There is no need to hire a car for your time in the city. Sydney’s public transport is easy to use, and once you work out the basics, I am sure you will find it convenient.

How to get around Sydney on your holiday: a brief guide to Sydney’s public transport

Updated 1 July 2018

Sydney Airport Link

For most people, the airport train will be your first taste of Sydney’s Public Transport network. Depending on the time you arrive this could be a pleasant or pretty stressful experience. Have a read of my airport train tips and decide if it’s right for you before we go any further.  You might also like to check out our guide to using Sydney Airport which includes details of all the transport options for the airport.

Train at Museum station in the city circle an integral part of Sydney Public Transport
Trains leave from the domestic and international terminals to the city and suburbs.

The 2 terminal stations at the airport are privately operated and as a result, are expensive, but the train journey is cheaper than a cab, especially if there is only two of you.

The trip is also much faster, in peak periods you can be in the city before you even get to the front of the taxi queue.

I used to take this train every day. In peak hour, the trains are pretty crowded and not for the faint-hearted. Try to get to the front or rear of the train for more space and if you can, avoid standing right in the doorway so others can get on. If you have a huge backpack take it off your back – it’s the polite thing to do:-)

Sydney Trains – City Circle, Blue Mountains and more!

Sydneysiders love to complain about our rail network, and at times it can be a bit crap, but for visitors who mainly access the inner stations, it’s a great way to get around the city.

2 Sydney Trains at Central Train Station in Sydney

The main train station is Central Station which is located between Chinatown and Surry Hills. All trains in the network pass through this station, it is also home to country link services that will take you into regional NSW and beyond to Melbourne, Brisbane and even Perth!

If you are planning a train trip to the Blue Mountains, you will probably depart from here. A train ride to Newtown is also an excellent way to spend a few hours exploring a different part of the city.

The other key stations for travellers are part of what is known as the City Circle, a loop of stations that form a ring around the CBD or central business district. These stations include Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James and Museum. The city circle runs in both directions and is an excellent way to get from one end of town to the other if your feet give up!

Nearest City Circle Stations to main attractions

  • Central – Paddy’s Market, Chinatown, Surry Hills and Chippendale (Central Park complex)
  • Town Hall – QVB, Darling Harbour
  • Wynyard – Barangaroo
  • Circular Quay – Ferries, Opera House and The Rocks
  • St James – Pitt Street Mall, Hyde Park, St Mary’s Cathedral
  • Museum – Museum, Hyde Park, William Street to Darlinghurst

Sydney Buses – Servicing all areas of the city.

325 bus Watsons Bay to Walsh Bay Sydney public transport includes over 400 bus routes

Sydney buses are the only option in much of the Eastern and Northern suburbs. All services starting in the CBD and many of the inner city require prepaid tickets. You can buy these at convenience stores, and bus stands at Circular Quay, QVB and Wynyard.

You can also get an Opal card that is valid for all transport in Sydney.

If like me you enjoy exploring places like a local you might enjoy our detailed articles about using Sydney buses to discover different parts of the city including a general one on using public bus routes.

The best bus routes for visitors to Sydney

I don’t own a car, and Charles is a bus driver, so we are pretty much experts at Sydney’s bus system. Check out our guides to the following routes:

Sydney Light Rail – Servicing the city and inner west

Red Sydney light rail tram a popular new form of Sydney Public Transport

The shiny red light rail travels through the south of the CBD from Central Station to the Star Casino before heading to the inner west. It passes a couple of tourists spots including the Sydney Casino, Sydney Fish Market and the Tram Sheds, an excellent destination for food lovers.

Sydney Ferries 

There is a range of public and private services operating in Sydney. Both Opal cards and credit cards are accepted although some of the smaller services like the Bundeena ferry may still require a cash payment. At least one ferry ride must be on your itinerary!

Public Ferry Services – There are eight public ferry routes in Sydney covering Manly, the eastern suburbs of Watson’s Bay and Rose Bay, harbour foreshore suburbs of Mosman, Cremorne and inner west and western suburbs ferries to Balmain and Parramatta.

Private Ferry Services – Some harbour services are run by private operators including Manly Fast Ferry and Captain Cook Cruises.  There are also several small ferries that make a fun day out for visitors wanting to escape the city for a day like the Brooklyn River Ferry, Church Point, the Central Coast and the charming Bundeena Ferry. You can use your Opal card to pay for rides on the Manly Fast Ferry and Captain Cook Cruises, but the trip will not count towards your daily travel cap or weekly cap.

Check out my thoughts on 5 of the best ferry rides for visitors to Sydney.

Uber

Uber is legal in Sydney, and other ride-sharing services are also soon to launch. I am a big fan and have had lots of positive experiences using Uber in Sydney. I took about three trips a week on average over the last year, so I have been in enough Ubers to have formed an opinion, I have not one bad ride, all drivers have been overwhelmingly courteous, and they are now my first choice when calling for a ride.

If you want to give them a try use my code (ubersydneyexpertue)  and you will get a discount (minimum $10), I also get a free ride if you do which is a bonus 🙂

New rideshare services are beginning all the time. The most recent ones are Ola and Taxify. Sign up, and you usually get a code offering you a couple of free rides – use them all and save yourself some cash.

