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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 03 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Mark Chipperfield

Sydney has matured in recent years to become one of the world’s most dynamic and glamorous cities.

Blessed with a magnificent harbour, great beaches and a semi-tropical climate, Australia’s biggest metropolis delights with superb food and drink, world-class shopping, pristine scenery, big skies and effervescent, friendly people.

It’s a mecca for outdoor activities and adventures, and the ideal base for exploring the other wonders of this marvellous country. The big drawback? You won’t want to return home.

Orientation

Sydney splits into distinct suburbs (surrounding the city centre).

For most visitors, the main focal point remains the city centre (or CBD), which includes Circular Quay (home to the Bridge and Opera House, where Ferries depart from), ‘The Rocks’, Chinatown, the Royal Botanic Garden, Darling Harbour and the new harbourside precinct of Barangaroo.

The trendy and affluent ‘Eastern Suburbs’, including Bondi Beach, dazzle with character-filled streets and picturesque bays.

The North Shore (over the bridge) is quiet and leafy, making it the preferred choice for families.

The Western and Southern suburbs, meanwhile, contain some of Australia’s most vibrant migrant communities from the Middle East, South-East Asian and the Pacific but hold little of interest to the visitor.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A unique and unforgettable adventure offering breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour and fascinating historical insights; the city’s ultimate must-do. One of the world’s great bucket list experiences.

Best for ages: 8+ | £110 | 2- 3 hours

Sydney Opera House

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Magnetic, enchanting and still remarkably modern, this iconic Opera House is a must-see. Walk around the outside or book in for a guided tour or performance.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

Sydney Mardi Gras Parade

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

An extraordinary and unique cultural spectacular – Sydney’s world-famous Mardi Gras parade sees 65,000 glammed-up marchers, 160 outrageous floats and tens of thousands lining the streets.

Best for ages: Any | Free | 2-3 hours

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Australian National Maritime Museum
Experience

Australian National Maritime Museum

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Anyone interested in Australian history should head to this fascinating museum that showcases and explores Australia’s naval war history, Aboriginal history and its white settler history. Don’t miss the fully-restored, 19th-century tall ship the James Craig.

Best for ages: 8+ | £12

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Overview >
An outdoor pool on the edge of the harbour in front of Sydney's skyline.
Experience

Boy Charlton Pool

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Sydney is famed for its ocean and harbourside pools and this stunning harbourside pool is a stand-out. The Botanic Gardens are on one side, harbour views on the other. Great swim and sunbathing; there’s a fine cafe on site too.

Best for ages: 4+ | £12

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Fort Denison
Experience

Fort Denison

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Built during the Crimean War, this little historic gem sits in the middle of Sydney harbour. It’s now a museum, with fascinating exhibits like a canon gun powder store and a tidal gauge room. Daily ferries go from Circular Quay.

Best for ages: 6+ | £5

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Overview >

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Private Tour: Sydney City Highlights & Hidden Gems

Private Tour: Sydney City Highlights & Hidden Gems

Sydney

See the absolute best of Sydney in a day, with this full-day private Sydney city tour with a professional tour guide in a modern and comfort...

A430 | Rating 5 / 5 [37 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Sydney 6 Hour Private Tour

Sydney 6 Hour Private Tour

Sydney

Enjoy Sydney during the shorter days of daylight from April through till the end of September. Your private tour will show you the iconic si...

$789 | Rating 4.95 / 5 [21 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Sydney Bike Tours

Sydney Bike Tours

Sydney

What could be more fun than touring the beautiful waterfront city of Sydney by bike? Your no-stress cycling tour takes you through Sydney's ...

A100 | Rating 4.80 / 5 [795 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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The Ultimate Sydney Attractions Pass

The Ultimate Sydney Attractions Pass

Sydney

Discover Sydney’s best sights and attractions while saving up to 40% on general admission entry with the Ultimate Sydney Pass. Marvel at t...

A122 | Rating 4.34 / 5 [429 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Wildlife Retreat At Taronga

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A luxurious wildlife retreat offering you the chance to spend the night with some of Australia’s most colourful critters, in the comfort of an elegant guest room.

Official star rating:

Bondi Beach House

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Live like a Bondi local at this stylish, homely guesthouse, just 200m from the surf of Australia’s most famous beach.

Official star rating:

QT Sydney

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Located in Sydney’s retail and entertainment hub, this stylish and beautifully-run hotel makes a cosy home from home for anyone visiting the harbour city.

Official star rating:

Spicers of Potts Point

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

A character-filled boutique hotel set in three grand Victorian terrace houses. A convenient location for sightseeing, in one of Sydney’s nicest residential suburbs.

Official star rating:

When to go

The summer months (December to February) of are hot, humid and occasionally wet – and are the best time to visit if you want to enjoy Sydney’s beaches and waterways. Many locals prefer Autumn (March to May) when the ocean is still warm and the days sunny and fresh.

Spring (September to November) is good too, but the ocean is pretty cold and you’ll need a jumper in the evening. Winter is delightful in Sydney – crisp but never freezing, with almost guaranteed clear blue skies, and fewer tourists. It’s also the best time to visit Uluru and the tropical north, if Sydney is your staging point.

Getting there and away

The fastest way to reach the city from the airport is by cab or Uber, but if you have plenty of time the airport train is a hassle-free option. Most of the better hotels offer airport shuttles, which are pretty efficient provided you avoid the main rush hour times.

Getting around

Most of Sydney’s urban attractions are concentrated around the city centre and its nearby coastline. Walking is the best option in the city, but cycling is becoming more popular with a number of dedicated cycle tracks now available. Ride-share companies have made renting a car pretty redundant but expect to pay a premium at night and on weekends

Public transport, which consists of buses, ferries, trains and light-rail, is wel-run and efficient; the new light rail that runs up George Street is a boon on hot days. Boats are a fast, enjoyable and common way of getting around when travelling between coastal points, or across the water from the city to North Sydney. Sydney has plentiful water cabs and very good ferries. Ferries are the best choice when venturing across from the city to the northern shore (for Manly or Taronga Zoo) and for Watson’s Bay.

Where to stay

If you are visiting Sydney for sightseeing, stay in the city centre, Circular Quay or The Rocks. All three offer plenty of historical character and are walking distance from major attractions such as the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Royal Botanic Garden. It’s an easy cab ride to other attractions along the coast.

Just outside the city centre, the trendy suburbs of Potts Point, Kings Cross, Wooloomooloo, and Rushcutter’s Bay offer the same convenience but more local life atmosphere, fewer office buildings and close access to the stunning coastline. The more adventurous, urban-minded traveller might also consider the inner-city, edgier precincts of Surry Hills, Newtown and Darlinghurst.

Serious surfers will want to stay in Bondi, Manly or Coogee, but accommodation options are still pretty limited. Better still take an Uber or taxi direct to your favourite beach.

Where to eat or drink

The highest concentration of good restaurants is in the city centre and neighbouring Darling Harbour, but the nearby suburbs of Potts Point, Paddington and Surry Hills offer outstanding restaurants with a local ambience. Bondi, home of the beautiful people, has good beach-side options.

Avoid the tourist restaurants around Circular Quay – unless you have a specific recommendation. Darling Harbour is known for family-friendly eateries, while the city centre (CBD) has a slew of stylish bars and high-end restaurants.

Where to shop

In the city centre, the Pitt Street Mall and Queen Victoria Building remain the city’s most popular shopping precincts. For a taste of yesteryear check out the marvellous Strand Arcade, while the Galleries on George Street has some decent fashion stores and quirky gift shops. Most of the designer labels, like Gucci, can be found on Castlereagh Street.

The gargantuan Westfield mall at Bondi Junction (15 minutes by train from the city) is an upscale shopping destination, with all the best shops and top-notch food courts.

Thursdays is late night shopping day across Sydney. Most of the major stores and shopping malls stay open until 9.30pm. A good time to explore the city – the bars are full.

Health & Safety

Sydney is generally safe and clean; food and hygiene standards are excellent. It’s tropical disease free, requiring no additional vaccinations beyond the norm, but beware of the sun: minimum factor 30, even for those that tan easily.

Petty crime rates are low and you can walk the city streets at any time but take sensible precautions. Friday nights can be rowdy around lower George Street, while Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, is outrageous and gay but generally well-behaved on Friday and Saturday nights. Ditto Surry Hills.

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination