The Ultimate Backpacker’s Guide to Sydney, Australia

You’ve arrived in Sydney! For most travelers Sydney is your first glimpse at Australia, enjoy it!! There can be a lot to figure out and while the best way to get situated is to just get out there and live. Hopefully this guide can give prepare you a little for whats to come.

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Sydney Basics:

Food and grocery shopping: You’ll immediately find out that everything is more expensive in Sydney… especially food and drink. There are two main grocery stores in Australia: Coles and Woolworths (Woolies). There is also IGA and Aldi but those are less popular. Pick up a blue cooler bag at the supermarket to store your food in at the hostels. The bags are like $2 and an absolute staple for a backpacker (the hostels will provide rubber bands and tags for you to label your bag as your own).

As far as grocery shopping goes pay attention to prices and shop the items on offer. Lewis and I lived off of oatmeal every morning while we were traveling the East Coast. A bag of rolled oats is about 70 cents, lasts forever and fills you up for the day. Most people eat a ton of pasta in hostels as that’s usually the easiest and cheapest. I tried to be healthy as often as possible and ate a lot of sweet potatoes, hard boiled eggs and stir-fries.

Tip: Do a search on Google and keep an eye out for happy hour specials and daily meal deals at pubs and restaurants. The staff at most hostels are usually travelers as well and can be a great resource for this type of information too.

Alcohol: Almost prohibitively expensive. You’re just not going to find spirits that are affordable, I’m sorry to report. Aussies love goon which is essentially just boxed wine. Some mix it with apple juice which is actually pretty good and makes it go down a little easier since that stuff is pretty rank. BWS (Beer Wine and Spirits) is the main liquor store chain, as well as Dan Murphy’s.

Transportation:

The train is ALWAYS faster than the bus. Grab an Opal card if you’re going to be in Sydney for a while. You don’t need it too desperately if you’re staying near Central or the CBD but you will need it to go to places like Bondi Beach, Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo, or to take any of the ferry boats. You “top up” in increments of $20 at any convenience store or 7/11 (they will have an Opal sign outside). Trips vary depending on the length, but are usually $1- 3. Your card will max out at $2 on Sunday so Sundays are super popular times to go to places like the Blue Mountains or Manly Beach which would usually cost upwards of $10 each way. When getting on a bus or a train you have to “tap on” and then when you get off, do NOT forget to “tap off” otherwise it will assume you stayed on for hours and charge you loads!

There is Uber in Sydney as well as regular taxis. Don’t forget that you do not have to tip taxi drivers! At all! It’t not expected.

Wifi & Cell Service: 

It’s true what they say: there is no free wifi in Australia. It sucks. Especially if you’re used to the UK or the US where you can almost always find some free wifi this fact can come as an unwelcome surprise. There is free wifi in McDonald’s (Macca’s) so you may end up spending a lot more time in there then you would expect. Also most backpacker travel stores like Peterpan’s or STA will have free wifi and sometimes even computers you can use.

Optus and Telstra are the two main cell phone service providers here. I use Optus and pay $30 a month for 3gbs of data, unlimited Spotify usage and unlimited calls and texts within Australia.

Ok, now on to the fun stuff!…

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Activities & Things to Do in Sydney

  • Take in the Views at Circular Quay: There’s no way that Circular Quay (pronounced key, don’t embarrass yourself) isn’t going to be your first stop in Sydney. Home of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay will make your jaw drop. If you’re hungry check out the Opera Kitchen just underneath the Opera House for some scenic and delicious food.FullSizeRender.jpg
  • Shop at The Rocks & The Rock’s MarketsFrom Circular Quay carry on walking around the harbor until you get to The Rocks. Even better, on Friday’s head to The Rocks between 9am and 3pm for the Friday Foodie Market.  Saturdays and Sundays from 10-5 the regular market is a perfect place to pick up some authentic Aussie souvenirs, gifts, clothing and foods.
  • Take a photo at Forgotten Songs at Angel Place: This Harry Potter-esque little alleyway lives tucked away right in the center of Sydney’s CBD. It’s a cool little spot that makes for different photo opp than your typical Sydney touristy shots. IMG_7687.JPGIMG_7688.JPG
  • Hike the Blue Mountains: Set aside an entire day (Sundays are best because of the cheaper Opal card fares) and embark on this awesome hike around Sydney’s Blue Mountains. You can take the train from Central station all the way to Katoomba and then follow the crowds to the Three Sisters and the other scenic locations all throughout this World Heritage area. IMG_4340.jpg
  • Visit the Animals at Taronga Zoo: The zoo with a view! Taronga is so much fun. If you have extra money (well done, you) book a Koala or Kangaroo experience and you’ll get to have THAT photo of you cuddling a koala while in Australia. You know you want it.
  • Walk the Coastal Path from Coogee to Bondi: Definitely a must-do in Sydney. The walk takes about 4 hours depending on your pace but factor in a lot of stopping to take photos and just enjoy the incredible views. It’s such a nice way to see all of the famous beaches in Sydney: Coogee, Tamarama, Bondi and more.img_41881.jpgBonus activity: Take a dip in the Bondi Icebergs after the walk… it’s only $6. IMG_4182.JPG
  • Ride a Rollercoaster at Luna Park: SO iconic. Who else saw Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Our Sealed as a Kid and then always wanted to come here? Yup, same. IMG_4337.jpg
  • Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens: When I first visited Sydney I was in absolute awe that somehow in the middle of such a big city there could be such a beautiful, natural park… I really felt like I was in the middle of a jungle! This is a great picnic spot. IMG_4004.JPGIMG_4003.JPG
  • Go to a Restaurant at Darling Harbor: Looking to treat yourself to a special meal while in Sydney? There’s loads of cool waterfront restaurants all along Darling Harbor that are guaranteed to suit your needs.
  • Take the Ferry to Manly Beach: Although not quite as famous as Bondi, Manly is an awesome spot and the ferry ride is beautiful too. Look at those views…IMG_4146.JPG
  • Watson’s Bay & Camp Cove: Watson’s Bay is one of my favorite spots in Sydney. It’s  absolutely beautiful and I prefer the small, intimacy of Camp Cove beach over big Bondi Beach or even Manly. You can take a ferry or a bus from Circular Quay and arrive at a spot that makes you feel like the city is miles and miles away. IMG_9831.JPG
  • Check out the Street Art at Bondi Beach: Another fantastic photo spot. The street art along Bondi Beach is always changing and they’re all so cool and fun to look at. OYJB1936.jpgIMG_4234.JPG

