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I’m lucky enough to call Sydney, Australia, my home; an iconic city, famous for its harbour bridge, opera house, beautiful sandy beaches and laid-back vibe, at least as compared to London. I’ve been exploring this city for 18 months and still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. If you have a limited time to spend in my stunning new home town, you want to make the most of it, so I’ve pulled together a 5 days in Sydney itinerary taking in all the key sights with plenty of local tips thrown in, designed to help you eat, drink and walk your way around sunny Sydney. I hope you enjoy it!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Best time to visit Sydney
- 2 Where to stay in Sydney
- 3 Getting around Sydney
- 4 Sydney Travel Itinerary: What to do in Sydney in 5 days
- 5 Short Day trips from Sydney
Best time to visit Sydney
I would say during the last months of our Spring time, which are October and November, or late February and March. These months generally offer lots of sunshine, are great for sightseeing, while avoiding the heat of the mid-summer and school holiday crowds. In addition, if you visit during late October through early April, you will find the best weather in Sydney.
Where to stay in Sydney
Sydney offers all kind of accommodations. It is not a lie that Sydney is expensive though. You can find most of the big name hotel chains such as Ibis, Marriott, and more. If you are on a budget, you can also find hostels, or simply try to find an Airbnb accommodation. Keep in mind, that like New York City, Sydney is not the cheapest city, but you can always find deals if you book in advance.
Getting around Sydney
Sydney is a well-connected city especially in the CBD. You can purchase an Opal card and top it up for the duration of your stay which works on buses, trains and ferries. You can also get a refund for the price of the card if you hand it back at any station. To explore further afield however, I recommend you hire a car.
Sydney Travel Itinerary: What to do in Sydney in 5 days
Day 1: Circular Quay and the Rocks
As a local, I don’t tend to visit Circular Quay very often, much as most people avoid the most busy areas of their cities. However, there is no getting away from the fact that Sydney Harbour is one of the most picturesque and breathtaking harbours in the world and an itinerary for Sydney simply wouldn’t be complete without it, especially if you’ve not visited before. I live on the North Shore of Sydney, so if I wanted to visit Circular Quay I’d either get a ferry out of Milson’s Point straight across the water, or I’d meander over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, enjoying the unparalleled views from the pedestrian walkway. Unless you’re a real adrenaline junkie, I wouldn’t bother with the Bridge Climb, at $174 per person I think there are much better ways to spend your money in a city as expensive as Sydney. If you’re staying in the CBD or the Rocks, it’s an easy walk to Circular Quay.
Walk around to the Opera House, which is even more impressive from up close, and enjoy a drink at the always heaving Opera Bar. You can take part in an Opera House tour, which run every hour, if you’re interested in finding out more about this historic building. Next, stroll back to the other side of the harbour and explore the area affectionately known as the Rocks. The Rocks is the traditional home of the Gadigal people, the custodians of this land, and where the first Europeans settled in Australia, and feels very similar to an old English town, with cobbled laneways and solid wooden beams in warehouse buildings. There’s a huge selection of bars, restaurants, boutique shops and galleries to explore. I love to stop off at Hotel Palisade; make your way up to the 5th floor rooftop for fantastic views over the harbour to go with your chilled glass of wine.
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It’s very tempting to grab dinner in either Barangaroo, Darling Harbour or The Rocks, which are easily accessible from a day exploring the harbour. However, I find these places to be over-priced and aimed towards tourists. If you get a train a few stops to Central Station, you’ll reach Surry Hills. Surry Hills is a largely residential area, with red-bricked apartment buildings, and reminds me of parts of New York. There are lots of quirky, independent bars and restaurants here to try out. My personal favourite is Baccomatto Osteria, an Italian restaurant with moody lighting and a sleek, marble bar that you can opt to dine at for something more informal. If you visit during the week, you can get the pasta of the day with a glass of wine for the absolute steal of $20. You have to add on the Tiramisu however, it’s absolutely divine.
Day 2: Bondi to Coogee
You can’t visit Sydney without making a trip to Bondi Beach. Indeed, the moment you arrive at this golden stretch of sand 8km and a 30 minute journey from Sydney’s CBD, you’ll likely be surrounded by swarms of tourists with selfie sticks ready to snap that insta-worthy shot of Icebergs Ocean Pool. Yes, Bondi is crowded and busy, especially in the height of summer, but it’s absolutely buzzing and ideal for people watching. You’ll see plenty of typical Aussie surfer dudes, bright yellow and red clad lifeguards and beautiful toned people jogging along the beachfront. There are a staggering amount of bars and restaurants to choose from too, suiting all tastes and budgets.
