Australia travel

Sydney, Australia in 4 Days – the perfect itinerary

August 24, 2020

I loved Sydney more than I expected. So much so, that I felt a weird homesickness when returning to the UK. It was something about the lifestyle here. Sydney is a mix of buzzing, cosmopolitan city with the laid back beach vibes you would expect from Australia.

Four days in Sydney felt rushed and I could have easily spent a few more exploring its various areas and spending more time relaxing at the beach. But it’s enough time to see the highlights. Here’s how to spend 4 days in Sydney.

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Opera House and Circular Quay

Top of the list for any visitor to Sydney, the Sydney Opera House is the icon of the city, the beautiful Sydney Opera House. The building, founded in 1973, is one of the most famous buildings in the world, easily recognisable for its white sail design. You can walk around admiring the architecture from the outside or take a tour of the opera house. I visited in late afternoon, which is perfect for grabbing a glass of bubbly after at one of the bar around Circular Quay.

Circular Quay and Sydney Harbour with Sydney Opera House

The Royal Botanic Gardens

The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney are huge and a great place to walk around. It’s home to thousands of different plants in a beautiful, relaxing space. I thought it would be a great place to walk around and have some peace before really getting into exploring this bustling city.

Jacaranda tree at Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney Australia
Lake in Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney Australia

One to the key draws is the views of the Harbour. Walk all the way to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair for incredible views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour. The views were even beautiful with the slight haze of smoke that hung over the city while I was there in November. After, I made my way back towards Circular Quay to get a closer look at the Opera House.

Bondi to Coogee walk

I actually did this on day one in Sydney. The weather was mild yet sunny, the perfect day to take on this 6km walk. It was two buses to get to Bondi Beach, first the 440 from Central station before changing onto the 333 towards North Bondi and getting off at Campbell Parade opposite South Bondi.

Bondi Beach

After arriving, I grabbed an acai bowl and a latte from one of the local cafes lining the promenade The Berry Patch. I spent part of the morning lounging on Bondi Beach before starting the walk.

Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia
Bondi Beach

A lot of people recommend starting in Coogee and ending on Bondi Beach, and I have to say I really regret not doing it this way as I started to get bored around Clovelly. If you go from Coogee to Bondi, there’s the lure of getting to Bondi at the end which drives you on and there’s the reward of turning that last corner for the view of the Icebergs and Bondi beach. I chose to go this way as I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time at Bondi and because my legs were really sore from surfing and horseback riding in Byron Bay so I wasn’t positive I’d make it to the end!

One of the most iconic spots is the view over the saltwater pool, the Icebergs out over Bondi Beach. So why is it called the Icebergs? I would imagine it is because it is absolutely freezing! The pool started as a swimming club for local lifeguards to swim in the winter months in 1929. It cost $8 for entrance into the Icebergs where you can swim as the waves crash over into the pool. Because the sea around Sydney is not the warmest, the pool of seawater is not any warmer.

Icebergs and Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia
Icebergs and Bondi Beach
Icebergs swimming pool, Sydney, Australia
The Icebergs, Bondi Beach

After the Icebergs, I dried off and started the trek, stopping off at beaches along the way to check them all out!

Bronte Beach, Australia
Bondi to Coogee coastal walk

Stop off – Bronte

Bronte is the next major beach after Tamarama (the next one along from Bondi) along the walk if you are going north to south and a great place to stop off for a bit. Similarly, it features a golden sand beach and a saltwater pool, refreshed by crashing waves. The beach isn’t as crowded and is pretty good for swimming. As a result, I preferred the pool at Bronte Beach as it was a lot less crowded and free to visit.

Bronte Beach, Australia
pool and Bronte Beach Australia
Bronte Baths

Last leg of the walk

After a short relax at Bronte’s beach and baths, I walked further down the coast, passing stunning cliff top views, an odd cemetary on the sea cliffs, more beaches including Clovelly beach and Gordon’s Bay, before ending in Coogie. If you have done the walk North to South, you can finally end your walk with some time at Coogie’s beach and some needed refreshments at one of the nearby restaurants.

Taronga Zoo

If you go to one wildlife park in Australia, make it Taronga Zoo. It’s such a great zoo and the beautiful views over the harbour are gorgeous. Taronga Zoo features so much of Australia’s amazing wildlife. But it isn’t just an Aussie wildlife park. Some of the more typical animals you find at a zoo also call Taronga home, from tigers, gorillas, giraffes and more. You can easily spend most of a day here, seeing everything from Kangaroos and Koalas to pygmy hippos. With plenty of keeper talks, shows and a cable car ride, I explored the zoo until the last ferry back to Circular Quay. Adult tickets for zoo entrance cost A$49 at the gate or A$44.10 online.

Taronga Zoo view from the cable car over the elephant enclosure and Sydney Harbour
Taronga Zoo View
A wallaby at Taronga Zoo

Get the best view of Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

After the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is certainly one of the most iconic and visited sites in Sydney. The huge steel through arch bridge, nicknamed the “Coathanger”, opened in 1932 and is the The largest steel arch bridge in the world. The bridge connects the CBD to the North Shore area of Sydney.

You have two choices for getting a really incredible view of Sydney Harbour from the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. The first is to do a bridge climb, perfect if you are looking for a unique, adrenaline-filled experience. This will set you back about A$200 to A$400 depending on the climb you choose. You’ll climb as many as 1332 steps, high above the harbour, and can take as long as 3.5 hours.

Or you can do what I did and climb the pylon. This option was much more budget friendly (A$19), and to be honest, my legs were still a little sore from my Blue Mountains hike. The view is still incredible there and I liked having the option of just standing there and admiring it for awhile. It wasn’t crowded and I was able to just relax and enjoy the moment.

