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Sydney Travel Guide: Top Things to Do in ‘Harbour City’

Sydney, Australia, also known as ‘The Harbour City’ is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Australia’s capital city is famous for its stunning harbour, bustling beaches, sunny days, blue skies, and iconic landmarks. Read our Sydney Travel Guide with all the latest travel information and top things to do in Sydney.

Get to Know Sydney, Australia

When you think of travelling to Sydney, Australia, what pops into your mind? The Sydney Harbour Bridge? The Opera House? Bondi Beach? Kangaroos and Koalas? If so, you’d be right on all accounts. Sydney has all of that, and so much more. Sydney is one of our best value destinations for August, so there’s no better time to start planning your trip to Australia.

Sydney welcomes about 37 million visitors each year. It’s the biggest city in the country, and the capital of New South Wales, located on the southeast coast. Sydney’s laid-back vibe, exciting nightlife, and superb sightseeing make it a top destination for tourists from around the world. Since English is the primary language, English-speaking and bilingual Canadians won’t have any problem chatting with locals (but you will have to get used to the Aussie accent). If you’re dying to visit Australia, keep reading this Sydney Travel Guide to kick off your vacation in the land down under.

Aerial view of Sydney Opera House and harbour in Australia
Sydney Travel Guide | Skyscanner Canada

Top Things to Do in Sydney

1. Visit the Sydney Opera House

When picturing the Harbour City, a nickname given to Sydney (along with the Emerald City), it’s nearly impossible not to visualize the Sydney Opera House. It’s one of the top things to do in Sydney and a must-see on any trip to Australia. To really get to know the place, take a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site for a glimpse behind the scenes and learn about its impressive architecture. Tours are available daily between 9 a.m – 5 p.m., and range from A$30 – A$130 per person. Seeing a show or musical is the ultimate Opera House experience. Check the website for upcoming events and book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Travel tip: The Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar are almost at par with $1 Australian dollar going for approximately $0.95 CAD, making it a good time to visit Australia!

2. Climb the world’s largest steel arch bridge

Known as “The Coathanger” to Sydneysiders( locals), Sydney Harbour Bridge is the world’s largest steel arch bridge. Built in 1932, this Sydney attraction is considered a marvel of modern engineering. Foot traffic can walk across the bridge to North Sydney for incredible views of the city skyline. But for a next level experience, consider the BridgeClimb, a thrilling walk to the top of the bridge. It’s one of the city’s most popular activities and over 4 million people have already walked the bridge, including Oprah! Adult ticket prices start from A$174 (weekday price).

3. Get a bird’s eye view of downtown Sydney

If climbing 134 metres above sea level is too much for you, there’s another way to get amazing 360-degree city views. The observation deck at the Sydney Tower Eye sits 250 metres above the busy streets of the CBD (Central Business District, the term used across Australia for downtown). It’s the tallest building in the city and this attraction is definitely worth a bit of your time. The only problem is choosing when to go up: in the daytime or evening. Entry is from A$29.

Giraffes at Taronga Zoo in Sydney in Australia
You’ll get amazing city views from Tarongo Zoo | Skyscanner Canada

4. Talk to the animals at Taronga Zoo

Hop on a ferry from Sydney’s focal point and popular attraction of Circular Quay for a day at Taronga Zoo. Located at Bradley’s Head in Mosman, arriving by ferry is the most popular (and scenic) way to get there. Not only that, but you’ll also save A$18 in parking fees. You’ll see a range of international animals living at the famous zoo, as well as national symbols: koalas and kangaroos. For something a bit different and more challenging, try the high ropes course for kids and adults. Zoo entry fees from A$42.30 per adult. Travelling with kids? Family passes are available from A$80.80.

5. Shop ’til you drop at Paddy’s Market

Paddy’s Market is an iconic shopping centre in Sydney that dates back to 1834! It’s a Mecca for tourists and locals alike who are looking for everyday staples and classic Australian goods. Visitors will find an abundance of souvenirs and cheap items to take home as gifts. Plan to spend a few hours (okay, you may need a whole day) browsing shops and stalls. Hungry? Don’t worry, there are heaps of fresh produce stalls and fast food places to choose from. Paddy’s Haymarket is near Chinatown, so plan a stroll around there too.

