Growing up on the South Coast of New South Wales in Australia going to Sydney was always a big deal. We never drove there, only caught the train. And it was the rare occasion that we went. I remember visiting the zoo with school, seeing a Christmas Concert at the Opera House with my mum but little else.
It wasn’t until I was older and independent that Sydney became a place to visit more often. Darling Harbour had been developed. It was 1988, and I was 19 when I remember spending the day visiting the Exhibition Centre, the Powerhouse Museum and the Chinese Gardens of Friendship.
Over the years there have been many trips and experiences – concerts, shows, harbour cruises, Vivid Festival, accompanying kids on school excursions, visiting Manly, drinks at the Opera Bar, weekends away, day trips, shopping trips and more and even a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. There have been too many places visited to remember them all.
I am currently trying to talk my partner into Glamping on Cockatoo Island. No success yet!
Over the years I a few favourites stay in mind like the Queen Victoria Building, walking through the Botanic Gardens, The Rocks and the markets.
But recently I was asked to recommend places for an overseas visitor, and I admit I was stumped. With only two days how do you choose the best of a city, particularly for someone you don’t know?
So, I put together a generic list of what I thought they might like. But it is so hard to narrow down things when there is much to see and do.
As a Travel Planner, it is always a huge dilemma – how to pick meaningful activities for a limited time, without cramming too much in and possibly missing things my client would prefer.
That is why the consultation is an integral part of the Travel Planning process. Sure, I can put together an itinerary, but I would much rather put together a personalised and meaningful itinerary.
Planning my own weekend
My partner, Dan and I keep talking about a weekend in Sydney. But we usually stay with Dan’s sister and brother-in-law in Balmain and not in the city. We have the best weekends with them, you can read about our Foodie Weekend in Balmain. We have similar interests, and Fiona chooses great places to take us to.
For those of you visiting Sydney with limited time, here is the generic itinerary I put together. The design was intended to allow easy walking from one place of interest to the next on Day 1, except for Darling Harbour as an alternative location.
Because I don’t view Sydney as a visitor, I wanted to show it to you through the eyes of locals and visitors. I have included three blog articles by travel bloggers who have captured the best of Sydney.
You can read all about their experiences and recommendations a little later. And then, of course, there are the day trips to do using Sydney as your base if you have more time. Look for those at the end of the post.
Two-Day Sydney Itinerary – Day 1
Sydney Bridge Climb
A Sydney Bridge Climb is a unique experience. Allow approx. 4 hours altogether for this. This had already been booked by my overseas visitor but if you didn’t want to do this (it is great but expensive at $298 AUD) you could head on over to Darling Harbour.
Alternative Option – Darling Harbour
At Darling Harbour explore the Powerhouse Museum, Chinese Gardens of Friendship, Aquarium, Maritime Museum, join a Harbour Cruise or a Jet Boat Ride. There are restaurants galore, bars and cafes.
Once you have finished your bridge climb I suggest you explore The Rocks area. The Rocks is a historic area of Sydney, the place of the first settlement. It’s an interesting area of old buildings, cobblestone streets and a great weekend market. On Fridays, there is a Foodie Market. You can see Cadman’s Cottage or The Rocks Discovery Museum.
The Rocks is less than a 10-minute walk from the Bridge Climb and on the way to the Opera House. There are great cafes to eat at, historic pubs and also the Museum of Contemporary Art is worth a visit.
We like The Rocks Café. A historic café with good food and a great variety including their Crocodile Burger.
There is also a self-guided tour you can do with a Walking Tour App.
Two to three hours should be enough for The Rocks depending on what you want to see.
The Museum of Contemporary Art
It is about a 10-minute walk from The Museum of Contemporary Art to the Opera House via Circular Quay (the ferry terminal).
Royal Botanic Gardens
If you have time on your hands before the Opera House Tour you might like to walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens and around to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair – a hand-carved sandstone bench located on the peninsula with great views of the harbour.
It would take around 25 minutes each way to walk there from the Opera House.
The afternoon Opera House Tour commences at 5 pm and goes for approx. 1 hour.
Inside Opera House. Image courtesy Pixabay.
After your tour, enjoy a drink at the Opera Bar. If you can get a seat on the wall it’s beautiful sitting there in the evening overlooking the harbour and Bridge sipping a wine (or two!) as the sun sets over the water.
I suggest starting early and start your day by visiting Sydney Town Hall which opens at 8 am and then heading to the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) which opens at 9 am.
It is a beautiful building with some exquisite shops. I’m not a big shopper but I love spending time exploring here so I would recommend you allocate a couple of hours. A nice place to indulge in morning tea.
You may want to walk through Hyde Park, a 5-minute walk from Sydney Town Hall.
Options for the afternoon
This is what I would do.
