for an extra 10% off purchases over AU$300 at a single business. More info search TRS

  2. Nice list. For those who have enough points, the Park Hyatt Sydney is a great place to stay, offering fantastic views and perfectly located right on harbor across from the Sydney Opera House. Taronga Zoo is/was lots of fun, along with the aquarium and so much else. Would love to go back there again.

  3. I’ve been to Sydney many times by virtue of having an Australian wife (!!). It’s stunning! If you are prepared to do a long day trip out to the Blue Mountains, then the Hunter Valley vineyards are about the same amount of time away. There are plenty of boutique travel firms offering tailored VIP minibus trips to the wineries, as well as your usual mass-market coach travel excursions. Even better, if you have the time, get up to Port Stephens – it’s one of the most beautiful coastal areas of NSW, and actually makes Sydney look quite drab, if that were possible. Port Stephens can be done in a day, again via an excursion, normally to see the dolphins. If you can do an overnighter, or combine it with the Hunter Valley, that would be superb. Public transport in the greater Sydney metropolitan area is excellent, but get an Opal Card because it’s vastly cheaper. I wouldn’t hire a car unless you want to get a long way out of Sydney. For us Brits, the Aussies drive on the same side of the road as the UK, so bear this in mind if you are from the US or continental Europe. Good luck, and enjoy!

  4. Just came back from Sydney and did most of those, plus the totally touristy Harbor Bridge climb and the Sydney Eye. What really surprised me was how good the food was. There isn’t really an Australian cuisine, they just have food from every ethnicity you can think of. Even did a pizza with kangaroo and emu on it. It was…chewy.

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