Located in southeastern Australia, the capital of New South Wales plays host to the photogenic Sydney Harbour (the world’s largest natural harbor), the iconic Sydney Opera house, sun-soaked beaches, a vibrant art scene and some of the best restaurants on earth.
“There’s much more to Sydney than just Bondi Beach and the Opera House. You can explore New South Wales, visit vineyards, stay on the islands and even go to the Blue Mountains (to the west) for hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter.”
In other words: a weekend won’t be enough. Need help narrowing down the itinerary? This shortlist of things to do and see in Sydney should point you in the right direction.
1. Explore Sydney’s hottest neighborhoods
Discovering the many delights of Sydney takes more than just a weekend.
Sydney is divided into distinct neighborhoods — each with its own character.
Many of the big-ticket attractions can be found in or around the Circular Quay area, right by the harbor, in the city center.
A walk north along the water will lead travelers into The Rocks — the first European settlement in Australia and now a historic cobbled village full of heritage buildings.
From this area, travelers can access the Sydney Harbour Bridge and stroll across — it’s about an hour each way (not including time for pictures).
2. Eat like a king
Bennelong is a fine dining restaurant inside the Sydney Opera House.
Whether you’re here to devour Australia’s best steaks or sample the super fresh seafood, Sydney is a gourmand’s paradise.
“Sydney has a lot of migrants — mostly from amazing food cities such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Italy and even Spain — who have brought their culinary traditions to Sydney and mixed them up with local, seasonal produce,” says Leung.
The cosmopolitan city is home to countless internationally acclaimed chefs.
Helmed by acclaimed Australian chef Peter Gilmore, the restaurant serves the best of Australian produce and wine inside the domed ceilings of the Sydney Opera House.
Devon Cafe, located in Surry Hills, is a brunch hotspot.
Smudge Publishing- Katie Wilton
3. Hit the beaches
“I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff,” says lifeguard Andrew Reid, who appears in hit reality TV show “Bondi Rescue.”
Everyone knows about Bondi beach and the Icebergs pool and restaurants — after all, the crashing waves are the postcard image of Sydney.
If you happen to be visiting in late October to early November, you’ll likely catch the annual Sculpture by the Sea — an extensive outdoor area exhibition that peppers the coastline.
Craving a Bloody Mary? Hit up Sydney’s Coogee Pavilion.
Elsewhere around Sydney, beaches such as Redleaf Beach (in Double Bay to the east), Milk Beach (inside Sydney Harbour National Park) and Parsley Bay (northeast of Milk Beach), offer low-key experiences.
4. Catch a show
There’s more than just opera at the Sydney Opera House.
Sydney Opera House
Sydney is buzzing with events and performances every night of the week.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, this incredible piece of architecture doesn’t just do opera. You’ll also find stand-up comedy, theater, ballets, indie concerts and more.
“Each neighborhood has its own themed theaters and smaller venues that welcome all type of performers to Sydney,” says Leung.
5. Go out on the town
Inside Sydney’s Stitch Bar.
If you like Sydney’s food, you’ll love the bars. Sydney boasts an eclectic collection of watering holes, from craft beer spots to speakeasies and casual wine bars.
“I always head to the chilled out vibe of the small bars and music venues in Surry Hills, Enmore and Newtown neighborhoods,” says Leung.
“And if you like whiskey and craft beer bars, this city is perfect for you — these types of establishments are gradually getting more and more common.”
Go for a whisky with green apple juice — the drink is a staple in Sydney’s drinking dens, but the fresh, frothy tipple tastes especially refreshing among the taxidermy and old-school rock.
The spread at Black Bottle.
Along with cured meats, artisanal cheeses, and fresh seafood tapas, tipplers can sip boutique wines and cocktails — like the bar’s beloved Negroni.
6. Go to the zoo
Sydney’s Taronga Zoo offers amazing views of the harbor.
Just a 12-minute ferry across the harbor from the Central Business District, the expansive space plays host to more than 4,000 animals, including tigers, giraffes, kangaroos, platypus, koalas, Komodo dragons, elephants, lions, chimps and more.
Visitors will also stumble upon concerts, a ropes course, a lemur forest, hiking trails, rainforests and even several beaches.
Love it so much you never want to leave? Stay the night in one of its luxury safari tents.
7. Climb the bridge
Sydney’s epic BridgeClimb.
Nicknamed “the coathanger,” the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932.
Like the Sydney Opera House, it was an engineering masterpiece that was way ahead of its time.
Sure, you can walk or cycle across the bridge, but the best way to appreciate the architectural marvel is up close and personal.
There are a few options, starting with the easy “Taster” tour, which takes 1.5 hours to trace the lower, inside arc.
More comprehensive expeditions include dawn and sunset climbs — with musical serenades from local musicians at the summit, 440 feet above the harbor.
8. Take a side trip
A kangaroo in the Blue Mountains, two hours west of Sydney.
One of the best things about Sydney? The amazing side trips.
Popular among outdoorsy types, the rugged Blue Mountains — about two hours by train west of the city — promise winter skiing, excellent hiking and kangaroo sightings galore.
Walking through the national park, travelers will stumble upon forests and waterfalls, caves, small villages and rock formations.
The wine region is best known for its medium-bodied reds, such as shiraz, and crisp dry whites like the sémillon.
“Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region,” says Leung. “Most vineyards are family-owned and very innovative, mostly focusing on small production. Wine is more personal here.”
Hot air balloon rides are a popular way to take in the Hunter Valley.
9. Stay in style
The Langham Sydney offers easy access to the city’s famous harborfront
Sydney’s hotels are among the best in the world, from downtown designer digs to rustic escapes.
As you explore the posh corridors, look for contemporary artwork from around the world — The Langham has one of the largest art collections (more than $1 million worth) in Australia.
A bedroom at Ovolo Woolloomooloo
Built inside a heritage-listed building right on the Woolloomooloo Pier, the hotel promises colorful modern rooms and a social Lo Lounge with free snacks and happy hour.
Formerly home to a prison and shipyard, the UNESCO heritage-listed island has a fascinating history — not to mention a few modern perks.
There are self-guided audio tours, barbecue pits, a handful of restaurants, an Australian cheese and wine experience and amazing views of Sydney’s famous harbor.
Leung’s travel tips
— Use an Opal Card on the trains, buses and ferries — fares are capped at $15.40 a day.
— Leaving tips at the bar or for a cab isn’t expected, but it’s appreciated.
— When riding in a taxi alone, it’s customary to hop in the front seat.
— Bring sunblock, sunglasses and hat — no matter the season.
— On Sundays, families enjoy discounted fares on Sydney’s ferries and trains.
— Beetroot is practically a mandatory ingredient in most Western dishes, so if you don’t like it it’s best to ask!
— Get ready to BYOB: Most casual restaurants allow diners to bring their own wine for a few dollars.