Choosing where to stay in Sydney and finding the right hotel for your holiday can be one of the most time-consuming decisions of your holiday planning. Which area is best? Which hotel fits my budget? It is particularly hard on your first visit. So how do you know where to stay if you are a first-timer to Sydney? Read on, and I will try to help you decide the best part of the city for your holiday.
For most people a holiday in Sydney is a significant investment in both time and money – unless you are Aussie chances are you have spent 8-20 plus hours on a plane to get here. Choosing the right area for your Sydney stay can make a big difference to how much you enjoy your visit.
To help you decide where to stay in Sydney, I have put together my thoughts on the most popular tourist areas in the city and the pros and cons of each. If you are trying to choose the best places to stay in Sydney, I hope this quick rundown of Sydney’s best neighbourhoods helps you make your choice. If you are in a hurry scroll to the bottom of this post for my recommendations on the best places to stay in Sydney for different types of travellers.
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- The main hotel areas in Sydney – Understanding the lay of the land
- Central Business District (CBD)
- CBD Southern End – From King Street up to Bathurst Street
- The Rocks and Circular Quay
- Darling Harbour
- Central Station
- Paddington / Surry Hills
- Kings Cross and Potts Point
- Bondi Beach
- The best areas to stay in Sydney according to Sydney Expert
The main hotel areas in Sydney – Understanding the lay of the land
Sydney is a very spread out city; it covers a large geographic area. Hotels and main attractions are spread across a few main spots around the harbour and central business district and into inner city suburbs, areas the city council likes to refer to as villages. These villages include Surry Hills, Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point, Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Chippendale, Redfern and Newton. Add to these beach suburbs like Bondi and Manly, and you have covered the main accommodation hubs.
Sydney’s main accommodation hubs are in the following areas
- Central Business District or CBD
- The Rocks and Circular Quay
- Pyrmont and Darling Harbour
- Central and Chippendale
- Surry Hills and Paddington
- Kings Cross and Potts Point
Central Business District (CBD)
The CBD is smack bang in the middle of the city and surrounded by shops, bars and transport. This area is home to government offices, multinational companies and is the central shopping district. As for the key attractions, you can easily walk to The Rocks, Circular Quay, Chinatown and even Kings Cross if you like walking as much as we do! The bulk of the big brand hotels chains are located in this area. There are also several serviced apartment buildings.
Who should stay in the CBD? This area is an excellent choice if you want to want to be able to walk everywhere or if you are partial to a bit of shopping. There are excellent transport options with several train stations and all the main bus routes. In the last couple of years, quite a few small bars have graced the streets of the northern part of the CBD around Wynyard Station making nightlife more interesting.
What are the cons? Once the shops close some parts of town can get pretty dead, and unlike other world cities, Sydney shops shut early with the average being 6 pm. There are fewer dining options here too, and you are unlikely to have a pretty view from your window.
Where to stay in the Sydney CBD
Northern End – I class the northern end of the CBD the streets bordered by Bridge Street to Park Street, Macquarie and Kent Street. This takes in the streets around Wynyard, Martin Place and St James stations. Within a 10 min walk from this part of the CBD, you can reach The Rocks, Pitt Street Mall shopping and Sydney’s brand new dining precinct Barangaroo. There is also a great range of small bars in this part of town.
Train stations at this end of the CBD: Wynyard, Martin Place and St James
There are not a lot of budget options in this part of town, real estate here is a bit pricey for hostels. There are some cheap 2-star options on Hunter Street but none I would recommend. If you are on a tight budget, I suggest you choose another location.
My Favourite Hotels in the Northern CBD
Travelodge Wynyard – good for short trips on a budget
Travelodge properties are standard, functional tourist hotels and this one is no different, but the location and the price make it a reasonable option. There are two Travelodge’s in this part of town; the other is at Martin Place. However, I think this one is the better option for leisure travellers as you can walk to The Rocks or Barangaroo in less than 10 minutes.
