As Australia’s biggest city with the countries busiest airport, there’s a good chance if you are heading down under you may find yourself with a layover in Sydney.
Recently I found myself on a Sydney layover for 24 hours and realised just how accessible Sydney Airport is to the cities biggest sites; so thought I’d write a quick guide to help you maximise your stopover in Sydney.
Need to know:
- Australia has pretty strict rules about flying. Domestic passengers need to check their luggage for a minimum of 1 hour before the flight and International passengers are advised to proceed to check in three-hours before their flights.
As such, I wouldn’t recommend leaving Sydney Airport unless you had a minimum of 5 hours, but 7+ hours is ideal. Check with your airline if you are unsure.
- Many international travellers are eligible for a free 72-hour Transit Visa that gives you up to three days to explore Sydney.
- Can’t check your luggage onto your connecting flight yet? You can store luggage at Smart Carte in the arrivals hall in both the domestic and international terminals at Sydney Airport.
- You can take the train from Sydney Airport directly into Sydney’s CBD for just under $18. Taxis and Uber are also available at a higher cost (between $30 – $50 pending on traffic and destination) but may be slow in peak hour. It takes approximately 20-30 minutes to get from the airport to Circular Quay by train.
- Most places accept debit and credit cards in Sydney so you don’t need to exchange money before going out to enjoy the city.
How to Make the Most of a Sydney Layover
5 hours in Sydney
With only a few hours in Sydney, you want to keep it simple. My recommendation is to head straight into Circular Quay, the location of the cities two most iconic sites: the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
Grab a coffee and soak up the atmosphere or sneak in a cheeky drink at Playhouse Bar under the Sydney Opera House while you are there.
7 hours in Sydney
Stretch those legs and go for a walk taking in the cities most famous sites in Circular Quay and then walk around the harbour front in the Royal Botanic Gardens until you get to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a sandstone bench carved by convicts in 1811 for the then-governor’s wife, with incredible views of the harbour.
Then, you can choose:
- Visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales located in the Domain, behind the Royal Botanic Gardens, to explore Australia’s largest public gallery; most of which is free. (Recommended: 2hrs)
- Head to The Rocks. This historic neighbourhood is filled with lanes, the Rocks Markets, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (well worth a visit), all in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (Recommended: 2+ hrs)
- Hop on board a ferry! Don’t just see the harbour, get out onto the harbour and explore the neighbourhoods around the harbour. I recommend taking the Pyrmont Bay line which takes you to a lovely harbour filled with restaurants, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, and the Australian National Maritime Museum. It’s also the closest point to the stunning Chinese Garden of Friendship and Sydney’s Chinatown! (You can get back to the airport by taking the train from Central if you choose this route). (Recommended: 1 hour for the ferry, additional for each activity)
- Head to Bondi Beach, one of Australia’s most famous beaches! Soak up some sun, have a dip, enjoy some fish & chips on the sand, and try to spot the lifeguards from Bondi Rescue while you are there.
I recommend taking the train to Bondi Junction and then taking a taxi to the beach because the bus service can be unreliable. (Recommended: 3-4hrs)
- Head to Sydney’s most Insta-famous cafe, the Grounds of Alexandria for brunch and a Unicorn Soda! (Recommended: 1+ hours)
12 hrs in Sydney
If you have more than 10 hours in Sydney, I recommend any of the above activities plus:
- Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’ve done the Bridge Climb three times and it still leaves me breathless… both physically and from the incredible view you’ll encounter at the top. It’s the ultimate Sydney bucket list item.
If you want a good view without the price tag, head to the free Pylon Lookout. There’s a 200-stair climb but you’ll have what is arguably one of the best 360-degree views of the city.
Also, consider walking or cycling across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge (Recommended: 1-2 hours if you are crossing it solo or visiting the Pylon Lookout. 4+ hours for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb)
- Get wild at Taronga Zoo. Hop on the Taronga Zoo Ferry (T8) at Circular Quay to meet some of Australia’s furry natives and residents from around the world. Be sure to stop by the giraffe enclosure for one of the best views of Sydney Harbour. (Recommended: 3+ hours)
- Learn about Australia’s convict history at Cockatoo Island! If history isn’t your thing, the island has a restaurant and bar (open Thursday – Sunday) with incredible views of the harbour. It also hosts a number of exhibitions throughout the year, including the Sydney Biennial. (Recommended: 4 hrs +)
- Head to Manley. Have a dip at the beach and then rent a bike and head out to the North Head for incredible views of the entrance to the harbour and South Pacific Ocean. Best during summer where you can watch cruise ships entering/exiting. (Recommended: 4+ hours)
- Explore the trendy neighbourhood of Paddington. Browse the boutiques for some fine threads, many by Australian designers, along Oxford Street. Stop by Ampersand Cafe & Book Shop for a pick me up. If you are visiting on a Saturday, be sure to stop by the Paddington Market to pick up a bargain! (Recommended: 3+ hours)
- Wander Haymarket in search of sweet treats! Haymarket is the home to Sydney’s Chinatown, and where some of the countries most creative desserts can be found! Stop by Dessert Kitchen to try their famous Ice Stream Noodles which looks like a bowl of blue ramen, D21 for their ice cream filled macarons, The Choc Pot for their melt in your mouth Original Choc Pot, or famed fluffy Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake.
If you are seeking something really special, walk a few blocks outside Haymarket to KOI Dessert Bar in neighbouring Chippendale by Masterchef dessert king Reynold Poernomo. (Recommended: 2+ hours)
More than 24 hours in Sydney
Choose any of the above adventures, plus:
- Enjoy a night out on the town. Sydney is known for fine dining, so enjoy a night on the town eating at renown chef Peter Gilmore’s iconic Quay restaurant which offers picturesque views of the harbour and Opera House, Paul Carmichael’s Momofuku Seiobo which pairs Caribbean-Australian food, or Neil Perry’s Deco-era dining room at Rockpool Bar & Grill.
- End the evening on a high point by enjoying a drink at one of the many small bars popping up around Sydney. I’m a big fan of Grandma’s, Stitch Bar (for a bit of hidden bar action), and The Rook rooftop bar.
- Discover why the famed mountains just outside of Sydney are called the Blue Mountains with a half day adventure out-of-town. Take a guided tour take a guided walk of the national park, visit the Three Sisters, and if there’s time visit Katoomba Scenic World to take the world’s steepest passenger railway with a 52º incline. Be sure to explore Leura for quaint shops and delicious home-style eats. All accessible by Sydney Trains.
Where to stay in Sydney:
If you are staying overnight in Sydney I recommend checking into the new Felix Hotel. This sophisticated boutique hotel, whose design has nods towards the 1960s golden age of flying, is located just a short walk from Sydney International Airport. With rooms named after their level of luxury, from economy to first class, and views looking over the runway, design and aviation enthusiasts will be excited about their next Sydney layover!
If you are staying a little longer, I like to stay at the spacious and uber stylish Hilton Sydney, located on George Street. With easy access to the airport – Town Hall train station directly across the road – and just a short walk to Circular Quay, you’ll be able to take in all Sydney has to offer during your stopover.
For something a little different, consider glamping on historic Cockatoo Island or staying in one of their private two-bedroom apartments, which will give you what is arguably one of the best views of Sydney Harbour. This is only recommended for longer stays as you need to take a ferry (which runs every 30 minutes) to reach the island.
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This is NOT a sponsored post.
All flights booked, ferries ridden, cocktails consumed, food eaten,
bridges climbed, and beds slept in were paid for by myself.