Seeing as I’ve lived in Sydney since 2011, I’m finally sharing with you what to do in Sydney in 3 days for anyone who’s visiting for a short time.
This is not a generic what to do in Sydney guide…
…this is what I would personally plan for my friends coming to spend 3 days in Sydney complete with my favourites and of course some hidden gems too!
There are some things to do in Sydney that you absolutely cannot miss such as Bondi Beach and Sydney Harbour but I’m going to throw in a few extras for you too.
So let’s get cracking!
Table of Contents
Let’s get the basics sorted first.
Get yourself an Opal Card
You’ll need to get yourself an Opal Card which is a similar version to an Oyster Card in London, the card which will get you onto Sydney transport so you can get to some of the best places to visit in Sydney. You can get one over the counter at most newsagents, especially if they are located inside the station. They are actually free but you’ll need to top it up with at good $20 to get around Sydney in three days. You can top them up at the station at the machines which are very user friendly or you can get credit in a newsagent.
But public transport also works in a similar way to London now where you can tap on with your credit card or Apple Pay as well so don’t threat if you can’t pick up an Opal Card. They do work out slightly cheaper but it’s not a huge difference in it.
Sydney Taxis are pretty cheap compared to London and you can pay with your debit card so you don’t need to use cash which is always something I’ve been grateful for. But public transport is super cheap. On Sundays you can use you opal card for $2.80 to many places including to Blue Mountains which is a two hour train ride away! Imagine a two hour train journey in England being like £1? Amazing!
If you’re looking to hit off a load of the Sydney attractions, then get yourself a Sydney iventure discount card. You can get one specifically for 3 days which you can use unlimited on over 30 attractions in the city. This would save you money even if you go on just two cruises around the harbour and is a cost effective Sydney tourist attractions card.
Obviously travel insurance is a must when travelling anywhere around the world. We have always used World Nomads and they’ve got us out of tricky situations (ie our air rescue when we trekked to Everest. No lie.).
Get a quote for your World Nomads travel insurance below.
Flying to Australia is always some of the longest flights in the world! It’s taken me a while to work it out but I can finally say I’ve cracked it. That’s right – I know how to avoid jet lag when flying to Sydney!
Speaking of, the best time of year to visit Sydney completely varies.
From December – February it can get too hot – we’re talking 40C+ which is uncomfortable for anyone.
I personally think anytime from March to April is a good time to visit Sydney because the ocean has warmed up and there isn’t as many tourists around and it’s autumn!
If you visit at the end of May, you’ll be able to see Vivid Festival, a light festival which is one of the main annual highlights. It’s pretty awesome. Usually it’s pretty cold at this time of year although this year it was an unseasonably 27C! Vivid Festival takes place at the end of May – June in Sydney!
June – November is the whale migration season which sees over 30,000 whales go up and down the coast off Sydney. It’s a spectacular sight and a whale watching tour is a must – read our whale watching tour review here.
Obviously New Years Eve is a very popular time to visit but accommodation gets booked up really fast and it’s expensive.
If you’re wondering where to stay when you come to Sydney, I recommend staying at Sydney Harbour YHA because it’s in the best location and has an excellent big rooftop looking over to Sydney Opera House. This is a fantastic budget option for families, couples and backpackers.
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Day 1 in Sydney
Here’s a Sydney map of what Day 1 looks like! Just the plus and minus buttons zoom in to see the locations.
So like I said earlier on in this post, if my friends were visiting Sydney for three days, this is what we’d do not what a general guide book tells you to do.
If you stay at Sydney Harbour YHA, the beauty of it is you won’t have to spend much time getting to places because it’s located right next to Circular Quay which is where Sydney Opera House is.
Wake up in time for sunrise because you’ll be able to roll out of bed and get this view below from the Sydney Harbour YHA like we did.Sunrise view of Sydney Opera House from the Sydney Harbour YHA rooftop.
Day 1 in Sydney: breakfast
If you’re tight on money, get breakfast at Sydney Harbour YHA.
