Sydney in one day

Well, it’s official. I traveled to all seven continents! It feels like my greatest accomplishment to date and I can’t wait to figure out what my next adventure will be. But for now, I am still enjoying Australia, my seventh and final continent to explore.

I have to admit, before I left for this trip I wasn’t feeling anxious or nervous so much as I was feeling annoyed at the prospect of having my routine interrupted for two months. This was a new reaction. Usually I’m really nervous and excited before a trip. I can’t say that I missed the panic attacks and nausea, but without the typical excitement, I was a little worried that my traveling days were behind me.

Luckily, once I got to Sydney, after 50+ hours of airports and four connecting flights, I was thrilled to be there and had a blast!
Opera House

You might think that traveling to Australia is out of your price range. Well, it’s far from the easiest place to visit on a budget, but it can be done. It is a big tourist destination, so overwhelm is not as easy to avoid.

I stayed in Carlton at an Airbnb that cost me about $20 USD per night with a kitchen where I could prepare my own meals. It was a two minute walk from the train, which ran to Sydney every half an hour. The trains are really cheap and easy to ride with an Opal Card, which you can top up from your phone. Then you just tap on when you start your trip and tap off at the end. It was only 20 minutes to Sydney from Carlton.

There is a lot to see in Sydney and I recommend spending two days there. I did everything in one day since I only had two days total and I reserved one of them for the Blue Mountains, which is a must see if you are in Sydney. It’s an easy day trip by train.

So, here is my Sydney itinerary, plus a few other ideas if you have more time.

Take the train to Circular Quay. From there, you can go up to the Cahill Expressway Lookout for a great view of Sydney Harbour. The walkway will lead you across the bridge, with lots of great views along the way. I stopped to take several photos and to enjoy the view from different angles, and the walk took me about 40-45 minutes.
Sydney blog post photo 1

If you have more time, you have two additional options.

The Pylon Lookout. It’s $15 to go up and you have to climb 200 steps. I decided not to do this because of time and because I heard it wasn’t really worth doing (and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t want to climb 200 steps).

BridgeClimb Sydney. Wow! I didn’t plan on doing this in the first place, and once I watched people actually doing it, I’m even more certain that it’s not for me. If you are an adrenaline junky who is not afraid of heights, go for it! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Sydney blog post photo 2
From Milsons Point, you can take the ferry back to Circular Quay using your Opal Card to tap on and off. I missed the tap on station at Milsons Point and it charged me the maximum fare, which I think was only about $7, but would have been much less if I did it right. Don’t forget to tap on!
Sydney blog post photo 3

Alternately, you can take the ferry to Milsons Point and walk the opposite direction across the bridge. The ferries run all day from harbour to harbour, so either way works.

More to see near Sydney Harbour Bridge:

The Rocks Discovery Museum

Sydney Opera House tours start at $40 and if I had more time I probably would have done it. But it was enough to walk around and appreciate it from different angles outside. It really is a spectacular building! I’ve never seen anything remotely like it before. I loved the way the sun bounced off the water at different angles of the building’s architecture to make it shimmer and sparkle.

Sydney blog post photo shimmering opera house
Walk along the harbour to see the opera house and bridge from different perspectives. It’s a really pleasant walk, and don’t worry about missing the Royal Botanic Gardens because you can walk through them on the way back to Circular Quay.

Be sure you have your water bottle, sunscreen, and snacks with you. There are benches to sit and rest along the way, but good luck getting a shady spot! I was circling shady seats like a vulture, waiting for someone to get up and walk away so I could sit before anyone else took the spot.

I ended my walk at Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a seat that was carved into the rocks for Elizabeth Macquarie, the governor’s wife, where she could sit and enjoy the harbour. For some reason I thought this would be off the beaten path enough that I might have a moment to myself. I was wrong! I don’t think a place like that exists in Sydney, but it was nice to stand there and feel the history of that place. If you are not that into feeling the history, you may not need to walk this far.
Sydney blog post photo 5

If you are hungry for lunch at this point, there are restaurants in and around the botanic gardens. I ate at the Pavillion Restaurant and the food was good and filling. I had a brisket burger with salad instead of fries and a mocha. It was loud and crowded, but I was there on a weekend and I think anywhere you eat near the harbour or other touristy areas will be pretty crowded. The Pavillion has indoor and outdoor seating. I sat outside to enjoy the weather and avoid the restaurant noise, but it’s a trade off. The area is packed with ibis. I saw one land on a table and steal food right off a woman’s plate!

