A Backpacker's Guide to Sydney

A Backpacker's Guide to Sydney Image | East Coast Tours Australia

We probably don’t need to tell you this, but Sydney is a total must-do while in Australia! And, while this bustling destination is probably the first city on your East Coast bucket list, you may be wondering what to do! So, our team of local Sydneysiders have put together a comprehensive guide for travellers wanting to experience the best of this vibrant city! 

Find out the best things to do, where to stay, how to get around, where to eat and which markets to visit while you're in Sydney! 

Things to do

Explore Bondi Beach 

A famous coastal paradise just out of the CBD, Bondi is a truly unmissable stop on your Sydney adventures! Brimming with cheap things to do, check out our comprehensive guide to spending a day in Bondi without breaking the bank. Spoilers, but it looks like pristine coastal walks, famous lifeguards, beachfront brunches and whale watching! 

Bondi Beach two girls surfing holding blue surfboards

Opera House

This one speaks for itself! When visiting Sydney this will likely be number one on the list of things to do and see. The Opera House is known for its incredible architecture and hosts a number of amazing shows and live performances. Make sure to visit the Opera House and take in the views from all over Circular Quay. Opera Bar & Kitchen is the best spot to grab a beer and soak in the atmosphere, or alternatively, Cruise Bar and The Squires Landing also offer an incredible view for a slightly higher price tag.

Sydney Opera House peaks against a bright blue sky

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Whilst checking out the Opera House in Circular Quay, it is quite impossible to miss the world's largest steel arch bridge on the other side! For the best views of both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, check out Milsons Point or Mrs Macquaries Chair for the best selfies for Instagram. If these vantage points are too far for you, why don’t you get as close as possible and dare to climb the Harbour Bridge to the top, with a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb!

Sydney Harbour Bridge with woman in a low back white dress

The Rocks

The Rocks is located in the shadows of the harbour bridge and boasts plenty of historical laneways, home to some of the oldest pubs in Sydney. The whole atmosphere at The Rocks is unbeatable, full of buskers performing, pubs and harbour views. Every weekend, the open-air market runs where you can enjoy the best street food and handmade fashion goods! The Rocks also offers some of the best happy hours around.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Rocks pub

Hop on a Ferry!

Can’t quite afford to spend on a private cruise around Circular Quay? Jump on a ferry and you’ll find yourself on one of the most scenic ferry rides! These charming yellow boats can take you all over Sydney, but this is the cheapest way of seeing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge on the water!

Sydney Harbour Barge boat near the opera house

Royal Botanical Garden Sydney

Take a stroll through Sydney’s Royal Botanical Garden! This botanical garden spans over 30 hectares and attracts millions of visitors. The Botanical Gardens are located right by the Sydney Opera House and make it a great way to spend a full day out before or after taking in the sights of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Visit The Calyx, a modern exhibition space with the largest vertical plant display in the southern hemisphere… a green thumbs happy place indeed! 

Sydney botanical gardens pink flowers being touched by a hand with silver rings

Mrs Macqauries Chair

If you’re looking for quintessential must-dos to tick off your Syndey bucket list, Mrs Macquaries Chair in The Royal Botanical Gardens is an incredibly famous landmark. The chair is carved out of sandstone rock and has one of the best vantage points in Sydney, overlooking the city and Circular Quay. This one is a must for that Instagram pic you’ve been dying to snap! 

Luna Park

Don’t forget to catch the ferry across to Sydney’s most iconic amusement park! Luna Park is a heritage-listed amusement park that has breathtaking views of the city. There are lots of rides to enjoy for all ages, with brand new rollercoasters added in 2021. Check out what events are on.. their Halloween and New Years' events are great!

Luna Park Sydney two girls smiling in front of the entrance

Darling Harbour - Cockle Bay Wharf  

Head over to Darling Harbour for beers, food, views and just overall good times! Cockle Bay Wharf is just a 10-minute walk from Townhall station and has an array of restaurants and bars suitable for all times of the day. Overlooking the Darling Harbour, you’re surrounded by skyscraper buildings and yachts in the bays.

Darling Harbour transforms overnight and has some of the best nightlife in Sydney, including “Home the Venue” Sydney’s largest nightclub. Before heading to Darling Harbour, be sure to research the best happy-hour options as most bars offer various deals! A personal favourite is the sports bar “The Sporting Globe x 4 Pines” that have daily deals on food and drink.

