Planning Your Trip to Sydney
Sydney is a huge city, both in terms of population (5+ million) and geography. It sprawls from the coast in the east to the foot of the Blue Mountains in the west, and includes national parks, a high-rise city skyline, and much in between. You could spend an entire trip to Australia just in Sydney and not run out of things to see and do (although we highly recommend exploring Australia beyond this one city!)
If your time in Sydney is limited, an important factor in how much you can see or do will be where you stay. The busy central city area is most convenient for getting around, as there are trains, buses, and ferries that can take you to most other parts of the city.
Another important consideration is the climate and season. Sydney can get very hot in the summer (December-February) as well in late spring and early autumn. While average summer highs are "only" around 78° F (26° C), much higher temperatures are not uncommon. Fortunately, there are many gorgeous beaches close by. Alternatively, the winters tend to be cool and wet, but there are great indoor attractions, too. What you can comfortably see and do in any amount of time will depend a lot on what the weather's like during your visit.
Sydney in an Afternoon
If your time in Sydney is very limited, stick to the central city area, especially Circular Quay and The Rocks. This harbor-side area contains what is Sydney's most internationally recognized landmark: the Sydney Opera House. Circular Quay is also a transportation hub, with ferries and harbor cruises departing from here. Take a walk along the pathway beside the water, stopping in front of the Opera House for some photos. Continue in the other direction around the bay and you'll reach The Rocks, an upmarket shopping and dining area. When the weather's good, these places are great for just enjoying the views and the vibe. If the weather's not so great, the Museum of Contemporary Art is a good place to spend some time.
If your afternoon in Sydney extends into the evening, take an evening cruise on Sydney Harbour to appreciate the skyline lit up at night.
Sydney in 24 Hours
With a full day and/or overnight stay in Sydney, there's time to explore more of the harbor. Circular Quay is still a great place to start, and you can purchase a ferry pass or hop-on hop-off pass for getting around the harbor. Taking the Manly Ferry over to the beach-side suburb of Manly is an economical and scenic option. When the weather's good, the beach at Manly is one of the best places in the city to swim. The harbor views from the ferry are also attractive. Alternatively, if you're traveling with kids, you might want to check out the famous Taronga Zoo.
If you're feeling adventurous and aren't (too) scared of heights, join a Harbour Bridge climb. Sydney's iconic, coathanger-shaped bridge offers spectacular views of the harbor from the top. If you are afraid of heights and don't like the idea of climbing to the top of the bridge, you can also do a "self-guided" walk of the bridge, just walking across its pedestrian walkway at road-level!
On this weeklong trip to Australia, you'll spend a full day exploring Sydney, plus a day trip to the Blue Mountains and time spent in both Melbourne and Cairns. Or consider this 8-day trip, which starts with a Sydney coastal walk and ends in historic Hobart, Tasmania.
Sydney in 2-3 Days
With two or three days in the Sydney area, there's time to make a day trip out to the Blue Mountains. Located just west of Sydney, they're easy to reach via train or private car. While they're so close to the city, they also feel very far away. The air is usually cooler up there, and there are beautiful natural attractions to check out, as well as the cute towns of Katoomba and Leura.
Go on a bushwalk through the eucalyptus forests that give the mountains their name (due to the oils they emit that give the atmosphere a blueish tinge); check out the beautiful Three Sisters landmark, the stuff of Aboriginal legend; and visit some of the dramatic waterfalls, including Katoomba Falls and Empress Falls.
Spend three days exploring Sydney with this classic itinerary, which also includes stops in Melbourne and Uluru (Ayers Rock).
Sydney in 4-5 Days
With a bit longer in Sydney, take another day trip outside the city. While South Australia and Victoria are perhaps better known as wine destinations, the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, is New South Wales' premier wine-making region. On a day trip to the Hunter Valley you can visit wineries to learn about the local varietals and wine-making methods, and of course to sample some of the best. Sip some more wine over a leisurely lunch overlooking a vineyard, before returning to Sydney.
If you have more time in Sydney and want to get active, one of the most popular walks in the city is the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. The walkway along the cliffs between these two bays rewards takes about two hours each way. There are fantastic views across the sea, and down to cliffs and rock pools below. When the weather's good, you can also swim at Bondi and/or Coogee to cool off (although you might want to skip this walk in the height of summer).
Consider a 10-day itinerary that pairs four days in Sydney—including a Hunter Valley wine tasting excursion—with time in Cairns and Melbourne. And travelers on a shorter schedule will appreciate this quick 5-day Sydney itinerary, complete with a day trip to the Blue Mountains, a guided tour of the famed Sydney Opera House, and a thrilling climb up Sydney Harbour Bridge.
For more trips featuring Sydney, check out our full list of tours and itineraries.