If not, head over to Circular Quay and use you Opal Card to jump on the ferry to Kirribilli Wharf – should take just 10 minutes. At the wharf have breakfast at Celsius Coffee Co which is right on the water and order the waffles, their signature dish.
The waffles at Celsius Coffee Co in Kirribilli are amazing!
All of the next few things I mention in this post is all free things to do in Sydney so even if you don’t have a lot of money, you’ll be able to get the best out of your trip which includes some awesome Sydney sightseeing.
Then walk on around to Kirribilli Avenue to see snippets of Sydney Opera House and the famous Beulah Wharf. It’s literally a two minute walk from Celsius Coffee Co.
Then head down to Waruda Street and over to Mary Booth Lookout Reserve. This is actually an awesome spot to have a picnic which not many people know about. We used to live nearby and came here all the time.
May Booth Reserve in Kirribilli is a secret park that’s also an amazing spot for New Years Eve!
If you walk down the steps from the reserve, you’ll find a path which will take you right along the harbour.
Walk along this path for uninterrupted views and zero other people in sight!
You’ll be able to get some fantastic photos of Sydney Harbour from here which is a bit different than from the other side.You can get some awesome images standing with the Sydney Opera House in the background along this path!
Keep walking around and under the bridge on this path in the picture below until you get to Luna Park.
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There’s loads of photo moments to be had outside Luna Park like in the above.
Then continue walking around until you get to Wendy’s Secret Garden and have a wander around. Wendy’s Secret Garden is absolutely beautiful and free! It’s also one of the best things to do in Sydney with kids as they can run around all of the paths. I’ve even spotted a few proposals there too 😉
I also recommend checking out North Sydney Olympic Pool which is next door to Luna Park. You could check this out on your walk back to Milson’s Point Station. It’s the most beautiful outdoor pool you’ll ever see in your life. You can go in and take a photo but they charge $2.70 as a spectator fee. If you fancy a swim, it costs $8.50 per adult.
Make sure you pop by North Sydney Olympic Pool in Kirribilli to soak up the incredible Sydney Harbour views!
If you’re visiting on a weekend, the Kirribilli Markets might be on (they take place twice a month) underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge outside of Milsons Point Station. You’ll find everything from touristy gifts, antiques and second hand clothing here. We personally think it’s the best market in Sydney.
Then walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge back to Circular Quay, stopping off at the Pylon to check out the views.
If you prefer, you might be able to pick up a bike from the Sydney Bike Sharing app. They are dockless bikes but you’ll be able see where they have been parked on the app. There’s a whole separate side for bikes on the Sydney Harbour Bridge so you don’t need to worry about the traffic and it’s really safe. The only problem is you won’t be able to access the pylons in the middle of the Bridge -you can only do that from the walking side.
Prefer to do a bike tour? Check out the options below!
Day 1 in Sydney: lunch time
After you’ve finished your adventure around Kirribilli, head down to Circular Quay and jump on the ferry to Manly by using your Opal Card.
When you get to Manly, walk over to the beach and take a right along a coastal path.
This will bring you to Shelly Beach which is one of the best beaches in Sydney. Here you can sit back and chill out and go on a snorkeling tour (this one is very highly rated).
[button color=”blue” size=”normal” alignment=”center” rel=”nofollow” openin=”newwindow” url=”https://t.cfjump.com/25880/t/56208?Url=https%3a%2f%2fwww.viator.com%2ftours%2fSydney%2fManly-Snorkeling-Tour-and-Nature-Walk%2fd357-9051SNORKEL&UniqueId=what-to-do-in-sydney”]Click here to book a snorkeling trip in Manly >[/button]Then have lunch at The Boathouse (read our review here). Order the fish & chips or the salmon salad, both are some of the best dishes in Sydney.
If you’re strapped for cash, pick up your lunch on the main strip in Manly when you come out of the ferry wharf or go to Barenaked Bowls for an acai bowl.
On your way back to the ferry after lunch and a swim, pick up a scoop of gelato at the stand inside the ferry wharf – yep, it’s actually pretty good! Then get the boat back to Circular Quay just before sunset so you can take some awesome photos of the harbour. It’s a beautiful experience!