Check photos and reviews on TripAdvisor OR Check Prices
Establishment – perfect for the party people
Located down a laneway off Pitt Street the Establishment hotel features just 31 rooms, a mix of studios, suites and penthouses. The Establishment is also home to three bars and four restaurants, so it’s perfect for those who like the nightlife but perhaps not so ideal for someone looking for a quiet stay. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travellers have to say at TripAdvisor
QT – 5 star and special
Quirky and sexy are words you hear a lot when people are describing this hotel. Opening in 2016 the QT space used to be part of the iconic menswear store Gowings. They have retrained the art deco features and added a whole bunch of sass to make this one of the unique hotel experiences in Sydney. Check out photos, compare prices, and read what other travellers have to say at TripAdvisor
Radisson Blu – solid service with great rooms.
I like this hotel for a variety of reasons, but the super friendly doorman and porters are way up on the list. They greet everyone with a smile, and nothing is too much trouble. Over the last couple of years I have made multiple group bookings at the Radisson Blu, and every time it’s been great. We spent our wedding night here and would go back in a heartbeat. Breakfast is excellent, and they recently added a Vegan option to their high tea. Check out the photos at TripAdvisor
CBD Southern End – From King Street up to Bathurst Street
This end of the CBD is the perfect part of town for shoppers, Asian food lovers, budget travellers and also a good choice for families. While it is 15-20 minutes’ walk from the waterfront, you have Hyde Park, Museums and Darling Harbour only a short stroll away.
Train stations at this end: Town Hall, Museum
Hotels in the southern CBD area
Primus – An art deco lovers paradise
While it is not much to look at from the street, this art deco glamour is hiding some pretty unique interiors. The building was previously the headquarters of the Water Board and opened in 2017 to rave reviews. The rooftop pool and heritage fit out have been beautifully done. Check out lots of gorgeous shots of the interior on TripAdvisor. Great choice for singles and couples.
Swissotel – family friendly and perfect for shopping
The Swissotel has kids rooms that feature kid-size furniture and linens in bright colours for young children. The hotel is also well located if you are travelling with teens who are keen to hit the shops. There is a heated outdoor pool to keep everyone entertained, and Hyde Park is just a 2-minute walk away. Five minutes in the opposite direction and you will reach Darling Harbour. Read reviews on TripAdvisor Great choice for shoppers and families.
Hyde Park Inn – great for 4 or more on a budget
The Hyde Park Inn is a good option if you need 3-5 beds in one room. It is also usually excellent value for money. The hotel is only 50 metres from the exit of Museum Station making it an easy train commute from the airport. The rooms, while nothing fancy are spacious and have a small kitchenette for when everyone is too tired to bother going out to eat. The park across the road offers plenty of space for kids to run around and if you are lucky enough to get a room on high floors, you have great views over the park. Free parking is sometimes included so be sure to ask if you are bringing a car to Sydney. Check TripAdvisor to read full reviews. Great choice for larger families and groups.
Pullman Sydney Hyde Park – comfort and service with a park view
Located just on the other side of Hyde Park and within walking distance to bars and great dining in East Sydney the Pullman Hyde Park is a good spot for anyone wanting to be close to the tourist attractions but have cool drinking and dining options on the doorstep. It’s perfect for Mardi Gras as you are just minutes walk from Oxford Street and the parade route. Museum Station is only 3 minutes walk away as are buses to the Eastern Suburbs. I have not stayed here but have done a tour, and for couples, this hotel would undoubtedly make my shortlist. Make sure you sign up for the free loyalty club to access the free wifi. The rooftop pool is great for the summer months. See what guests have to say on TripAdvisor. Suitable for everyone but particularly couples and foodies who want to be in town rather than the inner east.
The Rocks and Circular Quay
I think the Rocks are an excellent choice for anyone on a short visit. There are a couple of small hotels that are worth checking out as well as the cities best hostel. Many hotels here offer some view making them more expensive than other locations. However, Circular Quay is the best area to stay in Sydney if you are on a very short visit. If you are a first-time visitor, you will also probably love being right by the harbour.
