Beautiful Sydney, Australia. You could spend weeks in Sydney and not see everything worth seeing so 5 days in Sydney will never be enough time – although you can cover some of the highlights if that is all you have to work with.
With it’s iconic opera house, world-class dining, stunning city beaches, and pockets of National Park, Sydney gives any city around the world a run for its money in the best city stakes.
It is absolutely one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it’s not just beautiful, it has substance too.
Sydney is the oldest city in Australia, and there are a number of historic sandstone buildings that are still standing today. There are parts of Sydney that will make you feel like you have stepped back in time, and they sit right next to modern skyscrapers. It’s this juxtaposition of old and new that makes Sydney a fascinating, and beautiful city.
Sydney draws over ten million tourists per year and is one of the top tourist destinations in Australia – Sydney tourism is booming. There are so many Sydney itineraries online – if you have even less time, this 2 day itinerary is a good one – that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what to do in Sydney.
There are so many places to visit in Sydney!
I lived in this gorgeous city two different times, for three years in total. I always knew that I wasn’t going to live in Sydney forever, so I made it my mission to explore as many Sydney attractions as possible during my time there. I now consider myself a Sydney Expert – especially when it comes to the best Sydney walks.
So if you are wondering what to do in Sydney – I’ve got you.
I created this itinerary for 5 days in Sydney based on the best Sydney sightseeing, as well as the things that I enjoy the most about the city – the hiking, the beaches and the food. I could have literally put together an itinerary for one month in Sydney and still had more things to add, so this is really cut down.
In fact, it was so hard to choose what things to see in Sydney, that I ended up adding a long list of bonus suggestions for things to do in Sydney at the end – just in case you do end up spending a month or more there.
So, without further ado, here is my Ultimate Itinerary for 5 days in Sydney to help you plan your Sydney trip.
The Ultimate Sydney Itinerary: 5 Days
Day One will get your familiar with the city centre and the surrounds, and some of the more well-known Sydney tourist attractions.
Start the first day of your Sydney Itinerary in the lovely city suburb of Paddington, firstly grabbing breakfast at Paddington Market if you are visiting on a Saturday, otherwise try Ampersand – a Cafe/Bookstore with great coffee, or Micky’s – a cosy diner with a large array of breakfast choices.
Paddington is one of the best places in Sydney to shop with many independent boutiques. If the market is on, make sure to browse the excellent stalls there too which include locally made jewellery, clothing, homeware, books and more. William Street is home to an array of small and interesting stores so make sure you check it out too.
Paddington Reservoir Gardens, which used to be the one of the city’s reservoirs from 1866 to 1899, is now a peaceful sunken garden which is a great place to chill out. If you are visiting Sydney in spring, you will love all of the purple jacarandas that bloom along Oxford Street in Paddington.
Day One is the only day I haven’t added a hike in, so if you want the exercise, I highly recommend walking from Paddington, along Oxford Street past the bars of Darlinghurst, to Hyde Park. Alternatively, you can take the bus.
Grab lunch somewhere along the way – Fratelli Fresh on Macquarie Street is a great pick for amazing Italian food, or check out The Commons in Darlinghurst, which focuses on fresh, local food.
At Hyde Park, make sure to check out the Art Deco War Memorial and the small, free museum underneath it, if it’s open. St Mary’s Cathedral on the edge of the park is a stunning sight – it will make you feel like you are in a European Capital, not Australia’s largest city.
Spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the gorgeous waterside Botanic Garden, and around the Sydney Opera House. If you are a history lover, be sure to check out the sandstone buildings of Macquarie Street too, and if you have time – the Hyde Park Barracks Museum is worth a visit.
After freshening up back at your hotel, head down to The Rocks Sydney – the oldest European settlement in Australia – which is full of historic sandstone and brick buildings and small laneways where you can get pleasantly lost.
In The Rocks, don’t miss a drink at one of the oldest pubs in Sydney – The Hero of Waterloo and The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel are great choices, as well as checking out the view of the Opera House from Hickson Road Reserve, and exploring the piers of Dawes Point.
If you have enough time and still have energy, walk over Sydney Harbour Bridge to Kirribilli – the view over the harbour and the Opera House is fantastic, and it’s free (unlike the ridiculously overpriced Bridge Climb). You can then take the ferry back to Circular Quay. If you decide to have dinner in Kirribilli, I recommend The Botanist – it offers creative cocktails and a fantastic food menu.
