A Detailed Sydney Airport Guide
Arriving in a new city after a long flight can be challenging, and let’s face it, almost every trip to Sydney Airport is a long flight! We have put this Sydney Airport guide together because we think having some information about what to expect at the airport will make your arrival so much easier.
Last updated: 2 Dec 2021
If you get lost or have questions once you arrive, keep an eye out for the volunteer Airport Ambassadors, they wear bright blue jackets to help make them easy to find. Volunteers are located in both arrival terminals and international departures. However, armed with this list of frequently asked questions about Sydney Airport, I think you will be just fine!
Sydney Expert Guide to using Sydney Airport
Sydney Airport, also known as Kingsford Smith Airport, is the oldest continually operating airport in the world. It is located close to the city in the south-eastern Sydney suburb of Mascot. It is approx 7km-9km from the centre of the city centre, depending on which terminal you fly into.
It’s a busy place with over 29 million passenger movements a year, so at times it is crowded, and things can take a while. A second airport is being built west of the city but still a way off.
How many terminals are there?
The airport has three terminals, one international and two domestic terminals. These are located adjacent to each other, but travel between the domestic and international terminals requires a bus or train transfer.
Terminal 1 – International Terminal
Terminal 2 – Domestic Flights – Virgin, Jetstar, Rex Qantas (flight numbers QF1600 up)
Terminal 3 – Domestic flights Qantas (all flight numbers QF0400-1599)
The terminals are usually just referred to as T1, T2 and T3.
How do you transfer between terminals at Sydney Airport?
Some airlines, such as Qantas and Virgin, offer free transfers for selected connecting customers. There is also a free shuttle bus, the T-Bus, which runs from 6.00am until 8.30pm. The journey takes approximately 15 minutes.
If you are in a hurry, I suggest taking the train between terminals. The station is easy to find, the trip is less than 5 minutes, and it costs $6.40. You don’t need an Opal card; you can buy a single ticket. A taxi can cost as much as $17-25 one way as traffic can be horrendous between terminals.
What time does is Sydney Airport open?
- The International Terminal is open from 3 am – 11 pm.
- The Domestic Terminal is open from 4 am – 11 pm.
There is a flight curfew in Sydney after these hours, and flights running late are fined, so in some cases, they divert to Melbourne or Brisbane if there are unavoidable delays.
Can you sleep overnight at Sydney Airport?
The airport is closed overnight, so pretty much everything shuts down after 10pm. The Domestic Terminals (T2 and T3) are locked, and you cannot sleep there at all.
There is a small and uncomfortable waiting area near the International train station, and staff may let you rest here if you have a ticket for a flight the following day. There are no benches, and no heating is offered at night, so prepare accordingly.
If this sounds too hideous, and I would not recommend it, there is a Rydges Hotel right at the door of the International Terminal. There are several more hotels within 1 km of the domestic terminals.
How long before my flight do I need to arrive at the airport?
The suggested times are two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. If you are travelling by car, please allow for extended delays during peak hours. The peak traffic times are 6.30-9.30am and 4.30-6.30pm.
New routes to the airport are under construction, and traffic is often seriously ridiculous, with it not unheard of to take up to an hour for the 9km trip from the city. Other times you can breeze through in 20 minutes; it is hard to know, so don’t cut it too fine. Saturday and Sunday mornings can be just as bad as weekdays. January 1 and 2 are also very busy.
Facilities at Sydney Airport
Is there free internet access?
Sydney Airport offers free wifi with reasonable speeds and connectivity. There are also free kiosks throughout Terminal one.
In departures, you will find a bank of them on the south side of the terminal. Airside (after customs), they are near gates 24, 31 and 53. They sometimes move these around, so check the airport map if you can’t find them.
Can you buy a sim card?
You can buy sim cards for your mobile device from Optus, Telstra or Vodafone in the International Terminal arrivals hall. These stores are usually open until 11 pm. However, it is worth noting that they don’t always offer the exclusive (cheaper) bundles available in the city.
