Travel Guide: The Ultimate Guide to Sydney — A Complete Itinerary

The oldest, most cosmopolitan city of Sydney, Australia received over 13 million visitors in total last year, and is chock full of world-class attractions.  

A week is plenty time to explore this major city— if only to scratch the surface. 

This guide will cover most of the attractions worth hitting in the beautiful harbour city and I’ll be breaking them down by districts, the way I did for my guides in PerthBarcelona and Lisbon


From my trip to Sydney, I've turned some of my photography into my brand of everyday products which you can check out below. Worldwide shipping is available so if you're looking for a notebook with dot grid, blank or ruled pages, tote bags, postcards & tumblers to take home to remember your travels if you too have been to these parts of Australia or for some travel inspiration!

View the full product catalogue at the shop here.

What to Do and See

1. The Rocks

A historic precinct of Sydney, the character of The Rocks both by day and night is unique outside of downtown Sydney.  

The area is full of local boutiques, architecture very much inspired by Australia’s colonial past, bustling restaurants and by night is where Sydney’s bar scene is at.

A stroll around the area is always nice, exploring the alleyways and The Rocks Market, a maker’s market happening every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm, as well as a Foodies Market on Fridays from 9am to 3pm.

From The Rocks, you can walk up to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, where you can walk across the bridge for stunning views over the Quay and for free too! 

The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

You’ll descend at the neighbourhood of Kirribilli at the other end of the bridge, where there’s nothing much beyond some residential houses, but you’re also close to the famous Luna Park if that’s your gig.

Mind, The Rocks in general isn’t the cheapest for food or a night out, and a lot does feel catered to tourists too, so if you’re looking for an authentic Sydney experience, this isn’t the neighbourhood to be. Otherwise, The Rocks is plenty good fun.

2. City Centre / Circular Quay

This is where the hustle of Sydney’s true city side comes to life.  

Circular Quay is home to a vibrant harbour district, and is the jumping off point for many of the city’s ferries onward to riverside suburbs such as Watsons Bay. 

Many buskers can be found here, alongside many restaurants as well as, of course, the Sydney Opera House. The Quay also plays host to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is a fine museum and one of Sydney’s best. 

Moving inwards, you’ll reach some famous Sydney streets, as well as the premier shopping areas of George Street. 

Queen Victoria Building and The Strand Arcade are beautiful shopping arcades as famous for their fine architecture as a shopping destination, and are unmissable attractions in Sydney. 

Moving west also gets you to the Royal Botanic Gardens, a sprawling piece of land with beautiful gardens and stunning views of the river and the bridge, where I even made it as far as Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. 

Sydney’s a really green city, so even apart from the massive Royal Botanic Gardens, there’s also Hyde Park, The Domain, and Macquarie Place Park.

For a culture fix, head to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a museum dedicated to the convicts that built a lot of Sydney in its early days, giving you an insight into where they came from, the conditions they faced, and even some of their bunks recreated.

Discovering the city centre in full will take you more than a day, but it’s really the heart of Sydney and where all the action is, and there’s plenty to walk and explore. 

3. Darling Harbour

West of the city centre is Darling Harbour, and the biggest attraction here is most definitely the harbour itself, and the myriad of waterfront restaurants. 

One I tried that was great was The Meat & Wine Co with brilliant views, and that was a time of the fireworks every Saturday night, but Darling Harbour has ended the Saturday fireworks display since with no plans to continue it into 2018. 

In Darling Harbour, you have a lot more attractions to be at, including the Sydney Aquarium, Australian National Maritime Museum, Madame Tussaud’s, which should be good fun with kids. 

4. City South  (Chinatown, Haymarket, Darlington)

Closer to actual life in Sydney in the suburbs, the south of Sydney features some popular neighbourhoods such as Haymarket and Ultimo.

Haymarket is where you’ll find Sydney’s Chinatown, an atmospheric area to get lost in and spend some time at. Thanks to Sydney’s large Asian population, this area is pretty authentic to the culture, with other options for Thai and Japanese food. 

The main street of Dixon Street is lined with plenty of Chinese restaurants, but in my opinion these are just okay, and if you'd like better food you might have to head into the alleyways or elsewhere, like in Kings Cross for more upscale restaurants, as well as new age fusion eateries.

It’s a nice place to spend time for a day, but if I were to choose a suburb to stay in, I’d go with the ones below. 

5. City East (Paddington, Surry Hills, Kings Cross, Darlinghurst)

East of Sydney's downtown core lies many leafy residential suburbs that are quiet and residential, well reflective of inner suburb life in Sydney. 

I love this area for the sheer number of town centres and brilliant cafes that line these streets. 

Surry Hills in particular is beautiful and just a bus ride away from anywhere you need to go downtown, and some of my favourite coffee spots for brunch included Paramount Coffee Project, Reuben Hills, Le Monde Cafe, Edition Coffee Roasters, Bourke Street Bakery, as well as awesome burgers at Chur Burger. Really though, great food is plenty in this area and you're never more than two blocks away from filling up your tummy. 

Brilliant burgers at Chur Burger

Brilliant burgers at Chur Burger

Kings Cross is the historic red light district of Sydney, though these days feels a little tired and sleepy than popping, but the area has started to see gentrification, bringing in some cool new restaurants such as Cho Cho San, Yellow and Billy Kwong for those on the hunt for upmarket Asian food. 

Paddington, like Surry Hills is another residential suburb and town centre with a main street of shops. Paddington also plays host to Paddington Markets every Saturday featuring local artisans and craftsmen, as well as plenty of food stalls and are great to spend some time in. 

