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How to Spend One Day in Sydney: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

How to Spend One Day in Sydney: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

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Sydney is an amazing city and to be honest, one day there is not enough! But with that said, you can still fit a ton of amazing activities into a single day in Australia’s largest city.

If you only have a day to explore Sydney, naturally, you’re going to want to make sure that you tick off its most famous highlights, like the Opera House, the Harbour, Circular Quay, and the Sydney Tower Eye. And the good news is that this is totally possible as long as you know how.

We’ve spent a lot of time in Sydney, and Bailey has even lived here, so we know it well. That’s why we’ve crafted this 1-day Sydney itinerary to help you make the most of your time in this fantastic city. So keep on reading and get ready for an amazing day in one of the world’s most incredible cities! 

Don’t have time to read the full article? If you only have one day in Sydney, you’ll need to maximize your time! After a hearty brunch in Newtown, walk around the Botanical Gardens and tour the Sydney Opera House. Grab lunch on the Journey Beyond Cruise in Sydney Harbour and enjoy a Skyfeast dinner at the top of the Sydney Tower Eye.

1 Day in Sydney

Morning – Go for brunch

Meal at Rolling Penny Newtown Cafe in Sydney
Meal at Rolling Penny Newtown in Sydney
Two coffee at Rolling Penny Newtown in Sydney
Mmm coffee!

There’s only one right way to kick off the morning in Sydney – with brunch! 

We personally love heading to Newtown for brunch, and you can easily catch the train there. It’s a 16-minute ride from Circular Quay to Newtown Station, or 13 minutes from Wynyard Station in the CBD, so you can be there in no time. 

Once you get to Newtown, you’ll be greeted by one of Sydney’s trendiest neighborhoods. This area is popular with students, hippies, and artists, so it’s got a really cool vibe. There are tons of independent shops around and some amazing vintage boutiques, so we also recommend taking a stroll through the area before or after you eat. 

And speaking of eating, there are so many choices in Newtown. Rolling Penny Newtown is our favorite, though, because it’s got such an amazing menu. Some of our favorites include smoked duck breast and poached eggs on focaccia toast and halloumi and egg ciabatta. They’re open daily from 7:30 am – 3 pm and located right on King St.

Flour Drum is also a popular choice, and if their breakfast dishes don’t tempt you, their amazing cakes certainly will! They’re also located on King St. and are open for breakfast and brunch every day but Wednesday.

If you don’t feel like catching the train to Newtown, you can also stay more central and head to Two Good Eggs Cafe. They’re open for brunch every day and located near Hyde Park, which is close to where you’ll be heading afterward on this itinerary. This cafe has amazing pancakes and super-friendly service, and the portions here are generous, so they’ll set you up nicely for the day. 

Edes near Circular Quay is another great spot. It’s a light, airy cafe that serves breakfast till 11 am, as well as delicious Italian fare later on in the day. It’s simple and unpretentious, and the food is always a hit! 

Late morning – Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Bailey enjoys the view from Mrs Macquarie's Chair in Sydney of the opera house and harbour bridge
Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney Australia
Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney Australia

Once your stomach is full, it’s time to head to Sydney’s most famous viewpoint: Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

You can get there by strolling through the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are free to enter and definitely worth seeing. This is the oldest botanical garden in Australia and we always enjoy strolling through on a sunny day. 

Then, before long, you’ll reach Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. This is an iconic viewpoint with amazing views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and it’s totally free to visit. The chair itself was carved out by convicts for Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the Governor of New South Wales, who used to love coming to this beautiful vantage point. When you see the views from here, you’ll understand why she was so enamored with it!

After admiring the Opera House from afar, it’s time to stroll down towards it, which should take you about 20 minutes.

Midday – Tour the Sydney Opera House

Bailey on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
Bailey on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
Daniel and Bailey take a selfie inside the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House on a tour
Inside the Opera House!

Now, it’s time to explore Sydney’s crown jewel: the Opera House! Visiting the Opera House is a must in Sydney, and you can actually explore inside it by taking a tour.

Our absolute top choice for a 1-day itinerary is this guided tour. This tour is a must-do because it’s so interesting, and we loved getting to explore behind the scenes.