For dinner in the Rocks, I recommend Lotus Dumpling Bar for dumplings and cocktails in a historic warehouse, Munich Brauhaus for German cuisine and beer in a lively atmosphere, The Argyle for classic pub grub, or The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel for Modern Australian cuisine. If you have room for dessert – head to a local institution: Pancakes on the Rocks. They are open 24 hours.
If you’re not too tired, head for a night-cap at Opera Bar, right next to the Opera House – the views of the Harbour Bridge are fantastic.
Day Two is all about getting up close and personal with some of Sydney’s most iconic beaches – by doing the 10km Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk! It’s absolutely one of the top things to do in Sydney.
Start off the morning in Bondi Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world, where you can grab breakfast to fuel yourself up for the hike ahead – I love Gertrude & Alice Book Shop and Cafe.
After checking out Bondi Beach, head south along the coast to pretty Tamarama Beach, before getting to the halfway point of your hike – Bronte Beach.
Bronte Beach is home to both a natural and a manmade rock pool – and I highly recommend taking a dip here to cool down before continuing on your hike.
The next beach along from Bronte is narrow Clovelly Beach, which also has an ocean pool, then the last stop before Coogee is Gordon’s Bay, which doesn’t really have a beach as such, but it is a fantastic place to swim off the rocks.
Your last stop is beautiful Coogee Beach, which is one of my favorite beaches in Sydney – I was lucky enough to live there for a couple of months during summer.
For the afternoon, I recommend just relaxing on the beach and at Giles Baths – a stunning natural rock pool at the northern end of the beach. There are two other paid ocean pools in Coogee to choose from too. Grab lunch at A Fish Called Coogee – which has super fresh and affordable seafood, or Spice Thai for authentic Thai food.
There is a small but interesting shrine to the Virgin Mary up on the headland above Coogee (by the entrance arch that leads to Giles Baths) where a local women saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a fence.
After relaxing back at your hotel for a bit, head out to Chinatown for dinner – I’m a big fan of the dumplings and bao at Old Town Hong Kong, or for cheaper eats, hit up one of the food courts. There is also a branch of the Taiwanese restaurant chain that does incredible dumplings – Din Tai Fung – in Chinatown.
Any visit to Chinatown should finish with Emperor’s cream puffs – you will probably notice the long line at their otherwise blink and you’ll miss it dessert window. These little pillows of choux pastry stuffed with hot and creamy vanilla custard should not be missed.
Finish the night by wandering Darling Harbour and admiring how pretty it is when it’s all lit up, or grab a drink a bit further north in the newly developed inner-city suburb of Barangaroo.
Day Three involves seeing more of the harbour, and exploring one of my favorite beach suburbs in Sydney – Manly. A Sydney must see.
Take a morning ferry over to magical Manly, a beach suburb that was my home for a year. Visiting Manly is one of the best things to do in Sydney.
The ferry ride takes half an hour. Make sure to get a seat outside so you can admire the views along the way – it’s a lot cheaper than doing a harbour cruise and just as nice. If you are really lucky, you might even see dolphins frolicking beside the ferry. Taking a ferry is one of the best and cheapest Sydney activities.
If you haven’t eaten yet, treat yourself to breakfast at The Pantry overlooking Manly Beach, or grab some Swedish pastries and coffee from Fika Swedish Kitchen. Shout out to Barefoot Coffee Roasters too – they do some of the best coffee in Sydney.
You have a couple of choices from here, you could either tackle the 10km Manly to Spit Bridge walk, which will take you past some gorgeous harbour beaches, through pockets of National Park with views over the coast, and to some aboriginal rock art.
The second choice is to do a loop hike from Manly beach around to Shelly Beach – a great beach for swimming and snorkeling, and then up and over the headland to Collins Flat Beach and Little Manly Beach, before ending at Manly Wharf. You can add a couple of extra kilometres on and hike to Quarantine Beach too, which is home to Quarantine Station – one of the most haunted places in the world.
Quarantine Station was where immigrants coming into Sydney who were exposed to diseases were quarantined – hundreds of people died here so it wouldn’t be surprising if it is haunted.
