Tips for Taking the Sydney Airport Train

Taking the Sydney airport train to the centre of the city is a good option for most visitors and one of the quickest ways to get to the CBD. Solo travellers and couples will find the airport train cheaper than a taxi and it is a pretty straight forward trip if you are staying in the middle of town.

Since moving to Mascot a couple of years, I take this train daily. Over time, I have noticed travellers struggle with their bags and, in peak hour, the crowded carriages. I thought I would write-up a few observations to help you have the smoothest airport transfer you possibly can.

How to find the Sydney Airport Train Stations

Don’t worry too much about this on arrival into Sydney; the terminal stations are well signposted and easy enough to find. The International station is at the northern end of the terminal on the arrivals level and for the Domestic terminal, it’s between terminal 2 and 3. Trains to the city take about 15 minutes and run about every 10-15 minutes for most of the day.

Airport Station train - Sydney International terminal

If you are heading to the airport from the city make sure you do not get off the train at the Mascot suburban station, this is a such a common mistake there are now signs on the station pointing out it is not an airport station.

Here are my three tips for making your airport train journey a success!

1. Choose your carriage depending on where you plan to get off. 

The two stations after the airport heading into the city are extremely busy during peak hours.  Any time from about 7.30-9am hundreds of commuters pour into the train at both Mascot suburban and Green Square Stations.  The area is also home to lots of corporate offices, so plenty of people already on the train alight here. The exits for both stations are in the middle of the train so if you don’t need to get off here avoiding these middle carriages is a good idea. There is almost always much, much more room at the front and the rear of the train.

The train travels around the city via a loop known as the City Circle.

Sydney airport train travels the city circle loop

Central Station

If you are getting off the train at Central the front of the train in the best place to ride. The only lift here is at the city end (front) of the platform. If you have large bags, I recommend taking the lift as the stairs are crowded with commuters running late for work or changing trains.  Change trains at Central for country NSW trains, Kings Cross and Bondi Junction trains and the Blue Mountains trains.

Museum Station

If you are getting off at Museum, ride the back of the train to exit at Liverpool Street and the front of the train for the Bathurst Street (Hyde Park) exit. Museum Station has a lift at the Liverpool Street exit so if you have heavy luggage make sure you are at the back of the train.

St James Station

If you are getting off at St James, the exits are in the middle of the platform, and the lift is hidden in behind the stairs between the two platforms. Once you get to St James, the train empties out, this means you will likely have plenty of room if you are continuing.

Circular Quay Station

Next stop is Circular Quay – if this is your first time in Sydney get ready for a great view of the Harbour Bridge from the right-hand side of the train. There are exits here at both ends of the platform and lifts in the middle.

best stop on the Sydney airport train - view from Circular Quay Platform

Wynyard Station

Wynyard Station is being renovated and a bit of a mess.  Stairs are all along the platform with the lifts around toward each end of the platform.  Alight here for Barangaroo and King St Wharf.

Town Hall Station

Town Hall is the last city station in the city circle before this train heads out west.  If you don’t have heavy bags, it is worth getting off at Central and changing trains. Town Hall is just one stop away on other lines and this could save you up to 10 mins.

2. Move as far inside the carriage as you can. 

It’s common for travellers on unfamiliar trains to stand close to the exit as they are not sure when they will have to get off and they worry about having enough time to reach the door.  I understand as I have done this too and it’s fine outside of peak times but on this train by the time you reach Central, particularly in the morning, half the train will be getting off too so resist the temptation to block the entry and move inside the carriage as far as you can.

If you don’t have big suitcases, please consider heading up or downstairs. Luggage blocking the entry makes it tough for people at Mascot and Green Square to get on the train.  If you need to get off and there is not a lot of room just speak up and you will find people will move for you.

3.  You can now buy an Opal card at the ticket window at airport stations 

Lots of visitors are confused about using Opal cards.  The system was introduced a few years ago and there have been teething problems but it is not really difficult.  For the record, you can now buy your Opal card from the International and Domestic terminal train stations.  There are five news agents and convenience stores in the airport terminals that also sell the cards.  They usually have a huge sticker or flag outside advertising this. The cost of a trip to the city has a $13.80 gate access fee added to the standard fare as the airport stations are privately owned.  If you are planning return travel to the airport, it is worth getting an opal here as station access is capped at $21 per (Monday-Sunday) week.  Check the exact fare on this Sydney Airport Train fare calculator.

Read my detailed opal for visitors for more.

Links

Airport link has some videos showing you how to catch the train on their website

CityRail network map (PDF)

Trackwork notices  – Trackwork seems to happen about every eight weeks.  Buses replace trains but it will take quite a bit longer and they are usually really crowded.  I would recommend taxis in this instance.

Check if the station you are travelling to has a lift 

 

Have any questions or advice about taking the airport train?  Please leave a comment and I will get back to you

Image credits

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International railway station Sydney platforms by Tristan Morgan – CC licence



44 Comments

  1. you cannot purchase an opal card from the train stations at the airport.

    Opal had planned to do so but did not go ahead.

    • Thanks for letting us know – The Opal website says that you can but as you work at the station I am going to take your word for it 😉 Appreciate your help.

      • Is it really true that the stations do not sell Opal Cards ?!
        If so, is there anywhere else in the Airport to buy one, such as WH Smith etc ?

      • Hi Barry

        At the International Terminal (T1) both WH Smith and the Newslink agency both sell the cards.

