Sydney may not be the capital of Australia, but it’s the largest city and one of the most popular to visit. It’s surrounded by water and home to the breathtaking and iconic Sydney Harbour.
With so much to see and do in this glorious city, it can be difficult to know where to begin or how you can fit everything into two days. Fortunately for you, this guide will show you how to spend 48 hours in Sydney without getting overwhelmed.
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The Best Time to Visit Sydney
Remember that Australia is in the southern hemisphere, so seasons are flipped around and may be different to what you’re used to. If it’s freezing and snowing in your hometown, there’s a good chance it’s actually hot and sunny in Sydney.
Since Sydney enjoys such a moderate climate year-round, there really isn’t a bad time of year to visit. The only time you may want to avoid is the peak of summer if you’re not used to the heat. While the January and February average is 26 degrees Celsius, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. If you thrive in warm weather, an Aussie summer experience in Sydney may be perfect for you. Summer is also when many of the best outdoor festivals are happening, so remember your SPF 50+!
If you’re used to the cold European and North American winters, coming here during wintertime in Sydney (June to August) won’t bother you in the slightest. In fact, you’ll be surprised to find there’s still plenty of sunshine. The temperature on an average July day is 17 degrees Celsius. Sydney’s Vivid Festival runs during May and June and has become hugely popular with both locals and tourists.
October and November are beautiful and tranquil times to visit. The weather is mild and pleasant, and it’s far enough away from the major holiday period in December. November is also Jacaranda season in Sydney, where vibrant purple flowers are in bloom everywhere you look. This is definitely a good time for some relaxing sightseeing in Sydney.
Something to be aware of is when the public and school holidays are, as prices may rise and attractions will be busier. However, if you’re going to be spending 48 hours in Sydney with kids, this may actually be an advantage, as there will often be extra activities on. Other than mid-December to January, there are three two-week breaks for school kids throughout the year. Be mindful of these periods if you’re hoping to avoid crowds.
Things to do in Sydney
If you’re not afraid of heights, one of the most memorable things to do in Sydney is the BridgeClimb. At any time of day, you can follow a guide up the arches of the bridge to see panoramic views of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Opera House. The bridge climbs at dawn, twilight and nighttime take three and a half hours. For those with limited time, there are also express and sampler options lasting one and a half to two hours. You can also request a guide that speaks fluent Mandarin. Each option provides you with a free group photo with the gorgeous views in the background, plus a commemorative certificate.
Although you’ll want to spend most of your time outside making the most of the great weather, I’d recommend exploring the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Yiribana Gallery at AGNSW is a fantastic place to see works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. It’s one of the largest permanent exhibitions of Indigenous Australian art and full of marvelously unique pieces. There’s also the Indigenous Australians exhibition at the Australian Museum where you can learn about the history, culture and spirituality of the first Australians.
Places to visit in Sydney
No trip to Sydney would be complete without seeing the Opera House. However, I’m going to assume that you already know about this famous landmark and tell you about some other great places to visit instead.
Bondi Beach is considered the most famous beach in Australia. It can be a lot of fun if you’re a tourist only in town for a limited amount of time, but all the locals know it’s overcrowded. Shelly Beach on the North Shore is a serene alternative. It’s secluded but close enough to the relaxed and cosmopolitan suburb of Manly, and not far from the much larger Manly Beach. Whether you want to swim, surf, sunbathe or people watch, you won’t regret taking a trip out to the Northern Beaches.
If it’s your first time in Australia, I’m sure you’ll be eager to meet some of the native animals. Most tourists visit Taronga Zoo since it takes only 15 to 20 minutes to reach via ferry. You’ll get the classic zoo experience here and even see the elusive tree kangaroo. Taronga has a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability and conservation. You’ll get the wonderful opportunity to learn about many of the world’s endangered species and how they are being protected.
If you don’t mind heading away from the CBD, or are interested in booking an inclusive trip to the Blue Mountains, you might consider Featherdale Wildlife Park instead. You’ll get a more authentic, up-close-and-personal experience with the Australian animals here. If you want to see koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras, wombats, wallabies, echidnas, and Tasmanian devils (which are cuter than the name suggests), this is the zoo for you. You can sign up for personal encounters with many of the animals and receive a souvenir photo pack.
When you’ve seen all the major attractions and are wondering where to go in Sydney, head to an area known as The Rocks. This historic laneway neighbourhood is right by Circular Quay and is lined with tall, luscious trees. It’s a chic and bustling area in the heart of Sydney and home to a fantastic open-air market on the weekends. You can’t miss it, as there are always around 200 vendors set up along George Street. Peruse the stalls, listen to some local live music, and sample some of the delicious food on offer. It’s also a nice place to pick up a souvenir that isn’t completely cliché, including handcrafted jewellery, artwork and photographs.
Where to stay in Sydney
Here are a couple of suggestions for where to stay in Sydney that will meet everyone’s requirements. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in Sydney.
There’s no denying that Sydney is a very expensive city, and if you flew in from the other side of the world, you likely already paid a lot to get here. If you want to cut back on accommodation costs, you can stay at a quality hostel run by YHA. You’ll find backpackers hostels all over, but Sydney Harbour YHA is the only one with a rooftop overlooking the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. A bed in a dorm begins at AU$33 per night, while private rooms and even four-bed family rooms can be booked at fluctuating prices.
