48 Hours in Sydney: The Ideal Itinerary

48 hours in Sydney

I see a lot of requests from people about what to do in Sydney when they visit for 2 or 3 days.  Additionally, people are also aware that Sydney is an expensive city (especially hotel prices), so they want to do it without spending too much money. Luckily Sydney has many beautiful sights to see without spending much money at all, and 48 hours is just perfect to get an impression of this city. So here’s the ideal itinerary for 48 hours in Sydney…

Staying longer in Sydney? Check out this Sydney itinerary for 4 days

Day 1, Morning: A Harbour Walk

The perfect way to start 2 days in Sydney is to catch a train north over the Harbour Bridge to Milsons Point station.  Alight from the train and then walk back over the Harbour Bridge. Take in the views of the beautiful harbour and the city skyline, all completely for free.  The full walk across the bridge is nearly 2km.  If the weather is inclement, instead head to the city end of the bridge and visit the Pylon Lookout. Adult entry is $15. When completed in the 1930s, this was the highest point in Sydney. It still offers a beautiful view of the harbour and the bridge, including bridge climbers down below.

48 hours in Sydney: Don't miss the Harbour Bridge

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Pylon Lookout

Head down the stairs to The Rocks district and continue to make your way downhill to the edge of the harbour, at Circular Quay.  Continue to walk along the waterfront, past the ferry wharves and buskers, to the Opera House out on the point.  It’s surprising how you only notice the Opera House is far from white up close.  If you have time, it might be nice to take an Opera House tour.  Tours cost $37 for adults and take about an hour; book in advance online up to the day before.

2 days in Sydney: Visit the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House

Continue along the edge of the harbour to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  The oldest botanic gardens in Australia, they were established in 1816, next to the present day business district.  Perhaps head to the café for some coffee and ice creams.  The next point is known after Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, after the wife of Governor Macquarie who liked to visit the point two hundred years ago. It offers great views back towards the Opera House and Bridge.

26 hours in Sydney: Stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

Don’t miss out on walking through the Royal Botanic Gardens on Sydney’s harbour foreshore

After visiting the point, walk up the roadway to near the Art Gallery, then take the stairs down to your left to Woolloomooloo Wharf.  Since the 1930s the famous pie shop Harrys Cafe De Wheels has been serving up pies here.  Try the house special of Harry’s Tiger, served with mash, mushy peas and gravy, for under $10.

Harry's Cafe De Wheels

Eating pies at Harry’s Cafe De Wheels

Day 1, Afternoon: A Touch of Art and History

For the afternoon of your first day in Sydney, it’s a choice between art and history.  Head back up the stairs to the Art Gallery of NSW, where you can take in the Australian art exhibits for free.  Choose between 19th and 20th century Australian art on the main floor, or head down to the bottom level for the Aboriginal Art collection.  Modern art, Asian art and temporary exhibits (some with an entrance fee) are also on display.  The gallery also has a great café to have a tea or coffee with vistas of the harbour and naval ships, along with regular visits from native parrots.

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

An afternoon of art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Alternatively, or after you visit the Art Gallery for a quick visit, head along the Art Gallery Road to Hyde Park, and turn right to Hyde Park Barracks at the start of Macquarie Street.  Opened in 1819, Hyde Park Barracks was originally built to house convicts, before turning into an orphanage asylum, female immigration depot, then asylum for aged and destitute women.  Today the barracks tell the story of convict Sydney and the building, including archaeological displays. Adult entry costs $15.

Day 1, Evening: Dinner in China Town

For dinner on your first night in Sydney, head to China Town, in the southern half of the city between Town Hall and Central Station. Not just China Town, there are many options for Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian – anything Asian! Asian food is particularly popular in Australia, and thanks to the large migrant populations, as good as you’ll find in Asia.

Some of the popular, value-for-money dining choices in China Town (allow about $20 per person, not including drinks) include:

After dinner, grab a gelato from N2 Extreme Gelato (43/1 Dixon St), which is constantly inventing new, over-the-top concoctions (between $6 and $8 each).

In need of a drink before heading back to your hotel?  It’s a toss up between heading for one of the city’s many small bars (such as Grandma’s, Basement of 275 Clarence St), down to the waterfront bars at Cockle Bay Wharf (two good options are Cafe Del Mar and Helm Bar), or heading for Surry Hills and its watering holes (perhaps the award-winning Dove and Olive?)

Day 2, Morning: Bound for Bondi Beach

After spending much of the first day exploring the edge of the harbour in Sydney, it’s time for Sydney’s beautiful beaches. Catch a bus to Coogee Beach, then head to the northern end of the beach to start the Coogee to Bondi Beach Walk. Meandering for 6km along Sydney’s coastline, it’s possible to jog it in under an hour, or take the whole day, stopping to swim at the beaches along the way and for bites at all of the cafes.  If you don’t start too late or stop along the way, you should arrive in Bondi late morning, time to relax on the beach and have a swim at the world-famous stretch of sand, before it’s time for a late lunch.

Bondi Beach, Sydney

Waves breaking on Bondi Beach

Day 2, Afternoon: Lunch at Bondi or Watsons Bay

For lunch, you could stay in Bondi, perhaps to eat at The Bucket List right on the beach, best known for its seafood. Alternatively, dry off and catch the 380 bus at Campbell Parade for 20 minutes north to Watson Bay.  At the edge of the far east of the harbour is the magnificent Watsons Bay Hotel.  Find a seat under the beach umbrellas, grab a cocktail carafe for $29 or a beer, then order lunch.  My favourite picks are the traditional fish and chips or the burger, both for just over $20. If you want something more casual, buy some fish and chips at the ferry wharf and enjoy them in the sprawling park or along the edge of the water.

Then spend a lazy afternoon relaxing in the sunshine. If you’re feeling active, walk over to Camp Cove for another swim in the calm waters. Or head over to the cliffs at the Gap, on the oceanside, for the vistas from the high cliffs.

Day 2, Evening: Sunset over the Harbour

From the wharf at Watsons Bay, catch the ferry back to the city at Circular Quay.  Continue your relaxation by the water by heading down to the always popular Opera Bar, just underneath the Opera House.  Watch the sun set over the harbour, whilst enjoying a drink and having a bite at either the Opera Bar (the pizza is a good option) or Opera Kitchen (next to Opera Bar).  Every night at Opera Bar there is free live music; check the website for what time and further details.  The perfect way to end your 48 hours in Sydney!

Panorama of Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Opera Bar

Taking in the panorama of Sydney Harbour, including the Harbour Bridge and Opera House

Spending longer than 48 hours in Sydney and want more affordable ideas of what to do? Check out my list of free things to do in Sydney

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