        WH Smith International Airport Arrivals 2
        Site 1-1082 International Terminal,
        and
        Newslink – International Landside T1
        International Landside T1, Shop 2, 138 & 1427

        At the Domestic terminal there are 5 retailers so it should not be too hard to get your hands on one. WH Smith, Newslink, Relay and the Trader convienence store in T2 all have them. There is no one selling them at Terminal 3.

        You can search for retailers here https://www.retailers.opal.com.au/

  2. Thanks for these useful tips. I’m sure the train is much cheaper than a taxi and most likely much faster too. The only inconvenience I see is that you have to carry your own luggage around and up and down the train. But for the luggage, I’d prefer trains over cabs at any time.

    • No Problem Anda. I agree that with heavy luggage it can be a little bit of a challenge after a long flight but there are lifts and escalators at most stations so I honestly think it’s pretty doable.

  3. All great tips to make the airport train less stressful. I hate catching the train from the airport with luggage, sadly the trains aren’t equipped like most other airport trains in other countries.

  4. Great tips, especially for first timers. It can be quite confusing, especially if you have heavy luggage too which only compounds things 🙂 It would be great if we had a system like they do in HK where you could check your bags right through!

  5. Hi, is there a way to take the train to the airport with a traveller and help them with their luggage without incurring the station access fee? Also are there trolleys immediately available at the airport stations? Thanks

    • Hi Anne,

      You can take the train and help them to reach the station and get off at the airport platform. Technically you only have to pay if you exit the barriers at the station. There are escalators and lifts at the platform and often trolleys about at the top of the station exit if you think they could manage from the platform they would only have to navigate a couple of lifts/escalators alone.

  6. Hi Thanks for the advice. I am travelling from interstate on my own. Are the stairs at Museum station difficult with luggage? How easy is it to change trains at Central Station to get the train to Town Hall?

    • There are quite a lot of stairs at Museum and the station is currently undergoing renovation so it’s certainly not ideal. At Central there is a lift at the city end of the platform and you would only walk a few metres to a lift to the next platform.

  7. I am flying into Sydney tomorrow. Can I take a luggage trolley on the train from International to Domestic?

  8. Are there any updates since your 2015 list as to where to buy the Opal card at the International terminal?

    • Hi Barry
      I have updated the article this morning. The information is still accurate, I was at the airport last week and you can buy tickets at the airport stations. This is the easiest option for most.

  9. Excellent. I’m looking forward to navigating rush-hour trains after a long transcontinental flight armed with your handy tips. Your advice is a godsend.

    • Personally I find the trains, even at rush hour. far less stressful than fighting the crazy taxi queues and then being stuck in Sydney’s pretty horrendous peak hour traffic.

  10. We are meeting a family memeber ever at the airport for their international stop over; we will be staying with them a few hours will we have to pay two access fees? We are getting to airport around 930 will stay till 1pm

    • Hi Vanessa Unfortunately you will have to pay two station access fees. Where are you coming from? Can you take the train to Mascot suburban station and then jump on the 400 bus. This is also an option from Rockdale station.

  11. We are travelling from Syd Domestic Airport to Circular Quay (cruise), then back again 8 days later. Would you suggest to just purchase an Opal single trip ticket each way? If so, are these available at the same place as the Opal cards? Thank you.

    • Yes in this case – if you are not planning to do anything else it will be cheaper to just get the two tickets. Having an Opal card will not save you much if anything. You would also need to put more than $30 on it ($32.50) so you would need to put $40 and there is no refund. You can buy single tickets at the airport stations.

  12. Hello, I’m trying to plan a short trip from Sydney to Canberra before I head back to the States.

    Do you know what the walk time is between getting off the train and getting to the terminals at the domestic airport?

    Thanks!

  13. Hi i am arriving at intrnational airportand need a train to wentworthville which is the best way to get there

    • Hi Nev, If you can manage your luggage I would suggest the airport train to Central and then a T1 North Shore, Northern & Western Line towards Emu Plains via Parramatta. Its about 35 mins if you get a limited stops train – a lot longer if you jump on an all stations.

    • All the stations from Central to the airport have their exits in the middle of the platform, this means that lots of locals getting off at the first two stops choose the middle carriages. As a result, they can get overcrowded in peak hour so I would possibly head to the back or front if you want a bit of space on the train. If it’s not busy then sit in the middle of the train and you will alight right by the escalators and lift.

  14. How much for a ticket from Domestic to Circular Quay?
    Can get transfer to our Cruise but are $20 each and we have 4 people travelling.

    • Hi Susie
      It would be cheaper with 4 travellers to grab a taxi or Uber. The train will cost a similar amount to the transfers you have been quoted. Sorry for the later reply. I am travelling in Cambodia this week. Any future questions will be best posted on the Facebook group as I can monitor this easily on the road.

  15. Hi. This is the 1st time I’m searching travel info on the net. Going fr Singapore to Sydney and then to Melbourne and back to Singapore. Found Sydney Expert very informative. Perhaps you can include the date of last update (at end of Article) so readers can know if info is quite safe to follow. Thanks.

  16. Hi Read that there is No Refund on Opal Multi-Trip Cards. So if we use it for a few days and still have balances (there are 9 of us in our group) we have to forfeit the balances when we leave Sydney?

    • Hi Vincent, you are correct, you can not refund without a local bank account. Also thanks for your advice to include a date, I used to have one, but it seems to have disappeared. The last update was August 30 this year. As far as I know, there have been no changes since then.

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