Sydney is an incredible city with so many things to do: if you only have a 3 day trip here then this is the perfect itinerary to ensure you get to see all the best bits of Australia’s largest city!
From the CBD and nearby Opera House and Harbour Bridge to the many iconic Sydney beaches, Sydney is not only a bustling city but also it is full of many laid-back beach towns, meaning there are so many places to explore! Read on to discover the best areas to stay in Sydney as well as the ultimate 3 day itinerary!
3 DAY SYDNEY ITINERARY
All locations in day 1 are within walking distance of Circular Quay. You can reach all the destinations by foot so you won’t need to take public transport this day if your accommodation is nearby.
The iconic Harbour Bridge is the world’s largest steel arch bridge at an impressive 440 feet high and 3,770 feet long. It spans Sydney Harbour, joining Sydney’s CBD to the north shore.
No trip to Sydney is complete without going across the bridge, although it is up to you how you would like to experience it. I recommend doing it in one or two of the following ways:
1. Walking across The Harbour Bridge
The cheapest and simplest way to explore The Harbour Bridge is simply to walk across it: it is free and is an incredible experience! You’ll see an aerial view of The Opera House and harbour which makes for some great photos.
To get onto the Harbour Bridge from the south side of the harbour (the same side The Opera House is on), make your way onto Cumberland Street (past BridgeClimb Sydney) in The Rocks. You’ll see The Glenmore Hotel (which by the way has an incredible rooftop!), and on the opposite side of the road to this you will see stairs and a glass elevator. They will both take you up and onto the path that leads to the Harbour Bridge.
To walk across The Harbour Bridge it will take you about 20 minutes and there are stairs at the end that will take you down to Milson’s Point on the north shore so you don’t have to walk back across the bridge if you don’t want to. Note there is only a walkway on the eastern side of The Harbour Bridge – there aren’t walkways on both sides. This is the best side though as it means you can see an aerial view of The Opera House.
For your safety the pedestrianised walkway on the bridge is covered with metal mesh but there are many points where you can get a really great lookout.
2. Pilon Lookout
You can also climb the Pilon Lookout to get incredible uninterrupted views of the harbour from higher up. The pilon lookout is located on the south side of The Harbour Bridge as you are walking across the bridge, and you can climb it for just $19. Note there is no elevator and there are 200 shallow steps to get to the top. This is certainly much cheaper and quicker than doing the bridge climb.
3. Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
The ultimate Sydney bucket list item is to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb! There are only three bridge climbs in the world: Brisbane, Auckland and Sydney, with the Sydney Bridge Climb being the most famous one so it is definitely on many people’s bucket lists when they come to visit! Note the Bridge Climb is fairly expensive ($200 minimum) and you need to book a slot in advance – click here to go to the official website. There are several difference packages available – for example if you want to a do sunset climb it costs nearer to $400!
On the bridge climb you are strapped in to a harness and hooked onto ropes and you climb the main arch of the bridge via steeps ladders (there are 1390 stairs in total!). You will see all the vehicles rushing past underneath you which certainly sends adrenaline running through you and is only for the adventurous! Bear in mind the Bridge Climb will take several hours. Also you cannot bring your phone or camera with you, meaning you will have to pay extra for any photos of you at the top.
After you have finished at The Harbour Bridge, walk through the historic The Rocks district before making your way around Circular Quay towards The Opera House.
The Opera House
The Opera House is one of the most distinctive buildings in the world. You can get some really nice photos on the steps of The Opera House or from further back to capture the unique shape of the building. If you want to find the best places to take pictures of The Opera House read my Instagrammable Guide here!
Opera House Bar
The Opera House Bar is the perfect place to stop for an afternoon drink before continuing with sightseeing. It is an outdoor bar offering stunning views out over The Harbour Bridge and The Opera House. There is a lively atmosphere here and it is busy but it is easy enough to get a seat with a great view. Drinks are reasonably priced.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Sydney Botanic Gardens are located in the middle of the city just behind The Opera House and are free to visit. The gardens are very large and are heritage listed with many species of plants here. They are a popular attraction in Sydney and there are some great views overlooking the bay from the gardens. If you want to save time and money, grab some takeaway food or a sandwich from a shop and enjoy a picnic here for your lunch.
As The Botanic Gardens are so big you can easily spend one or two hours walking around here, however make sure you go to visit the Calyx! The Calyx is a great place to take photos and is really fun and educational to explore! Food is also available at The Calyx.
Stroll around Sydney’s downtown CBD area and admire the beautiful architecture of the Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building – a beautiful shopping arcade.
Nearby you will find the beautiful alleyway Angel Place with 50 empty birdcages hanging, which symbolises the birds that once populated inner-Sydney but due to urbanisation they got forced out of the area.
