As the capital of New South Wales, Sydney is the largest city in Australia and is famous for its superb beaches, its vibrant cultural scene and for its cosmopolitan, international population. This beautiful harbor city has a lot to offer budget and luxury travelers (and everyone in between)!
These travel tips will help you plan an exciting and unforgettable trip to Sydney!
What to Expect in Sydney
- Language: English is the predominant language, although there are also several Asian languages also spoken among their respective communities.
- Currency: The Australian Dollar ($)
- Credit Cards and Banks: There are plenty of ATMs located around the city, while most stores will accept Mastercard and Visa, although acceptance for AMEX is usually only at larger retailers.
- Climate: Sydney enjoys warm summers and mild winters, with even the record lows not dropping below freezing and summer highs regularly over 80 degrees.
- Cold season: From June until August
- Warm season: November until February
I found Australia, in general, to be quite expensive compared to most big cities I have traveled to. Meals can easily run $20 AUD and up for something quite casual. Even a meal at Maccas (aka McDonalds) will run you close to $10 AUD. Budget trips are totally doable, but expect to spend some money in Sydney.
Check out the Cost of Living in Sydney for more information
Where to Stay in Sydney
Visitors to Sydney can expect a warm Australian welcome, with accommodation from budget hostels to boutique luxury hotels.
- Bounce Hostel: Dorms, Wi-Fi, Kitchen, Great Location. Prices range from $30-$40 per night. From competitively priced beds in dorm rooms to comfortable and affordable private rooms, guests at Bounce Hostel can enjoy a great rooftop terrace and well equipped kitchens, while lockers are provided with plugs so that laptops, phones and other gadgets can be charged securely.
- Sydney Central YHA: *Reader Recommendation* Dorms, Privates, Wi-Fi, Swimming Pool, Great Location. Prices range from $35-$45 per night. Central YHA is a 5-star hostel for budget travelers and is located right next to Central Station.
- Base Backpacker Hostel: *Reader Recommendation* Dorms, Privates, Wi-Fi, Kitchen, Free walking tours. Prices range from $25-$35 per night. Base Backpacker Hostel is one of Sydney’s most centrally located hostels. This is a true backpacker hostel so you might compromise personal space and quiet time for a budget stay.
The Best of Sydney Accommodation:
- Shangri-La Sydney: The Shangri-La is a beautiful hotel located in The Rocks that offers a truly luxurious experience.
- Hilton Sydney Hotel: The Hilton Sydney is in a great location in the heart of the city and has a nice bar and restaurant. It’s a great option for business travelers looking for quality and comfort.
- Park Hyatt Sydney: Located in The Rocks, the Park Hyatt sits on an amazing waterfront and offers great views over the Sydney Opera House.
Sydney is separated into many different districts and neighborhoods; each offering a unique flavor of the city! The most popular communities worth visiting are:
- Darling Harbour: The main area of the city dedicated to entertainment and tourism. Many of the harbor cruises depart from the docks here and it is also home to the aquarium and the National Maritime Museum.
- The Rocks: Home to the amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Rocks is a resurgent cosmopolitan area with a vibrant night life and plenty of the city’s best hotels.
- City Center: This is where the main business district is located along with the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Sydney Opera House and a range of museums and landmarks.
- Kings Cross: Known as a “Red Light District” of sorts, Kings Cross is full of characters. This suburb that never sleeps has nightclubs, restaurants and everything in between.
- Surry Hills: This is Sydney’s creative hub for design, fashion and music. It’s one of my absolute favorite spots in all of Sydney with its über cute cafes.
- Paddington: Paddington offers a wonderful range of boutiques and shops to explore along with plenty of cafes and bars, with William Street offering the best shopping in all of Sydney. Don’t miss the Paddington Markets on Saturday mornings!
What to Do in Sydney
Beaches, bars and amazing weather make Sydney a great place to visit!
- Climb the Harbour Bridge: The views from the Pylon Lookout are among the best in the city and, for those who complete the climb, there is also a small exhibition looking at the bridge’s history.
- Royal Botanical Gardens: With a collection of plants developed over nearly two hundred years, the Royal Botanical Gardens overlook the harbor and offer a relaxing and beautiful place to explore in this bustling city.
