Sydney is known as the Harbour City. It’s the largest, oldest and most cosmopolitan city in Australia with an enviable reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful and liveable cities.
Brimming with history, nature, culture, art, fashion, cuisine, design, Sydney’s set next to miles of ocean coastline and sandy surf beaches. Longterm immigration has led to the cities reputation as one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in Australia and the world. The city is also home to the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, two of the most iconic structures on this planet.
The busy centre of government and finance, but also home to many famous attractions, fine restaurants, and shopping.
Just to the west of Circular Quay, now a cosmopolitan area, The Rocks includes the first colonial village of Sydney and the iconic Harbour Bridge.
An extensive leisure and entertainment area immediately to the west of the Central Business District (CBD). See restaurants, boardwalks, aquariums, wildlife, and museums by foot.
The Haymarket, Chinatown and Central Station area is home to markets, cafes, Chinese culture and cuisine, and some cheaper accommodation and shopping.
Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo and Moore Park. Busy nightlife, and coffee shops, fashion and entertainment by day.
An early morning trip to the fish markets, exploring the Powerhouse Museum, finding a maritime pub or hitting The Star Casino.
Sydney is a vast sprawling city, and the suburbs in the city metropolitan area spread for up to 100km from the city centre. The traveller visiting the suburbs will find less crowded beaches, parks, cheaper shopping, commercial centres, cultural festivals, and other such hidden gems.
Between the City and the sea, includes the world-famous Bondi Beach and other city beaches, which are strong drawcards for visitors and residents in the city during summer.
The area south of the CBD and north of the Georges River, including the areas surrounding Sydney Airport and Brighton Le Sands on Botany Bay.
Sydney’s original suburbs are now bohemian and are a hub of cheap eats, shopping and inner-city culture. Also contains Sydney Olympic Park, the home of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, parks, cycling, and events.
|Lower North Shore|
Over the Harbour Bridge are leafy residential areas stretching northwards. The North Shore also has major commercial and retail areas at North Sydney and Chatswood, many smaller boutique shopping areas, and many parks and gardens, and Sydney’s famous Taronga Zoo.
|Upper North Shore|
Includes leafy residential areas, national parks and waterways.
From Manly stretching North along the coast to Palm Beach.
Contains the Northern Districts with includes Sydney’s Silicon Valley at Macquarie Park, the northern side of the western reaches of Sydney Harbour, and the the largely residential area of the Hills District in the north-west of the city.
Sydney’s “second” CBD, with history, shopping, eating, all just 30 minutes from the city centre.
The district to the far south and east of the city centre including Cronulla and Captain Cooks Landing Place.
Contains the centres of Liverpool and Campbelltown are a large swathe of residential and commercial Sydney.
Stretching from Parramatta out to the Blue Mountains
The Hawkesbury is a semi-rural area to the northwest of the city, centred around the Hawkesbury River. Its main towns are Richmond and Windsor.
Sydney is a major global city and one of the most important cities for finance in the Asia-Pacific. The city is surrounded by nature and national parks, which extend through the suburbs and right to the shores of the harbour. It could be said that the tyranny of distance has shrunk in recent times. Sydney is now only flight away from some of the fastest growing and largest economies in the world. This has increased the profile of the city, admired for its clean environment and fantastic weather.
Sydney’s 4,757,083 residents (according to a 2013 estimate) sprawl over an area of more than 12,350km². The timezone is identical with the majority of the state of New South Wales: GMT +10. The local timezone is AEST or Australian Eastern Standard Time. The city, as does the rest of the state, observes Daylight Savings time from October to April each year. During daylight savings time Sydney is 30 minutes ahead of Adelaide, 1 hour ahead of Brisbane and 3 hours ahead of Singapore.
Sydney became the centre of the world’s attention in September 2000 when the city hosted the Summer Olympics – officially announced by the IOC Chairman at the closing Ceremony to be the “the best games ever”! The Olympics saw a major building and renovation program take hold of Sydney, positioning it as one of the great world cities of the 21st century. Sydney continues to attract and host large international events
On January 26, 1788, a fleet of 11 (known as the First Fleet) ships, bearing around 850 prisoners, arrived at Sydney Cove. The date became known as Australia Day. The European diseases the colonists brought with them rapidly decimated the native population. A shortage of food and lack of farming knowledge led to widespread starvation that almost wiped out the convicts and their guards. The arrival of the second fleet in 1790 was meant to bring relief in the form of supplies, but primarily brought more sick and dying convicts which only worsened the situation.
In 1810, Lachlan Macquarie became governor of Sydney and conditions began to improve. Macquarie wanted to build a city and build he did. Under his leadership, labor forces (made up primarily of convicts) erected public buildings such as banks and churches, constructed roads and bridges, and built wharves to accommodate the rapidly burgeoning maritime trade. He also allowed convicts who had served their term to enter society as free citizens. Macquarie’s tenure as governor ended in 1821 when he was recalled to London for spending too much money and ruling autocratically.
Sydney continued to grow, despite Macquarie’s absence. In 1842, Sydney was incorporated and became Australia’s first official city. The practice of transporting convicts ended in 1850, by which time it had a population of 35,000 people.
Australia experienced an overall population depletion as citizens left the country to seek their fortune in the gold fields of California. Around 1852, though, gold was discovered in Australia and people came pouring back into the country. The Australian economy boomed. By 1871, Sydney’s population had reached 200,000.
Despite a few setbacks, namely an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900, the Great Depression and two world wars, Sydney continued to thrive. By the early 1950’s, Sydney’s population, boosted by a steady influx of immigrants, had jumped from 481,000 to over one and a half million. Employment rates were high and the economy strong. Skyscrapers began to dot Sydney’s landscape and its iconic opera house opened in 1973. The 2000 Summer Olympic Games were held in Sydney, branding the city once and for all as a city worth noting.
Today, Sydney is home to over four million “Sydneysiders.” It is considered one of the most diverse cities in the world, with more than 40% of the population originally hailing from outside Australia. Its comfortable climate, iconic structures, beautiful beaches and exotic wildlife have all combined to help make Sydney one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
When the First Fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, landed in Botany Bay in 1788, it set off a chain of events that would forever change the population of what would later become known as Sydney. For at least 35,000 years, Aborigines had been the sole inhabitants of this part of Australia. No one knows exactly how many Aborigines lived in Sydney before Philip’s arrival. What is known for certain is that during the years following the landing of First Fleet, the native population was decimated, primarily by disease. Today, Aborigines comprise only approximately 2% of Sydney’s total population.
For a time, therefore, Sydney was comprised almost entirely of British convicts, their guards and the few settlers who accompanied them. In 1851, the Australian gold rush brought immigrants pouring in from all around the world and Sydney’s population exploded. The biggest influx of immigrants came from the United Kingdom, Ireland, America, China and Germany. Today, over 40% of Sydney’s population cite their ancestry as English, Scottish, Irish or Chinese.
After the gold rush, Sydney’s population continued to grow. Today it has the largest population of any city in Australia, although Melbourne is hot on its heels. It is considered one of the most multi-culturally diverse cities in the world. Approximately 60% of the 4.8 million people who call Sydney home were born in Australia. People identifying as English or Chinese comprise the majority of the rest of the population.
This population diversity is reflected in a multitude of spoken languages. (Australian) English is considered the national language of Australia. It’s similar to British English (which differs somewhat from American English) but has some of its own unique vernacular. While the majority of people speak English, it would not be considered out of place to hear conversations in Chinese, Arabic or Greek. When taken as a whole, Sydneysiders speak over 250 languages.
When it comes to religious beliefs, Roman Catholics and Anglicans form the biggest religious groups, with Islam coming in a close third. Close to 18% of the population do not identify with any religion.
The population of Sydney is comprised predominantly of young professionals. In fact, over 70% of the city’s residents are between the ages of 18 and 49. The residents are pretty evenly split between men and women. Close to 8% of the population are under 15, and approximately 11% are over 65.
Sydney is recognised worldwide for its vibrant gay community. Every year, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is celebrated on the first weekend in March, drawing people from all over Australia and the world for the celebrations.
The rising housing prices and living costs in Sydney have had a negative effect on the culture and many consumer services. Many Australians outside Sydney often describe it as having a “rip-off” culture.
Sydney’s Western Suburbs, which lie away from the coast, tend to be hotter during the day and a little cooler during the night. They miss the afternoon sea breezes and the night-time warming effect of the ocean.
Sydney has air conditioning in all public buildings, and on most public transport. These days it is increasingly rare to have to catch a bus or train without air conditioning on a hot day. Nevertheless, carry water during summer and remember sun protection year round.
Sydney Climate and Weather information is available online at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Every year since 1998, Sydney has held the Sydney Writers’ Festival. This festival features over 300 events and brings in an audience of over 100,000. This non-profit festival brings together some of the world’s best fiction and nonfiction writers, screenwriters and even musicians, scientists and journalists. At its core, however, the festival’s purpose is to celebrate literature. While the festival is designed to highlight writers and performers from around the world, Sydney itself has many reasons to be proud where literature is concerned.
