If you know me, you probably have a fair idea of my love for the countryside, mountains and lakes, and historical towns with medieval architecture. Big cities fail to impress me, modern architecture doesn't charm me and I am really past my age of partying late into the night. So when I decided to visit Australia, I was looking forward to exploring the remote places more than visiting Melbourne and Sydney and kept my expectations from these cities quite low. However, since I was travelling with my senior parents, who weren't too excited about hiking or beach-bumming like me, I promised that I would keep the last 4 days of our trip for one of the most acclaimed metropolises in the world - Sydney. I worked up a Sydney itinerary that was a good mix between covering all the famous sites, shopping and some nature walks (unlike most big cities, nature has been kind to Sydney!).
Here's what I appreciated the most about Sydney - it is not just about world-class retail and food outlets, swanky & chic buildings, a spectacular skyline and buzzing nightlife, it's also home to some of the most beautiful blue waters, stunning gardens and to my delight, breathtaking coastal walks that have managed to retain the 'natural' element in an otherwise highly commercialized city. What disappointed me was the weather (and I was unusually unlucky with it for I've heard a lot about its enviable climate); it was pouring all through the 4 days I was there, in the month of March. Luckily, we had booked a hotel in CBD (Central Business District) which wasn't too far from most places and having a car to drive around helped on the days we wanted to visit the beaches. However, I would recommend using public transportation while in Sydney unless you don't mind spending an exorbitant amount of money and time on parking.
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The perfect 4-day Sydney Itinerary
Day 1: Sydney CBD: Chinatown, Paddy's Markets & Darling Harbour
Although it is ideal to find a hotel in the Central Business District (CBD), either near Darling Harbour or Circular Quay, it's likely that you may not be able to afford one and like me, would prefer to stay close to the central yet low budget area. Chinatown, located in Haymarket, in South CBD fits the requirements perfectly. If you're a fan of authentic Chinese food like me, then you'll be in foodie heaven in this place. This is also where you can buy some inexpensive Chinese goods, enjoy the colourful Oriental architecture and soak in the atmosphere. Dixon Street mall, a pedestrian street, is the heart of Chinatown and has some of the best places to eat as well as shop.
Hardly a 5-minute walk from there are the iconic Paddy's Markets. An indoor market for getting cheap bargains, Paddy's Markets have more than a thousand stalls selling souvenirs, offering massages to the tired feet, fresh local produce and food items, artistic knick-knacks, homewares and crafts.
If shopping for cheap novelties isn't your thing, then head to Darling Harbour. Hardly a 10-minute walk from Paddy's Markets, Darling Harbour is one of the most popular hang-out places in Sydney. Any Sydney itinerary would be incomplete without a visit to this waterfront entertainment venue, lined with boutique shops, restaurants, museums and several other tourist attractions to keep one busy. The Sydney skyline view from here is quite appealing and taking a sunset cruise is not uncommon. Or simply enjoy a stroll along the paved promenade, walk into the high-end shops to buy fashionable clothing and shoes, or visit one of the museums (Madame Tussauds, Australia National Maritime Museum, Sydney Sealife Aquarium). The precinct is buzzing at night and the perfect place to experience the quintessential Sydney life, with a cocktail in one of the rooftop bars or dining on the waterfront while enjoying the brilliantly lit night sky.
The secluded garden bar at the top floor of East Village Hotel is quite a find in the area!
Recommended budget hotel stay in Sydney: Capitol Square Hotel (Haymarket)
The perfect 4-day Sydney Itinerary
Day 2: Taronga Zoo, Manly, Opera House & Circular Quay
On day 2 of your perfect 4-day Sydney itinerary, I would highly recommend taking the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly / Taronga Zoo for the best views of the Harbour Bridge as well as The Opera House.
If you're planning on visiting the Taronga Zoo, the ferry ride is hardly 12 minutes from Circular Quay and is following by a cable car ride from the ferry pier to the zoo, which is included in the price of the zoo's admission ticket. This is also a great idea because you will explore the zoo from the topmost point, walking downhill, allowing for the best vantage point views of Sydney's Harbour. The zoo is home to some of Australia's most exotic wildlife and if you haven't had the chance to see kangaroos, wallabies, dangerous reptiles and cute koalas anywhere else yet, then the zoo is a great place for animal encounters. You cannot cuddle a Koala at Taronga Zoo though you can get up close to them under supervision. You can, however, play with a wallaby (there's no food available to feed them, unfortunately), watch the fur seals and sea lion show, and feed penguins and giraffes at an extra cost.
Another lively neighbourhood that should make it to your Sydney itinerary is Manly. You can either take a direct ferry from Circular Quay to Manly or one from Taronga Zoo. Located a bit far from the central district, Manly's beach is one of the best in Sydney, especially for the surfers. A laid back, holiday vibe is what'll greet you in Manly as soon as you alight from the ferry. Walk along The Corso, a pedestrian street with souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, buzzing with live performers and street musicians.
The golden-sand Manly Beach is a favourite of surfers and even has a surfing school located right next to it. If you're into scenic coastal views, then the 10-km Manly Scenic Walkway might be of your interest. If that seems too long, then the short 2-km Cabbage Tree Bay Coastal Walk is the perfect easy coastal stroll that will take you through some breathtaking views of the blue waters of Manly.
In the evening, head back to Circular Quay by the ferry from Manly and you'll absolutely love the night views of the harbour. If you're lucky to be in the area on a weekend, The Rocks Markets at Circular Quay is a really cool one to explore. Unlike the cheap novelties of most street markets, this one features high-quality local fashion collection of clothes, trinkets, precious stones, gourmet food and handmade beauty products.