- Bondi to Coogee Walk: For those who simply cannot decide which of Sydney’s beaches is the best, this walk takes visitors past many of the best beaches in the city, so it is well worth taking your swimmers (Aussie slang for swimsuit).
- Bondi Beach: The iconic sands of Bondi are just four miles from the city center, and with a series of beach bars and great surf at the southern end of the beach, it is a great place to get your bronze on and enjoy the sunshine.
- Ferry to Manly Beach: The seven mile crossing to Manly takes around half an hour, and is a great way to get out of the city and on to some of the best beaches in the region.
- Train to Blue Mountains: Just a short distance west of central Sydney, the views over the Blue Mountains are breathtaking. Catch a train running to Mount Victoria every two hours.
- Hike Royal National Park: A short distance south of the city, the Royal National Park offers a series of great trails to explore, from beach walks to hikes into the bush, along with plenty of camping and trail huts for longer trips.
- Wine Tasting in the Hunter Valley: North West of the city center, the Hunter Valley is home to several wineries offering tasting sessions, with the option of organized tours that will take in several wineries available.
“I don’t think enough people venture out to Sydney’s eastern suburbs. You can grab a ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay & do the “South Head” Heritage trail (which continues all the way to Coogee, via the famous Bondi to Coogee trail, if you want to walk for a really, really, really long time). There is also a really great walking trail called the Hermitage Foreshore Walk that ends or begins near Rose Bay, where you can find cute small & deserted beaches that offer great views of the harbour & the Harbour bridge (Milk Beach & Queens Beach come to mind).” – Beatrice B Poulin
Where to Eat in Sydney
International cuisine vies with the best Australian ingredients!
- Sydney Fish Market (Fresh Seafood): While there are several stalls in the Sydney fish market offering freshly cooked seafood, many head straight to the fishmongers inside for fresh oysters or some of the wonderfully prepared sashimi.
- Radio Cairo (Hidden Gem): *Reader Recommendation* Offering African food in a great location on the North Shore, Radio Cairo is usually busy with locals, while the Green Tea Ice Cream is a definite highlight.
- Food on Five Westfield Food Court (Best Casual): This has to be the best mall food court in the entire world! Offering a variety of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, this food court is located in the Westfield mall on Pitt Street and provides gourmet and casual food options.
- Bourke Street Bakery (Best Breakfast): *Reader Recommendation* This little bakery makes everything by hand with the freshest ingredients.
- Chiswick (Best Farm-to-Table): Enjoy garden surroundings at Chiswick in the heart of Sydney. Chef Matt Moran takes the best local ingredients and adds his own great presentation for a unique taste of Australian cuisine.
- Icebergs (Coolest Cocktail Spot): Situated on the cliffs at the southern end of Bondi Beach, the ocean view and modern design at Icebergs makes for a cool vibe. Stop in for a cocktail at sunset for a view you’ll never forget!
- Sushi (Cheap Eats): Dining out can be a big budget breaker for budget travelers. Luckily, sushi comes cheap in Sydney! There are plenty of sushi spots scattered around the city selling fresh and inexpensive sushi.
- Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (Best Pies): The iconic pies from Harry’s Cafe are part of the folklore in Sydney, and this stall has been selling pies, peas and gravy for eight decades… with celebrity appearances proving they are still as tasty today!
“Radio Cairo Restaurant in Cremorne for a Hidden Gem” – Jon San Jose
“Bourke Street Bakery in Surry Hills is one of the best places to go for a coffee and a croissant. There are just a few table & chairs outside and there is often a line-up, but it is an absolutely lovely place in a cute neighbourhood, absolutely worth a visit.” – Beatrice B Poulin
“Getting uncut sushi rolls to-go and eating them like you would a hot dog will only set you back about $2.” – Epicure & Culture
Australians are total coffee snobs. And for that, I love them. There is no such thing as “coffee.” As in, “I’ll have a small coffee.” Sorry. No such thing. All coffees are espresso based, so you’d order a short or long black, flat white, etc.
My usual? Soy flat white with honey!