There are also pockets of architecturally significant housing dotted around Sydney’s suburbs. The inner-eastern suburb of Paddington is known for its terrace houses, while several inner-west suburbs contain streets lined with so-called federation houses (built around the time of Australian federation in 1901). Probably the best preserved example of federation houses in Sydney is in the Inner West suburb of Burwood. Appian Way is a circular street built around a lawn tennis courts complete with pavilion house. The large houses are all architecturally unique and built on large expanses of land featuring old trees and lovely gardens. Further away on the lower North Shore, Castlecrag is a unique suburb, being planned by the architect Walter Burley Griffin in the 1930s.
Though Sydney doesn’t have quite the atmosphere that it’s neighbor Melbourne does when it comes to sporting events, it does have a large Rugby League following where once a year they have their world renowned State of Origin at Hilton Auckland Hotel.
Another passion for Sydney “siders” is horse racing. One of the biggest races in Australia, the Golden Slipper, is featured every March.
Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (IATA: SYD) is Australia’s busiest airport and the main gateway to Australia. It is located around 9 km south of the City centre in Southern Sydney on the northern shores of Botany Bay. Sydney Airport is the oldest continually operated commercial airport anywhere in the world.
Over 35 airlines fly in and out of Sydney Airport with daily flights linking Sydney to key destinations on every continent. The Asian-Pacific transport hubs of Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai have several daily flights, as do the European centres of London, Paris and Frankfurt (with stopovers in Asia). There are also non-stop flights to Dubai and Doha in the Middle East. North America is connected via Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth and Vancouver. Travellers from South America can fly direct from Santiago . Africa is connected with a daily direct flight from Johannesburg.
You can fly to Sydney directly from all other Australian capital cities and from many major regional airports. Otherwise, you need to fly to the state capital and transfer to a Sydney flight. Sydney can be reached within an hour and a half from Melbourne and Brisbane with services every 15-30 minutes in peak times. It’s only 45 minutes from Canberra and just under four hours from Perth and Alice Springs
Tip: Tweet @FlySYD on the day of travel for real-time flight information direct to your WiFi device from the airport.
Check which terminal you are going to.
International terminal (T1) handles all international flights and some domestic flights. Check your itinerary and flight number because check-in, connections and customs will take longer when arriving or departing from the International Terminal, even on a domestic flight. You do not need a passport when travelling domestically, just hang on to your boarding pass.
Domestic terminal 2 (T2) is the largest domestic terminal. Airlines using this terminal include Regional Express (Rex), Jetstar, Tiger and Virgin Australia.
Domestic terminal 3 (T3) handles Qantas and Qantaslink domestic flights numbered from QF400 and above which are mostly services to larger cities and towns as well as to many smaller regional centres.
T1 (International terminal) has food and shopping both before and after immigration and security. There is an open air beer garden and bistro by check-in Bay A on the departure level. There are cafes on both departure and arrival levels. Good coffee and food can had for a reasonable price, but it is easy to buy poor overpriced coffee and food too. Departures has cheaper prices than downstairs at arrivals. There is a better and cheaper choice of food before going through security, at the large central food hall in departures. Avoid currency exchange offices (see the Currency exchange section). Two free showers for both males and females are available by check-in bay A on the departures level. There is also an open air observation deck, with the entrance next to check-in bay B on the departures level, through the bistro and up the elevator. A post office is in the check-in area, but it is only open during business hours. Post boxes are available after customs. There is a large duty free shop selling alcohol, cigarettes, perfume and electronics available when departing and arriving. There are some free Internet terminals in departures, even a few before security. There are paid Internet terminals there too and downstairs in arrivals. Trolleys cost money landside of security. Pick one up airside where they are free, or out in the carpark where they have been left by previous users.
T2 has a large food and shopping area, with a large selection of food outlets located to the right after you go through security. There are also gift shops, bookshops and some clothing stores. There are nice views over the tarmac from the eating area. There are ATMs before and after security. Everyone is able to go through security, whether travelling or not.
T3 (Qantas domestic) has a food hall with a variety of food and coffee. Nice Thai is available for around $15 or Hungry Jacks for normal prices. The food hall is airside of security, but you do not need to be a passenger to pass through. Most food and drink places and the security checkpoint close 30 minutes or so before the last departure. Don’t expect to be able to get anything at all if you are arriving on a late flight. Don’t expect people to be able to get to the gate to meet you on a late arrival as they will have to wait at baggage claim if you arrive after the last departure. There is free Wi-Fi and Internet terminals available for $5 per hour.
Due to curfew laws, no planes arrive or depart between 11PM and 5:30AM. The domestic terminals (T2 and T3) close after the last flight has cleared (around 11PM) and reopen at 4AM – you cannot remain in the terminal. T1 (international) also closes around 11PM and reopens at 4AM – but there is small transit area with basic facilities that you can remain in if you are already in the terminal (landside). This is located on level 1 near the entrance to the train station. There are limited seats and it fills up quickly when security starts herding people out of the terminal. The last train service departs at 11:45PM.
Transfer between domestic terminals T2 and T3 must be done on foot. Follow the signs either via the railway station underground, or across the car park.
Transfer between T1 and T2/T3 is 4 km by road, as the terminals are on opposite sides of the airport tarmac. You will have to use one of the following methods to transfer:
Sydney Airport is 9km from the city centre and reaching the city centre or other suburbs is easy, whether it be by suburban rail, bus or car. If you’re going to the city centre the following methods are your best bet:
Be warned of Taxi drivers taking you the long way from the airport to CBD. Request to travel via Alexandria or Redfern than on the highway. D
It is possible to drive to Sydney from Brisbane or Melbourne in a full day, around 8.5 hours non-stop to Melbourne or 11.5 hours to Brisbane on the most direct routes. A comfortable drive would allow two days from Melbourne or Brisbane, and three to Adelaide. The Melbourne drive is dual carriageway high quality road. The same can’t be said for the Brisbane drive, which while it has high quality sections, it also has some very narrow winding sections, carries high traffic volumes, and has many stoppages from roadworks.
If you are renting a car, check the daily distance allowances and any one-way charge that may apply when driving from less popular destinations to major cities. Cars may be rented at the airport and elsewhere from major rental companies, or at smaller, less conveniently located, cheaper companies.
Ride-sharing can be arranged with other travellers. You can find a wide range of carpool offers on the Internet or in hostel noticeboards, etc. Usual warnings apply.
There are tolls applicable to most motorways coming into Sydney, and all tolling is electronic – no cash is accepted. See “Tolls” section below.
Coach companies operate to Sydney from all capital cities, and many New South Wales regional centres. The Sydney coach terminal is located adjacent to Sydney Central train station in the City South. Follow the signs.
Coach travel to Sydney is usually quicker, cheaper and more frequent than train travel. Online and advance booking specials are usually available.
The Indian Pacific (13 21 47 within Australia or +61 8 8213 4592 internationally) train service runs from Perth to Sydney via Adelaide and Broken Hill. Adult fares from Perth are $1250 for a sleeper cabin. Children’s fares are $805 for a sleeper cabin. The train departs from Perth on Wednesdays and arrives at Sydney on Saturdays. These fares are much higher than return plane fares to Perth, this journey is really for train journey enthusiasts who want to see the interior of Australia. It also gives you the ability to take your car on the train for an additional fee, although car carrying is no longer available from Sydney (you will need to drive or get your car taken to Adelaide).
All long distance (NSW TrainLink and Great Southern Railway) trains to Sydney terminate at platforms 1-3 of Sydney’s Central Station in the south of the CBD area. Travellers can transfer to Sydney trains, the light rail service to Darling Harbour, city buses, as well as taxis. It is also easy to transfer to other long distance trains and coaches. There is short term metered parking so you can meet the trains on the platform. There are ATM’s, a small choice of food outlets, cafes open until late, and a railway heritage society display and a bookshop in the terminal.
NSW TrainLink also runs services several times a day from close regional cities: Newcastle via the Central Coast (New South Wales), Goulburn via the Southern Highlands, Kiama via the South Coast and Lithgow via the Blue Mountains.
Circular Quay is a spectacular and convenient place to dock, next to the Harbour Bridge and just west of the Sydney Opera House. You can walk off the ship into the city centre and The Rocks or to the Circular Quay Train Station.
White Bay in the Inner West is a new wharf for passenger arrivals on cruise ships that are able to sail under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The best access to this terminal is via taxi from Central or Town Hall railway stations (approx A$20 as at November 2014), or via a shuttle bus. Most cruise lines will have airport or Central railway station buses available for a fee (P&O A$30pp to Central as at November 2014). There can be a long wait for a taxi back to the city. This area is closed to the public during non cruise days. Note that there is no convenient public transportation and no long term parking or hire car facilities available at White Bay Cruise Terminal. Cruise ship passengers departing from White Bay may have a spectacular view of Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House on the sail away.
Recently some cruises have been anchored off Taronga Zoo on the North Shore and the passengers tendered to Circular Quay (a sight not seen in Sydney for many years previously). If this happens to you, your tender will drop you at the Overseas Passenger Terminal to complete immigration, etc.
The public transport system consists of commuter rail, bus, ferry and light rail. Combined, they can get you virtually anywhere in the metropolitan area.
