For Easter, James and I were lucky enough to have both Good Friday and Easter Monday off work, giving us a four-day weekend. Four days off might mean a relaxing long-weekend for some, but for us it called for a minibreak to somewhere new! Perhaps a bit excited by the novelty of receiving our first few pay checks (it’s great having a steady income after four months of strict budgeting while we travelled NZ in our campervan!), we booked a last minute trip to Sydney, Australia.
Sydney wasn’t the cheapest option, but it’s somewhere that I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s hugely popular with Kiwis because it’s so close to NZ, as well as with tourists from all over the world. My friends who’ve been there have told me they loved it: so much to see and do, great weather, beautiful beaches and endless food options… This sounded like mine & James’ idea of fun…
Sydney is a huge city, especially in comparison to Wellington where we are currently living. It’s much busier and the buildings are huge (good one, whoever decided to build the capital of NZ on a fault line…) There’s loads going on and heaps of tourists – understandable really, in a city that truly has it all: history, nightlife, shopping, beaches, world food…
I pulled together a very precise itinerary from reading heaps of blogs and trawling through Pinterest and Instagram photos before we went. If you’re visiting for a short time, and particularly if it’s your first time to Sydney, it’s important to know you’re making the most of your time there and cramming in as many of the must-sees and dos as possible. I’ve named this post “48 hours in Sydney” when we were actually there for about 60, but we only spent two full days exploring the city. And I thoroughly recommend staying longer than just two days – perhaps around five as there is just so much to experience! Here’s what we got up to in the short time we were in Sydney.
We flew with Qantas directly to Sydney from Wellington – more info at the end of this post.
By the time we had dropped our bags at the hostel and freshened up, it was already 8pm. We took the train to Newtown, a lively suburb not far from the CBD, and took a stroll down King Street. We chose to eat at Lentil as Anything, a restaurant recommended to us by our flatmate.
Lentil as Anything is a series of pay-as-you-feel, not-for-profit restaurants which are run primarily by volunteers – from the waiting staff to the chefs and the musicians and entertainers! This wonderful idea runs solely on donations and is hugely popular with just about everybody, from the teenagers out for a group meal, to the homeless man who can only afford to leave a few cents for his meal. Anyone and everyone is welcome in this friendly community.
This wonderful place also serves solely vegan food, so everyone has a chance to enjoy it. We had a quick glance at the menu, and already some dishes had been rubbed off the blackboard as they had run out! We each had a cup of chai tea and chose the Sri Lankan curry and the Pumpkin Soup to share, followed by a bowl of orange flavoured crumble. The food came within a few minutes and it was filling, flavoursome and absolutely delicious.
After dinner, still full with the excitement of being in a new country, we took the train to Circular Quay to see Sydney Harbour by night. We wandered around the harbour and enjoyed the beautiful sights of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge lit up, reflections wobbling in the water. There were still a fair few people around, but this was nothing compared to the crowds we would see during the daytime.
Up and dressed by 7am, we caught the train and bus to Bondi. We decided to spend our first day in Sydney by the beach as the weather was forecast to be better on Saturday than Sunday. Bondi is a relaxed suburb on Sydney’s east coast; the beach is iconic, with golden sand and the most beautiful blue sea. It’s a hotspot for locals as well as for city dwellers looking for some weekend downtime.
There’s a huge range of cafés where you can have breakfast in Bondi. We chose Speedo’s café after I became besotted by the company’s Instagram account!
The menu is varied, with heaps of vegetarian and vegan options. I chose the vegan pancakes which are possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life; James chose the sourdough toast with kale, poached eggs and sesame seed fritters (equally as yummy).
We then took a stroll along the beach, pausing to watch the locals walking their dogs, surfing or doing yoga on the sand, before heading to Bondi Icebergs Club, where there is perhaps the most perfectly-located swimming pool on the entire planet.
One of the must-do’s for anyone’s Sydney itinerary, this 6km-long coastal walk is as popular with tourists as it is with locals. It offers stunning views of golden beaches, jagged cliffs, grassy parks and rocky bays. We ambled along, stopping to gasp at the intense blue of the sea, and feeling a tiny bit envious of the locals who were lucky enough to be able to use the route for their morning run.
