Tips for Taking the Sydney Airport Train

Ride the Sydney Airport Train like a local

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 straightforward trip if you are staying in the middle of town.

Since moving to Mascot a couple of years, I caught this train daily. Over time, I 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.

Updated 1/11/2018

How to find the Sydney Airport Train Stations

Don’t worry too much about this on arrival in 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. The Domestic terminal is 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.  You might like to check out this handy Sydney Airport guide for more detailed information.

Airport Station train - Sydney International terminal

If you are heading to the airport from the city make sure you get off at the right station, do not get off the train at the Mascot suburban station. Alighting here is a such a common mistake there are now signs on the station pointing out it is not an airport station. If you have not already worked out the ticketing system head over and read my Opal card post that covers the most frequently asked questions about Opal Cards for Visitors.

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

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

The first two stations after the airport as the train heads into the city are extremely busy during peak hours.  Between 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 before the commuters pour in, lots of the passengers already on the train alight here.  Try not to be in the doorway while all this is going on. 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, more room at the front and the rear of this train.

Once the train reaches Central Station, it travels around the city via a loop known as the City Circle.

Sydney airport train travels the city circle loop

Central Station

2 Sydney Trains at Central Train Station in Sydney the first city station for the Sydney airport train

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

Museum Station

If you are getting off at Museum station, 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 in the middle of a long overdue renovation but new signage is up, and it is reasonably easy to navigate.  Stairs are all along the platform with the lifts around toward each end of the platform. Alight here for Barangaroo and King St Wharf.

This station is also home to the wooden escalator sculpture!

Escalator Sculpture Wynyard Station

You will find this work of art near the exit to York Street Exit.  It’s worth popping in for a look when you are in the area.

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. Town Hall is the closest stop to the Queen Victoria Building, Darling Harbour and the Hilton Hotel. It is currently undergoing some renovations and is a bit of a mess.

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. You worry about having enough time to reach the door.  I understand as I have done this too and it’s okay 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 speak up, and you will find people will move for you.

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

Lots of visitors are confused about using Opal cards. For the record, you can now buy your Opal card from the International and Domestic terminal train stations however they have recently introduced a minimum  $35 top up.  If you don’t think you will use this much credit you can still buy a single ticket from the ticket machines and windows.

There are five newsagents and convenience stores in the airport terminals that also sell the cards.  They usually have a  flag outside advertising this. The airport stations are privately owned, so the cost of a trip to the city has a $14.30 gate access fee added to the standard fare.  If you are planning return travel to the airport, it is worth getting an opal here.  Check the exact fare on this Sydney Airport Train fare calculator.

When should you avoid the Sydney Airport Train?

The roads around Sydney airport are currently undergoing substantial work.  Traffic is gridlocked most mornings with weekends seeming to see the worst of it.  While the train might seem like a hassle to some of you, especially if you are not regular public transport users it is in my opinion less of a hassle then being stuck in slow-moving traffic watching the meter on your taxi tick away or wondering if you will make your check in on time.

Unless you are staying at a hotel that is not walking distance to one of the train stations above I would prefer to take the train.  The only time I would not recommend this is when you are travelling with small children or anyone with mobility problems or when you have more bags than you can comfortably manage.

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. 

Not sure the best places to stay in Sydney?  I have made a huge list of the pros and cons of each part of the city that might help you narrow it down.

Have any questions or advice about taking the airport train?   Join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group where you can ask questions, stay up to date with what’s happening in Sydney and meet a bunch of friendly locals just waiting to share their advice!

International railway station Sydney platforms by Tristan Morgan – CC licence
The Sydney Airport train is a quick and easy way to get from Sydney Airport to the city.  While it's not a cheap ride it is the quickest and easiest way to reach the centre of the city. #Sydney #Australia

65 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.

    • hiya, first time to Australia, will be leaving London ,arriving via DOH on august 5th at 17:35, booked hotel in Sydney the megaboom hotel,York street, and know we have to travel to st James station, we have three days there before traveling to Woolongong to meet my brother who lives there, how much do you think we should put on an opal card for the journey of the three days Sydney the onward to Woolongong,we hope to use the ferries while in Sydney, i know one is cheap and one is expensive, also, what do you recommend for phone sims, i use virgin in UK, but my roaming charges are extortionate, should i get a sim at airport to use for visit, will be there for 3 weeks, sorry for long post , but i am a very nervous traveler , thanks in advance for any tips and ideas, great blog by the way

      • Hi Eileen

        First the easy part, the sim card. Yes, you can pick one up at the airport or just wait till you hit the city where you will probably have more choice. If you go to Woolworth’s at Town Hall up to the 2nd floor they offer a great range of providers. The deals change all the time but you usually pay for a month and get anywhere from 5GB to 30GB. None of them is terrible so you are pretty safe. Most people in our group recommend Telstra or Vodafone. Personally, I have Optus and it’s OK too.

