Sydney is one of the world’s most spectacular cities with its impressive harbour full of inlets and bays. It is the first port of call for many international travellers and there is a good choice of accommodation, excellent transport connections and plenty to see and do, which ensures that Sydney never fails to impress.
Australia has two internationally recognised urban landmarks (the Harbour Bridge and Opera House) and they’re both in Sydney, but there are plenty of other things to see and do ranging from world-class museums and famous beaches to exploring vibrant neighbourhoods like The Rocks, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.
Harbour cruises, the BridgeClimb and Opera House tours are on top of many visitors’ must-do lists, but they are expensive activities and simply walking across the bridge to get a dramatic view of the Opera House is leisurely and free. Likewise a ferry ride from Circular Quay is a much cheaper alternative to a cruise. Jump on a ferry to Manly, it’s cheap and a great way to get your bearings.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are a must-see, with their winding pathways and striking harbour views. Just around the corner is the Rocks, one of Sydney’s oldest neighbourhoods. With its historic buildings and old world charm, it is worth a look, especially when the market is on.
It is hard to imagine that just over 200 years ago Sydney was little more than a ramshackle convict colony; today it is one of the world’s leading innovators in fashion and design, and has a healthy economy to back it up. This is reflected in increased housing prices, causing the impressive suburban sprawl that characterises the city.
Sydney has a reputation as a brash and flamboyant city but despite its ostentatious reputation, many Sydneysiders keep a pretty down-to-earth and fun-loving attitude, which makes Sydney one of the world’s more welcoming major cities. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions; most people are more than happy to help.
If you’re here between Christmas and New Year, watching the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day is a wonderful way to experience the city’s love of its harbour. Stay in Sydney a few more days and catch one of the world’s best New Year’s celebrations. The annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is held in late February, culminating in a parade when you can see Sydney at its most flamboyant.
Sydney has an extensive transport network comprised of buses, trains, ferries and a tram. It is pretty easy to get around the city on public transport but it’s an expensive system if you don’t have a weekly TravelPass.
You can get general information at www.transportnsw.info or by calling 13 15 00.
CityRail is Sydney’s comprehensive suburban train network, which has a good coverage of the western suburbs and the city centre. Most travellers use the Airport, City Circle and Eastern Suburbs lines, which run mostly underground and connect the city centre to Bondi Junction and the airport.
The two stations at Sydney Airport are not run by CityRail and require either an individual ticket or payment of a Gate Pass (station access fee). A Gate Pass costs $13.40 for the Domestic and International airport terminals. It is possible to buy a weekly Gate Pass or a DayTripper or TravelPass with the GatePass included.
One way train fares cost between $4.10 and $10 so it can be an expensive way to get around if you don’t buy a weekly ticket.
Sydney Opal train fares
|$3.38 ($2.36 off-peak)
|$4.20 ($2.94 off-peak)
|$4.82 ($3.37 off-peak)
|$6.46 ($4.52 off-peak)
|$8.30 ($5.81 off-peak)
Sydney’s buses are a handy way to get to all the spots not covered by the train network, which includes most of Sydney’s beaches and some neighbourhoods in the inner west such as Balmain and Glebe. Although traffic can hold buses up, they run frequently and are generally a reliable way to get around.
Bus fares are calculated by distance. The cheapest Opal bus fare is $2.10 and the most expensive is $4.50. Most of the bus routes popular with travellers cost $3.50.
Sydney Opal bus fares
|Single bus ticket
|Opal card fare
There are also the Bondi and Sydney Explorer buses that are operated specifically for tourists and run a circuit between the main sights. Forget about these, they’re way overpriced at $45 for a day pass ($40 with a backpacker discount) – it’s far cheaper to travel all over Sydney using your Opal card than spend one day riding this bus.
Sydney’s ferries are the nicest way to get around and a cheaper alternative to the touristy harbour cruises. All ferries terminate at Circular Quay in the city centre with departures to destinations around the harbour. Most ferries depart at half-hourly intervals.
Ferry fares start at $5.74 for a journey of 9km of less and increase to $7.18 for longer journeys to Manly or Parramatta.
Tram (Light Rail)
Sydney’s light rail is a tram route that is a bit like a premetro, running through rail tunnels in Glebe and Pyrmont and then on the streets like a tram when it gets into the city centre. The route starts right outside Central Station and trams run through Chinatown, Darling Harbour, Pyrmont, Glebe and Rozelle Bay to Lilyfield. The Glebe and Jubilee Park stops are handy for travellers staying at hostels in the Glebe area.
Tram fares cost $2.10 for trips under 3km and $3.50 for trips over 3km.
The Opal card is a prepaid ticketing system similar to London's Oyster card, Hong Kong's Octopus card and Melbourne's Myki. Like the Oyster or Octopus, you need to touch on when entering a station or boarding a bus and touch off when leaving. The Opal card is a good option if you're planning on spending a week or longer in Sydney.
Fares are cheaper with the Opal card when compared with the old paper tickets (which are no longer available). For instance the maximum daily charge (excluding airport stations) is $15 with the Opal card (compared with the $23 MyMulti Day pass, which was discontinued in 2016). If you're travelling on a Sunday, then it is only $2.50 for unlimited travel for the whole day.
You can buy Opal cards from over 1300 retail outlets including convenience stores, newsagents and train stations.
The Opal card is good for travel on buses, ferries, trains and trams.