Also acclaimed to be one of the must-do’s for a visit to Sydney, the ferry ride to Manly Wharf takes around 30 minutes and provides passengers with spectacular views of Sydney Harbour as you depart. It pays to be at the front of the queue for the ferry (yes, there will be a queue, because this is such a popular journey!) – try to be seated outside on deck or at least by a window so you can fully appreciate the views!
For lunch, we were planning on going to Donny’s Bar, which is acclaimed on numerous tourism websites for a visit to Sydney. However, when we arrived in the area we found a cute-looking café and were sold by their smoothies and juices as much as by their veggie food options!
I chose a fruit smoothie and James the apple juice, and we half-and-halved the vegetarian wrap and the veggie stack (stack was better!)
After lunch, we took a stroll through Manly and lingered at the open air market on Market Place, which is open every weekend. There were stalls selling jewellery, artwork, clothes and souvenirs.
Then we wandered along the beachfront, stopping to watch the volleyball tournament taking place on the beach. We grabbed a coffee from the nearby Little Hopper van, where I discovered a new love for Chai Lattes, and sat relaxing in the sun for a while. Before catching the ferry back to the city, we took a look around the souvenir shops and bought a couple of postcards (has to be done!)
After freshening up at the hostel, we walked up Crown Street to look for somewhere to have dinner; we both fancied pizza so opted for Mad Pizza e Bar.
James tried an Australian craft beer called Feral, which was nothing compared to New Zealand’s range; he washed it down with a Peroni after! Perhaps Australia should stick to wine. I chose a vegetarian pizza with pumpkin and mushrooms, and James a Margherita – they were both good, but were just a little too greasy for my liking… I was thankful we had ample serviettes to be honest…
After dinner, we walked from Crown Street to Darling Harbour, which took around half an hour but it gave us a chance to see more of the city by night. On selected Saturday evenings, there is an incredible fireworks display over the water at Darling Harbour, which lasts for around 15 minutes. Darling Harbour is full of bars and restaurants, so you could enjoy the display over a glass of wine or dessert, but we decided to sit by the water on the steps, amongst a crowd of other spectators. Once the fireworks finished, we lingered to watch a few of the street performances, before wandering back to Circular Quay and getting an ice cream from Gelatissimo.
Up bright and early again, we went for our pre-brunch breakfast since we were meeting a friend for brunch in a few hours. Organism is a cute café which serves great food and the balcony is an ideal place to sit and watch the world go by. It’s run by the kindest man who offered us some homemade boysenberry vinegar as an Easter treat – it’s “good for your palette” apparently and has a real kick; it certainly woke us up! James chose toast and me a pain au chocolat, with our standard English Breakfast tea and long black coffee to accompany.
With a few hours to kill, and wanting to escape the drizzling rain, we went to St Paddy’s market in Haymarket. There are heaps of stalls selling anything and everything, from clothes to gifts and jewellery to phone cases. Then we hurried to Central train station to meet my friend Harry, who I met on my year abroad in Pau, France, for brunch.
We chose the Cali Press café because there were some tables free and it was raining. James had avocado toast, and Harry and I ordered the same muesli dish, but I was given a smoothie bowl. Initially I was quite happy about this as smoothie bowls are generally more expensive, but it wasn’t for me; it was too cold with too much smoothie and not enough muesli. Fortunately the company more than made up for the mediocre service; it was great to catch up after three years!
After we bid our goodbyes to Harry, we hopped on the train to Town Hall and went to the Queen Victoria Building, one of the most famous shopping centres in the world. Built in 1893, this huge structure is beautifully intricate and ornate, and you’ll feel like royalty as you walk around it.
Next, we stumbled upon the Strand, another charming shopping centre just around the corner. Then went to Angel Place, to view the birdcages that hang seemingly in midair from the sky.
We then walked towards the harbour and chose to continue walking all the way across the Harbour Bridge. You can ascend to the Pylon Lookout for a better view of the skyline, but we thought the views from the bridge itself were decent enough!
Next we explored The Rocks, a charming suburb on the waterfront which is full of cobbled courtyards and feels surprisingly European – but then it is the historic site of the first European settlement in 1788. The area is artsy; it’s home to the Museum of Contemporary Art and heaps of artisan craft shops and boutiques. There are plenty of historic buildings, quaint cafés and bars, as well as Sydney’s oldest pub (The Fortune of War). We mooched around The Rocks Markets, which take over the main streets every weekend.