On the tour, you get to check out areas that are usually closed off to the public and, better yet, hear some very juicy behind-the-scenes stories! Our guide also told us about the current shows at the Opera House and the lengths that the staff have to go to to make these performances happen. Pretty much everyone on Earth recognizes the iconic Opera House building, but relatively few get to learn what really goes on inside!

We had a blast on this tour, and at $43 AUD per person, we thought it was good value for money, too. This price is for the tour-only option, which has several start times throughout the day. It only lasts for an hour, so it’s easy to fit in, even when you only have one day in Sydney. 

You seriously can’t miss the Opera House in Sydney! And if you only have one day, you’ll want to secure your time slot in advance.

Lunch

Bailey enjoys a drink at the Canteen of the Sydney Opera House with views of the Opera House
Cheers!
A meal and drink from the House Canteen at the Sydney Opera House
A meal and drink from the House Canteen at the Sydney Opera House

When you’re short on time in Sydney, then lunch with a view is a must! Fortunately, there are plenty of places to do just that in Circular Quay, which is the area between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. 

If you’re in the mood for something fancy, then Q Dining is one of our favorite places to go. It’s a chic, airy restaurant that serves gourmet contemporary Australian cuisine. The beautifully plated food is second only to the amazing views that you get through the restaurant’s giant glass wall! It really is an amazing place to treat yourself to a nice lunch, which is served Wednesday to Sunday from 12 pm – 3 pm. 

Alternatively, you could even have lunch in the Sydney Opera House itself. In fact, when you book the Opera House tour, you can upgrade to include lunch and a drink. This costs $80 AUD, and you can choose to eat at either the House Canteen or the Opera Bar. 

The House Canteen serves Asian fusion cuisine, but the real draw here is the epic view of the Sydney Harbour. Meanwhile, the Opera Bar serves light bites and refreshing spritz cocktails. Here, you can sit right on the water’s edge as you admire the famous Harbour Bridge.

Related Read: To see the city while also getting exercise, try one of these Sydney walking tours!

Early afternoon – Go on a scenic cruise

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo on the Journey Beyond the Cruise Sydney lunch cruise
Lunch was good, but dinner was better!
Our Sydney Harbour cruise sails towards the Sydney Opera House
Oh Sydney, you are beautiful!

A scenic cruise is one of the best things to do in Sydney, and we never get tired of them! It’s a great way to sightsee, but you get to chill out at the same time, so it’s perfect when you’re trying to pack a lot into a single day. 

One of the best things about scenic cruises on Sydney Harbour is that they’re very affordable. You also get to see a lot in a short space of time. We particularly like this harbor cruise because it’s the only one that still includes onboard commentary. You learn a lot about Sydney as you sail past city highlights like the Harbour Bridge, Luna Park, and Fort Denison. 

The commentary is available through a smartphone app, so you get to choose whether you want to listen or not. Plus, you don’t get that poor sound quality that often plagues onboard PA systems.

The cruise is available Wednesdays through Sundays. It departs from the wharf at 2 pm and lasts for 1.5 hours. It costs $45 AUD per person, or $65 AUD if you want to upgrade to include a cheese board and a complimentary welcome drink. That’s probably not necessary straight after lunch, though! 

However, with only one day in Sydney, you won’t want to wait till the last minute. Choose your cruise option and reserve your date ahead of time.

Views of the Sydney harbour Bridge from a Sydney harbour cruise in Sydney, Australia
You get plenty of amazing views!

We also love the Journey Beyond Cruise in Sydney. This tour is longer at 2.5 hours, and it’s a lunch cruise, so you get a gourmet plated meal included, as well as complimentary beer and wine. It’s a really nice way to enjoy lunch in Sydney.

Of course, if you want to do this cruise, then skip the lunch section above because you’ll be eating on the boat! Trust me, you’ll want to save your appetite. From our experience of the Journey Beyond Cruise, they serve everything from steak to fresh seafood and have fantastic wine options.

The Journey Beyond the Cruise lunch tour costs $152 AUD per person, so it’s pricier than the first cruise that we mentioned, but you do get lunch and lots of drinks, as well as extra time on the boat. It’s really up to you which way you want to do it – either way, you’ll get lunch with a view and a fantastic sightseeing cruise! 