If you are here for a longer time or need lots of data, it is worth waiting until you can get to a supermarket (Woolworths Town Hall is an easy spot to find) where you will find a more extensive range with much better data allowances for the same price or less.
If you plan on travelling outside city areas, you might want to consider a Telstra sim as these offer the best coverage in rural Australia. The Australia Post shop in the departures hall of T1 sells Telstra sim cards. There are also several private counters selling all brands.
Can you charge your devices?
Once you pass through immigration in Terminal 1, there are many places to charge your phone. However, there are only a couple in the departures area. You will find them near the Optus shop in the middle of the hall and the northern end by the International Terminal Train station.
In Terminal 2, there are plenty of outlets by the departure gates.
Is baggage/luggage storage available at Sydney Airport?
Baggage storage is available in Terminal 1. It is operated by Smarte Carte and is open until 9.30pm each day. You will find it at the southern end of the terminal near the florist. Alternatively, wait till you get to the city and try out the Mind My Bag service.
Are there showers at Sydney Airport Terminals?
Some of the toilet blocks in Terminal 1 have shower stalls, but there is no soap or towels. You can buy basic toiletries at the Post shop at the southern end of the departures hall. In Terminal 1 (airside) near counters A and K on the departures level. Airside, you will find them near Gate 31, Gate 51. In the arrivals (landside) near check-in counter B.
Is medical assistance available at the airport?
A medical centre in Terminal 1 is open from 8 am to 5 pm. You may also get basic medical products from the pharmacies in both terminals. The nearest hospitals are St George Hospital at Kogarah and Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick.
What can you do while you are waiting for your flight?
Sadly, Sydney Airport has nothing exciting to make you want to linger here much longer than you need to. There are a few dozen shops in the International Terminal and several restaurants, but no fun diversions like you find in Singapore!
If you have a long layover and no lounge access with your ticket, you have a few options:
- Buy a lounge access pass valid for 3 hours
- Book a room at the Rydges Hotel in the T1 car park
- Book a room at the Mantra Hotel located next to the Domestic Terminal (day rooms available)
- Spend some time exploring the city using my easy guide to what you can do in Sydney in 5 hours
- Check out our review of the full list of airport hotels for an overnight stay
Transport from Sydney Airport to the city (CBD)
Trains, buses, shuttles, and taxis operate from Sydney airport. Choosing the best transfer option will vary depending on how many people you travel with, where you are heading, and how much comfort you need.
Assuming you are going to the centre of the city (CBD)
- The fastest journey will be on the airport train – particularly in peak hour, but it is expensive ($18.70 to the city)
- The cheapest trip will be on the bus and the suburban train network (but it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted)
- The most comfortable will be with a private transfer and often these are not that much more than a taxi
- The comfortable journey will be in a taxi or rideshare – but it could cost you a fortune if you travel in peak hour or need to head across the Bridge.
- All major rideshare services operate from the airport and have a designated pickup area.
Sydney Airport Train – ‘AirportLink.’
The airport train will get you from the International Terminal to Central Station in 15 minutes and Circular Quay in 20 minutes. It’s three minutes faster if you are travelling to the Domestic terminal.
Trains run every 10-15 minutes, with the last train leaving at 12.57am. The first train to the airport departs the city heading to the airport at 4.20am
I wrote a separate article with tips for taking the airport train, which will help work out the best strategies for a comfortable journey.
How much does the airport train cost?
As these stations are privately owned, tickets are expensive on top of the usual CityRail fare, a station access fee of $14.30 for adults and $12.80 for children (5-15yrs).
If you plan on using public transport in Sydney, you can purchase an Opal Card at the airport, but you can also travel on a single-use ticket or even your credit card to tap on and off. You can read all about using Opal in this article.