More to see nearby:

State Library of New South Wales

After lunch I strolled through the Royal Botanic Garden on my way back to Circular Quay where I took the ferry to Darling Harbour. The ferry drops you off at the Australian National Maritime Museum, which looks really interesting, but I skipped it and headed across the Pyrmont Bridge to the harbour.

There is a lot of wind on the harbour, which makes walking across the bridge a bit challenging at times. I saw people losing their hats, and I learned the hard way to hold on to my shirt. I’m not sure how many people I flashed but it was definitely more than I had planned on. I even saw a little girl get the hair tie blown out of her hair! Really, hold on to your stuff on Pyrmont Bridge.

You could probably spend a whole day just at Darling Harbour, but the crowds can be overwhelming. There are a lot of kids because of the zoo and aquarium. I shelled out the cash for both of these activities but skipped Madame Tussauds wax museum.

I was already tired by this point, but I’m glad I did both the zoo and aquarium. The zoo had what they call the Aussie Big 5 – kangaroo, koala, crocodile, wombat, and platypus. You can pay extra to hang out with the koalas and do the kangaroo walkabout, but I skipped this. You can see them up close whether or not you go into their habitat area.
Sydney blog post photo 7 v2

Another less cuddly guy I was excited to see was the cassowary. I’m typically not a big fan of birds, but these are really beautiful. Oh yeah, and they can gut you instantly with one claw, if not for the glass separating you. It’s more exciting to be face to face with one after you know that! Otherwise, it’s just like any other giant bird.

The zoo has two tasmanian devils, but they were hiding when I was there. There were a bunch of adorable fuzzy things that I never heard of before, like sugar gliders, bilby, and a quokka. There were also snakes, bats, and lots of colorful birds. Something for every animal lover!

I don’t usually go to aquariums, but I heard great things about this one and it lived up to the hype. I enjoyed it even more than the zoo!

There are tunnels you can walk through so it feels like you are underwater with the fish, sharks, and rays. The dugong was really cool and so were the sharks. You can pay to dive with the sharks, and if I hadn’t already experienced this in Cape Town, I probably would have done it. It’s kind of expensive, but it looks like fun. If you never got up close and personal with sharks before, it’s a great opportunity.

The Jurassic Seas exhibit is awesome! You will find some truly bizarre creatures here, like Nautilus and Lungfish. I walked through this one twice.
Sydney blog post photo 9 v2
And I saved the best for last. By far, my favorite were the eagle rays. These guys look like giant flying carpets with flat smiling shark faces. I can’t even describe them, you have to just see one.
Sydney blog post photo 10 v2

These guys are my favorite! After experiencing eagle rays swimming over my head, I was giggling like a little girl and I practically skipped my way through the rest of the aquarium.

More to do near Darling Harbour:

Madame Tussauds Museum

This was a really long and exhausting day, but I had a great time. Including transportation, lunch, and one night of lodging, this day cost me about $90 and I could have done it for $50 if I chose different activities and restaurants.

Maybe budget is not an issue for you, but overwhelm is a problem for all of us. It’s almost impossible to avoid in Sydney, but here is my best advice. The Royal Botanic Garden is your best bet for some down time. There are other tourists, but they are not coming at you from every angle. You will have a lot more space and you can sit on a bench and read or meditate. I also recommend splitting Sydney Harbour and Darling Harbour into two days and adding a third day if you want to explore another part of the city. Give yourself the time you need to enjoy your trip.

I only had two days in Sydney, but I recommend spending 3-5 days in the region, depending on what you want to do. You can easily spend 2-3 days in Sydney and 1-2 in the Blue Mountains.

At the end of my day, my feet were so sore and swollen – and I still had a full day at the Blue Mountains the next day! I’ll talk about the Blue Mountains in a separate blog post. But I will say that it is definitely worth a day trip!

Let me know if you will be traveling to Australia! You can share your plans in the comments. If you have already traveled to Sydney and have any recommendations to add, please share in the comments.

2 comments

  1. The zoo is fantastic! The Queen Victoria shopping arcade (great place for a high tea up the top). Centre Point is fabulous on a fine day to get a great view over Sydney. If you do want to do the Harbour Bridge Climb book ahead!!! It isn’t actually a difficult climb – very gradual in fact – and you have safety tie-ons (and a gorgeous overall outfit to wear over your other clothes :-> ) If you get a Red Bus Tour ticket you can jump on and off at heaps of sights during the day – great way to “do” Sydney in one day.

    Liked by 1 person

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