You can spend a night here if you dare – it is now a hotel – and there are also ghost tours offered in the evenings.
After grabbing lunch – Banana Blossom does amazing Asian salads or head to 4 Pines Brewery for delicious craft beer and gourmet pub food – chill out on one of the many beaches around Manly: Shelly Beach and Fairlight Beach, which has an ocean pool, are two of my favorites.
If you want to stay longer in Manly (believe me, you probably will), you can catch a ferry back to Circular Quay till as late as midnight. There is a little penguin colony that live under the wharf and if you are lucky, you can see them around sunset from around May till February. I was a Penguin Warden for around six months and I loved being around these loud and gregarious little birds – the smallest but loudest penguin in the world.
For dinner in Manly – I recommend Daniel San, which has great Japanese comfort food and inventive cocktails.
If you do decide to head back to the city early, head out the chic inner-city suburb of Surry Hills for dinner and drinks. For cheap and cheerful pub grub, you can’t go wrong with local institution The Forresters, or eat one of the best burgers you will ever eat at Chur Burger – a Kiwi burger chain.
Make sure to leave room for the famous gelato at Gelato Messina – which very well may be the best gelato you have ever tasted.
Finish the evening with a drink at retro-chic pub, The Clock.
Day Four will be a mix of old and new – you will be visiting a historic fishing village and hiking to a lighthouse, then in the afternoon you will be checking out Sydney’s alternative side in Newtown.
After grabbing breakfast from La Renaissance Bakery and Cafe in The Rocks – which has authentic French pastries, sandwiches and tarts – take the ferry to Watsons Bay from Circular Quay.
On arrival in pretty Watsons Bay, start the short 4km return hike to Hornby Lighthouse via Laings Point and Camp Cove Beach. Pop in to Lady Bay Beach too if you don’t mind a bit of nudity.
Hornby Lighthouse is a historic candy cane lighthouse – one of my absolute favorite lighthouses – that was built in 1858 and sits in a prime position overlooking Sydney Harbour, North Head, and out to sea. It is a great spot for whale watching during the winter months.
Back at Watson’s Bay, reward yourself with a classic fish and chips lunch at the iconic Doyle’s on the Beach, Australia’s first seafood restaurant – it was opened in 1885.
After a swim, take the ferry back to Circular Quay then the train to Newtown, in the Inner West.
Newtown, and the Inner West in general, is the cultural heart of Sydney, the alternative compass point and one of the best places for food and coffee in the city.
I lived in Newtown for a year back in 2005, and although there have been changes in the past 13 years, it still has the same cool vibe that it always has. Sydney can feel quite chichi at times, but Newtown is the antithesis of this – and that’s why I always feel so at home here. You can wear anything and be anyone here, and no one will bat an eyelid.
Newtown is one of my favorite places to shop with so many alternative boutiques and eclectic shops, so I recommend spending some time doing just that. Newtown is also a street art mecca so you could easily spend a couple of hours hunting out the best of it.
When you have had your fill of the shops and street art, head to one of Newtown’s excellent restaurants. I highly recommend Pho 236 – the restaurant may not look like much but the food is so flavourful, or Lentil as Anything – a delicious Vegetarian restaurant where you pay as you feel. Miss Peaches for American soul food is a great choice too.
Grab some American style sweet pie from The Pie Tin for dessert, then grab a drink at a Newtown pub – Courthouse Hotel and The Marlborough Hotel are both good, and Young Henry’s is too if you are into craft beer like me.
I hope you enjoyed Newtown as much as I do – I think it is one of the best places to go in Sydney.
Day Five with be about really getting out of the city: Rent some wheels and head to the Northern Beaches! In my opinion – this is a must do in Sydney.
The best way to really explore the Northern Beaches of Sydney is to hire a car for the day – check out Kayak for the best deals.
After you have picked up your car, start driving north, stopping first at beautiful Balmoral Beach for breakfast.
Balmoral Beach isn’t technically the Northern Beaches, but it’s one of my favorite beaches in Sydney, with some of the whitest sand – and it’s on the way. Make sure to walk out to the little island which is connected to the beach by a small bridge.
The Boathouse in Balmoral is an excellent choice for breakfast and the deck has great views of the beach. The coffee here is outstanding too.
Once you have had breakfast and checked out the beach it is time to hit the road again, this time for the Northern Beaches proper.
