Sydney Guide: The Best Places to Eat, Sleep and Sightsee on a Family Holiday

Sydney Guide: The Best Places to Eat, Sleep and Sightsee on a Family Holiday
Sydney Guide: The Best Places to Eat, Sleep and Sightsee on a Family Holiday

From the iconic Sydney Opera House to the cobblestone laneways and historic buildings at The Rocks, here’s our list of what to see and do on your first visit to the Emerald City.

Sydney’s landmarks are renowned worldwide. From the iconic Opera House to the majestic Harbour Bridge, bustling Darling Harbour, and the stunning beaches of Bondi and Manly, there’s an abundance of sights to explore. What truly captivates me about Sydney, however, is its lively yet relaxed atmosphere. Beyond its landmarks, the city boasts a vibrant cultural scene with colorful parades, street performances, music concerts, and open-air theaters, ensuring there’s always something to engage in, regardless of your interests.

Getting Around

Taxis typically charge between AUD45-55 (approximately $2,225-2,720) for the 20-minute ride from the airport to the city. Alternatively, travelers can opt for the Airport Link train, which operates every 10 minutes and connects to major city stations (priced at AUD17.50/$865 for adults and AUD14/$690 for children aged 4 to 16; children under 4 travel free). For a family of four, however, a taxi may be a more economical choice. If planning to drive around Sydney, it’s advisable to pre-book a car from Budget or Avis and collect it from the airport. Rental rates start from about AUD80/$3,955 per day (visit or for bookings). Once in the city, navigation is straightforward as most attractions are within a 30-minute walk of each other. Tickets for buses, trains, and ferries are available at stations, bus stops, news agencies, and convenience stores. For those intending to use multiple modes of transport, investing in an Opal Card is recommended. This pay-as-you-go card grants access to all city transport options.


Sydney offers a range of accommodation options, from upscale boutique hotels to budget-friendly stays. The luxurious Ovolo at Woolloomooloo Wharf is a standout choice for business travelers, boasting style, elegance, and stunning views of the Royal Botanic Gardens (located at 6 Cowper Wharf Road; contact: +612-9331 9000; website:; with double rooms starting from AUD559/$27,636). For those seeking affordability, the Aspire Hotel in the eclectic Ultimo suburb, just a 20-minute walk from Darling Harbour, is worth considering (situated at 383-389 Bulwara Road Ultimo; contact: +612-9211 1499; website:; with double rooms priced from approximately AUD179/$8,850). For a unique adventure and a lesson in history, camping at the UNESCO Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island, a former shipyard and prison, provides a budget-friendly option that’s sure to delight the whole family (accessible via a 15-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay; website:; camping rates start from AUD50/$2,472 if you bring your own tent). Another unconventional choice is camping at Taronga Zoo, where the Roar and Snore package offers a night safari experience and tented accommodation with mesmerizing views of Sydney Harbour (details available at; priced from AUD335/$16,562 for adults and from AUD215/$10,629 for children aged 5 to 17).


Bay Watch at Circular Quay

Regardless of your chosen area of accommodation in the city, make your way to Circular Quay on the first day of your holiday. Serving as Sydney’s tourist hub, this area offers an array of activities and is home to the city’s most iconic structure, the Opera House. The ideal way to experience it is by attending a show (with ticket prices starting from around AUD45/$2,224 for adults and varying for children depending on the show). Alternatively, consider joining a guided tour (priced at AUD37/$1,829 for adults and AUD20/$990 for children aged 5-15) or simply take a leisurely stroll around and up the stairs; the views of the Royal Botanic Gardens from there are breathtaking.

Adjacent to the Opera House stands the renowned Harbour Bridge
Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Photo: iStock

Adjacent to the Opera House stands the renowned Harbour Bridge, affectionately nicknamed the Coat Hanger due to its distinctive shape. Thrill-seekers may opt for the Bridge Climb, an exhilarating activity that involves ascending to the top of the bridge in a harness. Though pricey, it offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience with unforgettable panoramic views of Sydney. The climb, lasting about 2.5 hours, is thrilling yet not overly demanding, with the best views at dawn and dusk (visit for bookings; prices start from AUD288/$14,328 for adults and AUD188/$9,295 for children, varying based on the time of day).