If you are still hungry there are plenty restaurants in the CBD for lunch.
Mrs Macquarie’s Point
Mrs Macquarie’s Point offers one of the best views of The Harbour Bridge and The Opera House together in one shot. It makes a very popular place to watch the sunset and you can get some incredible photographs from here. In fact I would say this is one of the very best places in Sydney to take photos and you should definitely not miss it. You can also get great views across to the CBD from here.
Here you will also find Mrs Macquarie’s Chair – a sandstone bench carved in 1811 by convicts for Mrs Macquarie, who was the wife of the Governor at the time. Sit on Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and admire the stunning view.
After all the sightseeing on Day 1 you will be ready for some dinner! Head to one of the many restaurants around Circular Quay for some great food.
North of the Harbour
The easiest way to reach the north shore from Circular Quay is to take the ferry to Milson’s Point.
Luna Park is probably the best located theme park I have ever seen in my whole life! It is located on the north shore of the harbour right next to The Harbour Bridge so you can get some stunning photographs of the harbour from here! There is a really nice vintage vibe at Luna Park with the old fairground rides. And the best part? Entrance is free! You just pay for each ride, so even if you don’t want to go on any rides you can still stroll round for free and absorb the atmosphere!
If you walk underneath The Harbour Bridge you’ll be rewarded with more stunning views of The Harbour Bridge and The Opera House at Copes Lookout. You can get some really unique views from here and it is never crowded compared to the south side of the harbour.
This waterfront walkway is also a great place for picnics and relaxing so feel free to bring a picnic here if the weather is good!
Cremorne Point offers one of the best views of the harbour from the north shore. Not only this but there is also an outdoor harbourside pool here – Maccallum Pool where you can have a dip for free whilst having the perfect backdrop behind you! This is one of those secret spots in Sydney only known by the locals so it is never too busy here! There is also a lovely 3km Harbourside and marina walk you can do here at Cremorne Point if you fancy – this is actually my favourite walk in Sydney! Click here to read more about it.
The easiest way to get to Cremorne Point is to get the ferry to Cremorne wharf.
Manly is a lively beach town on Sydney’s north shore. It is known for the popular Manly Beach, as well as some nice coastal walks you can do from here. The Manly to Spit walk is one of Sydney’s most popular coastal walks and if you have the time and energy I definitely recommend to do it.
However if you only have 3 days in Sydney you may not have time to fit it in as it is 10km long and takes several hours to complete. You can always do a part of it if you wish, as the walk has some really beautiful secluded beaches and stunning harbour views – click here to read more about it!
You might however just prefer to stay in Manly and relax and enjoy the beach and laid-back vibes.
Alternatively head to the Manly Wormhole or the Fairy Bower Ocean Pool:
Manly Wormhole: (below left picture)
The Manly Wormhole is located on the far left side of Queenscliff Beach (which is next to Manly Beach). Look for the big pink heart that has been sprayed onto the cliffs at Queenscliff Beach, go past the Queenscliff Rock Pool and climb over the rocks. You’ll then come to a tunnel known as the Manly Wormhole, which provides a secret connection between Queenscliff Beach and Freshwater Beach that only the locals in Sydney know about.
Fairy Bower Pool: (below right picture)
On the other side of Manly Beach from the Manly Wormhole is the Fairy Bower Sea Pool. The ocean rock pool is triangular in shape and is set along the beautiful walk from Manly Beach along to North Head. Whilst this is the smallest of Sydney’s rock pools at only 20 metres long it is actually one of it’s most beautiful.
Going on the Manly ferry is a great way to explore the harbour, especially if you don’t have time to do a dedicated boat trip around the harbour. The ferry takes about 30 minutes from Circular Quay and offers stunning views of the harbour.
There are lots of restaurants in Manly if you want to finish your evening there. Ferries run back to Circular Quay until late.
Bondi Beach is not only one of Australia’s most well-known beaches, but it is one of the most famous beaches in the world! The great waves here always attract lots of surfers and the large sandy beach is permanently full of people sunbathing when the sun is out. Spend a little time relaxing on the beach or exploring the beachfront shops and then start the coastal walk between Bondi and Bronte Beach.
Transport to Bondi Beach:
To reach Bondi Beach from Circular Quay you can get the 333 bus. Buses leave every 8 minutes and the journey usually takes just over half an hour.
Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk
The Bondi to Bronte walk is the most famous coastal walk in Sydney. The walk starts at the iconic Bondi Icebergs ocean swimming pool just south of Bondi Beach (see above left picture) and finishes at the beautiful Bronte beach and Bronte Baths. Along the way you will pass Tamarama Beach and Mackenzies Point that offers stunning views out across the ocean.