Sydney’s Northern Beaches stretch from bustling Manly in the south all the way north to Palm Beach, where the popular Australian TV Show ‘Home and Away’ is filmed. You will notice that the sand is a dark orange on the Northern Beaches, quite different from anywhere else in Sydney.
There are multiple places that you can stop on the drive up, but I do recommend that you drive all the way up to Palm Beach, and do the easy 3km return trail to Barrenjoey Lighthouse – which overlooks the Pittwater (a large estuary) and the beach.
Follow the hike with a swim at Palm Beach and lunch at The Greedy Goat – which serves casual Australian fare, or classic fish and chips from Palm Beach Fish and Chips.
The world is your oyster in the afternoon – well, the Northern Beaches are. My recommended Sydney Northern Beaches stops include:
- Taking the ferry from Palm Beach across the Pittwater to the Basin in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, where you will hopefully be lucky enough to see Kangaroos
- Check out the shops and beach at hippy Avalon
- Hit up one of the less developed beaches in the Northern Beaches for a swim and a sunbathe – North Curl Curl is my favorite but Whale Beach and Bilgola are also very nice
- Walk some or all of the 7km one way coastal track from Dee Why to Manly
- Walk around the lagoon in Narrabeen for something a bit different – it is a 7.5km loop
- Drive around the Pittwater side of the Northern Beaches to lovely Clareville and Church Point
- Take the ferry over to Scotland Island – there’s not a lot there but it’s a nice place for a wander
- Stop for a couple of drinks in the sunshine at The Newport, which has incredible views over the Pittwater
Drop off the rental car, freshen up, then head out for your last dinner in Sydney. If you are feeling a bit fancy, have dinner at Mr Wong’s for delicious dim sum and mud crab, or if you are feeling like something more casual – Frankie’s is an excellent choice, with delicious New York style pizza and a live band most nights.
There are a number of speakeasy style bars in Sydney and now is the time to check them out – make sure to make it to at least one. The best are Palmer & Co, Shady Pines Saloon, Grandma’s Bar, Ramblin Rascal Tavern and The Lobo Plantation.
As well as hitting up a Speakeasy, don’t miss Blu Bar on 36 in the Shangri-La Hotel – the cocktails are divine and the views are even better.
So there you have it, the Ultimate Guide to 5 days in Sydney – written by a Sydney lover and former local. I hope you find it helpful.
Additional Things to Do in Sydney
- Head out to the cool suburb of Balmain which is a lovely place to walk around. Relax in one of the waterside parks, swim at Dawn Fraser Baths and eat at one of the many restaurants along Darling Street.
- The North Sydney suburb of Mosman is home to beautiful Balmoral Beach, which is a one of the prettiest harbour beaches in Sydney, and Mosman has some great shops and cafes to check out too. Try the parmesan truffle fries at The Burger Shack – you won’t regret it.
- Head further into the Inner West – hit up the Marrickville Farmers Market and have some of the best Vietnamese food in Sydney, soak up the brunch culture, and hit the shops.
- There are loads of interesting museums in Sydney and if you have the time and inclination – you should definitely squeeze in a visit to at least one. The excellent Powerhouse Museum Sydney is the obvious choice, but I also love the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Australian Museum Sydney, the Museum of Sydney, and the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. If you’re an art lover – don’t miss the Museum of Contemporary Art. Sydney weather can be unpredictable so visiting museums are a great wet weather alternative.
- This itinerary doesn’t even touch on the Eastern Harbour Beaches of Sydney and they are definitely worth a visit. Check out lovely Rose Bay, quiet Milk Beach and beautiful Shark Beach.
- I have mentioned a few Sydney Walks in this itinerary, but there are so many more to choose from. Check out my post for all the Sydney Walks you can do.
- As well as the pockets of Sydney Harbour National Park that are around the city, if you have the time, you should also check out Royal National Park, just south of Sydney, and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, north of the city. There are gorgeous beaches and scenic hiking trails.
- There are 13 Sydney Harbour Islands and you can visit around half of them. Cockatoo Island is the most popular choice, and you can even camp there! Fort Dennison is also a great choice if you are into history – it was used as a convict prison during the early days of settlement.
