Sydney is a large, sprawling metropolis with plenty to explore. Choosing where to stay in Sydney can be the hardest part of your trip, particularly as it doesn’t have the cheapest accommodation options.
This article will help you decide where to stay in Sydney, whether it’s your first time in the city or your tenth!
Sydney is a big city.
As in, unfathomably massive.
Its diameter stretches from the east coast to two hours inland, with far-reaching suburbs such as Penrith still being considered as part of the city.
Choosing where to stay in Sydney can have a big impact on your holiday and how much you end up enjoying your time spent in the city.
This is particularly daunting if you’re a first-timer to Sydney. Should you stay where the sights are, or have more of a local experience?
On top of this… well, Sydney is not a cheap place to visit.
The areas which have the world famous sights are expensive to stay in.
Lesser-known suburbs may be further out, but accommodation will be cheaper. Plus, they’ll reward you with you a different kind of experience in the city.
Don’t worry – I’m here to help you out. I grew up in Sydney and am extremely well-acquainted with my hometown.
This post will break down the best neighbourhoods to stay in Sydney and list some of the things you can do there.
Where to stay in Sydney: best neighbourhoods for travellers
I’ve tailored this list so that it will have options for everyone – families, couples and singles, those interested in history, culture, the arts and nature.
You’ll walk away with a better idea of what to expect from each area of this gigantic and diverse city.
Let’s get into it.
Get Around Quickly
You’ll discover where to stay in Sydney:
Where to stay in Sydney for the first time: the CBD (Central Business District)
The CBD is a great place to stay on your first trip to Sydney.
It’s close to shops, eateries and bars, and easily accessible by public transport.
Popular tourist sights like Circular Quay, Chinatown, Darling Harbour and the Rocks are a short distance away. If you like to explore a city by foot, you can walk out to other inner-city suburbs like Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Paddington and Redfern.
So – should you stay in the city centre? Here are some pros and cons.
The pros of staying in the CBD
If you’ve travelled to the city to go on a shopping trip, the CBD is the perfect place to stay, with easy access to Pitt Street Mall. Along here are many chains and high-end stores, for a range of shoppers.
Likewise if you’re here on business and need to stay in the city.
There are lots of interesting boutique shops and eateries in areas like The Galleries and the Queen Victoria Building (also known as QVB). A few new bars have began springing up around the city too, which makes the nightlife a little more… well, present.
The CBD is well-serviced by public transport, with the City Circle train line (Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James, Museum) running regularly.
It’s also a particularly walkable part of the city – fairly flat, as mentioned earlier, close to other attractions by foot and there are lots of interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
All in all, there’s plenty of reasons to stay in the centre of Sydney on your first trip to the city.
The less exciting aspects of staying in the CBD
With the presence of many multinational buildings, the CBD is designed with city workers in mind.
Unlike the city centres of many other cities, most of the shops around Sydney’s CBD close around 5.30-6pm, so it can get a bit dead after dark.
There’s also a lot of construction going on, as the city continues to expand and transform.
Things to do in Sydney’s CBD
Here’s just a sample of what you can get up to in Sydney’s CBD.
1. Visit Circular Quay
You’re in Sydney – you want to see the sights, right?
Either walk up to or catch the train along the City Circle to Circular Quay and take in the magnificence that is Sydney Harbour. Isn’t she a beauty?
Walk around day and night, pose in front of the icons, have a drink at Opera Bar, or tour the Opera House!
2. Walk across or climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walking across the bridge takes around 15-20 mins, depending on how many photos you fancy snapping along the way.
The easiest way to get up onto the walkway is from the Bridge Stairs on Cumberland Street in The Rocks.
You can too climb the bridge, which is supposed to be an amazing experience.
If you do it, do tell me all about it, as I am not a fan of heights!
If you want the views without the price, climb up the 200 stairs to the Pylon Lookout.
$19 gets you entry to the museum, where you can learn about the history of the bridge and about the people who built it.
Although the bridge is one of the icons, so if you’d prefer a view that includes it, tour the Skywalk at Sydney Tower instead.
