Sydney is a cosmopolitan city surrounded by iconic beaches, world heritage sites, and acclaimed wine regions. Besides being Australia’s largest city, Sydney is also its most visited. (And, contrary to popular belief, not the country’s capital!) With an incredible variety of attractions and sights to see, including the very famous Bondi and Manly beaches, it’s easy to see why people come here and stay a while—try to stay at least a week if you can. As you will see from this travel guide, there is a lot to do in Sydney. It’s worth a long stay.
Hostel Prices – Hostels in Sydney are very expensive, ranging from 20-40 AUD for a dorm room while private rooms cost between 80-120 AUD per night. Cheaper hostels can be found in the King’s Cross area. Wake Up! in central Sydney and the YHA Rocks are two of my favorite Australian hostels. Avoid the Jolly Swagman! It’s a horrible place to stay.
Budget Hotel Prices – Hotel prices vary greatly in the city. If you want to stay in the center, you’re better off getting a private room at a hostel as the hotels are too expensive downtown. Most budget hotels begin around 90 AUD per night for a single, and 150 AUD for a double, and get more expensive the closer you get downtown ($200+). Check out Airbnb to rent from a local and get better value for a great location. You find a lot better deals and, on a per person basis, work out cheaper if you’re with a group.
Average Cost of Food – Cheap meals like sandwiches, burgers, and sushi can be found for under 14 AUD. If you cook your meals, expect to pay 95-108 AUD per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic food stuffs. An average restaurant meal will run you about 20-28 AUD for no frills eating. If you are staying in hostels, most offer family style meals each night for around 8 AUD (some offer “free” dinners but it’s usually crappy hotdogs and sausages). Restaurants on the harbor will cost a bit more because of all the tourists and great views. Fast food is around 15 AUD for a meal. The best value food are the ethnic restaurants where you can get a really filling meal for 10!
Transportation Costs – Sydney’s transport system is made up of trains, buses, and ferries. Bus fares depend on the number of zones you travel with adult fares beginning at 4 AUD. Fares also vary slightly based on the time of day and the number of passengers. Taxi’s are fairly easy to flag down but expensive. Ferries range between $5-10 AUD each way. The airport express train is $15. UberX has become a really popular form of transportation around the city and is about 40% cheaper than a taxi. See below for information on the city’s metro pass!
More information on the cost of traveling Australia.
Money Saving Tips
Free local events – “What’s On Sydney” has a list of free and cheap current events.
Walk the bridge for free – Taking a Bridgeclimb is 205 AUD but you can walk across this icon for free.
Get an Opal card – This metro card is free — you just need to load it with money — and worth using for three reasons: first, it offers discounted fare compared to purchasing one use tickets (varies by distance); there’s a maximum fare charge of $15 per day; and on Sundays, a maximum of $2.50. That means you can go anywhere in the metro system on a Sunday and you’ll never pay more than $2.50!
Free walking tours – I Am Free runs a free daily tour of the city center and The Rocks, Sydney’s original settlement. Additionally, you can use Sydney Greeters (advanced booking required!), which is a free service that connects you with a local who will show you around their neighborhood!
Visit the markets – Sydney has a ton of amazing markets to walk through. From Paddington Market, to the fish market, Bondi’s Farmer’s Market, the flower market, and a ton more seasonal markets, it’s really easy to spend a lot of time wandering and shopping. I love the Paddington Market and the famers market the best. They draw an eclectic crowd and the farmer’s market makes me want to cook non-stop.
Eat Cheap! – Need a cheap meal? The sushi trains around the city can be great value. You can get a filling meal for $20. Additionally, the noodle and dumpling shops in Chinatown offer amazing meals for less than $10 and Lentil as Anything, a vegetarian restaurant in Newtown, offers meals on a “pay as you want” system. Another cheap place to eat is the food court in the MCL center, which is a big office building in the heart of the CBD and popular with office workers on lunch. From Mexican to Sushi to salads to sandwiches, you can find a big portion meal for $10.
Explore the free museums – Australia has a lot of expensive museums but tons of free ones. Some free museums worth considering: The Mint (a small exhibit on how they used to make money), Australia Center for Photography, White Rabbit Gallery (beautiful art), Manly Art Museum, Sydney Observatory, and the Rocks Discovery museum!
Top Things to See and Do in Sydney
Visit The Rocks – The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney. With narrow lanes, fine colonial buildings, sandstone churches, and Australia’s oldest pubs, this neighborhood is where Sydney started. It was almost torn down in the 1970s but was luckily preserved. With weekend markets, art museums, street entertainment, delicious (and sometimes overpriced) restaurants, and beautiful views of the harbor, opera house, and bridge, this is one of the coolest areas of the city.