Tours are offered every day but Monday and depart from the King Street Wharf at 11:55 am. If you’re seeing the Opera House beforehand, make sure to schedule enough time to get here. And again, you’ll want to reserve your Journey Beyond the Cruise in advance.

Afternoon – Walk Darling Harbour

Bailey poses for a photo while on a walking tour through Darling Harbour, Sydney
Darling Harbour!
Walkway in Darling Harbour Sydney, Australia
Walkway in Darling Harbour Sydney, Australia

Darling Harbour is one big waterfront playground! Sydney locals and tourists alike love it because there are so many attractions here, from amazing bars and restaurants to Madame Tussauds and a wildlife park!

When I lived in Sydney, I spent a lot of time in Darling Harbour and I always come here for a stroll whenever I return to the city. It’s a great free activity in Sydney that helps balance out other expenses. Plus, the views are so beautiful along the waterfront, and it’s really calming to watch the boats go in and out. 

Also, there are tons of great activities here for tourists! Darling Harbour is a very family-friendly area, too, so there’s a lot to do here that kids will love.

For example, it may be cheesy, but I think that a visit to Madame Tussauds is always fun. You can snap selfies with waxwork versions of Aussie celebrities like Chris Hemsworth and Nicole Kidman and even recreate scenes from famous films. Tickets typically cost $48 AUD for adults and $36 AUD for kids, and you’ll need about 1.5 – 2 hours here. You can purchase an afternoon ticket online, which allows you to explore anytime between 1 pm – 5 pm.

Alternatively, the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is always a lot of fun. Here, you can see king and gentoo penguins, dugongs, jellyfish, sharks, and an amazing array of tropical fish. There are also daily feedings and interesting keeper talks where you can learn more about some of the fascinating creatures housed here.

Tickets cost $41-$51 AUD, and kids cost between $30-$38 AUD. You can buy afternoon tickets in advance and visit from 1 pm – 5 pm.

Meanwhile, if you’re keen to see native Australian wildlife, head to Wild Life Sydney to say hello to kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles, and more! I especially love the butterfly exhibit here, and you can also visit the Dreamtime Cave to listen to talks on indigenous Australian culture. I learned so much about the relationship between the Aboriginal people and the country’s native wildlife.

Tickets cost $39-$48 AUD for adults and $29-$36 AUD for kids. Just like the other activities we mentioned, buying afternoon tickets for Wild Life Sydney allows you entry between 1 pm and 5 pm.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

Sunset/dinner – Head up the Sydney Tower Eye

Sydney CBD as seen from the Sydney Tower Eye, Sydney, Australia
Sydney CBD!

Visiting the Sydney Tower Eye is the perfect way to end your day in Sydney. Not only can you enjoy amazing views of the city from the observation deck, but you can also enjoy a fantastic dining experience with a serious view up here! 

So first things first: The Sydney Tower Eye is an indoor observation deck that offers visitors 360-degree views of Sydney. The first time that we went, we were a bit disappointed to discover that you can’t actually see the Opera House, but you still get great views of the Harbour Bridge. Plus, on a clear day, you can even see as far as the Blue Mountains, which are an hour’s drive away. 

We strongly recommend that you book your tickets for the Sydney Tower Eye in advance. We did this, and we were able to breeze past the queues. And when you’ve only got one day in Sydney, time is of the essence! 

Tickets cost $27-$38 AUD, and you can choose between the morning or afternoon option. However, you’ll want to come later in the day if you want to enjoy dinner in the sky!

After you’ve soaked in the beautiful views of Sydney from the observation deck, you can head to the Skyfeast on level 2 of the Tower Eye. Here, you get to enjoy a meal in a rotating restaurant high above the city, so you’ll enjoy panoramic views without having to move a muscle! 

Skyfeast is a gourmet buffet experience that lasts for about 1.5 hours. The restaurant has huge windows, and the food options include freshly shucked oysters, antipasto, a variety of local dishes, a meat carvery, and tons of cheeses and desserts. Dinner here is an amazing way to round off an epic day in Sydney.

The buffet is available for 1.5 hours, and you can choose from multiple start times. It costs $105 – $120 AUD, depending on the day of the week that you go.