Why should you stay in the Rocks? The Rocks are our old town. Beautiful historic Sydney buildings share the spotlight with the Harbour and Opera House, and visually they make a formidable trio. There are some great old pubs, plenty of dining options and transport to the rest of the city is less than ten mins walk away from even the furthers reaches of the Rocks. This is a great choice for early morning runners and a lovely palace to explore in the dawn hours before the city comes to life. The area is even more attractive now with Barangaroo on its western border providing ample green space to explore.
Cons – Some parts can be a walk to the city centre. It can get a little loud along George Street on weekends so choose a room away from the street if you are a light sleeper. Choose your hotel carefully if you have mobility issues as many properties are heritage listed and do not have lifts.
Hotels in The Rocks and Circular Quay
YHA Sydney Harbour – the best budget view in Sydney!
The only hostel at this end of town the Sydney Harbour YHA is not the cheapest hostel in the city, but it is by far the best in my opinion. With glorious rooftop views and modern, clean facilities, it is an excellent choice for budget travellers regardless of your age. Family rooms are five bed and feature a double and bunks. Most dorms also have ensuite bathrooms, so you are not sharing with many others. Check out reviews on TripAdvisor
Harbour Rocks Hotel – perfect if you like to stay somewhere small and friendly
If you love heritage style hotels as much as I do, then you might want to check this one out. The public spaces are charming; I especially like the library. Some of the rooms have great views, and there is also a lovely rooftop terrace. The hotel does not have a guest elevator, but they take your bags to your room via a service lift. Check views on TripAdvisor
Hotel Palisade – Boutique beautiful
The recently restored Hotel Palisade is a bit of a secret gem. With only eight rooms you will have to get in quick to secure a spot in this lovingly restored hotel. With views to either the Rocks or Barangaroo, the rooms are bright, with lots of natural light and neutral furnishings. I have my eye on one of the deluxe rooms with a kitchenette for my next staycation! You are in walking distance to all the new eateries in Barangaroo for the evening and the harbour attractions for the daytime. It’s a winning spot. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor
Holiday Inn Old Sydney – Perfectly placed for exploring the Rocks food and drinks
The best thing about the Holiday Inn in the Rocks is the fantastic rooftop pool area. The views are amazing! The rooms are functional if a little dull and the beds are comfortable. The Rocks Market is right outside the door on weekends, and there are two pubs within a minutes’ walk. The hotel is well placed for exploring on foot and only a short walk to Circular Quay. See what other people say on TripAdvisor
Heritage – Lord Nelson – one for history and beer lovers
The Lord Nelson Hotel is home to Sydney’s oldest brewery; it also has eight rooms above the bar that it rents to guests. If you like the idea of your drinks being on tap just metres from your bed this could be the hotel for you. I love the sandstone walls and the location within a few minutes’ walk of Barangaroo. There is no lift, so it’s not suited to anyone who is not up to climbing up to 4 flights of stairs. See what the reviews say on TripAdvisor
Park Hyatt The Rocks Sydney – THE place to impress
If you are coming to Sydney for a honeymoon or special event, then stop looking, you can’t go past this hotel. The service and the views would be hard to beat anywhere in the world. It has everything you would expect from a 5-star hotel and a lot more. Sadly I have not stayed here yet, but I have chipped in for a couple of gift bookings for friends, and everyone has loved it. Check out full reviews on TripAdvisor. Great choice for honeymooners and A-list celebs.
Previously a working-class port, Darling Harbour was redeveloped for the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations. These days it’s a favourite spot for family dining and weekend festivals. It’s also home to several popular attractions including the Star Casino, Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife World.
Who should you stay in the Darling Harbour? This is a fantastic spot for families to stay with lots of activities and kid-friendly dining options and green space to run around right on your doorstep.
What are the cons? Darling Harbour is a prime tourist area so it can be expensive for food and drinks. The area is connected to the city via the light rail or ferries, but neither option is a quick trip. It is an uphill walk to Pitt St Mall and the other city sites.