OLA

My Ola referral code is AG2HR2U – using this code will get you $20 off your first ride. They also often have specials like $25 flat fare from the airport for up to 10km for example.  I think they are the best value ride share in the city at the moment

You can now use any of these rideshare services from Sydney Airport – there are designated pick up areas at both the International and Domestic terminals that are well signposted.

Silver Service Taxis – Book online or download the free app

There are several taxi companies in Sydney, some service the city and others work in smaller areas. Silver is my personal favourite mainly because they answer the phone quickly, the taxis are clean and best of all they turn up!

It’s worth noting the secure ranks that operate at night if you are travelling alone. These run from 8 pm until 3.30am on Friday and Saturday nights. The most useful ones are

  • Darling Harbour, Northern end of Lime Street
  • The Rocks, Northern side of Alfred Street – Circular Quay
  • The Rocks, corner of Argyle and Harrington Streets
  • Chifley Square, corner of Hunter and Phillip Street
  • World Square, Eastern side of George Street between Liverpool Street and Goulburn Stree

Other Transport Options

H20 Sydney Water Taxis – Sometimes the quickest way to get from one side of the city to the other is by water taxi – Balmain to Mosman, for example, is going to take you ages any other way. They can be quite cost-effective for groups.

Bayswater Car Rental – An excellent value company with reasonable rates and a convenient city location. I have rented from Bayswater (also known as no birds) it has always been problem free.

Transport Apps and websites

Sydney Trip Planner – Trip planner can be reached via the web or by phoning 131500. This all in one site will help you find the best way to get from A to B. The site also lists track work and service interruptions, which are quite frequent in Sydney on the weekends.

Beyond the Wharf – This site is run by the Sydney Ferries contractor and gives lots of great ideas for exploring the cities ferry routes.

Tripview – The paid version of this app is the one I use every day as it lets you save your most used journeys.

I love the free global transport app Citymapper that I think works well for Sydney. It is probably the best option for visitors as it assumes less knowledge of Sydney than most of the other apps and is free.
You can find the full range of transport apps here 

Don’t forget to check out the public transport tag for all my posts featuring ideas for using public transport on your visit and also my OPAL 101 for visitors post to get your head around our ticketing system.

Still got a question? Join our Facebook Community where there are lots of locals happy to try to help you.

13 Comments

  1. Hi All. I live in South Africa and can recommend downloading the app ‘Offline maps and Navigation’ (not available on iPhone/iPad) before embarking on any travels, including Australia. After downloading the app, download the countries offered in the app you intend visiting before leaving and ensure the main cities are included. If works offline and is similar to Google Maps, but without using data. This is great if you embark on a walking or self-drive excursion – it indicates the time of arrival and also the speed limit while you are driving!
    We chose a hotel just opposite Central Station (for convenience of catching the Sydney Airport Link with 2 large suitcases and a trolly suitcase) and found it a relatively comfortable walk to Darling Harbour, the Rocks and Opera House. We enjoyed a lovely (reasonably priced) ham&cheese croissant breakfast with flat white coffee included @Oliver Brown Belgian Chocolate Cafe on Quay St. Paddy’s Markets (and the food court upstairs) is also worth a visit, as well as the Queen Victoria Building with its lovely interior – and a fresh juice at one of the cafe’s inside.
    When visiting the Botanical Gardens, take a small packet of fresh almonds or other nuts/seeds to feed the cockatoos – they are so tame and will sit on your shoulder or arm and eat out of your hand. Also look up into the trees for the huge fruit bats hanging from the branches. For bird-lovers, take a small pair of binoculars – you will be glad!
    We did not buy Opal Cards, but at the end of our 3-night stay did a day-trip on the Hop-on Hop-off bus (be sure to take a pair of earphones when you enter the bus at the front so that you can recognise the different landmarks) – it was well worth it to visit the areas further afield like Bondi Beach. Remember the sunscreen and hat!
    The Sydney Fish Market was a bit of a disappointment, but maybe we were just not in the mood. So try it and form your own opinion.
    Thank you for well put-together info on Sydney and surrounds.

  2. Hi, I will be visiting Sydney in this May, so would it be better to online-purchase the opal card in advance or just purchase the card upon arrival in the WH Smith Sydney International Airport store?

    • Hi Carmen No need to purchase in advance – just buy it at WH Smith if you don’t want to put a lot of credit on it or the Airport train station counter f you are happy to load it with $35 minimum.

      • Hi just a bit more info on the opal card…..opal gold for seniors has to be applied for online 2 weeks or 3 before your arrival…it gets sent in the post after receiving your application. Quite ridiculous me-thinks.

  3. Hi, this is my first time to Sydney, I plan to buy an Opal card in Airport. Not sure if I can cash back unused dollar value (after 4 days) when I leave Sydney

    • Hi Ricky Unfortunately you cannot easily get a refund on the card. You can fill in a form to get money refunded but it is paid to an Australian bank account and address to do this. See this page for more details. https://www.opal.com.au/en/opal-fares/opal_refunds/

      If you are not sure how much to load you can use the fare estimator on the Opal site or send me an email with your itinerary and I will try to work out the best amount for you to load.

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