How To Spend One Day In Sydney

How To Spend One Day In Sydney Image | East Coast Tours Australia

If you're wondering how to spend one day in Sydney, we've got you covered! Our travel experts have curated an action-packed, customisable Sydney itinerary that covers all the city's highlights in just one day.

Most backpackers in Australia start their adventure in Sydney, the capital and largest city of New South Wales. Though ideally you'd have at least a few days to explore this dynamic city before you set off on your backpacking itinerary or road trip, shorter itineraries may only leave you with one day in Sydney. We're going to help you optimise that day so you don't miss out on any popular Sydney attractions. 

Here is our ultimate one day in Sydney itinerary that suits all types of travellers!

couple jumping up in front of Sydney skyline

How To Spend One Day In Sydney, Australia

It's actually very easy to plan one day in Sydney, as most of the famous landmarks are located close together. This itinerary is organised logically, meaning you won't have to travel all over the city to see everything. We've laid out the top Sydney attractions in a way that makes sense and included how to get from place to place. 

You'll spend the first half of the day on a self-guided walking tour of the CBD, passing the famous sights of Sydney Harbour and its surroundings. Then you can take public transport to a gorgeous beach for the afternoon, whether it be Bondi or Manly is up to you. Finish up the day back in the harbour with a cocktail overlooking the Sydney Opera House. 

Since you only have one day in Sydney, try to start your day in the morning around 9am after breakfast. You don't want to start exploring too late and have to rush through the itinerary!

Arrive at Circular Quay

Circular Quay is the ideal place to begin your exploration of Sydney. This centrally located train, bus, tram, and ferry station is located right on the waterfront of Sydney Harbour. No matter where you are staying in Sydney, it should be easy to get public transport here. 

You can walk to a huge number of the best Sydney landmarks from Circular Quay. You'll be able to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House as soon as you step out of the station! But our first stop is going to be the Rocks, so start walking west from Circular Quay. 

man looking out at sydney harbour bridge

Stroll through the Rocks

It's a 10-minute walk from Circular Quay to the Rocks, and on the way you can admire beautiful views of the Sydney Opera House. The Rocks is a charming, historic neighborhood of central Sydney full of cobblestone streets, twinkling lights, and European-style eateries with outdoor seating. 

Enjoy wandering through the narrow alleyways, many of which sport art installations or street murals. If you're here on a weekend, you can check out the local vendors at the Rocks Markets which are open from 10am - 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Next, walk the 10 minutes back to Sydney Harbour. You can stop in the Museum of Contemporary Art on the way if you're an art lover! Or you can just enter the museum and go to the cafe on the top floor for a coffee with a lovely view. 

girl walking through an alleyway with paper lanterns

Explore Sydney Harbour

Now it's time to get right in the middle of the action! Sydney Harbour is the most touristy part of Sydney, thanks to photogenic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From the Rocks, you can make your way onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge and walk across this giant structure for incredible views!

If you don't feel like walking the length of the massive bridge, you can just head back towards Circular Quay and walk straight up to the Opera House. Admire the captivating architecture from the outside, or take a guided tour of the inside. Either way, spending some time at the Sydney Opera House is one of the must do things in Sydney. 

backpacker looking into a telescope in sydney harbour

Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens

Once you've seen enough of the Opera House, continue along the pedestrian pathway east until you see the grassy expanse of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Famous for its carefully landscaped flower gardens, tranquil walking trails, and panoramic views of Sydney Harbour, the Royal Botanic Gardens are a highlight of the city. Walk over to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair for one of the best views of the Sydney Opera House!

As you walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens, slowly meander your way south and check out some other attractions along the way as you enter the Domain Precinct green space. 

