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Manly ferry in Sydney Harbour
Manly ferry in Sydney Harbour | © Ed Dunens / Flickr
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How to Navigate Transport in Sydney, Australia

Picture of Tom Smith
Updated: 4 April 2018
Sydney is a huge metropolis of more than five million inhabitants, and finding your way around the Harbour City can be daunting. Keep reading to learn all the tips and tricks you need to navigate Sydney’s transport system.

Train

Sydney’s extensive network of trains is the most effective way for visitors to get around the city, joining the 340 million passengers who travel by rail every year. The Sydney Trains network is made up of eight lines and 178 stations, giving particularly good coverage to the south and west of the city. Central Station at the southern end of the city centre is the hub of the rail network; the City Circle line connecting Central with Circular Quay loops through most of Sydney’s major attractions.

Train crosses the Sydney Harbour Bridge © Dear Edward / Wikimedia Commons
Train crosses the Sydney Harbour Bridge | © Dear Edward / Wikimedia Commons

Trains generally operate between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m., and NightRide bus services replace train routes during this overnight period. Try to avoid catching the train during the rush hour peak — generally between 7:30 – 9 a.m. in the morning and 5 – 6:30 p.m. in the evening — when crowds are at their busiest.

NSW TrainLink — formerly known as CountryLink — also connects Sydney to nearby regional centres and areas such as the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Newcastle, the Southern Highlands, the South Coast and Canberra.

Trains at Sydney’s Central Station © AndyLeungHK / Pixabay
Trains at Sydney’s Central Station | © AndyLeungHK / Pixabay

Local tip: Pick up an Opal card. You actually need one of these tap-on ‘smart cards’ to travel on public transport in Sydney, and there are more than 2,000 Opal retailers around Sydney where you can grab yours. The best part? There’s no fee for the card itself, you just need to load it up with at least $10 and the credit is yours!

Bus

About 250 million passengers a year jump on a bus in Sydney, but the Harbour City’s winding roads and suffocating traffic means that visitors should only join them when they really have to — such as the 380, 381, 382 or 333 to Bondi Beach. Hundreds of bus routes cover areas that trains don’t — the Northern Beaches and the Eastern Suburbs, for example — but short inner-city journeys are often better tackled on foot than waiting for a bus that’s likely to be late, crowded and choked by traffic.

Since the introduction of the Opal card, the majority of bus services — especially in the city — are prepaid only. That means that if you don’t have credit on your Opal card, the driver won’t hesitate to boot you off the bus and tell you to hop on the next one once you’ve recharged, so make sure you’ve topped up before you travel.

Local tip: Remember to stick your hand out to hail the bus you want to catch. Sydney’s bus drivers have no qualms sailing right past the stop unless a potential passenger is clearly flagging them down with an arm outstretched, so don’t be coy.

Ferry

The ferry is the quintessential way to get around the Harbour City, and although it’s more expensive than trains and buses, you get what you pay for. Paying north of $7 one-way might seem steep for a daily commute but that’s a bargain for visitors to Sydney wanting front-row seats to the glistening harbour.

Circular Quay is the hub of Sydney’s ferry network, with eight routes linking the city centre with Manly, Taronga Zoo, Parramatta River, Cross Harbour, Neutral Bay, Mosman Bay, Double Bay and Cockatoo Island. Tourist ferries depart from Wharf 6 at Circular Quay, but there’s no need to pay that premium when there’s such spectacular scenery on these regular commuter services to so many locations around the harbour-front.

Local tip: Load up on Sunday! The Opal card caps your travel at $15.40 a day and $61.60 a week, but on Sundays, you can do as much travel as you like for a mere $2.60, providing a massive saving on ferries. The iconic Manly Ferry normally costs $7.35 one-way, but on Sunday, you can jump on for just a third of that price.

Light rail

Sydney’s light rail system might only feature one line, but it’s the neatest way to travel from the city to the inner-west. The route starts at Central before following the water through Pyrmont, Glebe and Rozelle then winding up in Dulwich Hill — a slow but scenic journey through some of Sydney’s most historic and charming suburbs.

Sydney Light Rail tram © Beau Giles / Flickr
Sydney Light Rail tram | © Beau Giles / Flickr

Local tip: Stay tuned for even more ‘rapid transit’ criss-crossing the city. The Sydney Metro project is building lines between Epping and Rouse Hill (set to open in 2019) plus Bankstown and the city (set to open 2024), but Sydneysiders have seen too many half-baked infrastructure projects come and go to get too excited about it.

Taxi

There are plenty of taxis crowding Sydney’s streets, but visitors shouldn’t rely on them. Fares are extremely high and the service is often unfriendly … and that’s if you’re lucky enough to actually hail a cab on a night out. Pick-up and set-down zones are strictly enforced, queues at those cab ranks stretch for miles, and Sydney cabbies are infamous for refusing fares if they don’t deem the journey long enough to be worth their time.

Local tip: Take an Uber. Few cities on Earth love the ride-share app more than Sydney, which has been liberated from the taxi monopoly with the cheaper, cleaner, more comfortable and more convenient alternative Uber provides. Competitor Taxify has also arrived in the Harbour City in 2018.

Transport apps

Download Uber to start with. And the Opal Travel app is the best way to top up your card before you travel. TripView is the most popular app to plan your travel via train, bus, ferry, light rail and coach, while Citymapper, Moovit, NextThere, Transit, TripGo and Triptastic are some other apps that Transport NSW recommends.

Local tip: Sydney’s public transport timetables are plugged into Google Maps, which is a really handy way of learning how late your bus is running.