Walk to The Cruise Bar for a sundowner and spectacular sunset views of both The Harbour Bridge and The Opera House. Alternatively, you could also head up to The Pylon Lookout, situated on the Harbour Bridge, that offers vantage point view of The Opera House and the harbour. At a cost of $25, you can climb the 200 steps to the top viewing point of the bridge, walk through a museum which talks about the history of the construction of the bridge and be rewarded with unparalleled panoramic views of the city.
End your evening at one of the bars or restaurants in Circular Quay or watch a performance at The Opera House. Walk down the steps behind the Opera House to the harbour and meet Benny, the local friendly fur seal, or dine at one of the many restaurants with a view. The vibe at Circular Quay is one of the best in the city and the area is also known for its nightlife, and very often, fireworks too!
Tip: If you're adventurous, why not attempt the Harbour Bridge climb? Although a little pricey, a journey to the summit of the Harbour Bridge, with harnesses and insane views, sounds totally up my alley, however, I couldn't do it because of the bad weather.
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The perfect 4-day Sydney Itinerary
Day 3: Bondi Beach, Coogee Beach & Watsons Bay
I suggest starting day 3 of your perfect Sydney itinerary with a visit to Coogee Beach and moving up north towards Watsons Bay. Although there is no ferry to Coogee from CBD, you can either catch a bus that takes about 40 minutes or rent a car as it is fairly easy to find street parking outside Coogee Beach. Far less crowded than Bondi beach and lacking its glamour, Coogee beach is laid-back and equally pretty. A great place to swim or just soak up some sun, one of the most popular things to do in the area is the Coogee to Bondi coastal walk. Although this 6km long cliff walk offers stunning coastal views, it may not be everyone's cup of tea. However, a quick walk up the cliff right next to Coogee does the job too- crystal clear waters and the waves crashing on the rugged cliffs are worth taking this short route to the top.
If you're not doing the coastal walk, you could drive to Bondi Beach from Coogee. Popularly known as the queen bee of all Sydney's beaches, Bondi is famous not only in Australia but all over the world. In my personal opinion, the only thing that was better in Bondi Beach as compared to Coogee and Manly Beaches for the atmosphere! Probably because it is the closest to CBD, the beach was crowded and lively.
What caught my eye the most, however, was the ocean pool at Bondi Icebergs. A very popularly Instagrammed place, the pool at Bondi Icebergs has been acclaimed as one of the most photographed pools in the world and rightly so! Open to visitors for a reasonable fee, one can either swim in the famous rock pools or simply enjoy a meal on the terrace that offers sweeping views of the beach, the sea and the spectacular mid-ocean pool.
Not as popular as the Bondi Coogee Coastal Walk but equally picturesque is the walk from Bondi to Watsons Bay. The 7 km walk is yet another one of Sydney's glorious nature walks which left me in awe. Although I did not attempt the entire route, a drive to soak in the views from the famous viewpoint called The Gap left me speechless. A dramatic cliff point with a sheer drop to the ocean below, you have the unending Pacific views on one side and Sydney's striking skyline on the other. A simply unmatched and rewarding sight, The Gap is one of the most splendid places in the city for those who love impressive views.
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The perfect 4-day Sydney Itinerary
Day 4: Day trip to the Blue Mountains & Jenolan Caves OR Day trip to Hunter Valley Region
You could easily add another day to your Sydney itinerary but if you have only 4, then you'd have to make a choice between one of the day trips suggested here. Having spent 3 days exploring the city, it makes total sense to rent a car on Day 4 and head out to explore the outskirts of Sydney.
The Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves make for a very popular road trip from Sydney. If you do not plan to rent a car, you could either book a day trip through a tour agency or take a train from Sydney's Central station to Katoomba; the journey lasts 2 hours. Once you arrive at Katoomba station, you can take the HOHO bus from here to Scenic World, just a 10-min ride away. Plan to spend about 2 hours here, as this is the most popular and spectacular place to visit in the Blue Mountains. Start with a ride on the scenic skyway that offers panoramic views of the valley over Katoomba falls and a fantastic view the famous Three Sisters as well. The glass bottom floor allows for a 360-degree view, bringing out the enormity of the valley below.
You could return to the base of the scenic skyway and take the railway to the valley floor next. Sit right up in the front for the trip downwards if you're adventurous. You can then take the scenic cableway back up from the valley floor to the top station. From here, take the HOHO bus to the Echo Point, another viewpoint that offers sweeping views of the valley, the mountains and the Three Sisters. From here, you can easily see why the mountains are called 'Blue Mountains'!
If you're also planning to visit Jenolan Caves as part of your 4-day perfect Sydney itinerary (which I highly recommend you do), it might be a better idea to rent a car or take a full day tour with an agency rather than the train from Sydney. Also, I would recommend leaving Sydney really early in the morning because this can be one long day for you. Jenolan Caves are further up ahead of Echo Point, by about 1.5 hours. Make sure to check the tour timings for the caves and also book in advance, especially during weekends and peak season. The tour that takes you through the limestone formations, underground streams and a series of cave chambers, lasts for about 1.5 hours with a tour guide who explains how these formations came into being.
If time allows, head to Blue Lake. You could either take the walking track of 2.5 km from the caves to the lake or drive to it. I would highly recommend the scenic walk with beautiful views of the waterfalls, lake and the bridge.
Hunter Valley Region
If, like me, you're a wine enthusiast, then Hunter Valley might take precedence for you over visiting the Blue Mountains. I was, however, very unlucky with the weather and even though I had rented a car to drive to this famous Australian Wine Country, I could not make it due to the extremely harsh conditions, with the rains pouring down all day long. I read up about some of the best wineries for wine tasting, gourmet food and fantastic views, and came across a place called Bistro Molines, that I would've loved to visit, had I been able to make it to Hunter Valley.
For other itinerary suggestions, you can refer to this link