3. Catch a ferry to Taronga Zoo
It’s not exactly in Sydney’s CBD, but it can be accessed from here.
Sydney’s Taronga Zoo is located in the suburb of Mosman in the city’s north.
There are frequent ferries leaving from Circular Quay, which will take you on a combined tour of the Harbour and from there to the zoo.
Once there, you can ride the Sky Safari Cable Car to the zoo entrance.
Tickets for entry, the ferry and the cable car are available as a bundle.
4. Go shopping on Pitt Street
Pitt Street Mall is the main outdoor shopping mall of Sydney’s CBD.
You’ll find pretty much anything you need (or don’t need) here.
5. Have a meal in Sydney Tower
Sydney Tower has a rotating restaurant, which offers 360° views of the city.
You can book in for a buffet meal and take in the sights.
6. Sprawl out in Hyde Park
Hyde Park is a lovely park in Sydney’s CBD.
It’s a top spot for a picnic or for reading in the sun.
There are often food festivals held here and it’s also home to the gorgeous St Mary’s Cathedral.
7. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art
The MCA is located in Circular Quay and is a must-visit for art lovers.
Check out information about current exhibitions before you go.
8. Pose like Neo at St James Station
Many of Sydney’s central stations have been revitalised over the last few years, but St James might look to be the most familiar for movie buffs.
This is because the platforms were used as a shooting location in The Matrix Revolutions in 2003.
This station has a fascinating history.
It’s also reportedly home to an underground lake, which is a top Australian urgan legend. I’d so love to take a tour down here, one day.
Where to Stay in Sydney’s CBD
Where to stay in Sydney for history: The Rocks
The Rocks is one of the most interesting corners of the city, full of gorgeous old sandstone buildings, little alleyways, boutique shopping stores and a handful of pubs that all claim to be the oldest in Sydney.
The pros of staying in The Rocks
The Rocks is very central to everything in Sydney city – all the sights and attractions.
It is in itself a really lovely area to stay in, brimming with history and quite aesthetically pleasing.
The less exciting aspects of The Rocks
It’s incredibly popular amongst tourists, so it’s always quite loud and busy.
As it’s home to million-dollar views, the price of staying here can be quite steep.
Things to do in The Rocks
Here’s what you can get up to if you’re staying in The Rocks.
1. Go on a ghost tour
A place with the sort of history that The Rocks has, has got to have a few ghosts and ghoulies knocking about.
You may have the chance to encounter a few on a ghost tour of this part of Sydney.
At the very least, you’ll hear a few stories about the history of this area.
If ghosts aren’t your thing, take a regular walking tour of the Rocks to discover its history.
2. Visit The Rocks Discovery Museum
If you prefer your history lessons to be confined to the one space, head to The Rocks Discovery Museum.
You’ll learn the history of this part of Sydney, from the days pre-European settlement, to now.
3. Visit Cadmans Cottage
Cadmans Cottage is one of only a handful of buildings that remain in Sydney, which were built during the first 30 years of the colony’s settlement.
It has seen quite a few changes over the years as water transport headquarters, a sailor’s home and water police station (it used to be directly on the water before moved away from the edge).
Now it functions as a museum, with free guided tours available of the grounds and bottom level of the house.
These run on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month from 9.45am to 10.15am.
110 George Street, The Rocks
4. Catch a play at the Wharf
The Sydney Theatre Company is located at Walsh Bay, just down from The Rocks.
If you love theatre, do check them out and see if you fancy any of the offerings.
5. Stargaze at the Observatory
Take some time to visit The Sydney Observatory on Observatory Hill.
Here you can take a day or night tour, check out the Southern sky or visit the Planetarium!
6. Check out the Rocks Markets
The Rocks Markets are held every weekend and feature live music, street food, local arts and crafts and entertainment.
Night markets are also held Thursday through to Sunday.
Visit on Fridays in particularly for the Friday Foodie Market
Where to stay in The Rocks
Where to stay in Sydney for nightlife: Newtown
Newtown is traditionally a very diverse and bohemian neighbourhood of Sydney.
Its close proximity to Sydney University means there is quite a young crowd hanging about the city.
