What to do in Sydney if you only have 48 hours?
Great question, and to be honest, I wish you had more time because Sydney deserves longer than two days – I could spend two weeks in the city and not get bored (I grew up an hour north of the city).
But, if this is your first trip to Australia I understand the desire to see as much as possible, particularly if you are visiting from the US where most of you only have a standard two-week vacation.
With so much to see in this vast land down under, many people only plan for a couple of days in Sydney before hitting the Reef and the Outback.
Considering two days is not a lot of time to explore a city with as much going on as Sydney, you’ll have to hustle a little and you’ll need two full days so try and fly in the night before!
To get yourself from the airport into the city, you have a couple of options; hop on the Sydney Airport Link Train which takes 15 minutes and costs $17. Get yourself an Opal Card which is a smart card you top up so that you can pay your fares on trains, buses, ferries and light rail.
But the best way, and the cheapest way to see Sydney is on foot. Several of Sydney’s highlights can be taken in for free or cheap simply by walking around.
Below is what I suggest you do with 48 hours!
Day 1 – What to do in Sydney
If your accommodation is in the Sydney CBD, which I recommend so you’re centrally located to make the most of your short visit, either have breakfast at your accommodation or consider Gowings Bar & Grill inside the QT Hotel, or the Alpha Gourmet Cafe and then head to Circular Quay!
The best place to start your visit is in Circular Quay, and if you only visited one area in Sydney this is where I would send you!
The Quay is the main transport hub of Sydney Harbour and it’s here that two of Australia’s most famous landmarks reside; the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Wander around the Quay and take your “I was here” photo in front of these famous structures and feel the pulse of the city. There’s probably no other pace that will jolt you awake from your jet lag and have you saying to yourself “hey, I’m in Australia!”
On any given day, especially a sunny day, Circular Quay is a great place to walk about or just sit and watch the ferry’s come and go. And if you want to step inside and experience the interior of the Opera House, consider taking a 1 hour tour.
Being a busy transport hub you’ll also find many outdoor cafes and restaurants lining the harbour, so if you skipped breakfast you can grab a quick bite here!
Royal Botanic Gardens
From the eastern side of the Opera House, you have easy access to the Royal Botanic Gardens, in my opinion, one of the most impressive gardens in the world, certainly from a location standpoint.
You can’t beat the serenity and harbour views and this is a great place to spend an hour or two in Sydney. Take a walk around the gardens to admire the many different types of plants and city views. You can also take a free self-guided walking tour.
If you’re into art, the Art Gallery of NSW is one of Australia’s leading art museums with five levels of art and extensive collections of Australian, Aboriginal, European, Asian and contemporary art.
There are several options around the Quay and CBD, but I’m going to suggest these two.
1. Picnic lunch in the Botanic Gardens
A cheap lunch option is to grab some takeaway supplies, and maybe a bottle of wine, and incorporate it into your Botanical Gardens visit.
Pick a spot anywhere, or walk to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair for one of the best vantage points in Sydney with distant views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge (especially awesome for sunset).
2. Cafe Sydney
For something more formal I recommend Cafe Sydney. Its prime position on the rooftop of Customs House offers the best of both world’s – spectacular elevated views of the harbour, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. And you can enjoy modern Australian cuisine and maybe a cheeky cocktail on the outdoor terrace.
Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Now that you’re rested with a full tummy it’s time to stretch your legs again.
I suggest a walk across the bridge, but of course, if you want the experience of a lifetime by climbing over the Sydney Harbour Bridge you definitely need to book ahead. Don’t just rock up expecting to tick this off your list, it’s very popular. A sunrise or sunset climb would be magical.
However, a much cheaper option (free) is to simply walk across on the pedestrian path and take in the same panoramic views on a lower level. Or visit the Pylon Lookout where for $11 you get fantastic views plus 3 levels of exhibits to learn about the history of the Bridge.
Explore The Rocks District
The Rocks District is a historic area of Sydney near Circular Quay, and my favourite part of the Sydney CBD area.
There’s a story around every corner when you walk the cobblestone streets, browse the weekend markets, and stroll along the harbour.
Pop into the Rocks Discovery Museum and spend some time on the three floors learning more about the history of the area and the stories of those who lived there during the early years of white Australia.
Feely thirsty after all this walking? The Rocks is the perfect place to go on a bit of a pub crawl, as it’s home to some of Sydney’s oldest pubs. Grab a pint at one, or all of my favourites:
- The Observer Hotel – Listen to live music while downing a pint.