Hotels in the Darling Harbour
Ovolo Darling Harbour – great for couples and groups of friends
This hotel, a warehouse conversion, opened in 2016 and has become a firm favourite of mine in this part of the city. The soundproof rooms are well fitted out, and extra attention has been paid to comfort with great quality linens, fantastic showers and Apple TV. There are self-service washers and dryers available; this is one thing I love when I am travelling, and it’s particularly important for longer stays in Sydney as there are very few options for affordable washing anywhere in the middle of town. They also offer a free mini bar that is topped up every day. This is one hotel where it pays to book on the Hotel’s site as there are a bunch of extra freebies added for direct bookings. The location makes it a bit of a hidden gem, but it’s only 300m from the light rail station and a short walk to Darling Harbour. Check out all the photos on TripAdvisor
The Darling at the Star Casino – great for a splurge
It is a few years since I stayed at the hotel in the Casino and I have not stayed in this most recent remodel however it looks fantastic, and by all reports the service is excellent. If you like late night entertainment, this is one of your best choices in the centre of town because The Casino complex sits just outside Sydney’s ridiculous lockout zone. It’s also a good spot for cashed-up foodies with some delicious dining in the complex. Check out photos and read reviews at TripAdvisor
Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour – a good option for families
The Novotel Darling Harbour is a good option for families; the standard room has two double beds, perfect for families travelling with children. Located behind the Harbourside shopping centre and within walking distance of the Maritime Museum, Aquarium, and Wildlife world. The light rail and the ferry stop just a few minutes walk away. Check reviews on TripAdvisor
Vulcan Hotel – perfect for budget travellers
Only an easy 10 min walk from Darling Harbour the Vulcan is an option if you are travelling on a budget but want to stay in the city area. The superior twin rooms sleep 4. Check out photos on TripAdvisor
Central Station is the main train and regional bus hub of the city; it is also the primary location for budget accommodation. To the western side of the station, you will find youth hostels, Paddy’s Market and Chinatown with all its delicious, cheap eats. On the east is Surry Hills where bars, exciting food and hipsters rule.
Why should you stay near Central Station? This is budget central and a great spot for anyone arriving in Sydney by bus or train. Perfect for backpackers with lots of tour agents and hostels and bars where you can meet other travellers. Close to Chinatown and Surry Hills, it is easy to find cheap food.
What are the Cons – Like all transport hubs the streets here are not very picturesque, and some parts can feel a little seedy.
Hotels near Central Station
Adina Apartment Hotel Central – great for self-catering
We had a staycation here for my birthday a couple of years ago as we saw a show nearby. I was impressed with the size of the apartments and felt like I could have easily had an extended stay. With full kitchens and the markets in walking distance make it easy to prepare some of your own meals to keep costs down. While the area is not picturesque transport to all parts of the city is right at your door. Despite the traffic outside the hotel, I found the room really quiet. Studios, 1 and two bedroom apartments are available.
Compare prices and read what other travellers have to say at TripAdvisor
Bounce Hostel – good value budget option
Bounce Hostel is across the road from Central Station. They offer the full variety of dorm rooms but also some great private doubles and family sized rooms. The rooftop bar and the communal kitchen are great places to hang out, but it’s price and location that makes Bounce hard to pass up for anyone wanting to save money. Check the latest reviews on TripAdvisor
YHA Central Station – Sleep on a train at a train station!
This 63 bed YHA is located about the pedestrian tunnel at Central station and includes an 8-bed dorm in a converted railway carriage which is a pretty cool novelty. There are also good public spaces, laundry facilities, a pool and family or ensuite rooms available. After the YHA in the Rocks, this would be my choice for a hostel bed in Sydney. Take a look at the photos on TripAdvisor
Paddington / Surry Hills
Surry Hills and neighbouring suburb Paddington are perfect spots for foodies or anyone looking for a more local experience than the main tourist locations above. I have lumped them together here due to geography however they can be quite different in feel. If you are someone who prefers to pretend you have moved to a new city rather than being a visitor in the main tourist hotspots you might want to check out these inner-east suburbs or villages as the local councils promote them.
Located about halfway between the CBD and Bondi Beach Paddington is home to small independent shops, lots of lovely cafes, several historic pubs and newer bars as well as the Victoria Barracks and Paddington reservoir and Saturday Paddington Markets.
