Ridiculously stunning harbour and cityscape
Sydney is a city where as far as metropolises go, is so well-balanced. It's got the picture perfect harbour with the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge draped as the city's backdrop, sandy beaches line the surrounding shores and islands, the culinary, arts, and night scene can stand toe to toe with any other big city you can name, and green spaces are strategically placed where you never feel like you're in a concrete jungle.
While the main purpose of our trip to a world down under, we managed to squeeze in some time at the beginning of our journey which would ultimately take us to New Zealand. Not one to waste any moments, I wanted to see the best way for how to spend 2 days in Sydney so let's jump right in!
Travelling on to New Zealand afterwards?
- What to Pack for a Trip to New Zealand
- The Ultimate NZ Travel Guide
- How to Visit Hobbiton the Movie Set
- Top 10 Things to do in New Zealand's South Island
- The Ultimate New Zealand 3 Week Itinerary
Top money saving tips for Sydney?
Here's what we're covering:
I Love Sydney
Not ashamed to say it but as with Sydney's social campaign #ilovesydney, those words ring true every time I come here.
I think one of the things that always strikes me when I come to Sydney is just how similar it is to Canada. Maybe that's why I feel so comfortable here. How can I put it…it's kind of like a bizarro-world Vancouver except you keep bumping into people on the street because you're on the wrong side of the street, you suffer from dementia every time you cross the street because you have no idea where to look, it's warm when it should be cold, and there's a harbour here that makes every Canadian jealous.
Coming here right at the start of spring, the weather was pleasantly warm with temperatures up to the 20's but down to the teens in the evening. Despite this being my second time to the city, it was my wife's first time so I played tour guide as we made the most of our two days.
“Relax on sun-drenched beaches, dine at award-winning restaurants and take in some shows on your trip to Sydney.” – Australia.com
Sydney 2 Day Itinerary
Quick 3 Days in Sydney itinerary
- Day 1 – Circular Quay, The Rocks, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Opera House Sunset
- Day 2 – Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk
These two days were curated and designed to be for anyone that has a limited amount of time in Sydney and want to see the most they can of the city before heading to somewhere else whether within Australia or somewhere else in the Asia-Pacific region.
I know some of you will say how we could've skipped the Blue Mountains or a trip to see the kangaroos, emus, and koalas but you have to understand that when you only have 48 hours, there's just no way to fit all that in without sacrificing something.
Also keep in mind that we explored Sydney after just going through 20+ hours to travel here from Canada so we did the best with the lack of sleep and jet lag.
Depending on when you land in Sydney, your itinerary could look very different but let's say you have more or less a full day to work with when you arrive, you'll have more than enough time to see a big chunk the city. If you arrive in the late afternoon or evening, call your first day a wash and start this 2 day trip the next day.
Landing at Sydney Airport
I wasn't going to put this in here but considering some of the surprises we encountered and research we needed to do before heading there, I think you'll find this most helpful.
The Sydney Airport isn't too different from any other airport but you'll most likely be initially confused because of something they've implemented called SmartGate. It's probably one of the most advanced customs arrival systems I've encountered while travelling where they've tried to automate the process as much as possible for their citizens and select countries that have an ePassport.
Who is eligible: All Australian passports are ePassport and other passports that are eligible include: Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Macau, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States of America. Look for the “small camera symbol at the bottom of the front cover”.
Who's not eligible: If you're a family and travelling with children under 10, you'll need to go through manual processing.
Step 1: Find a self-serve kiosk once you get off the plane. You'll see them on the side of the walls. If you see a big line, keep walking because there's more as you get closer to the customs hall. Scan your passport and if you're eligible, it'll print out a ticket.
Step 2: Head to the SmartGate line once it's your turn, put your ticket in the machine. The first gate will open where the machine will take a photo of you.
Step 3: You'll get the green light and the second gate will open to let you out.
What if you're not eligible: The weird thing was that it should've worked for both of us but it only worked for my wife and not me. All of this SmartGate stuff is moot if you don't get that kiosk ticket because you just get into standard customs line with all the other international travellers. This is the standard line you have at every other airport but of course the line will be much longer than SmartGate.
