It is no secret that Sydney is one of my absolute favourite places in the world. I could go back there a million times and never tire of it. There is always something new and fresh to see or do. As a big city though, there is always the question of how best to travel around to see all the amazing sights on offer. So here’s my guide to getting around in Sydney.
Where to stay
How you will travel around Sydney depends firstly on 2 factors. One, what do you actually want to see and do? Check out my post on the best things to do in Sydney for some tips and ideas. And secondly, where are you staying?
Like any major city, accommodation in Sydney can be pretty expensive. The best way to bring the cost down is to stay in hostels rather than hotels, avoid the CBD, or both.
Staying a little way out from the centre is likely to cost less than a suite overlooking the harbour (obviously…). I myself love the chilled vibe out at Bondi beach, and prefer hostels to hotels. I spent a month or so at Noahs on Campbell Parade many years ago and while the accommodation itself is basic, the location is perfect for enjoying those Bondi vibes.
With a rooftop terrace overlooking the beach, plus a bus stop just outside the door, it offers a pure beach atmosphere with easy access to the city itself. Click here for rates and bookings.
Of course, there are other beach areas like Coogee and Manly for anyone who wants to be away from the city but feels that Bondi is a little too touristy. I myself will never tire of the atmosphere at Bondi. It’s lively but chilled, and what some may see as cliched, I see as classic.
On my most recent visit, I had less time and wanted to be in the city itself, so I opted for the Capsule Hotel on Georges Street. Rates are similar to those of a top-rated hostel, but much more budget-friendly than a hotel, especially if you are travelling alone. The pods offer more privacy and comfort than a typical hostel bed, and are fully equipped with a flat screen TV, air conditioning, lights and charging points for your phone.
So, now that you’ve decided where to stay, you can look at your transportation options once you are there. The public transport network in Sydney is awesome, with the Opal card making it super simple to use, even if you need to switch between different modes of transport.
The Opal Card
If you plan on using public transport in Sydney, the first thing you should do is get an Opal card to use on the buses, trains and ferries. The good news is that, unlike the Myki card for travelling in Melbourne, the Opal card itself is free. You just need to load it up with funds to cover the cost of your journeys. Daily, weekly and Sunday travel caps apply, you can read more about these and other Opal card benefits here.
Just tap your card getting on and off public transport and the correct fare will be deducted from your card balance.
If you plan on only making a few journeys and prefer to pay as you go, you can buy single journey tickets. Just remember that much of the public transport is prepaid only (to reduce delays) so make sure to have your ticket purchased in advance.
City Buses and Trains
Like any big city, Sydney has a brilliant bus network, operating almost 24 hours a day, that can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go, including the beach areas mentioned earlier, and also to anywhere else you may want to go in the surrounding suburbs.
I personally HATE the bus, and I try to avoid using buses no matter where I am. I travel on foot whenever possible, and Apple maps has quickly become my best friend when I travel. If you have a smartphone with an Australian SIM and a data allowance, you have access to your maps while you are on the go.
If not, you can still use the WIFI in your hotel or hostel, get your directions and screenshot them before you leave. This is obviously less helpful if you get lost or take a wrong turn, but you can always go retro and use an actual paper map or even ask for directions, just like we did in the olden days…
For longer distances or trickier directions, I use the train as a preference to the bus. There are 8 train stations in the centre of Sydney: Central, Museum, St. James, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, Martins Place and Kings Cross. The stations are easy to travel between, and provide services to the suburbs (Note: if you’re heading to Bondi beach, the train will only take you as far as Bondi Junction, where you can transfer to a bus for the remainder of the journey).
Sydney Light Rail and NSW TrainLink
Sydney Light Rail connects much of the city, operating in 2 zones. Zone 1 stations include Central Station, Capitol Square, Paddy’s Market, Exhibition Centre and Convention. Zone 2 stations include Pyrmont Bay, The Star, Sydney Fish Market, Glebe, John Street Square, Jubilee Park, Lilyfield, Wentworth Park and Rozelle Bay.
Works are currently under way to extend the light rail network along George Street, connecting Randwick with Circular Quay.
NSW TrainLink not only connects Sydney with other big cities like Melbourne and Brisbane, it also connects the city with some major tourist attractions such as the Blue Mountains. Some destinations on the TrainLink network fall within the Opal Card region, and therefore qualify for the Opal Card rate caps. Why not skip that expensive Blue Mountains day trip, and make your own way there on public transport? Travel on a Sunday and you can get there and back for $2.70.
Harbour City Ferries
Sydney’s biggest advantage over other cities when it comes to their public transport network, is their ferry service. Ferries leave from Circular Quay and connect with Manly, Taronga Zoo, Parramatta River, Cross Harbour, Neutral Bay, Mosman Bay, Double Bay and Cockatoo Island.
Although I sadly have never travelled on the ferries myself, it is highly recommended by many to take at least one trip, as the views of Circular Quay and the Opera House from the water are particularly impressive.
Taxis and Organised Tours
Finally, my two least preferred modes of transport, taxis and organised tour buses. I find both to be overpriced and generally unnecessary. Sometimes though, they can save a lot of time and planning, so they should not be overlooked. Full info on taxis in Sydney can be found here.
I find Viator.com to be an excellent starting point for finding organised tours. I don’t often book through them, as the tours can almost always be found cheaper elsewhere. It’s a great resource for checking out what a destination has to offer though, and I then go on to look for the tours I am interested in elsewhere at a lower cost.