So you're heading to Australia and your first stop is Sydney. There's so much to do and you've only planned 2-3 days because you want to head off to the Barrier Reef or Uluru (wise choices my friend).
To take the hassle and stress out of planning, we've created a 48 hour Sydney itinerary to make sure you see the best this amazing city has to offer. We've lived here for four and a half years and used this itinerary for everyone who visits, so we know it's a winner.
Just make sure you're ready as it's full on!
6am - City Sunrise
There's a lot to do, so do as the Sydneysiders do and make an early start! No doubt you'll have some jet lag, so getting up early shouldn't be as hard :-D
You'll notice a surprising amount of people running or surfing at this time of day.
Head out to one of the city's best Sunrise spots. To keep it close to the city, we recommend Hickson Road as you'll see the sun rise behind the Opera House. You can read more about it in our blog about sunrise and sunset spots in Sydney.
7.30am - Brekkie
The sun is up, so time to get some brekkie. Brunch is an institution in Australia and you'll find a lot of coffee shops busy at this time of day.
There are plenty of places just around Circular Quay itself or in The Rocks which are good for proximity to Hickson Road and the botanic gardens. There's a cafe in the gardens themselves too, though we haven't tried it so can't vouch for the food.
If you fancy something a bit special why not try Celsius (Kirribilli)? It offers great food and a view of the harbour that's well worth queuing for. This is a great option if you would like to walk over the Harbour Bridge, it will only take you around 30 minutes to walk from the sunrise spot on Hickson Road to this cute waterside suburb. You can then take a delightful five minute ferry ride back to CQ from Kirribilli when you've finished.
9am - Circular Quay
After your coffee hit it's time to get active. There's no better place to get a feel for the harbour city than at Circular Quay. Start at the Opera House for a close up view of Australia's most iconic building.
From here you'll also get a great view of the Harbour Bridge, another world-famous landmark.
10am - Botanic Gardens
Carry on from the Opera House to the Botanic Gardens. Upon entering, you'll see why this is on your list! It's a beautiful green oasis in the heart of the city and has a great walking trail along the water that has great views. It's also a lovely spot to see quintessentially Aussie birds, including sulphur crested cockatoos and kookaburras.
It's an easy walk, and a great way of fighting the jet lag!
1pm - Lunch
After a leisurely stroll you'll finish in Woolloomooloo (candidate for the greatest place name ever) and - if you dare - you can try an authentic aussie pie from Harry's Cafe de Wheels, a Sydney institution. Aussie love their pies and it's the best place to give it a go. If you're after something a little more fancy there are many high end restaurants on the finger wharf. A lovely place for lunch or a glass of wine.
Otherwise, head back to Circular Quay and grab something at Gateway Sydney, right by the train station, which has all the quick eats you need: sandwiches, dumplings, burritos, crepes, burgers, everything!
If you want to really treat yourself to something a little different and spend a bit more time over lunch , hop on a Captain Cook boat to Fort Dennison. This tiny island in the middle of the harbour serves up great food with a view. On a sunny day, it's bliss. There's also a small exhibition outlining the island's interesting history.
This is where your afternoon depends on what time of year you visit or your budget! Here's a few options:
Take a scenic helicopter flight. This may be a pricey option, but it's an incredible experience flying over the harbour and the beaches, especially if you're a photographer. If it's possible Sydney is even prettier from the air, we even saw whales on our flight!
Hop on one of the whale watching tours where you'll be guaranteed sightings of a humpback whale or the next trip is free. I've done a few of these and was lucky enough to be in the middle of three whales breaching right by the boat.
Combine a trip to the beach with a harbour cruise on the cheap by heading to Manly. Using an Opal card you'll get a great look at the harbour on public transport, joining the Sydneysiders on the famous Manly ferry. Look out for dolphins. Once in Manly you can head to one of their three great beaches or chill in one of the towns coffee shops, bars or pubs.
6pm - Dinner
Time to head out for some dinner and Sydney's got options for just about everyone. Why not check out some of our suggestions:
Dinner with a view - If you're looking for a dining table in the sky with an exceptional view, then head to the Shangri-La. It's not cheap, but the view and incredible food are worth pushing the budget for. A four course dinner starts at $125 per person.
Seafood at its best - If you love your seafood and don't mind venturing a little way out the city for some of the best, then go to the Boathouse on Black Wattle Bay. It serves our favourite seafood in Sydney including the best Snapper Pie you'll ever eat.
On a budget - Then go for Mamak in Chinatown. It serves up delicious Malay Street food and is as cheap as it gets in Sydney. Portions are ginormous and start at around $12. Don't miss the rotis!
8pm - The bars
Sydney's bar scene has become a lot quieter since the lock-out laws, but there's still some good spots. Head down to York St and find some quirky small bars such as the Barber Shop (gin specialist), the Baxter Inn (whiskey specialist) and Uncle Mings.
6am - Bondi Sunrise
Ok, it's another early start, but you're not here for much longer!
Head out to Bondi to see the sunrise over this iconic beach. At this time the beach will be relatively empty (apart from a few surfers), you can get some wonderful photographs or even go for a dip in the ocean bath.
