This year I decided to skip the sparklers and fluff and take a spontaneous New Years trip to Sydney to ring in 2020. This was my second time to Australia — the first I visited Sydney and the Gold Coast for 2 weeks during college, and I have to say I much preferred this time around… experiencing it “like a local” and during their summer months.
If you’ve never been to Sydney, you HAVE to add it to your bucket list! Despite the horrible bushfires, I completely fell in love with the city. The beaches, the breakfasts, the nature, views, city, and walks. I could easily more here for 6 months. Yes it seems far, and yes it’s somewhere that requires taking a significant amount of time off, but overall I couldn’t recommend a summer (USA/UK Winter) vacation here enough.
WHEN TO VISIT
When planning a trip to Sydney, you 100% have to visit during their summer months. My trip was Dec 27-Jan 6 and the weather was perfect. The Holidays/New Years are a great time to go because you should already have some vacation time to use and the weather is prime. Next time I visit, I’ll definitely book sometime between December-February. One of the best parts about Sydney is the beaches so you have to visit during a time you can fully enjoy the experience.
My trip was 10 days, 9 nights.You have to go for this duration minimum if traveling all the way there. And time permitting, if you’re able to visit for longer consider adding in Byron Bay, Whitsundays, and Hunter Valley to your trip.
If you don’t already, I highly recommend getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card. I got this right out of college and it’s been the most amazing credit card for travel perks. You get great benefits for signing up (I joined when it was 200,000 points but now it’s 60,000. There are never any international currency exchange fees so it’s what I use all over the world and there’s a low yearly payment.
Additionally, if you don’t already, I’d recommending finding one airline you love, joining their frequent flyer program and flying with them as much as possible. I always fly American (Which partners with BA/Quantas) and because I’ve acquired so many miles and platinum status during travel it’s allowed me to upgrade a majority of my flights solely in exchange for miles.
Going there I flew Qantas Premium Economy and besides Qatar airways to the Maldives, it was the nicest plane I had ever been on. I flew on the second story, my seat fully reclined, and everything from the food to service, to amenities was incredible. On my next trip I’ll definitely fly Qantas
(*Travel Tip — When booking, use miles with your preferred airline and fly their partners. For me I booked via American Airlines and just ensured I used my miles on a flight that was operated by Qantas. To Upgrade, call 36 hours before your flight/check in and request to get on their mileage upgrade list. This is what I do before every flight and 75% of the time I use 15,000 miles to upgrade to business with my airline status. Additionally, when selecting my flight I always note the plane. I intentionally booked the A380 knowing how nice the two story planes and seat configurations are.)
Coming home, I flew United using my chase credit card airline miles. With Chase you can also fly Qantas/BA/ AA + loads of other airlines I just booked this because it was the cheapest/least amount of miles. I did notice a significant difference in the airlines. United just felt a little out of date. Everything about it was fine, but for such a long flight I definitely preferred by experience with Qantas.
If you aren’t an Australian Citizen, chances are you’ll need a visa. USA citizens have it very very lucky. We can apply and do all of this online electronically for about $20, just make sure you register your passport in advanced as this is something you have to have upon entry into Australia.
Now to the logistics! Because Sydney/Australia is a place you’ll want to visit for an extended period of time, I’d personally recommend getting an Air BNB, settling in, and making it feel like your home away from home. This was one of the reasons I think I enjoyed the trip so much more this time around. We didn’t rent an air bnb but we stayed at a friend’s place who was out of town, so same concept, had our own place.
Area wise, I’d recommend staying near Bondi. We were only a 5 minute walk from the beach, minutes from loads of shops and cafes, and only a 25 minute train ride into the city from Bondi Junction Station.
While downtown/ the Harbour area is pretty, to me it felt bit touristy and I loved being right near the beach/ Bondi walks.
After doing a quick scan I found a few cute Air BNBS: HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. I’m not an expert on hotels but a few that I saw that were really cute were Hotel Ravesis in Bondi, Coogee Bay Hotel, and Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel, although I’d stay here a part of the time as it’s a bit removed.
As I mentioned before, after such a full year of traveling, I really took my trip to Sydney as an opportunity to chill out and slow down. We mixed in a few touristy bits into our day to day but it was ultimate the beaches that sold me on Sydney.
BONDI BEACH DAY | Bondi is definitely one of the most popular beaches, so when in Sydney you have to just chill out, post up, and enjoy the beach. You can rent towels right near the stairs to the sand for $5 and surfboads/boogie boards if you’re up for it. For the full experience, pay a small fee and go swimming in the famous Iceberg pools.
