Two days in Sydney might not sound like enough time to see the best the city has to offer but you’ll be surprised just how much you can see in 48 hours. This 2-day itinerary mixes city sights with world-famous beaches.
Sydney takes a good few weeks to explore fully but in reality, most people won’t have that time. If you are taking a trip to Australia as part of your annual leave you may have only a few days in the city. So is it possible to see the best of Sydney in just 48 hours? Yes! If you plan carefully and have your walking shoes on, you can experience the mix of city and beach living that Sydney is known for.
Two days in Sydney
Day 1 – Explore the city
If you only have a couple of days in Sydney it’s best to stay somewhere central so all the sights are within easy reach. With that in mind, I’m starting our tour in Circular Quay home to Sydney’s most iconic landmarks.
Say G’day to two Aussie Icons in Circular Quay
Circular Quay is at the edge of the central business district (CBD) and is one of the cities main transport hubs with ferries, buses and trains leaving from here. So it is very easy to reach and walkable from most of central Sydney.
Here you’ll get your first glimpse at those Aussie icons – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
Tip: It can get pretty crowded here, particularly around rush hour or if a cruise ship has docked. You’ll know when they are in – they are huge! So starting here gives you an opportunity to explore and take in the views before the crowds arrive.
While you are in Circular Quay, it’s worth popping into the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (open 10am-5pm). The museum celebrates living artists making their work accessible to all through exhibitions and collections.
Step back in time in The Rocks
If you can take your eyes off the spectacular views around the harbour, then wander over to The Rocks.
This is the historic part of Sydney, the traditional home of the Gadigal and the place of the first European settlement in Australia. Wander around the cobbled lanes, visit a gallery, brunch in a cafe or take a walking tour to discover hidden alleyways and courtyards. Drop into The Rocks Discovery Museum to find out more about this area’s colourful past.
If it’s the weekend, make sure you take a look around The Rocks Market (10 am – 5 pm) where you will find stall upon stall of locally designed homeware, art, jewellery, fashion. One of my favourite markets in Sydney, you’ll be able to pick up a unique gift to take home to remind you of your time here.
Get up close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge
One of the most recognisable bridges in the world. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, nicknamed The Coathanger, carries traffic (vehicles, trains and pedestrian) between the CBD and the North Shore. It is also the focal point for the world’s first major New Year’s Eve celebrations each year.
You have a couple of options here. So depending on your time and budget, you can…
Climb the Bridge
I’ve seen a lot of debate about whether it is worth the money to do the bridge climb and having done it three times now I think it is. For many, a visit to Australia is a trip of a lifetime so what’s the point of going and then not doing anything memorable when you are there? So if you have the budget I’d go for it. After all, it’s not something you’ll do every day.
- Full Climb – Stand on top of one of the most famous Australian landmarks. The full bridge climb takes around 3 1/2 hours and includes a safety briefing, an attractive grey outfit to wear, a climb up the arch of the bridge, a stop at the top and back down again. There are plenty of photo stops too. Note, photos are taken by the guides as you can’t take your own camera/phone onto the bridge.
- Bridge Climb Sampler– If your budget or time doesn’t stretch to the full climb there is a taster climb which takes half the time (1 1/2 hours) as you ascend the inner arch of the bridge to a vantage point halfway to the top. It’s a great option if you can’t do the full climb or are a bit nervous about heights and going to the top of the bridge.
- Bridge Climb Express – If you want to go to the top but are in a rush this is the climb for you. Taking around 2 1/4 hours this climb has a faster pace than the full climb with fewer stops.
The two climbs to the top include a group photo, a certificate to prove you’ve climbed the bridge, a bridge climb cap and a free voucher for the Pylon Lookout. The sampler climb includes a group photo and a cap.
With all that said, if you are not keen on the climb or wish to spend your budget elsewhere there are many other ways to explore the bridge.
If climbing isn’t your thing but you want to see what the views from the top are like then the Pylon Lookout is the next best thing.
For $15 (AUD) you can climb the 200 steps to the top of the Pylon and enjoy panoramic views over the city. There is also an exhibition spread over three levels where you can learn about how the bridge was built.
If you do one of the full bridge climbs you will receive a voucher that lets you visit the Pylon.
Visit the Pylon Lookout for more information.
Hickson Road Reserve and Dawes Point
At the edge of The Rocks (next to the Park Hyatt hotel), the Hickson Road Reserve is the perfect spot for a photo with views of the bridge and opera house.
Head under the bridge and over to Dawes Point for a view of the other side of the bridge.
Take a ferry or sightseeing cruise
To see the bridge from the water then take a local ferry. If you take a ferry from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour you will sail underneath the bridge for a unique viewpoint. Jump off at Milsons point (one stop from Circular Quay) and you can walk over the bridge back into the city
Alternatively, you can hop on one of the many harbour sightseeing cruises.