It’s traditionally LGBTIQA+ friendly and there are plenty of interesting places to go for a feed or a tipple.
The pros of staying in Newtown
Newtown is one of the suburbs of the very trendy inner-west of Sydney, so it’s a great place to stay if you’re young and fancy a taste of local life.
I lived in and around this area for years and loved it.
The less exciting aspects of Newtown
It can seem a little rough around the edges.
Accommodation options are somewhat limited.
Things to do in Newtown
Here’s some of what you can get up to in this fascinating suburb.
1. See a show at Enmore Theatre
The Enmore is one of the premiere entertainment venues of Sydney, featuring live comedy and music.
Check out what’s on during your time in Sydney on their website.
If you’re after a delicious meal, Newtown’s a sure bet, with a whole range of restaurants and cafés covering many different cuisines.
Here’s a few places worth checking out.
- make it cheesy at Stinking Bishops
- Brewtown Newtown for coffee, brekky or a brewnut (a cronut).
- Hikaru for steaming bowls of udon.
- Mary’s for one of the best burgers in the inner west.
3. Take a street art tour
Newtown is one of Sydney’s most colourful areas. You can self tour the backstreets, or let a local guide you around to each amazing piece of art, followed by a craft beer at the end!
5. Browse the eclectic shops
Newtown’s King Street is full of the most fascinating shops.
You’ll be able to find vintage and boutique clothing, stationary, art supplies, prints, secondhand books and home wares along this street.
6. Take a Work-Shop class
In the mood to learn something new?
Check out the Work-Shop, which holds everything from taxidermy and fermenting classes, to sewing basics and galaxy watercolour painting.
Their Sydney space is located in nearby Redfern.
Carriageworks is down the road from Newtown, not far from Redfern train station.
Once the Eveleigh Rail Complex Yards, it’s now an area for arts and performances, with live events (featuring performance art, dance and live music), masterclasses and a weekly farmers market, which runs every Sunday.
Check out what’s on at Carriageworks here.
Watch a flick at Dendy
Newtown’s Dendy Cinema has long been one of my favourites for all things film.
It shows current and arthouse films, along with providing a base for film festivals.
Where to stay in Newtown
Where to stay in Sydney for nature: Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach is probably the best-known beach in Australia.
It’s the place to head to if you want to experience what Sydney is famous around the world for – surf, long bronze limbs, general beach culture.
The pros of staying in Bondi Beach
It’s Bondi Beach!
There is a stunning coastline wrapping around this part of the city, lots of trendy cafés, bars and restaurants to enjoy and outdoor activities to partake in.
The less exciting aspects of Bondi Beach
It’s allure means the beach gets absolutely stuffed with bodies any given day of the week, let alone the weekend.
Things to do in Bondi Beach
Here’s what’s going down in Bondi.
1. Check out Icebergs
Bondi Icebergs Club is a swimming club that’s been knocking about for around 90 years.
The Icebergs are named such so they are a winter swimming club, operating from May to September.
As such, Icebergs is home to one of the most iconic outdoor swimming pools in Australia, the Bondi Baths, which sit right on the beach.
Sydney is an ideal place for winter swimming, with people braving the city’s waters all year round (the weather is generally quite permitting for this activity).
2. Do the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk
The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk will take you along the cliff face of Eastern Sydney and past some of the loveliest beaches, bays and rock pools in the city.
The six kilometre walk is considered to be medium grade, as it gets rather hilly in places. A small level of fitness is required to see it through to the end.
You’d be forgiven for stopping at any beach along the way, to relax and soak up the sun.
3. Hang ten for a surf
Bondi is rather synonymous with surfing and if you’ve always wanted to try this sport out for yourself, it’s a good place to get your feet wet.
4. Check out Sculptures by the Sea
Sculptures by the Sea is an art event held yearly at both Bondi Beach and Cottesloe Beach in Perth.
You can catch this free public sculpture event in Sydney in late October and early November.
|Sydney trip tip: As you can imagine, this event can get pretty darn busy. Visit in the morning to avoid the worst of the crowds.
5. Trek out to Centennial Park
Centennial Park is between Bondi and the city.