More Sydney activities to love

  • Enjoy a scenic harbour cruise with Captain Cook Cruises or a thrilling jet boat ride with Harbour Jet.
  • Take a stroll through the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden and find the perfect picnic spot.
  • Browse the cafés, restaurants, and shops at the first European settlement in Australia known as ‘The Rocks’. If you’re brave, try a ghost tour to learn about the history of this heavily-haunted area.

Sydney’s Best Beaches

Some of the best Sydney tourist attractions are its many beaches. No trip to Australia is complete without some time on the beach. Sydney boasts over 100 beaches, and you won’t have to travel very far outside of the CBD to find a good one.

A word of caution when swimming in Australia. There are ‘rips’ along the coast that are responsible for many near-drownings each year (and sadly, fatalities too). A rip is a strong current that pulls from the shoreline towards the open sea. Once you’re in it, it’s hard to get out, especially if you’re an inexperienced swimmer. Be mindful when ocean swimming along the eastern Australian coastline.

bondi to bronte beach coastal walk is a great thing to do with kids in Sydney, Australia
Bondi to Bronte Beach Coastal Walk: Sydney Travel Guide

Top 3 beaches to visit when in Sydney

Bondi

Bondi Beach is without a doubt, the most popular and busiest of Sydney’s beaches. From December – March, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a good spot on the sandy shores at mid-day. It’s all about suntanning, swimming, surfing and being seen at Bondi on a hot summer’s day. Lifeguards patrol the beach in the summer but always swim between the flags and use common sense.

Coogee

From Bondi Beach, take in the ocean view on the 6km coastal walk to Coogee Beach, another famous and beautiful beach on the eastern side of Sydney. Coogee Beach is a vibrant Sydney attraction with loads of cafés, restaurants, pubs, and ice cream shops to keep you refuelled throughout the day. If you’re not up for ocean swimming (again, be mindful of the currents and swim between the flags), there are also four coastal swimming pools to cool you off.

Manly

One of the city’s northern beaches to laze a day away on is Manly Beach. Getting to Manly is super easy – take the ferry from Circular Quay. Not only will you get to spend a day at the beach that hosted the first world surfing competition, but you’ll get a harbour cruise to boot. If you’re considering learning to surf in Australia, this is a top choice to take a surf lesson.

fish and chips, lattes, and dinner plates on a table at a restaurant in Sydney
Delicious Eats in Sydney, Australia: Sydney Travel Guide

What to Eat in Sydney

From affordable pubs and cafés to gourmet restaurants and fine-dining experiences, there’s something for every taste and budget in Sydney. Since Sydney enjoys a moderate climate year-round, many restaurants feature patios, courtyards, or rooftop bars where people can enjoy their meals al fresco.

Naturally, you’ll find countless restaurants and eateries in The Rocks and Circular Quay. For Italian, try Zia Pina, a long-established and much-loved traditional pizzeria at 93 George Street. If swanky, fine dining is more your thing, give Sixpenny in Stanmore a try. You’ll get a seven-course tasting menu (A$160) of the best gourmet dishes made of food sourced from nearby farmers and fisherman.

You won’t find Tim Horton’s in Sydney, nor will you find filtered coffee (maybe at Starbucks). Australians like milky coffees such as lattes and flat whites. There’s a café in the Museum of Sydney that serves decent food and coffee. But, people go for the views of the Opera House, mainly. Australians love their coffee, therefore you’ll find cafés on almost every street.

Aussies also love to have a pint after work, and you’ll find the work crowd at most bars and pubs at five o’clock. The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel is a great spot to get your fill of cold beer and a sense of local Sydney life. Established in 1841, it’s the longest running pub in the city.

view of the fireworks over Sydney Harbour
Fireworks at Sydney Harbour: Sydney Travel Guide

Where to Drink in Sydney

Twilight dinner cruises around Sydney Harbour, haunted ghost tours, evening performances at the iconic Sydney Opera House, a night tour at the Sydney Observatory, and the Chinatown night markets are a few exciting Sydney attractions that can easily fill your evening.

