48 Hours in Sydney: The Ultimate Itinerary

People dining at outdoor restaurants in Circular Quay in Sydney
ymgerman / Getty Images

Australia's largest city, Sydney, has so much more to offer than beaches and the Harbour Bridge. This sunny state capital will probably be your first stop in the country, making it the perfect place to immerse yourself in Australia's innovative food culture, world-class museums, and boutique shopping scene. And yes, the beaches are gorgeous too.

To make sure you don't miss a thing, we've put together a guide to the city's hotspots. From the coolest bars and restaurants to the sparkling ocean views, here’s how to have a perfect 48 hours in Sydney:

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Aerial view of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney


Katharina13 / Getty Images

9 a.m.: As you land at Sydney Airport, you'll be able to marvel at the deep-blue harbor and surrounding bushland from above. The Central Business District (or CBD) is a twenty-minute drive or short train ride from the airport but beware of the AU$15 airport train station access fee and the AU$35 minimum Opal transport card top-up.

Once you check into your hotel, grab breakfast at the Insta-famous Black Star Pastry inside the Kinokuniya book store in the CBD. The Strawberry Watermelon cake is the most popular, but they also serve quiches, sandwiches, and savory pies.

For something more hearty, try Pablo & Rusty's, where the coffee beans are both sustainably sourced and freshly roasted, and the food menu is satisfying. Many of the CBD's cafes do not open on weekends, but Regiment and Hills Bros are reliable options for a typically Aussie flat white coffee on weekdays.

10 a.m.: Then, stroll over to the Royal Botanic Garden and walk down to the Harbour. From Mrs. Macquarie's Chair (a large bench cut into the sandstone by convicts in 1810), you'll have a rare view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge together. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, you can join the Aboriginal Heritage Tour through the Garden to learn about the traditions and history of the Cadigal people, the traditional owners of the Sydney city area. 

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Sydney Harbour


Prasit photo / Getty Images

12 p.m.: Just south of the gardens, you'll find the Art Gallery of NSW. As the city's most prestigious visual arts institution, it houses works by Australian artists like Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, as well as a significant collection of Asian and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Admission to the gallery is free.

1 p.m.: Take a taxi or Uber over to the Sydney Fish Market, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and survey the selection of barramundi and swordfish. There is plenty of sashimi-style raw fish available for purchase from the fish vendors, as well as oysters, scallops, and shrimp at the cafes and restaurants. Try to find a table inside, or the seagulls may make off with your lunch!

3 p.m.: Spend the afternoon exploring Circular Quay, the city's waterfront entertainment precinct, and stop in for a celebratory drink at Opera Bar. In the shadow of the Opera House and facing the Bridge, this beer garden has some of the best seats in the house.

The Museum of Contemporary Art can be found nearby, as well as the city's main ferry terminal. The ferry across to Manly (one of Syndey's northern beaches) is a popular way to see the harbor. The commuter ferry is a 30-minute ride one way and costs around AU$8 with an Opal transport card. There is also a fast ferry, but the commuter ferry is a more traditional experience.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Maybe Sammy bartender

 Courtesy of Maybe Sammy

7 p.m.: A little further around the harbor, you'll find yourself in the Rocks, the city's oldest neighborhood. Its historic laneways are brimming with cafes, museums, and galleries. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the streets come to life with a local craft and food market.

For dinner, make a booking at Quay for the six-or 10-course tasting menu highlighting the best of Australia's seafood, red meats, and native fruits and vegetables. If you're looking for something more low-key, try Sydney's Chinatown (also known as Haymarket). Known for both its Cantonese-style seafood and late-night opening hours, Golden Century is a Sydney institution.

9 p.m.: Thanks to the Rocks' working-class history, the neighborhood is home to the city's two oldest pubs. The Fortune of War dates from 1828, while the Lord Nelson Hotel has been continually licensed since 1831. If views are your priority, check out the Glenmore Hotel rooftop for a sweeping panorama of the harbor.

