Australia’s most visited city has more than 100 beaches, as well as an impressive selection of galleries, museums, heritage sites and buildings. Allowing a full week gives visitors time to see the main attractions, have a little outdoor adventure and sample a few of the city’s best restaurants, cafés and bars. It’s also enough time for a day trip or two outside the city, where vineyards, mountains and even more incredible beaches are waiting to be explored.
Rise early and head to Circular Quay, home to Sydney’s two greatest icons; Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. After admiring this beautiful part of the harbour, take a leisurely stroll over the bridge and go for a swim at the photogenic North Sydney Olympic Pool.
Head back over the bridge, stopping at the Pylons for an elevated view and enjoy lunch at the rooftop cafe at the Museum of Contemporary Art. After lunch, explore the oldest part of the city, The Rocks, on an Aboriginal tour and learn about Sydney’s traditional owners and their connection to the land and harbour.
End the day with drinks and dinner at Opera Bar, and a show at the Sydney Opera House or, if you are in Sydney in the autumn, Lyndon Terracini, Artistic Director of Opera Australia recommends “the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour where a huge open-air theatre plays host to one of operas much loved classics, complete with the city skyline backdrop, pop-up restaurants and nightly fireworks.”
Hit up Bondi beach, Australia’s most famous beach, and take a surf lesson with Let’s Go Surfing. Founder Brenda Miley says, “Surfing on Bondi is a quintessential Aussie experience!” There is a popular café, a great restaurant scene and a vibrant local community, and “the vibe is fun and relaxed,” Miley adds.
After mastering the waves, enjoy brunch at Parida, before walking off the meal on the Bondi to Coogee Walk. The six-kilometre (3.7-mile) walk passes beautiful beaches, rock pools and cliffs. It’s a good idea to have a swimsuit packed, so you can stop for a dip at each of the beaches.
Pro tip: bring a snorkel and admire the marine life on the underwater nature trail in Gordons Bay.
Upon reaching Coogee, take a dip in one of the ocean pools, and refuel or grab a drink at Coogee Pavillion, which has a lovely rooftop terrace overlooking the beach.
Freshen up for an evening of live music. “For a real Sydney music vibe, you want to pay a visit to the smaller venues,” says Sydney-based singer-songwriter Dom Youdan. “The Lansdowne Hotel is a glorious, authentic gig spot, the Golden Age Bar has some beautiful stripped-back performances and Oxford Art Factory is where the fun is at.”
Head to Darling Harbour and spend the morning exploring the museums and attractions. Check out the Australian National Maritime Museum for an impressive replica of Captain Cook’s tall ship HMB Endeavour. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants nearby such as Bar Ume which serves delicious Japanese-inspired burgers, before enjoying a little retail therapy in the city centre. Make sure to visit the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), a heritage-listed domed building filled with boutiques and the Strand Arcade, a Victorian-style retail arcade with independent jewellers, antique stores and chocolatiers.
A short stroll away is Chinatown, where plenty of restaurants are ideally placed for dinner, as well as the weekly Chinatown Market, which takes place on Fridays. After dinner, check out one of Sydney’s speakeasy-style bars, located down side alleys and in basements, or even on rooftops, such as Old Mate’s Place. “Usually when the bar is a little harder to find, the experience once you get in there is better,” says Old Mate’s Place owner, Dre Walters.
Take a day trip out to the Blue Mountains. A two-hour train ride from Central Station, the World Heritage area is a hiker’s paradise. Alight at Katoomba, and take a bus to the Three Sisters at Echo Point. Grab a coffee and something to eat at Milkbar at the Lookout, while admiring the impressive rock formation, and then take the Giant Stairway, a two to three-hour walk through the Jamison Valley. Upon arriving at Scenic World, visitors can take the Scenic Railway – the steepest passenger railway in the world – up to the clifftop. From there the Scenic Skyway heads back across the escarpment.
Head back to Katoomba station, stopping at 8things for diverse travel-inspired cuisine, from Korean bao to New Caledonian ceviche. Jump back on the train to Sydney Central Station and talk a slow walk to Spice Alley in Chippendale for dinner, an outdoor courtyard featuring an array of Asian food vendors and restaurants.
See Sydney from a different perspective on a morning boat cruise from Circular Quay. Mark Dalgleish, Managing Director at Sydney Harbour Boat Tours says, “You cannot visit Sydney without getting on the harbour, where you’ll see famous architectural icons, opulent waterfront homes and pristine national park waterways.”
Once back on land, stroll around the quay to the Royal Botanic Gardens. After admiring the flora, have lunch in a picturesque setting at Botanic House. Be sure to pass by Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and admire the views of Sydney Harbour Bridge, before exiting the gardens at the Woolloomooloo Gate.
Inner-city Woolloomooloo offers the perfect art afternoon, according to Emily Sullivan, Curator at Kaldor Public Art Projects. “Start at Artspace for the most exciting contemporary and experimental art, then head to Firstdraft, Australia’s longest-running artist-run-initiative, for the latest in emerging arts practice by younger Australians,” Sullivan recommends.
Walk to Darlinghurst, and enjoy dinner at Lucio’s Pizzeria, an unassuming byo restaurant serving authentic Neapolitan pizza. Try ‘The Lucio’ – a half Margherita and half calzone masterpiece.
It’s time for another day trip, this time to Sydney’s north. Take the L90 bus from Wynyard Station which takes less than two hours to reach Palm Beach. Soap fans may recognise the beach and lifesavers club, as they are in fact the filming location for Summer Bay in Home and Away. If possible, arrive early to hike up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse before it gets too hot. The one-kilometre (0.6-mile) walk offers great views of the peninsular and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Paddle board on the lagoon side of the peninsula or surf on the other before having lunch at The Boat House which offers delicious modern Australian cuisine and front row views of the seaplanes taking off and landing.
Jump back on the bus towards Sydney and stop at another of the gorgeous Northern Beaches on the way, such as Bungan Beach or Narrabeen. Back in the city, have dinner at Mr Wong, a popular Cantonese restaurant. Pro Tip: Mr Wong does not take reservations, so get there early to avoid the queues.
On your final day in Sydney, pack a swimsuit and towel, strap into some trainers and take the bus to the Spit to begin the Spit to Manly walk. The 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) walk takes three to five hours depending on the pace, with beaches en route. Upon arrival in Manly, grab lunch at quirky cafe Hemingways, inspired by the legendary writer, before walking along Marine Parade to Shelly Beach. This is a great place to snorkel and dive. After a relaxing afternoon at the beach, take the ferry to Watsons Bay from Manly Wharf. Indulge in the expansive Fisherman’s Platter at Doyles on the Beach, featuring delicious lobster, prawns, calamari and scallops, as the sun sets on the last day in Sydney.