Art lovers can stop into the Art Gallery of New South Wales if they wish. You can also check out the cool architecture of St. Mary's Cathedral as you leave the park. Eventually you'll cross Hyde Park and be ready to visit some more Sydney attractions. 

man sitting on a bench in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

Enjoy the views from Sydney Tower Eye

Located right next to Hyde Park is the Sydney Tower Eye. If you're looking for a bird's eye view of the city during your one day in Sydney, this is the viewpoint for you! Sydney Tower Eye is the tallest building in the city. It's even the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere at 309 metres tall.

If you're afraid of heights, maybe skip the Sydney Tower Eye. Otherwise, ride the lifts to the top and marvel at the crazy views of the area. When you're finished, start heading towards Chinatown. 

It's a 20-minute walk from the Tower Eye to Chinatown. On the way, you can see some of the city's coolest architectural gems, including the Queen Victoria Building and Town Hall

Town Hall building in Sydney with a tram running past

Lunch in Chinatown

A stroll through Chinatown gives travellers a glimpse into Sydney's multicultural roots. Have some lunch at an authentic Chinese restaurant, or just stroll around the area until you find a cafe that suits you. 

If you want to pick up some cool souvenirs, head to the nearby Paddy's Markets which are open from 10am - 6pm on Wednesdays - Sundays. Your next stop is Central Station, where you're going to catch transport to the beach!

lantern hanging in chinatown sydney

Travel out to Bondi Beach

The beach is also a must see in Sydney. Honestly, all of Sydney's beaches are gorgeous and it doesn't really matter which one you visit. But if you only have one day in Sydney or it's your first time in Sydney, you may want to visit the most iconic beach: Bondi Beach! Manly Beach is another alternative and we'll discuss how to get there a bit later. 

But for now, it's time to head east to Bondi. From Central Station, you can catch a train or bus and have your feet in the sand in under an hour. You can also take an Uber, but most backpackers are trying to save money in Australia so public transport is the way to go. 

Bus #333 will take you straight to Bondi Beach from Central Station in 50 minutes. You can also catch the train to Bondi Junction and then grab bus #379 to the beach, which will take 40 minutes.

girls lying on the sand at Bondi Beach Sydney

Spend the afternoon in Bondi Beach

Once you've arrived in Bondi Beach, it's time to really immerse yourself in the Aussie culture. Change into your swimmers, slap on some sunscreen, and melt in the soft sand. Swim in the bright blue Pacific Ocean (always between the red and yellow flags - you don't want to end up on Bondi Rescue!) or just sunbathe and soak in the energy of Bondi. 

If you're not into lazing away on the sand, you could book a surf lesson and learn to ride the waves! Or you could walk along the foreshore and check out the colourful street art murals. Or head south along the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk and admire the rugged ocean cliffs and gorgeous views. 

For the rest of the evening, you could either grab some food in Bondi and watch the sunset over the ocean. Or, you can head back into the CBD!

girls walking along the Bondi Coastal Path in Sydney

Alternative to Bondi Beach: Manly Beach

No Sydney itinerary would be complete without mentioning the ferry to Manly. It would be hard to fit both Bondi Beach and Manly Beach into one day in Sydney, unless you skipped all the highlights of the CBD. So if you'd prefer to skip Bondi, you can spend your beach afternoon in Manly!

Riding the ferry through the harbour is half the fun of getting to Manly, so you can take the tram from Chinatown back to Circular Quay and jump on a boat. Upon arriving at Manly Beach, spend the afternoon swimming and snorkelling at Shelly Beach, getting ice cream in the town centre, or biking along the coastal track. 

man riding a bike down the manly beach path

Back to Circular Quay for the evening

The most fabulous way to end a day in Sydney is watching the sunset over the Opera House. Return from your beach excursion and dive into the heart of the city. Sydney Harbour is home to countless cocktail bars, lounges, and eateries where you can wrap up your evening or kickstart a fun night out.

Maybe you want to treat yourself to a fancy seafood platter, or maybe you want to grab a burger and some beers at a pub. Whether you want a hearty meal or small plates and champagne, you can find everything around Circular Quay and most establishments have an epic view!