Restaurants

  • The Bucket List (Bondi): Bucket List! I wish I had more photos of this place but I was too busy sipping this gigantic bloody mary to take some. The food is great but the atmosphere is even better. Sitting right beside Bondi Beach the people watching is unbeatable and you really can’t get a more beautiful view of the iconic spot. IMG_6201.jpg
  • Speedo’s Cafe (Bondi): All of the healthy food here is seriously insta-worthy. Salads and acai bowls topped with fresh fruits and veggies every color of the rainbow make for some extremely drool-worthy meals (and photos).
  • Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (Woolloomooloo): Tiger Pies! A meat pie topped with mash potatoes, mushy peas and gravy. Oh my goodness this was so delicious, and under $10 too!IMG_4335.JPGIMG_4336.JPG
  • The Winery (Surrey Hills): This is more of a special occasion place but it has some really amazing food and cool cocktails. Went here with my family and we sat in the upstairs Champagne Room where there are buttons at each table you can press for champagne to be delivered to you, love it!
  • Opera Kitchen (Circular Quay): Mmmm I LOVE the food at Opera Kitchen. Located right underneath the Opera House the Opera Kitchen has delicious food in an incredible location in a laid back setting. It’s a little on the pricy side (most dishes are in the $20 range) but I think backpacker’s and budget travelers can justify the fact that it’s really more of an experience. Also the food is totally worth it. The burgers are gigantic, the salads and open faced sandwiches are really delicious and the range of Japanese style foods look incredible.

Popular Fast Food Chains

  • Guzman y Gomez: Australia’s answer to Chipotle.
  • Grill’d: Tasty burgers. And they have avocado chips, YUM.
  • Roll’d: Vietnamese Street Food.
  • Soul Origin: Loved this place. Think healthy wraps, sandwiches and salads.
  • Sumo Salad: Healthy loaded salads.
  • Doughnut Time: Delicious doughnuts covered in candy. Yes.
  • Gelatissimo: Gelato is BIG in Australia! I love the Salted Caramel here.

Clubs & Bars

Things to know about Sydney Nightlife: Drinks are wildly expensive so pregame, but don’t pregame too much. It’t not like in America where you can show up to a bar drunk or even just tipsy and still get in. They’re really strict here and if you seem at all slightly drunk you’re gonna get turned away. I’m not saying show up to places sober, but just keep it together.

~*~*~*~ Remember: you don’t have to tip bartenders at bars ~*~*~*~

There’s also a lockout rule in place in Sydney. The lockout basically means that you can’t get into a bar or club past 2am. Bars and clubs close by by 3:30am.

  • Scubar (Central): A total backpacker’s bar. Pretty grimy but you’ll probably go at some point since it’s so cheap. We went here as part of our bar crawl with Ultimate Oz. They have crab races and you can get 50% off drinks.
  • Argyle (The Rocks): I LOVED LOVED LOVED Argyle. This is so not a backpacker’s bar… it’s pretty expensive and you have to get dressed up. BUT it’s SO much fun! Go Friday or Saturday before 10pm, to get a cheaper cover…otherwise cover can be steep. The drinks are insanely expensive so pregame hard and bring a flask with you. There’s an awesome outside courtyard, downstairs lounge and upstairs dance floors. The separate room plays ratchet music and it’s awesome and the main dance floor plays regular club music.
  • Scary Canary (CBD): Another popular backpacker bar. Scary Canary does, uh, interesting themed nights like Make-Out Monday, Silent Disco Tuesday, Wet Wednesday, you get the idea… Everyone drinks the drink special, the Scary Jar which is blue and I don’t know what was in it.
  • Sidebar (Central): This is the bar for Wake Up Hostel. They do dinner too and they have daily specials that are actually really good deals. Lewis and I got the Sunday roast there one night for $10 and it was actually fantastic. The bar can get pretty rowdy and the drinks are relatively cheap…especially for Sydney standards! Definitely preferred this to Scubar and is a great and easy going out option if you’re not prepared to spend as much money as something like Argyle would require.

What did I miss? Leave me a comment with any restaurant or activity suggestions I may have missed! If this post was helpful in planning your trip please feel free to share it! xx

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Hi! I'm Katie. I’m happiest when I’m exploring new places, lying on the beach or eating fresh foods (and if that were all to happen at once, I’d be set!).

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