With its gorgeous beaches, food from every corner of the globe and ample family activities, Sydney is a popular tourist destination year-round. The spot will be the jumping-off point for your Down Under adventures, so make the most of your time there with our guide to spending two packed days in Australia’s biggest city.
If you’re coming from North America, you’ll land in Sydney early in the morning, just in time for breakfast and a flat white or two. To beat the jetlag that tends to accompany the long haul to Australia, it’s important to stay outside and keep moving. That’s no trouble in the capital of New South Wales where, even in the middle of winter, the sun shines and the daytime high is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Zip from the airport to Sydney’s historic neighborhood The Rocks, a late-18th-century district whose cobbled streets — once stumbled upon by drunken sailors — are now filled with tourists at The Rocks Markets and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. It’s here that you’ll also find Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Langham, Sydney, your luxurious hideaway for the next 48 hours.
The hotel has 98 rooms, each with big windows that look onto either the city skyline or the harbor. Its afternoon tea is a delicious way to get over the p.m. travel slump — in addition to scones and finger sandwiches, The Langham, Sydney serves lamingtons, a chocolate- and coconut-coated sponge cake beloved by Aussies.
But first, coffee. Cafe culture is huge in Australia, and it goes beyond smashed avo (that’s avocado toast in local parlance). Just a 10-minute stroll from the hotel, Kansas City Shuffle slings breakfast and lunch, serving the healthy-ish modern bistro fare — picture mushrooms with pesto, spinach, feta, crispy kale and poached eggs on toast — and caffeinated creations for which Australia is lauded.
Sufficiently fueled, take the 20-minute trek to the Sydney Opera House. There are a couple of ways to see one of the world’s most iconic buildings. The venue runs one-hour tours all day, daily, while those with an eye for architecture can enjoy a more in-depth look at the structure with Sydney Architecture Walks’ three-hour tour.
Catch an evening performance (book ahead) paired with dinner at the opera house’s Bennelong (Bennelong Bar and the Cured and Cultured counter provide more casual alternatives), or grab a glass of locally grown vino from one of the country’s myriad valleys at Opera Bar. Vistas of the distinctive concert hall and Sydney Harbour Bridge flow freely here, too.
Once you’ve sorted your opera house plans, head into the neighboring The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, which dates to 1816 and now houses more than 21,000 plants. Start your visit inside The Calyx (note that it’s closed for maintenance August 13 to 26), a circular outdoor event space that houses annually changing exhibitions. Its most recent display is a look at the crazy world of carnivorous plants.
With expansive harbor views and huge open areas of grass and trees, the gardens are a lovely place to wander. If you need a little more guidance, the venue conducts four different tours and a bevy of ongoing events, including high tea, kids classes and twilight walks tinged with ghost stories.
It’s a 20-minute stroll to lunch in neighboring Woolloomooloo through the The Domain, the park adjacent to the botanic gardens. If you’re not yet hungry, stop into the excellent (and free) Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Inside Ovolo Woolloomooloo — a 100-room hotel in a century-old former wool warehouse on the Finger Wharf — is the restaurant Alibi. Its seasonal menu is composed of photogenic, plant-based plates like kimchi dumplings in a coconut-coriander wrapper and smoked cauliflower with almond cream and a chili-raisin dressing that have locals and hotel guests clamoring for more.The next stop is the small neighborhood of Potts Point, less than a 10-minute walk from lunch. On a nice day, it’s a pleasure just to wander its leafy streets, popping into home goods boutique Becker Minty, charming Potts Point Bookshop (a good place for Aussie-made stationery) and browsing for unique duds at Potts Point Vintage and Wayside Op Shop. History buffs will want to make a pre-Potts Point pit stop at Elizabeth Bay House and garden, a Colonial Regency-style, 1839-manor-turned-museum with gorgeous, period-piece-filled rooms.
Once you’ve freshened up back at The Langham, grab a cab or enjoy the quick 15-minute walk to Darling Harbour restaurant The Malaya. Dig into Malaysian and Southeast Asian dishes like warming laksa (spicy noodle soup), assorted satay and piquant Sichuan eggplant zinged up with shallots, cashews and chilis, all served with harbor views. A glass wall means every table can watch the sun set over the water.
Start your morning with a brisk stroll along the water. Sydney’s coastal walks are gorgeous and as alluring as the city’s urban attractions. Wear sneakers and pack sunscreen, water and a hat (it’s crucial; the sun in Australia is strong).
If you’re a keen hiker, hop the 30-minute ferry from Circular Quay to Manly for the 6.2-mile one-way trip from Spit Bridge to Manly Walk. While you’re here, try a kayaking excursion to explore this popular surf spot by water. Stop for lunch at a trendy brewpub and burger bar from locally based 4 Pines Brewing Company, where you can sit outside with a pint, a burger or a heaping salad with nicely grilled salmon.
For a shorter jaunt, take the bus or a cab to Bondi for the 2.5-mile Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk or the full 3.7-mile Bondi to Coogee trail.
Come lunchtime, tuck into modern Italian fare enhanced with Australian ingredients (see: steamed Spring Bay mussels in a smoky tomato broth) at the beachfront Icebergs. The scenic venue offers a bar and terrace for more casual meals, but the best views of Bondi’s famed stretch of sand and the highly photographed Icebergs Pool are found in its Dining Room.
After the meal, head back to the city to freshen up. Then, make your way to Surry Hills, one of Sydney’s leafiest, trendiest neighborhoods. Depending on the day, you can gallery hop at spots like Brett Whiteley Studio, M2 Gallery and Tap Gallery; browse books and stationery at Oscar & Friends and Published Art; and snap up home wares at Collector Store and Provider Store.
Walk 30 minutes or take the bus to Paddington for dinner at Saint Peter. This pint-sized, brick-walled space serves sustainably sourced Australian seafood and a well-curated selection of wines from across the country. The menu changes daily based on what’s available, but it might include inventive plates like bonito with barbecued zucchini, harissa made from bush tomatoes and preserved lemon. A side of fried Brussels sprouts with mint is a must.
Cap off the night with a cocktail at Palmer & Co, a basement speakeasy whose Prohibition-inspired décor and bartenders’ outfits would be the envy of Hollywood set and costume designers. There are just 10 libations (two non-alcoholic) on the menu, including the gin- and rum-based Mercy Me that’s enhanced with honey, apple and walnut bitters — it’s just the concoction to toast to your two days in Sydney.