We only spent 10 days in Sydney, but we learned a lot about the city. Here is some useful information we gathered that will help with your stay in Sydney.
Growing up in the U.S. we always felt like our country was one of the youngest ones in the world because the rest of the world seemed to have more history than ours (excluding the history of the Native Americans since their culture was squashed and pushed to a few areas of the country). Needless to say we were pretty ignorant when we arrived in Australia and did some research. America was embroiled in the Civil War when Australia was still a penal colony for Britain (although many other people also emigrated from Britain). It wasn’t until 1901 that Australia became a federation and another 30 years or so before it received its independence from the crown. However, Australia didn’t exercise this power until the mid 1980s. To put that into perspective, India gained and exercised its independence from the crown in 1947. So yeah, we were surprised at how young of a country Australia is.
Visas are needed for US residents, but it’s easy-peasy. Simply apply for your visa in minutes online. It is completely digital and is instantaneous. I’d do it at least a few days in advance in case something goes wrong. Go here to learn more and apply for your visa.
Vaccinations aren’t necessary for US residents entering Australia. Learn more on the CDCs website.
Even as an English speaker, the Australian accent can be tough to understand no matter which part of Australia you’re in. One thing we noticed right away is that Australians give nicknames to a lot of things including their own country of “Straya”. McDonalds is “Maccas”, Football is “Footy” and Tasmania is “Tazzy.” We definitely stood out as Americans, but most people asked us if we are Canadian to avoid insulting Canadians by asking them if they are American. And only once did a drunk on the bus shout “G’DAY MATE!” to us.
Credit is the way to go, even with the old school swipe. Some places will look at you weird though because they aren’t used to swiping.
Sydney is one of the easiest cities to navigate with an extensive, well-integrated public transit system.
From the Airport
You can take an expensive taxi ride, catch a bus, or hop on the train and be in the city center in no time. Depending upon where you are going, the train is the easiest and cheapest, but this is Australia so its not that cheap (about $16 USD one way).
Sydney is an expansive city, but it is still very walkable, especially within each neighborhood. There are also tons of parks and promenades that you can take along the bay or ocean, such as the Bondi to Coogee walk (highly recommended).
The public transit system in Sydney is excellent and will easily get you most places you want to go. Again, its not the cheapest system in the world, but definitely the best option. Pick up an Opal card, top it up with some cash, and go. You just tap on and off of the buses and trains and it calculates the fares for you.
If you want to get out of the city and explore the Gold Coast or go out into the Outback you can hop on the regional rail. We didn’t get a chance to take these trains, but from what we understand they are very straight forward and offer a simple way to get out of the city if you want. Check out NSW TravelLink for more details.
For more in-depth information on train travel throughout Australia check out Seat 61.
Sydney has Uber and it is great, but expensive. The public transit system is so solid you probably won’t really need to use Uber much, if at all.
The main ferry terminal is right in the middle of the harbor by the opera house, you know the one. You can catch a ferry to Watsons Bay, Manly, or any other point in the harbor. Ferries run frequently and tickets can be purchased from the kiosks at the ferry terminal before hoping on the boat.
There are a number of mobile carriers in Sydney with Vodafone, Telstra and Optus being the main ones. We had success with Vodafone in South Africa so we went with them again. Pickup a prepaid SIM at the airport before you head out. They have special deals for travelers that you might not find at any of the retail locations in the city. They will also set everything up for you right there.
WiFi is readily available in many Sydney restaurants and cafes, but not 100% reliable so I’d recommend still picking up a SIM with data for emergencies, directions, etc.
Food & Drink
The food scene in Sydney is on par with that of NYC and San Francisco. You will have no problems finding great food and drinks, but it will be pricey. Our budget didn’t allow us to eat out much in Sydney, but when we did we found local recommendations, Foursquare, and Urbanspoon to be the most useful. Check out our other post on Sydney for some recommendations. Link to our post
Again no problems here. Good grocery stores, produce stands, and butchers are all over the place.
You can drink it straight from the tap.
Tipping isn’t expected, but in our experience it was when they knew we were Americans. Greedy bastards. Understanding that the tip is built into the price is a good way to justify the greater cost for food and drinks at restaurants, so make sure to factor that into your decision. For more info on tipping in Australia check out WhoToTip.
Although everything in Australia is trying to kill you, Sydney is a very safe place. It is a big city though so the usual street smarts applies.
Some of the Neighborhoods
Sydney is big and there are lots of neighborhoods. Picking one to explore or stay in depends on what you want to do and the time of year. Here are some of the neighborhoods in Sydney that we checked out.
his is where we spent the majority of our time in Sydney as it was an affordable area at the end of winter. Coogee is a little away from downtown Sydney, but has easy access to it via public transit. Unlike the busy summer where the beach sees a lot of action and prices are higher, the off-season is quiet. The weather was cooler and often windy. Still, there are some good restaurants, bars and cafes within walking distance and we did have some gorgeous days mixed in. On the weekends, and presumably in the summer, Coogee turns into more of a party scene down by the beach. So if thats not your jam, then you might want to stay elsewhere.
Beach town all the way. If you are in Sydney to surf, swim, sunbathe, and party this is your spot. Bondi is probably the most famous beach in Australia and one of the best beaches in the world. Even in the winter the beach will draw a crowd on a sunny day. Although it is away from the city center, it is still pricey year round. Bondi has some solid restaurants, bars, and cafes and excellent public transport options.
A couple of our friends live here and love it. It is primarily a residential neighborhood where you will find young professionals and families. The neighborhood has everything from good restaurants, bars, shops, and easy access to the rest of the city, including the beaches. It’s a great place to stay if you want be among the locals.
We went to Alexandria for one reason: The Grounds at Alexandria. This place is totally worth the visit. Alexandria felt very similar to the business parks of Redwood City in California with it’s unimaginative office buildings and warehouses, but it seems to be quickly changing. There are some interesting things happening there such as The Grounds and some other cool shops like Mitchell Road Antiques and Design Center. Alexandria isn’t really a place to stay in, but the public transit is convenient.
A little rough around the edges, compared to the rest of the city. I guess you could compare it to the Mission in San Francisco from a few years ago, but without a-holes and riots. Lots of cool shops, restaurants, and bars with great access to public transit. A good spot to stay if you are into the scene.
Hip neighborhood in the heart of the city. A great neighborhood to stay in or just wander around on a nice day. Nice shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes.
We spent a few days staying in Potts Point. Potts Point is a lovely central neighborhood with everything you could need. It has easy access to the waterfront, all major public transit routes, great restaurants, bars, and cafes. It is within walking distance to many of the major attractions in Sydney. Of course all of this comes at a cost ($$$$$).
For more on the neighborhoods in Sydney check out AirBNB’s neighborhood guide.
More Resources on Sydney
36 Hours in Sydney – I’m not usually a fan of “XX hours in XXXX” because they encourage turbo-touring, but sometimes they have useful information. This is one of those times.
The Thousands – Great local resource for things happening in and around Sydney.