Last updated on January 18th, 2019 at 12:24 am
If you are wondering about where to stay in Sydney then you are not the only one.
This is my adopted city and in this guide, you will find all you need to determine your best area to stay, how to move around and the top experiences, including free ones too.
The best part? It’s all updated for 2019, no old stuff
I feel Sydney as my second home when is not the first one LOL I just love it. And not only for the beautiful bay, the amazing beaches, the awesome weather, the incredible nightlife and I could add so much more…..but also for the hidden corners and the many things to do.
If you are in a hurry, just jump straight to the 8 Macro areas summary and from there you can go deeper in the info. Check also the Sydney weather before your trip, the Bureau of Meteorology gives the most accurate forecast
Having a short stay in Sydney, 2-3 days, or a long one, 3-7 day, can take you to decide in a different way.
In my case, if I have a short stay my preference goes to an area, and a hotel, close to public transportation. If it’s longer I may choose an area with more “local” feeling
If you are coming to the capital of New South Wale for the first time you may want all the interesting sites to visit close to you.
Otherwise, the best place in Sydney can be in an area close to the beach or the coolest cafes and restaurants
If you are into photography, or just want to check out some amazing photos, you may also check the top spots in Sydney to take a photo. These areas are mostly around the CBD area and this may be another good point to stay central to Sydney.
For the evening and the events, I suggest looking at the website Broadsheet.com. It’s the reference site for any local.
If you have only a few seconds to spare and you just want to check the coolest hotels in Sydney, including some boutique options then have a read to the below list. I have added a link to the area where the hotel is located so that you can easily scroll down to read more on it.
My favourite options are
Before going deeper to each area, to the best restaurants, cafes and things to do there, I have organised this quick reference guide that may answer some simple questions:
Here are a few ideas of things to do, from an unusual meal experience to a unique climb and much more:
Keep in mind that Sydney is not a cheap city, however, there are also plenty of things to do for free, or at least very little money.
Asian food tends to be cheaper than Western food. At lunch, you can easily eat for $10-$12 in one of the many Asian eateries around. Sometimes even for less.
My favourite area is Surry Hills, with plenty of boutique cafes and restaurants.
Another undervalued neighbourhood is Newtown, especially if you are into live music, Middle East and Asian food.
In both cases, you will likely meet more locals than tourists.
Now, let’s go deeper in the areas of Sydney, starting from the CBD, the Central Business District, the centre of the city.
The CBD is where the First Fleet, captained by Arthur Phillip, sailed into the harbour in 1788 declaring the area a British colony of New South Wales.
The convicts pitched their tents in what is today known as The Rocks, right under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, while the governor and the other officials went on the eastern side of the bay, where today you can experience the Botanical Garden.
This is where you can see the biggest attractions of the city: the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
It’s all very close to the Circular Quay train/metro/ferry station. It is a mandatory stop for any visit in Sydney.
Wondering around The Rocks is an experience by itself. Most of the buildings are there since the 18/19th century. You can almost smell the history, beside experiencing some amazing viewpoints as from the The Glenmore Hotel rooftop, just unique.
The CBD is probably not one of the cool places to stay in Sydney however it has some advantages
If you are on a business trip and your office is in the city centre than the CBD is really an easy option.
If you have just 1-3 days and you want to visit all you can in Sydney than the CBD is most definitely a good area to stay being well connected with any destination and attraction you think of.
In saying that, the CBD is not an amazing place for restaurants, bars and cafes. Only 10-15 years ago it was deserted after office time and in the weekend. Today the choice is there, especially in The Rocks area and in Chinatown, however it is not comparable with other districts.
You have here a vast choice,really, and that’s another beautiful thing to stay in the CBD. Add also that with a ferry with Circular Quay you can quickly visit any place in the bay.
These are just a few of the interesting sites. You can see a full list on the Sydney Tourism Board.
Now, the question is where should I stay if I want to sleep in this area?
One of the most convenient and a great value too is the Sydney Hotel CBD, just minutes from everything at a bargain price for Sydney standard.
The staff is very friendly and it is walking distance from the Central Station, Darling Harbour and lots of shopping areas, including the market in China Town.
The Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay has a great location with few rooms overseeing the bay, the Opera House or the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
It’s so close to the ferry and train station that will make any sort of trips very convenient. Expect the great service provided by one of the leading world hotel chains. The price tag is higher than the previous option however the view is to die for.
If you are after a unique experience you may want to check the Park Hyatt hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Sydney with the best view right in front of the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the city. Just marvellous.
It’s expensive but worth the price. Save on other hotels to spend at least one night here, especially is this is possibly the only occasion you are going to visit Sydney
You will remember the swimming pool on top for many years to come, if not forever
I love wandering around the Rocks, so many traditional restaurants and pubs. Some of them have also great live music, especially on weekend. These are a few of my favourites and why
Darling Harbour is a relatively new area of Sydney being redeveloped only 30 years ago.
It used to be the docking area of the city. It is now the place to be with so many restaurants, bars and cafes. The Convention Center is also here.
