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One Day in Sydney – An Itinerary for a first-time visit.

So you only have one day in Sydney. Well, you’re in luck, we have put together a great itinerary for first-time visitors that shows off all the cities best highlights in just 24 hours.  There are two versions to this day, one with a leisurely lunch and one that has you on your feet for a whole day!  Got less than 24 hours? This one day Sydney tour works well even with a 12-hour window.

1 Day in Sydney – a mix and match itinerary with step by step instructions.

I think it’s better to have some options than letting someone dictate your whole day. Throughout the day we have given you choices, kind of like a choose your own adventure style day. If this seems too hard just select option one all the way along 😉

My best piece of advice is to be wary of itineraries that seem to let you do too much. I saw one recently that included the Bondi to Coogee walk, Taronga Zoo, The Ground of Alexandria, the Art Gallery of NSW and Newtown all before dinner and using public transport. Believe me, this is not possible to do unless you run the entire time and experience nothing much when you get to each spot!

 

Step 1. Getting to know Circular Quay

We will begin our exploration from Circular Quay. This is the must-see spot in the city where you can catch your first glimpse of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
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If you are not sure how to get here from your starting point whether that is Sydney Airport or a hotel downtown enter your location into this trip planner and you will be sorted in no time. Google maps also list Sydney public transport instructions between any two destinations.

If you are coming from the airport, you are in for a treat with the view from Circular Quay Station one of the best public transport views in the world!

Before you move too far from Circular Quay Station you might like to pop into Customs house (open from 8am weekdays) and check out the scale model of the city. They also have plenty of free maps and guides at the information desk.

Ok so now I want you to head back towards the water and wharf 2. Look to the right for a glass elevator at the eastern end of Circular Quay attached to the expressway above the train station. Take the elevator up onto the roadway where there is a lookout point with a lovely view over the quay – a favourite spot to capture a Sydney Harbour photo.

When you are done, don’t go back down the elevator but continue past it to the steps that lead down to Macquarie Street – we will enter the Botanic Gardens from here.

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Step 2. Explore the Royal Botanic Gardens

Early risers will be happy to hear you can begin your sightseeing as early as 7am! The gates to the garden open nice and early so why not start the day like a local with a brisk walk in the Botanic Gardens. If you have slept a little late and have booked an Opera House tour, don’t worry, you can either head straight to the Opera House and do this section in reverse.

After leaving the Cahill Walkway in the previous step, you will enter the garden via the gate on Macquarie Street. Make your way to the Boy with a Thorn statue marked on the map at the bottom of the page to get this view.

Sydney Opera House from Botanic Garden
Capture some candid Opera House photos from the Botanic Garden

From here head to the end of the garden and Mrs Macquarie’s Point for the classic postcard view of Sydney. When you have snapped the perfect shot for Instagram, follow the waterfront path back around to the Opera House.

Postcard view Sydney from Mrs Macquarie's Point
The view from Mrs Macquaries Point

You can either do a self-guided walk or join one of the free volunteer guided walks (10.30am) or paid specialist walks of the Gardens. Whichever you choose you will not be disappointed. This garden offers fantastic views and plenty of impressive plants and sculptures. The gift shop is also one of the best in the city.

 

Step 3. Sydney Opera House

Close up view of Sydney Opera House tiles
Walking around the outside of the Opera House allows you to capture the details.

It’s time to get up close and personal with the Sydney Opera House and explore the details of the building, touch the tiles, wander into the public areas to get a feel for the interior and walk right around the base. 

If you would like to, you can pre-book an Opera House tour (allow 1.30 mins). If you need of a pick me up, grab a flat white or espresso from Opera Bar.

If you have not already walked around the Gardens, you can head in at this point and take the high path to the right of the entry. This path will take you past one of my favourite sculptures, Mrs Macquarie’s Folly and continues around to the central freshwater pond, the Oriental Garden and proceed to the Mare and Foal Lawn area. From this point, you can take in one of the best views in the garden.

How much time to allow?

  • Walk around the outside of the Opera House – 30 mins
  • Take an official tour -1hr 30 mins – prebook to avoid waiting around.
  • Visit the Botanic Gardens 30 mins-2 hr depending on your interest and which tour you choose.

Time: 1-2 hrs 

Step 4. Take a ride on a Sydney Ferry

We believe every visitor to Sydney should spend some time out on the harbour. One of the best ways to do this is by riding one of the many Sydney Harbour Ferry routes.

If you fancy something a little more intimate or unique, you can look at some of the various Sydney Harbour cruises. Some include lunch which can be a lovely way to pass a few hours on the water.

Sydney to Hobart Race Ferry

Option 1. Watsons Bay

Walk back to the ferry terminal and take the F3 Cross Harbour ferry to Watsons Bay. The journey takes about 20 minutes and gets you nice and close to the eastern suburbs waterfront homes. Lovely for some daydreaming.

Check the timetable before you head out for the day as the service is only half-hourly on weekends and every 20 mins in peak times on weekdays.

When you arrive at Watson’s Bay, I suggest you take this walk, but if that seems too strenuous, you could just walk up to The Gap Lookout instead.

If you are ready for some refreshments, I recommend Watson’s Bay Hotel for a coffee and cake.

Option 2. Manly

The F1 Manly ferry is the most iconic route. The trip takes 30 minutes, and when you get there there is plenty to keep you busy for an hour or two with lots of restaurants and shops to explore and a couple of short walks should you fancy stretching your legs.

Manly Beach in March
Manly Beach at lunchtime last September

We have written a detailed guide on all the things to do in Manly, be sure to read this before you arrive.

How much time do you need?

  • The ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay takes 20 mins
  • To check out the cliffs at the Gap lookout allow 30 mins
  • If you fancy a longer walk, you could walk out to Hornby Lighthouse on South Head allow 2 hours
  • The ferry from Circular Quay to Manly takes 30 minutes
  • To walk down Manly’s Corso to Manly’s ocean beach and around to Shelly Beach takes about an hour.

Time: 1.5 – 3 hours 

 

Step 5. Enjoy lunch by the sea

Whether you fancy a bucket of prawns, fresh oysters and some yummy indulgent fish and chips, it’s hard to beat eating by the ocean. If you are vegan or vegetarian, don’t worry, there are plenty of options for everyone at each of these spots.

Option 1: Watsons Bay

This is where the big decisions kick in. When you have finished exploring Watson’s Bay, you have two choices, you can either enjoy a leisurely lunch here and take the easy return trip to Circular Quay, or you can continue and visit Bondi Beach. 

Watsons Bay Hotel

I will give you a few minutes to decide 😉

If you have decided on lunch, you have a few options. Watsons Bay Hotel, the upmarket Doyles at Watsons Bay, one of the cities oldest restaurants or Doyles Fish and Chip bar on the wharf, which is perfect for a more budget style picnic lunch.

If you have decided to keep moving, make your way to the bus stop on Military Road and jump on the 380 bus to Bondi (pronounced bond-eye). You will pass by lots of million-dollar homes and some great views towards the city from the right-hand side of the bus.

Option 2: Manly

If you are on a tight budget, Manly is probably your best bet with everything from an Aldi supermarket on the wharf, where you can pick up some bargain picnic items to lunch with a view at The Pantry right on the beachfront and a huge variety of options in between.

Option 3: Bondi

Bondi has too many food options to list; however, for some real Aussie culture, you could head to North Bondi RSL and grab a meal on the deck overlooking the beach.  If you prefer something a bit more upmarket check out the Icebergs Dining room where you can dine with the rich (and sometimes famous).  Icebergs also have a less expensive cafe option too.  We also enjoy the salads and burgers at Bucket List in the Bondi Pavilion.

Check out our Insider’s Guide to Bondi for lots of tips on where to eat and drink

If you are on a tight budget, you can grab some takeaway fish and chips and sit on the beach. Tip: There is also the legendary deep-fried Mars Bar (or fish and chips) from Bondi Surf Seafood.