- The Glenmore – awesome rooftop terrace with views over Sydney Harbour.
- Australian Heritage Hotel – oldest continuously licenced pub in Sydney.
- Harts Pub – great hand crafted beers.
- The Mercantile – Australia’s longest running Irish Pub.
- Lord Nelson -home of Australia’s oldest pub brewery.
- The Argyle – huge drinks selection and live entertainment.
You’ve had a big day so now it’s time to put the feet up for a bit.
I’d suggest either staying in the Rocks for some good pub grub, or taking the short walk back to Circular Quay for sunset drinks and a bite to eat from some of the world’s best waterfront dining locations.
In the Rocks, the Australian Heritage Hotel is famous for it’s Kangaroo, emu, and crocodile pizzas. So if you want to try real Aussie tucker this pub is where it’s at.
Back at the Quay, a top spot for a sundowner is the Opera Bar. What a way to end your first day than with a cocktail or cold beer and uninterrupted views of the Harbour Bridge.!
For fine dining and more of those famous views (you’ll need to dig into your wallet) book a table at either Aria, Quay Restaurant or Cafe Sydney if you didn’t do lunch. And there’s also the famous Tetsuya’s.
Day 2 – What to do in Sydney
With another full day ahead, I encourage you to rise early and either grab breakfast at your hotel or head to this morning’s first destination – Bondi Beach – Sydney’s most famous beach and enjoy breakfast at Trio Cafe, rated number one on Yelp and Trip Advisor, or the family friendly Bill’s.
To get to Bondi, catch the train from Central Station to Bondi Junction, then a bus to Bondi Beach.
The Bondi Beach to Coogee Coastal Walk
The 6km walk starts behind Bondi Icebergs and usually takes us 2.5 hours with the kids, and features stunning views of cliffs, bays and rock pools and passes the beaches of Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Gordon’s Bay.
Need a coffee or bite to eat on the walk? The popular Three Blue Ducks in Bronte is a popular spot. And don’t forget your swimmers if it’s warm – the Bronte baths is a good spot for the kids.
Or, if you want to do the loop walk and head back to Bondi, have lunch at the famous Bondi Icebergs for some ok food but the best views over Bondi Beach ( this is where Oprah Winfrey dined on her visit). We prefer the bistro over the restaurant.
If you want to head straight back to the city for lunch take the bus numbers 372 or 373 or call an Uber (use code: q13dc to get a free ride).
Ferry to Manly from Circular Quay
You can’t visit one of the best harbour cities in the world and not get out on the water!
A great and cheap way to experience Sydney Harbour with stunning views of the city skyline, Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Botanic Gardens is to catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly and back.
In Manly, walk down the palm tree-lined Corso, hit the promenade on the beach for an ice-cream, walk around to picturesque Shelly Beach, or grab a cold beer at Manly Wharf Hotel.
Time your return ferry trip back to the Quay to coincide with sunset behind the harbour bridge.
What to do in Sydney for dinner on day two? Well, you can go fancy again or go casual.
Consider one of the other options from day one, or for cheap eats consider family friendly Chinatown or grab a pie, pastie or hot dog at an Australian icon called Harry’s Cafe De Wheels – their Pie and Peas is a particular favourite with locations in Woolloomooloo and Haymarket.
Another place to splurge and get those special Sydney views is Altitude Restaurant, located 36 levels above Sydney, offering stunning views of the city in the evenings.
Places to Stay in Sydney
On a short stay in Sydney, your best bet is to locate yourself in and around the CBD, Circular Quay or The Rocks District.
Consider these budget, mid-level or luxury properties found on Booking.com, our preferred partner.
- Sydney Harbour YHA – in the Rocks!
- Sydney Central YHA – close to Central Station
- Wake Up! – close to Central Station
All these properties are in the CBD or Circular Quay area:
All these properties are in the CBD or Circular Quay area:
- Shangri-La Hotel Sydney
- Sydney Harbour Marriott
- Four Seasons Sydney
- The Westin Sydney
- InterContinental Sydney
And of course there is Airbnb (we’ve got a $27AUD credit for you on your first stay).
Need more tips for Sydney?
Staying longer than 48 hours? Check out these posts:
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Need Car Rental?
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.[/ybox]
There you have it. That should keep you busy. I feel this two-day itinerary takes in the highlights of Sydney for the amount of time you have, and will give you the inspiration to come back for more!
Do you have any tips on what to do in Sydney?
Share any suggestions in the comments below!