And, depending on the weather, Darling Harbour has a free firework display most Saturday nights! Get to the edge of the harbour or on the Ferris wheel for the best views and watch the night sky come to life.

Hunter Valley Winery Tours

Book on to a day trip out of Sydney and visit the closest wine region; the Hunter Valley! The tours will take you around several wineries allowing you to taste and sample all of the locally produced wines. Get a big group together and enjoy the day out whilst tasting and sampling various wines, no wasting! 

Wine Tours Hunter Valley

Hit the Beach

Sydney is best known for Bondi Beach, however, Sydney has dozens of hidden gems for you to discover! Our personal favourites include:

  • Watsons Bay

Grab the 380 bus and head north past Bondi into Watsons Bay. Check out Watsons Bay Hotel for good vibes and drinks followed by Doyles Fish and Chips for lunch! There are smaller surrounding beaches to visit and also a spectacular lighthouse hike. Watsons Bay is also a ferry stop that can take you over to Manly or Circular Quay.

  • Milk Beach

This gem is one of Sydney’s best-kept secrets. Access to the shores is limited which equals smaller crowds and incredible views of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. A great spot for a picnic and dazzling snorkelling.

  • Shark Beach

A harbourside beach that is sheltered from the surf so you can enjoy a relaxing swim or snorkel in these calm waters. And don’t be afraid… it’s not actually a hangout for sharks! The name Shark Beach comes from the 1800s when the bay was used to capture sharks before these acts were outlawed. 

feet relaxing on the grass near the Beach, Sydney Beaches

Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Kayaking in Rose Bay 

Surrounded by luxury yachts, Rose Bay is an exclusive suburb close to Point Piper (Australia’s most expensive suburb) with a great vibe. With only a handful of quaint cafes and shops, head to the shoreline and rent yourself a paddleboard or kayak and get up close to some of these yachts docked for the day. If you’re brave enough, paddle over to Shark Island for breathtaking views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge! If Shark Island is too far, ask for directions to Queens Beach, an isolated private beach for a nice round trip.

Jet Boat Ride Sydney

If viewing Sydney’s most iconic landmarks by Ferry is too tame for you, get yourself on to the Jet Boat that speeds around Sydney’s harbour water. This is an adrenaline-fuelled 60-minute ride around Sydney that includes plenty of speed, spins and splashes.

Sydney by Kayak sunrise

Watch the sunrise, with a coffee in one hand and an oar in the other! Sydney by Kayak offers guided sunrise kayak tours that take you right under the Harbour Bridge for one of the most incredible views of the sunrise over the Opera House. This is by far one of the best photo opportunities you’ll get in Sydney and one of the best ways to start your day.

Kayak sunrise Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney’s Best Markets

Sydney has plenty of markets to visit, dotted all over the city! Here are the must-dos for your next morning mosey:

Glebe Market

Probably the most well-known market in Sydney. Open every Saturday, Glebe Market hosts a huge amount of stalls ranging from fashion to jewellery to food. There are also live music performances to add to the market charm. This is a great market to grab some vintage pre-loved clothes!

Bondi Beach

Every weekend Bondi School grounds host the Farmers Market on Saturday and Stall Market on Sunday. If you’re looking to stock up on fresh and affordable fruit and vegetables be sure to head over on Saturday!

Two women with fruit at the market

Paddys Market

Every Wednesday to Sunday, Paddy’s Market is operating in the middle of Sydney’s CBD on Hay Street. This market is both outdoor and indoor and has been associated with the area for over 150 years. This is the place to grab some cheap Australian souvenirs to take home for your loved ones!

Paddy's Market sign

Sydney Fish Market

Just outside of downtown Sydney in the suburb of Pyrmont is the Sydney Fish Market. The third-largest fresh seafood market in the world, this is a seafood lover's dream! Take a walk around and see what's on offer, varying from a range of Australian favourites such as prawns, rock lobster, and barramundi. Here you can also find plenty of sashimi, and try the famous “Sushi Donut”.

Sydney fish markets with many people

Things to do in Sydney on a rainy day

Because even the most well-loved destinations in Australia get a bit drizzly sometimes! 