Why should you stay in Paddington? If you like the idea of being surrounded by great dining options (but not exactly inexpensive), no less than a dozen pubs, numerous boutique art galleries, designer stores and some of the inner cities prettiest streets you will enjoy having your base here.
Cons: No big ones for me, there are not big iconic sites nearby, and dining can be a little on the pricey side.
Hotels in Paddington
Mrs Banks Hotel – great for couples and solo travellers
One of the newest hotels in Paddington the Mrs Banks Hotel offers 30 rooms in a beautifully renovated art deco style building that was aptly a branch of the Commonwealth bank is its previous life. Opening in September 2017 the rooms are well appointed, and the service is outstanding. Little touches like complimentary Tims Tams, water and Nespresso, are much appreciated. The location is perfect with buses to the city and the beach almost at the door. You can walk to the city if you fancy a little exercise. Find out what guests have said about Mrs Banks at TripAdvisor
Hughenden Boutique Hotel – Pet lovers paradise
Build in the 1870s this Hughenden is a pet-friendly hotel with several rooms for those travelling with their furry friends. The hotel offers a variety of room sizes, some with small kitchenettes, Most rooms have recently undergone renovation. The hotel also just a few minutes walk from Centennial Park perfect for dog walks or early morning runs. The service is super friendly, and one of my favourite buses the 389 runs right by the door. Why not read what other travellers have to say at TripAdvisor
Arts Hotel – good budget option
The Arts Hotel is a family owned 3-star property on Oxford Street that feels a bit like a small Ibis style hotel to me. There is a pool, laundry, bicycles for guest use and some parking available making it pretty good value for money. Well located for both Mardi Gras and events at Moore Park. See photos and decide for yourself on TripAdvisor
Only 1 Km from the CBD and sandwiched between Central Station, Paddington and Darlinghurst Surry Hills is home to 23 pubs, leafy streets of Victorian terraced houses and an eclectic mix of residents.
Who should stay in Surry Hills? OK, so Hipster is considered a derogatory term these days but for many locals that is the image that comes to mind when they hear Surry Hills. Think cold brew coffee, food that provides much Instagram hype and plenty of creative types strolling to work. Seriously though there is lots of great food here, plenty of places to get a good drink and its walking distance to the city if you are an active type. There are also great public transport connections.
Cons: 30-40 minute walk to the harbour and main sites
Hotels in Surry Hills
Little Albion Guesthouse – A hotel with a difference
Hidden away in a quiet laneway is this gorgeous little guest house that punches way above its weight in both service and style. A huge amount of thought has gone into the design, adding lots of little touches that make you feel really welcome from the honesty bar to the selection of milk from Almond to skim and everything in between. The staff are so welcoming and helpful making sure you have everything you need. The decor is a mix of 1920 and 1970s with some really interesting art choices and giving a really unique feel to the place. Check the reviews and photos on TripAdvisor
Adge Apartments – 12 funky two bedroom apartments
Modern two bedrooms and two bathrooms apartments just a few minutes walk from the action on Crown Street. These apartments have lots of great inclusions like good quality coffee machines and apple docks. Some apartments have balconies, and all have laundries. I am not a fan of the flooring but other than that this place is a great choice and only a few minutes walk from Oxford Street. Check out the photos of the property (and the funky carpet) on TripAdvisor
Adina Apartments – Perfect for wining and dining
We have had three stayed here over the years for hens nights and birthdays. They could do with a bit of a spruce up, but they are well located for longer stays with plenty of local eats at your doorstep. I have not stayed in the last 12 months, so I suggest you check out he most recent reviews at TripAdvisor before you go ahead and book.
Kings Cross and Potts Point
Once the cities red light district these days, the Cross and surrounding areas of Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay are far more sedate these days. My favourite thing about this part of town is that it has managed to retain some of the beautiful Victorian homes that sprung up in the 19th Century when the colony finally had some wealthy residents. The streets are also full of trees, and there are lots of lovely harbour views waiting to be found.
I always feel safe here, but some guide books might still refer to this area as a little rough, but I find it less so than some of the streets at the western end of the CBD near Central Station.
Who should stay at Kings Cross/Potts Point?