        Speaking of the group if you have not joined its a great place to ask questions and get quick answers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/Sydneyexpert/

        You can also search the questions that others have asked.

        Now the Opal card question is a little harder. It depends on the days of the week you travel – for example, Sundays is only $2.60 all day. And the time of day – after 9am and before 3pm is cheaper than peak hour. I would start with $40 and top up if/as required. Topping up is really easy and you can’t get refunds so it’s safer too
        Also if register your card and you lose it you don’t lose your money. You just transfer the balance to a new card.

        Hope that helps.

  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.

  17. Love your helpful information! In early January of 2019 we’re traveling on Virgin Australia from Hobart and arriving in Sydney at 12:00 PM. We’re hoping that we can transfer to the International terminal, go through security (no checked bags), and make it to a Qantas flight at 2:40 PM to Dallas. Is that reasonable? Thanks so much.

    • Hi Richard That should be plenty of time. You can take a bus or the train. The train takes about 5 mins and will cost about $6.20 ( a little more without an Opal card). The bus is $6 and takes minimum 10 mins but could be longer in bad traffic.

  18. My wife and I have pensioner opal cards with a max. Amount of$10.00 on each. Once we exceed this amount it is then deducted from our bank account. We are wanting to go to the international airport and realise that the cost will exceed the $10.00 But can we still use our opal cards for the cost of the $18.50 with our card going into minus and then the government taking out the amount owing that night to get it back to the $10.00 credit?

    • Hi Norm
      If you have the card set to auto top ups then as soon as you tap on it should trigger a top up. I would imagine it would top up $10 straight away and then possibly $10 as soon as you use it again but I am not 100% sure as I have never tried it with such a low top up. Mine is set to auto top up $40 and as soon as it gets below $15 it tops up. I think it will be fine but don’t worry too much you can top up at the airport station if need be so perhaps just wait until you get there.

  19. To buy an opal card from the international airport station ticket window, do they close at a certain time in the evening? My friend’s flight gets in at 7.30pm and she may not get down to the station until well after 8pm?

  20. Hi Super helpful Sydney Expert,
    I’m arriving at the domestic terminal at 9, heading to an appointment near town hall at 11-12 and then leaving on a flight at 2 (domestic). What ticket/tickets/opal card purchase do I need, and if transferring at Central to another train for Town Hall, is there any specific train, or will there be many?

    Thanks

    • Hi Peter You can buy your train tickets at the airport station. There is probably not much benefit in buying an opal card for a one day visit. Two airport single tickets will be almost, if not, the same price. Take the train from the airport to Central and change to a Town Hall train only 1 station away. This will save you about 10 mins going around the city circle stations. Alternatively, you can stay on the train and it will get to Town Hall 5 stops after central with the added bonus of viewing the Harbour Bridge from the train as you pass through Circular Quay. Heading back is the same. You can take the train from Town Hall however if you take the train from Museum or St James it will be a little quicker. It really depends where your meeting is. Any CBD station other than Martin Place will take you directly to the airport.

  21. Hi Peter
    Coming down from Central Coast to Airport and haven’t been to Central for 20 odd years. Which platform does the airport train leave from?
    With thanks
    Wayne

  22. Hi,
    Thanks for your great info. I’m staying at the Mercantile Hotel and will be trying to get to the airport for a 10 am flight (jetstar). Although I’ll be travelling with 2 14 year olds I expect at peak hour it’s better to get the train. How early should I be thinking of leaving? Should I consider going very early and trying to dodge the peak hour? Any advice will be appreciated.

    thanks again

    • Hi Sandy
      You will be travelling in the opposite direction to the peak hour traffic so the train should not be very busy. It is recommended you get to the airport 2 hours before your flight for domestic travel so I would aim to be on the train around 7 am (7.30 at the latest) It’s about a 25 min trip from Circular Quay

  23. This is a great site for finding answers! My question is, do trains on the city loop go clockwise and anticlockwise around the loop? As I want to travel from Museum to Circular Quay and sometimes from Town Hall to Museum.
    Thanks for your hard work answering queries.

  24. If I buy the Opal card from the newsagents or convenience stores, is it also subject to the $35 minimum top up? Thanks.

    • Hi Isabella
      I am not sure if the shops will have the same minimum but I would be surprised if they do. I have not been to the airport personally since the change and I have read conflicting reponses from others. If you are planning on taking the train to the city and perhaps a ferry or two you will likely use the credit up.

  25. On the Opal website, it says, “Some retailers require their customers to pay minimum transaction values or a service fee to cover credit/debit card merchant fees.”

    Do you know if the shops charge a fee to top up? Thank You.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.