From Hunter Valley to Manly Beach: 10 itineraries for exploring the very best of Sydney
Undeniably one of the world’s most beautiful cities, visitors flock from every corner of the globe to discover Sydney and its iconic Harbour, falling in love with this glittering, beachfront metropolis in a matter of minutes. Truly, the only bad thing about any trip to Sydney is the inevitable feeling of leaving too soon (even after 6 years, I still haven’t run out of exciting new things to do). So whether you’re here to lounge on our most beautiful beaches, sample our best wines, get your adrenaline pumping, meet native Australian wildlife, or explore breathtaking natural beauty both in and beyond the city, make the most of your time with these 10 different one-day itineraries that feature the best of central Sydney, Northern Beaches, Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, South Coast, and beyond. Use these suggestions to create the perfect 10-day trip or pick your favourites to build a unique itinerary of any length; either way, prepare to be impressed (and more than a little obsessed).
Sydney itinerary 1
Scenic Bondi, Bronte & Coogee Beaches
- Go for a swim at Bondi, Australia’s most iconic beach
- Stroll along the scenic Bondi to Coogee walk, one of the best inner-city walks in Sydney
- Snorkel with Blue Gropers at Clovelly Beach
- Watch the sunset at Watsons Bay with a cocktail in hand
Getting there and around
Catch the train to Bondi Junction and then either walk to Bondi Beach (about 20 minutes) or catch the 333 to the beach (leaving approximately every 5 minutes from the station, Stand A). Check Transport NSW for times. You can then grab a bus from Coogee to Watsons Bay, returning via bus or ferry to Circular Quay.
Although it’s far from the top of my list in terms of best beaches around Sydney, the Bondi to Coogee Walk is reason enough to drop everything and head straight to Bondi Beach, crowds or not. After grabbing brekky at one of the many gourmet eateries in Bondi (see recommendations below), head over to Bondi Icebergs Club and ogle the famous saltwater pools overlooking the sandy crescent of Bondi Beach. You can pay about $12 to access the pools if you’re feeling like a swim, but there are also heaps of great spots to get in the water further along.
Bondi to Coogee Walk
Walking along the outside of Bondi Icebergs, you’ll come to the start of the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, the entire length of which I’ve photographed and obsessed over in this post. Essentially, it’s 6km of flat, easy strolling from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach via some pretty spectacular coastal cliffs and the city’s best eastern beaches. You’ll want at least a couple of hours to properly enjoy the walk, but definitely stop for a swim along the way, too. My favourite place is Clovelly, where a long, rectangular inlet provides somewhat sheltered and shallow conditions absolutely ideal for swimming or snorkelling (heaps of Blue Gropers!). When you finally come to the end of the walk, there are heaps of places to grab drinks or nibbles around beautiful Coogee Beach (recommendations below).
Read more: THE BONDI TO COOGEE COASTAL WALK
To wrap up what has already been a picture-perfect day, head to Watsons Bay for even more seaside fun. Nearby Camp Cove is one of the loveliest places to swim, but there are also plenty of little secluded beaches along the walk to Rose Bay where you’re likely to score the whole place to yourself. When you’ve finally had enough saltwater, Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel right on the beach is the best place to relax over several carafes of amazing cocktails, enjoy some crab sliders, and watch the sunset.
Read more: AN AFTERNOON STROLL FROM ROSE BAY TO WATSONS BAY
* Best food & drinks
Preach Cafe: This trendy cafe on Bondi Beach has some incredibly inventive brunch options (try the Avo Bun, a chicken burger layered with halloumi between two halves of an avocado rather than a burger bun).
Bondi Icebergs Club: One of Bondi’s most iconic landmarks, Icebergs is home to those beautiful, oft-photographed pools overlooking the beach that everyone is so obsessed with (myself included), but also has a great lunch and drinks menu.
Coogee Pavilion: Conveniently located right at the end of the Bondi to Coogee Walk, the Pav has got everything from brunch to dinner and drinks.
Coogee Bay Hotel: Another hundred metres down Coogee Beach from the Pav, Coogee Bay Hotel has an equally delicious all day menu and selection of cocktails, all with a great view.
Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel: Located right on the beach with sweeping views of the Sydney skyline, this is the absolute perfect place to watch the sunset. There are great nibbles to be had (try the crab sliders), but it’s the cocktail menu ($29 carafes to share!) that have made this place a favourite.
Sydney itinerary 2
Classic Sydney Opera House & Circular Quay
- Admire Sydney’s iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge
- Explore the historic Rocks district
- Wander through the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden
- Enjoy drinks with a view
Getting there and around
Catch the train into Circular Quay to begin your day (timetables on Transport NSW), the rest of which can be enjoyed on foot!
