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.

Updated 1 July 2018

A brief guide to Sydney’s Public Transport

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.

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 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, and in peak hour, the trains are pretty crowded. 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 a good 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 parts 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. I have also written some detailed posts including a general one on exploring Sydney using public bus routes and guides for the 389 bus from Pyrmont to North Bondi, the 325 bus from Walsh Bay to Watsons Bay and visiting Eastside Sydney on the 311 bus 

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, a great destination for food lovers.

Sydney Ferries 

There is a range of public and private services operating in Sydney. Opal cards are accepted on most services these days although some of the smaller ones 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 very cute Bundeena Ferry.

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, and you will get a discount (up to a max of $15 I think), 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.

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.

Planning a holiday to Sydney? Not sure if you should rent a car? Well if you learn a little about the public transport system before you arrive I think you will find there is no need to hire a car y. Sydney's public transport is easy to use, and once you work out the basics, I am sure you will find it convenient.

6 Comments

  1. 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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