Before or after dinner (depending on the season), head to Darling Harbour to enjoy a nightcap as the sun sets at Zephyr or Champagne Bar. Then, kick off your night with a bang at the colourful fireworks display over Darling Harbour at 8:30 p.m. nightly.

Nightclubs are plentiful in and around the Sydney CBD. Gravitate toward The Cliff Dive in Darlinghurst, The Retro in Darling Harbour, The Junction in Bondi Junction, and The World Bar in Potts Point for a wild night of dancing and mingling.

Getting Around

overhead view of cars driving over the Harbour Bridge
Driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge | Skyscanner Canada

It’s easy to get around Sydney thanks to a well-connected public transportation system of buses, trains, trams, and ferries. Of course, taxis and Uber ride are widely available, if that’s more your speed, and budget. Most taxis have meters and accept both cash or credit. For tourists planning to explore well beyond the city, it’s easy to rent a car in Sydney. Well-planned roadways with minimal traffic congestion make it (almost) easy to drive around. Be careful about driving in the countryside at dawn, dusk, and in the dark. Wildlife, especially kangaroos, will be out and about.

Let’s Talk About the Weather

Summer in Sydney lasts from December through February, and temperatures range from 20 – 30C. Though the humidity rises to about 65 percent in the summer, it’s balanced by refreshing sea breezes. Winter in Sydney is in June, July, and August. Temperatures range from the 9 – 17C, so it’s important to wear layers. Tourists visiting in June – the wettest month – should pack a raincoat. Always bring a medium-weight jacket if visiting Sydney in winter.

Best Time to Visit Sydney

aerial view of beach in Sydney, Australia
Sydney Travel Guide | Skyscanner Canada

With warm summers and mild winters, there’s really no bad time to visit Sydney. Balmy ocean temperatures in the summer months make it the ideal time for beach lovers. Tourism is at its peak between the months of December and March, so expect to find large crowds at most Sydney attractions and to pay more for hotels and airfares.

Autumn (March, April, and May) is the perfect time to visit Sydney if coastal walks and whale-watching are on your bucket list. The weather is still warm, but the humidity is a bit lower, as are the crowds. For the least amount of crowds and the most affordable rates on hotels in Sydney, visit the city during the winter months of June – August. The City to Surf fun run is a great winter activity to mix holiday and fitness together.

Flying to Sydney

Each year, more than 40 million passengers fly through Sydney Airport, making it the busiest airport in Australia. Air Canada offers direct non-stop service from Vancouver to Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne (as of June 3, 2019), which makes getting to Australia a breeze! Look for cheap flights from other Canadian and U.S. cities to Sydney using the Skyscanner search engine.

Once you arrive at Sydney Airport (SYD), there are a few ways to get to your hotel or holiday accommodation. There is a train but it’s not the cheapest way to get to downtown Sydney. Instead, buy a ticket for a shuttle which will take you door to door. Be warned, some will charge for luggage but it still could be a cheaper and easier way to travel, especially if you have access baggage.
Search for cheap flights to Sydne

Don’t Forget Your Visa to Enter Australia

If you’re travelling on a Canadian passport, be sure to apply for your Australian holiday visa, called an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) before your flight to Sydney. Apply online, pay the fee, and you’ll get a paperless 3-month holiday visa. Airlines will not allow you to check-in for your flight to Australia without an ETA. If you have a long layover in Sydney or anywhere in Australia and want to visit for the day, remember that Canadians can’t enter the country or go beyond the airport without a tourist visa for Australia.

Not travelling on a Canadian passport? Find out whether you’ll need an ETA – chances are, you will (New Zealand passport holders do not need an ETA).

All Set to Plan Your Sydney Vacation?

Not that you’re armed with things to do in Sydney via our Sydney Travel Guide, start planning your 2019 trip! Skyscanner has all the tools to help you book flights, hotels, car rentals, and activities so you’ll have the best Aussie vacay ever.