Hang out at the beach – Go surfing, swimming, paddling, walking, or simply laze in the sun. Sydney is a city famous for its (free) beaches, and there’s no better way to spend one of the city’s many sunny days than by enjoying one of them. Try to avoid going on the weekends, when they fill up and you have to fight for space. While Bondi is the most famous and beautiful, be sure to check out Manly, Watson’s Bay, Coogee, and Bronte Beaches.
Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs. Macquarie Chair – One of the finest walks in the city starts at the lively Circular Quay (where the ferries come in), heads towards the Opera House and into the Royal Botanic Gardens where you’ll find Australia’s first vegetable garden and now a treasure trove of trees, ferns, flowers, and lawn. On a sunny day, you’ll find locals sprawled out all over the gardens soaking up the sun.
Ferry to Manly Beach – The ferry ride to Manly offers sweeping views of the harbor, Harbor Bridge, and the world famous Opera House. It’s a picturesque 30-minute ride each way that puts you in one of the coolest parts of northern city. Manly is famous for its beach, giant waves, surfing, and kick ass nightlife.
Sydney Harbor Bridge – The bridge was built in 1932 as a government employment project during the Great Depression. While tours to climb the bridge are expensive, it is free to walk across the bridge and see great panoramic views of the harbor and Opera House.
Sydney Opera House – Just as iconic as the harbor bridge, the Opera House is famous for its white shelled roof. As an architectural feat, guided tours give you a whole new appreciation for just how challenging the building was to design. Tickets for a show in the opera house are surprisingly affordable, so try to take one in if you can.
The Blue Mountains – Over the millennia, the ancient sandstone of this national park has been weathered into gorges lined by steep cliffs and separated by narrow ridges. Some activities in this area include seeing the magnificent rock formation of the Three Sisters (particularly stunning at sunset and under evening floodlight) or hiking along paths offering excellent views of the valley, sheer rock walls, tumbling waterfalls, and magnificent forests. The park is free to visit.
The museums – Like most cities, Sydney has a wide variety of museums. There’s free entry to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art at The Rocks, Nicholson Museum, and the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbor. I also suggest visiting the White Rabbit Museums (art) and Rocks Discovery Museum (history). However, my favorite museum of all is the Hyde Park Barracks. This museum is set in the old convict barracks and does an amazing and detailed job of chronicling life in the early city. It’s extremely detailed with lots of stories of early settlers and well worth the $10 entrance fee. If you only pay for one museum, make it this one!
Learn to surf – Sydney is a great place to bite the bullet and learn the art of the famous national sport. There are many companies here that offer lessons. While Bondi is the most popular beach, the surfing up in Manly on the north shore of Sydney is better.
Visit the Hunter Valley – North of town is one of Australia’s premier wine regions. The Hunter Valley has amazing wineries and produces great reds. While it’s not as easy on the budget, it is an excuse to get out of the city and see the countryside. Want even more fun? Bike tours here are great (and allow you to drink a little more!). Day tours are offered from Sydney, but it’s best to stay for at least a night.
The Tower Sky Walk – As tall as the Eiffel Tower and twice as high as the harbor bridge, the Sky Walk offers amazing panoramic views of the city. It is cheaper and easier than climbing the bridge, and the views are actually far better. Also included with your purchase of a Sky Walk ticket is access to the OzTrek, a 3-D cinema experience.
Take the trike way – Another fun way to explore the northern beaches is by renting a motorized trike. This day long trip can take you beyond Palm Beach, the furthest point on the peninsula, into the Ku-ring-gai National Park, past Church point to Akuna Bay.
Visit Wildlife World – One of the newest additions to Darling Harbor, the Wildlife World is set up with highly detailed, ‘natural’ environments for birds, wallabies, reptiles, and more. There are various guided tours and animal feedings all day. This is a good family activity.
Walk one of the coastal walks – There are a number of stunning coastal walks that allow you to take in the breathtaking natural beauty of the Sydney harbor. While tons of people walk the 2 hour Coogee to Bondi walk (skip the weekends when it’s overly crowded), I found the smaller walk in Watson’s Bay and the Split to Manly walk quieter and more breathtaking.
Attend a cultural event – Since Sydney has a complex about Melbourne being called the culture capital of Australia, it tries to outdo its rival by hosting over 30 events each year. It has art gallery nights, concerts, festivals, and much more. Most of them are free and can be found on the Sydney tourism website.
Party in King’s Cross – If you’re looking to go out, get wild, and do so on the cheap, then go to King’s Cross. This is where the beer is cheap and the backpackers (and locals) party late. For a less traveler-centric time, head up to Manly, The Rocks, or in the CBD!