Transport Infoline ☎ 13 15 00 provides information on fares and route planning for all public transport in Sydney 24/7.
As of 2012, Google Maps can also be used to plan Sydney public transport routes.
Public transport in Sydney has historically been poorly integrated and the ticket system can be confusing, though this has been alleviated somewhat with the introduction of the Opal Card (see below). Alternatively, one can purchase individual tickets to access each mode of transport. If in doubt check with a driver or station attendant as transit officers do not accept any excuses and you’ll be stuck with a $200 fine.
In 2014 Sydney implemented a new stored-value card, like London’s Oyster Card or the Hong Kong Octopus card. This is called the Opal Card.
The Opal card is a touch-and-go contactless card that you pre-load with value. The major advantage of the Opal card is that one ticket will work on all modes of transport and that your fares are automatically calculated. For travellers it holds an extra bonus in that after eight paid journeys have been attained, all further travel for the week is half-price. Once a designated weekly maximum spend (as of February 2017, $60) has been reached, all further travel for that week is 50% off. Additionally, there is a $15.00 daily cap to how much you can spend ($2.50 cap on Sundays), which is especially useful if you wish to see the outlying areas of the city on a low budget. There is a $2 discount for each transfer between modes made within 60 minutes of the last tap off – e.g. train $4.20 + bus $2.10 = $6.30 – $2 transfer discount = $4.30. There is also a 30% discount on train fares when travelling off-peak (peak period is 7-9am and 4-6.30pm on weekdays). Different peak periods apply to some outer suburban stations (Lithgow for instance has a 6-6.45am and 4-6.30pm peak).
Definitions of Opal travel terms: Trip: travel on one route, on one mode. When you transfer to another route or service, you are commencing a new trip. Journey: consists of one or more trips on eligible services where transfers between services occur within 60 minutes. Transfer: occurs at the end of a single trip. It is a change of transport mode or route, to another service or route, to continue a journey. Transfers made within a standard transfer time of 60 minutes combine trips into a single journey.
Cards can be bought through the official website or at over 1000 retailers throughout the city.
To use the Opal card you hold it against the card reader until the reader ‘dings’ and then do the same again when you get off the bus or exit the ticket gates. This enables the system to calculate how far you travelled and deduct the appropriate amount from your card balance. If you forget to ‘tap off’ you are charged a ‘default fare’ that assumes you travelled the maximum possible distance on that mode of transport – which may be significantly more than fare you would have paid if you had ‘tapped off’ appropriately.
Opal readers are at the doors of buses, on ferry wharves, on ticket barriers at major train stations and on free-standing poles near the entrances to outer-suburban train stations that do not have barriers.
The Opal card covers all the railway network, ferries, buses and light rail. The coverage of the Opal card is vast to say the least – not only does it encompass Sydney, Newcastle and all places in between, it is now valid for all train services as far as Goulburn (225km to the south of Sydney), Bathurst (240km to the west) and Scone (some 315km to the north).
Though the card itself is ‘free’, it can only be topped up in multiples of $10 – and getting a refund for the unused credit is cumbersome – requiring you to download a form from their website and then sending it back along with the Opal Cards to an address in Australia. The refund is then sent by cheque.
As of 1 August 2016, all paper tickets except Opal single-trip tickets have been discontinued.
Travellers doing a one-off trip through Sydney that need to catch public transport can purchase a Opal Single Trip Ticket. These are more expensive than Opal fares and no concession fares are available (except for children or youth under 16). Any person travelling through Sydney for more than a brief trip is advised to purchase an Opal Card. You can buy single trip tickets at machines at most stations in Sydney and the Opal network on the same machines where you can top up an Opal card.
There are different styles and ages of trains running on the network. Most often, you will get a clean modern train, air-conditioned with comfortable seating and clear station announcements. Alternatively, you could get a train like a sauna packed in like sardines in the summer afternoon peak, with station announcements that are barely audible, if at all. Prepare yourself with a network map and a bottle of cold water, just in case.
Most train services do not stop at every station and do not travel to the furthest extent of the line. Look at the departure screens at the station concourse which indicate when the next train will arrive, its destination, the platform it will depart from, and the stations it will stop at. Alternatively, you can also listen to announcements that will regularly play before and when a train arrives at the platform. Or if you have mobile Internet services use the Transport Info trip planner.
Outside of operating hours, between midnight (1AM on Fridays and Saturdays) and 5AM, NightRide buses run at least every hour. Any train ticket is valid for the equivalent NightRide bus except a single. If you have no ticket, you must buy a NightRide single from the driver, which is more expensive than a single for the train. NightRide buses stop at most stations and a few additional stops, but they do not travel on the same routes. If you intend catching a NightRide bus home, check the NightRide route map on the back cover of each timetable, or with the Transport Infoline. Buses can be crowded on Friday and Saturday nights.
Exercise caution whilst travelling on trains after 8pm, particularly if the carriage is mostly deserted and if travelling to greater western Sydney, as it is not uncommon for undesirables to be found on trains during these times. 99% of the time they will not cause you any more trouble other than being loud, vulgar and obnoxious, but it is best to avoid them as unwanted altercations may follow. Moving to other carriages would be a good idea. Otherwise, travel in the middle carriage with the train guard (marked with a blue light). The guard has contact with police and the driver if there is any trouble on the train.
On weekends, check for trackwork before leaving for the station; Sydney Trains will transfer passengers to buses if lines are closed for trackwork, and the process will add at least half an hour to a typical journey. Trackwork is common on weekends and will be advertised at the station and the Sydney Trains website for about a week before it begins. You need the same Sydney Trains ticket for the trackwork buses as you would for the train.
Sydney has an extensive bus network. Some buses run from distant suburbs such as those on the Northern Beaches and North West all the way to the city, but there are also shorter feeders to suburban rail stations from surrounding suburbs. Buses are operated by the government-owned Sydney Buses in the inner suburbs bounded by Miranda in the South, Bankstown in the South-West, Parramatta in the west, Beecroft in the North-West and Palm Beach in the North. Outside of these area, various privately owned companies are contracted by the government to operate public bus services.
It is a good idea to plan your bus trips in advance where possible. The Sydney Buses website has a helpful trip planner feature to assist you, as well as route maps and schedules to print. Buses are far less regular at night, and there are only a small number of routes that run 24 hours, so if you’re planning on staying out late, keep this in mind.
Most bus stops have timetables posted, as well as a route map for the routes servicing that bus stop.
You must flag down buses with an outstretched hand if you want them to stop for you and you must press the STOP button on board to disembark. They will not automatically stop unless they are signalled to do so.
On most buses there is nothing on the bus to tell you which stop you are approaching or which stop you are at. There are no poster maps on the bus either. If you are not sure where you are getting off, pick up or print out the timetable (found on the Sydney Buses website), which has a route map on it and watch for landmarks as you pass – and don’t be scared to ask. Also, if you take a bus marked “Limited Stops” or “Express” (the route number will start with an L or an X), make sure that the bus stops where you want it to. Limited stops services stop only at major stops so they may make you walk around 750 metres or so if they skip your stop. However, express services can run very far from the city without stopping at all, before resuming a normal stopping pattern (express buses only operate during peak hours). All normally numbered buses stop at all stops, so missing your stop or getting off one stop early is a less serious mistake. Red Metrobuses (routes numbers starting with M) are longer route, cross city buses, running at 10-20 minute frequencies during their operational hours. These buses also have a screen displaying the next stop and onboard announcements as well (though don’t count on them working). Metrobus stops usually have a name on top of the stand which easily indicates a Metrobus services the particular stop.
There are two main bus termination points in the CBD, at Wynyard and Circular Quay. These two points are separated by a one-stop commuter train trip. You will need to make this trip if connecting from buses arriving from north of the harbour bridge to buses heading east or west, or vice versa. Bus information centres are located at both Wynyard and Circular Quay.
If you don’t have an Opal Card, you can buy a single ticket on the bus, except if you are in the City area, Bondi Junction, Parramatta Rd, Norton Street, Anzac Parade, Military Road or on most of the limited stop services or M10, M20, M30, M40, and M50 Metrobus routes or any other pre-pay bus services during peak times which run through the city (which are done to help buses run on time). There are three distance based fare bands. Drivers in non-prepay buses in may be able to give change for a $20 note, but it is best to use only coins and lower-denomination notes.
A few trunk routes run to the Eastern Suburbs and to Newtown 24 hours a day. Additional services operate late Friday and Saturday night to the Northern Beaches and to the North West.
Sydney Ferries’ central hub is at Circular Quay at the north of the CBD. Ferries run up the Parramatta River via Balmain and Olympic Park, across to Luna Park, around to Darling Harbour, and out to Manly, across to the Zoo and to Watsons Bay. Also, they also go to Garden island and Cockatoo Island. They run only within the harbour, so you can’t get a ferry to Bondi. Ferries run to most destinations at least every hour, with additional peak services, and half hourly services to Manly and Darling Harbour.
At Circular Quay and Darling Harbour, each wharf has a large screen showing ferry departures and general information. Find your destination on the screen which shows when your ferry service is departing and from which wharf.
