This article was originally published in July 2015 and updated in October 2018
After a long, long flight (unless you happen to be in New Zealand), many visitors arrive in Sydney, Australia a little disheveled, but rather excited to begin exploring the land Down Under. With so much to see in this vast, beautiful country, many people only plan for a couple of days to visit Sydney before jumping on a cruise ship, jetting off to the Great Barrier Reef or taking a road trip through the Outback—which frankly is a shame, given all that this world-class, cosmopolitan city has to offer. With that in mind, here are some of the best things to do in sophisticated Sydney, Australia in just two days.
DAY ONE: Sydney city tour
The Rocks, Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay, CBD, Hyde Park, Manly Beach, Sydney Opera House
If budget allows, base yourself near Circular Quay which is the heart of the action. This is where you’ll find historic buildings housing shops, cafes and pubs galore, and a beautiful palm-lined promenade overlooking the famous Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
Even if you’re not staying in the area, start your day in The Rocks by grabbing a croissant and a Flat White at one of the outdoor cafes bathed in sunshine. The Rocks has a bit of a New York-meets-Europe feel to it, thanks to the revitalized brick warehouses that line the streets, sheltering restaurant patios and high-end boutiques.
Grab a prime people watching spot and soak in the great view of the steel Harbour Bridge as you enjoy your coffee. If you’re in the mood for a wander, head straight down towards the Park Hyatt hotel and follow the pathway bordering the water which eventually leads right under the towering bridge, and you can climb it if you’re brave enough!
Next, head back down George Street, and in less than 10 minutes you’ll find yourself in bustling Circular Quay right in front of the ferry terminal and train station. Here, well-heeled locals on their way to work in the CBD mix with camera-wielding tourists angling for a shot of the sparkling harbour. With the boardwalk being anchored by the bridge on the left and the white sails of the Opera House on the right, it’s the quintessential city shot and one of the most popular places to see in Sydney.
The walking tour continues at the end of the ferry terminal near the entrance to the Sydney Opera House, where visitors should turn right and follow Phillip/Elizabeth Street through the business district. A 20-minute jaunt leads visitors past towering skyscrapers, five-star hotels, wine bars and luxury shopping, before arriving at Hyde Park.
There, you’re greeted by beautiful Archibald Fountain and the gargantuan St. Mary’s Cathedral which gives Paris’ Notre Dame a run for its money. Leafy green trees provide welcome shade from the Aussie sun as they loom over the pathways winding through the park, making for an enchanting scene.
Once you manage to tear yourself away from the serenity of the park, walk or grab a taxi back to the ferry terminal and hop on the Manly Beach ferry. In just 20-30 minutes (depending on which ferry you choose), you’ll be a world away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, and find the laid-back vibe that Australia is famous for—just in time for lunch.
Manly Beach is as close as you can get to a surfer town in the area, and the kind of place where shoes are an afterthought. Stroll down The Corso (main strip), and grab a gelato before high-tailing it to the beach. Sydneysiders claim Manly is better than Bondi, and not only is it less touristy but also boasts soft golden sand. Add to that the epic waves which are a surfer’s dream, and it’s easy to see why Manly is considered one of the best beaches in Sydney. Park yourself on the shoreline, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
While ferries run back to the city throughout the evening, you’ll want to hop back on an hour before sunset, when the light is at its best for photographs. By nabbing a seat on the top of the boat, you’ll have a perfect view of the Opera House as it pulls back into harbour, and it’s stunning to see how the soft light seems to create a halo effect around the sweeping sails, making for an absolutely captivating scene.
End the day by heading back to Circular Quay for dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants, then grab a night cap at the Opera Bar. It’s at the base level of the Opera House, and a magical place to enjoy the magnificent view of the harbour all lit up at night and end day one of your Sydney itinerary.
DAY TWO: Sydney day tours
Bondi Beach, Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, Darling Harbour
After all the Sydney sightseeing on day one, day two is about enjoying the scenery and working on that tan. No trip to the city is complete without some time at famous Bondi Beach, so grab a towel and head there first thing in the morning to secure a spot in the sand.
The beach is absolutely huge, but it’s been known to draw thousands of people during busy periods like weekends and holidays, so keep that in mind if you’re visiting during those periods. From bronzed bodies to cool graffiti lining the boardwalk, there’s no shortage of distractions at Bondi which makes this one of the top Sydney activities.
Once the sun starts heating things up, cool off by heading over to the Bondi Beach Icebergs Club. There, you’ll find two beautiful infinity pools thisclose to the ocean—in fact, those doing laps need to time their breaths so they don’t inhale seawater from an oncoming wave! Entrance is only $7 per person, and there are facilities like washrooms and showers on site.
Once lunch time rolls around, head upstairs and grab a patio seat at one of the restaurants to fuel up for your next adventure: the Bondi to Coogee walk. The famed Coastal Walk is nothing short of stunning, and it’s incredible that such views exist right in a bustling city.
The 5.5 km pathway connecting half a dozen beaches borders a craggy cliffside the entire way, affording sweeping ocean views as the surf pounds the shoreline. Be sure to have a good pair of walking shoes and a swimsuit on hand—it’s nearly impossible to avoid jumping into the welcoming water at the beautiful beaches you’ll come across, such as Tamarama and Bronte. The walk only takes an hour or two, leaving you with plenty of time for swimming before heading back to get ready for dinner.
The last order of business in Sydney is an evening spent over good food and wine at one of Darling Harbour’s many acclaimed restaurants, before calling it a day and gearing up for the next leg of your Aussie adventure.
Have an extra day or two? There are some wonderful day trips from Sydney that appeal to all types of travellers. Those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city can head to the Blue Mountains, or if sipping Chardonnay is more your thing book a tour of the vineyards in the Hunter Valley. Families travelling with young ones may want to spend some time at the Taronga Zoo which is home to penguins, giraffes, elephants and meerkats, and also has fantastic views of the harbour. Finally, thrill-seekers will want to set aside half a day (and $300+) to do the Harbour Bridge climb.
Where to stay in Sydney
Park Hyatt Sydney: It’s hard to beat the city views from the Hyatt, which has an enviable perch right on the waterfront facing the Opera House. Guests rave about the five star treatment at this luxury property, including staff who greet them by name and surprise them with bottles of champagne in their rooms. Click here to book
Veriu Broadway: This well priced property boasts a funky decor, and is perfect for long stays since suites come equipped with full kitchens and washing machines/dryers. Bike rentals are complimentary for guests, which makes it a cinch to explore nearby Darling Harbour and Chinatown. Click here to book
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