What about the Incoming Passenger Card?: You'll receive one of these on the plane and you still need to have this filled out regardless of SmartGate or not.
To declare or not to declare: Australia is pretty serious about declaring quarantine items on the Incoming Passenger Card. If there's anything I learned on this trip, it's to be honest here about any food you're travelling. Tell them what you have and they always appreciate the honesty.
Once you're out, find the best way to get to your accommodations. In our case, we found an Airbnb in the Chippendale neighbourhood but there are a ton of great options on Booking.com and VRBO that you'll see me list out in the ‘Where to stay‘ section.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Here's everything else you need to know after you land in Sydney and you're out of the baggage hall.
Remember your ETA: This is really easy to forget. Before leaving your home country, make sure you purchase the Australia Electronic Travel Authority. It's A$20 and for us, approval was more or less instantaneous. Once done, you don't need to print out any paper work as your Passport number will be tied to their system.
Getting into the city: Yes there are regular cabs, Uber, and special buses but if you're along the train line, or in the CBD (Commercial Business District), the train may be your best bet since it's likely you'll need to use the metro system especially if you follow this itinerary. What's nice is that there is a train station right underneath the international terminal. A train ride into the city is A$17.60 where as an Uber can run A$45, not to mention potentially bad traffic.
To take the train system, it's a smart idea to pick up an OPAL card. They cards are free themselves but when you pick one up at the airport, you need to load a minimum of A$35 on them.
Some information to help you decide how much money to load (full convoluted details):
- One-way airport to/from Central is A$17.60 (A$14.30 is a station access fee)
- Travel is capped at A$15.80 per day (Monday to Saturday)
- On Sundays travel is capped at A$2.70 (BARGAIN!)
OPAL card hack: To successfully tap to enter the turnstiles you only need enough funds to cover the shortest trip on a train, which is A$3.46. The trick is that cards can go into negative balances, because funds are clawed back when you top up again. What you want to do is try to get as close to the minimum amount on your last day and so when you take the train back to the airport, it'll cost you whatever you have left on the card since you'll be throwing it away afterwards.
A note about Uber: The booking fee with Uber is A$0.55 which was a surprise to me but if you take a look at the fees in your own country, you'd probably be surprised. In Canada, it's C$2.75. Sign up for a new account and get $10 off.
Hopefully your place will allow you to check-in early or drop off your bags but if not, there is a luggage storage option at Central Station.
Once you're all settled, get on a train and head over to Circular Quay Station.
ABOUT CENTRAL STATION
Look at the boards: If you're planning on taking the train from Central Station, you're guaranteed to be confused because there are local, intercity, and regional trains, and trams here. The key is to make sure to look at the big board in the main hallway and look for the orange T symbol. Both T2 and T8 go to Circular Quay. Look for the track number and follow the signs towards there.
Think of this as the hub of your adventures for the day. Once you get off, you'll see the Opera House to the right, the ferries to places like Manly Beach in front, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a giant cruise ship docked, and lots of people flowing through it all.
It's an impressive sight to make your jaw drop but keep your composure because you'll get a chance to see it all in one day.
Take a stroll around Circular Quay and perhaps pick up a flat white along the way and pause to watch one of many buskers that line the promenade.
There's actually a lot of debate around this but I basically think of this as the Australian/New Zealand take on the latte. Both are espressos and steamed milk, with a little bit of foam on top. Connoisseurs will tell you that the distinctive difference of the flat white is in the milk and how the milk is prepared and poured. Where in a latte, milk is poured into the espresso with the foam held back, a barista will free pour the perfect mix of velvet microfoam froth and liquid. You can either have the flat white as a single or double shot.
From Circular Quay start walking North and head into the neighbourhood named ‘The Rocks'. Set at the shadow the Sydney Harbour Bridge and built around the steep historic laneways, find a tight cluster or boutique shops, museums, galleries, open-air markets, pubs, upscale restaurants with elevated views of the harbour.
If you're lucky enough to be here on a weekend, you'll be treated with The Rocks Weekend Market where vendors line the busy streets with stalls filled with handcrafted goods, local delicious foods, souvenirs, . You'll find that it spans almost the entire neighbourhood including a covered canopy section.