For more luxurious accommodation, look into the Meriton Suites. There are 13 locations spread across Sydney, with Meriton Suites Pitt Street being a top pick. There are studios, three-bedroom apartment suites and even stunning penthouses. All options have a private balcony, built-in wardrobe, kitchen facilities, laundry, espresso machine and living area. The decor is modern and contemporary, and the ladies at front reception are happy to provide you with their favourite cafe and restaurant recommendations. It’s also a short walk from Hyde Park in the heart of the CBD.
How to get around Sydney
Sydney is well serviced by public transport. To pay for any train, bus, ferry or light rail trip, you’ll need an Opal card. You can pick up one of these smart-cards from any convenience store or newsagency and load a minimum of AU$10 onto it. Unfortunately, there are frequent delays with trains and buses. You’ll want to avoid public transport altogether between the weekday peak hours of seven to nine in the morning and three to seven at night. There’s also a light rail project currently in development with an existing route from Circular Quay to Randwick.
If you’re only going a stop or two, it’s easier and far more pleasant to walk. A lot of major attractions can be reached by foot, so always keep this in mind. As a bonus, you’ll come across a lot of interesting sights and places to pop into while wandering around.
Like any modern city, Sydney also has bike sharing services available. The two main options at the moment are oBike and Mobike. After downloading one of the apps and registering, you can find thousands of bikes available. You’ll then be able to reserve and unlock bikes near you. In Australia, it is required by law to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, so remember to use the one that is provided with the bike or bring your own. Once you’re done using the bike, you can park it at a designated parking area or public bicycle rack.
The most scenic way to get around Sydney’s shores is by ferry. Circular Quay is the main ferry terminal, located on the edge of Sydney Cove. From here you can get to Manly, Mosman, Darling Harbour, Luna Park, Taronga Zoo and several other locations. If you haven’t picked up an Opal card, you can purchase an Opal single trip ticket.
Of course, there’s also the option of booking a taxi or an Uber. Be aware that there’s a minimum fare of AU$9 with Uber. You can also try out GoCatch, an Aussie competitor to Uber that has no fare surging.
Tours to do in Sydney
The most popular tours allow you to see Sydney Harbour by cruise or helicopter. There are many affordable options for cruises. You can take a dinner cruise, a sunset cruise, and even a daytime cruise that includes entrance and travel to Taronga Zoo. Most of these tours are reasonably priced, and are perfect for weekend getaways in Sydney. You can also catch a two-hour speedboat tour by Ocean Extreme and get up close to the majestic humpback whales.
For stunning aerial views, Sydney Helitours can pick you up from your hotel and take you on a 20-minute helicopter ride. It’s perhaps the best way to see many of Sydney’s highlights in the shortest amount of time.
2 Day Sydney Itinerary
Here’s a quick overview of what you can realistically fit into one weekend in Sydney.
Take your jet-lagged morning easy with some brunch at Basket Brothers, followed by a whole lot of culture. Around the Hyde Park area, you can explore the Australian Museum, the ANZAC War Memorial, and St Mary’s Cathedral. Next, make your way to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Once you’ve taken in enough art and history, take a stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens. Here you can spot the Rose Garden and Pavilion and the Calyx. Stop and have lunch at the open-air Botanic Gardens Restaurant.
After you’ve relaxed and reveled in your beautiful surroundings, make a beeline for the Rocks Markets. Wander around and do a spot of shopping until dinnertime. Order a modern Australian meal at the casual Memento Bar and Bistro, then head to bed early for a busy second day.
Get up early for a dawn climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Afterwards, grab some pastries and a coffee at Ground Control Cafe, then catch the F2 ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo Wharf. Spend a few hours here meeting and learning about Australia’s native wildlife.
If you’re in Sydney while the weather is good, the afternoon is the perfect time to hit the beach! Once you’re done at the zoo, hop on the Sydney Harbour Eco Hopper and head to Manly. You’re probably starving by now, so grab a nutritious lunch at Market Lane Cafe.
Spend your afternoon recuperating from your busy morning at Shelly Beach. If you want a true Aussie experience, pick up some fish and chips (with extra tomato sauce) to eat while watching the sun go down. Catch the ferry into Darling Harbour and marvel at the beautiful city lights. If you don’t want to end the night yet, enjoy a well-deserved beer or cocktail at Bungalow 8.
Now that you’ve got your trip planned for you and know what to do in Sydney, you’re ready for a jam-packed adventure. While there are so many activities to do in Sydney, remember to take a moment and appreciate the beauty of the city.
Recommend budget tours in Sydney
- Sydney BridgeClimb
- All-Inclusive Blue Mountains Day Trip and River Cruise
- Sydney Opera House Guided Walking Tour
- Sydney Harbour Tour by Helicopter
- Small-Group Hunter Valley Wine and Cheese Tasting Tour from Sydney
- Surfing Lessons on Sydney’s Bondi Beach
- Sydney Harbour Jet Boat Thrill Ride: 30 Minutes
- The Rocks Walking Tour: the Original Guided Walking Tour of The Rocks
- Sunset Sailing on Sydney Harbour
- Sydney Harbour Dinner Cruise
- Big Bus Sydney and Bondi Hop-on Hop-off Tour
- Sydney Attraction Pass Including Taronga Zoo, Sydney Opera House, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
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