Sydney Opera House
Sydney’s most iconic building needs absolutely no introduction. You can enjoy a spectacular vantage point over the Opera House from The Rocks and even from Circular Quay Station, but some of the best views are actually from the water (there are several ferry rides included on other itineraries in this post) or from right below the white sails. Check out this post for the best photo spots.
Because you’re on holiday and it’s definitely 5 o’clock somewhere, I can’t recommend Opera Bar right below the Opera House highly enough. The drinks are shockingly expensive, but you’d struggle to find a nicer view of Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge, so it’s always one of my top picks for visitors. After a cheeky morning beverage, you can keep exploring the Opera House on a guided tour to learn more about its construction or walk a short distance to the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens for a more leafy view of the Harbour.
Read more: THE 5 BEST PHOTO SPOTS IN SYDNEY’S CIRCULAR QUAY
Sydney’s historical harbourfront district springs to life on the weekends with a bustling food and craft market, but even on weekdays there is plenty to explore in The Rocks. For starters, it offers some of the best views of the Opera House across the water, as well as the opportunity to walk right underneath the Harbour Bridge. The Rocks is also home to pretty much the only art museum I find tolerable, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which offers free admission and a constantly-rotating display of thought-provoking artwork, in addition to some spectacular, if expensive, restaurants.
My very favourite thing in The Rocks, though, is the Pylon Lookout. It’s only $15 to get a bird’s-eye-view of the entire Quay from one of the south pylons, and there’s a pretty interesting exhibition displayed on the way up about the design and building process of the world’s largest steel arch bridge, an engineering feat that is truly no less impressive today than it was 90 years ago. If you don’t have the funds to do the Bridge Climb that I recommended in itinerary #7 below, the Pylon Lookout is frankly an excellent alternative (or addition).
* Best food & drinks
Opera Bar: Situated waterfront on the lower level of the Opera House, this spot offers some of the best views of Sydney Harbour. The cocktails are crazy expensive, but you’re paying for the location, so it’s totally worth it for a drink or two.
The Spice Room: Great Indian restaurant right by the Circular Quay Ferry Wharf (inside the Quay Apartments building). Check out the menu here.
Gateway Centre Sydney: There used to be a real shortage of nice, reasonably priced food around Circular Quay, but the recent addition of the Gateway has brought heaps of options, including gourmet burgers, pizza, Thai, and BBQ. For a quick, inexpensive meal, try the amazing Portuguese-inspired chicken burgers at Oporto (this chain began in Bondi, so it’s a bit of a local favourite); if you’re feeling steak, Hurricane’s Grill is great and pretty reasonable; for contemporary Italian, Salt Meats Cheese is unbeatable.
MCA Cafe: The Museum of Contemporary Art in The Rocks has stellar views of the Opera House from its little rooftop cafe. There’s a good menu of small plates and mains for lunch, plus a nice wine list.
Blu Bar: Another expensive but worthwhile option is the 36th-level bar in Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks. There’s often a long waitlist to be seated, so I’d recommend booking in advance.
Sydney itinerary 3
Adventure in the Blue Mountains
- Ride the world’s steepest railway down to the forest floor at Scenic World
- Explore the vibrant natural scenery on the wonderful Prince Henry Cliff Walk
- Look out over the expansive, blue-gum-covered valleys of the Blue Mountains
- Enjoy short walks out to dozens of different waterfalls and viewpoints, including the Three Sisters
Getting there and around
The Blue Mountains is a sprawling and diverse region best explored by car (just a 90 minute drive from central Sydney), but there is also the option to take the train from Central Station to Katoomba and then purchase a $50 ticket for the touristy Hop On/Hop Off sightseeing bus. There are several dozen drop-off locations mostly in the Katoomba region of the Blue Mountains, but there’s plenty to keep you entertained for a first visit. The third option would be to join an organised tour that provides transport from Sydney.
For a fun, if somewhat touristy, introduction to the Blue Mountains, begin your day at Katoomba’s Scenic World. Cruise down into the forest on the world’s steepest railway, wander through the ferns on a series of wooden walkways, return to the cliffs via the cableway, and then travel over towards Echo Point on the clear-bottomed skyway. Tickets are a bit pricey at around $40 for unlimited access, but it’s definitely an exciting way to explore some of this stunning region before heading further afield.
Read more: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO EXPLORING SYDNEY’S BLUE MOUNTAINS
Prince Henry Cliff Walk
One of my favourite short hikes in the entire Blue Mountains, the Prince Henry Cliff Walk conveniently departs from Scenic World and winds for 6.5km along the cliffs and through the trees. Follow the easy trail for several hours as it takes you past some of the region’s best viewpoints, including Echo Point (where you can stop for lunch/snacks at Bar NSW), Lady Darley Lookout, Leura Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, all before culminating at Elysian Lookout. This is a perfect way to immerse yourself in the natural, off-the-beaten-path beauty of the region, while still visiting a few of the more popular, well-known spots (they are crowded for a reason!).
