All Articles 3 perfect days in Sydney

3 perfect days in Sydney

Jess Swanson
By Jess Swanson12 Apr 2024 8 minutes read
Tourists on yacht in front of Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge
Tourists on yacht in front of Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge
Image: Courtesy of Tourism Australia

Sydney may be one of the most stunning and recognizable capitals in the world, but it's also one of the most laid-back and accessible. And no other city in my mind has as much to offer travelers: walkable neighborhoods, postcard-worthy beaches (with good surf), ocean pools, designer boutiques, art museums, nearby mountains and valley vineyards, the list goes on.

This three-day itinerary covers a lot of ground and neighborhoods, pairing the big landmarks with chill beaches; local café culture with fine dining spots; and urban shops with hiking along the rugged coast. We've also incorporated Tripadvisor reviews and ratings, so you can make the most of your trip.


DAY ONE

Woman walking on the rocks in front of the Sydney Harbor Bridge
View of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and skyline
Image: Courtesy of Tourism Australia

MORNING: Get up on the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Fill your belly with poached eggs, omelets, and avocado toast at The Rocks Cafe, a cozy two-story eatery located across the street from the sleek and geometric Museum of Contemporary Art and in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Connecting Sydney's Central Business District (CBD) and North Shore, the wide steel arch bridge—aptly nicknamed "The Coathanger"—is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. The bridge is free to walk across (1.5 miles each way) but if you're an adrenaline lover, check out the BridgeClimb. A guide takes you up the tresses and arches, where you get jaw-dropping views of the Sydney Harbour and Opera House at the summit.

From there, head to the historic cobblestoned streets of The Rocks, the oldest neighborhood in Sydney. It dates back to when sailors and convicts from Great Britain and Ireland arrived at the shore in the late 18th century. Walk past Cadman's Cottage, which was once home to convict John Cadman, his wife (also a convict), and their two daughters. It was built in 1816, making it the oldest house in Sydney. If it piques your interest, go inside and take the immersive tour. It's rarely busy and fun for kids.

Travelers say: "What an amazing experience. Despite a number of our party being anxious about tackling this activity, we all had just the very best experience. The Climb team, from start to finish, was brilliant. We soon realized there is absolutely zero risk and those with any fear of heights are protected by the clever layout limiting any opportunity to look down. Our delightful guide Debbie was just fantastic and a real hoot. We laughed our way around. The photos taken by the team were superb and surprisingly, were very reasonable, given you can't take cameras up for the obvious safety reasons. The climb was much easier than any of us expected yet more exhilarating than we could have imagined. The views from the top have to be one of the most spectacular in the world. If you do one thing in Australia, make sure you do it. Thoroughly recommended." —@Steve Q.

AFTERNOON: Laidback lunch in Manly

Book the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay, which will zip you across the Sydney Harbour in under twenty minutes and offered incredible views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Once you arrive in Manly, make your way down the palm-lined pedestrian mall, The Corso, to the promenade along the ocean at Shelly Beach. This sandy stretch is often overshadowed by the more touristy Bondi and Coogee beaches—and the locals would like to keep it that way. Book lunch at The Boathouse Shelly Beach, a nautical-themed beachfront spot that serves up fried seafood classics, fresh salads, and smoothies.

SYDNEY HARBOUR BOAT TOUR OPTIONS

  • Hop aboard an 1850s-era tall ship and see the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Fort Denison, and Opera House from a new perspective.
  • Cozy up on this 35-foot catamaran to watch the sun set into the Sydney Harbour.
  • Zip through Sydney Harbour on the Thunder jet boat, which can travel up to 47 miles per hour and perform tricks such as 270-degree spins, slides, twists, and fishtails.

EVENING: Dinner and drinks in Kings Cross

Around sunset, catch the Manly Ferry back to Circular Quay for Instagram-worthy views of the Sydney skyline at dusk. Make your way to Kings Cross, the colorful nightlife district teeming with bars. On the main drag, Darlinghurst Road, you'll spot the neighborhood's central landmark: the giant Coca-Cola sign. Kings Cross was once the city's red-light district, but it's cleaned itself up and is now lined upscale shops and restaurants. I love Chester White Cured Diner, a cozy little spot with organic charcuterie, homemade pasta dishes, and no shortage of Australian wines. If you want a drink or two after dinner, check out nearby The Roosevelt, a sleek bar with an extensive cocktail and whisky menu.