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I like to start my day in Bondi with brunch at Gertrude and Alice’s Bookstore and Cafe on Hall Street just behind Bondi Pavilion. After breakie, I’ll head for a surf. Bondi is a great surf spot especially for beginners, and you can rent a board and wetsuit from Bondi Surf Co on Campbell Pavilion right on the beachfront for $20 for 1 hour. If surfing isn’t for you, they also rent out paddle boards and kayaks, or alternatively Bondi is safe for swimming, just make sure you stay within the areas marked by the black and white checked flags to avoid rips and currents. You can also swim at Icebergs Swimming Pool, the famous ocean pool which is open to the public at $8 per adult.
If you’re still feeling active, I highly recommend the Bondi to Coogee walk, one of Sydney’s most famous and stunning coastal walks. The walk is 6km along the cliff top where you’ll visit Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and finally Coogee (or you can continue on to Maroubra if you want). Take your time, the views are well worth it, and all of these beaches are great to stop off at and pick up a coffee or have another dip in the ocean. I personally love snorkelling at Clovelly where you’ll be likely spot blue grouper fish. Once you reach Coogee, it’s time for food and drinks at the Coogee Pavilion, an Eastern suburbs institution and fantastic for groups, couples and families alike.
Alternatively, you can start the day with breakie in Coogee, again at the Coogee Pavilion, before starting the walk and finishing in Bondi. Grab some well-deserved drinks at Bondi Icebergs Club or the Bucket List Bondi right on the beachfront and watch the sun set over this gorgeous part of the world, before dinner at either Bonditonys for some gigantic burgers in a relaxed hole-in-the-wall joint with rock music album covers all over the walls, or try local’s favourite Seans Panaroma for something a little bit smarter, but still with that chilled Bondi vibe. Their chef’s choice of 5 courses at $110pp, which is completely different for each table of diners, is an absolute winner, especially if you opt for the wine pairing for an additional $70pp.
Day 3: Manly
Spend your next day exploring another favourite beachside suburb, especially with British expats, and take a trip to Manly. Catching the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay is a must-do experience for visitors and has been since 1855 and is an affordable way to enjoy unbeatable views of the harbour and Sydney cove. Manly, known as Sydneys premier beach resort, boasts a beautiful Wharf where the ferry comes in, a bustling shopping corso, plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars, and the sandy Manly beach. It’s also a great access point to explore further up the coast and enjoy Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
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You’ll be spoilt for choice on how to best spend a day in Manly but my ideal day starts with an acai bowl at Bare Naked Bowls in the Market Place laneways. There is nothing more Australian than watching bare foot, long-haired surfers heading down to the beach whilst devouring one of their signature bowls in the sunshine. There’s some great shopping available on the Corso for after breakie, including numerous Australian swimwear brands. Time your visit for a weekend and explore the Manly Marketplace open-air markets which has a huge choice of vendors selling everything from fresh produce, handcrafted jewellery and work by local artists.
Manly beach is another great surfing spot, with clearly marked safe swimming spots. If you are a keen swimmer, you could challenge yourself to the infamous Bold and Beautiful 1.5km swim. Every morning at 7am, 365 days a year, you’ll see a crowd of swimmers wearing bright pink caps set off to swim the 750 metres to Shelly Beach, before making the return journey. It’s a locals favourite way to start the morning and watch the sunrise. Shelly Beach itself is a 20 minute or so stroll from Manly Beach, and is part of the Cabbage Tree Aquatic Reserve. It’s a protected bay with a maximum depth of 12 metres and has become a popular scuba diving spot. The Manly Dive Centre, where incidentally my hubby completed his PADI, offers a range of diving experiences where if you’re lucky you’ll spot rays, wobbegong sharks and huge shoals of fish. Alternatively, Shelly Beach is ideal for paddle boarding as it’s relatively calm in comparison to Manly Beach.
To end your day in Manly, I recommend heading back to Manly Wharf and grabbing a drink at Manly Skiff Club; entrance is free if you have a foreign drivers licence or do not live in Manly. With an extensive wine list and outdoor deck, it’s the ideal spot for sundowners. For dinner, you can grab food here, or wander back around the bay towards the ferry terminal and enjoy one of Hugo’s famous pizzas, or Queensland spanner crab pasta at one of Sydney’s most popular waterfront dining locations.
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Day 4: Harbourside Coastal Walk
To really experience being a Sydneysider, and to find some quieter harbour views to discover away from busy Bondi and Manly, I highly recommend one of Sydney’s finest harbourside walks, where you can find waterside bushland in the middle of a city. As a Lower North Shore girl, I’m biased, but I love the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk (6.5km one-way).