Read more: BEST OF THE BLUE MOUNTAINS: PRINCE HENRY CLIFF WALK
Spend the rest of the afternoon visiting a few additional viewpoints. Some of my very favourites include Empress Falls (a short hike along the Valley of the Waters Track), Sublime Point Lookout, Govetts Leap, and Lincoln’s Rock, but there are literally hundreds of scenic lookouts and beautiful photo spots throughout the Blue Mountains, so you can truly never go wrong.
Read more: 12 INCREDIBLE LOOKOUTS IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
* Best food & drinks
Bar NSW: Offering views of the beautiful Blue Mountains from Echo Point, this is a convenient place to grab lunch and a drink while stopping in to see the Three Sisters.
Avalon Restaurant and Cocktail Bar: A favourite spot for delicious, hearty dinners in Katoomba. See the menu here.
Leura Garage: A trendy tapas restaurant right near Leura Station perfect for dinner on your way back into the city. Even though both Katoomba and Leura attract a lot of international visitors, I personally find Leura a bit less touristy, so I prefer to spend time here (or further afield in Blackheath).
Anonymous Cafe: Our go-to cafe in the Blue Mountains, serving all-day brekky and great coffee.
Sydney itinerary 4
Spit Bridge to Manly & the Northern Beaches
- Meander from Spit Bridge to Manly on one of Sydney’s best walks
- Go for a dip in the beautifully turquoise water of the Northern Beaches
- Explore bustling Manly and its many lively restaurants and bars
- Ride the Manly ferry and enjoy Sydney Harbour from the water
Getting there and around
To get to Spit Bridge, there are a number of buses departing from various locations around central Sydney (plan your trip using the Transport NSW site). Returning from Manly, catch the ferry from the Manly Wharf (using your Opal card).
Spit Bridge to Manly Walk
After breakfast in the city or high tea at the incredible Gunners’ Barracks in Mosman (details below), head over to Spit Bridge to begin one of Sydney’s most stunning walks. There is parking right at the trailhead, but it’s also inexpensive to take an Uber from anywhere in the Northern Beaches. This 10km walk has none of the crowds of the Bondi to Coogee walk, but all of the unreal scenery (plus a fair few secluded beaches). The trail is not perfectly continuous, which means you’ll need to take just a few detours along the sand or a pedestrian walkway, but it’s undemanding and utterly captivating. Stop at Shell Cove or Clontarf Beach for a quick dip, or save your beach time for Manly; either way, you’ll see exactly what all the fuss is about when it comes to the Northern Beaches.
Read more: SPIT BRIDGE TO MANLY: STROLLING THROUGH SYDNEY’S NORTHERN BEACHES
At the end of your walk, which should take about 3hrs including photo stops, you’ll find yourself right in the centre of bustling, beachy Manly. There are plenty of cool cafes and bars, popular restaurants, and trendy shops here to occupy the rest of your day. Be sure to pack a change of clothes if you’re planning to venture into one of the nicer venues, though— they keep things classy up north and you might feel a little out of place on the rooftop in your sweaty Nikes. Check out my food and drink recommendations below.
* Best food & drinks
Gunners’ Barracks: Make breakfast a sophisticated affair and book in for High Tea at this stunning Mosman spot. The views over the water are amazing and so is the food! It’s pricey, but definitely worthwhile as a once-off.
Criniti’s: This popular Italian chain has a pizza/pasta menu the size of a novel and some amazing cocktails (wash all those carbs down!).
Glasshouse: A trendy gin & tonic bar on the rooftop of the historic Hotel Steyne, overlooking Manly Beach. There are a few nibbles to be had, but this is definitely a drinks-first kind of place.
In Situ: Wildly inventive cocktail bar that also serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (think tapas) just off the beach.
Havana Beach: For something a bit more exotic, try the Latin American-inspired food and cocktails at this beachfront restaurant (everything from Brazilian caipirinhas and Mexican quesadillas to classic Cuban sandwiches and mojitos).
Sydney itinerary 5
Kayaking, shopping & tiger-spotting on the Lower North Shore
- Kayak through Lavender Bay as the sun rises over Sydney Harbour Bridge
- Check out buzzing Luna Park
- Shop for handicrafts and vintage treasures at the Kirribilli Markets
- Discover Sydney’s renowned Taronga Zoo
Getting there and around
Lavender Bay is only a few minutes’ walk from North Sydney Station, with Luna Park and Kirribilli also close by. To reach Taronga Zoo in the afternoon, you’ll be able to grab a bus (40 minutes), although it’s inexpensive and heaps more direct if you take an Uber ($15 and 15 minutes from Luna Park).
