After a long, long flight (unless you happen to be in New Zealand), most visitors arrive in Sydney, Australia a little disheveled, but rather excited to begin exploring the land Down Under. With so much to see in the vast, beautiful country, many people only plan for a couple of days in Sydney before jumping on a cruise ship, jetting off to the Great Barrier Reef or taking a road trip through the Outback—which frankly is a shame, given all that the world-class, cosmopolitan city has to offer. With that in mind, here are some of the best things to do in sophisticated Sydney, Australia in just two days.
The Rocks, Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay, CBD, Hyde Park, Manly Beach, Sydney Opera House
If budget allows, base yourself near Circular Quay, which is the heart of the action. This is where you’ll find historic buildings housing shops, cafes and pubs galore, and a beautiful palm-lined promenade overlooking the famous Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
Even if you’re not staying in the area, start your day in The Rocks by grabbing a croissant and a Flat White at one of the outdoor cafes bathed in the Sydney sunshine. The Rocks has a bit of a New York-meets-Europe feel to it, thanks to the revitalized brick warehouses that line the streets, sheltering restaurant patios and high-end boutiques.
Grab a prime people watching spot, and soak in the great view of the steel Harbour Bridge as you enjoy your coffee. If you’re in the mood for a wander, head straight down towards the Park Hyatt hotel and follow the pathway bordering the water, which will eventually lead you right under the towering bridge.
Next, head back down George Street, and in less than 10 minutes you’ll find yourself in bustling Circular Quay right in front of the ferry terminal and train station. Here, well-heeled locals on their way to work in the CBD mix with camera-wielding tourists angling for a shot of the sparkling harbour. With the boardwalk being anchored by the bridge on the left and the white sails of the Opera House on the right, it’s the quintessential Sydney shot.
The walking tour continues at the end of the ferry terminal near the entrance to the Opera House, where visitors should turn right and follow Phillip/Elizabeth Street through the business district. A 20-minute jaunt leads visitors past towering skyscrapers, five-star hotels, wine bars and luxury shopping, before arriving at Hyde Park.
There, you’re greeted by beautiful Archibald Fountain and the gargantuan St. Mary’s Cathedral which gives Notre Dame a run for its money. Leafy green trees provide welcome shade from the Aussie sun as they loom over the pathways winding through the park, making for an enchanting scene.
After you manage to tear yourself away from the serenity of the park, walk or grab a taxi back to the ferry terminal and hop on the boat to Manly Beach. In just 20-30 minutes (depending on which ferry you choose), you’ll be a world away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, and find the laid-back vibe that Australia is famous for—just in time for lunch.
Manly Beach is as close as you can get to a surfer town in the area, and is the kind of place where shoes are an afterthought. Stroll down The Corso (main strip) and grab a gelato before high-tailing it to the beach. Sydneysiders claim Manly is better than Bondi, and not only is it less touristy but it also boasts soft golden sand. Add to that the epic waves which are a surfer’s dream, and it’s easy to see why Manly is a crowd pleaser. Park yourself on the shoreline, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
While ferries run back to Sydney throughout the evening, you’ll want to hop back on an hour or two before sunset, when the light is at its best for photographs. If you grab a seat on the top of the boat, you’ll have a perfect view of the Opera House as it pulls back into harbour. It is stunning to see how the soft light seems to create a halo effect around the sweeping sails, making for an absolutely captivating scene.
End the day by heading back to Circular Quay for dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants, then grab a night cap at the Opera Bar. It’s at the base level of the Opera House, and a magical place to enjoy the magnificent view of the harbour all lit up at night.
Bondi Beach, Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, Darling Harbour
After all the sightseeing on Day One, Day Two is all about the scenery—and working on that tan. No trip to Sydney would be complete without some time at famous Bondi Beach, so pack your beach bag and head there first thing in the morning to grab a spot in the sand.
The beach is absolutely huge, but it’s been known to draw thousands of people during busy periods like weekends and holidays, so keep that in mind if you’re not visiting on a quieter weekday. From bronzed bodies to cool graffiti lining the boardwalk, there is no shortage of distractions at Bondi.
Once the sun starts to heat things up, cool off by heading over to the Bondi Beach Icebergs Club. There are two beautiful infinity pools thisclose to the ocean—in fact, those doing laps need to time their breaths so they don’t inhale seawater from an oncoming wave! Entrance is only $6.50 per person, and there are facilities like washrooms and showers on site.
Once lunch time rolls around, head upstairs and grab a patio seat at one of the restaurants to fuel up for your next adventure: the Bondi to Coogee walk. The famed Coastal Walk is nothing short of stunning, and it’s incredible that such views exist right in a bustling city.
The 5.5 km pathway connecting half a dozen beaches borders a craggy cliffside the entire way, affording sweeping ocean views as the surf pounds the shoreline. Be sure to have a good pair of walking shoes and a swimsuit on hand—it’s nearly impossible to avoid jumping into the welcoming water at the beautiful beaches you’ll come across, such as Tamarama and Bronte. The walk only takes an hour or two, leaving you with plenty of time for swimming before heading back to get ready for dinner.
The last order of business in Sydney? An evening spent over good food and wine at one of Darling Harbour’s many acclaimed restaurants, before calling it a day and gearing up for the next leg of your Aussie adventure.
Have an extra day or two? There are some wonderful side trips from Sydney, that appeal to all types of travellers. Those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city can head to the Blue Mountains, or if a day spent sipping Chardonnay is more your thing, take a tour of the vineyards in Hunter Valley. Families travelling with young ones may want to spend some time at the Taronga Zoo, which is home to penguins, giraffes, elephants and meerkats, and also has fantastic views of the harbour. Finally, thrill-seekers may want to set aside half a day (and $300+) to do the Harbour Bridge climb.
Been to Sydney? Any other must-sees you would add to the list? Share them in the comments below!
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