If you’re wondering what to do in Sydney for dinner, I recommend having dinner at Cafe Sydney, a beautiful restaurant with gob smacking views of Sydney Harbour. It’s not cheap, more like $40 for a main which is above the average for a mail meal (check out the menu here). You’ll need to book this in advance for sure.
Need a budget option? Head over to Gateway in Circular Quay as there’s loads of options to choose from. We recommend either: Burger Project, Chat Thai or Din Tai Fung. FYI – Din Tai Fung is a really popular Asian restaurant.
If you get a takeaway, we recommend taking it up to Tarpeian Precinct Lawn which is located right about the Opera Bar. It’s an awesome spot and not widely known about.
Looking for some dinner options? Check the tours below!
Day 2 in Sydney
Here’s a map so you can get your bearings about what to do on your second day in Sydney.
After a full day of exploring Sydney Harbour, head over to Bondi on the train from Wynyard. You’ll need to change at Bondi Junction and get a bus from there. Mad I know. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
If you’re not too tired, try to get there for sunrise as it’s absolutely spectacular and an absolute Sydney must see! But after yesterday, you probably will be a bit tired. The pancakes at Speedo’s Cafe are amazing!
Walk all the way over to the left hand side of Bondi beach to Speedo’s Cafe and order the vegan pancakes (read our review here). Honestly whether you’re vegan or not, they are AMAZING. You’ll also get a fantastic view of Bondi Beach too. Get a photo and swim in the iconic Bondi Icebergs Pool.
If surfing isn’t your thing, head over to Bondi Icebergs for a swim in the pool. You don’t need to be a member to swim there but it does cost just $8 per adult. Find out more about Bondi Icebergs here.
You can also eat at Bondi Icebergs Bistro and get a classic Aussie Chicken Parmie for less than $30. Check out the menu here.
Day 2 in Sydney: Late morning activities
There’s two amazing walks to take on next. Click on the below walks to read about them in this post.
Bondi to Bronte or Coogee is one of the most famous things to do in Sydney as it’s a totally amazing coastal walk. It takes 45 minutes to walk from Bondi to Bronte or around two hours to walk from Bondi to Coogee. If you’ve got the energy, go all the way to Coogee because there’s some amazing beaches to discover along the way like Gordon’s Bay.
After lunch continue walking to Coogee and have a swim at Wylie’s Baths (it costs around $5 to get in but totally worth it) or if you’re staying put in Bronte, go for a swim in the famous Bronte Rock Pool. Wylie’s Baths is a local gem in Coogee!
Bronte rock pool is one of the best rockpools in Sydney!
Then catch the bus back into the city to your hotel.
Or if you’re heading out to Watson’s Bay walk, then you’ll get next to no crowds and you’ll be able to explore some proper little gems.
Stop by Dudley Page Reserve for incredible views over to Sydney Harbour.
Just up the road is the amazing Diamond Bay which looks like a scene from Greece. Just be careful if you walk down to the ledge. Not recommended for kids in the slightest. Diamond Bay is a sight to be seen!
It takes around 1h30m to complete the walk. You can get lunch at Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel which has beautiful views out to the Sydney Harbour skyline. If you want to go for a swim, walk around to the beautiful Camp Cove which has flat water and great for swimming!
If you’re wondering which walk to do, both are quite different. Whilst Bondi to Bronte walk or to Coogee offer up more beaches, Bondi to Watson’s Bay walk will offer up and chance to get a ferry back to Circular Quay and has cracking views along the way.
Day 2 in Sydney: Evening
For dinner tonight we recommend heading over to Newtown which is a great suburb in Sydney that’s full of mainly locals. The beauty about this suburb is you’ll get to see what it’s really like living in Sydney. There’s some great pubs and awesome places to eat in Newtown as well.
Our favourite Newtown restaurants include The Italian Bowl which is cheap and produces awesome pasta. Best of all, you can bring your own wine which you can get from across the road at the bottle shop.
