As the capital of New South Wales, Sydney is the largest city in Australia and is famous for its superb beaches, its vibrant cultural scene and for its cosmopolitan, international population. This beautiful harbor city has a lot to offer budget and luxury travelers (and everyone in between)! This ultimate Sydney travel guide will help you plan an exciting and unforgettable trip!
What to Expect in Sydney
Language: English is the predominant language, although there are also several Asian languages also spoken among their respective communities.
Currency: The Australian Dollar ($). I found Australia, in general, to be quite expensive compared to most big cities I have traveled to. Meals can easily run $20 AUD and up for something quite casual. Even a meal at Maccas (aka McDonalds) will run you close to $10 AUD. Budget trips are totally doable, but expect to spend some money in Sydney.
Credit Cards and Banks: There are plenty of ATMs located around the city, while most stores will accept Mastercard and Visa, although acceptance for AMEX is usually only at larger retailers.
Climate: Sydney enjoys warm summers and mild winters, with even the record lows not dropping below freezing and summer highs regularly over 80 degrees. Cold season is from June until August while warm season is November until February.
Our Experience as a Lesbian Couple
We highly recommend Sydney as an Australia destination for LGBTQ+ travelers! We loved our time there and felt completely safe and comfortable as a lesbian couple. Home to a huge Mardi Gras celebration each year, Sydney is very welcoming and full of gay culture. We recommend visiting Newtown and Oxford Street for the local gayborhoods, and to plan your visit during Feb/March if you want to go to Mardi Gras.
Getting Around in Sydney
Sydney is separated into many different districts and neighborhoods; each offering a unique flavor of the city!
Darling Harbour: The main area of the city dedicated to entertainment and tourism. Many of the harbor cruises depart from the docks here and it is also home to the aquarium and the National Maritime Museum.
The Rocks: Home to the amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Rocks is a resurgent cosmopolitan area with a vibrant night life and plenty of the city’s best hotels.
City Center: This is where the main business district is located along with the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Sydney Opera House and a range of museums and landmarks.
Kings Cross: Known as a “Red Light District” of sorts, Kings Cross is full of characters. This suburb that never sleeps has nightclubs, restaurants and everything in between.
Surry Hills: This is Sydney’s creative hub for design, fashion and music. It’s one of my absolute favorite spots in all of Sydney with its uber cute cafes.
Double Bay: Double Bay is one of the most cosmopolitan communities in all of Sydney. (It’s no wonder Double Bay has earned the reputation “Double Pay.”) Be prepared to pay a pretty penny here, but don’t miss nightlife hotspots Mrs. Sippy, Pelicano or Golden Sheaf.
Paddington: Paddington offers a wonderful range of boutiques and shops to explore along with plenty of cafes and bars. William Street offers the best shopping in all of Sydney. Don’t miss the Paddington Markets on Saturday mornings!
The Russell Hotel
The Russell Hotel is located in the heart of Sydney’s historic The Rocks district, and just a 2-minute walk to Sydney Harbor. It has the original charm of its 1887 origins, but the rooms are modern and comfortable—such a unique property!
Location: Downtown, CBD
Sydney Central YHA (Hostel)
Central YHA is a 5-star hostel for budget travelers and is located right next to Central Station! It offers dorm-style and private rooms, plus Wi-Fi and a pool!
Location: Central Sydney
The Urban Newtown (Budget)
This industrial boutique hotel is set in a small neighborhood right outside of Sydney’s city center. Enjoy luxuries and amenities in contemporary, clean, quality studios at a budget price!
Shangri-La Sydney (Luxury)
The Shangri-La is a beautiful hotel located in The Rocks that offers a truly luxurious experience. Be sure to check out the famous Level 36 Horizon Bar for a cocktail with the ultimate view!
Location: The Rocks
Park Hyatt (Luxury)
Located in The Rocks, the Park Hyatt sits on an amazing waterfront and offers great views over the Sydney Opera House.
