Guide to Sydney
Seek out some sunshine and good times in Australia's Harbour City.
By Ellie Schneider
Sydney is the first stop on many Australian itineraries, and for good reason. It's an inviting blend of the exhilarating and easygoing. You can find excitement in the city, but drive just a few kilometres and you'll hit the golden sand of famous beaches like Bondi and Manly. Plus, with endless nature at its doorstep, Sydney is the starting point for day trips serving up fresh air, unique flavours and locals who know a thing or two about living life to the fullest.
Sydney is one of the most visually stunning cities in the world. But it’s the everyday things and general lifestyle of the locals that make it special too.
- Swim at picturesque beaches
- Take in Australia’s most recognisable landmarks
- Dine at world-class restaurants
How to get there
International flights fly directly into Sydney Airport from many global hubs. From the airport it’s an easy 20-minute taxi or train ride to the city centre.
3 days in Sydney
Things to do and top attractions in Sydney
Discover Australia's most famous stretch of sand - Bondi Beach
There are plenty of reasons to love Bondi Beach. Just minutes from the city centre, you can immerse yourself in "the Bondi Bubble". You'll find incredible surfing, fantastic cafes and restaurants, designer shops and plenty to keep you busy. Join the locals for a casual stroll along the Bondi to Coogee coastal trail - one of Sydney’s most scenic treks. Begin at the Bondi Icebergs ocean pool and traverse the six-kilometre (3.7-mile) clifftop trail between Tamarama and Coogee beaches. If you're in town during Sculpture by the Sea, you'll see the route transformed with temporary art pieces.
Get up close and personal to the animals at the zoo
Visit the animals at Taronga Zoo Sydney with their incredible waterside address just a 12-minute ferry ride north from Circular Quay. Taronga Zoo Sydney houses more than 4,000 animals both native and exotic, including gorillas, tigers, leopards, chimpanzees, giraffes, Australian sea lions, kangaroos and koalas. Once you’ve been up close with the animals, experience the wildlife from a new perspective by tackling the treetop Wild Ropes – more than 60 high rope challenges over four courses, including zip-lines, rope climbs and suspended bridges. For the ultimate sleepover, book the Roar and Snore experience, allowing you to stay in safari-style tents at the zoo and encounter animals up close.
Spend the day at the Sydney Opera House
There are many ways you can experience what the Sydney Opera House has to offer. A masterpiece of 20th-century architecture, the Sydney Opera House in Circular Quay hosts more than 40 performances each week. Book tickets to Opera Australia’s latest show and tick this truly iconic Sydney experience off your bucket list. If what happens off-stage intrigues you, sign up for a two-hour backstage tour, which takes guests behind-the-scenes into the exclusive domain of performers, with a full cooked breakfast in the green room. Tours operate daily at 7am. To cap it all off, dine overlooking the harbour at Peter Gilmore’s restaurant Bennelong - one of Australia's most awarded fine dining restaurants.
Climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Nicknamed “The Coathanger” and dating back to 1932, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of Australia’s grandest engineering feats. Visitors are free to walk or cycle across this vast structure, but book a BridgeClimb for the opportunity to scale to the summit and enjoy unbeatable panoramic views. Expeditions will take you high into its arches before reaching its peak, 134 metres (440 feet) above sea level. No special climbing skills are required, and there are various sessions throughout the day, including at twilight and dawn.
Dine at Sydney's top restaurants
Sydneysiders take their food seriously, with many of Australia’s most awarded and innovative restaurants found here. Dine at Quay to sample beautiful, natural produce that represents Australia on a plate. Aria is also an excellent choice for fine dining with incredible views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. For a more laid-back affair, head to Mr. Wong, which serves modern Cantonese cuisine (its Peking duck is legendary) at its French colonial space on Bridge Street. Or head to the inner-city neighbourhood of Surry Hills, a 10-minute drive from the centre of Sydney, to dine at hip restaurants including Chin Chin and Firedoor.
Ride the ferry to Manly
Manly, on Sydney’s north side, is renowned for surf breaks, scenic walks and laid-back cafés. A half-hour ferry ride from Circular Quay, a trip to Manly is the perfect family day out. Join an EcoTreasures snorkelling tour to discover more than 200 fish species, including the famous blue groper, in the calm, clear waters off Manly’s Shelly Beach. Alternatively, test your balance stand up paddle boarding, available for hire from the Manly Kayak Centre. Enjoy fish and chips from one of the countless takeouts, or sit down at the charming Fika Swedish Kitchen – the cinnamon bun pudding is delicious. Make a weekend of it and stay overnight at The Sebel, which is located just steps from the beach.
Camp on Cockatoo Island
Spend a night on Cockatoo Island, in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and wake up to one of the world’s greatest views. You can bring your own tent or book a ‘glamping’ package to leave it up to the experts, with beds, lanterns and toiletries included. Campers have access to hot showers and a communal camp kitchen, but if you'd rather not cook, barbecue and breakfast packs can also be ordered.
Take in the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains
Famous for its rock formation known as the Three Sisters — along with quaint hotels and charming townships — the Blue Mountains National Park is just under a two-hour drive from Sydney. Here you can discover one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of tall forests, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls and bushland, either mountain biking, abseiling or on foot. For a unique perspective, head to Scenic World in Katoomba, home to a cableway, a walkway over the rainforest canopy and a glass bottom skyway. After a morning of exploring, stop for high tea at The Hydro Majestic Hotel.
Find ancient culture in a modern city
Australia’s Aboriginal heritage isn’t relegated to wild places – its heartbeat echoes through the heart of Sydney. Seek out Aboriginal culture in Sydney on a stunningly intimate walking tour of The Rocks with Dreamtime Southern X, or at Barangaroo with Aboriginal Cultural Tours. You'll find the fascinating First Nations galleries at the Australian Museum, showcasing one of the finest collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects. Take a guided tour through the lush Royal Botanical Gardens to learn about the use of plants, taste bush foods and try your hand at an art class. Be sure to check if the world-acclaimed Bangarra, one of Australia's leading performing arts companies, is performing during your stay. If you're keen to explore further, quad bike across giant sand dunes with an Aboriginal guide in Port Stephens.
Attend incredible events
Sydney hosts some of the most thrilling events on the Australian events calendar. Throughout the year you'll find dazzling lights, boisterous parades and crackling fireworks. Vivid Sydney is a festival of light, music and ideas that illuminates the city each May and June. Watch as the Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and city skyline become drenched in colour and art. Sydney's New Year festivities are world-famous, with massive fireworks displays launched from the harbour's most iconic structures. Sydney Lunar Festival celebrates Lunar New Year with dragon boat races and colourful markets, and each February and March, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras celebrates diversity with an epic, rainbow-coloured parade.