DAY TWO

Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney
Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING: Cafe culture and shopping in Surry Hills

Start the day in Surry Hills, a chic neighborhood known for its boutiques, galleries, and trendy cafés. Café culture is big in Oz, and there's no better place to experience it than at Four Ate Five, a bright and cheery cafe offering all-day breakfast (or "brekkie" as the Aussies regularly call it). Opt for any of the Mediterranean-inspired dishes like the halloumi roll, shakshuka, and beetroot labneh. And make sure to order a flat white. This Australian concoction involves pouring steamed milk over espresso, but with less milk than a traditional latte or cappuccino.

The outside tables offer the perfect vantage to people-watch and once you're done with brekkie, join them. Head to Crown Street, a popular shopping destination with designer brands, second-hand stores, and local boutiques. Fans of vintage should check out Zoo Emporium and Fabrique Vintage.

AFTERNOON: Exploring Chinatown

Sydney's Chinatown is considered the largest in the country and located in the southern reaches of the CBD. Order lunch at Lilong by Taste of Shanghai, a popular spot featuring Northern Chinese and Shanghainese dishes (the steamed dumplings are so good). Then explore the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a surprisingly lush and peaceful escape with lily ponds, waterfalls, and rock formations walled off in the middle of the city. From there, it's a one-mile walk to the White Rabbit Gallery, a free, four-story museum showcasing Chinese contemporary art with a tea house serving myriad Chinese and Taiwanese teas— it's the perfect place to rest your feet.

Travelers say: "I think this is Sydney's best contemporary art museum (it makes MCA look very staid). Its exhibitions, which usually change over a couple of times a year, tend to be very different from each other; I'm surprised every time I visit. The current exhibition features large-scale, quite meditative pieces, which I think most people will enjoy or at least find interesting. Entry is free, so you don't have anything to lose by giving this place a shot." —@empress_cherry

ABORIGINAL TOUR OPTIONS

  • Follow a local aboriginal guide to the stunning Blue Mountains and learn about Aboriginal legends on this day trip from Sydney.
  • See The Rocks historic neighborhood through an Aboriginal lens with this 90-minute walking tour.
  • Set sail on this cruise that tells the stories of the Eora, Cadigal, Guringai, Wangal, Gammeraigal, and Wallumedegal peoples.

EVENING: Luxe shopping, dinner, and drinks in Paddington and Woollahra

Paddington is a trendy Sydney city center neighborhood with Victorian terrace houses, art galleries, and fashion boutiques. Take a stroll down tree-lined Oxford Street (the main throughway in the neighborhood) to The Intersection, a nexus of Australian fashion designer stores that's worth checking out.

Then it's dinner at Cipri Italian, a white-tablecloth restaurant from local legends the Cipri brothers that serves contemporary takes on traditional Italian dishes and pastas (make sure to book in advance). Wind down the evening at the Wine Library, where you'll find a seriously impressive selection of rare and vintage bottles and biodynamic, orange, and skin-contact wines.

DAY THREE

Overhead shot of diners eating oysters and fish tacos at North Bondi Fish in Sydney
Overhead shot of diners eating oysters and fish tacos at North Bondi Fish in Sydney
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

MORNING: A coastal hike on Sydney's southern shore

Fill up on hearty breakfast platters at Barzura, a popular café overlooking the turquoise waters and white sands of Coogee Beach that foreshadows the coastal trek that's to come. The Coogee to Bondi Walk is one of Sydney's most popular must-do activities—and for good reason. It's a four-mile hike that hugs the city's southern, rugged coastline and passes some of the finest beaches in town (and the continent): Coogee Beach, Gordon's Bay, Clovelly Beach, Bronte Beach, Tamarama Beach, and Bondi Beach. The trail ends at a path leading to sea level and the iconic Bondi Icebergs Club, which you'll be sure to recognize from photos.