Also, we just want to make it clear that your Skyfeast ticket does not include admission to the Sydney Tower Eye. You’ll need to purchase tickets for both experiences separately – but it’s definitely worth it! 

Related Read: Have more time? Check out our perfect weekend in Sydney blog for a breakdown of more of the best spots to visit!

One Day in Sydney Sightseeing Tours

Bailey walks the Rocks in Sydney, Australia
Cute streets in The Rocks!
Bailey poses for a photo with the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

If you want to see many attractions without worrying about logistics, we recommend taking a sightseeing tour of Sydney! There are several to choose from, and we’ve highlighted our top choices below:

The Story of Sydney Tour

The Story of Sydney tour is our favorite group sightseeing tour because you get to visit the most significant landmarks in just 4 hours. Driven around in a Mercedes van, your group will see the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and enjoy a coastal stroll along Watson’s Bay. All the while, your guides will be sharing Sydney’s history with fascinating stories and eccentric characters that really bring this city to life.

You can book this tour online for $160 AUD, including roundtrip transportation from central hotels. It leaves at around 8:30 am, so you can spend your morning getting your bearings in Sydney, and then you’ve got the afternoon to explore at your leisure.

Morning or Afternoon Highlights Tour in Sydney with a Local Guide

This Sydney highlights tour has a max of 10 people, so it’s ideal if you want a more personal experience on a smaller budget. As the name suggests, you’ll hit up all of Sydney’s famous landmarks along with some hidden gems. Places include Observatory Hill, the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and Kings Cross. We also love the fact that you get to enjoy a short guided walk from Rose Bay to Watsons Bay and visit a replica of the Macquarie Lighthouse.

The tour costs $147 AUD and includes roundtrip transport from centrally located hotels. Tours last 4 hours, and you can choose from an 8 am or 1:30 pm departure. However, this tour is very popular and likely to sell out, so make sure you book your spot in advance here.

Private Sydney Full-day Tour Including Sydney Opera House, Bondi, and Manly

This 8-hour private day tour is the most comprehensive of the bunch, as it’s a full-day tour, so you get to see even more of Sydney! It’s a private tour which means you can tailor the itinerary to your interests. You can visit viewpoints like Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Gap and then ask your guide to take you around our favorite beach area, Manly!

While guides are happy to give suggestions, this really is a choose-your-own-adventure that includes roundtrip transport. The price per person varies according to the size of your group, so if you’ve got 6 people, you’re looking at $200 AUD per person – not bad for a full-day private tour! This is truly the best way to make the most of Sydney in a single day. You can book this private tour online here.

Related Read:  If you’re also heading to Perth, check out our top choices for tours in Perth. Daniel is actually from here, so you know you can trust our recommendations!

Other Things to do While You’re in Sydney

Sydney Harbour as seen from a helicopter tour
All the highlights from a helicopter!
Scenic Skyway in Blue Mountain National Park, Australia
Scenic Skyway in Blue Mountain National Park, Australia

When creating your Australia itinerary, you have to spend a least one or two days in Sydney – ideally more. There are truly so many fun things to do in Sydney! And if you’re looking for more activities, we’re here to help. Check out our favorite options below.

  • Helicopter Ride – Sydney is a beautiful city; there is just no doubt about it! And one way to take in all the sights is on a helicopter tour! We did this helicopter ride the last time we were in the city, and it was incredible! We got the most amazing views of the bridge and Opera House, not to mention the beautiful coastline. And to top it off, we even saw whales!
  • Day Trip to the Blue Mountains – The Blue Mountains is a beautiful wilderness area where you can enjoy hiking, waterfalls, mountain views, and charming towns. It’s about an hour’s drive and makes for a great day trip from Sydney or even a weekend getaway. This Blue Mountains full-day tour is our top choice as it includes a gourmet lunch, Scenic World, the wildlife park, as well as a cruise! Plus, the 3,400 5-star reviews are pretty reassuring that it’s an excellent tour!
  • Go on a historic pub crawl – Sydney is home to plenty of historic pubs and taverns that date back to European settlement times. Some include the Fortune of War, Harts Pub, and the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, all of which can be found in The Rocks neighborhood. Explore on your own or join a pub tour to meet fellow travelers and hear interesting historical facts and stories from your guide. 
  • Enjoy the Art Gallery of NSW – The Art Gallery of NSW is one of the best art galleries in the city and also one of the best free things you can do in Sydney! It’s located a 15-minute walk from the CBD and houses a huge collection of international artwork along with Australian art, including one of the biggest collections of Aboriginal art in the country.
  • Go skydiving – Tandem skydiving is available for both first-time jumpers and experienced skydivers, and you’ll get amazing views of the city alongside a huge adrenaline rush. We recommend this skydiving experience over Wollongong beach which gives you about 60 seconds of freefall before your parachute is deployed. What a way to see the city!

