I have never been so excited to visit a city as I was when I arrived in Sydney. I loved this city from the very first moment when I went out of St James station and the Tower Eye welcomed me on a sunny winter morning. I spent my days strolling around the beautiful streets of the capital of New South Wales, admiring the Opera House and enjoying the warm days of winter on the beach, suaking up the laid-down vibes. Additionally I was lucky enough to be there during the Vivid Sydney festival, which literally brightened up my nights. I had a wonderful and unforgettable time there! However, I’ve heard conflicting opinions about this city. Most love it, but some hate it and call it Shitney. They say that the main reason for this nickname is that the city in the evening is quite boring because most shops close at 5pm, restaurants at 10pm and bars and pubs at 1am. But when I was there Sydney was super alive even at night, probably thanks to the festival, and additionally, this weird opening time are common in almost all the other cities in Australia, so I can only say positive things about this wonderful city.
I spent there three days, which can be sufficient to have an idea of what the city is like. But, if you also want to visit the Blue Mountains you may consider to stop in Sydney an additional day. Here you can find a summary of my exciting itinerary to visit the city. The schedule is pretty tight, but I loved it because it allowed me to visit all the main touristic attractions, as well as local area, including also the main beaches in a relatively short time, so I think it is worth the effort. Here is my itinerary:
- Free walking tour
- Fish market
- Bridge walk
- Night in the Rocks
These spots have a yellow marker on the map.
- Taronga zoo
- Glebe markets
- Botanic garden
- Sunset at the chair
- Night in Newtown
These spots have a violet marker on the map.
- Manly beach
- Bondi to Bronte cliff walk
- Night in King Cross
These spots have a blue marker on the map.
Day 1: Main touristic attractions
Welcome to Sydney! What’s better to know the town than a walking tour? Even better if it’s free! The tour I suggest is the “I’m free walking tour”, which starts in front of the Town Hall and it includes all the main attractions of this city like: Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, The Rock’s District, St Mary’s Cathedral, Customs House, Queen Victoria Building, Pitt St Shopping Mall, Sydney Tower, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Australia Square, and so on (you can find more info on the website of the tour).
My guide was Justine, and she was amazing! Especially because she suggested me the best markets to visit in the city and the best places to eat. When the tour ends, you can decide how much it was worth and pay your guide accordingly. After the tour, which ends at Circular Quay, in the Rocks district, it can be a good idea to sit under the Harbour Bridge to relax watching the ferries passing by.
At this point, you should be quite hungry, so it’s time to go and check one of the most famous markets in Sydney: the Sydney fish market. You can reach this market walking for about 30 minutes from the Harbour Bridge (or you can take a bus). If you decide to go there walking, don’t forget to pass by the Sydney Observatory, from which you can admire a beautiful view over the Harbour Bridge.
At the Sydney fish market, you can find a huge selection of fresh seafood and fish which are so mouth-watering. The place is super touristic now and prices are not that cheap, but overall it was an interesting experience. If you want, you can even eat outside, where the view of Sydney Harbour is stunning, but you will have to share your table with tons of seagulls fighting to still your food. Anyway, I ordered a baked lobster with cheese for 25 AUS and it was really tasty. (Craving it right now).
After lunch, you can go back to the city centre and spend more time in the places you liked more during the walking tour, or you can go back to the Harbour Bridge and walk across it. Walking across the bridge is free, but if you want a unique experience you can also decide to climb it for about 300 AUS. I was lucky enough to be there during the Vivid Sydney festival, so after the fish market I went to see all the installations across the city which were simply stunning! If you can, I strongly suggest visiting Sydney during this festival. I now you’ll be enchanted by all the beautiful installations and the incredible music events.
Day 2: live the city
A visit to Sydney must include a stop at Taronga Zoo. To be honest, I was not a supporter of zoos probably because I was biased by all the news of animals kept in bed conditions in zoos. However, I recently learnt not to make sweeping statements about zoos, because good zoos can be significantly important for the conservation of endangered animals and education (I found this article from the Guardian about the reasons we need zoos very interesting). Taronga Zoo is a very ethic zoo, deeply involved in research, species conservation and it also implements lot of measures to reduce its environmental impacts, so I decided to visit it to learn more about the Australian wildlife, which is so different than the European one, the one I am used to. To get there you can use the ferry (here you can find Sydney public transport timetable and pricing information) and get some awesome views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge during the journey. Once arrived at the opposite side of the Circular Quay, enter the zoo from the bottom entry and take the Sky Safari to reach the main entrance, which is the starting point of your tour. The zoo is huge, so grab a map at the entrance if you don’t want to get lost every five minutes (as I did).