More than just a utilitarian means of transport, the ferries are a great way to see the harbourside. The best ferry excursion for visitors is from Circular Quay to Manly. Be prepared to take a stunning photograph of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as you leave Circular Quay.
Trips to Balmain and Darling Harbour offer other great excuses to take a ferry trip under the Harbour Bridge.
At peak periods the Parramatta River ferries can fill to capacity, and you should ensure that you have an alternative for completing your trip. Passenger counts are strictly enforced. Peak periods are weekends around 4PM-6PM at Parramatta and Circular Quay, and school holiday weekdays 4PM-6PM at Darling Harbour (heading to Parramatta) (you are okay if you board at Circular Quay, where the ferry originates). The Manly and inner-harbour ferries can get busy, but it is very rare that they reach capacity.
Opal fares are calculated in two zones – for trips under 10km and trips over 10km respectively. The cheaper fare covers anywhere to the east of the Harbour Bridge except Manly, which is a higher fare. Note that many ferry wharves do not have a ticket machine.
Sydney Fast Ferries and Manly Fast Ferries run a competing services against the government owned Sydney Ferries. Both Sydney Fast Ferries and Manly Fast Ferries runs a service between Circular Quay and Manly.
Opal Cards are not valid on these services, and they issue their own tickets.
There’s a single 12.8km light rail line in Sydney which is useful for travelling between Sydney City and western Darling Harbour, the casino, and Pyrmont, and runs from Central to Dulwich Hill. You can use Opal Cards on the network and Opal Single Trip Tickets are sold at most but not all of the light rail stops.
The light rail is convenient for western Darling Harbour and its sights, but you will most likely use it a lot less than other forms of transport.
However, a new line is currently being constructed from Circular Quay to Randwick. Sydneysiders are excited about pedestrianisation of George Street, the main street in the CBD. If visiting from late 2017, you will be able to admire city buildings including the Strand Arcade and Queen Victoria Building from the car free zone section of George Street.
Some suburban train stations are easy access, with lifts to all platforms and ramps operated by station staff to allow wheelchair access to trains. Some buses have disabled access. All light rail stations have lifts and level access to the car. Station facilities and bus times are available from the transport infoline, online or by phone.
There is numerous choice for car rental from Sydney airport and Sydney CBD. The majors with desks at the airport terminal and vehicles parked within a walking distance from the airport terminal are the following: Redspot, Apex Car Rentals, Avis, sydney Hertz, Europcar, Webjet Car Hire. There are also a number of choices for car rental in Sydney not located within the airport vicinity, but offer more competitive rates: Bayswater Car Rental. East Coast Car Rentals.
If you are in a group, you may need to hire a minibus. Minibuses have 8, 12 and 21 seat options. 8 & 12 seat minibuses can be driven with a regular driver’s licence. Most minibus companies offer pickup and drop off at Sydney Airport using a “meet & greet” service.
Sydney traffic is always busy, but outside of peak weekday times travelling by car is usually at least as quick as any method of public transport. Congestion can be expected on roads to the city 6:30AM-9:30AM, and roads away from the city 4:30PM-6:30PM. Allow double the normal travel time during these periods – longer if you are using motorways. Congestion is considerably worse and longer in both directions during the Friday afternoon peak, or when there are special events such as Vivid Sydney or State of Origin rugby matches. Some roads experience congestion at other times and roads heading to shopping, sports, parks and beaches can be heavily congested on weekends also – particularly on Saturday mornings and Saturday evenings. Roads around Bondi Beach and the other eastern suburbs beaches experience gridlock on summer weekends, with buses often caught in the same traffic as cars.
Roads are generally well signposted to the next major suburb or suburbs along the route. Only a handful of cross-city ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads are signposted by number. The airport is signposted from many major routes with an aeroplane symbol.
Travel times from the city centre to the Sydney outskirts can take around an hour in good traffic.
Some motorways, tunnels and bridges charge tolls.
As of July 1, 2013, you can no longer pay in cash anywhere on the Sydney Orbital Network. There is no toll payable on the Eastern Distributor heading away from the city towards the airport. The Harbour Bridge and Tunnel, Cross City Tunnel, Lane Cove Tunnel, M7, M5, and the Falcon Street northbound motorway entrance only use electronic tolling and if you use these you need to decide how you will pay the toll. You can easily avoid the Lane Cove Tunnel, M7 or Falcon Street on-ramp, however, it is hard to avoid the harbour crossings if you are going to Manly, the Northern Beaches or the zoo by car.
Your choice is to have a pass or a tag.
A capital ‘E’ marked on the lane indicates it accepts a tag and a lower case ‘e’ indicates it accepts a pass.
Not paying a toll incurs a $10-$15 administration fee in additional to the toll. If you are in a rental car, the rental car company will charge an additional fee for this to your credit card.
Some rental car companies, for example Avis, supply an etag with each car, and a service fee for each day it is used. You have no option to buy your pass or tag. Others, for example Bayswater, give you an option to rent one from them for a fixed fee, and you have a choice to obtain your own pass as an alternative. Check with your rental company.
Parking your car in the City Centre in parking stations is always possible but very expensive. Expect to pay up to $70 per day or $25 per hour at some central parking lots and around $30 even with specials on weekdays. Prices generally reduce significantly on weekends however, and you may only pay $15 – $20 or so for a full day’s parking. Reduced parking charges are also made for early bird parking, where you must enter and leave within prescribed times. For example you can park all day at the Opera House for $16 provides you enter before 10AM and leave 3PM-7PM. There is no grace period, so you cannot get out even one minute before 3PM, and you will be charged the day parking rate of $42 if you are 10 seconds late. Most city parking lots offer reduced flat fees (around $15-$25) for evening and weekend parking.
Street parking in the CBD is generally only possible before 8AM and after 6:30PM. on weekdays and, even then, is almost invariably metered until 10PM at $2.20-3.30 per hour. On weekends, most parking spaces have a 4 hour limit, again metered at $1.10-2.20 per hour. All day street spots are sometimes available in the Domain/Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and Hickson Road, but these spots are often taken up by commuters, and, since they are metered, an early bird deal may work out cheaper than the metered rate. Parking meters increasingly accept credit card payment, but have cash just in case. Similar prices are charged in North Sydney.
City hotels invariably charge for parking for the guests.
Parking in many major suburban centres and beaches can be a matter of spending time cruising and searching for parking spots. Usually parking within easy walking distance of these centres has a time limit restriction – often 2-3 hours. Shopping mall car parks usually have a similar restriction.
Some train stations have all day free commuter parking. At major stations, this can be full before 8AM. Smaller stations with less frequent train service tend to have better parking availability. On weekends it is easy to find a spot in the commuter parking lots. The stations with commuter parking are marked on rail maps.
Parking at some beaches, on summer weekends, can often be almost impossible. Some beaches are in suburban neighbourhoods, without large car parking facilities. Check the appropriate destination guides for more information.
Parking fines in Sydney are $88 if you exceed the allowed parking time or don’t pay the fee in a legitimate parking space. Reloading the meter or moving your car within the same parking zone will not get you out of a fine. Parking in a no stopping zone will cost you more. If you park illegally and wait with your car, you may find you have the licence place photographed and fined before you have the chance to move on – don’t expect a warning. If you park illegally in a disabled spot, the fine is $441. If you do get fined for exceeding time, you will not be fined again the same day.
Clearways are no-stopping zones on main roads during peak periods, marked with clearway signs and a broken yellow line on the kerb. Fines will be around $400 to reclaim your car after it is towed away. Clearways also offer parking opportunities if you want to park just after 10AM.
Speed limits can change frequently, even on the same main road. Speed limits drop for areas of pedestrian activity, schools, as well as driving conditions. Every road in Sydney has a signposted speed limit, and in every case you will need to read the signs, as you cannot tell the speed limit just by looking at the road. The speed limit is usually 50km/h on residential streets, 60km/h to 80km/h on main roads, and sometimes higher on freeways or freeway sections.
Some speed limits vary throughout the day. School speed zones (40 km/h) are enforced 8AM-9:30AM and 2:30PM-4PM on school days. Some have flashing lights, some just a sign. It is up to you to check the time and know if it is a school day or not. Some other roads have variable speed limits that drop during busy traffic times. Variable speed limits also drop for road maintenance. These areas are signposted, and you need to read and obey the signposted speed. Speed cameras monitor school zones, and enforce variable speed limits. For example, if there are roadworks in the Lane Cove Tunnel, the variable speed will drop, and the speed camera in the tunnel will enforce the lower speed. There are plenty of warning and reminder signs along the way.
Taxis are a convenient way to get around Sydney. They can also be the only transport option available to some locations late at night when the trains and regular buses stop.
It is usually easy enough to flag a taxi down at the kerb in the CBD, or catch one at taxi ranks located in most suburban centres. The availability of a taxi is indicated by an illuminated “taxi” sign positioned on top of the vehicle. If the light is on, it is available for hire; if the light is off, the cab is occupied. You can also book a taxi by calling one of the taxi companies or booking online.
Beware the 3PM change over and the Friday evening rush. It can be almost impossible to get a taxi 2:30PM-3:30PM. It is just as difficult 2:30AM-3:30AM, as almost all of the drivers change over their shifts at the same time. They are similarly scarce on a Friday and Saturday evenings. Booking in advance is no guarantee, as these jobs are simply offered electronically to drivers, who may or may not accept the job. It is easily possible to wait an hour or more for a taxi booked 24 hours in advance on a Friday and Saturday evening. Ringing the taxi company back and complaining will often help (if the operators can relate to your problem, they have the ability to offer a taxi driver an incentive to take your fare). Cancelling your job and ringing another taxi company in frustration never helps as the taxi companies have handover systems that have seen your job handed over if another company had more capacity. You will just end up at the back of the queue again. Evenings other than Friday and Saturday are usually fine.
During busy times, some unscrupulous drivers may try to leave the door locked and ask where you are going through the window and drive off if the destination is too close or not on their way home, even though this is illegal. If you can, get in before you tell them your destination – by law, they have to take you.
There are two meter rates: a day rate (rate 1) with a flag fall of $3.30, a distance rate of $1.99/km, a “waiting” rate of $0.85/min, and a booking fee of $2.50; and a night rate (rate 2 – applicable to journeys commenced between 10PM-6AM), which adds a 20% surcharge to the distance rate. You can check the rate your taxi is using by looking for a 1 or a 2 next to the current charge: if it is set to 2, it is using the night rate. The so called “waiting” rate is charged whenever the speed drops below 25km/h. For trips in congested traffic, it is possible for large amounts of the trip to be charged at the “waiting” rate. All Sydney taxis are metered and taxi drivers will charge the metered rate, adding the charges for tolls manually. Silver Service taxis are more luxurious vehicles, but they are charged at the same rate as standard taxis.
Taxis accept all major credit cards. They charge an extra 11% on top of the fare for this.
Passengers are required to pay all tolls for their trip. In addition, passengers who are taken north over the Harbour Bridge, for which there is no toll, are required to pay the driver’s southbound toll for the return into the city (Time of day tolling applies, and the toll varies between $2.50 and $4). Drivers will usually take the toll roads unless you ask them not to. If you are unsure why they are asking for an amount above that shown on the meter, just ask.
Passengers have the right to control the air conditioning and the radio so ask the driver. Whilst most taxi drivers behave acceptably, there have been reported incidences of taxi drivers behaving inappropriately towards women: it is always safer to sit in the back of the car.
Tipping is not required or generally expected. However, rounding up a taxi fare to the next dollar (or five or ten dollars, depending on the base fare) is fairly common. On the other hand, if the driver rounds the fare down to the nearest dollar, accept with grace.
It is very common for taxis in Sydney to overcharge tourists and people with foreign accents. Many taxi drivers observe their passengers along the way to see if they seem perceptive and alert. When they see that the passengers are relaxed or tired and not paying attention to the meter the drivers tend to overcharge about 50% by manually entering the fee into the bank card reader / EFTPOS Terminal. Always be alert when using taxis in Sydney and check the meter and the receipt if possible. It is best to pay taxis in cash to avoid this from happening. However, when overcharging does occur the best way to resolve these situations is simply to tell the driver assertively that either they give you back the overcharged amount in cash or you will call the police.
Uber is also available throughout most areas of Sydney, and are generally (beware of surge pricing!) cheaper and provide a better level of service – they have to maintain at least a 4 star rating or they can no longer drive.
If you are a fit and experienced urban cyclist, used to riding on multi-lane roads in heavy traffic, then just get on your bike. Cyclists are permitted just about everywhere on Sydney’s roads, except for of some freeway tunnels where bicycle signs will usually direct you to the alternative route. Kerbside lanes are often narrow, so ride assertively, be seen, and take the full lane when you know there is insufficient room to be passed. Bikes are permitted in bus lanes (like the city streets), but not bus only lanes (like the harbour bridge, and T-ways).
The city centre is not particularly cyclist friendly traffic-wise. It is not flat either – you can expect regular hills but no marathon uphill climbs. The weather is, however, usually good for cycling.
If you are looking for a quieter ride, a number of quiet on-road and shared pedestrian/cycle paths are available, but can be hard to find. A good place to start is at Sydney Olympic Park where you can get your cycle legs on the extensive off-road trails; then, if you want to, you can follow off-road/quiet road trails out to Parramatta or following the Cooks River to Botany Bay in Southern Sydney. The Harbour Bridge has a dedicated cycle lane, suitable for all ages, but as soon as you get off the bridge you are back onto urban streets in Milsons Point.
The Bourke St cycleway is a newly opened north-south route in the the City East and a cruisy place to cycle between Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. Lots of shade and cafes to break the trip. Some other separated cycleways have opened in the City centre, but they are yet to form a cohesive network, and your trip may easily end up on a busy and unforgiving city road if you haven’t planned well in advance.
Other cycleways are often just converted footpaths, so be on the lookout for bollards, street signs, roots and branches strategically placed across cycle paths – as well as pedestrians. If cycling at night ensure you have lights bright enough to light your path.
It is illegal to ride bicycles on footpaths unless cycling with children under 12. In reality this is fairly weakly enforced out in the suburbs, but it is common for people to be fined for cycling through pedestrian malls in the city like Pitt St Mall or Martin Place. Out in the suburbs you can often follow quiet streets, and hop onto the footpath for a short stretch if things get too hairy. Bicycle helmets are required by law, as are lights and reflectors at night.
Bicycles can be taken on all Sydney Trains, but a child fare should be paid if any part of the journey is made before 9AM or after 3:30PM on weekdays. In the city centre during the evening peak you will be lucky to fit your bike onto a train. Check trackwork schedules on weekends, when buses replace trains and make taking bicycles more challenging.
Bike hire is available in many locations in Sydney. Unfortunately, bike hire for two bikes for a day usually costs more than hiring a small car and petrol for the day (around $50 per bike). However, for shorter periods some places may be reasonably priced (for example Sydney Olympic Park) charges $15 per hour. Also, you have to consider the additional cost if the bikes are stolen or damaged. However, they are much easier to park, are greener and can be more fun. See the district articles for bike hire listings.
If you just want to have a ride, most bicycle user groups around Sydney organise weekend rides for various levels of fitness. There is usually no charge to join in.
Sydney is one of those cities that invites tourists to custom-design their sightseeing. Unlike many cities throughout the world, Sydney is not a city where people come to see “X” or experience “Y.” That’s because Sydney is home to museums, cafes and restaurants, shopping and historical sites. It can be explored both on foot and via the water. While all of Sydney has sights worth visiting, much of its glory is housed in the City Centre. Here, visitors can choose to start their visit with a journey back in time at The Rocks, site of the first European settlement in Australia.
If you want to learn more about Australia’s past, present and future, you can visit the multitude of museums found in City Centre. Some museums are free to enter year-round while others charge admission.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House are two of Sydney’s famous landmarks that can be visited when exploring Sydney on foot. While these are two of the best-known landmarks, Sydney’s City Centre has a host of less famous buildings and structures that are worth a visit.
Australia is nothing if not renowned for its vast and unique variety of wildlife. There are numerous opportunities to spot birds, bats, opossums and the occasional kangaroo or wallaby in Sydney’s national parks. The only trick is that most of these animals are primarily spotted at sunrise and sunset when the weather is coolest. Those wishing to guarantee animal sightings can head to the Taronga Zoo in the Lower North Shore or the Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is also home to the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. The aquarium offers visitors an opportunity to truly see life “down under”, down under the water anyway.
For a different type of animal sighting, visitors can head to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs to find the famous Bondi Beach. This beach attracts thousands of visitors every year, making it a great place for people watching.
After exploring Sydney by land, stop by Sydney Harbour to explore it by water. Ferries, cruises and whale watching excursions depart regularly from this part of Sydney.
Some of Sydney’s museums are free to enter including the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art. You may be charged to enter certain exhibitions. Sydney Museums generally do not have ‘free days’ that you can find in other parts of the world but some historic houses may be free on certain public holidays, though tend to attract large crowds.
Or see one of the smaller chic Art Galleries in East Sydney.
and just out of Sydney, the
The harbour is served by ferry services that transport passengers around the harbour. An excellent way to see both the harbour and Sydney attractions is to take a ferry east from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo or Manly or west under the Harbour Bridge towards Parramatta. These are reasonably priced and a favourite for tourists. If time is short, for a shorter route, the ferry between Circular Quay and Darling Harbour will let you ride under the Harbour Bridge and see the central part of the harbour.
Catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. Before returning to the Sydney CBD, walk from the Manly ferry wharf along the Manly Corso to famous Manly Beach. A great day, afternoon or evening out at a fraction of the price of a commercial harbour cruise.
You can take a cruise on Sydney Harbour. There are many cruises to choose from and they depart from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay. For a bigger adrenalin rush, try the jet boats that zip around the harbour at breakneck speeds.
Sydney Harbour can be viewed from the city or from on of the many walks next to it, most of which are easily accessible by ferry or bus.
