48 Hours In: Sydney

Australia's largest city has a diverting range of attractions on offer from daybreak to sundown. And now's the perfect time for a dip in the ocean, says David Whitley

Click here for 48 Hours in Sydney map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Summer is drawing to a close in Australia's biggest city, and the sticky humidity is disappearing. It's beach weather season without the sweat: sea temperatures lag a month or so behind those on land, so the water should still be invitingly warm. Hotel room prices are less terrifying – and you can spend that saved cash on the swarm of new small bars and restaurants that are transforming Sydney's drinking and dining scene.

Arrive before 26 April, and you can catch the Annie Leibovitz exhibition (A$15/£9.40) in the Museum of Contemporary Art (1) at 140 George Street (00 61 2 9245 2400; mca.com.au; 10am-5pm daily).

Touch down

Sydney is the biggest and most competitive gateway to Australia. Travelling out next weekend, you can still find fares around the £800 mark from London, around £100 more from Manchester. For the very lowest fares, travel between mid-April and late June. The train from the airport takes 13 minutes to get to Central Station (2) and 21 minutes to Circular Quay Station (3), with a one-way fare of A$15.80 (£10).

Get your bearings

Central Station (2) marks the southern limit of the city centre, which extends past Chinatown and most of Sydney's skyscrapers for about 3km up to Sydney Harbour's main hub, Circular Quay (3) – always busy with ferries. The Harbour Bridge and the historic Rocks district are to the west, while the Opera House (4) is to the east. Further east is the nightlife area of Kings Cross and hip, gay-friendly Darlinghurst. To the west lies Darling Harbour, today a jostle of yacht masts and family-friendly attractions.

Check in

The Swissotel (5) at 68 Market Street (00 61 2 9238 8888; swissotel.com) is surprisingly quiet for the super-central location, and the rooftop pool and Jacuzzi are winning touches. Doubles start at $299 (£187), room only. Also well-located is the Park8 (6) at 185 Castlereagh Street (00 61 2 9283 2488; 8hotels.com), an old hotel that has been gutted and given a stylish makeover. The "park" theme is kept with turf-coloured carpets. The $175-plus (£109) standard rooms (excluding breakfast) are good value for money; add at least 60 per cent for a split-level loft room with iPod dock, microwave and bonus sofa bed.

The new Sydney Harbour YHA (7) at 110 Cumberland Street in the Rocks (00 61 2 8272 0900; http://www.yha.com.au/hostels/nsw/sydney-surrounds/sydney-harbour/) has been designed to hover over an archaeological dig site. En-suite doubles, roughly equivalent to budget hotel standards, start at $141 (£89) for members, with breakfast an extra $6 per person.

Day one

Take a view

Most people assume that they can clamber upon the Sydney Harbour Bridge only by paying for the pricey BridgeClimb. Not true – you can walk across the pedestrian footway for free. Access is via the Bridge Stairs (8) on Cumberland Street. Survey the harbour from 87m up at the Pylon Lookout (9), which includes a fascinating museum (00 61 2 9240 1100; pylonlookout.com.au; open 10am-5pm daily, $9.50/£6).

Take a hike

After trotting back down the Bridge Stairs, take a look at the Big Dig site underneath Sydney Harbour YHA (7) then do a loop around the south pylon at Dawes Point (10) – the views from directly underneath the Bridge are little known but spectacular. Follow the coastline around past the converted warehouses – now high end eateries and galleries – at Campbells Cove (11). Dip into Cadman's Cottage (12), Sydney's oldest house, at 110 George Street; 10am-4.30pm daily except Monday, admission free. The Fine Food Store (13) in The Rocks Centre has some tempting gourmet goodies on the shelves.

Make a short detour to learn about the history of The Rocks at the free Rocks Discovery Museum (14) on Kendall Lane (00 61 2 9240 8680; 10am-5pm daily) before you run the gauntlet of chainsaw jugglers and didgeridoo players around Sydney Cove en route to the Opera House (4). Once at architect Jorn Utzon's masterpiece, don't just go up the steps – head around the back of it. The harbour views are superb, and you'll have them pretty much to yourself. Enjoy your picnic, then head down past the grand buildings on Macquarie Street.

