An aerial view of Sydney, Australia

3 days in Sydney: an itinerary for first-time visitors

Planning a trip to Sydney? Here are our top picks...

Stay: Capella Sydney

City pass: Sydney Attractions Pass

Food tour: Barangaroo and the Rocks

Opera house tour: Guided walking tour

Day trip: Blue Mountains

For many first-time visitors Down Under, Sydney is their initial introduction to the country. And what a welcome it provides!

Sydney is a jewel in Australia's crown, blending cosmopolitan allure with a dash of flair and incredible natural beauty. With its world-famous landmarks, pristine beaches, thriving cultural scene and warm hospitality, it is a dream destination for many travellers worldwide.

This three-day itinerary showcases the best of what Sydney offers. Along with the iconic landmarks, it lets you immerse yourself in its culture, try local food and create lasting memories that will remain with you for the rest of your life.

How long should I spend in Sydney?

Ideally, the more time you can spend visiting Sydney, the better. The city packs so many sites, attractions and landmarks, you'd struggle to see them all if you spent six months there!

That said, for first-time visitors, three days provides ample time to get a flavour of Sydney. This time frame allows you to experience its main highlights - while spending a little bit of quality time at each to fully appreciate them.

However long you decide to stay in Sydney, ensure you are strategic in your sightseeing efforts. Concentrate on visiting specific parts of the city to save time from needlessly transiting from one area to another.

Sydney Opera House and Harbour

Day 1: Explore Sydney's Harbor

Morning: Sydney Opera House and bridge walk

Begin your Sydney adventure with a visit to one of the world's most iconic buildings, the Sydney Opera House.

Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, this architectural marvel is an opera and concert venue and a symbol of Australia's cultural identity. Start your day with a guided tour to learn about this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site's history, design and significance.

Tours typically last about an hour and offer insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of the Opera House. Book your tour tickets online in advance to secure your preferred time slot.

After your Opera House tour, take a leisurely stroll along Circular Quay to reach the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Nicknamed the 'Coathanger' due to its distinct shape, the bridge is another iconic Sydney landmark.

While you can opt for a guided bridge climb (which offers unparalleled views of the city), a more budget-friendly option is to walk across the pedestrian pathway known as the Bridge Walk. The path provides panoramic views of Sydney's skyline, the Opera House and the glistening harbour below.

This is a prime spot for snapping some postcard-perfect photos. So, don't forget your camera!

People having lunch at a restaurant in The Rocks in Sydney.

Afternoon: The Rocks and Sydney Tower Eye

Once you've crossed the bridge, head to The Rocks, Sydney's historic neighbourhood. Here, you'll find many dining options ranging from casual cafes to upscale restaurants for lunch.

Enjoy a delicious meal while soaking in the charming, cobbled streets and historic architecture that give The Rocks its unique character.

While a huge variety of international foods are available, ranging from Indian and Thai to Brazilian and Peruvian, why not try some Australian dishes like kangaroo, emu, or Barramundi to get a taste of local cuisine?

After lunch, make your way to the Sydney Tower Eye, located in the heart of the city. This towering structure offers a 360-degree panoramic view of Sydney from its observation deck.

You'll get a bird's-eye view of the city's skyline, the harbour and surrounding neighbourhoods. It's an ideal way to get your bearings and appreciate the city's layout.

Try to visit the tower in the late afternoon - just before sunset, which is stunning on clear days. That way, you'll see the city in daylight and also get to witness the incredible sky colours of dusk from your lofty position.

Evening: Darling Harbour

Head to Darling Harbour, a vibrant waterfront precinct packed with entertainment options for a relaxing evening. You can explore SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, or Madame Tussauds if you're interested in wildlife and pop culture icons.

Alternatively, stroll along the picturesque harbour promenade, where you'll find an excellent selection of restaurants, bars and cafes, many of which offer waterfront dining.

Darling Harbour hosts fireworks displays, outdoor movies and live performances, especially on weekends. So check with the local tourist guides or your accommodation providers to see what events are on during the time of your visit.

People on Bondi Beach on a sunny day.

Day 2: Bondi Beach, Coastal Walk, and Cultural Experiences

Morning: Bondi Beach

Start your second day in Sydney by heading to Bondi Beach, one of the city's most famous and beloved destinations. Just a short bus ride or drive from the city centre, Bondi Beach offers a beautiful crescent of golden sand, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, or simply taking in the laid-back beach vibes.

If you're visiting during the summer months (December to February), arrive early to secure a good spot on the beach, as it can get crowded. If you can get up early enough, it is worth coming here at sunrise.

One of the best ways to experience Sydney's stunning coastline is by undertaking the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. This 6-km trail takes you along dramatic cliffs and past secluded coves while offering breathtaking ocean vistas.

Enjoy the fresh sea breeze and stop at any of the lookout points that take your fancy for photos. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, wear lots of sunscreen and take plenty of water.

Boats on Coogee Beach in Sydney

Afternoon: Coogee Beach and art galleries

Finish your coastal walk at Coogee Beach, a more tranquil alternative to Bondi. This beach is known for its rock pools, so consider taking a dip to cool off after your walk.

Coogee also offers a terrific range of beachfront eateries where you can savour a relaxed lunch with views of the ocean. Try some fresh, locally caught seafood or a classic Aussie meat pie.

During the afternoon, why not explore Sydney's cultural side by visiting the Art Gallery of New South Wales?

Located in the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden, this gallery houses an extensive collection of Australian, Aboriginal, European, Asian and contemporary art. The gallery's diverse offerings are sure to captivate anyone who enjoys art.

If it's a hot day, visiting here also provides a good opportunity to escape the sun.

Evening: Dinner at The Grounds of Alexandria

Head to The Grounds of Alexandria for dinner - a trendy, Instagram-worthy dining destination about 6 km south of the CBD.