Walk over the Bridge (for free!)
Although the bridge is one of the main routes in and out of the CBD for traffic and trains, there is also a pedestrian walkway. On the eastern side of the bridge, it offers some great views of the harbour. And for free!
Starting from the south side of the bridge you’ll find steps up to the walkway via Cumberland Street. If you want to walk from the north side (you’ll get better views walking towards the city rather than away) then head to Milsons point on the ferry and walk up to the bridge from the jetty.
The bridge takes around 15-20 minutes to walk over though you’ll want to build in some time to stop and enjoy the view. For safety, a wire mesh covers the side of the walkway, however, there is a slight gap so you can still take photos of the view.
Forget you are in a city by strolling around the Royal Botanic Gardens
Once you have finished at the bridge, wander back through the Rocks and Circular Quay until you reach the Royal Botanic Gardens. An oasis in the city, the gardens are home to thousands of plants. You could easily spend most of the day wandering around enjoying the landscaped gardens. This is also a great spot for a late picnic lunch or snack.
If you want to give your feet a rest you can take a hop on hop off train around the gardens. Guides will share facts about the history of the gardens and highlight landmarks or points of interest. Alternatively, you can download the ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’ App for self-guided walking tours and information.
The gardens open daily at 7 am. Find out more about The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.
Take a photo with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge
Whichever way you chose to explore the Royal Botanic Gardens, make sure you head to Mrs Macquaries Point. This is where you’ll get the money shot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House in the same photo. Look out for Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, a sandstone rock in the shape of a chair said to commemorate Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of the Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales between 1810-21.
While you are wandering around the gardens it is worth popping the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Here you will find modern and contemporary works on display. They also have some great temporary exhibitions – check with the Gallery to see what is on during your visit. Admission is free.
Relax over a drink at the Sydney Harbour Opera House
You might be wondering why I’ve left the most distinctive Australian landmark until the end of the day but there is a good reason for this.
To end your day of sightseeing in Sydney why not kick back and relax with a drink (alcohol optional) at the world’s best beer garden. Of course, a drink at the Opera House is good at any time of the day but nothing beats spending a warm evening reflecting on the day taking in the panoramic views across the harbour. There is also live music each night.
It can get crowded here but there are plenty of tables and places to sit so if you time it right (and move fast when a seat becomes free) you should be ok.
While you are there why not check out a show or take a tour of the building? Find out more about what you can do on your first visit (or second or third) to the Opera House.
Day 2 – Explore Sydney’s Beaches
Sydney is a heady mix of city and beachside living. So you can’t visit Sydney and not go to the beach. After a full day exploring the city centre take day two a little easier and head to the beach.
My recommendation would be to head to Coogee, just 8k out of the CBD and very easy to get to. Just jump on a bus from Circular Quay. Coogee is family friendly and has plenty of beach space and parkland (for those that don’t want to get sand everywhere).
After a morning relaxing on the beach, have a quick lunch at one of the fish and chip shops along the promenade before stretching your legs by strolling along the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk- but in reverse.
Discover some of Sydney’s bays and beaches
This coastal walk is always one of the first things I recommend to people to do in Sydney. The walk provides stunning coastal views and the chance to discover some of Sydney’s bays and beaches. It’s usually advertised as the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk but it doesn’t really matter which way you do it. I usually start at Coogee just because it’s a nicer beach and I’d rather spend some time there first.
The full walk is 6k long and takes around three hours. That said you’ll want to build in some time to enjoy the beaches or maybe have a pit stop for a drink or ice cream so I’d leave half a day for it.
View my post on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk to see some of the highlights of the walk.
Surf’s up at Bondi Beach!
Arriving in Bondi mid/late afternoon gives you a bit of time to hang out on the world famous surf beach or have a drink at the Bondi Icebergs club. There are many cafes overlooking the beach if you want to stop for a coffee or you can walk between the headlands taking in the views.
Head back to the city centre by getting the bus back to Bondi Junction (at the end of the afternoon you’ll see the crowds queuing for the bus) and then jumping on a train to the city centre (T4 line – Martin Place, Town Hall, Central). There is a Westfield at Bondi Junction if you fancy a little shop before heading home.
For the evening, head to Darling Harbour where you have a huge choice of restaurants and bars. It’s a little touristy but when you are on limited time it’s fine for a night and there are some great restaurants there.
To end the night why not jump on a ferry and head back to Circular Quay. This way you’ll see the Harbour Bridge and Opera House lit up for the night.
While there are many more things to see in Sydney this two-day itinerary covers many of the highlights of the city, particularly for first-timers. However, don’t be surprised if you start to plan a return trip, two days in Sydney is never enough!
Have you been to Sydney before? Would you add or remove anything from this itinerary? I’d love to hear your suggestions for seeing the best of Sydney on limited time. Let me know in the comments below.