Cultural afternoon

The prolific early 19th-century convict architect, Francis Greenway, built the Hyde Park Barracks (15) on Macquarie Street (00 61 2 8239 2311; hht.net.au; $10/£6.50; 9.30am-5pm daily). Originally designed as a place to keep the newly arrived, unassigned convicts, it went through periods as an immigration depot and government office complex before entering its current incarnation as an excellent museum. Huge murals and annotative touch screens are used to tell the story of the transportation system and early life in the convict colony. You could venture south into Hyde Park and pay your respects at the Anzac War Memorial (16). Or cut through The Domain along Art Gallery Road to (you guessed it) the Art Gallery of New South Wales (17) (artgallery.nsw.gov.au; 10am-5pm, free).

An aperitif

Small bars with decidedly individual characters are mushrooming all over Sydney. The Grasshopper (18) in Temperance Lane (00 61 2 9947 9025; thegrasshopper.com.au) is tricky to find; look for a piece of Astroturf above the door in the lane between the RM Williams and Oakley stores on George Street. The $15 (£9.40) cocktails are arguably the best in town.

Dining with the locals

Argyle Street (19) in The Rocks is a big, upmarket eat street. The Cut at number 16 (00 61 2 9259 5695; cutbarandgrill.com) specialises in top-grade steaks, priced from $35 (£22) before adding side dishes. Saké at number 12 (00 61 2 9259 5656; Sakerestaurant.com.au) is also gaining rave reviews. To save cash, choose one of Sydney's numerous budget-friendly, bring-your-own-wine Thai joints. A classic example is Wok Station (20) at 135 Harris Street (00 61 2 9518 8188; wokstation.com.au) in Pyrmont.

Sunday morning: take a rideHead to Wharf 3 (21) at Circular Quay. Every 25 to 30 minutes from 6.20am, the half-hour ferry ride shows you the best of Sydney harbour, as the morning sun shines on your journey to Manly. At $13.20 (£8) return it's the cheapest way to get an extensive harbour cruise. When you arrive , stroll across the pedestrianised Corso to Manly Beach – at its best in the morning, without the crowds.

Day two

Go to church

When you return to Circular Quay, wander south to St James' Church (22) at 173 King Street (00 61 2 8227 1300; sjks.org.au; 7.30am-4pm on Sundays). Completed in 1822 this is Sydney's oldest place of worship. For all the heritage, however, it's the three-sided, Aboriginal-influenced stained glass window that dominates the side chapel which sticks in the memory.

Out to brunch

Stanley Street is lined with people-watching cafés, of which the Giotto Art Café (23) at number 78 (00 61 2 9357 7210) is a little cracker. It acts as a small-scale gallery, with limited edition prints from local artists on the walls, while the $10.50 (£6.50) eggs, toast and bacon is done just the way it should be.

Window shopping

The new Westfield complex (24) on the corner of Market and Pitt Streets is a glitzier replacement for the old collection of seemingly unrelated mini-malls; it opens 10am-6pm on Sundays, longer hours for the rest of the week.

Just down the road, David Jones (25) at 65 Market Street (00 61 2 9266 5544; davidjones.com.au) is Sydney's premier department store, while the dressed-to-impress Romanesque architecture of the Queen Victoria Building (26) at 455 George Street makes up for the identikit chain stores inside. Alternatively, amble back up to The Rocks and hunt for hand-crafted souvenirs and artworks at The Rocks Markets (27) on George and Playfair Streets. The stalls are open 10am-5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

A walk in the park

One of Sydney's treasures is the Botanic Gardens. Signposting is excellent, cockatoos fly overhead and the views out over the harbour from Mrs Macquarie's Chair (28) are spectacular. If you've brought your swimming gear, you can pound a few laps in the waterside Andrew Boy Charlton saltwater pool (29) at 1C Mrs Macquaries Road (00 61 2 9358 6686; abcpool.org; 6am-8pm daily, $5.60/£3.50), looking over at the warships in Woolloomooloo Bay. Try to be in or near the gardens at dusk, when the flying foxes wake from the trees and take flight across the city.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport