Planning Your Trip
Itineraries & Day Trips
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
More than four million international visitors touched down in Sydney in 2018, drawn to its sandy beaches, glittering harbor, and buzzing restaurants. Read on for our guide to everything you should know when visiting Sydney for the first time.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: Sydney is at its best in spring (September to November) and fall (March to May), thanks to pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Summer (December to February) is peak season, with temperatures hitting 95 degrees F or higher.
Language: Australia has no official language, but English is spoken almost everywhere. In 2014, nearly 40 percent of locals also spoke a non-English language at home, with large Mandarin-, Cantonese-, and Arabic-speaking populations. More than 100 Indigenous Australian languages are also spoken throughout the country, though many are considered in danger of disappearing.
Currency: The Australian dollar (AUD) is the national currency. It tends to fluctuate between $0.60 and $0.70 USD and is used everywhere.
Getting Around: Sydney's transportation network is extensive but complex. The trains are useful if you're traveling within the city center or towards the south or west, while buses cover most of the east and north. Ferries come in handy when crossing the harbor. All rides can be paid for with an Opal card, or you can use an American Express, Mastercard, or Visa credit or debit card, or a linked device instead. (Remember to tap on and off, whichever card you use.) Taxis and ride-sharing services are another option.
Travel Tip: This beachside city wakes up early, with locals heading to the beach or the park before work. Many cafés open around 7 a.m., though they serve breakfast all day, and shops generally open at 9 a.m. At the end of the day, shops close between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. every day except Thursday, when most stay open to 9 p.m. for late-night shopping. The majority of restaurants close the kitchen before 10 p.m., so make sure to do your research if you're heading out for a late dinner.
Things to Do
Sydney's beaches are famously unbeatable, but its restaurants, museums, and parks are world-class too. If you're in need of a natural escape, the city is surrounded by national parks full of walking tracks, secret beaches, and picnic areas.
- Explore Sydney's coastline, starting early with the 3.7-mile Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. Then, grab a flat white and smashed avocado on toast at Barzura (or one of the other great cafes in the Eastern Suburbs) before cooling off with a swim at the beach.
- See the city's iconic landmarks up close by climbing the Harbour Bridge and going inside the Opera House for a performance or a tour. Both destinations offer the chance to learn about Sydney's history and architecture, while enjoying incredible views of the harbor.
- Immerse yourself in art and culture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of NSW, and the White Rabbit gallery of contemporary Chinese art.
What to Eat and Drink
Sydney's dining and small bar scenes have taken off over the past decade, combining influences from around the globe to create a unique and modern Australian perspective.
Sydney's food is defined by two factors: its close links with Asia and its proximity to the ocean. Eat your way through the freshest seafood and local produce in the inner city neighborhoods of Haymarket, Sydney's Chinatown, and Surry Hills. Have yum cha for brunch at least once, and visit the Sydney Fish Market for affordable and high-quality shellfish.
Nightlife in Australia's biggest city has undergone a transformation over the past five years. Bars and clubs in many areas shut down at 3 a.m., due to regulations known as lockout laws that were introduced in 2014, forcing some venues out of business. The government has announced these laws will be relaxed in January 2020, but the long-term effects remain to be seen.
On the bright side, the decrease in large, late-night partying in the city center has shifted nightlife culture towards trendy small bars in Bondi, Newtown, Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, and the Rocks.
Where to Stay
Sydney is divided from east to west by Sydney Harbour, with most tourist attractions around the city center on the southern side of the Bridge. This part of the city is packed with accommodations to choose from, from luxury hotels to Airbnbs.
If you're looking for food, culture, and nightlife, we recommend trendy inner city locations like Surry Hills or the Rocks. Beach lovers can satisfy their saltwater cravings by settling down in Bondi or a neighboring area, while Inner West neighborhoods like Newtown and Marrickville offer more affordable options not far from the action.
Read our article about the best neighborhoods to explore in Sydney.
Most international visitors will fly into Sydney's only airport (SYD), also known as Kingsford Smith Airport, though bus and rail connections with Melbourne, Canberra, and Brisbane are also well established.
The airport is not far from the city center, so a 20-minute taxi or ride-share service will cost approximately AU$45 to $55. By train, the trip takes 13 minutes and will cost around AU$20 due to a costly airport gate pass fee. Renting a car is a good idea if you're planning on traveling more around Australia, but parking in Sydney is notoriously expensive.
Culture and Customs
Sydney is a safe, global city, where life is not all that different to medium-sized cities in the U.S. The city is located on the traditional lands of the Eora nation, with a long Aboriginal history before European settlement in 1788. The great weather is a big factor, as Sydneysiders like to spend lots of time in the outdoors and generally live an active lifestyle.
Tipping in Australia is completely voluntary and usually only done at formal restaurants and upscale bars (around 10 precent is appreciated for exceptional service). Servers receive a relatively high minimum wage, meaning tips do not form an integral part of their income. At hotels and in taxis, a similar rule applies—tip if you would like to, but it's not necessary.
Money Saving Tips
Sydney is not a budget-friendly city, especially if you plan on eating out and staying in the inner city. However, there are some easy ways to make your Aussie dollar go further.
- Transportation costs can add up in Sydney, with each ride on public transport costing between AU$2.50 and $4.50. Luckily, Adult Opal fares are capped at AU$16.10 a day Monday to Saturday, $2.80 on Sunday, and $50 a week, so you can plan your travel-heavy days for the end of the week.
- Many pubs offer discount meal deals during the week on classics like chicken schnitzel, burgers, and lamb cutlets. These are often advertised outside the restaurants and on their social media pages.
- Keep an eye on the exchange rate—the value of the Australian dollar fluctuates, and you may be able to exchange your money at a better rate in the months or weeks leading up to your trip.