Related Read: After you’re done in Sydney, head south and visit Melbourne! We have crafted the perfect 1-day Melbourne itinerary, so you can enjoy both cities on a short timeline.

Where to Stay in Sydney

Get the best views of Sydney at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, Australia
Photo credit: Four Seasons Hotel Sydney

If you’re planning a trip to Sydney, you’re going to need a place to stay. Luckily, Sydney has a huge variety of accommodations to fit every budget. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, check out our top picks for places to stay, from luxury rooms to budget-friendly hostels. We’ve got you covered!

Four Seasons Hotel Sydney – $$$

For stunning views of Sydney Harbour and the iconic Opera House, book a room at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. You’ll have unobstructed views of the city from the comfort of your room. The hotel is located in the city center within the historic Rocks neighborhood – nice and close to lots of activities and restaurants.

Rooms here start at $400-$500 AUD per night and can be reserved with Booking.com.

Meriton Suites Kent Street Sydney – $$

Stay right in the heart of Sydney in a modern luxury apartment at Meriton Suites Kent Street. The suites are air-conditioned and have laundry facilities, and either a kitchenette or full kitchen to make longer stays more comfortable. You’ll also have access to an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and hot tub.

These full apartments are $230 AUD nightly when booked in advance with Booking.com.

Sydney Harbour YHA – $

For a hostel with a view, head to the rooftop terrace at the Sydney Harbour YHA. Located in the historic Rocks district, you’ll have amazing views of the harbor and be within walking distance of all the major sights. You can opt for a shared dorm room or a private room here. There’s a communal kitchen, TV lounge, billiards, and a 24/7 reception desk.

Dorm rooms are around $70 AUD nightly and private rooms are more around the $180 AUD mark. You can check for the best rates and book on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.

Renting a Car in Australia

Driving through the outback in a rental car in Australia
Outback Australia!

With many must-see destinations in Australia outside city limits, one of the best ways to get around is in a rental car.

Australia is a huge country and traveling between cities or getting to some of the most scenic spots requires driving. While public transit is sometimes an option, it often adds a lot of time and planning. Plus, we love the freedom of a rental car to stop wherever we want and not have to stick to a set schedule.

Car rental in Australia is super affordable, especially if you choose a smaller vehicle. We use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine that compares multiple car rental companies for you – saving you from visiting each website individually.

If you plan to be based in a main city like Sydney, Melbourne, or Perth and do a few day trips while returning your car to the same location, we’ve booked rentals for as cheap as $25 AUD a day! Full coverage insurance can be added for around an extra $12 AUD a day too. The price will vary depending on the time of year, type of car, and if you’re able to pick up and drop off at the same location.

Discover Cars also offers handy filters so you can search for cars that offer features like child seats, GPS, or let you have an additional driver. There are also free cancellation options if your trip changes. Read our honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

Check out the selection and book your car rental online here!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie during a Sydney opera house Tour in sydney, Australia
Thanks for reading!

If you’re only visiting Sydney for one day, you have to make the most of it! This 1-day itinerary covers the top attractions without feeling too rushed. We’ve also included some of our personal favorites, like a harbor cruise and dinner with views at the Tower Eye. Overall, we hope our guide came in handy, whether you follow it to a tee or pick and choose your top activities.

We hope you have a wonderful time exploring Sydney! If you want to learn more, check out our blog about Australia here. We’ve also written loads about New Zealand and Fiji. To get started, just click on one of the links below.

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