- There are loads of Weekend Markets in Sydney including Bondi, Marrickville, Kirribilli, Glebe, Rozelle, and Paddington. They are usually held on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
- Leafy Woollahra is a quiet suburb that is home to beautiful Victorian style homes and great cafe culture. Make sure to check out Centennial Park when you are in the area too – there are a number of short trails past the many lakes and majestic trees, and it’s a good spot to check out some of Australia’s native birds. Stick around till sunset to see a whole lot of giant bats flying overhead – it’s a nightly occurrence.
- Redfern used to be a down and out part of Sydney when I first lived in the city back in 2005, but it has been largely gentrified since then and now has some of the best eating options in the city.
- If you want a big night out during your Sydney trip, head to the bars along Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. This is the centre of Sydney’s LGBTQ scene and it is high energy and so much fun. There is always something going on on Oxford Street!
- A short detour from the Sydney Botanical Gardens is Wooloomooloo, a ritzy part of Sydney with the a wharf lined with fine dining restaurants and a stunning harbourside pool – the Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool. If you want a cheaper option for food – grab a pie with mash and mushy peas from the famous Harry’s Cafe de Wheels.
- Head south to visit chilled out Cronulla beach and town centre. Cronulla has one of the most relaxed vibes of Sydney’s beaches and is a great place to spend a day.
- If you are visiting Sydney in summer – book tickets to see a movie at an open air theatre. There are numerous options but I would recommend going to the St George OpenAir Cinema in the Botanical Gardens because you have a view over the harbour and opera house.
- There are so many short trips from Sydney too – the Blue Mountains for cute villages and hiking, the Hunter Valley for wine tasting, the Central Coast for chilled out beaches with no crowds… the list goes on. You can even take organised Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley day tours from Sydney if you want to just sit back and let someone else take control. There are so many cool places to visit near Sydney!
- Check if there are any concerts at the Sydney Opera House while you are visiting Sydney. As well as being one of the most famous Sydney sights, it is an amazing venue and the acoustics are fantastic. Alternatively you can take a Sydney Opera House tour if you want to see inside.
- Take a look to see what Sydney events coincide with your visit – the What’s on Sydney website is a great resource for this. Vivid Festival of Lights is a great one if you are visiting in spring.
These are just some of the extra fun things to do in Sydney – I could go on for pages more!
The Nitty Gritty
How to Get Around in Sydney
The first thing you should do when arriving in Sydney is to get yourself an Opal Card – you can buy and load money onto them at most train stations and Newsagents.
The Opal Card will cover all public transport in Sydney including the airport train, buses, ferries (except private ones) and trains. You pay as you go and swipe on and off.
There are loads of benefits for getting an Opal card. Once you have taken eight trips in a week – no matter how long the journey – the rest of the week is free. You also get discounts on trains for traveling off-peak, you can transfer from one mode of transport to another within 60 minutes and you only pay a single fare, and – best of all – you only pay up to $2.70 for unlimited travel on Sundays!
I highly recommend you leave the most expensive to get to destination on your Sydney Vacation till Sunday – like the return ferry to Manly, or even a Sydney day trip to the Blue Mountains or Newcastle. It’ll save you loads.
I recommend hiring a car if you want to go to multiple places outside the city or far-reaching corners of the city in one day – it is pretty spread out.
Where to Stay in Sydney
Although it is so nice to stay by the beach, I would recommend you stay close to downtown – particularly The Rocks and Circular Quay – as it is the best base to get around from.
If you really want to splurge, I highly recommend the Four Seasons in Circular Quay or the Park Hyatt in the Rocks – they both have pools and are handy to trains, buses and ferries.
There are a number of hostels around Sydney but I have heard really good things about one in particular – the Sydney Harbour YHA Hostel in The Rocks. The location is perfection and there is even a harbour-view rooftop.
Alternatively, look for Airbnb rooms in Paddington, Darlinghurst, Pyrmont, CBD, Surry Hills areas – as these are all pretty central. If you haven’t signed up to Airbnb yet – use my link to sign up and get $50 off your first stay!
If you really want to be by the beach, go for Bondi – this has the best transport links of the beaches, with a train line near by at Bondi Junction, as well as lots of buses.
So, have I convinced you to visit Sydney? Have you got any other places in Sydney to add to my 5 days in Sydney travel guide?
Check out my other Sydney posts for more Sydney inspiration!