If you’re staying the CBD you can get a ferry directly to the Taronga Zoo wharf, or alternatively a bus. During this walk you’ll walk through no less than three headlands, four if you take a detour to the top of Middle Head and extend the walk, each with stunning views over the harbour. I like to start this walk early, and reach Chowder Bay in time for breakfast, with some early morning views from Bradley’s Head and Chowder Head. Chowder Bay at Clifton Gardens, with its wide sands and baths, is the perfect place to relax and take a breather. I like to grab breakie at East Coast Lounge, a wine bar come artisan homeware shop that does great avocado toast. Alternatively, if you fancy something fancier opt for Ripples, which also offers afternoon tea and fine dining options. Refreshed, continue on the final section of the walk that eventually arrives at the playing fields and large car park behind Balmoral Beach. Balmoral Beach is an incredibly popular spot with families, with very calm swimming and great snorkelling. The Bather’s Pavilion, now a heritage-listed building, was built in the 1920s and reminds me of the Brighton Royal Pavilion back home in the UK. You’ll be spoilt for choice for lunch; I like to grab a fresh Greek Salad from Kazzi or takeaway fish and chips from Bottom of the Harbour Seafoods to snack on the beach. If you want to extend the walk further, you can carry on to Chinamans Beach, a quieter calmer spot just as picturesque as busier Balmoral.
If you want to celebrate completing this walk, you can get a quick uber up to theThe Fernery in Mosman, a rooftop bar with a dedicated rosé bar serving a selection of seasonal wines on rotation, some straight from the barrel. There’s also a separate gin room with locally crafted Australian spirits.
You may be exhausted from your busy day’s walking, but if you’re looking to explore a different side of Sydney, head to Newtown for your evening entertainment. Newtown is one of Sydney’s more hipster, quirkier and grittier suburbs, located in the Inner West. Whilst there are plenty of antique shops, vintage bookstores and boutique fashion retailers to keep you busy for an afternoon, I prefer to spend an evening in Newtown. Sydney’s lock out laws don’t apply here, which makes it more a lively place, and as a result there are some excellent bars and restaurants. I love to grab a well-crafted cocktail at Earls Juke Joint, a speakeasy bar designed to look like a butchers, before a cheese and meat plate featuring both Australian and European cheeses at the aptly named Stinking Bishop. Alternatively, Newtown is full of delicious Vietnamese and Thai restaurants that offer cheap wholesome food and BYOB, so grab a bottle of natural wine from PNV Merchants and chow down.
Day 5: Palm Beach day trip
Whenever I have visitors from overseas, a day trip to Palm Beach is always on the itinerary. If you’ve ever watched the well-known Aussie soap Home and Away, you will have already seen this golden stretch of sand known as ‘Summer Bay.’ Palm Beach is located at the northernmost tip of the Northern Beaches, roughly 90 minutes by public transport from the CBD. If you’ve rented a car, you can do this in about an hour depending on traffic, but be aware that parking is expensive.
I like to head up to this narrow peninsula nice and early and grab breakie at the Boathouse, located in the same place as Al’s Bait Shop from Home and Away. The Boathouse at Palm Beach, one of three locations (the others in Balmoral and Shelly Beach) is a Sydney institution and always absolutely packed. Arrive early and grab a table on the outside decking with views overlooking Pittwater through to Morning Bay. I love their classic avocado on toast.
After breakie, you can stretch your legs with a challenging but relatively quick walk up to heritage-listed Barrenjoey Lighthouse where you’ll have beautiful views over Pittwater, the Hawkesbury River and the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. There are some great photo opportunities up here as you’d expect. Then, head back down to relax on this stunning beach and a dip in the ocean. The waves here are great for wave-jumping and body-boarding, but ensure you remain within the flags and keep a close eye on children as this beach can be dangerous for swimming if you’re not careful.
When it’s time to tear yourself away and start the drive home, I recommend stopping in for a drink and perhaps an early dinner at the Newport Arms. When I was first told by friends we were going to the Newport, a ‘pub’, I had an image of a typical British boozer. The Newport Arms however is more like a Hamptons Beach Club, an alfresco waterfront dining option with spectacular views across the bay to Bayview. You can choose whatever food you fancy from a variety of food outlets, or you can opt for table service. It’s an awesome place to while away a few hours and enjoy your last Sydney sunset.
Short Day trips from Sydney
If you have longer to spend in Sydney and the surrounding areas, I highly recommend taking a trip out to Hunter Valley, the oldest wine region in Australia and only 21/2 hours drive from Sydney. The Hunter is famous for its shiraz, chardonnay and Semillon blends with lots of big name vineyards mixed in with smaller, boutique wineries. The choice is staggering, so to help plan your trip I’ve listed out my Top 5 boutique wineries to visit in the Hunter Valley
As you probably know by now, Sydney is an absolutely stunning city, with distinct neighbourhoods ready to be explored. You’ll find excellent restaurants, fun bars, challenging walks and beautiful beaches. I hope your question about what to see in Sydney in 5 days was answered.
This 5 days in Sydney itinerary will give you a perfect introduction into my new sweet home. I hope you enjoy it!
This is a guest post by Jessica from the blog Jessicapascoe.com
Author’s Bio: Jessica is an ex-pat freelance travel writer and blogger based in Sydney, formally of Brixton, London. Jessica has a passion for unique, purposeful travel, good food and a good book. She loves to combine all three whenever she gets the chance. Check out her adventures in her newly adopted home of Australia at Jessicapascoe.com. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Facebook.
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