Explore the city in the morning – Queen Victoria Building, Sydney Town Hall and not worry about Hyde Park. If you are time poor, consider omitting Sydney Town Hall.
Go to Circular Quay. From here you take a ferry to:
Cockatoo Island is located in the middle of Sydney Harbour. It was once a penal establishment for convicts and a shipbuilding dockyard for many years.
After a decade of inactivity, Cockatoo Island was opened to the public in 2007. Tours are run on the island, you can experience Glamping and participate in a Ghost Tours at night.
But if you are on a brief visit, a self-guided walking tour would be the best option.
The ferry will take around 35 minutes each way to Cockatoo Island from Circular Quay.
AND/OR (remember they are in opposite directions in the harbour – you would need to go back to Circular Quay and take the ferry to Manly)
Head out to Manly. The ferry is approx. 40 minutes and they leave every 20 minutes from Circular Quay.
Enjoy some time at the beach, visit the Manly Art Gallery and Museum (only 5 minutes from Manly Wharf) and enjoy a late lunch or early dinner.
I can recommend the Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club at E Esplanade & Stuart Street, Manly. It is approx. a 10-minute walk from the Manly Wharf. Great food and a lovely location.
Manly. Image courtesy Pixabay.
These are two totally different experiences.
One is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that played a significant role in Sydney’s history.
The other is a great way to see a beautiful Northern Beaches suburb outside of the city. My partner’s sister lived in Manly for many years and they loved it.
This would give you a taste of the city and something a little different.
Other Places of Interest
The Grounds of Alexandria
The Grounds of Alexandria are popular and BUSY and crowded. It is a collection of cafes, eateries, sustainable gardens and food experiences set on an acre of unused industrial land. It is clever, quirky and something you should experience if crowds don’t bother you.
The Grounds of Alexandria
Enmore & Newtown
I like the funky areas of Enmore and Newtown though Newton looks a little worn down now, but again a totally different vibe.
Of course, there is the iconic Bondi Beach. Popular with tourists and locals alike.
I have suggested diverse places and activities. I hate public transport so I try and walk as much as I can when I travel and my itineraries reflect that.
Sydney is big and there may be times you will need to catch a train or bus. But in the case of this itinerary, your longest walk from the city centre to Circular Quay would only be around 20 minutes.
What Travel Bloggers have to say
Australia can be an expensive place to travel. But as these three bloggers have found there are ways to see Sydney on a budget, and not miss out. There are so many good ideas here and plenty that you can add to your Sydney Itinerary.
I am going to add some of these suggestions to our next trip to Sydney. It covers some of my favourite places but with more budget-friendly suggestions to do in our beautiful city. The Sydney Budget Travellers Bucket List by the Sydney Expert.
Another article listing all the great things to do in Sydney (including day trips). Thank, Laura, a good read and some things to add to my own list – 34 Budget friendly and free things to do in Sydney by Escapes Etc.
I love the history incorporated in this blog post by The Intrepid Guide. Another good roundup of the many fun and interesting things to do in Sydney. 25 Things to do in Sydney on a Budget [plus free Sydney City Tourist Map]
Day Trips from Sydney
The Blue Mountains is my new home and I love it. I don’t think we will ever move away.
I have put together a Blue Mountains Visitor’s Guide which pretty much covers the highlights of the mountains. From quaint villages, stunning views and walks, great food and friendly people the mountains has it all. It is beautiful all year round but particularly in Spring and Autumn.
Only a 90-minute drive from Sydney this is the perfect day trip, but allow yourself as much time as you can. And don’t forget to visit Govetts Leap in Blackheath – it’s my all-time favourite lookout.
Govetts Leap, Blackheath, Blue Mountains
Wollongong is about a 1.5 – 2hr train trip from Central Station. Once you emerge from the National Park the views of the coast are magnificent. Wollongong is a coastal city with stunning beaches and great places to eat. Spend time at the beach, have a bite at one of the beach restaurants or cafes, talk a stroll along the harbour, past the lighthouse and back again. The views are amazing.
If you have more time, and a car make sure you come down the coast road from Sydney and over the Sea Cliff Bridge. The coastline is something you shouldn’t miss. You can also visit the Nan Tien Temple and visit some of the quaint coastal towns north of Wollongong.
You can find more information on Wollongong here.
The Hunter Valley is a food and wine lover’s paradise. It is a 2-hour drive from Sydney and is dotted with vineyards, packed with a range of accommodation and home to top restaurants. The Hunter Valley is a great day out, although I would highly recommend a couple of days if you can manage it.
Up until recently, the Hunter Valley was my favourite place to visit for wine tasting and delicious food. I have to say though after our stay in Mudgee that has changed. If you could possibly find time to head out to Mudgee for a day or two then do it. I highly recommend a visit.
Enjoy Sydney and if you find more places to visit, let me know!