48 hours in Sydney

Australia’s largest city, Sydney, is a mecca for tourists from every corner of the globe. 48 hours in Sydney shows how this vibrant and bustling city with its beautiful harbour, pristine beaches and iconic structures, draws tourists for many reasons.

Are you staying in Sydney pre or post cruise? Or perhaps you’re heading to Sydney for a wedding or business trip. Then don’t let your visit be all work and no play. A good option would be to extend your time by an additional 48 hours in Sydney to see why millions flock here, and make the most of your time sightseeing. If you’re wondering what there is to do, here are our suggestions for things to do in 48 hours in Sydney.

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First, as soon as you confirm the dates you will be in Sydney check out the shows playing at Capitol Theatre and book a show.

Day 1

We’ve planned a full day today, so start your morning early with breakfast at The Rock’s. The Rock’s area features cobblestone laneways and old sandstone buildings from the colonial days and is minutes away from Sydney Harbour. Our recommendation is a Buttermilk pancake stack at Pancakes on the Rocks, a Sydney favourite that has been in The Rocks since the 70’s and is open 24/7.

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After breakfast you can save a few dollars and skip the Harbour Bridge climb, burning off those pancake calories with a walk across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. “The Coathanger” as it is fondly referred to, is one of Sydney’s most iconic attractions. From George Street look for the sign pointing to the flight of stairs leading to the bridge’s pylon, near Gloucester and Cumberland Streets. The pedestrian walkway allows visitors to safely walk across the bridge. Wire mesh is in place for safety purposes, but a gap has been left at chest to head height to take photos. The 2.5 kilometre walk will take about an hour, depending on your pace. Unlike the paid Bridge Climb where you can’t take photos, the walk is completely free and you can take as many photos as you choose. So take your time as the view from the bridge is incredible and you can get some unique, postcard perfect photos of Sydney Opera House.

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On the other side you’ll arrive at Milson’s Point and be able to check out another of Sydney’s landmarks, Luna Park. Luna Park is a fun park developed in 1935, the concept based on the original Luna Park in Coney Island, New York in 1903.

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Jump on the ferry and head under the bridge, across the harbour to Circular Quay. Once there you can walk along to one of the 20th century’s most famous and distinctive buildings, the Sydney Opera House. Photographing this majestic building from the outside is only giving half the story. Take an Opera house backstage tour and get to see some of the areas restricted to the general public.

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Inside you can capture photos from rare vantage points, marvel at the vaulted ceilings of one of the biggest pillar free chambers in the world, step inside the theatres and foyers, and sit in the elegant custom made white birch timber chairs. Learn the history behind the complex engineering problems causing escalating costs of the 14 year build of this masterpiece of human creativity that was UNESCO World Heritage-listed in 2007.

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Outside get up close and touch the world famous shell tiles that cover the huge precast concrete shell sails that took four years just to figure out how to construct them. A further year was spent developing the 1,056,006 ceramic glazed tiles which were bonded to the ribbed structure of the sails. The appearance of the outside appears a solid white, but up close you can see (and feel) the chevron patterned, glossy white and matt cream tiles.

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A visit to this multi venue, performing arts centre is dramatic and unforgettable. The mammoth building houses a Concert Hall, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Drama Theatre, Playhouse, The Studio and Utzon Room and has a seating capacity of 5,738 people. There are additional facilities like recording studios, cafes, restaurants, bars and retail outlets. Today the Opera House is one of the busiest performing art centres in the world, with over 3000 events to an annual audience of 2 million people. The venue conducts tours for over 200,000 people each year.

Head back to Circular Quay and take a ferry for a scenic, relaxing afternoon to see more Sydney sights. The ferry will take you past Fort Dennison, part of Sydney Harbour National Park that is a former penal site occupying a small island.

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The ferry then continues on to Manly, where you can disembark and have a quick look around until the next ferry arrives. Manly is a beach side suburb of northern Sydney, where Norfolk Island Pine trees are a prominent feature for the popular seaside holiday resort with one of the world’s oldest surf lifesaving clubs.

Board another ferry to continue onto Watson’s Bay. At Watson’s Bay you can enjoy a truly Australian experience of fish n chips at Doyle’s. Doyle’s, a 5th generation, family run business serves Australian seafood, first opened their doors in Watson’s Bay in 1885.