The world famous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race begins every year on Boxing Day, on Sydney Harbour. Thousands of spectator craft take to the water to farewell the yachts as they set off on their grueling journey to Hobart. Seaworthy craft can follow the yachts through the Sydney Heads into the open ocean. You can also see the race from a harbour vantage point like Watsons Bay. where you can see them sail towards you across the harbour, and then cross to the gap to see them sail down the coast.
You can visit the Harbour Islands by ferry or water taxi.
Swing by the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Art Gallery of New South Wales on the edge of the gardens. While you’re in the area visit Mrs Macquarie’s Chair for a picture postcard view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in one picture. You may have to compete with the numerous wedding couples on weekends.
Far from being confined to the inland areas, Aboriginal people extensively occupied the Sydney area prior to the arrival of European settlers.
Sydney’s Waterways offer great canoeing and kayaking, and you can explore Sydney’s bushland, history, and exclusive waterfront properties. There are lots of places to hire them from, or to even go on a guided tour.
The primary domestic tournaments, contested between Australian state teams, are the Sheffield Shield (first-class), Ford Ranger Cup (one-day) and KFC Big Bash (Twenty20): they are usually sparsely attended and so are much cheaper to attend than internationals. Some one-day and Twenty20 matches are played at Hilton Auckland Hotel at Olympic Park rather than at the SCG, but the cavernous stadium is far inferior to the grand old ground if you really want to get a feel for cricket culture. Australia’s professional Association Football tournament, the A-League, runs over the summer. Sydney has 2 teams; Sydney FC, who play at the Sydney Football Stadium and Western Sydney Wanderers who play at Parramatta stadium.
Sydney has a huge amount of green space, much of it beside the sparkling harbour or ocean, so walking is a great way to experience the city’s parks, reserves and remnant bushland. There are also great walks through the more built-up areas, allowing you to check out the city’s modern architecture and its colonial heritage. The following are just a few of the better-known routes.
Sydney has four indoor ice skating centres in the suburbs. The closest to the city centre is:
Macquarie Ice Rink. Macquarie Ice Rink is in the vast expanse of Macquarie Shopping Centre in North Ryde. Activities include training sessions, birthday parties and casual visits. Skates are available for hire (usually a bit worn and not necessarily sharp), or bring your own. Phone to enquire about public session times as the ice is shared between many other users (like hockey teams) and may not be available for the whole day. It is located within a 2 minute walk from Macquarie University railway station.
But there are three others; one near Canterbury station, one west of Liverpool and one next to Norwest in North West Sydney.
For classical music fans, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra plays at the Opera House and at Angel Place Recital Hall. If the Sydney Symphony aren’t playing, the Recital Hall may have other performances of interest. Conservatorium of Music often hosts performances on a smaller scale.
Opera Australia perform at the Opera House in the City Centre.
A handy guide for performing arts in Sydney is the Spectrum liftout, which you’ll find in the Sydney Morning Herald’s voluminous Saturday edition. It contains reviews and features on all things cultural, as well as fairly comprehensive listings towards the back.
Sydney has mainstream movies showing on multi-screen cinema complexes all around Sydney, including the City Centre and Moore Park. The two main operators are Event Cinemas and Hoyts.
For arthouse, or more obscure movies, try the Chauvel or Verona cinemas on Oxford Street in the City East, or the Dendy near the Opera House in the City Centre or in Newtown, or Cinema Paris at the Entertainment Quarter at Fox Studios at Moore Park in the City East. To get a taste of what was once Sydney’s many art-deco cinemas, visit the Ritz Cinema in Randwick or the Cremorne Orpheum in Cremorne. Both have been lovingly restored and extended in the style of art-deco theatres.
Many of the larger cinema complexes offer premium seating and services for a premium price. On Tuesdays, most cinemas will offer a discount price on their tickets. The cheapest Tuesday prices are the Odeon in Hornsby ($7.00) or the Ritz Cinema in Randwick ($8.00).
There is one drive-in movie left open in Sydney, at Blacktown in the Outer West.
The IMAX Theatre, which provides a movie experience with the largest cinema screens in the southern hemisphere in Darling Harbour.
Sydney is home to a number of major and minor festivals and calendar events each year. Listed chronologically these are:
You can take language classes, join a cafe book group, learn to draw, sign up for historical or foodie walks, or take computer or business classes at City of Sydney Library, where you can sign up to borrow books or just read magazines in their café as well.
See the Sydney District Pages for things to buy in the City, and other Sydney districts.
Most stores will accept VISA/Mastercard credit cards – generally only some smaller stores are ‘cash only’. However, it is not uncommon for some smaller stores not to accept card payments for small amounts (under $10 or $15), or to charge a surcharge. American Express is generally accepted only at larger stores.
As with the rest of Australia, currency exchange offices operate in a free market, and the small convenient exchange booth you pass on George Street, by the Opera House or at the airport can charge 15% or more over the best rate you can obtain elsewhere. As always, check rates and commission carefully. Know today’s rate and be prepared to walk away if the amount of money they calculate isn’t what you would expect. Banks typically offer much better rates, but are only open business hours on weekdays.
You may find it better to pay by credit card and use ATM withdrawals and have the certainty of getting the rate and fees provided by your bank.
Main department stores and speciality stores open around 9am and close around 6pm, staying open until 9pm on Thursday. On Sunday expect them to open around 10am in the suburbs, and around 11am in the city centre, and to close at 5pm. There are a few locations where you will find shops opening a little later, such as Darling Harbour which is open until 9pm every weeknight.
Large supermarkets will be open from 6am until midnight, but many are open later, some even 24 hours.
Other general department stores such as Target and K-Mart will also have later trading hours, often to around 10pm, but there are a few 24 hour K-Marts around.
Many convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and petrol stations within the Sydney metro area are open 24 hours a day.
Banks will usually only open weekdays, with only an occasional branch opening Saturday morning. Travel agents (not including booking agents in tourist areas) close on Sundays.
Those quintessential Aussie souvenirs – stuffed koalas and kangaroos, various “Australiana” knick-knacks – can be found in any souvenir store around the city, as well as in airport shops. Authentic Aboriginal/indigenous arts and crafts, such as traditional paintings, hand-made didgeridoos, are expensive, and the range in Sydney is much smaller than in Alice Springs. For those who only wish to take home a replica, as a memento of their trip to Australia, head to Paddy’s Markets in the Haymarket area of the southern end of the city. The markets also sell a huge range of souvenirs at much better prices than regular souvenir stores. Dollar shops (see “Food and Essentials” below) also sell souvenirs at bargain-basement prices, albeit at a much reduced quality.
Australia’s unique style and creativity means Sydney is developing on the international fashion circuit, as designs from Australians such as Wayne Cooper, Collette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa, Lisa Ho, Oroton and Easton Pearson are seen around the globe. In fact, around 60 Australian labels are currently exporting their designs to boutiques and department stores in Asia, Europe and the United States.
The greatest concentration of clothing and accessories stores are to be found in the northern half of the CBD, starting from the Town Hall precinct, near the Queen Victoria Building.
Prices are inflated in convenience stores and in tourist areas, and it is worth seeking out the supermarkets – even in the city centre. Overcharging tourists and people with foreign accents is common in convenience stores. It is best to keep an eye on the clerks especially in touristic areas and check the receipts and amounts charged. The main Supermarket Chains in Sydney are Woolworths, Coles, IGA Australia and Aldi. See the local guides for locations.
Sydney postcards are least expensive at post offices (AUD 0.75), where you can buy stamps from as well. Do look in Paddy’s Markets. Convenience and souvenir stores may sell a wider range of (more expensive) postcards, but generally they do not sell stamps. An overseas stamp for a postcard costs AUD 3.00.
Prices in Sydney’s restaurants vary. Breakfast at a standard cafe (food plus a coffee or juice) can cost anywhere up to $20 for a full English breakfast or other substantial meal. A main meal in a mid-range restaurant is around $25-35. Upper mid-range averages around $35-45. At the real top-end places a dinner for two with wine can run up to $400-500 and beyond.
For the more budget-conscious, Sydney’s multicultural demography means plenty of quality ethnic cuisine for cheap prices, particular Asian restaurants. Many restaurants particularly in the city will also offer “lunch specials”. For example, a good Korean “set lunch” can be found for less than $15. A bowl of noodles in Chinatown will run you $8 or $9. Some Thai curry with rice at any of the many restaurants all over Sydney will cost about $10.
Newtown in Sydney’s inner-west (approx 4km from the CBD) is renowned for its inexpensive cafes and restaurants on King St, in particular Thai food. It is highly popular among students from the nearby Sydney University.
For an Asian bent, head to Chinatown for authentic Asian cheap eats. As well as restaurants, there are numerous food courts scattered throughout Chinatown packed with Asian eateries where the rock bottom priced food (but no less tasty) can be found. Plonk down at a laminate table shoulder to shoulder with hungry locals for some bubble tea and a sizzing plate of delicious Asian food. If you have a little money to spend, yum cha (dim sum) for lunch at one of the many Cantonese restaurants around Sydney is a regular ritual for many Sydney siders. Yum cha can be had in Chinatown (avoid the touristy al fresco places on Dixon St, go to East Ocean or Marigold instead), the city (Zilver, Sky Phoenix and others) and most urban centres around Sydney. Expect queues on weekends and brusque service all days – it’s all part of the charm of yum cha. Some yum cha restaurants have now abandoned the trolleys, and instead give you a menu to tick your items which will be brought to your table. Some only have trolleys for specials or on weekends.