If you have kids, this is the place to visit with a huge free playground and the many attraction around (read more later).
You can go to Darling Harbour by ferry or with a 20-minutes walk from the Town Hall metro station.
A stay in Darling Harbour can be extremely convenient when your main goal is to stay around the CBD area, for business or just for the places to visit in Sydney.
It’s a nice relaxed area walking distance from the City Hall metro station with so many bars and restaurants to visit.
Strangely enough, there is not a wide offer of hotels though, and you should book well in advance to stay in this area
The Ovolo 1888 Hotel is the little gem in the area with lots of add-ons quite often included in the price as breakfast, minibar and sometimes even the happy hour
Darlinghurst to Potts Point is the area where the biggest part of the nightlife is.
In saying that there are super quiet streets as well as super parties streets where it is impossible to sleep due to the noise.
I was in the area a few times an on one occasion I did not realise my accommodation was just in front of a bar open till 4am. But during the day it was super quiet. Guess what I did….just joined the party LOL
Oxford Street is the area with possibly the highest concentration of bars and pubs in the whole of Australia. There is a big influence from the gay community that uses this area for the famous Mardi Gras parade, an event not to be missed if in the city in early March.
After the second world war, this area was mostly inhabited by refugees and European immigrants that took here foreign customs as cafes and cabarets that soon transformed in strip clubs.
The 70s and 80s were years when prostitution and drugs were reigning in the area and it’s almost incredible and unthinkable, the change Darlinghurst, Potts Point and Woolloomooloo have gone through.
Once you leave the main streets and explore inside these districts you can find real gems, peaceful alleys and lanes beside the amazing restaurants and trendy eateries.
It’s one of my favourite areas to stay, however being selective is really the password otherwise you may end up with a sleepless night.
Here is a great news, most of my favourite spots are in the same area, almost in the same street actually.
If you are after an hotel in this area I would suggest the Ovolo Hotel in Woolloomooloo, an amazing gem not to be missed. It is in one of the old pier, formerly a woollen dock, fully refurbished and redesigned.
Stunning position, just minutes away from the CBD and the Botanical Garden, the Ovolo offer complimentary breakfast, as well as the free happy hour. And in 15 minutes walking, you are the heart of Darlinghurst.
I find incredible how Surry Hills has gone through such a dramatic change in the last 15 years or so. It was once one of the cheapest areas to buy a property. It is now one of the most expensive areas.
And there s a good reason for that.
There are so many beautiful cafes, restaurants and bars around, together with parks and leafy streets. The nightlife is here respectful. There is no craziness ongoing, everyone wants just to have an enjoyable and easy time.
Add to that the multitude of art centres and art exhibitions. If you can make it to one of the openings you will be suddenly immersed in the local underground art community
Surry Hills is also so close to the CBD that makes it an interesting area to be based even on a business trip. You leave the office and you walk to one of the coolest places in Australia.
It’s walking distance from the Central Station which makes it a super convenient place to stay.
You will find more galleries in Surry Hills, Waterloo and Alexandria than in any other area of Sydney.
Most of the openings are on Thursday. There is usually a talk from the artist(s) and sometimes drinks and appetisers are offered.
I love the openings as you end up always meeting interesting people, mostly locals.
You should not feel any kind of pressure to actually buy anything unless you love the piece of art of course. When and if you see something interesting, then move in, otherwise just have an “arty” chat
This is just a small list of galleries. You can have a look to an extensive directory on ArtGuide.
If you need free internet access or you just want to have some reading time, you can visit the local gallery on Crown Street.
There is not a great choice of hotels in this area, however, ironically, here you can find one of the best value accommodations in Sydney, the Best Western Plus Hotel Stellar. It’s meters away from Hyde Park, the CBD and the all Surry Hills cafe and restaurants area. Great hotel in a fantastic location.
There are really plenty of them. It’s hard to suggest any, really. Not to talk about the cafes, almost on every corner of Surry Hills.
I like to list these below just because they provide something unique in my opinion
If you are looking for cool places to stay in Sydney then you should look into Newtown, in my opinion, the best if you want to experience the local Sydney life with lots of pub, restaurants, cafes, design shops and much more.
It’s around 4 km from the CBD however it is very well connected with frequent trains that will take you to Circular Quay in minutes.
It’s also super convenient if you fly in. The airport is so close that you better take a taxi, it’s much quicker and cheaper too.
Live music is another constant presence in the area with bands in pubs, mostly in the weekends, and theatres with a great line-up of famous names.
The first part of King Street, from the Victoria Park till the station, has some amazing Thai and Asia restaurants, supposedly the best in Sydney
If you are after middle east food then head to Enmore Road or King Street, after the station, towards Sydney Park.
Fashionable cafes are everywhere, meters from each other.
You will hardly experience any tourist here. This is the place to experience the local Sydney life.