Location: Circular Quay
Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour (Boutique)
Built in a 19th-century warehouse that once stored wool bales, this unique hotel is within walking distance of all the main sights. The staff is genuine and attentive, plus the daily fresh breakfast is top-notch.
Location: Darling Harbour
Sydney Fish Market (Fresh Seafood)
While there are several stalls in the Sydney Fish Market that offer freshly cooked seafood, many travelers head straight to the fishmongers inside for fresh oysters or some of the wonderfully prepared sashimi.
“Enlightened food, good for the body, great for the soul.” This vegan hot spot is full of delicious and fresh tapas, salads and main dishes. The award-winning restaurant was one of the first places to serve vegan Yum Cha and Pan-Asian cuisine.
What To Try: Go for lunch to try the Yum Cha offerings!
Food on Five Westfield Food Court (Best Casual)
This has to be the best mall food court in the entire world! Offering a variety of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, this food court is located in the Westfield mall on Pitt Street and provides gourmet and casual food options.
What to Order: Head to Ippudo for some delicious ramen!
The Grounds of Alexandria
After walking around the eclectic outdoor market, head to The Potting Shed for a TRUE farm-to-table meal. The atmosphere is incredible; all of the hanging plants, terracotta pots, bench swings, and fresh florals make you feel like you’re hanging out on your back porch. Plus they have some very creative and true-to-theme cocktails!
There is also a cafe, a bakery, and a garden where you can pick up smaller bites. If you’re in the city, stop by the Grounds of the City to check out the cool coffeehouse-inspired restaurant and cafe.
What to Order: Coffee + Croissant
Chiswick (Best Farm-to-Table)
Enjoy garden surroundings at Chiswick in the heart of Sydney. Chef Matt Moran takes the best local ingredients and adds his own great presentation for a unique taste of Australian cuisine.
Icebergs (Coolest Cocktail Spot)
Situated on the cliffs at the southern end of Bondi Beach, the ocean view and modern design at Icebergs makes for a cool vibe.
When to Go: Stop in for a cocktail at sunset for a view you’ll never forget!
Located in Surry Hills, this small, intimate restaurant serves up some seriously authentic Italian food. Traditional recipes meet the best seasonal ingredients to produce stunning dishes.
Sushi (Cheap Eats)
Dining out can be a big budget breaker for travelers. Luckily, sushi comes cheap in Sydney! There are plenty of sushi spots scattered around the city that sell fresh and inexpensive sushi.
Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (Best Pies)
The iconic pies from Harry’s Cafe are part of folklore in Sydney, and this stall has been selling pies, peas and gravy for eight decades.
Climb the Harbour Bridge
The views from the Pylon Lookout are among the best in the city and, for those who complete the climb, there is also a small exhibition that looks at the bridge’s history.
Royal Botanical Gardens
With a collection of plants developed over nearly two hundred years, the Royal Botanical Gardens overlook the harbor and offer a relaxing and beautiful place to explore in this bustling city.
Bondi to Coogee Walk
For those who simply cannot decide which of Sydney’s beaches is the best, this walk takes visitors past many of the best beaches in the city, so it is well worth taking your swimmers (Aussie slang for swimsuit).
The iconic sands of Bondi are just four miles from the city center. With a series of beach bars and great surf at the southern end of the beach, it is a great place to get your bronze on and enjoy the sunshine.
Ferry to Manly Beach
The seven mile crossing to Manly takes around half an hour and it is a great way to get out of the city and on to some of the best beaches in the region.
Train to Blue Mountains
Just a short distance west of central Sydney, the views over the Blue Mountains are breathtaking. Catch a train running to Mount Victoria every two hours.
Hike Royal National Park
A short distance south of the city, the Royal National Park offers a series of great trails to explore. There are beach walks, hikes into the bush, along with plenty of camping and trail huts for longer trips.
Wine Tasting in the Hunter Valley
Northwest of the city center, the Hunter Valley is home to several wineries that offer tasting sessions. Plus there are organized tours that will take you to several wineries.