Cafés serving breakfast start opening at 06:00 and breakfast is usually served until 11:00 or, occasionally, all day. Orders for lunch start at about noon and continue until about 15:00. Many cafes will start closing late afternoon, although a few may remain open for dinner.
Restaurants usually open for dinner around 17:00-18:00 and while there are exceptions (usually concentrated in areas with active nightlife), last orders for dinner are typically taken around 22:00. Restaurants in business areas open for lunch as well. It’s common for restaurants in suburban locations to sometimes be closed on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday nights.
It is more expensive to get a sit down meal in the evening, than it is for lunch.
While not as popular as in Buenos Aires, there are a growing number of underground or home restaurants in Sydney that enable you to eat with locals.
Just about every suburb in Sydney has a restaurant or two, a cafe or coffee shop, and a place that sells takeaway food.
However, there are are a number of places in Sydney where you can window shop through many restaurants and make your choice.
All of Darling Harbour is like this, there are restaurants of every variety all along the waterfront. East Circular Quay in the City Centre is similar, along with the International Passenger Terminal on the west of Circular Quay – however many of the restaurants in this area are expensive and loved more for the view than the quality of the food. There are (pricey) exceptions, such as Cafe Sydney, Aria and Sailors Thai.
Circular Quay / the Rocks has many pubs to choose from which serve meals. The Australian Hotel serves local specialities such as crocodile pizza.
In the east of the city, Victoria Street in Darlinghurst and Crown Street in Surry Hills (between Oxford and Cleveland Streets) has a large range of funky cafes, small bars, pubs, patisseries and restaurants. Darlinghurst and Surry Hills has it all, from cheap Asian take-aways to high-end restaurants. Many trendy restaurants in this area don’t take bookings; often you wait at the bar for a table. These suburbs are popular with hipsters, yuppies and the gay community.
Just east of the city is Woolloomooloo Wharf which boasts a fantastic view across the harbour and several upmarket restaurants, including excellent steak, Chinese, Italian and seafood restaurants. Perfect for lunch on a sunny day.
King Street, Newtown, centred on the railway station, has a constantly changing selection of good value restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars. You can find many various types of cuisine here; mainly cheap Thai, but also Vietnamese, Italian, Turkish, Japanese and modern Australian. This area isn’t touristy, but popular with students from the nearby Sydney University. The area has its own alternative style, which makes for great people watching.
On the Lower North Shore Willoughby Road at Crows Nest, has honest and consistently good Indian, Japanese, Thai, steak, a handful of small bars. Military Road through Cremorne and Neutral Bay have a smattering of decent restaurants, mostly Japanese. Kirribilli has a few nice cafes and restaurants, and a short after dinner stroll will take you by some of the best views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Within Norton Street, Leichardt, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes for dining out. Check out Norton Street for classic Italian, and explore surrounding suburbs of Annandale and Glebe for amazing brunch locations.
Parramatta, to the west, has an eating strip, many with alfresco options. Harris Park nearby is Sydney’s Little India with a good number of very affordable, authentic Indian restaurants.
In the North West district, Castle Hill has many restaurants on Terminus St as well as at “The Piazza” which is adjacent to Castle Towers shopping centre and features a pleasant, lively atmosphere with a fountain in the centre of the ring of restaurants.
Sydney is also home to some of the world’s best restaurants.
If you are wanting to try Sydney’s finest rated restaurants during your visit, make a booking well in advance at Quay or ARIA in the The Rocks; Tetsuya’s, Est in the City Centre; Marque in the City East or Pier in the Eastern Suburbs. You may be lucky on a weekday and get a walk-up table at one of the restaurants in Campbells Cove in the The Rocks.
Neil Perry is one of Sydney’s celebrity chefs, and runs Rockpool at The Rocks. He also has the Rockpool Bar and Grill in the city, not far from Circular Quay, with Spice Temple downstairs.
If you want to splurge on the location make an advance booking at the restaurant Bennelong in the Opera House, owned by Peter Gilmore (as is Quay in the Rocks).
If you want to have fine dining away from the central Sydney, try Jonah’s in the far Northern Beaches – go for lunch, the view is stunning. Alternative, Berowra Waters Inn is an experience unlike any other and a top pick for devouring excellent European / Modern Australian cooking overlooking a natural bushland waterway in northern Sydney. (You will need to arrange a car, or, for the jet set, take a sea plane!)
While Australia’s cafe culture may have its roots in Melbourne, Sydney has well and truly taken up the joys of good coffee and tasty, easy food. It is of great pride that most cafes are locally owned. Big overseas chains like starbucks have had to close many of original stores in the city
The best cafes are usually in the inner city and the inner west. Many Sydneysiders take great joy in good coffee, and the very best places for this will be the likes of Campos Coffee on Missenden Road in Newtown, Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville, Mecca Espresso in Ultimo or King Street in the City, Single Origin Roasters near Elizabeth St in Surry Hills, or The Source Espresso Bar in Mosman. Other well-known favourites include Three Blue Ducks in Bronte (also open for dinner and run by ex-head chef of Michelin starred Tetsuya’s), Bourke Street Bakery in Surry Hills (where a very good bakery is crammed into a tiny corner terrace), and Black Star Pastry in Newtown. You can expect to line up for any of these, though the wait is worth it.
Sydney’s strong cafe culture is matched by its penchant for morning and all-day breakfasts. A visit to Sydney is not complete without having breakfast at one of the many beach-side cafes in the Eastern Beaches (Coogee and Bronte in particular; in Bondi you will find the better cafes along Bondi Rd heading down to the beach or in the streets back from Campbell Parade), the Northern Beaches (Manly in particular, but also Freshwater or Dee Why) and at Cronulla, in the city’s south. If you do get to a beachside cafe for breakfast, a quintessential Australian breakfast is Corn Fritters with Bacon and Poached Eggs.
Thanks to Sydney’s (or rather, Australia’s) multicultural mix, “modern Australian” is usually characterised by a fusion of cuisines. Think entrées spiced with a Thai-inspired chilli dressing, mains with a hint of a Chinese-style ginger-based marinade or sunny Tuscan flavours- all in the same menu. Many of Australia’s celebrity chefs are of ethnic backgrounds, and many have trained overseas, bringing with them a world of experience back home.
Alternatively, many CBD pubs offer $6 to $10 steak “meal deals”, provided that you also order a particular alcoholic drink at the same time.
For those who are after authentic multicultural culinary experiences, there are unique “food districts” scattered around the greater city. The range of food available is huge and isn’t necessarily expensive. It is usually possible to find a restaurant of any nationality, specialising in almost any cuisine.
Take away food in Sydney can be as cheap as buying the ingredients and making it yourself, and many stores specialise in take-away food. There will usually be a picnic table, park or beach nearby to eat whatever you can select. Quintessential Aussie takeaways include the meat pie (minced beef with gravy sauce in a crusty pastry shell), sausage roll (sausage mince in a puff pastry casing), usually topped generously with tomato sauce/ketchup, and fish and chips (inherited from the British to be sure but loved by all Australians).
Most restaurants will do take-away food as well, but almost certainly at a premium to the cost of buying food from a take-away. Outside of the city an occasional restaurant may offer a 10% discount for take-away.
Vegetarians are well catered for. Every restaurant will usually have at least one vegetarian dish. Indian restaurants can be relied upon to provide a wider selection. The trendy East Sydney and Inner West suburbs have many choices, Cabramatta in the western suburbs have many Asian Buddhist cuisine restaurants that are vegan and vegetarian.
There is an awareness of gluten-free and dairy-free diets in Sydney, and again the more trendier inner city suburbs are more likely to cater for these diets.
The largest food festival, the Sydney International Food Festival, which showcases Sydney’s food culture is in October, which includes the night noodle markets operating in Hyde Park in the City Centre
The general rule on tipping in Australia is that it is not compulsory and generally not expected. This remains true for most cafes, and for counter service in Sydney. However for a full service restaurant in a tourist areas and mid to higher end restaurants a tip would be expected by the waitstaff. However, most Australians will still not tip, and you should feel free to follow their lead should you wish to. Some snootier waiters may raise an eyebrow, but nobody will follow you or give you a hard time. Otherwise a 10% tip added to the bill or rounding the bill up to the nearest $10, $20 or $50 to a maximum of 10% (depending on the size of the bill!) will usually meet their expectations. They may be expecting a little more if you have an American accent, as they are well aware of what Americans tip at home.
The national minimum wage in Australia (as at July 2015) is $17.29 an hour, so unlike their counterparts in some other countries, Australian hospitality workers do not rely on tips to survive.
