Sydney may be huge but that doesn't mean you can't smash out all the best bits on limited time. If two days are all you've got then you've come to the right place as we've wrangled an ideal itinerary that traverses the best salty swims, world-class eats, and cultural highlights of Australia's biggest (best) city.
Secure a fancy or budget-but-fabulous bed at one of the best hotels in Sydney. Flying solo? No problem, check our guide to the best things to do when you're alone in Sydney.
48 hours in Sydney
Acclimatise to the Sydney seafood-obsessed lifestyle straight away at Saint Peter. This casual Paddington eatery plates up sea treasures almost too pretty to eat (as well as some down to earth servings of good 'ol fish and chips) and idolises the fish to such an extent they've even opened a fish butchery.
Sourcing the freshest and best from NSW, the daily changing menu will see you smashing charcoal-popped flame cockles, cracking open Spencer Gulf rock crab claws, or experiencing a wild kingfish from Eden that's been aged for twelve days. It’s also possible to get out of here for under $100 a head, even with a few glasses of wine under your belt.
Unwind in a booth at one of Sydney's most welcoming bars, the Bearded Tit in Redfern. Though elaborately decorated this neighbourhood bar's only theme is inclusivity and the friendly vibe permeates the no-fuss cocktails and delightfully cheesy DJ playlists.
Bunker down in a booth, if you're lucky, or perch on one of the cabaret-style tables and you just may catch yourself in the front row for a hilarious burlesque show on the tiny stage in the corner. Weekend nights often shift from a couple of quiet beers to an entire pub singing Destiny's Child en masse before you know it.
Start the day with a freshly poured kombucha and a steaming bowl of pho at the Carriageworks Farmers Market. Inside these repurposed rail yards is a buzzing cornucopia of Sydney's best produce, handmade goods, and tiny outposts of some of our most loved eateries.
The big hitter is always Billy Kwong, where a perfect fried egg is swaddled in a Chinese pancake, packed with salad and dressed in a luxe ginger tamari sauce. And for breakfast dessert, no visit is complete without a baked treat from Flour and Stone. But the market is your oyster, you're guarenteed to find something delicious during a lap. Have a snoop around the building too and you might catch a surprising art installation or show from in-house theatre company Performance Space, Carriageworks is one of Sydney's favourite venues for contemporary dance, art, experimental music, and more.
Wander around the repurposed industrial streets of Chippendale and you'll come accross one of the world's largest private collections of contemporary Chinese art at White Rabbit Gallery. With rotating exhibitions, the four-floor gallery has a surprise around every corner, large scale installations, delicate and detailed paintings, hilarious video art, and every now and then a giant Mickey Mouse on a crucifix spilling water from bullet holes all over his body. Art!
Once you've absorbed all that art walk up the road a few blocks and you'll find Brickfields bakery. Here you can get a "light" snack in a tiny persian love cake or go for a second breakfast with a deeply worth it crispy bacon, manchego and kale sanga.
Start a night out on the storied stretch of road, the Darlinghurst end of Oxford street. Follow in the footsteps of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and make your way from Hyde Park to Taylor Square bar-hopping along the way. Though this mile has taken a hit from the state's lockout laws the mid evening still sees disco diva hits blaring from Stonewall, drag queens sashaying between venues and some very excellent dancing in the subterranean club Palms.
If you're not in the mood for a rager, sashay away further up the strip past the adult stores and heaving corner pubs to small bar This Must Be The Place. The intimate cocktail bar will rustle you up a killer spritz and lemon-drenched mussels on toast.
Found yourself fanging for a late night meal? The classic Haymarket eatery Golden Century is more than ready for you. Cantonese favourites are flung steaming onto tables well into the dawn and you'll find big tables of families, boozers, and celebrity chefs smashing pippies in XO sauce, caramel-coloured roast duck and chill-encrusted salt and pepper squid until the very end.
Make an even bigger night of it and hit the Dixon street strip of eateries dotted with excellent karaoke joints. Our pick is the neon-tinged sci-fi vibes of Dynasty Karaoke. You can get a private room, sure, or brave the main stage with its comical chairs and huge screen and sing your heart out to strangers until 4am.
A trip to Sydney wouldn't be complete without a swim in one of our beaches, salty ocean pools or tree-rimmed bays. Get in early and catch the pink and golden tones of a Sydney sunrise from the edge of Bronte Baths. Get the best of all worlds at Bronte, which has waves for the surfies, a sectioned off rock pool for the relaxers and the elevated Bronte Baths for lap swimmers or just a peaceful dip with a view. It's less busy than the other beach burbs, and you can chill out in the waterfront park watching earlybirds doing yoga.
Tighten up your laces and hit the path that winds its way to Bondi. Most people start the other way around, so you won't suffer as much selfie congestion. And who could blame the excessive photo-takers, those seaside views as you amble around Tamarama and over the rocky peak to Bondi will have your Instagram mates burning a hole in the like button.
With your lungs full of fresh briny air you'll be inspired to embrace the lifestyle of the Bondi brunchers. Beach side bites and tumeric-spiked morning drinks are popular accompaniments to ocean views. Grab a seat outside at Porch and Parlour and lap it all up. This little café up the north end is very popular, but also very good at dealing with the queues outside on weekends and the service is always friendly.
While Will Smith loves the green pea pancakes, anything you order up will be a winner. The portions are generous, the coffee is well made and the dog watching makes it all the more worth it. If there is an unfathomable wait time, you're spoilt for choice around Bondi cafes, we also strongly recommend the house-cured salmon from Harry's just up the hill after a dip.
Slip in a harbour visit the right way. Meander around the Royal Botanic Gardens, taking in as much of the 30 hectares of colourful blooms, cacti gardens, curious greenhouses, and water lily bejewelled ponds as possible. The ambient flapping and screeching of bats accompanies a very picturesque path along the waterfront – start at Lady Macquarie's Chair and work your way towards the Opera House for optimal optics.
Once you've copped enough of an eyeful of Sydney's glistening asset hop around the Quay to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The huge gallery with prime harbour real estate holds rotating exhibitions from local and International art superstars. There's a permanent collection on the second level that will give you a quick and provoking lesson in Australian art since the 1960s and a fabulous rooftop terrace cafe where you can stare once more into the undulating jewel of Sydney's crown.
Get one last drink in with an experimental cocktail or soda from PS40. Down a non-descript lane you'll find this minimal but magical bar that not only specialises in elaborate booze creations but also takes extra care in the non-alcoholic elements. Try one of their smoked lemonades or wattle colas fresh off the press as they bottle them in-house. Or, prepare yourself for some cocktail wizadry (banana bread infused Negroni anyone?) and cheers to a fab two days in Sydney.
Want to pack in more sights?
Want more harbour time?
This love affair with the crushed sapphire liquid expanse of the Harbour dates back many, many thousands of years to when the Gadigal people of central Sydney paddled their canoes around the bays. Today, those journeys of discovery are provided by Sydney Ferries when you clamber aboard one of the picture-postcard green-and-yellow ferries that still scoot across the harbour as they have for the past century-and-a-half.