Then we walked up to the Observatory Hill lookout, which offers stunning views of the Harbour Bridge, and we were able to spy on THREE wedding photoshoots.
Then we walked back to our hostel to freshen up before dinner, via the Botanic Gardens.
On our final evening in Sydney we decided to revisit Newtown for dinner; it’s such a fun, relaxed and down-to-earth area. This time we chose to eat at Thai Riffic, which looks very swanky from the outside but is actually surprisingly affordable! There’s a huge choice of starters and mains, as well as platters and build-your-own options. We left feeling very sufficiently fed.
We lingered over dinner because it was delicious and a lovely environment. We walked back towards the train station and stopped to get an Easter treat from Doughnut Time; James chose a chocolate-filled Oreo doughnut and me a ring with a chocolate Teaser bunny on top! We had planned to go for a few drinks, but to be honest we were completely exhausted after a weekend of very early starts and lots of walking – James fell asleep on the train back to the hostel! We were gutted our long-weekend had come to an end; we flew back to Wellington on Monday morning.
Sydney’s main city centre is easily walkable and the suburbs are only a short bus or train journey away. We found the public transport clean, punctual, frequent, and it runs until late. We were bemused to discover that the seats on the trains move, so you are able to change which way they face – fantastic!
If you’re going to be in Sydney for a day or more, I think it’s really worth getting an Opal card. The card itself is free to purchase, and you’ll just need to top it up in order to use it. It can be used across Sydney’s network of buses, trains and ferries, meaning you never have to worry about your transport options; you can just tap on and off as long as you have enough funds. Do you get a standard discount. You’ll never pay more in one day than the daily cap (which is just $2.50 on Sundays) and, after eight paid journeys in a week, all further journeys are free! For an idea on costs, the journey from the International Airport terminal to Museum (closest to our accommodation) cost just over $16AUD per person one way. An average journey cost around $3 but ferries were more. In total, we spent around $55AUD each on our Opal cards, including all our train, bus and ferry journeys, plus the airport commutes.
Sydney Kingford Smith airport is an international port, seeing in arrivals from all over the world. It’s a 3 – 4 hour flight from Wellington International.
We flew with Qantas, a new airline for both of us, and paid £277.49 each for return flights (booked 17 days before departure) that I found through Skyscanner. We can only recommend Qantas; at the time of booking, I hadn’t realised a meal was included so I hadn’t requested food. Being vegetarian, I didn’t think anything would be available to us when I advised the flight attendant of this when we were in the air. They provided us with one vegetarian meal and one vegetarian soup, and both were pretty good surprisingly!
Where to stay
Sydney is huge and accordingly there are heaps of options when it comes to accommodation. Since we were on a budget, James and I looked at hostels and AirBnb (you can get a discount off your first stay by registering here). There are also plenty of motels as well as higher end hotels – one day…
When I book somewhere to stay, I use websites such as hostelworld.com, booking.com, and tripadvisor.com to compare the prices, locations, and customers’ reviews of our options. Because we only decided to go to Sydney three weeks before we travelled, there wasn’t much choice when it came to finding somewhere.
We settled on The Strand Hotel, 99 William Street, Darlinghurst, and oh my gosh how I wish we hadn’t. It’s cheap and in a good location, but that’s about as good as it gets. James and I aren’t fussy people; we don’t want luxury – but this place was so, so bad. Plaster was falling away from the walls, the surfaces were thick with dust and the sheets and mattress were stained with blood. The wifi didn’t work and the pots on the kitchen windowsill were growing mould in them. I wish we had spent more and stayed somewhere habitable – but it did mean we spent as little time as possible in the hostel.
Travel Insurance: We didn’t need to take out additional travel insurance for this trip because we are already covered on our existing policies with World Nomads. I 100% recommend them as they offer cover on gadgets such as my phone, camera and iPad, plus you can take out and renew your policy while you’re overseas.
Mobile Data: Spark (my mobile phone network provider in NZ) offer a $19NZD roaming pack with 250MB data, 50 outgoing mins, 50 incoming mins and 50 texts, which is valid for 7 days – it was expensive but useful for us, particularly since the wifi at the hostel didn’t work, and we were able to call the airline to request meals for our flight home.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Note: all of the photos used in this post are my own. This post contains affiliate links that help to run this site.