This is a great location for couples as close to nightlife. The area has handy transport connections with both a train station and several main bus routes. Hotels are less expensive, and there are some outstanding two 3-star boutique options here. The leafy back streets are filled with cute cafes, small bars and restaurants and lovely homes from the early 1900s.
What are the Cons – This area would not be my first choice for families as there are not many child-friendly activities in the area and some of the streets are quite steep for little legs and prams. Changes to laws regarding opening hours for venues serving alcohol, i.e. the lockout laws have made this less interesting for those looking for late night entertainment but much quieter for residents.
Hotels in Potts Point and Kings Cross
Boutique – Hotel Challis
This hotel in a restored terrace house has few bells and whistles but the location is fantastic, and the King rooms are well priced for Sydney. It’s an 8-minute walk to Kings Cross Station or a 25-minute walk to the Quay. Find reviews and photos on TripAdvisor
Heritage – Simpsons Potts Point
Simpsons is a National Trust listed property built in 1892 and transformed from a dilapidated apartment building into a hotel in the 1980s. Staying here feels a little like visiting a wealthy old relative. The hotel features period furnishing and a beautiful communal library and is located in one of Potts Points prettiest streets. Check the reviews on TripAdvisor
Who should stay in Newtown? Foodies and lovers of alternative arts will enjoy a stay in Newtown. Think street art, craft beer and cafes as far as the eye can see; there are so many places to eat along the high street here it would take you a few months to cover them all. Newtown was once a grungy university suburb home to every subculture you can imagine, but these days it has been significantly gentrified. While it has retained its bohemian feel, for now, the introduction of the lockout laws has attracted a more mainstream crowd to the area on weekends which might endanger that.
Newtown only has one hotel, and the reviews of late have been really mixed so I would rather not recommend it just now. It’s a great area to look for an Airbnb though.
Who should stay at Bondi Beach? If you want to spend more time on the beach than checking out the sites that this is a good option. Plenty of dining options (a great option for vegetarian and vegan travellers). It attracts a young backpacker crowd and can be a lot of fun if you fit the demographic!
Cons – Traffic getting in and out of Bondi is a nightmare most of the time. While there are plenty of buses up to the Junction, it can take ages to get there. From here it’s only a 10 min train ride to the city, but some days it can take 30 mins on the bus from the beach to the station.
Hotels in Bondi
Adina Apartments Bondi Beach
If you plan on staying a while these apartments are perfect for giving you a holiday within your holiday. All the comforts of home including full kitchens and really comfortable lounge furniture. It’s an easy walk to the beach and there is a nice small pool that is undercover and good for hot days. The layout of some rooms is a bit confused but overall the bigger rooms are a good option for families. Check the recent reviews on TripAdvisor as there were some problems with wi-fi on my last visit but I assume this has been fixed.
Who should stay in Manly? In the 1930s when marketers began flogging Manly to local Sydneysiders as a perfect getaway destination they coined the phrase “7 miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care”, and they were spot on. You do feel quite remote from the city centre which for some can be a good thing. If you are looking for the Aussie beach culture lifestyle that is so often portrayed in the media, this might be perfect. There is plenty of dining options for evenings, and the city is a lovely 15-30 min boat ride away.
Cons – You need to take a ferry and factor up to an hours return travel to do most of your sightseeing. If you are a larger group, you also need to consider the costs of the tickets
So of all these areas where would I stay?
The best areas to stay in Sydney according to Sydney Expert
- Which areas in Sydney are the best for a very short stay (1-3 days)? The Rocks and Circular Quay
- Where is the best place to stay in Sydney for families? Darling Harbour or the CBD
- Which is the best area for food lovers to stay? Surry Hills, Paddington or Potts Point
- The best places to stay in Sydney for budget travellers? Potts Point or Kings Cross
- What are some good choices for honeymooners? The Rocks or Manly
- Best places to get a local view of Sydney? Newtown or Paddington
- Best location for solo travellers? Potts Point, CBD or The Rocks
- Best area for a shopping holiday? The CBD
None of the hotels listed in this post has paid us to include them. Instead, we chose based on personal experience and feedback.
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