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After some time in Watson’s Bay take a ferry back to Darling Harbour. You can spend some time here or head back to your serviced apartments Sydney where you can take a moment to rest your feet before getting changed for the evening show.

Make your way to China Town for a Chinese meal before walking to the Capital for the show. After the show you might like to indulge in a late night snack at Harry’s Café de Wheel. Their signature heart stopper is Harry’s Tiger, chunky beef, potato mash and mushy peas, said to the best pie in the city. Harry’s Café de Wheel is possibly the first and longest running food trucks in Sydney, starting in 1938.

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Day 2

Next morning start the day with breakfast at one of the many great places in Darling Harbour. After breakfast you can choose from spending some time at Sea Life, Madam Tussauds or the National Maritime Museum all at Darling Harbour. Afterwards take a ride on the little train from Cockle Bay Wharf past the Darling Quarter Playground and Tumbalong Park to the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Modelled on a typical private garden of the Ming Dynasty the garden gives an insight into the Chinese heritage and culture. Entering the garden you will be taken back to a quiet solitude, a peaceful refuge right in the heart of the city. The garden combines the elements of water, plants, stone and architecture. Running water, cool lagoons with lotus plants and colourful fish, willow trees with birds perching in them, bamboo swaying in the breeze, make this an idyllic spot for locals to recharge their batteries.

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Around the corner you can have fun poking around in the giant flee market and spend some time shopping for souvenirs at Paddy’s Markets. Part of Sydney’s history and Sydney’s biggest markets there are over 1,000 stalls selling food, fashion, gifts and gadgets. No visit to the market is complete without sampling food and upstairs you can have a meal bringing you flavours from around the world.

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But don’t shop too much, we have another treat planned.

A short walk down George Street, near Martin Place you’ll come across Angel Place and a very unique artwork installation, Unforgotten Songs. This display is a canopy of numerous suspended empty birdcages of all sizes at various heights, representing the birds that once lived in the area. Most have moved on or become extinct, forced out by European settlement. A taped cacophony of the birdcalls heard during the day, are different from the nocturnal bird sounds at night. This is a reminder of what has been lost to make way for streets and buildings.

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Further along George Street is a group of beautiful heritage listed buildings. The first, St Andrews Anglican Cathedral, one of the city’s finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. Consecrated in 1868, this is Australia’s oldest cathedral and a perfect example of the colonial desire to reproduce a part of England in Australia. This is a truly splendid building, small in size, but imposing with a harmonious interior. The proportions of the inside give a sense of grandeur and richness from the decorative details and carved Sydney sandstone.

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Nearby is another landmark, the Sydney Town Hall, also built from Sydney Sandstone. Built in 1880’s, today the Town Hall serves as an important meeting place for the city of Sydney. Built on the site of an old cemetery the grand Victorian style building is lavishly ornamental. Today the building remains the only non-religious city building from the era to retain its original function and interior. The main hall contains the Grand Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ with tubular pneumatic action, installed in 1890.

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Last, but no means least, is the late nineteenth century Queen Victoria Building (QVB). Constructed between 1893 and 1898 the Romanesque Revival building takes up an city block. Originally a marketplace, the dominant feature is the central dome with an interior glass dome and copper sheathed exterior. Consisting of four shopping levels, the top three have large openings that allow natural light from the ceiling to illuminate to the lower floors. Much of the tessellated tilework is original. The stained glass windows, including a cartwheel window depicting the arms of the City of Sydney allow light into the central area. The roof incorporates skylights running lengthways and the underground arcades lead from the Townhall railway station to the Myer building. The colonnades, arches, balustrades and cupolas are Victorian style as the name of the building suggests.

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The upper level is especially spacious; the northern end was previously the Grand Ballroom and today is a tea room which is the epitome of style and quality. The beautiful Victorian styled ceiling features Baccarat crystal chandeliers. So ends the ‘tour’ leaving time for the finale of your visit to Sydney, a decadent high tea.

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For those not interested in some high end shopping or a sumptuous high tea you have time to get transport (train to Bondi Junction, then change to a bus to the beachfront) to probably the most famous beach in the world, Bondi. Most Aussies would tell you this is the best beach in the world. You should have enough time to don your bikini or boardies for a dip in the inviting waters. Or your just wiggle your toes in the soft sand taking in the views of the sparkling water and vast stretch of beach with enviable surf conditions. The street running along the beach is full of restaurants and weekend markets. But for those who didn’t take the chance to experience Harry’s Café de Wheel’s famous pies after the show last night, this is your last opportunity. And for those who tried and are hooked this is your last call.