Travelers say: "We have done this walk before and fell in love with it! We are not fitness nuts; we are in our 50s and 60s and finished this walk in 1 1/4 hours. When you stop at all the sites, this adds the extra time to your trip. 2 hours is a good amount of time to plan for this walk." —@Robbie R

AFTERNOON: Checking out Bondi's shops

I hope you're craving seafood because lunch is at North Bondi Fish, a breezy eatery that whips up heaping plates overlooking Bondi Beach. It's the perfect spot to fuel up after the hike and sip some celebratory beverages now that you've crossed the sandy finish line.

Sure, Bondi is famous for its beach, but the rest of the neighborhood has a ton to offer. Start at Bondi Junction, home to Westfield Bondi Junction with more than 300 stores. You could spend all afternoon inside, but to experience the neighborhood's local flair, visit Gertrude & Alice Cafe Bookstore. The reading nooks, vintage furniture, and caffeinated drinks make this an ideal spot to lose a few hours. (And if you're in town on Sunday, check out the Bondi Markets, an open-air market with local vendors selling jewelry, clothing, and other crafts.)

EVENING: Dinner and a (drag) show in Darlinghurst

The last night is all about exploring Darlinghurst, a quirky inner-city neighborhood with galleries, record shops, and a lively concentration of gay bars. For dinner, Sagra is considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Sydney, which is no small feat for a city with so many Italian restaurants. The restaurant is quaint, with an ever-changing menu reflecting the freshest seasonal ingredients. Don't miss the squid ink rigatoni and chocolate mousse, honeycomb for dessert. From there, it's a 10 minute walk south to 100-year-old The Oxford Hotel, the best place to experience LGBT-friendly nightlife. There are great events here almost every night, from drag shows to DJs and late, late-night dancing if you've got enough energy for it.

DRINKS TOUR OPTIONS

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go


Peak season is in the summer, which runs from December to February, owing to its location in the southern hemisphere. The weather remains moderate year-round, making the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall the ideal time to visit with fewer crowds and more affordable airline and hotel tickets.



Any day is fine to visit. Just note that some shops are closed on Sunday, and some reservations and tickets might be more accessible to snag midweek.



Many shops and businesses open between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. (a little later on Sundays) and close in the evening. However, plenty of restaurants and bars stay open much later into the night.



CBD & Darling Harbour: The central business district (CBD) and its waterfront, Darling Harbour, is smack dab in the middle of the action. Sure, it's bustling with businesspeople and can be a bit touristy. But there's a lot to do and see here, including The Rocks, Sydney Aquarium, Australian Maritime Museum, a casino, movie theater, and a picturesque promenade along the harbor. Stay at The Darling Sydney, a 171-room hotel located inside The Star Sydney casino with a heated outdoor pool and sweeping views of the harbor and city.

Surry Hills: Surry Hills’ tree-lined streets are walkable and full of sidewalk cafes, art galleries, and fashion boutiques to explore. The Crystalbrook Albion is a pet-friendly hotel with modern pops of patterns and color and a rooftop terrace that overlooks the neighborhood.

Bondi: Beach lovers should stay in Bondi, the popular coastal neighborhood in southern Sydney. Bondi Beach can get a bit crowded, but if you stay nearby, you can get up early, plant your towel in the sand, and watch the surfers all day. There's plenty of shops, cafes, and bars to keep you fed and entertained, too. The 69-room QT Bondi is minimal and sleek and conveniently located steps from the beach.



Public transportation: There are buses, trains, light rail, and ferries that service the Sydney metropolitan area. Fill up an Opal card to ride.

By bike: Biking is a great way to get around Sydney, which has many bike lanes and promenades. Just keep in mind that cyclists (and drivers) use the left side of the road.

By rideshare: Uber, Didi, and Ola are rideshare apps available across Sydney.

By taxi: Cabs and water taxis service the metropolitan area, too.


Jess Swanson
Jess Swanson is a Miami-based freelance writer and journalist drawn to interesting people and unusual experiences. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Intercept, Vox, Cultured, Hyperallergic, and the Village Voice.