189 hectares big, it has a pond, plenty of green space and a 3.7km long running track. It’s also quite popular amongst horse riders, with stables nearby.
You can check out what’s going on at these Parklands during your time in Sydney here.
6. Explore Bondi Junction
Westfield Bondi Junction is a large shopping centre, not far from the beach.
You can find just about anything you need here, so if you’re in Sydney to shop, be sure to check it out.
7. Have brekky by the beach
There’s something about starting the day with a hearty breakfast and a fresh burst of sea air!
Here are some options for dining in Bondi:
- Lox Stock And Barrel is largely farm-to-plate.
- Shuk is the place to eat if you’re vegan.
- Nelson Road Tuckshop is where you should head if you’re after a more wholesome breakfast.
- Harrys Bondi has a traditionally Australian menu, with plenty of outdoor seating.
8. Visit the Cooee Art Gallery
If you’re interested in Aboriginal Art, head to the Cooee Art Gallery to see the works of local Indigenous artists.
There are exhibitions held regularly and much of the art is for sale.
9. Run the City2Surf
If you don’t find the term “fun run” to be oxymoronic, consider participating in the City2Surf.
Held annually in August, it covers a 14 kilometre track, starting in the city and ending at Bondi.
Be warned – it’s hilly.
Where to Stay in Bondi Beach
Where to stay in Sydney for the beach lifestyle: Coogee
Coogee is a bit further down the coast from Bondi and is still a popular destination in its own right, yet not as busy as Bondi Beach to the north.
The pros of staying in Coogee
If you’re after a beach escape in Sydney, Coogee will offer this, while still being somewhat close to the action.
The less exciting aspects of Coogee
It’s not as well-connected as other beachside destinations.
Things to do in Coogee
Here are some options for for activities in Coogee.
1. Swim in the saltwater baths
Ocean baths can seem like the best of both worlds, as you get to swim in salt water, without dealing with too many waves.
Coogee’s Wylie Baths are heritage-listed, open all year round and will set you back $5.50 for a swim.
2. Take an underwater scooter tour
See the ocean from a different perspective with an underwater scooter tour.
You’ll meet at nearby Gordons Bay to explore an underwater nature trail, with a guide and your very own water scooter.
The only requisite is that you must know how to swim.
This is a really great idea for a quirky date in Sydney.
3. Snorkel at Gordons Bay
Gordon’s Bay in general is a gem of Sydney – a natural alcove surrounded by big rocks, which are perfect for sun bathing.
There’s no waves and no sand, which if you ask me are the two most annoying things about the beach.
I spent a good chunk of time visiting this bay when I lived in Sydney – it’s popular amongst young’uns and is known colloquially in Sydney as the “Surry Hills Beach” (SH being a very trendy area in itself).
Regardless, it’s a beautiful patch of coastline and perfect for snorkelling, or just lazing about in the Sydney sun.
4. Go SUP-ping
If you prefer to stay above water, Coogee Beach is perfect for Stand Up Paddle Boarding, with its flat surf and beautiful scenery.
Hire a SUP board at Coogee for $60 an hour.
5. Dine at the Coogee Pavilion
After all this surf-filled fun, head to the Pavilion for a meal, a drink, or just to chill out.
The Pavilion serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Where to stay in Coogee
Where to stay in Sydney for something new: Parramatta
Parramatta is around a half-hour journey from Sydney’s Central Station.
It’s fast becoming its own metro-hub, but has a strong history within the city.
The pros of staying in Parramatta
If you’ve stayed in Sydney a few times and want to check out a new area with plenty of things to do, Parramatta is a great option.
The less exciting aspects of Parramatta
It tales awhile to get into the city, but there are fairly constant express trains running (and a ferry, for the long, fun option!).
Things to do in Parramatta
Here’s some of what you can get up to in Parra.
1. Go kayaking on the river
This suburb is intersected by the Parramatta River, which is the Harbour’s main tributary and runs 14 kilometres from east to west. As far as activities go, it’s a day out in itself.
You can hire rowboats, go SUP-ping, canoe, kayak or even rent a paddleboat, which would make for a great date activity.