It's here where we were delighted to find that biltong exists in Australia also international food vendors, which made this the perfect spot for lunch. As we looked up, we could see the start of the bridge and the brave souls heading out to do their Bridge Climb.
THE ROCKS WEEKEND MARKET
Where: Playfair Street, George Street, Jack Mundey Place in The Rocks
Hours: 10AM – 5PM, Saturdays & Sundays
Getting here: Minutes walk away from Circular Quay station
Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout
If there's a super hot tip in this entire post, it's probably this one. Yes, there's the stunt-level Bridge Climb where you ascend the steel arch and summit at the halfway point but if all you want is to take your time and see the entirety of Sydney Harbour, there's a much better option that's a small fraction of the cost.
Introducing the Pylon Lookout. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is anchored by two tall towers on each end and on the South West is one that you can go to the top and have full panoramic unobstructed views of the iconic skyline and beyond. Along the way, also learn about the history behind the construction of the bridge, a mini-museum of artifacts, and even a small documentary video.
The damage? Well, the Pylon Lookout only costs A$15 whereas the Bridge Climb is a minimum of A$168 and that's during the weekday and only the Sampler which doesn't even go to the top.
Hours: 10AM to 5PM (last entry at 4:45PM and open every day except Christmas Day)
Getting here: From The Rocks, there's a path up towards the elevator which takes you up to the pedestrian pathway of the bridge. Walk out towards the water and the pylon ahead. You can't miss it.
- A$15 – Adult
- A$10 – Senior & student
- A$8.50 – 5-12 years old inclusive
- Free – 4 years and under
Good to know:
- There are no elevators to the top
- There are several levels of stairs that you need to climb that's broken into two parts. The first is to get to the level where tickets are sold. From there, there's a second set of stairs that take you all the way to the top.
- The stairs are spacious and wide
Sydney Opera House
We've all seen photos of the Sydney Opera House from different angles but nothing beats being on the ground, feeling the energy of the crowd that lines Opera Bar at its base, making the stair climb up, getting up close to the tiles, and walking all the way around to marvel at the modern world's most bold and striking piece of architecture. It truly is a wonder of the world.
If there's time, try to grab tickets to do a tour inside the Opera House but if you're like us and limited on time, take your time snapping photos, watching other tourists while sitting on the steps, catch concert go-ers in their fancy outfits, and do this all as the sun sets.
If you're hungry, the Opera Bar depicted above is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike whether you're going to see a show or not. It's a beer garden of sorts but with an incredible view. Snacks and appetizers are a bit overpriced but if you stick to drinks and mains, it's actually somewhat reasonable.
Sydney Opera House With Lunch of Dinner
This is your chance to do a full tour of the Sydney Opera House and combine it with lunch or dinner at the Opera Kitchen.
Royal Botanic Gardens & Mrs. Macquarie's Chair
Seeing the Opera House up-close is one thing but one thing that I really wanted to do in coming to Sydney this time around was to be able to capture that epic photo of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge at sunset and into blue hour.
The Sydney Harbour is situated in a way that there are so many good vantage points but the view from right underneath Mrs. Macquarie's Chair has to be my favourite location to set up your tripod and camp out as the sun goes down.
All you have to do to get here is to walk eastward as you make your way out of the Sydney Opera House. This will put you along the seawall path into the Royal Botanic Gardens. As you do so, pay attention to the diverse mix of plant life and trees that line the open green space.
Continue around and you'll eventually get to the point marked on the Sydney map that you can get access to near the bottom of this post.
You never know what you're going to get with the sunset but you're guaranteed to capture something spectacular.
When you're done, take the stairs up to Mrs. Macquarie's chair which is a sandstone rock carved into shape of a bench in the early 1800s. It's another great vantage point but not as obstruction-free as it is by the seawall.
Dinner in Darlinghurst
To wrap things up in the evening, we were lucky enough to connect with my friend Jean from Honeybird Travel. Meeting up at Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, we walked back into the core and eventually landed at this authentic Vietnamese restaurant called Bay Hong which interestingly enough served everything but pho.
If Vietnamese isn't your jam, there are a ton of food options along this Crown Street between Darlinghurst to Surry Hills.