Australians are casual. While most people make an effort to dress up for fancier restaurants, there is no requirement and both restaurants and diners alike are relaxed about dress standards. There are no restaurants in Sydney that require jackets for men for instance, and jeans (nice – no holes) are common in even the most expensive and posh Sydney restaurants. Wear what you feel comfortable in.
Sydney has an enormous number of places to drink and party. A limited number of venues have 24-hour licenses, however the majority close before 3AM and some as early as 11PM, particularly if there are nearby residents.
New liquor laws covering most of the Central Sydney area (including Kings Cross, The Rocks and parts of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills) came into force in February 2014. There is a ‘lockout’ between 1:30am and 5am, which means that you need to stay inside the pub/bar/club or you won’t be able to get back in – even if you go out for a cigarette (smoking is illegal inside). No alcohol can be served between 3am and 5am. As a result of the laws, some bars will now close at 1am if they are not many patrons. Ask the bouncers or some locals if you’re unsure and they will tell you which places are affected by the lockout and which aren’t.
Busy venues will have door staff checking photo identification to determine that you are over 18. Admission is also commonly refused to those who seem visibly drunk. More popular venues have discriminatory door practices, the most common of which is refusing entry to groups of men who are not accompanied by women. Some pubs and most clubs will admit children accompanied by adults as long as they don’t approach the bar or enter an area where there is gambling. Check with staff at the venue. Some pubs don’t provide a nice environment for children some nights. Photo identification proving that you are 18 or older will often be required again when purchasing alcohol if you appear to be under 25. Generally only Australian driver licences and Australian or foreign passports will be accepted.
In recent years after the lock-out laws came into effect, other regulations have been increased substantially making it harder for clubs and bars to survive. As a result, the majority of well known quality clubs in Sydney have had to close shop. Unwarranted police raids into bars and harassment of people is common. Both strategies have been used by the state government for years to effectively kill the city’s nightlife.
Many places have at least a basic dress code, enforced all hours in the city, and usually after 7pm in the suburbs. For most generic pubs, men should wear closed toe shoes (not running sneakers), full-length pants, and a shirt with sleeves (not a singlet). For clubs, men should don neat business-style shoes. In almost all cases, women can dress more freely, but a small number of places require closed shoes or dressy sandals or high heels.
Many pubs are called hotels, but only very few can ever offer you a place to sleep. Hotel pubs are usually found on a street corner with at least one ground-floor bar, and are usually a few floors high (though not all floors may be open to the public).
Entry charges for live music or DJs are usual and range from $5 to $30 depending on clientèle. Entry charges are rare if you’re going into a pub for a drink.
There is a taxi shift change at 3AM, and it is notoriously difficult to catch a taxi anywhere between 2:30AM and 3:30AM.
These are usually near to major hostel areas, and will find a lot of fellow budget travellers in pubs in the Eastern Suburbs Beaches like Bondi Beach and Kings Cross in the City East. The World Bar in Kings Cross is an institutional venue for travellers partying in Sydney, with Tuesday and Thursday nights being very popular with backpackers. If you’re after the fun, backpacker style of party, check out Scu Bar (Haymarket) on a Monday night, Side Bar (Haymarket, also Mondays), Scary Canary (City, Wednesdays) or The World Bar (Kings Cross, Thursdays).
Hot Damn at the Exchange Hotel on Oxford Street is an alternative music institution spread out over a number of levels and bars and is regularly at capacity. Here you can expect here a good mix of all types of alternative rock music – ranging from pop-punk to dub-step, and hardcore/screamo. Greenwood Hotel in North Sydney is very popular on Thursday nights with the fresh-out-of-school crowd. Perfect for you if you fit into that category, avoid if you do not.
Sydney’s students drink in the Inner West. Try student bars Manning at Sydney Uni, the Roundhouse at UNSW and the Loft at UTS which all offer pleasant, hassle free environments, and noone checks if you’re a student. Manning Bar is also great for a meal as they have their Manning BBQ. The Clare opposite UTS on Broadway, though very ratty looking, is a similarly popular place for students. There are many great bars and pubs on Broadway, such as the Lansdowne Hotel which also offers cheap lunch meals for $5-6 on some days of the week.
The biggest clubs in Sydney include the sprawling Ivy on George St in the city, Marquee at The Star casino in Pyrmont, Home Bar at Cockle Bay, and Arq at Taylor Square. Kings Cross has countless clubs, though these vary in size. Kings Cross has been most affected by recent lockout laws which forbid the entry of patrons into bars and clubs after 1:30am in areas in the city.
The state government made changes to liquor licensing laws in previous years, which has seen an explosion in the number of small bars throughout the greater city. The sheer number of them mean there will always be a new latest and trendiest bar to go to – for the most up to date ones, check out the TimeOut Sydney website. Most of them are well hidden in office building basements, or in laneways, or frequently both, and the only way you’ll find them is by seeing the queue to get in. Be wary though: on Friday and Saturday nights these places will more than likely be packed out. For the best experience, head along on a weeknight. After-work crowds will mean there is some life to the place, but you won’t have to wait in a queue just to get in.
A great example of the quality of these types of establishments is Baxter Inn, off Clarence Street in the city, which was voted the #8 bar in the world in 2013, by Drinks International.
A good majority of these small bars also have a theme to them, such as Vasco on Cleveland St (a very fun Rock and Roll bar), Tio’s (Guatemalan Owl Cerveceria), Lobo Plantation (colonial plantation, minus the racism), and The Barbershop (Barbershop-cum-bar, and you can actually get your hair cut). Other heavyweights in the small bar league include Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst, 121 BC in Surry Hills, Mary’s in Newtown, Bulletin Place in the City, and Frankie’s Pizza also in the City. Many of the more established small bars are in the CBD and inner-city, mostly Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. Don’t be shy about visiting some of the more up-and-coming suburbs, either. Marrickville and Redfern are rapidly gentrifying, and with it, a slew of very interesting bars are popping up along their main commercial strips. In Manly, on the Northern Beaches, and throughout Mosman and Cremorne on the Lower North Shore there is a cluster of very formidable and popular bars.
In some ways Irish pubs are a global phenomenon, but they’ve certainly taken Sydney by storm. Irish pubs are concentrated in both The Rocks area and the southern area of the city. They are outrageously popular on the 17th March for St Patrick’s Day.
These cater to the city crowd: lawyers, financiers and brokers and are very busy Friday nights when the city workers are let loose for the week. They’re usually a bit quieter on the weekends. Great after-work places in the CBD include The Glenmore & The Australian Hotel in The Rocks, as well as Baxter Inn on Clarence Street, and Sweeney’s Hotel opposite Town Hall. Be sure to check out the rooftop bars at Sweeney’s and the Glenmore.
Sydney’s gay scene is concentrated on Oxford Street in City East although it still has a large range of pubs and clubs for both LGBT and straight partiers and is a prominent nightspot for many party-goers. Sydney’s queer community also can often be found on King Street in Newtown which offers a more relaxed place to gather and far fewer yobs. Generally speaking, King Street, Newtown is more popular with Lesbians while Oxford Street is much more popular Gay Men. You can expect Drag shows in just about any of Oxford Street’s gay bars. Stonewall Hotel has these on the hour on busier nights, while Thursday nights at Arq have an amateur “Drag for Dollars” event. The Imperial in Erskineville is also worth checking out for its shows, though is a little bit off the beaten track – but still only a short stroll from Erskineville or Newtown station.
Sydney’s microbreweries are in the Rocks and the City Centre. Noteworthy mentions around here include the King St Brewhouse at King Street Wharf, and the Lord Nelson on Kent St in The Rocks. Harts in The Rocks is also a great spot for beer– they serve a wide variety of craft beers in pints or schooners. In Newtown, the Young Henrys brewery is open early in the day for tastings.
Marrickville, in Sydney’s Inner West, is also likely home to more breweries than any other suburb in Australia. With Batch Brewing Co, Sauce Brewing Co, The Grifter, Wildflower Brewery and Blending and Black Font all located in the area.
If you want to keep track of all the best beer venues in Sydney, check out Beer Crawl.
Most bars and clubs in Sydney will simply return your change, and no tip is expected. Some more upmarket bars will return your change on a tray. Most Sydneysiders will simply collect the change from the tray, however feel free to leave the coins on the tray if you would like to tip. Working out a percentage of the drink cost, or tip per drink is never required.
The potential for alcohol-related violence is an unfortunate reality of Sydney’s drinking scene in some parts of the city. Problems are typically caused by young, aggressive, drunk males, with most problems occurring after midnight in hotspots such as King’s Cross and the CBD. Some attacks are random and unprovoked, even causing death in some instances where the victim has been caught off-guard by a “king hit”, fallen and hit their head on the pavement.
However, the occurrence of such incidents have been greatly exaggerated in the media in recent years to promote and justify the state government’s “lock out” laws agenda. The statistics backing up these claims have been disputed. Sydney is a safe city and the likelihood of something happening to you is very small. Due to the increased occurrences of such incidents in recent years, police presence has also been markedly scaled up in problem areas. However it is worth exercising caution while out drinking late anywhere in Sydney. Avoid large groups of rowdy, obviously drunk men. If you are provoked, walk away. If the things escalate call the police immediately on 000.
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