Finish the day by retreating to your accommodation or making the rounds at the local bars and clubs. There is absolutely no shortage of things to do in Sydney at any time of day, so really make the most of your time here!

cocktails in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Have more than one day in Sydney?

If you have more than one day in Sydney, you'll have the chance to squeeze in more attractions. From exploring more beaches, to ticking off more items from your tourist bucket list, to venturing outside the city on a day trip, here are more fun things to do in Sydney!

Explore more beaches

If you have a few days in Sydney, definitely try to see more beaches! Sydney is so special because it has all the arts and culture of a normal city, but it's also framed by some truly incredible beaches. It's rare to find yourself in a secluded tropical paradise when you're visiting one of the world's busiest tourist cities!

One idea is dedicating a whole day to the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. You can spend some time at other nearby beaches like Tamarama Beach, Bronte Beach, and Clovelly Beach.

Or explore more of the Northern Beaches like Palm Beach, Narrabeen Beach, Dee Why Beach, and Freshwater Beach. You can also find beautiful beaches right in the harbour, such as Rose Bay Beach and Milk Beach. 

man surfing on a wave in Sydney

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is another highlight of the city center, located just around the corner from the Rocks. Here you can visit the Australian National Maritime Museum or catch a performance at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. You can also find more waterfront bars and restaurants here that are slightly less crowded than around the Opera House. 

view of city harbour with skyscrapers in the background

Taronga Zoo

Another fun way to spend some time in Sydney is taking the ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo. The popular zoo offers so many cool attractions and provides sweeping views of the CBD skyscrapers. And similar to visiting Manly, taking the ferry through the harbour is half the fun!

Ferries traveling through Sydney Harbour past the Opera House


Newtown is an artsy, trendy neighborhood of Sydney. You can catch the train here and spend a day wandering through vintage stores, testing out cool cafes, looking for street art, or experiencing the nightlife. Newtown has similar vibes to Melbourne!

girl looking at colorful street art in Sydney

Go skydiving

Thanks to its gorgeous coastline, the Sydney area is one of the best for skydiving in Australia! You'll have to head up to Newcastle or down to Wollongong skydive, but both destinations are only about an hour from Sydney. Celebrate your trip to Australia by jumping out of a plane!

people skydiving off the coast of Australia

Luna Park

If you want to feel like a kid again, spend some time at the iconic amusement park, Luna Park. Home to fun rides and attractions, this historic theme park from the 1930s is located right next to the northern side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can walk here from the Rocks!

girls posing in front of Luna Park theme park in Sydney

Take a day trip

Though there is heaps to do in Sydney, you'll never regret taking a day to explore the natural beauty around the metropolis. Right on the outskirts of Sydney there are numerous national parks full of hiking trails, waterfalls, cool rock formations, and more. The Royal National Park is the second oldest national park in the world, and the Blue Mountains National Park has some of the most amazing hikes in New South Wales. 

Another idea for a day trip is heading north to the Central Coast. You can go sandboarding in Port Stephens, beach-hopping in Newcastle, or wine tasting in the Hunter Valley. If you're planning a big road trip around Australia that begins in Sydney, you can save the day trips for your adventure. But if you're flying out of Sydney, definitely make time for a day trip!

two glasses on wine sitting on a cafe table

Do a surf camp 

With its consistent waves and friendly local instructors, Sydney is a great place to learn how to surf. If you have a few extra days to spare in Sydney, you could really commit to learning one of Australia's favourite sports. Book a weekend surf camp so you can learn the basics and take your skills with you around Australia!

two girls holding surfboards near the beach in sydney

If you plan to begin your Australian adventure in Sydney, there are lots of amazing East Coast itineraries that depart from Sydney!

Alternatively, you can streamline your trip to Sydney with our Sydney Arrival Package. Feel free to contact our local travel experts if you have any questions!

East Coast Tours acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.

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