For our second day, it was a tough choice between two iconic beaches just outside of the downtown core – Manly and Bondi but since this was my wife's first time in Sydney, it was hard to overlook the famed Bondi Coastal Walk.
Emperor's Cream Puffs
What better way to start off the morning than with something sweet in the heart of Sydney's Chinatown. For us, we were headed that way to meet a friend for lunch but after reading the reviews and seeing the long line extending out from this tiny booth, it was hard to resist.
So what exactly are Emperor's Cream Puffs? Sandwiched in between Emperor's Garden Restaurant and their bakery, they constantly churn out fluffy balls of goodness filled with a piping hot egg custard. They're best had when fresh and if you opt for 18, you'll get a clear plastic box for takeaway.
They really aren't expensive at all and the line moves pretty quickly. Even if it looks like queueing would be hopeless, I recommend that you tough it out because it'll get to you sooner than you think.
Here's the price list:
- A$0.35 each
- A$1 for 3
- A$5 for 18
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A local Malaysian restaurant that is highly recommended for its roti is the award-winning Mamak. While they've grown to 3 locations between Sydney and Melbourne, they've retained that roadside stall feel of Kuala Lumpur. Serving authentic and traditional flavours of Indian Malay street food, we scarfed down various different styles of roti, fried rice, and fried chicken (a)
Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk
Most guides will talk about the Bondi Coastal Walk and recommend doing the walk from Bondi to Bronte or Tamarama Beach but having done this once already, I wanted to give this beautiful coastline the proper attention it deserves.
The reason why I recommend doing the full coastal walk starting from Coogee and making your way into the beach town Bondi is that it makes your entrance to Bondi that much more anticipated and rewards your hard work with a wide variety of cafes and restaurants when you finish.
HOW TO GET TO COOGEE
There are a lot of ways to get to Bondi but not necessarily to Coogee. I think the first thing you have to realize is that there's no train that will take you directly there which is why you have to do a little research to figure out what bus you can take. Here are two of the easiest options to get to Coogee from Sydney's CBD.
- From Central Station (Stand K): Bus 372
- From Circular Quay (Alfred St. Stand A): Bus 374
- The end stop that you're looking for is Arden St. at Coogee By Rd.
Get The App: Most locals use something called TripViewLite (iOS/Android) but I found that it wasn't particularly intuitive unless you knew exactly what to look for. In that way Google Maps will probably be more friendly but if you want full schedules and real-time updates of upcoming buses, this is what everyone uses.
Tap Out: You MUST remember to tap out when you get off the bus. It's easy to forget but if you don't tap out, you'll be charged the maximum fare.
Start your journey from Coogee Beach. The walk itself is pretty self explanatory as you'll be following the single paved path that runs up and down the coast. You'll be wanting head north or if you're looking at the sea from the beach, to the left.
What I particularly love about the walk is that there's a lot to see along the way. It twists and turns through such a variety of scenes. You'll walk through upscale seaside neighbourhoods, urban parks that turn into gorgeous public beaches, rugged rock cliff outcrops, remains of a small fishing boat dock, and comfortable boardwalk.
There's a melodic flow and rhythm to it all as you make your way through it as you go from beach to beach.
If the weather is warm when you go, I encourage you to go for a dip in one of the many beaches you'll encounter or even the salt-water pools that you can find at Coogee, Bronte, or Bondi.
Since we were there at the perfect time of year, we got to see an incredible exhibition of sculptures and art along the walk called Sculpture by the Sea. It's the perfect combination – the gorgeous backdrop of the coastline with unique modern art installations. It's all highly Instagrammable if you will.
SCULPTURE BY THE SEA
Where: Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk, Sydney, Australia
- October 18 – November 4, 2018
- Future exhibitions to be announced
Price: Free of charge
Good to know: The coastal walk gets pretty jammed pack with people when the exhibition is on so expect for things to slow down once you get to Tamarama Beach.
Once you turn that last corner and you realize you're finally at Bondi Beach, you'll see the pools of the Icebergs Club and a large stretch of sand and tons of surfers in the water.
They say that the whole walk from Coogee to Bondi should only take 2 hours but from personal experience, that's only if you're doing a brisk-paced walk end to end. It took us 4 hours although that's probably on the upper end of things with the amount of photo and video I was doing.