Oxford Street can also be found here, and you'll have plenty to shop for from your international brands to local boutiques. 

6. Eastern Suburbs (Bondi, North Bondi, Bronte, Coogee)

Of course, no guide to Sydney will ever be complete without mentioning the now iconic Bondi Beach and the suburbs along the coast. 

A bus ride out from the city centre brings you to Bondi Junction, where you'll find many malls, shops, cafes and restaurants. The traffic here's packed, and there's plenty of life here. 

Stay on the bus a little longer though, and you'll find yourself at Bondi Beach, where many gather, both locals and visitors alike for a day at the beach. 

When I was there in September, there was Australia's biggest kite flying festival, the Festival of Winds, happening on Bondi Beach, and the sight of hundreds of kites flying in the wind framed against the clear blue skies and throngs of people on the powdery white sandy beaches was quite the sight to behold. 

Festival of the Winds at Bondi Beach

Festival of the Winds at Bondi Beach

Can't get enough of Aussie brunches? Good news, as Bondi North is home to many such cafes, with Harrys Bondi, Panama House, and Porch and Parlour incredibly popular, expect waits of up to an hour on the weekends. 

Also can't get enough of local markets? Bondi's home to the Bondi Markets (Sunday) and Bondi Farmers Markets (Saturday), and you can keep up with when the next market is on their official website.

If there's anything I love about Australia, it's the fantastic beach culture, and despite the sheer number of people landing on Bondi every single day, the beaches are still remarkably clean. Living in Asia, it's all too common to watch beaches deteriorate after many travellers have made their mark on them. So props to the conservation teams here.

Australia's also famous for its rock pools, swimming pools seemingly carved out of the rocky coast overlooking the sea, and Bondi Icebergs Club has got to be one of the most photographed and famous ones, and there's nothing like seeing it in the flesh. The pool currently costs AU$7 for adults and AU$5 for children to enter, and a bistro offering panoramic views over the pool and the bay. 

Head to the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk for some brilliant views all along the coast, and the further you move away from the heart of Bondi, the lesser the crowds get, so if you're looking for some peace and quiet, do keep that in mind.

If you're still after another great cafe, you've got Three Blue Ducks in the suburbs of Bronte.

7. Day Trips

In Sydney, day trips run aplenty, and you've got lots of options including heading into New South Wales' premier wine-producing region, the Hunter Valley, or visiting the iconic Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters, or even hopping on a ferry at Circular Quay to visit other suburbs.

Travel Guide: What to do and see in Hunter Valley

The one I took was to Watsons Bay, and there was plenty to see and do, not to mention stunning views from the Gap Lookout.

Travel Guide: A Stunning Day Out from Sydney in Watsons Bay

I took a trip out to Manly as well, and Manly also offers a great beach and fantastic brunch and coffee options, such as Barefoot Coffee Traders, and some of the best Mexican in the city like Chica Bonita (it was so busy we couldn't even get a table here one night). The main strip of The Corso is also a pleasant walking promenade to spend some time at.


Getting Around Sydney

Sydney's a huge city, and public transport hasn't always been perfect, though with the introduction of the Opal Card, this has massively eased getting around not just in Sydney, but as far out as other towns in New South Wales including Newcastle and Goulburn etc. 

The bus might be the best way to get around, as many places are covered by these routes, and there are plenty buses to go around in the city, so you're never too far away from a bus stop and you'll never have to wait too long either. 

Outside of the Sydney city centre, if you're headed to Parramatta or Bondi Junction, you can opt for the Sydney Trains, and you'll be there within half an hour. 

The Sydney Ferries are also another way to get around, and offer fantastic views from the waters, and some even travel under the Harbour Bridge, such as to Balmain and Darling Harbour from Circular Quay. 

Part of the fun here is looking up the plethora of destinations shown on the boards, and choosing where you want to go for the day. 

If you're looking to rent a car, Sydney is easy to drive, but parking within the city centre is unsurprisingly an expensive undertaking. We took a car to bring us to the Hunter Valley, which offered us plenty of freedom. Roads were wide and signs were clear, and driving through the countryside was pleasant and easy to do. Roads are smooth and we never encountered any issues. Of course, there's every possibility kangaroos and wombats might be on the road, but roos in particular are only active at dusk, so you're highly unlikely to come across a kangaroo in the middle of the day. If you do encounter any animals, try not to hit them as kangaroos in particular will smash your car which is not only dangerous but costly. Stop and wait for them to pass if need be. 

From my trip to Sydney and New South Wales, I turned some of my photographs I took here into my line of products, and they're all available below at the shop!

Hunter Valley Flowers Tote Bag

At this point, almost all my floral designs for prints have been flowers from the Hunter Valley and this one's no exception. We were driving around headed to the various wine yards in the area, and yet it felt like the gardens of each yard was pruned to perfection seemingly effortlessly. 

At this particular vineyard we were at, we sadly arrived just after it closed, but still, we roamed the grounds of the vineyard and I found this bush of flowers just blowing in the wind. I took a photograph of it and I love that you can see it in motion even in a photo.

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Lavender Field Postcard

This little field of lavender flowers were blowing in the wind on our drive to Hunter's Valley in New South Wales, Australia. When it comes to getting out to nature, I honestly think few places are as stunning yet well-kept as Australia.

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It's Always Been You Postcard

In the land Down Under, beaches run aplenty. One of my favourite parts about their well-kept beaches is the fact many are adorned with coastal walks. This particular one is the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. We began at the iconic Bondi, and the walking trail hit Tamarama Bay next, where I took this photo. I loved the blooming of flowers in the foreground while the waves met the shore behind, framed by the gorgeous houses along the coast.

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