Get to bed early in preparation for an early morning— you’ll need to meet the group at Lavender Bay at 5.30am for your Sunrise Kayak tour (stay at the North Sydney Harbourview Hotel to cut down your commute time to a matter of minutes). Spend the next 2hrs paddling through scenic North Sydney, under the Harbour Bridge, and finally towards the Opera House for some truly spectacular and unique views of the city. Tickets are a bit spendy at $125/person, but the guides really go above and beyond to make your experience unforgettable, so you’ll find it well worth every dollar! When you get out of the water and say goodbye to your group, be sure to check out nearby Wendy’s Secret Garden before heading towards Kirribilli to grab some breakfast.
Kirribilli Markets & Luna Park
Energised by your morning paddle (and hopefully a big brekky), your next stop is the booming Kirribilli Markets. These are some of Sydney’s oldest and very best markets, featuring more than 200 stalls that are absolutely brimming with crafts, vintage clothes, books, jewellery, food, and even the occasional wine tasting stall (say no more!). The main market is held monthly on the 4th Saturday and the arts & fashion market is held on the 2nd Sunday, so it will require a bit of planning to fit this one into your itinerary, but you will not be disappointed if you do. If your dates just don’t line up, though, not to worry— spend a bit of the afternoon enjoying another Sydney institution, Luna Park.
From either Kirribilli Markets or Luna Park, you can catch an Uber up to Taronga Zoo for about $15, which saves you the hassle of parking (and costs just about the same price as two people taking public transport). I’m not normally one to recommend zoos, but Sydney’s world-renowned Taronga is genuinely something special. Your $42 ticket contributes to significant conservation efforts, the most recent of which is the critically-endanger Sumatran Tiger; experts believe that there are only 400 of these beautiful cats left in the world. There are truly no words to describe the feeling of locking eyes with an animal this powerful and majestic, so you’ll just have to experience it for yourself.
* Best food & drinks
Sidando Cafe: Great breakfast spot located between Lavender Bay and the Kirribilli Markets. The menu is like professional food porn, but our meals totally lived up to the perfect pictures.
Bay Ten Espresso: Buried in one of Lavender Bay’s many industrial warehouses, this spot is kind of a surprise, but serves great breakfast and even better coffee (or so I’m told by coffee drinkers).
Kirribilli Markets: It may not be a restaurant, but there’s plenty of tasty food to be had at the Kirribilli Markets (and even the occasion wine tasting!).
Firefly: Every Friday, Saturday & Sunday afternoon, this Neutral Bay restaurant offers a 5-course banquet with unlimited watermelon Sangria for $60, and it is just as exciting as it sounds. The food is pretty inventive, so bring your sense of adventure (don’t worry, nothing too weird). And definitely book in advance, as it can get busy!
Radio Cairo: The coolest place I’ve been for dinner, possibly ever. Serving up flavourful food from Southern Africa, India, South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, Northern Africa, and just about anywhere else you can possibly think of, the best way to enjoy Radio Cairo is to order a bunch of sharing plates and try a bit of everything. And even though this is definitely a place designed for the adventurous, there’s plenty on the menu to satisfy pickier palates (mum loved the chicken tajine). Don’t even get me started on the wine list or the cocktails, just go.
Barrel Bar & Dining: Only a short stroll from Radio Cairo in Cremorne, this wine bar is a good place to wind down the evening after a big feed.
Sydney itinerary 6
Sea Cliff Bridge & other hidden gems of the Illawarra
- Meet cuddly koalas and kangaroos at Symbio Wildlife Park
- Look out over the picturesque South Coast from Bald Hill
- Walk along the stunning Sea Cliff Bridge and venture up to the secret lookout
- Explore surfy, up-and-coming Wollongong
Getting there and around
Symbio Wildlife Park is a bus ride away from Helensburgh, which sits directly on the train line from central Sydney (expect 1.5hrs door to door). Bald Hill is also situated about 3km from the nearest train station (Stanwell Park) and Sea Cliff is 2km from Scarborough Station, so although it is definitely possible to utilise public transport for this itinerary, it’s much simpler to drive (1hr drive from Sydney to Symbio).
Symbio Wildlife Park
Start the morning at Symbio Wildlife Park in Helensburgh, where you can cuddle koalas, feed kangaroos, and discover other native Australian wildlife in a less zoo-like environment. Tickets are $36, but it’s impossible to put a price on hugging a koala!