Once you get to Bondi, you'll understand why it makes more sense to make this the end destination instead of the starting point. With how this itinerary is planned, you'll arrive into town with just the right amount of hunger and energy to plop down and chill out.
The main street features a ton of hipster and trendy shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants but I wanted to go a little deeper into town to try out this spunky joint called La Piadina where they adamantly don't serve pizza but instead is “Where food, taste and pleasures blend together with plastic dinosaurs and super monsters. Where fresh Italian ingredients get mixed with care and mastery, placed over thin flatbreads, and served to you on custom made wooden boards.“
There are a ton of flat breads on the menu but look out for the specials on the wall. Their flat white was also really good.
HOW TO GET OUT OF BONDI
This part probably stressed us out more than going there. Since we didn't have the experience of being dropped off by bus here, we were running a little blind. Luckily, Google Maps is pretty accurate here and we just looked at the map for what was the best way to get home.
The key is to figure out a way to get to Bondi Junction. From there, it's smooth sailing to wherever you need to go.
- Bus 379 – There's a stop at Glenayr Ave at Hall St in Bondi
- Bus 333 – There's a stop on the main street (Campbell Parade) by Bondi Beach
- A$2.20 to Bondi Junction
Why get the OPAL Card: In a situation like this, you just want to be able to hop on the bus and go. We had our OPAL cards loaded so we just tapped on. Both of these stop above in Bondi are prepay only. You can't pay onboard.
Instead of getting a conventional local SIM card upon arriving in Australia, it didn't make a lot of sense for us because we were immediately bouncing to New Zealand after these 2 days.
As a result, I stuck with my trusty Skyroam and strategically used my 24 hour day pass between 2 days. I started it in the afternoon of Day 1 which meant I was good until the start of the afternoon of Day 2.
The benefit of a wifi hotspot was that I could share my connectivity with my wife and I just had to activate a pass to let the data flowing. I didn't have to waste any time at the numerous cellular kiosks at the airport and pay those activation fees.
Where to stay
Whether you're here in one day or more, I highly recommend booking you stay at one of these properties.
This hostel is immediate opposite to Central Station which puts it in a very convenient location. As a hostel in the traditional sense, there are private rooms, mixed, or all-female dorms. Each room features secure lockers which is handy.
This is a beautiful contemporary property that is part of the Hilton umbrella which means that you can earn or spend points here. All rooms are excellently appointed, and up to the standards of the Hilton brand. The hotel also boastts and open air garden Atrium.
Located 5 minutes from Darling Harbour, this luxury property offers panoramic city or bay views. Amenities include a day spa, tennis court, and hot tub which are available for guests to use. It's on the pricier side of properties in the city but well worth it if you're looking to splurge.
Top Sydney Airbnb rentals
If you prefer to stay in private room rentals, here are my picks for the top 11 Sydney Airbnb properties that you can find on the market right now. All of the ones listed here are under $100 USD and hosted by Superhosts.
Get the Sydney Map
Instead of a downloadable itinerary, I thought it'd be more helpful to see all of these places plotted on a Google Map to make your trip planning easier.
HOT TIP: If you make a copy of the map on your Google account, you can view it on your Google Maps app on your phone. Once you submit the form, the link will appear so make sure you grab the link right here.
Thinking about staying longer?
If you're coming to Sydney for school, to take advantage of Australia's friendly working holiday visa, or making a more permanent move, you quickly learn even from a 2 day itinerary like this one that it is an extremely liveable city.
Featuring a melting pot of ethnicities, excellent culinary options, and a balanced mix of urban development and recreational outdoor spaces, there's so much to love about Sydney.
With a ton of development in the CBD and in the suburbs, it's super easy to get around with its network of trains, or if you have your own car that you can pick up for cheap on Gumtree. This means that there are a lot of places to available when it comes to finding a place to stay.
Long term, you'll be able to expand your exploration beyond just Sydney and that's when I recommend that you do the tour to go to the Blue Mountains, make friends with kangaroo and koalas in your a visit to Taronga Zoo, and sip on Australia wine in Hunter Valley.
Or perhaps you're headed to different parts of Australia. If so, make sure to check out the top things to do in Cairns.