Pretty much every traveler to Australia will find themselves in Sydney during their Australian travels. Sydney may be your main destination, or you may be just passing through. But it is inevitable that you will find yourself in the habour city. So how can you best maximize your time? What are the best things to do in Sydney? Is is possible to visit Sydney on a budget? What about families? Read on, we will do our best to answer all your Sydney questions.
Sydney Itinerary Planner
Sydney is Australia’s largest city, and it has plenty to offer for all travel styles. It will not be hard to fill your time if you only he one day in Sydney. Sydney is a big city, and even though there is a pretty decent public transportation network, it can still take a little bit of time to get around. If you only have one day in Sydney, we recommend picking one area to explore and sticking to that. Luckily, Sydney is incredibly diverse, so there are a wide range of travel experiences available to you depending on what area you pick. But before we get into an area overview, here is some important information:
Getting Around Sydney
Most visitors to Sydney arrive via plane. Luckily, the Sydney airport is located quite close to the central business district area, and the train line runs right through the airport, with both a stop at the domestic and international terminals. It only takes about 15 minutes to get from the airport terminals to the middle of the city, and trains run very frequently during the day, ranging from every 5 – 15 minutes depending on the time.
In order to utilize Sydney’s public transportation system, you will need to buy an opal card. Opal cards are how you access the entire public transportation system – they work on all buses, ferries, and trains. You can buy your opal card at the entrance to the train station at the airport, or at any major station or convenience store. They are easy to top up as well. You can top up at stations, convenience stores, or even via the Opal travel app.
If you are short on time though and want to get somewhere quickly, you might want to consider taxis or ubers. While these are much more expensive, they can be more convenient than pubic transportation, especially if you want to maximize your one day in Sydney.
So now that you have your opal card, where do you want to explore?
The Seven Best One Day Itinerary’s for Sydney
(Or combine all seven for a great one week itinerary in Sydney)
Do you want beaches, coastal hiking trails, museums, or shopping? Depending on your mood, there is an area of Sydney that will keep you busy.
1) See the Main Sites of Sydney
If you only have one day in Sydney and you want to see all the famous sites and landmarks then head straight to Circular Quay. It is very easy to get here from anywhere in the city, as Circular Quay is a stop on the city circle line, and is also a main stop for all the ferries. Circular Quay is the tourist heart of Sydney. It’s where you will find the most famous landmarks; the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
Start your visit at the iconic Sydney Opera House. You can experience the Opera House from all angles, including from the steps or on a tour. Tours run several times per day. Check out the website for more information. Go in and see what is playing today at the box office, or check online and make a booking in advance. There are always great things going on at the Opera House – its not just opera.
Once you have photographed the Opera House from all it’s varying angles, head to the nearby Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. You can explore at your own pace, or you may be able to catch one of the free guided walks that leaves each day from the Information Centre. The walks depart at 10:30 am and last for about an hour. The gardens are a beautiful place to get away from the crowds of downtown Sydney and are also a great setting for a picnic.
Art lovers may want to check out the Art Gallery of NSW. This gallery is also a budget travellers dream as it is free admission at all times to the public. The only thing you may have to pay for is entry to some of the major temporary exhibitions, and of course, your morning coffee from the cafe. The Art Gallery of NSW is Australia’s most visited art gallery, and if your only going to go to one Australian art gallery, this one should be it. Also from some of the rooms you will get fantastic views over the Sydney harbour.
If you didn’t pack a picnic for the park, head back to the Opera House at around lunch time and grab a bite to eat at the iconic Opera Bar. The Opera Bar is next to the Opera House and has great harbour views. It’s pretty touristy, but it really is an institution. Prices here are not crazy either and are pretty standard for what you will find in this area.
After lunch, explore the rest of the harbour area by walking towards the Harbour Bridge – one of the most famous bridges in the world. Have a look at the massive concrete pillars which hold up the bridge. Did you know they don’t actually support the bridge in any way? They were only added because the public didn’t feel safe enough to use the bridge – they are only there for show!
This will bring you to the historic Rocks district of Sydney. There are loads of historic buildings here, winding roads, and dead ends. This is where you will find all sorts of interesting tea houses, pubs and restaurants. And if you visit on a weekend, you will also find the massive Rocks craft markets.
After exploring the Rocks, complete your bridge experience by walking across the Harbour Bridge (or taking a ferry) to Luna Park. This is one of the oldest amusements parks in Australia (and the world). It’s not very large by amusement park standards, but it has an incredible setting. If you are not into amusement parks, it is still worth a visit as you can get some great photos of the bridge and opera house from this location. Also the park itself is quite photogenic.
2) Visit a Famous Beach
You’ve heard of Bondi Beach havn’t you? Of course you have. It is probably Australia’s best known beach. It’s easy to visit this beach even if you only have one day in Sydney. There are a couple ways to reach Bondi; you can either take a bus from the city, or you can take a train to Bondi Junction and then catch a bus from there. There are no trains which go directly to Bondi.
The beach is crowded pretty much all of the time, but it is definitely worth a visit. There are also tons of fun little bars and cafes in the area.
Once you have had enough of laying around on a beach, we recommend the Bondi to Coogee coastal hike. This hike will take you past stunning scenery and loads of very beautiful and much less visited beaches. It is one of my favorite and most accessible hikes in Sydney.