Paragliding at Bald Hill
Head next to Bald Hill, one of the best coastal lookouts in the Illawarra (but also probably one of the best coastal views you’re likely to have ever seen) where you can sit and enjoy the scenery on the grass or crank things up a notch by paying for a tandem paraglide over the scalloped coast with one of the many operators.
Read more: TOP ILLAWARRA VIEWPOINTS AND LOOKOUTS: BALD HILL, SEA CLIFF BRIDGE & MORE
Sea Cliff Bridge
Travel a little farther south to drive across the serpentine Sea Cliff Bridge, one of the region’s most famous landmarks. On the south end of the bridge, it’s possible to park your car and hike up a short (and very hidden) trail to get incredible panoramic views of the coastline; just be sure to pack appropriate shoes, as the trail is super sketchy (read more about safety in this post).
Read more: FINDING THE SECRET LOOKOUT ABOVE SEA CLIFF BRIDGE
If you still haven’t gotten enough of the insanely beautiful coast, head to Austinmer for a short but demanding hike up to Sublime Point. It’s also possible to drive straight to the viewpoint if you’re short on time or worried about the climb, but it’s absolutely more rewarding if you’ve sweat the entire way to the top! From here, hop on a train or drive about 20min south to Wollongong, where beautiful beaches, scenic rock pools, and plenty of cool bars and restaurants await (check out the recommendations below).
Read more: STAIR-STEPPING UP TO SUBLIME POINT
* Best food & drinks
Ouroboros: If you’re passing through Central Station or Surry Hills on your way south, plan to have brekky at this amazing, healthy cafe right in the centre of town. I rate the Zucchini & Corn Fritters here as one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had.
Son of a Gun: If you do happen to find yourself in Wollongong for brekky, this shipping container cafe with heaps of outdoor seating is my absolute favourite spot for a million different reasons (food, atmosphere, price, coffee.. check it out).
Scarborough Hotel: Just a few hundred metres from Scarborough Station and about a 15min walk from Sea Cliff Bridge, this pub overlooking the ocean is one of the best places to grab lunch in the entire region. It can be tricky to get a table on the weekends, so try eating outside of popular lunch hours or putting your name down before you visit Sea Cliff.
Samara’s: This delicious Lebanese restaurant right in the middle of Wollongong is one of my favourite places of all time, serving up the best meat skewers, baba ganoush, hummus, and tabouli that you’re likely to have ever had (get the Mixed Platter so you don’t have to choose).
Kinn Thai: Another of my Wollongong favourites is this trendy Thai spot just outside the mall, with seating spilling out onto the footpath pretty much every night. You absolutely can’t go wrong with the Massaman curry.
Pepe’s on the Beach: The coolest spot to go for brunch, lunch, or cocktails at North Beach (the whole place really goes off on Sunday afternoons).
Kneading Ruby: A beautiful, new-age Italian restaurant that you need to be somewhat in the know to find (it’s tucked away in Crown Lane, just up from Humber), but that is somehow always packed. Go crazy for their amazing cocktails and the best garlic bread you’ve ever tasted.
Humber: And speaking of Humber, grab food and drinks at Wollongong’s only rooftop bar! The view isn’t much, but the atmosphere is still undeniably festive thanks to all of the twinkly lights.
Red Square: More than a hundred different flavours of infused vodka (everything from grape Nerds to maple syrup) make for some incredible cocktails at this Wollongong bar. Always my favourite place to take out-of-town friends just for the novelty (and it’s delicious).
Heyday: For a night out in the Gong, this 40s-themed bar/club is one of the nicest places to go.
Sydney itinerary 7
Harbour Bridge & trendy inner-city Sydney
- Experience the most OTT brunch of your life at The Grounds of Alexandria
- Climb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge to see the city from above
- Peruse the vintage shops and admire street art in Sydney’s hippest suburb, Newtown
Getting there and around
This whole day is spent in the centre of the city, so public transport is the easiest and cheapest option to get around. The Grounds of Alexandria is a short walk away from Green Square station and the Bridge Climb HQ is also quite close to Circular Quay station. To get to Newtown, just travel a few stops from central on the Inner West line. Too easy!
The Grounds of Alexandria
This brunch spot deserves its own plug, as it has truly become a Sydney icon in recent years and is actually so much more than just good food. Situated in a drab, industrial part of town, The Grounds has become a place where people can escape the concrete jungle and find natural beauty right in the middle of the city. Sit down and enjoy brunch with friends, grab a donut and lemonade from the stalls throughout, or just wander through the urban oasis that is The Grounds of Alexandria; either way, it is truly unlike anything else and one of the best ways to start your day in Sydney.
Harbour Bridge Climb
Leave Alexandria behind and head to The Rocks (Wynyard or Circular Quay Station) to check in at the Bridge Climb office for an epic walk above the city. This is definitely one of the most popular tourist attractions (with a $318 price tag to match), but you simply can’t beat this view of Sydney and its great coastal sprawl from anywhere else in the city. The experience takes either 2.5 or 3.5hrs depending on your package, including the suit-up and safety talks, and features just as much interesting history about the construction of the Harbour Bridge as it does incredible views of the Opera House, North Sydney, and even the Blue Mountains in the distance.
Finish your day at Sydney’s trendiest inner-west suburb, where thrift shops, tattoo parlours, and hipsters abound. The best way to immerse yourself in Newtown’s grungy, bohemian vibes is to simply wander down King Street for several hours, popping into all the unique shops and admiring all the street art along the way.
* Best food & drinks
The Grounds of Alexandria: Take brunch to an entirely new level at this urban oasis. The experience is worth it alone (but the insta-worthy food certainly doesn’t hurt!).
Munich Brauhaus: This German-themed pub in the Rocks is the perfect place to dig into a gourmet schnitzel (try the Mexican Schnitzel, topped with nachos and guac, and the mango beer!) after your Bridge Climb.
Zia Pina: Delicious (if expensive) Italian restaurant located on George St in The Rocks. The lasagna is ridiculous.
Lentil As Anything: A pay-as-you-feel vegan restaurant on King Street with a new menu every day. While I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend anything vegan, this place is staffed largely by volunteers and you literally pay whatever you feel you can contribute, so it’s worth a visit just for the novelty!
The Midnight Special: Trendy bar in Newtown that does amazing cocktails and hosts some fun events.
Sydney itinerary 8
Royal National Park & Cronulla Beach
- Indulge in a gourmet brunch on the beach in Cronulla
- Walk a section of the jaw-dropping Royal Coast Track from Otford to Bundeena
- Visit the magical Figure 8 Pools
- Relax on secluded beaches in the National Park
Getting there and around
Cronulla is easily accessible from most Sydney train stations (50 minutes from Central), but the Royal National Park is far better enjoyed in a car, so I’d recommend making the drive to Cronulla (30 minutes) and onwards to the RNP (30 minutes to Wattamolla). If driving isn’t an option, though, there is a ferry that runs from Cronulla to Bundeena (30 minutes) at the north end of the National Park. From here, you can walk as far along the Royal Coast Track as you like, but you’ll need to allow a good chunk of the afternoon if you plan to walk all the way to Wattamolla and back.
Start your morning with another incredible brunch, this time in south Sydney’s upscale beach suburb, Cronulla. Not only are there dozens of awesome cafes, the beaches here are pretty spectacular, so spend some time relaxing on the sand, swimming in the rock pools, or even surfing. Alternatively, explore like the locals on the Kurnell to Cronulla walk!
Royal National Park
Next, head a little further south to Australia’s first National Park (which also holds the prestigious title of 2nd oldest NP in the world!). Its wild and beautiful coastline is best explored on the 30km Royal Coast Track from Otford to Bundeena, but walking even a small section will give you an idea of how special this place is. From Bundeena in the north of the park to Wedding Cake Rock, a spectacular white sandstone cliff that looks just like its namesake, is under an hour on a very flat and easy trail. This popular spot attracts up to 1,500 people each weekend, many of whom are happy to hop the fence and sit on this unstable cliff edge (never mind the risk of fines or death), so it’s not my first choice.
If you are driving, Wattamolla provides an exponentially less crowded option for exploring dramatic wind-sculpted cliffs, also with none of the 2m fences and geological instability (obviously still be cautious), and the 3km walk from here to Eagle Rock brings you to a formation every bit as fascinating as Wedding Cake. On the south end of the NP, another incredibly popular spot is the Figure 8 Pools, although you’ll need to plan your visit carefully by checking the tides. It’s about 1.5-to reach this spot from the Farm carpark.
* Best food & drinks
Next Door: My current breakfast obsession at Cronulla Beach. Not only is the seaside setting unbeatable, but the food is enough to make you drop dead. Go for the jalapeño corn fritters with goat cheese and thank me later.
Blackwood Pantry: Another popular and extremely delicious pick in Cronulla is this trendy cafe serving up gourmet and healthy breakfasts to what feels like one million people in the cafe at any given time.
Guzman y Gomez: Ok, so it’s Mexican fast-food, but I have to include it in this post somewhere because it’s my favourite restaurant of all time and I literally eat it 3 times a week, minimum. The Cronulla location is particularly great, since you can grab your burrito and eat it right at the beach.
Yalla Sawa: Cronulla’s delicious Moroccan restaurant, perfect for getting your Tagine fix.
Low and Lofty’s: This inventive Caribbean/American BBQ joint serves up seriously amazing food, not to mention delicious cocktails, in a super eclectic venue. The wings are spicy and incredible!
Milky Lane: For delicious American-style burgers and insane 3L fishbowl cocktails, this is the place to be. On Friday nights, there is even a DJ.
Sydney itinerary 9
Incredible views & whale watching at Palm Beach
- Spot dozens of migrating Humpbacks from aboard a whale watching cruise
- Hike to Barrenjoey Lighthouse for incredible coastal views
- Chill out at beautiful Palm Beach
- Enjoy dinner and drinks in Potts Point
Getting there and around
It’s possible to catch a series of buses up to Palm Beach (2.5hrs), look at Transport NSW for the exact details. Alternatively, you can drive to Palm Beach (1hr), which will make getting around much simpler.
For a spectacular encounter with the many Humpback Whales who migrate between Antarctica and Queensland twice yearly, head north of the city to Palm Beach and join a 2.5hr whale watching cruise with Fantasea Cruising. Alternatively, it’s also possible to join a cruise from Darling Harbour or the Man O’ War Steps in Circular Quay and journey up to Palm Beach afterwards for spectacular views (and some seriously awesome fish and chips). Check Groupon for special deals, the cruises are routinely discounted!
Read more: THE GREAT HUMPBACK MIGRATION: WHALE WATCHING IN SYDNEY
Barrenjoey Lighthouse Walk
After lunch, head over to Station Beach for the views you’ve been waiting for. The quick walk up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse will only take around 20min, but expect to get distracted by every passing lookout on the way to the top. After your walk, hang out at one of the beautiful beaches in the area or zip back to the city for an evening of amazing food and wine in Potts Point (see recommendations below).
Read more: PERFECT PALM BEACH & THE BARRENJOEY LIGHTHOUSE WALK
* Best food & drinks
Room Ten: A tiny, but always popular, cafe in Potts Point; you can’t go wrong with the Mediterranean breakfast, perfectly prepared in their comically small kitchen right in front of you.
The Boathouse Palm Beach: Grab breakfast or lunch right on the beach at this beautiful seaside resto-cafe.
Palm Beach Fish and Chips: This fish and chip shop right across from the Palm Beach ferry may not look like much, but there’s quite a following of people who have called it “Sydney’s best”. Not sure if I’m ready to make that call, but suss it out for yourself.
Ms. G’s: A super trendy Asian-fusion restaurant in Potts Point. Even with multiple levels, this place gets absolutely packed, so book a table in advance to avoid eating your Burrata while standing at the bar (but actually, get the Burrata, it will change your life).
Dear Saint Eloise: Incredibly charming wine bar right across the way from Room Ten in Potts Point. There’s a pretty limited food menu, but the wine selection is excellent and the staff are great at making recommendations.
Sydney itinerary 10
Hunter Valley wine getaway
- Sample wines and spirits in NSW’s premiere wine region
- Enjoy dinner on the water in Darling Harbour
Getting there and around
You can drive yourself to the Hunter Valley (2hrs from central Sydney), but it will definitely interfere with your ability to taste wine while there. Seeing as that’s the whole point, it is far better to join a tour that will shuttle you around to different cellar doors with no risk of drink driving. Ask the driver to leave you in Darling Harbour on the way back.
Sydney’s premier wine region is only 2hrs north of the city, but the best way to experience the area is absolutely on a tour. Most tour operators will pick you up from a central Sydney location in the morning, drive you to the Hunter, and then visit 3-4 wineries before returning to the city in the evening. Some tours even include visits to the wonderful Hunter Distillery and Hunter Valley Chocolate Company, which I’d definitely recommend! Shop around for a good tour deal, the best ones will include all of your tasting fees and lunch for around $150. Check Groupon for special deals, though, as tours are often discounted up to 50%!
After your day in wine country, spend the evening in Sydney’s sophisticated Darling Harbour. Depending on what time you arrive back, you may have a chance to do a bit of shopping; either way, grab dinner on the Harbour and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
* Best food & drinks
Allandale Winery: This friendly cellar door has an incredible selection of different white and red wines that will pretty much guarantee something for everyone.
Hunter Distillery: For a bit of variety, check out this distillery and sample a wide selection of flavoured liqueurs, vodkas, and gins.
Hunter Valley Resort: Home to an excellent cellar door, the Matilda Bay Brewhouse, a great restaurant, and accommodation in the Hunter, this is a great stop to include on a DIY visit.
Braza: Amazing Brazilian BBQ restaurant right on the Harbour offering all-you-can-eat sides and meats for $58. Come hungry (and leave ready to pop)!
Cyren: Very popular and highly-rated seafood restaurant on Darling Harbour.