Circular Quay, situated on the harbor, boasts numerous waterfront cafes and restaurants. Seafood enthusiasts can catch a ferry to Watsons Bay (with a return ferry ticket priced at AUD11.48/$568) for a delectable meal of fish and chips at the renowned Doyle’s on the Beach. Arrive slightly before lunchtime to avoid long queues and indulge in a variety of offerings with the seafood basket, featuring fried fish, calamari, prawns, scallops, and chips. Doyle’s offers both restaurant and takeaway options; grab your food to-go and find a scenic spot in the nearby garden overlooking the beach (expect to spend around AUD80/$3,955 for a meal for two).

Museum of Contemporary Art
Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: iStock

Convicts and Contemporary Art

Upon returning to Circular Quay via ferry, take a stroll to the historical precinct known as The Rocks, one of Australia’s earliest European settlements. Its cobblestone laneways and historic buildings evoke the nation’s early colonial era. While now bustling with vibrant gelaterias, bars, and flea markets, The Rocks holds a darker past, steeped in tales of convicts, hangings, and violence. Delve into this neighborhood’s history by joining a ghost tour, where a guide leads you through its landmarks while recounting intriguing stories. While sightings of ghosts are improbable, the tales are sure to send shivers down your spine (visit for bookings; prices start from AUD40/$1,978 for adults and AUD30/$1,483 for children).

Next, venture to the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art to explore thought-provoking exhibitions (admission is free). Afterwards, meander into the lush and serene Royal Botanic Garden. During January and February, seize the opportunity to attend the St. George’s Open Air Cinema adjacent to the gardens, where the screen is set against the backdrop of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge after sunset. It’s an unforgettable experience not to be missed (tickets priced at AUD39/$1,928; visit for more information).

Art Gallery of NSW
Photo: Art Gallery of NSW

Exit the Botanic Gardens onto Mrs. Macquaries Road and follow signs towards the Domain to discover the Art Gallery of NSW, one of the nation’s premier art museums. With a remarkable collection of Australian, Aboriginal, European, and Asian art, it offers a captivating cultural experience. Indulge in a meal at the gallery’s café or restaurant, both offering serene views of the gardens and sea (open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission to permanent exhibitions is free; visit for details).

For dinner, take a leisurely 10-minute walk from the gallery to Woolloomooloo Wharf. China Doll offers Asian cuisine and refreshing fruit cocktails in an elegant setting (located at Shop 4/6 Cowper Wharf Roadway; contact: 02-9380 6744), while Kingsleys Steak and Crabhouse is renowned for its steaks, mud crabs, and terrace views (situated at 10/6 Cowper Wharf Roadway; contact: 1300 546 475). Expect to spend approximately AUD80/$4,000 for a meal for two at either establishment. For a more budget-friendly option, try the famous meat pie at Harry’s Café de Wheels (priced around AUD5.20/$260) followed by a slice of hazelnut torte at Flour and Stone (priced at AUD5.50/$272 per slice).


Bondi Beach and Beyond

Sydney boasts stunning beaches, with Bondi being one of the most renowned. Catch one of the many buses to Bondi and treat yourself to a delightful breakfast by the beach at Chapter One Coffee and Wine Room (located at Shop 3, 34 Campbell Parade Bondi Beach; contact: 02-9130 1651; expect to spend around AUD40/$2,000 for two). Book enthusiasts shouldn’t miss Gertrude and Alice Café Bookstore, where you can savor their corn fritter stack with bacon and indulge in any of their tempting chocolate desserts amidst a collection of 25,000 books (found at 46 Hall Street, Bondi Beach; contact: +612-9130 5155; website:; anticipate spending approximately AUD60/$2,966 for corn fritters and dessert for two).

Bondi Beach. Photo: iStock
Bondi Beach. Photo: iStock

Another must-visit is the picturesque Bondi-Coogee coastal walk, spanning six kilometers along a stunning cliff path connecting the two beaches. Enjoy breathtaking views of the coastline, parks, and cliffs along the way. While the walk isn’t overly strenuous, be prepared for some steep sections and staircases, and allocate about two hours for the journey. Numerous spots and cafes along the route offer opportunities to rest, admire the scenery, and recharge. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen and sunglasses (visit for more information).