We also love Gigi’s Pizzeria which is one of the best pizzeria’s in Sydney. And it’s vegan which is mind blowing in itself. Honestly you need to check it out.
We also love Lentil As Anything, an awesome pay what you want restaurant. If you’re looking for cheap Sydney restaurants you can pay anything you want for a three course meal. We used to go here all the time, it’s brilliant.
End the evening either getting ice cream at Gelato Blue or get a nutella doughnut at Doughnut Time (but share it or you’ll go into a sugar coma. No lie!).
Then if you’ve got any energy left in you, head over to The Courthouse Hotel for a drink or for dinner.
Looking for a tour around Newtown? Check this post below!
Day 3 in Sydney
Now you’ve ticked off the main things to do in Sydney, the beauty of Sydney is actually outside of the city.
If you prefer to spend one day in Sydney, you can get a fast ferry from Manly to Watsons Bay for $15 (check here) and from there you could visit Bondi. That means you could technically see Bondi and Manly plus Sydney Harbour in one day.
Regardless of how many days you spend in Sydney, you should go on at least one of these day trips. You can jump on tours to all of them so you don’t need to sort out logistics.
You’ll also be able to make your own way to all via public transport if you prefer (except Jervis Bay) which we mention below.
Here is a map of where we’d take our friends & family when visiting Sydney for the first time.
1. Blue Mountains
Sounds a bit generic as it’s a very popular Sydney day trip but Blue Mountains is amazing. You can get up there really cheaply from Sydney on the train – just $2.80 if you visit on a Sunday with your Opal Card.
It’s a fantastic place to see the Australian Bush, most notably the Grand Canyon Walk which is set in the Gondwana Rainforest. It’s a one million year old rainforest and is a spectacular walk which you can read about our experience HERE.
Check out these awesome tours to Blue Mountains below!
2. Visit Palm Beach In Sydney
Want to visit the set of Home & Away? Palm Beach is like a tropical paradise just 1 hour away from Sydney.
It’s easy to get to as there’s a direct bus from Sydney CBD.
There’s quite a few things to do in Palm Beach, from ferry rides to hikes to secluded beaches, to climbing to the top of the iconic lighthouse. Make sure you check out the Summer Bay kiosk where you can actually buy Home & Away merch – honestly you can. We specifically and ironically LOVE the Alf Stewart merchandise!
Jervis Bay is an awesome beach town which is home to the world’s whitest sand beach. There’s no direct trains to Jervis Bay unfortunately but you can jump on THIS tour which includes a nice cycle around the area.
Or you can hire out a car and plan your own trip around Jervis Bay below but it’s a three hour drive to get there.
Why visit Jervis Bay?
Like we said, Jervis Bay is home to the world’s whitest sand beach. There’s an awesome coastal walk to do there that not many people know about (read about it here) and you’ll come across beach after beach which looks like it’s been taken from the Maldives. Honestly, it’s true! You won’t see any beach in the city which look like these in Jervis Bay.
We really love the Figure 8 Pools in Sydney and 100% recommend making the effort to visit them which is located 1 hour from Sydney.
You’ll need to go on THIS tour to get there or you can jump on the train to Otford and walk from there.
Why visit the Figure 8 Pools?
Not only is the Figure 8 Pools located in The Royal National Park in Sydney, it also happens to be the second oldest national park in the world. Yep, that’s right! Not only can you gloat about wondering around this park, you’ll also be able to visit one of the most remarkable natural rock pools in the world.
When you return from your day trip, head out to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. Honestly, we can’t think of a better way to end your trip! It’s just something you need to experience to understand that it’s completely worth the money.
Book your Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb below!
Then head out for dinner to The Butler for the Sydney skyline views or to Restaurant Hubert, an awesome French jazz restaurant in the heart of the CBD.
If you’re low on cash, head over to Spice Alley in Chippendale (a 7 minute walk from Central Station). Here you’ll be able to experience some of the best cheap Asian food in Sydney! We recommend popping to Kyoto for the ramen – it’s huge and cheap 🙂