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So, in just 48 hours you will have seen the Sydney icons and attractions, spent some time chatting with the locals and probably be taking home more bags than you came with. You will also have experienced a variety of cuisines that Sydney has to offer.

Take a short moment to rest with your feet up in your serviced apartment. All that walking for 48 hours in Sydney can be exhausting, but I’m sure, like us, you’ll be thinking of your return visit before you’ve even left. Check out these awesome ideas for where to play, stay and eat when you return to for a Sydney weekender 

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Does this sound like an itinerary you would like to do when you’re in Sydney? Is there somewhere you would have liked to see included?

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33 Responses

  1. LC says:

    Sydney is my hometown and my heart beats a little faster when I read articles about the place! This is a great wrap up guide for anyone with limited time in NSW’s capital. 🙂
    LC recently posted…Trekking on Horseback to Son Kol Lake, KyrgyzstanMy Profile

  2. Did a pretty amazing job in 48 hours! Shame to see Lunar Park closing down though.

  3. So wish I’d gotten over to Luna Park when I was in Sydney. The city has so much to offer and such a beautiful location.

  4. What a terrific itinerary! Sydney is one of my FAVORITE cities and I think you did an amazing job highlighting all the wonderful diversity of its sights! Side note – I got engaged in Sydney on the Darling Harbour bridge, so I have a particular soft spot in my heart for that area. =) Thanks for sharing!
    Emily @ Out and About recently posted…Thinking Out Loud ThursdayMy Profile

  5. Betty says:

    Love Sydney’s architecture! The National Maritime Museum is probably one place we’d like to check out.

  6. I spent 4 days in Sydney! I love your Luna Park pics!

  7. I don’t know when, but one day we are going to make it down under. We’ll keep these tips handy until then.
    Arnie Jacobsen recently posted…Beautifully Stylish Hanging Toiletry Bag for Men Who TravelMy Profile

  8. I’m yet to visit Australia but Sydney looks incredible, especially the Chinese garden and Luna Park
    Suze – Luxury Columnist recently posted…Learning How To Play Polo Like A ProMy Profile

  9. Cat says:

    Such a useful post! I’m seriously thinking about visiting Australia in December. Will keep this post in mind if we end up going to Sydney!

  10. eileen g says:

    This is a very handy itinerary. I like how you slip local places to eat and local popular destinations along with all the major tourist sites one has to hit. I also like being given an order in which to do and see things for maximum efficiency. if you have a short time in a city the order in which you do things really matters.

  11. Great photos and information of a city we love. Sydney is physically a very stunning city as well as a city with lots to see and do. Great job guys
    Paula McInerney recently posted…18 Best Outdoor Adventures in The AmericasMy Profile

  12. Wow I can’t believe how much you packed into 2 days Lyn. I love the QVB building and exploring Sydney on the ferries.
    Sally@Toddlers on Tour recently posted…Travel Tips for Flying with BabyMy Profile

  13. What a fabulous post! Definitely saving this for later, and adding to our Pinterest boards. Fantastic itinerary – Thanks for all of the ideas and details!
    Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) recently posted…Dinner at Florida’s Legendary Mai-Kai RestaurantMy Profile

  14. There’s so much to see in Sydney. I’ve visited for a few days, but it seems like there are quite a few places on your list that I never made it to. I guess I have an excuse for a return trip! That Unforgotten Songs art installation is a unique way to call attention to what was given up for all the development, and I really want to try a Harry’s Tiger.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted…Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory TourMy Profile

  15. Donna Janke says:

    What a wonderful way to spend 48 hours in Sydney. It’s been years since I’ve been to Sydney and this brought back some great memories – the Opera House tour, the ferry ride.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Gardens at Ferrari-CaranoMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      Donna it’s nice to know our itinerary bought back some memories for your of your time in Sydney. We so enjoyed the ferry rides on Sydney’s very pretty waters and seeing the Opera House get closer and closer on the trip across from Milson’s Point was a highlight for us. Thank you for your comment.

  16. Upeksha says:

    This is a great itinerary. I went to Sydney more that 20 years ago. I’ve been thinking of a return visit for a while now. Thank you for the tips!
    Upeksha recently posted…Photo Diary: StockholmMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      Wow I am sure when you return to Sydney you will notice many changes Upeksha. I hope you get there soon and that you find this itinerary useful. Thank you for your comment.