At the zoo, you can have a close encounter with koalas, but you are not allowed to touch or hold them to avoid animal stress. Koala cuddling is allowed just in Queensland state, so if you want to do it, Taronga zoo is not the right place to be (but should be allowed to hold and touch wild animals in other places? I don’t think so!). Anyway, the zoo is worth a visit. I enjoyed a lot the part dedicated to Australian animals, especially the area with nocturnal animals, which offers a unique occasion to know better the amazing Australian wildlife and educates you how to provide a refuge for wild animals in your garden. Additionally, from the zoo, the views of Sydney are absolutely gorgeous, and this can be another reason to add the zoo to your itinerary. You can save money if you book in advance on the Taronga Zoo website, and you can also get a discounted price if you are a student (and you have an international student card with you to prove that you are a student).
The zoo visit should be over around lunchtime. If it’s Saturday, hop on the M30 bus (here you can find Sydney public transport timetable and pricing information) to go to Glebe markets. Walking around markets in big cities is one of the things I love the most because I love the sense of community that I get walking around them. In the Glebe markets, this feeling was very strong. I enjoyed a lot the laid-back atmosphere and I soaked up all the good vibes. In these markets, you can find food, but also handmade jewellery, vintage handbags, clothes, plants, candles, carpets, etc. And as a plus, you can listen to gigs playing while seating on the grass.
If it’s not Saturday, but you still want to visit a market, you can always try one of the several other markets in the city (here a list of Sydney best markets). After this relaxing stop, it’s time to go to the botanic garden. The opening hours change in different months of the year, so check them here before you go. Take your time to stroll around the gardens, but remember to be at the Mrs Macquarie’s Chair at sunset to enjoy the view of the Opera House during the golden hour.
The night of the second day is perfect to explore one of the favourite areas by locals: Newtown. This area is crowded with independent restaurants and bars and murals and paintings are located round every street.
Day 3: Beach day
This day is dedicated to the gorgeous beaches around Sydney: Manly Beach and Bondi/Bronte beaches. All of them are amazing, and I loved them because they are all so close to the city centre, but so far from the city stress. If you want to see all of them, hop on the ferry to Manly Beach at Circular Quay (Wharf No. 3) at 9am (here you can find Sydney public transport timetable and pricing information).
After 30 minutes you will arrive at Quarantine Station, the Manly Beach station. (if you use an Opel card you don’t need to tap off the card at the arrival station). To reach the beach you have to walk through “The Corso”, a pedestrian-only strip full of shops and cafes, where palm trees jut out of the pavement and stretch toward the sky. At the end of The Corso you will see the beach. There, you can spend about three hours. Take your time to stroll around, swim, or have breakfast in one of the several cafés along the seaside. And if you are still wondering if you should go, I’m sure you will find the answer in this article.
You should leave Manly Beach around 12.30pm so that you can be at Bondi Beach around 2pm. I fund Bondi beach much more touristic than Manly Beach, and more crowded, but still extremely beautiful. Here, beside the beautiful golden shore, there is also a skate park and the famous saltwater sea baths at end of the beach. Bondi is also the starting point of one of the most iconic walking trails in Sydney: the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk. This trail of about 1 hour (2.5km) takes you right on top of the ocean and offers you breathtaking views. Additionally, if you are too tired, or if it’s too late, you can shorten the walk taking a bus from most of the beaches you come across during the walk.
Last night in Sydney I decided to explore the King Cross district. I heard contrasting opinions about this area, which is considered dangerous by most because of the presence of too many drunk people and few strip clubs but vibrant by others (probably for the same reasons). I have to say that the drunk people concentration is probably higher than the rest of the city, but I’ve never felt unsafe walking there. The area is quite nice and there are interesting places to eat and drink. Definitely is worth a visit if you want to know every aspect of the city.
Public transport in Sydney.
Sydney is a big city, and, despite I usually avoid to use public transport, I needed to use ferries and buses during 2 of the 3 days I spent in town. If you are going to use public transport, best to get an Opal Card, so that your transport cost will be capped to 15.80$ for the entire day during working days and to 2.70$ on Sunday. The card is free, however, the minimum amount you can charge is 10$.