The only time I would avoid the train is the early morning peak – say 7.45-8.40am when trains are usually really crowded, and you may find it difficult to enter with your luggage. Head to the front of the train for your best chance at some space or wait for the next train as some non-express trains are not as crowded.
Is it a good idea to take a taxi?
Taxi ranks operate outside each terminal. There are marshalls on hand to help if you need a large taxi (we call them maxi-taxi) for groups of five or more. They can also arrange taxis with children’s car seats or accessible taxis for wheelchair users.
If you are travelling in a group of 3 or more a taxi is often the cheapest option. The average fare to the city is $55. Add another $10 if you are heading to the Rocks or midtown. Fares will be higher in the early morning and late afternoon when peak traffic hits.
On top of your fare, there is a $3.00 airport taxi levy and a $5.50 Eastern Distributor toll if you travel to the city via this road. Between 10 pm and 6 am, a night surcharge is added to your fare. This trip should take about 20-30 minutes.
Can I use rideshares from Sydney Airport?
Rideshare services are legal in Sydney, and Sydney Airport has a designated pick up area just a couple of minutes’ walk from the arrivals gates. You can book your service using the free airport wifi, and you will usually find a car arriving within 5-10 minutes. Uber, Ola, Didi and Taxify are all available and offer similar services and prices.
There is free wifi at the airport for you to access your apps without having a sim card.
I prefer Ola because I think they treat their drivers better, but there is not much difference. Ola often has special airport arrival and departure deals. Rideshare is approximately 20% cheaper than taxis. To get an idea of the cost, you can check it by downloading either app and viewing the estimated cost before you book.
The budget traveller transport hack
Warning – This is only for genuine frugal travellers!
Two public bus routes, the 350 and the 410, go via the airport. Either of these buses will get you to a train station on the city rail network. The eastbound bus’s preferred option; ask the driver to let you off at Mascot station and change to a city train. The bus will cost $3.80 from T1 or $2.40 from T2/3. The train will cost $4.00. Total travel time will be about 30 minutes from T1 or 15 minutes from T2/3.
From the international terminal, the westbound bus is slightly quicker. Get off at the 3rd stop, Rockdale and then join the train to the city. Do not get off at the station before this (Banksia) as this station has limited service. The bus will cost $3.80 from T1 or $2.40 from T2. The train will cost $4.80. Travel time from T1 is approx. Thirty minutes or T2/3 50 minutes.
You can either get an Opal card or use your credit/debit card or even Apple pay or Google pay. Learn how the Opal system works here
These can be the best choice if you have to head into the northern beaches or any of Sydney’s outer suburbs. We sometimes use these for booking transfers and have had no problems with Manly Express for the Northern Beaches and Airport North Shuttle, which confusingly also goes west! Both of these services list their pricing on their websites.
If you are someone who gets off a 10 plus hour long flight dazed (umm yep!) a pre-booked transfer can be a great idea.
Budget – Shared Shuttle
If you like the idea of arriving to a pre-arranged shuttle, then this service by Go Sydney Shuttle has a good reputation and is affordable at less than $20 per person. It’s a shared service, and they make 2-4 stops along the way depending on the number of passengers.
They monitor your flight arrival information so they will meet your flight even if there are delays. At only $2-3 more than the train, it is a good option if your hotel is not near a train station or if you don’t fancy tackling an unfamiliar public transport system after a long flight.
If you prefer a private transfer, you can book a premium transfer starting at $79 for two passengers. The uniformed driver will be waiting with your name card to take you directly to your hotel. Larger vehicles are also available for groups. You can check the full range of options here.
But wait, there’s more.
- You can also hire a car; almost all the leading companies have desks at the arrivals halls. Try the comparison site Discover Cars for your options.
We have also written a detailed guide to the different parts of Sydney to stay in and the pros and cons of each area. Also, please don’t rule out airport hotels; some are great.
Need to save $$$ check out these budget hotels in Sydney