  17. Lolo says:

    I didn’t know Luna Park was based on the same concept as Coney Island in NY! That’s a fun fact! I hope to make it to Australia one day so it was nice to see more of what Sydney has to offer! #TheWeeklyPostcard #wkendtravelinspiration
    Lolo recently posted…HOW You Can Save Money Traveling as a CoupleMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      I really hope you do get to see Australia first hand one day, it is such a diverse country and Sydney just one of the beautiful cities to see.

  18. I’d really like to see Unforgotten Songs. I’m a huge bird lover and I appreciate the effort they are making to remind everyone how the birds were affected by urban development

    • Lyn says:

      Ava it really was a surprise for us. We had no idea it was in the little alleyway and had to read a plaque on the pavement to realise what it all represented. It was a really nice piece of art and a meaningful message about progress.

  19. David says:

    Glad to see two of my favourite things to do in Sydney are here, Pancakes on the Rocks and Chinatown. And the architecture in the city centre really is quite something, very fond of the 19th century buildings. Nice! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  20. Kreete says:

    This is a lot to do in 48 hours! I really enjoyed getting to know more about the stories behind the buildings I see every day when walking or driving past them and will definitely plan on walking across the harbour bridge. I would go this far though to say that Bondi is nowhere near the best beach in the world nor the best in Sydney and most Aussies would agree as it has become a tourist mecca and locals would go to other beaches around the eastern suburbs to escape the crowds. I would have included the famous Coogee to Bondi walk with spectacular coastal views and plenty of secluded beaches on the way. It’s a very popular track among walkers, runners and everyone who loves healthy lifestyle and being outdoors. The track is 6 km and takes about 2.5h to complete. Thanks for sharing your experience in the city I’m lucky to call home!
    Kreete recently posted…Travellers job struggles in SydneyMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      Thanks for your comments Kreete. You’ll love the views on the walk across the bridge. The fact that Bondi is such a tourist mecca is why it is described by many as the best beach in the world. I agree that Sydney’s eastern suburbs and many other places in Australia (including my hometown, Perth) have many equally spectacular beaches. I would have included a walk like Coogee to Bondi if it didn’t take 2.5hrs to complete plus travel time. This would take up a huge part of the day and this is only a 48hr itinerary. It’s hugely popular for walkers, runners and also great venue for the Sculptures by the Sea each year.

  21. Anda says:

    I wanted to say that you convinced me with the Opera House in Sydney, but I think you convinced me even more with the pancakes. I’d kill for some of those. It seems you can do a lot in Sydney in a couple of days, but I’d like to spend more than just 48 hours there if possible. It’s a lovely city.
    Anda recently posted…Sunlight Hotel – Sleeping in an Old Soap Factory in SwedenMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      Anda I know you would love Sydney as much as I do. It is well worth spending a little longer if you have the time, but Australia has so much to see I’d hate to see you only spend time in the east and not make it over here to the equally beautiful west. I will make you a pledge Anda that if you do make it here in the west we’ll join you in Sydney for an amazing trip.

  22. What a jam-packed 48 hours in Sydney! You’ve reminded me of so many things I love about my former home town… the harbour, the bridge, Pancakes on the Rocks!! It’s such a beautiful vibrant city with so much to see and do, which you’ve highlighted perfectly.
    Lyndall @ SeizeThe Day Project recently posted…Discovering Monterosso Al Mare on Italy’s Cinque TerreMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      Lyndall I am glad you feel we captured the vibrancy and beauty of your hometown. It was easy to write so much about such a wonderful city, but such a shame I have only been there once. I know I am destined to return at some time.

  23. Lydia C. Lee says:

    Wow, you certainly squashed a lot in!!
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted…Sunday in my City – Lunch in PatongaMy Profile

    • Lyn says:

      Lydia I have only been to Sydney once and as that was the trip of a lifetime wanted to make the most of it. We arrived in Sydney at the end of a New Zealand cruise and spend a few days there. Our last night was the first night of Vivid, so our last night was amazing. Sydney is so easy to get around and therefore easy to fit so much in.

  1. December 11, 2016

    […] Wanderful Wednesday, City Tripping, Weekend Wanderlust, Monday Escapes, Whatever the Weather, The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Travel Inspiration, and Fly Away […]

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