Check out options and prices.
2. Take a cruise down the river
The ferries in the city aren’t just confined to the harbour. In fact, the very first ferry route in Sydney cruised all the way up the Parramatta River.
It used to take a week to complete this journey and thank goodness for vast improvements in nautical technology, as now the journey can be done in under an hour.
Beats the train, that’s for sure!
View the timetable and prices.
3. Check out Elizabeth Farm
A very historic site in Parra is Elizabeth Farm, both a museum and one of the oldest homes in Australia.
The farm was built for young military couple John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1793, transformed from a cottage into a bungalow.
It was inhabited by the Swann family (a group of remarkable women) from early last century, ’til the 1960’s when the house was sold to the Elizabeth Farm Museum Trust, before being handed to the NSW government.
You can self-tour or jump on a guided tour of the farm. Entry is $12 per adult.
4. Visit Old Government House
Old Government House is listed as being the oldest surviving public building in Australia.
Built between 1799 and 1820, it was used as a “country getaway” for the first ten Governors of Australia.
It sits on 200 acres of parkland and is now managed by the National Trust.
These days, it functions as a wedding venue and restaurant, with Lachlan’s Restaurant and Cafe operating onsite.
The house opens for guided tours and costs $15 for an adult entry (National Trust members get in for free!).
5. Have a cuppa at the Gatehouse Tearooms
If you’re a fan of High Tea, this is the place to head to, being one of the oldest High Tea venues in Oz. The world heritage listed Gatehouse High Tea Rooms have been in operation since 1887.
Bookings can be made on their website.
Noting they’re currently closed due to COVID, but still offering takeaway boxes.
Discover the best High Teas in Sydney
Where to stay in Parramatta
Where to stay in Sydney to live like a local: Balmain
Balmain is one of the nicest areas of Sydney.
Tucked around the Harbour, it’s a bit quieter than other areas of the city, but still has many features to explore.
The pros of staying in Balmain
It’s a genuinely lovely part of Sydney. It has the harbour views, the sandstone buildings and the history, but it’s a little more peaceful. Plus, you can ride the ferry into the city! If I ever moved back to Sydney, I would strongly consider living in this area.
The less exciting aspects of Balmain
There aren’t a lot of accommodation options and it’s a bit secluded.
Things to do in Balmain
Here are some of the activities available in Balmain and nearby Rozelle.
1. Drop into the Rozelle Markets
Fan of thrifting? Love rifling through old bric-a-brac and antiques? Consider one human’s trash to be another human’s treasure?
Head to the Rozelle Collectors Market, where you’ll find stall after stall of old knick knacks, clothes, records, cds, dvds books, art… just about anything and everything you can imagine!
The market is held every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 3pm at Rozelle Public School.
2. Visit the Balmain Watch House
The Balmain Watch House is a tiny museum, which holds exhibitions that have some sort of resonance within the area.
3. Have a pint at an old pub
Balmain for some reason, is full of pubs, perhaps due to its working class history (it’s where the Australian Labor Party was formed, as the “Australian Labour Party” in the late 1800s).
Just like the workers of this once rough and rather rowdy area of Sydney, you can easily walk down Darling Street and put down a pint or two in a pub along the way.
4. Stroll along Darling Street
Darling Street itself is quite fun to journey down, with plenty of cafés and cute shops to explore.
The street begins in Rozelle and you can walk it right down to the harbour.
5. Take a walking tour of the area
If you’d like a more official guided tour of the area, this is an option too!
This walking tour will take you from pub to pub, as you learn about escaped convicts, dodgy gangsters, Aussie sports greats like swimmer Dawn Fraser and the sadly now-defunct Balmain Tigers rugby league team (my former footy team… sob!).
6. Ride the ferry into the city
From Balmain, you can take an easy 15 minute ferry into the city, which will plop you straight down into Circular Quay. What a way to travel!
For something completely unique, consider visiting Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour… or camp there overnight.
Where to stay in Balmain
Now you should have a good idea of where to stay in Sydney on your next trip. This is just some of what Sydney has to offer.
It’s an amazing city with a diverse range of neighbourhoods.