A guide to Australia's biggest city for those short on time.So, you've got one day to spend sightseeing in Sydney – what should you do if you're pressed for time and want to see Sydney in a day? This simple guide is aimed at giving both first-time visitors to Sydney and those from abroad the best 1-day experience possible.
Here's our suggestions, along with directions also listed on the map below (click to view full size map):
Start at Sydney Tower
Start your day off at Sydney Tower - the city's highest viewing point and thus a great way to both get spectacular views as well as orientate yourself for the rest of your day. Sydney Tower Eye opens at 9:00am every day of the year except for Christmas and is the perfect way to expose yourself to a comprehensive, 360 degree panorama of Sydney, the Harbour with its Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and even a spectacle that extends all the way out to the Blue Mountains in the distance.
The tower is located at the corner of Pitt and Market Streets in the middle of Sydney's retail precinct and just a short walk from Town Hall and St James train stations, with any Bus service along George and Elizabeth streets also available.
Shops on Market Street
Exit the tower and head along Market Street, taking some time to browse through the main shopping area of central Sydney. Many smaller, high-class retail stores can be found along this road, along with large, flagship department stores David Jones and Grace Bros. which offer a huge range of products from both Australia and worldwide.
This is one of Sydney's core shopping hubs, and you'll be certain to either find what you're looking for, or simply enjoy the window shopping along the way. For a more comprehensive breakdown of Sydney's main shopping areas, check out our Sydney Shopping Guide page.
The Art Gallery of NSW
Continue along and head north-east until you reach the Art Gallery of New South Wales, one of the best attractions and finest galleries in all of Australia. Situated on the aptly-named Art Gallery Road, the Art Gallery of NSW is open every day of the year except for Good Friday and Christmas Day from 10:00am to 5:00pm.
A great option for those who are looking for a taste of culture - or an ideal escape from the rain during wet weather - the gallery is composed of five different levels, each of which presents a diverse range of art and artistic styles including pieces of Aboriginal Art, Colonial and 20th-Century European-influenced Aussie art, and galleries featuring tributes to old European and Asian masters.
The Royal Botanic Gardens
Head north along Art Gallery Road and turn left to explore the Royal Botanic Gardens. Just a short walk from the Art Gallery of NSW, the Botanic Gardens are one of our 10 must-see while in Sydney and provide a cavalcade of natural floral beauty while remaining close to the Sydney CBD, with glimpses of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House rounding out the spectacle.
The gardens open at 7:00am all year round, and is divided up into a series of specialised individual gardens that each emphasise a different area of the world of plantlife, from Palms to Begonias, Roses to Ferns, and much, much more. They are both well laid out and immaculately maintained, and add a dash of natural colour to the heart of the city.
Head to Circular Quay
Leave the Botanic Gardens and head west towards Circular Quay, which serves as the figurative and literal “hub” of Sydney and its iconic harbour. Circular Quay acts as a stepping stone for most of the attractions in and around the harbour and is an energetic, bustling location with ferries that can take you to a variety of locations and offers great views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Circular Quay presents many options for getting from Point A to Point B, and will offer you the chance to deviate from the rest of this list and head elsewhere should you so choose.
Sydney Visitor's Centre
Visit the Sydney Visitor Centre at Darling Harbour – an invaluable resource for visitors that will provide you with free information on most of the core attractions in not only Sydney but New South Wales in general; extremely handy if you are planning further travel after you are done with your first day in Sydney, or moving on to a different part of Australia!
The Visitor's Centre can be found on Lvl 1 of The Rocks Centre, located on the junction of George and Argyle streets, and is easily recognised due to its bright yellow colour and large "i" sign - you'll encounter it while walking along the area leading to the main Quay.
Explore and Have Lunch at Circular Quay
Walk around Circular Quay, taking in the many highlights and views of the harbour from the foreshore, perhaps stopping for lunch at one of the small harbourside restaurants or cafes along the way. With plenty of walkways, pedestrian malls, parks and restaurants, there is plenty to keep you entertained simply on the Quay itself.
The area is always busy, with live entertainment put on by street buskers, tourists grabbing snapshots of the harbour, and a great outlook to watch the many boats and ships pass in and out of this lovely waterway.
The Sydney Opera House
Proceed further along to the Sydney Opera House – another one of the “must-do” destinations in Sydney, and perhaps one of the most famous icons in all of Australia next to Ayer's Rock (or Uluru). This unique feat of architectural design and engineering adds tremendously to the character of the already-scenic harbour that contains it, and is one of the most photographed places in the country.
The Sydney Opera House can be found on a spot called Bennelong Point at the north-eastern tip of Circular Quay, and is a true triumph of modern architecture that makes for the picture-perfect location for a postcard-worthy photo! Tours of the Sydney Opera House are also available if you wish to take a more in-depth look of its fascinating insides, taking visitors inside for a behind-the-scenes dose of Opera House-related goodness.
Catch a Ferry on the Harbour
Head to East Circular Quay to the departure terminal and hop on a ferry for a relaxing round-trip that will show you the harbour and its surrounds from the perspective of the water. Comprised of five separate jetties, the wharf at Circular Quay has ferries that travel around the harbour and stop at such key sightseeing destinations as Taronga Zoo, Watson's Bay, Manly and Parramatta.
Sydney's excellent ferry system provides easy, convenient travel between these key spots and is a fine example of metro transport done correctly, with ferries running regularly so you'll never be left waiting too long.
Take a Circuit Through the City at Night
Take a circuit through the city centre at night for a whole other aspect on the proceedings - Sydney truly comes alive when illuminated in the evenings - and follow a path through the Spanish Quarter, Chinatown, George Street (Sydney's main street). The streets are always lively in these areas, and Sydney (and Australia's) multicultural diversity is on full display here.
Follow it up by travelling past the historic Queen Victoria Building before returning back to Darling Harbour in preparation to cap off the day for the evening.
Dinner at Darling Harbour
Have dinner at one of the many fine restaurants in the Darling Harbour area – with 39 fully-fledged restaurants, there is a huge range of delectable options to choose from, although you can expect to pay premium prices due to the spectacular location on busier nights. Some of Australia's most highly-rated restaurants can be found in this area, so if you're willing to splurge then there are few better places in the country to do so.
The outstanding views of the city at night aren't just lovely; they're in a central location that makes it easy for you to then return to your accommodation or board your flight out of Sydney.
We hope that this guide proves useful if you're looking to spend one day in Sydney - if you're looking for even more things to do in Sydney, be sure to check out our product catalogue for hundreds of great value activities and attractions!