Bondi to Bronte is a lovely walk, and fairly easy too with minimal inclines. At just 2.5km long it won’t take too long out of your day either – you can complete it in one hour if you walk non-stop, but most people like to take their time on the walk and stop and admire the views along the way.
You’ll also see lots of walkers and runners along this coastal track, and you can even walk all the way down to Coogee Beach or Maroubra where you’ll see lots more natural ocean swimming pools, however I would only recommend this if you have more than three days in Sydney. The Bondi to Bronte section is the best part of the walk.
Transport from Bronte Beach:
From Bronte Beach you can take the 379 bus to Bondi Junction. From there you can change to get another bus back to Circular Quay or wherever you wish to go. I suggest you take the 380 bus up to Watson’s Bay, note that it will go back via Bondi Beach. alternatively if you have the energy you can always walk back from Bronte to Bondi Beach and just get the bus straight from there.
Watson’s Bay is a really nice place not far from Bondi and here you will find Hornby Lighthouse a short walk away. Hornsby Lighthouse is such a cute lighthouse and is incredibly iconic with it’s red and white stripes. The views out across the harbour to the north shore from here are stunning. From Hornby lighthouse you can also walk to nearby Camp Cove Beach that offers panoramic views out to the harbour and The Harbour Bridge.
Transport from Watson’s Bay:
Get the ferry back to Circular Quay from Watson’s Bay. However if you plan to take the ferry back make sure you check what time the last ferry back is! As of March 2020 the last ferry back is 6.55pm in the summer and 6.20pm in the winter. But just double check on the timetable at the pier when you arrive in Watson’s Bay to make sure! If you do miss the ferry you can get a couple of buses/an Uber back to the CBD so don’t worry!
Accommodation in Sydney
If you are only in Sydney for a 3 day period your itinerary is going to be pretty full! Therefore you’ll really need to make sure you book your accommodation in a convenient location. Sydney is a big city and traffic can be quite bad so the location of your hotel is key to minimise the time you spend travelling.
There are many areas you can stay in, and there is no right or wrong area, it just depends on what you prefer. Most people prefer to stay as central as possible to Circular Quay for convenience, but equally some people really enjoy staying by one of the nearby beaches. Personally I think if you are staying in Sydney for the first time you should stay around the Circular Quay area, but feel free to choose other locations if you feel they would be a better fit for you.
CIRCULAR QUAY/THE ROCKS
- If having the Harbour Bridge and Opera House within a stone’s throw (or even having a view of them from your window!) is important to you then stay around Circular Quay or nearby The Rocks.
- This is the most convenient area to stay in transport-wise as you are near the ferry, trains and buses so you can reach anywhere within Sydney easily on public transport.
- There is a lovely bustling atmosphere around this area with lots of very good restaurants.
- You can easily walk to many touristic sights from here (The Botanic Gardens and the CBD are just a 5 minute walk).
- The area known as The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney and is very charming.
- There are many stunning historic buildings here and lots of great outdoor markets and old-fashioned pubs full of character that are set in very impressive historic buildings.
- It is in a great location right next to Circular Quay (less than a 5 minute walk).
As most of the accommodation in Circular Quay and The Rocks offer beautiful harbour views, many of the hotels can be quite expensive. However you can still find some very reasonably priced accommodation options (and even hostels!) here:
Budget: Sydney Harbour YHA – one of the only hostels in the area. Very reasonably priced.
Mid-range: Rydges Sydney Harbour – comfortable hotel with stunning harbour views from the rooftop terrace and pool.
Luxury: Four Seasons Hotel – perfect views of The Opera House from this luxurious hotel.
CBD (CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT)
- The centre of the city: full of offices and shopping centres. There are also lots of parks here.
- Very convenient location – within walking distance to Circular Quay, Chinatown, Darling Harbour, Kings Cross.
- Very busy during the day but quiet during the evenings once all the commuters/shoppers have gone home. Therefore there are not many options for late night dinner so you will need to go to one of the nearby areas.
Budget: Siesta Sydney – this hostel is located in a great setting between Wynyard Station and Darling Harbour.
Mid-range: Airbnb offers some great and more economical options as hotels in Sydney’s CBD can be quite expensive. The bonus of hiring an Airbnb is that you have your own kitchen so you can prepare some meals yourself if you wish, which can keep costs down even more.
Luxury: The Fullerton Hotel Sydney – stunning elegant hotel full of character.
- Darling Harbour is located to the west of the CBD and is a vibrant waterfront district with lots of restaurants.
- Lots of museums and entertainment options here such as the Maritime Museum, Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussauds, Sydney Wild Life and the Darling Harbour Ferris wheel.