The '50s-inspired cocktail bar Maybe Sammy in the Rocks is currently Sydney's hottest watering hole. This year, it was the only Australian venue to snag a spot in the World's 50 Best Bars list, thanks to its inventive cocktail list and luxury hotel vibe. Order a martini or a glass of local wine.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Coogee beach walk


Derek Duncan / Getty Images

8 a.m.: On your second day in the harbor city, make your way over to the coast to hike the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk along some of the city's most beautiful beaches. The earlier you start the walk, the better, both in terms of crowds and avoiding the heat. If you're a morning person, you can even try to catch the sunrise over the ocean.

The 3.7-mile walk is not strenuous, although there are a fair amount of stairs, and will take one to two hours at a relaxed pace. From late October to early November, you can catch the impressive Sculpture by the Sea exhibition along the walking track.

If going by public transport, the bus will be your best bet as the train line ends at the Bondi Junction shopping precinct rather than Bondi Beach. Parking is extremely limited around Sydney's coastline.

10 a.m.: Once you've worked up an appetite, swing by Barzura for a brunch that is as multicultural as Sydney itself. The nasi goreng, smashed avocado on toast, and Shakshuka baked eggs are all worth a taste. The Coogee Pavillon is another iconic local eatery, with a family-friendly restaurant servings egg and bacon rolls and smoothies downstairs and a rooftop bar upstairs.

Afterward, kick back on the beach for some well-deserved downtime. Coogee's ocean pools and wide sandy beach are just as lovely, although much less crowded than Bondi. Make sure to swim between the red and yellow flags that signify a lifeguard is on duty, as Sydney's waters can be rougher than they appear.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Coconut seafood dish

 Courtesy of Thai Pothong Restaurant

1 p.m.: For lunch, head towards the city again and explore the neighborhood of Newtown. As the heart of the Inner West, Newtown is creative, eclectic, and diverse, popular with students at the nearby University of Sydney and artists who appreciate the thrift stores, live music venues, and craft beer.

Settle in for lunch and a beer at the Newtown Hotel, a classic Aussie pub updated for the trendy local clientele. Alternatively, diner-style restaurant Mary's is renowned as the home of the city's best greasy cheeseburgers, or, if you'd prefer a more refined vibe, Sydney's best Thai restaurant, Thai Pothong, is just down the street.

3 p.m.: Take some time to browse the thrift and vintage stores on King Street, like Cream and Swop Clothing Exchange, or perfect your beach-chic aesthetic at Milk & Thistle boutique. Better Read Than Dead independent bookstore is a must for bibliophiles.

If you're looking for a slightly more sophisticated shopping experience, swap Newtown for Oxford Street in Paddington or Gould Street in Bondi. In Paddington, Fred's farm-to-table restaurant and the sustainable seafood-focused Saint Peter's exemplify the neighborhood's hip yet conscious attitude.

For a taste of quintessentially Aussie cuisine, Bills in Bondi delivers. Self-taught chef Bill Granger's international restaurant empire began in Darlinghurst in 1993 and now includes outposts at Bondi Beach and in Surry Hills. The Bondi outpost features warm, airy design touches and a fresh, wholesome lunch menu.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Love Tilly Devine bar

 Courtesy of Love Tilly Devine

7 p.m.: For dinner in Darlinghurst, just east of the CBD, you can dine on fiery curries and hoppers (Sri Lankan rice flour pancakes) at Lankan Filling Station. The small restaurant doesn't accept reservations for groups of fewer than six people, so be prepared to wait.

Sydney is also well known for its Italian cuisine, and Beppi's is the stately grandfather of the city's many excellent trattorias. Since 1956, this family-owned restaurant (complete with its own cellar) has served up classic dishes with care and passion.

9 p.m.: Darlinghurst's Oxford Street is transformed by the annual Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras pride parade in February, but it is a hub for the city's queer community and vibrant nightlife culture all year round.

If clubbing is not your style, there are also plenty of small bars. Love, Tilley Divine will make you feel at home, even though it is named after notorious brothel madam and organized crime boss Matilda Devine who rose to power in Sydney in the 1920s. This cozy bar is inspired by her rebellious attitude, serving biodynamic wines from around Australia and European-style small plates.