This converted industrial space is home to a bustling marketplace, lush gardens and various dining options covering several cuisines.

Whilst there, explore its charming grounds, sample international dishes and revel in some of the best coffee you'll find in the city.

Giraffes at Taronga Zoo in Sydney

Day 3: Wildlife Encounters, Beaches, and Sunset at Mrs. Macquarie's Chair

Morning: Taronga Zoo

On your third day in Sydney, venture across the harbour to Taronga Zoo, which is not only a haven for wildlife lovers but also offers some of the most spectacular views of the city skyline.

Take a ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Wharf and then hop on the Sky Safari cable car to reach the zoo's entrance. Taronga is home to over 4,000 animals from around the world, including Australia's iconic kangaroos, koalas and wombats. Allow at least half a day to explore the zoo and attend animal shows.

Afternoon: Chowder Bay and Balmoral Beach

After you visit the zoo, take a short ferry ride or drive to Chowder Bay, a picturesque harbour-side location with historic naval buildings.

Enjoy lunch at one of the waterside restaurants, such as Ripples Chowder Bay, while taking in the serene surroundings. The seafood offerings here are among the best in Sydney.

Spend a relaxing afternoon at beautiful Balmoral Beach - a family-friendly and tranquil spot located on Sydney's north shore.

This crescent-shaped beach is known for its calm, azure waters, ideal for swimming and snorkelling. Take a leisurely stroll along the Esplanade or sunbathe on the sandy shore. Alternatively, if you want to explore further, consider renting a kayak or paddleboard to go on an adventure.

Balmoral Beach is also home to several cafes, eateries and restaurants. So, it is a terrific place for enjoying a casual afternoon snack or a refreshing gelato when you feel peckish or want something to cool you down.

The view of Sydney Harbour from Mrs. Macquarie's Chair at sunset

Evening: Sunset at Mrs. Macquarie's Chair

As the day winds down, make your way to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a sandstone rock bench located in the Royal Botanic Garden. This iconic spot offers one of the best vantage points for watching the sunset over the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

The breathtaking view, with the sun casting its warm hues on the city's landmarks, is a perfect way to end your Sydney adventure. Arrive at least 30 minutes before sunset to secure a good spot, as this location can get quite popular during the evening.

For your final dinner in Sydney, head to Woolloomooloo Wharf, a vibrant dining precinct located near Mrs Macquarie's Chair.

This historic pier houses an array of restaurants offering diverse culinary experiences to suit most palettes. They are best enjoyed by making a reservation in advance for a waterside table that showcases tremendous views of the marina.

An aerial view of Manly Wharf in Sydney

If you have more time

If you have more time to explore Sydney and its surroundings beyond the initial three days, you're in for a treat. Here's a list of additional things to see and do:

  • Museums and Galleries: Dive deeper into Sydney's cultural scene by visiting more museums and galleries, such as the Australian Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and the Powerhouse Museum.

  • Taronga Zoo Roar and Snore: If you enjoyed your visit to Taronga Zoo, consider the Roar and Snore experience, which allows you to stay overnight in luxury tents within the zoo grounds.

  • Manly Beach: Take a ferry ride to Manly Beach and explore its vibrant seaside community. Visit Manly Sea Life Sanctuary or go for a scenic coastal walk to Shelly Beach.

  • Watsons Bay: Explore Watsons Bay and its picturesque surroundings. Visit the historic Hornby Lighthouse, hike the South Head Heritage Trail and enjoy fish and chips by the beach.

  • Balmain: Balmain is a picturesque Sydney suburb that offers a blend of history and contemporary charm. Its main highlights include Darling Street, which is lined with vibrant cafes, boutique shops and historic pubs and the Balmain East Wharf, which provides stunning harbour views.

The sunrise over the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia

Day trips from Sydney

If you're staying for a week or longer, you may also want to consider doing some day trips from the city. Here are some favourites:

  • Blue Mountains: Embark on a day trip to the Blue Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed region known for its dramatic landscapes, including the Three Sisters rock formation and numerous waterfalls. Explore the charming town of Katoomba and take scenic hikes in the area.

  • Hunter Valley: If you're a wine enthusiast, consider a day trip to the Hunter Valley wine region. Tour renowned wineries, enjoy wine tastings and indulge in gourmet dining experiences.

  • Jervis Bay: Head south to Jervis Bay, known for its stunning white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters and abundant wildlife. Don't miss the opportunity to go whale watching or snorkelling in the marine park.

  • Featherdale Wildlife Park: Get up close and personal with Australian wildlife at Featherdale Wildlife Park. You can hand-feed kangaroos, cuddle koalas and observe unique Australian animals. Many day trips combine a visit to the wildlife park with the Blue Mountains.

  • Kiama and the Blowhole: Take a day trip to Kiama, a coastal town famous for its natural wonders, including the Kiama Blowhole, a natural rock formation that spouts water high into the air.

  • Canberra: Visit Australia's capital city, Canberra and explore its impressive national institutions, including the Australian War Memorial, National Gallery of Australia and Parliament House.

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Spencer Samaroo

Author - Spencer Samaroo

Spencer is a freelance travel writer with over 20 years of experience in producing written content for tourism-related blogs and businesses. A thalassophile who was afflicted with wanderlust from a young age, he has visited over 40 countries in the world.

An ex-pat Brit who now lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, he cites Miami Beach in the USA and Palm Cove in Australia as his favourite travel destinations. Specialising in writing about beach destinations around the world, he would probably bleed sand if you cut his arm open

Last Updated 29 September 2023

Uluru at sunset


Straddling the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean, Australia has diverse landscapes, a fascinating indigenous culture and uncommon wildlife.