A more quiet beach experience
My favourite beach in Sydney is actually not Bondi Beach, it’s Manly beach. Manly is a suburb located in the north of Sydney. Getting there is a scenic adventure in itself. To get there take the train to Circular Quay and then get on the famous Manly ferry. You can access the ferries with your Oyster Card, so no need to worry about having to get separate tickets.
It’s only a short walk down a pedestrian friendly street from the ferry wharf to Manly beach. This beach is much less crowded than Bondi, and just as beautiful (if not more so). There is also a great coastal hike in Manly from the beach to the spit. This walk will take you past some more less populated beaches as well as to some great view points.
A day at the Zoo
If zoo’s are your thing then you won’t want to miss Taronga Zoo, especially if you are visiting Sydney with kids. To get to Taronga Zoo, take the train to Circular Quay and then hop on the Taronga Zoo ferry. The ferry ride is beautiful and will drop you off near to the back entrance to the zoo. This entrance is actually the best entrance in my opinion, as you will get to take a cable car over the zoo (make sure to keep watch as you will go right over the elephant enclosure) to the front entrance.
The zoo has everything you would expect it to, with heaps of animal exhibits for both indigenous Australian creatures, and creatures from around the world. When you are done exploring, make your way down hill to the back entrance and take the ferry back to the city.
Museums and more
You really need more than one day in Sydney in order to visit all of the best museums in the city, however if you only have one day then there are three you should not miss. Start your art and culture tour at Circular Quay, which is one the city circle train line.
Exit from Circular Quay station and walk towards the Harbour Bridge until you reach the Museum of Contemporary Art. Entrance to the gallery is free, although you will have to buy a ticket to see any of the temporary exhibitions. I really enjoy this museum as they always have great exhibitions on, and the art is presented in a really coherent and accessible manner. They also have a free kids gallery if you are traveling with little people.
When you are done with the gallery, make your way towards the Opera House. Grab a bite to eat at Opera Bar or if you have a packed lunch, head to the Botanical Gardens to enjoy a picnic.
After lunch and coffee you will be ready for another gallery. Located in the Botanic Gardens is the popular Art Gallery of NSW. This gallery is also free at all times to the public, with the exception of some of the temporary exhibitions. The Art Gallery of NSW is Australia’s most visited art gallery, and if your only going to go to one Australian art gallery, this one should be it. Also from some of the rooms you will get fantastic views over the Sydney harbour.
If you have more time, I also highly recommend checking out the Australian Museum. This museum is located near the Museum train station which is also on the city circle train line. There is an admission cost to this museum however. The Australian Museum is all about the natural history of Australia and you can learn all about creatures past and present, all the way back to the dinosaurs. This is another great museum if you are traveling with kids.
Explore alternative Sydney
If you are looking to have a slightly different Sydney experience during your one day in Sydney, then I recommend checking out the alternative suburb of Newtown. Newtown is home to a huge university student population, and is located in Sydney’s trendy inner west. To get here take the train either to the Macdonald Town station or to Erskinville station. It is then just a short walk to the main street (King Street) of Newtown. In Newtown you will find all sorts of bars and restaurants, antique shops, alternative shops, boutique clothing shops, and a huge amount of bookstores. If you are into bookstores then you can’t miss the Sydney institution of Goulds Books. This massive used book store can be a bit intimidating, but it is full of rare finds and great deals.
A day in Sydney with kids
If you have one day in Sydney and you want to make it a really memorable one for the kids, then head skip the harbour at Circular Quay and head straight to Darling Harbour instead. Darling Harbour is a mecca for great family activities. You will have find enough kid friendly options to keep you busy for more than just one day. To get to Darling Harbour you can either take the tram from Central Station to various stops along the harbour, or you can take the train to Town Hall station and then walk about 5 minutes to the harbour.
Once you arrive you will find the Sydney Aquarium, go here to see all sorts of marine life including dugongs and penguins. Next door to the aquarium you will also find the Wild Life Zoo and Madame Tussauds. The Wild Life Zoo is much smaller than Taronga Zoo and solely exhibits Australian animals. All three of these attractions are part of the same group, so you can save money by buying a multi pass.
Zoos and Aquariums are not cheap though, so if you are looking for something a bit easier on the wallet, then look no further as one of Sydney’s best playgrounds is also located at Darling Harbour. The Darling Quarter Park has all sorts of play equipment, water features, sand areas, and little rock climbing gyms. My kids can literally spend all day there.
Lastly, at the other end of the harbour is another great museum for kids. This one is the National Maritime Museum and it’s free to visit the permanent galleries. However I recommend getting a ticket, as this will allow you to visit the boats they have anchored in the harbour. My son’s favorite thing to do at the Maritime Museum is to go on the submarine.
Have more than one day in Sydney? Where to stay
Do you have more than one day in Sydney? Perhaps after reading all these recommendations you have decided to extend your stay. There are quite a few different areas where you can stay in Sydney, and what you choose will depend on your budget and where you want to base yourself. This helpful post has lots more information on where to stay in Sydney.
Want more Sydney itinerary ideas?
For more activities to keep you busy in Australia’s largest city, check our these ideas:
Read more: Whale watching in Sydney
Read more: Tall ships in Sydney
There is more to just Sydney than what you find in the city. For some ideas for day trips around the Sydney region check out:
Read more: Exploring the Blue Mountains with a family
During our time in Sydney, before we moved there, we stayed at the Base Backpackers in central Sydney. The hostel was extremely clean and the hostel bar had fun events planned for almost every night. We used our base jumping cards to pay for our stay, which were kindly provided complimentary by Base Backpackers.
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