I accidentally walked the length of the bridge on ground level before climbing the pylon (I accidentally got off at Milsons Point after putting Sydney Harbour Bridge into Citymapper!) but I was glad I did to get a full view of the harbour from the bridge. The Pylon climb is located not far from Circular Quay and the Rocks. As you climb to the top, you’ll learn about the history of building the bridge, which was completed in 1923.

View from Pylon of Sydney Harbour and Sydney Opera House
View from the Pylon
View of Sydney skyline from Pylon
View from the Pylon

The Rocks

the Rocks neighbourhood in Sydney Australia
The Rocks, Sydney

This was my favourite area in Sydney. The Rocks is Sydney’s historic district, the spot where European settlers set up in the 1700’s. All colonial-style brick buildings and winding laneways, its located in Circular Quay right near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There’s plenty of place to stop for some avo on toast or shop around the many boutique shops lining the way. I’d also recommend checking out the markets. A food market takes place on Fridays, while you can pick up unique gifts on Saturdays and Sundays.

Take a day trip to the Blue Mountains

Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, Australia

The Blue Mountains are an area about an hour and a half outside Sydney known for its stunning natural beauty, great hiking, wildlife, and cultural significance. I spent a day exploring the mountains, visiting the towns, hiking to waterfalls and watching the sunset as part of a tour.

Shopping in Sydney

Sydney has some great places to shop. Queen Victoria Building has around 200 high street and luxury shops in a majestic arcade. I spent a few hours wandering around, exploring some shops we don’t have in the UK. The Strand arcade is also great for luxury goods. You can also check out the Rocks weekend markets for gifts as mentioned, or check out the quirky flea market Paddy’s Market.

Shopping centre Queen Victoria Building in Sydney
Shopping centre Queen Victoria Building

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour, Sydney Australia
Darling Harbour

I started my last day in Sydney You’ll find plenty of places to eat here as well as quite a few tourist attractions such as the aquarium, Madame Tussauds, etc. But I mainly went to have a bit of brunch and a nice walk on my last day in Sydney. You’ll also find the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Darling Harbour.

Chinese Garden of Friendship

This is like a little oasis in the middle of modern Sydney. I went one morning after brunch in Darling Harbour and there was hardly anyone there. These peaceful gardens are located not far from Sydney’s Chinatown and is modelled after the ancient Ming dynasty architecture.

Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia
Chinese Garden of Friendship

Expect pretty water features filled with koi fish, little pagodas to sit in and a lot of photo opportunities.

Pagoda and koi fish pond at Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia

Tips for visiting Sydney

Restaurant Recommendations in Sydney

Lankan Filling Station

Hands down the best place I ate in Sydney (and one of my favourite meals in Australia) was Lankan Filling Station. There is a reason this hole in the wall Sri Lankan restaurant was named the best casual eat AND best restaurant in Sydney by Time Out Magazine. It was a Friday night and I was starving, having been turned away and ignored from two mostly empty restaurants because I was on my own. Popped into this tiny place and it was buzzing, but I got a seat at the bar and the friendly service and food were second to none. You are given a pencil and a menu with tick boxes and you fill in what you want. Expect small dishes full of flavour. The fish curry, sambols, and hoppers are authentic tasting and amazing.

Spice Alley

Spice Alley Asian street food in Sydney Australia
Great Asian cuisine spot in Sydney

Another great choice is to stop by Spice Alley. It’s a bit like an Asian hawkers market with a dozen amazing looking eateries with cuisine from all over southeast Asia. I picked up some dinner from Singaporean eatery Ginger & Spice, thinking of my time in Singapore a couple of weeks earlier, and grabbed a spot in the outdoor dining area. For cocktails or craft beer afterwards, I recommend heading to the Clare Bar nearby.

Getting around Sydney

Sydney has a good metro system and a reliable bus system. You’ll need a travel card to get around. In Sydney, its called an Opal Card. I got mine at the airport, but you can pick up an opal card at retailers all over the city. The trains seemed much more modern than London’s and I was surprised that they were double decker!

Where to stay

Accommodation in Sydney can be very expensive. And the closer you are to the CBD, the more expensive it is. However, I wanted to stay close to the sights, especially since I would be staying further from the CBD at my next destination, Melbourne. I chose to stay in the YHA central CBD, where you have the choice between dorms or private rooms. It was a one minute walk from central station. As it was around halfway through my trip, I also definitely needed somewhere with laundry facilities and I couldn’t say no to a rooftop pool.

There’s so much to see and do in Sydney that I recommend spending a bit more to stay centrally. I found it so easy staying near central station. There were plenty of restaurants in walking distance and so easy to walk to the station to hope on whatever line I needed. Even my Blue Mountains tour left from outside the hostel next door.

koala wall mural at Sydney Central YHA hostel
The wall art in my hostel room

Getting to Sydney

I think Sydney is the easiest city to get from the airport to the centre. The domestic and international are both on the metro system (green line, T8). It’s just four stops from international terminal until central station where you can change to your destination. Or straight to the hotel if you’ve booked near Central Station like I did!

Things I would have done with more time in Sydney

As I said, there’s still plenty I would have like to have done if I had more time in Sydney. Here’s a few things I would add to my list for my next trip:

  • Take the ferry to Manly Harbour
  • Spend a whole day at Bondi Beach and do some surfing there: I did plenty of surfing in other places in Australia so I just spent a couple of hours relaxing at Bondi Beach before doing the Bondi to Coogie walk. I’d love to just spend a whole day at this iconic beach and rent a board for the day.

If you’ve been to Sydney, what else would you recommend for the next time I’m there?

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