Our favourite spot is on Notts Avenue, the road next to Icebergs. Alternatively the grass by the beach is also a great spot.
7.30 am - Bondi Brekkie
Every time we visit we go to Lox, Stock and Barrel, it's our favourite in the area. It can be busy, but it's worth the wait for the freshly made bagels (try the seed and spice option!) and other delicious breakfast choices. It also serves a mean coffee.
9am - Bondi to Coogee Walk
You're probably thinking that after all that food, the last thing you'll want is a walk. But the Bondi to Coogee walk is arguably the best thing to do in Sydney. Start the trail at Icebergs and take in the continuous cliff top views. It's only about 5km and on a really good path, but give yourself a good 2-3 hours as you'll want to stop and take heaps of photographs. You can break the walk with dips in the ocean at one of the many beaches along the trail, and there are places to get another coffee too. Again, look out for dolphins, we often see them.
In the winter (May to Sept), be sure to take some time at the top of the cliffs by Bondi to see if you can spot any of the humpback whales that migrate passed here each year. If you pick your time right (October), you can also incorporate the "Sculptures By The Sea" exhibition when the 2km trail between Bondi and Tamarama is scattered with fascinating artworks.
12pm - Lunch in Coogee
By now you should be near the end, so why not grab some lunch at your final stop: Coogee. The Coogee Pavilion is a great place to grab a well earned cold drink and bite to eat. If you still have any energy, you can play table tennis or massive connect 4! There's also a seafood shack on the grass behind the beach if you fancy some good old fashioned fish and chips.
It's time to head back into the city (well, unless you can't fight the allure of the beautiful beaches!). It'll take about 20 minutes by either public transport (bus or bus and train combo) or an Uber.
If you have the cash, then why not climb the Harbour Bridge. It's a pricey expedition, but an experience you'll always remember. From the top you'll get a unique view of the harbour and the satisfaction of having climbed an international landmark. Sadly no cameras allowed on this one.
If you don't have the budget, then why not check out the museums. The Museum of Contemporary Art and Art Gallery of NSW are both free. Alternatively you can visit the Australian Museum to get an insight into Australian and Aboriginal History, as well as some Natural History. The cafe at the top of the MCA is a wonderful place for a drink and a beautiful view without a hefty price tag.
6pm - Dinner
Unless you want to head out to our suggestions from the night before, why not check out these spots for dinner:
Seafood - If you want seafood on the beach at a Sydney institution, then head to Watson's Bay and Doyle's on the Beach. The view is stunning and the food is good. If money is no object head for the restaurant itself, but if you want to minimise cost then there is a takeaway stand, and you can eat on the beach. Just watch those pesky seagulls!
Indian - Sydney's Indian restaurants aren't the best, but the ones on Cleveland St in Surry Hills are pretty good. Our favourite is Maya Da Dhaba.
Vietnamese - Our favourite is Mama's Buoi in Surry Hills for their incredible Pho. If you take it away you'll have a huge bag full of boxes to build it!
On a budget - If you want a quirky experience, then head to Frankie's on Hunter St. Here you'll go to an underground bar that serves pizza by the slice and has a door through to the club in the next room!
8pm - City Sunset
On your final evening, why not see one of Sydney's great sunsets. Our pick would be from Mrs Macquarie's Chair, but there's plenty to pick from on our list.
Other things you may like
Day trip to Watson's Bay
Watson's Bay is a pretty swanky suburb and a favourite of Sydneysiders on the weekend. There's few better places for a drink on a summer's day than the Watson's Bay Hotel. Or try one of the two short walking tracks.
Have a wander round Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour doesn't get much love from locals, but it's a nice place to take a stroll, especially at night. It gives some nice city views and every Saturday it has a free fireworks display.
See some live sport
Aussies love their sport and you can see some of the best in Sydney. If you arrive in the summer, then head to the iconic SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) to watch the Sydney Sixers and some of the best cricketers in the world compete in the Big Bash League. Games last about three hours and are good entertainment!
If you're here in the winter, then check out some Aussie Rules with the Sydney Swans (also at the SCG). Even after living here for four years I still don't understand the rules....
The Chinese Friendship Garden
Sydney has a large Chinese community and the friendship garden is a great place to see the combination of cultures. Within Darling Harbour you can get a little slice of China with the Aussie skyline as a backdrop.
If you have an extra day
Then head up to the Blue Mountains. It's a stunning area that will give you a glimpse of the beautiful Aussie bush and mountains landscape that we think is some of the best in Australia. You can hike one of the many world-class trails, or take it more leisurely with a trip to Scenic World and take the steepest train journey in the world.
If you want to find out to see more about how to plan a trip to Sydney then check out our following blogs:
- Top ten beaches in Sydney
- Instagrammable spots in Sydney
- When is the best time to visit Australia
- The best places to see wild kangaroos close to Sydney
- Best things to do in the Blue Mountains
- The best Sydney sunrise and sunset spots
- Ultimate guide to Sydney
- Cheap things to do in Sydney
- The best beaches in NSW
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Are you heading to Sydney soon? Want tips on what to do? Let us know in the comments below and we'll try to help!