After a day at the beach, return to Darling Harbour, Sydney’s bustling heart. Explore the lively atmosphere and street performances along the harbor, starting from Cockle Bay Wharf. Treat yourself to dinner at Baia, where you can enjoy beautiful bay views and delectable Italian cuisine (located at 114 Cockle Bay Wharf; contact: +612-9283 3434; website:; a three-course sunset dinner is priced at AUD69/$3,411 per person).

If you are craving Indian food then head to The Spice Room, where traditional Indian street food classics are elevated to an elegant sit-down dining experience. The menu focuses on the northwest region of India, offering Peshawari delicacies such as hand-pressed lamb seekh kebab cooked in the tandoori oven and fragrant chicken biryani with spiced rice. Located at The Quay Building, 2 Phillip St, Sydney; visit for more information.

For dessert, head to Gelato Messina at Star City Casino on the opposite side of Darling Harbour. Gelato Messina offers whimsical creations like Dr. Evil’s Magic Mushroom cake and the Anti-Yoga sundae (visit for more information; prices start from AUD4.80/$237 for sundaes).


All in the Family

On your third day, I recommend an early start at Circular Quay to catch a ferry to Taronga Zoo. Spend half a day immersing yourself in the company of Australian animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas while enjoying stunning views of the city skyline. As dining options within the zoo are limited, it’s advisable to bring along sandwiches or burritos to enjoy at one of the scenic sea-facing benches (contact: +612 9969 2777; website:; admission prices: AUD46/$2,274 for adults, AUD26/$1,285 for children).

Taronga Zoo
Koala Bear at Taronga Zoo. Photo: iStock

Luna Park is another fantastic destination, especially for families with children. To reach this amusement park from the zoo, simply take a ferry back to Circular Quay and then board another ferry bound for Milsons Point Wharf. Luna Park offers a variety of thrilling rides suitable for all ages, ensuring a fun-filled couple of hours for everyone (located at 1 Olympic Dr, Milsons Point; open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; contact: +612-9033 7676; website:; ticket prices range from AUD22-$48/$1,088-$2,373 if purchased online and AUD22-$52/$1,088-$2,570 if bought at the park, with rates varying based on height).

Shoppers Stop

For those inclined towards shopping, head straight from Circular Quay onto Pitt Street to reach Pitt Street Mall, a bustling shopping precinct approximately 15 minutes away. Here, you’ll find a plethora of shopping centers such as Myers, Westfield, and Midcity offering a wide array of products including clothing, bags, shoes, accessories, and homewares. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in the divine hot chocolate at Max Brenner, a renowned café in the city (located at various locations; prices start from AUD5.90/$291 for a classic hot chocolate and AUD2/$99 for a Babycino).

Queen Victoria Building
Queen Victoria Building. Photo: iStock

Another excellent shopping destination is the heritage-listed Queen Victoria Building (QVB), just a short stroll from Pitt Street Mall. Browse through its charming corridors which house a selection of designer stores. For budget-friendly purchases, Chinatown is your go-to destination. If you’re there before 5 p.m., don’t miss Paddy’s Market in Haymarket, which operates from Wednesday to Sunday and offers fresh produce, unique souvenirs, and a range of aboriginal art and boomerangs. Above Paddy’s Market is Market City mall, featuring several factory outlets of popular brands.

Cap off your day with a delightful meal at Emperor’s Garden (located at 96-100 Hay Street; contact: +612-9211 2135) or Chat Thai (situated at 20 Campbell Street Haymarket; contact: +612-9211 1808), where you can savor authentic and delicious Asian cuisine for which Australia is renowned (expect to spend around AUD50/$2,472 for a meal for two).

For delicious Indian flavours, stop by at Manjit’s. A must-try dish is the signature ‘kaju ki sabzi,’ featuring cashew nuts sautéed with mixed spices and served with caramelized onion, a versatile side that pairs well with any main. Additionally, Manjit’s offers an impressive selection of cocktails, including the ‘sharabi lassi,’ a boozy mango and passionfruit lassi. Located at 49 Lime St, King Street Wharf, Sydney; visit for more details.

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