- You can also get the ferry from here. Note you will have to walk a few minutes to get to the nearest train station.
Budget: Peg Leg Sydney Darling Harbour Hotel – basic hostel with extremely reasonable prices.
Mid-range: Ibis Sydney Darling Harbour – great views of the CBD and Darling Harbour.
Luxury: Hyatt Regency – perfect waterside views offered here in Sydney’s largest premium hotel.
If waking up to a beach view is more important to you then you are spoilt for choice with the many beaches within a few kilometres of Sydney CBD. Bondi (located on the Eastern Suburbs) and Manly (located on the north shore) are the most popular and central beaches and both have a young and lively atmosphere.
Both Bondi and Manly have lots of options for accommodation available. Click here to see options for Bondi and here for accommodation in Manly. Both are in convenient locations about a half an hour from Circular Quay: Manly can be easily reached by getting the ferry from Circular Quay, and you can get to Bondi from Circular Quay by bus.
How to get to Sydney from the airport
Sydney International Airport is located less than 10 miles/15 km from Sydney’s CBD and is very easily accessible. There are several transport options between the two:
The train is the quickest and most efficient way to get to/from the airport to downtown Sydney. The train station is located inside the airport and the T8 is the train line that serves the airport. Note the train line runs in two directions so make sure you take a train in the direction of the city centre! Trains depart every 10 minutes: it takes just over 10 minutes to reach Central Station and 25 minutes to reach Circular Quay. Before you get off the train work out which is the most convenient station for you to get off at.
Most fares on public transport are around $4, however when you are going to and from the airport an extra fee applies which unfortunately makes trips to/from the airport quite expensive. A single trip to/from the airport will cost you $16.77 on your Opal card.
Instead of buying a single train ticket into the centre (and subsequently each time you want to travel on public transport) I advise you to get an Opal card for the duration of your trip. Opal cards are the contactless way of paying for public transport in Sydney and can save you lots of money. For example on Sundays transport is capped at $2.80 all day for unlimited travel on all public transport including ferries!
An Opal card is very handy when in Sydney, and actually you cannot travel on a bus without an Opal card (cash is not accepted on the buses and you can’t buy a single ticket)! Opal cards are free – you just need to buy credit on it and the card is free. If you get the Opal card at the airport you need to put a minimum of $35 on your Opal card, whereas if you buy it downtown you just need to put a minimum of $20 on your Opal card before you can get the card.
Taxis/Uber will cost around $40-50 and depending on traffic should take around 20 minutes. You probably won’t save any time getting a taxi as the train line is very fast, but perhaps you’ll want to take a taxi if your hotel is not near a train station, if you have lots of luggage or if there are three or more of you as it will cost the same as the train for three people. If none of these apply, and especially if you’re a solo traveller you’ll probably find that getting the train is the best and cheapest option.
Taxis and Ubers are readily available at the airport (for Uber you will need to go to the priority pick-up area).
Getting around Sydney:
It is fairly easy to get around Sydney as many of the main tourist spots are within easy reach of each other. Sydney’s bus system is very comprehensive and you can get almost anywhere on the bus. Alternatively, the metro system and even the ferry can be faster, but it is not quite so expansive as the bus system but it is very convenient. If you are unsure how to get anywhere, go on the TransportNSW website or download their app, and it will tell you the best route to your destination, as well as how long it will take and how much it will cost.
To make things quicker and more convenient you can always use the Uber, Ola or Didi taxi apps for cheap rides.
If you have more than 3 days in Sydney:
The Blue Mountains
If you have longer than 3 days in Sydney you should definitely check out The Blue Mountains, located just under two hours away from Sydney CBD by train. The Blue Mountains are so stunning – full of forest, cliffs, waterfalls and canyons and there are so many walks you can do here. The Blue Mountains make the perfect day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of Sydney and there are even overnight accommodation options here if you wish.
The most popular areas of The Blue Mountains include Wentworth Falls and The Three Sisters rock formation in Katoomba. However if you are looking to visit a lesser-known place in The Blue Mountains click here to read my guide on Hanging Rock – one of my favourite spots here!
Taronga Zoo is one of the world’s best zoos. It is located in a prime position on the harbour with stunning views across to The Opera House. See native wildlife such as kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, wombats, wallabies and more. If you want to do a stunning walk from Taronga Zoo check out the Taronga to Balmoral walk.
Boat trip around Sydney Harbour
A boat trip is the perfect way to explore Sydney Harbour. Get your Guide has a very reasonably priced boat tour around the harbour – click here to experience riding on a 1850’s style wooden tall ship! Alternatively a group of you can hire your own private charter from companies such as Sydney Harbour Boat Tours – click here for details!