With some of the most famous landmarks, beaches and weather in the world, it’s hard not to envy all that is Sydney, Australia. It strikes the perfect balance between slow and fast, old and new, and relaxed and efficient. It has amazing weather all-year-round that never gets too cold or too hot, a reliable transportation system so no place feels too far, and so many free activities available that make traveling to this expensive city worth every penny. One area that no backpacker in Sydney should miss is the Central Business District or the CBD, as locals call it. Sydney’s CBD offers history, nature, arts, and culture right in the heart of a bustling city. To help you navigate your way, here’s your complete guide to the top things to do in Sydney CBD:
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Royal Botanic Gardens
One of the world’s oldest botanic gardens, the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens is not to be missed. This 27-hectare and 200-year-old garden attract over three million visitors each year! There are daily free guided tours, teaching tourists about the exotic plants in the area so you can tell the difference between tillandsias, aroids, and bromeliads (the sole reason you came to Australia, right?) If you’re not into guided tours, you can download the self-guided tour map from the garden’s website and roam around at your own pace.
Before you leave the garden, make sure to drop by Mrs. Macquarie’s Point and savor the serene and beautiful view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Sydney Opera House
You can’t possibly say you’ve been to Sydney without visiting the iconic Opera House. Home to countless performing arts events, the Sydney Opera House also has amazing architecture featuring those infamous textured sails. If you’re lucky to visit during winter, you can catch the annual Vivid Sydney festival and witness how this landmark becomes even more awe-inspiring when illuminated with different lights and colors.
There are even some tours that take you backstage so you can get a glimpse of the [expensive] VIP life. If you’re on a budget, you can still wander around the Sydney Opera House without attending a show. Make sure to check out the seals basking in the sunshine and when you need to take a rest, grab a coffee, beer or cocktail in Portside while catching an epic view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay.
For events and booking, go here.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is another iconic destination in the city and also one of the most photographed. It is the world’s largest and fourth longest steel arch bridge with an average of 160,000 vehicles passing through it every single day.
If you’re spending New Year’s Eve in Sydney, you can join over a million people for two sets of magnificent fireworks shows. For the thrill seekers, you can also join the BridgeClimb which gives you a chance to climb its summit for a one-of-a-kind experience. This may set you back a couple hundred dollars so for those who are on a strict budget, you can choose to walk or cycle along the bridge instead. It’s free and gives you almost the same exhilarating 360-degree view of the city from above.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Hyde Park
If you’re after a more mellow afternoon, you can find your way to Hyde Park, Australia’s oldest park. Pack a picnic and laze under the sun, or lounge under the shade of the lush trees. If you didn’t bring food, you can always drop by the café inside the park. Some of the points of interest within Hyde Park include the beautiful Archibald Fountain, ANZAC Memorial and the Pool of Reflection.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Strand Arcade
Wanting to treat yourself? Visit the charming Strand Arcade on George Street to shop or simply just to marvel at its amazing architecture. The only remaining Victorian-style shopping arcade in Sydney, the Strand Arcade features exclusive labels and shops. If it’s a bit too pricey, you can always just grab a coffee at Gumption or some chocolates at Haigh’s while window-shopping through the decades-old specialty stores.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Queen Victoria Building
Another shopping destination worth visiting is the Queen Victoria Building, built in 1898. It is popularly known for its complex Romanesque architecture, unique stained-glass windows, and its main feature, the mighty center dome which displays a huge Christmas tree during the holidays. Today, it houses several stores to satisfy the most discerning shoppers and a mysterious and sealed letter written by Queen Elizabeth II, which no one is allowed to open and read until 2085.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Museum of Contemporary Art
While there are a plethora of museums in Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art should be first on your list. It features modern works from emerging artists from Australia and around the world. Entrance to the museum is free and there are also free guided tours daily. Pop-up shows and major exhibitions also change often so make sure to check out their website before visiting.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Haymarket
If hitting two birds with one stone is your thing, then Haymarket is the perfect place to mix shopping and eating. It’s home to Sydney’s Chinatown and features an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, and markets with hidden bargains waiting to be unlocked. Although it’s called Chinatown, you can find a wide range of appetizing and irresistible Asian cuisines. Indulge in Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Japanese, Korean and Filipino food at reasonable prices. The famous Paddy’s Market can also be found in Haymarket. This 150-year old market sells everything you need including fresh produce, souvenirs, clothing, and accessories.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Darling Harbour
Once the sun starts to set, it’s best to head to Darling Harbour. It’s always lively at night, lined with bars and restaurants where you can have pre-dinner drinks or a relaxing dinner. If you can, try to visit on a Saturday night and catch the free fireworks show. If you’re an early bird, the sunrises are pretty spectacular here as well.
Top Things to do in Sydney CBD: Circular Quay
Circular Quay is the gateway to the CBD and to the other Sydney suburbs. This bustling area is full of outdoor restaurants and eateries trying to attract hungry commuters. On weekends, there are events and street performers dotting the streets. Hop on the ferry to get to Taronga Zoo, Manly Beach or Watsons Bay or catch a bus from here to Bondi and Coogee beaches.
Where to stay in Sydney
Sydney’s CBD is always full of life and activities. However, choosing to stay in the heart of the city on your vacation may cause a large dent in your savings. Because of the quick and efficient public transport in Sydney, more travelers are opting to base themselves outside of CBD.
There are several backpacking accommodations available in the inner west and inner east, only a few minutes away from CBD. But If you want to experience the best of both worlds – close to the ocean, but located in a convenient location to easily explore the rest of Sydney – it’s best to stay in a coastal suburb like Coogee. Filled with laidback pubs and alfresco restaurants where you can enjoy the sea breeze, Coogee is the perfect spot to meet new friends and get your tan on.
The perfect accommodation for the young and young-at-heart and our personal favorite is Mad Monkey Hostel in Coogee Beach (although we may be a bit biased ;). Located conveniently right in the middle of Coogee and just a stone’s throw from the sand and surf, we’ll help you make the best of your time in this amazing city!
Location: 186 Arden Street, Coogee, NSW, Australia — VIEW MAP
Contact: +61 02 9315 7888 | Website | Facebook | Instagram
For a full guide to Coogee Beach, go here.
More info about Sydney CBD:
If this article has tempted you into booking that flight to Sydney, check out these other articles to help you plan your trip here:
- My 15 Favorite Things to do in Sydney from Nomadic Matt
- 50 Things to do in Sydney under $50 from The Urban List
- Free or Cheap Things to do in Sydney by Katie Tobias from Nomads World
- The Top 10 Things to Do and See in Sydney by Matthew Clark from The Culture Trip
- 27 Free Things to do in Sydney from Happiness and Things