Darling Harbour 

Darling Harbour has several indoor based activities to choose from! You can choose from bowling and arcades to zoos and wax-work! At Darling Harbour, you can visit the Wildlife Sydney Zoo which is home to a bunch of Aussie animals including Kangaroos and the happiest animal in the world.. Quokkas! You also have the opportunity to have breakfast with the koalas which is a pretty awesome way to start the day! There’s also a Sea Life Aquarium and Madame Tussauds where you can get your selfie with Australia’s very own dreamboat, Chris Hemsworth.

If you’re looking for something more educational, head over to the National Maritime Museum to view one of the largest collections of floating vessels!

A cityscape of Darling Harbour at night

Taronga Zoo

Grab a ferry from Circular Quay and enjoy the scenic ride over to Taronga Zoo! Taronga zoo has some of the best views of Sydney CBD whilst being home to over 5,000 animals. Taronga Zoo prides itself on being involved in conservation and breeding programs with the aim to protect endangered wild species. Expect to see a range of wild animals from the Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant and gorillas as well as some closer-to-home kangaroos and koalas.

A koala pair in trees at a zoo

Go shopping

While most activities in Sydney are outdoor-based, this one’s best for a rainy day! There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Sydney with Westfield shopping centres located in Glebe, Townhall and Bondi Junction (all very easily accessible via public transport). If you’re looking for a more unique experience, check out the Queen Victoria Building and the Strand Arcade in Townhall which will take you back in time to Victorian-era retail buildings with a sweet twist…  all of the latest fashion retailers!  

Stand arcade with busy city street people walking by

Sydney Bar & Breweries

3 rooftop bars with a view

  • The Glenmore Hotel

Located in The Rocks, The Glenmore Hotel dates back to the 1840s and has a fantastic rooftop cocktail bar with views of the Opera House and Circular Quay.

  • Palisade Hotel

Doesn’t look like much on the outside but get yourself to the rooftop terrace and check out the incredibly impressive city views! 

  • East Village Sydney

Open year-round, this rooftop terrace transforms through the seasons and has some of the best views of the city skyline. 

Cocktails and tacos rooftop bar Sydney

3 breweries to visit in Sydney

  • Young Henry’s, Newtown

When you’re exploring the quirky place of Newtown, stop off at Young Henry’s Brewery and get a taste of one of Sydney's most popular craft beers… you really can’t go past the Newtowner, named ever-so aptly! 

  • The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, The Rocks

Head to this pub that dates back to 1841 and taste their locally brewed beers that are more on the “English” side than the “craft” beer side of things… but nevertheless a delicious drop and possibly even a taste of home for any UK backpackers! 

  • The Grifter Brewing Co, Marrickville

One of the most laid back breweries you can visit. Treat yourself to a fruity sour or an IPA and a friendly game of pool.

Beer pouring in a Sydney brewery

Accommodation & Getting Around 

Best hostel

WakeUp! Bondi

Australia’s Best Hostel 2020 award-winning hostel is WakeUp! WakeUp hostels in Sydney are the best place to start your East Coast tour and meet other backpackers to get the trip started. WakeUp offers two hostels in Sydney (CBD and Bondi Beach) as well as one in Byron Bay! Bondi Beach WakeUp Hostel is located directly opposite the beach... you physically can’t get any closer if you wanted!

This group of hostels are considered a luxury hostel, located in the best locations, super clean and come with a bunch of benefits:

  • Personal charging ports and reading lights by each bed
  • Ocean views of Bondi
  • Free surf hire in Bondi & Byron Bay
  • Onsite bar
  • Free Wifi
  • Discount gym passes
  • Daily activities to meet other like-minded backpackers! 

Sydney hostel lounge foyer with colourful posters and couches

Public Transport – backpacking around Sydney

The best, easiest and cheapest way to explore and backpack around Sydney is via public transport! The city offers various forms of transport which are all easily accessible. Your best friend will be the Opal Card. The Opal Card is a contactless card that you top up to fund your trips around the city. These cards can be purchased from specific retailers, often in nearby newsagents and convenience stores! The Opal card can be topped up online or in specific stations, and will grant you access to Trains, Lightrail (trams), Buses and Ferries around Sydney! 

Sydney trains in the centre

It's time to make Sydney the next stop on your East Coast itinerary

Chat with our friendly locally-based team of travel consultants today to make those Aussie dreams a reality!

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