How to spend 48 hours in Sydney
From the top of the Bridge to the bottom of the Harbour, YHA’s Tom Smith takes you on a two-day tour of Australia’s biggest city.
Let’s start our two-day itinerary at the top – literally – with a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. Enjoy panoramic views of the glistening harbour on a guided tour of the iconic arch, which towers 134m above the water. Bucket list, tick. Want a similar experience on a backpacker’s budget? Pop up the Pylon Lookout for only AU$15 (AU$10 for students), with nearly-as-good vistas of the Opera House and the city.
All that bridge climbing works up quite an appetite, so navigate the charming sandstone laneways of the historic Rocks precinct to find somewhere for lunch. Order a ‘coat of arms’ pizza loaded with kangaroo and emu meat from the Australian Heritage Hotel, tuck into some pub grub on the scenic rooftop of the Glenmore, or grab some street food from the Rocks Markets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Learn more about the Rocks’ colourful convict past at Sydney Harbour YHA, a modern hostel perched above an archaeological dig site that contains remnants of Sydney’s colonial history.
Stroll through Circular Quay en route to the Royal Botanic Gardens, a lush green oasis in the heart of the city. Snap a selfie under the sails of Sydney Opera House, picnic in the immaculately curated gardens, have a dip in the Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool, and admire masterpieces at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the Domain. And don’t miss Mrs Macquarie’s Chair for that postcard-perfect photo of the Bridge and the Opera House!
Return to Circular Quay to jump on the ferry to Manly, another quintessential Sydney experience. After the half-hour journey, you can lay out your towel beneath Manly Beach’s lofty pine trees, lace up your walking shoes to shuffle along the leafy seaside Fairlight Walk, grab a coffee on the bustling Corso or a beer at the much loved 4 Pines microbrewery, or just feast on fish and chips with the sand between your toes. No need to rush back to Manly Wharf for the return journey – ferries run until past midnight.
After you get back to Circular Quay, treat yourself to a nightcap at one of the inner-city’s trendy watering holes. Moody speakeasy The Baxter Inn is renowned as Australia’s best bar, PS40 boasts a seriously impressive cocktail list, Palmer & Co takes you on a trip back in time to the 1920s, and grungy Frankie’s Pizza is one of Sydney’s favourite live music venues.
If you spend the night at Sydney Central YHA, you can grab breakfast at the in-house café, and across the road at Railway Square YHA they pour a mean cup of coffee, too. But if you feel like exploring, the fashionable inner-city neighbourhood of Surry Hills is brimming with great spots for brekkie – Paramount Coffee Project and Reuben Hills are two of the very best.
Next stop, Bondi – a beach so famous it’s become a compulsory item on every visitor’s itinerary. Splash around in the surf or have a dip in the azure water of the famous Bondi Icebergs ocean pool before winding your way along the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, a six-kilometre stretch of clifftop linking some of Sydney’s most sparkling bays and beaches. Coogee is also a lovely spot for lunch with a view, especially at the Coogee Bay Hotel or the Coogee Pavilion.
The afternoon is a case of ‘choose your own adventure’. Beach bums should stick to the Eastern Suburbs and discover the string of hidden beaches on the harbour – Milk Beach, Hermit Bay and Lady Martins Beach to name a few – before watching the sun set with an Aperol spritz at the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel or some fish and chips next door at Sydney landmark Doyles.
Culture vultures will prefer Sydney’s bohemian inner-west, instead. Hunt for a bargain among King St’s eclectic array of independent retailers, catch a gig at the storied Enmore Theatre or an arthouse film at the Dendy, have a putt at indoor minigolf bar Holey Moley, feast on a mouth-watering burger at Mary’s, and sip in a schooner at the Courthouse Hotel (better known as ‘The Courty’ to locals) or one of the many craft breweries in the area, such as Newtown institution Young Henry’s.
If you’re still feeling thirsty, raise a glass to your whirlwind 48 hours in Sydney in the stylish suburbs of Darlinghurst and Paddington, which overflow with swanky small bars and classy cocktail joints. Take your pick from the western-themed Shady Pines Saloon, late-night favourite Big Poppa’s, the cosy Love Tilly Devine, 1920s-era Eau de Vie, the elegant Dead Ringer and This Must Be the Place, plus the clutch of friendly pubs at the eastern end of Oxford St. Cheers!
Where to stay
YHA has seven hostels located around Sydney…
- Sydney Central YHA, Australia’s largest hostel right in the heart of Sydney city
- Sydney Harbour YHA, boasting a rooftop terrace overlooking the city’s most iconic landmarks
- Railway Square YHA on Central Station’s disused ‘Platform Zero’, with rooms in the old mail shed and converted train carriages
- Bondi Beachouse YHA close to the country’s most famous strip of sand
- Glebe Point YHA located in the bohemian inner-west
- Collaroy Beachouse YHA, just a stroll from the sand on the Northern Beaches
- Pittwater YHA, an eco-friendly bush property in the serene Morning Bay