Belles Hot Chicken: For something a bit more casual, this spot in Darling Square has the most incredible fried chicken you’ll ever eat.
Getting to Sydney
Most travellers will arrive into Sydney via the Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport in Mascot (about 10km out of the CBD). There’s a train line that services Sydney Airport, just follow signs for the station below the arrivals area and purchase an Opal card (our local transit card). It’s about $20 to get from the airport to Central Station, even though it only takes about 15min.
Here’s an excellent local trick that surprisingly few people take advantage of: if you’re on a really tight budget, you can actually walk from the airport to Mascot Station in under 20min and catch the train into the city for the usual rate (around $4). It’s an easy, flat walk that I’ve made many times to avoid paying for the airport train— this map shows the walk from the domestic terminal, but you can also do it from the international terminal. Plus, you can even use this trick if you want to take an Uber to your hotel, since getting even 1km away from the airport will dramatically decrease the cost of your ride.
Getting around Sydney
Public transport is a great way to explore Sydney, with frequent trains, buses, ferries, and a new lightrail line available to get you most anywhere you need to go. A typical ride on public transport is around $4-8, but if you’re in Sydney on a Sunday, you can take advantage of the $2.70 travel cap— travel as far as you want, all for less than three bucks (not including the airport).
Download the Opal app or Google Maps to see timetables and plan your journey. If you don’t already have an Opal card, you can also purchase one from select city stations and most newsagencies or convenience stores; or, better yet, you can skip the Opal and just tap on/off of Sydney transport using Paywave directly on your debit card.
Where to stay in Sydney
There are so many awesome hotels and hostels in Sydney that it’s difficult to recommend just one! The best areas to stay are The Rocks, Bondi Junction, Darling Harbour, North Sydney, and the streets immediately surrounding Central Station in the CBD. These areas all have great access to public transport and are right in the middle of the action when it comes to sightseeing and great restaurants! I can highly recommend:
For budget travellers
- Sydney Central YHA: Located about 100m from Central Station in the heart of Sydney, this is a lively hostel with great access to public transport and the best sights around Sydney. They even organise a number of events, like Aussie BBQs on the roof (which is how I tried Kangaroo for the first time) or pub crawls around the city. Dorm beds for $29; they also have private rooms, but they aren’t great value at $120+.
- Wake Up: Also right next to Central Station, this hostel offers just about everything the YHA does, minus the rooftop pool. It’s also attached to Side Bar, which is a great backpacker/uni student bar that my housemates and I frequented while we were studying. Dorm beds for $34.
- George Street Hotel: Basic centrally located hotel within walking distance of Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, and a heap of public transport. Private rooms for $50.
Forget the budget
- Meriton Suites Bondi Junction: A great option in the busy transit hub of Bondi Junction (about a 15min walk from Bondi Beach, but much better connected to the city). The apartments have great views and well-equipped kitchens, which means you can eat some of your meals in to save money for day trips! Rooms $150-200/night.
- North Sydney Harbourview Hotel: Located just across the Harbour Bridge with an amazing view of the city, this is an excellent hotel within easy walking distance of the North Sydney train station. The perfect base for adventures up north! Rooms from $200-300/night.
- Sofitel Darling Harbour: Located right on Sydney’s lively Darling Harbour, this is a great hotel with stunning views. Some of the city’s best restaurants are in this area and it’s lovely just to wander around in the evenings as Darling Harbour lights up. Rooms from $300-400/night.
- Shangri-La Hotel: Fabulous upscale hotel in the historic Rocks area of Circular Quay. The best thing about this hotel is its rooftop bar and restaurant, affording insane views of the Harbour. Rooms $300-400/night.
- Sydney is a great year-round destination, with sunny days and mild winters. Still, don’t visit in winter without a jacket, as it can get chilly in the evenings around the harbour.
- Some of these itineraries work best with a car, but others are actually less convenient with a car (Sydney traffic is crazy!). Consider hiring a car for part of your stay and using transport for the rest.
- If you do end up driving into the city, you can reserve parking online in most inner-city garages for $10, which ends up being cheaper than transport if you’re travelling with at least one other person!
- I’d recommend picking up a pre-paid SIM card at the airport, a convenience store, the supermarket, or directly at the shop. Telstra provides the best connectivity and you can get 20GB worth of data (valid for 28 days) for just $30, including the price of the SIM. This is the same prepaid plan I use for my phone all the time, but there’s no contract and absolutely no commitment, so it’s also perfect for travellers.
- If you don’t get a SIM, the best place to find free wifi is Maccas (McDonalds).
- Explore beyond the city with these amazing day trips: 13 FANTASTIC DAY TRIPS & WEEKEND GETAWAYS FROM SYDNEY
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