Time: Allow 1 hour for lunch

 

Step 6. Explore one of our beaches

A picture-perfect autumn day at Bondi

Option 1. Bondi Beach

When you have finished eating walk down to the beach and check out the graffiti wall which hosts some fabulous large scale murals.  It’s now time to take on the Bondi Coastal Walk. The full walk is 6km long and ends at Coogee Beach however you can stop at Bronte or Clovelly and join a bus service there back to Bondi Junction.

How long do you need?

  • The bus from Watson’s Bay to Bondi will take approximately 12 mins (timetable here)
  • Allow 30 minutes minimum to check out Bondi Beach.
  • Allow 2 hours to complete the Bondi to Coogee walk or 1 hour to do the path to Bronte Beach.

Option 2. Shelly Beach at Manly

Shelly Beach is a short walk around from Manly Beach and the walkway between the two is a lovely easy flat stroll. Shelly Beach is quite protected, so great on windy days. In between the two is the Manly Aquatic reserve, a great place for a swim or snorkel. There are often volunteers in attendance to help you learn about the creatures you can spot here.

Bower Cafe in Manly has great fresh salads and is the perfect lunch stop

If you get thirsty on the way stop in at the Bower Cafe for a coffee or drink with a view.

How long do you need?

  • The walk from The Corso at Manly to Shelly Beach is 1.8km and takes about
    20 -30minutes
Shelly Beach Manly in Summer
Shelly Beach is a protected beach perfect for families and kids just a short walk around from Manly

Step 7. Make your way back into the city

Bus, train or ferry your way back to town. Buses leave from Bronte and Clovelly back to Bondi Junction and the CityRail trains to the city.  It’s just a short 10 min ride back into town.

Step 8. Explore the Rocks

Depending on the time of day, you could head over to explore a little of the Rocks. You can just stroll George Street and the laneways,

Step 9. Check out a Sydney sunset

There are a few great spots to watch the Sydney sunset. Opera Bar is one favourite, Barangaroo also offers a great sunset view. You could choose one of these bars with a view or just sit on the waterfront at Barangaroo Reserve or Kirribilli, or even head over to Mrs Macquaries Point, a favourite of professional photographers.

If you find yourself near the Opera House don’t miss the Badu Gili light projections on the eastern side of the sails at sunset, 7pm, 8pm and 9pm.

Step 10. Try the local cuisine

If you only have one night in Sydney, you might want dinner with a view. There are lots of high-end choices like Aria, Bennelong, Quay, Cafe Sydney and Altitude. These restaurants are all located around Circular Quay and offer amazing harbour views.

Alternatively, you could visit one of our celebrity chef restaurants or head down to Barangaroo, where you will find some really good restaurants at a range of prices.

Check out our full guide of what to eat and drink in Sydney for more ideas

If you love the harbour as much as I do, you might want to have dinner on the water. We have listed a few dinner cruise options here, in my opinion, the Captain Cook dinner Cruises offer the best food. The Tallship dinner cruises offer a unique experience, and I would choose between one of these two.

How much will this cost?

Sydney’s transport system now works with contactless payments via your credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay. If it’s a Sunday your total cost will be $2.80, and on other days there is a daily cap of $16.10 – if you have come from the Airport stations, the airport gate fee is not included in this cap.

Want more ideas? Check out our mix and match 3 Days in Sydney Itinerary

We hope you enjoy your 24 hours in Sydney. If you want more ideas about ways to spend one day in Sydney check out my Sydney layover guide full of ideas for shorter and longer days and special ideas for one day in Sydney with kids.

If you need somewhere to store your luggage while you explore Sydney we recommend Stasher.com who have outlets around the city.

Got another day? Why not head to the Blue Mountains – the most popular UNESCO site in New South Wales

Want more ideas for exploring Sydney? Join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group, where you can ask questions to help you plan your visit to Sydney.

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