The Sydney Park Hotel is one of the hidden secrets of Newtown. Amazing interior design that can take you back in time. Bathrooms are shared but believe you me there is great attention to the cleanliness. Price wise…unbeatable for Sydney!
My first time in Newtown was over 10 years ago. It was difficult to find a cafe and Newtown had some great restaurants.
You go now and there is a cafe every 5 meters and the remaining space is used by restaurants.
The style is more on the Asian side on King street, till the Newtown station (coming from the CBD).
From there you can keep going on King Street or turn to Enmore Road. In both cases, the style is more Middle East with plenty of Turkish eateries.
My favourites here?
Paddington is a fascinating are of well-refurbished terrace houses, trendy boutiques, cosy restaurants and cafes, niche art galleries and a few bookshops.
Add the biggest park in Sydney, the Centennial Park, and leafy streets everywhere.
This area reaches its best on Saturdays with the Paddington Markets next to the lovely Uniting Church.
Peaceful and arty are the two words that come to my mind when someone asks me about Paddington.
It is located just between the CBD and Bondi beach which can make it convenient if you plan to visit both. Busses run continuously on Oxford Street however they can be quite full during business hours and slowed down by the city traffic too.
Of all of the areas in this post, Paddington is probably the one that is less convenient for transportation and it will take you more time to move around.
Right in the park, you will find the most unique accommodation you can have in Sydney, the Residences Centennial Park. These are the two houses (3 or 4 bedrooms) originally used by the rangers in charge of the Centennial Park.
They have been tastefully renovated in a Victoria style. They have an amazing view and you will almost feel to be in the outback although you are right in the centre of the most populated city in Australia
If you are looking for where to stay in Sydney with family and friends then this may be the perfect, and unusual, solution
Let me start with the bad news first. It is not conveniently connected to Sydney. You need to take a bus and a train. It will take time to go to most of the attractions.
In saying that, if you plan to stay 5-7 days in Sydney and you want to mix some beach life with some museums, and other places to visit, then Bondi could be the solution.
Worthless to say that the beach is just magnificent and that is why it is so popular.
If you are into surfing you can rent a board or take a few lessons. If you want to have a quiet swim you can visit one of the many swimming pool built into the rocks in one of the many small bays so close to Bondi.
Do not miss the great walk from Bondi to Coogee beach, back by public bus. You will experience one of the best coastal walk in Australia. Moreover, you will go through the incredible Waverley Cemetery, overlooking the Ocean. Really unique.
There are plenty of options in Bondi. The unfortunate thing is that they do not come cheap. You can go for a hotel or rent an apartment. Here I like to suggest one of my favourites in Sydney for the great interior, the QT Bondi.
It’s an absolute gem, a great boutique accommodation, something you will remember for a long time and so close to the beach too, just a couple of hundreds of meters. This is Bondi in style and at an affordable price, for Bondi.
Is Manly the alternative beach to Bondi? I am not sure about that. I personally prefer Manly to Bondi, however it must be said that the beach is not as dramatic.
Why do I like so much Manly?
Because of many reasons:
There is only a small drawback. It’s far away from the Airport although not as complicated to arrive. Take a direct train from the Airport to Circular Quay and the Ferry from there. It should take around one hour, based on connection time.
It is right in this park another unique accommodation, the Q Station, one of the best value accommodation in Sydney. It’s a resort on its own in a beautifully restored old building with a private beach just in front of it.
If isolation is your thing then Q Station is the place to be.
The Ferry station is a 25-30 minutes walk from the hotel. There is also an available hourly bus that takes just 5 minutes.
I always found hard to find a good cafe’ in Manly till I walked in Market Place, a parallel of the Corso and I stopped at the Market Lane Cafe.
Two meters from there you can also find Jipang, a place I always go back for its nice Japanese food.
And next door is Momo Bar, a dumplings and poké bowls eatery, my favourite in the Manly area.
For a good beer head down to the 4 Pines Brewing Company, meters away from the ferry station, on the bay side. Great selection, you can also go for the taste mix
Let’s start with something practical before going into more juice.
The transportation system is not probably something Sydney is famous for, especially considering the size of the city (5 million people).
There is a small metro ring with 7 stations in the CBD and that is it. From almost any of these stations, you can catch a train to the outskirts of Sydney.
Sometime to reach a place, even as famous as Bondi, you need to catch a train and change to a bus paying two tickets. It has to be said that the transportation cost is low, when compared to other Australian cities as Melbourne.
The bus network is actually very good although it may be intimidating for people visiting Sydney for the first time. Bus stops are not always clearly marked. The bus does not provide the name of the next stop and this may be an issue for someone.
My advice here is to run Google Map and follow where you are. The alternative is to go the old way, seat close to the driver and ask him/her. They are usually super nice and very entertaining. I always have lots of fun
Ferries are probably the best and quickest way of transportation. Very reliable and punctual. A place like Mainly may look far away however it is just 15 minutes by fast ferry.
You may want to check how well is served the area (more on it later), when you look for a place to stay in Sydney. Here you can find a few maps and timetables of the transportation system.
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.