BRONTE BEACH DAY | Because my boyfriend’s brother lives in Bronte, we spent a lot of time at this beach. I think ended up being my favorite. It feels lot more local even in the peak of summer and it’s right next to a giant grassy area where you can grill, set up blankets, enjoy some shade, and there are several local cafes nearby to grab smoothies, coffee, breakfast, and lunch.
BONDI TO COOGEE WALK | One day if not several, you have to do the Bondi to Coogee walk or vice versa. I remember this from my first trip to Sydney and had to do it again this time around. You’ll pass by some of the most breathtaking cliff views and it’s also a good little workout.
HERMITAGE FORESHORE WALK | Without a doubt, this was my favorite day in Sydney. We woke up early, took the car (although you can uber) and started the walk along the northern part of Sydney from Watson’s Bay Hotel. Put it in your maps as you’ll end up going through some residential bits, but the houses here are stunning and the beaches even prettier. It’s the perfect place to have a beach day and enjoy the smaller more private coves. Milk Beach was where we posted up for the day, but there’s also Hermit Beach, Queens Beach, and Shark Beach near Neilson Park. A little snack boat will cruise up during the day offering water, drinks, chips, and ice cream. The best part is the view! You can enjoy swimming in the almost waveless coves with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the distance.
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE | When it Sydney, you kind of have to be touristy and go see the opera house. You can take the underground to the city and walk just a bit to the steps the see the Opera house up close and personal…but the best views are actually from the water. If you’re taking the ferry to the zoo or Manly, this is where you’ll get the picturesque view of the opera house. I’ve had drinks at the opera house bar which I’m sure you may have seen pictures of via Instagram, and personally I found this over rated. The birds are so horrible stalking waiting for food, I’d snaps some pics of the Opera House then move on and grab drinks with a view somewhere near the beach instead.
If you aren’t able to make it here in the summer months, I will say the Sydney Vidid Festival in May is incredible. The entire opera house is covered in a light show and I was lucky enough to experience it the one weekend of the year during my first trip to Sydney.
TARONGA ZOO | When in Australia you have to see some Koalas and Kangaroos. The zoo isn’t for everyone but I did enjoy our afternoon here after seeing the Opera house. You can take the ferry right next to Sydney Harbour and cross the water to get to the zoo. Don’t even attempt to take the Sky Safari to enter. Skip the lines, follow the signs to the entrance, and take the Gondola down for better views anyways. This was definitely our most “touristy” day but you really only have to spend a few hours here to get the full experience. If you’re really set on holding a Koala – pre-book their encounter online, They offer this daily around 11:30 to 2:30, but same day bookings are seemingly hard to come by.
*For other interactive experiences look up Wildlife Sanctuaries in Sydney. I went to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in the Gold Coat and holding a Koala was definitely one of my most memorable parts of that trip.
MOONLIGHT CINEMAS | We had booked the outdoor cinema in Centennial Park to see 10 Things I Hate about you but due to jet-lag/ timing didn’t end up making it this time. If you are visiting it is a super cute date night/ activity. Wear layers as it can get quite cold at night and aim to get there an hour before the movie starts to get the best seat.
MANLY | Manly is another great local spot to spend a day via Ferry. If you end up here, Collins Beach has beautiful views, and a similar smaller private cove type of feel. Go to Hugos for lunch and sit overlooking the water.
SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE | If you want to check off some of the top touristy things, definitely book a walking tour of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Tickets sell out extremely far in advance so as soon as you know your travel plans, try to reserve your tickets 3+ months out. According to friends, this experience has some of the best views although I’ve never done it myself.
The THREE SISTERS / BLUE MOUNTAINS | Sadly the fires have affected a lot of this area, but one of the most memorable parts of my first trip to Sydney was hiking to the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains. From Sydney we took the train to Katoomba and meandered through the town until hitting the national park. To fully experience this I’d set aside a day. We trained early morning, enjoyed a leisurely hike then headed back to Sydney in the afternoon.
MACCALLUM POOL | I didn’t make it here this trip, but I found this pool on Instagram and it looks amazing. Time permitting I’d go to this North Sydney stop after seeing everything mentioned above. It’s not as mainstream as Bondi beach but has beautiful views for a sunny day spot.
SHOP AT THE INTERSECTION IN PADDINGTON | Paddington is know for some of the best local shopping. Zimmerman, one of my favorite Australian brands is here along with lots of local boutiques. (My local friend recommends lunch at Jackies if you’re in the area!)
Porch + Parlour | This was recommended to me by one of my friends from Sydney and did not disappoint! The food was amazing, the decor and vibe really cool. Definitely a must if you’re in the Bondi area.
COOGEE PAVILION | This was one of my favorite finds after walking to Coogee from Bondi. It has that food hall, coastal market vibe with loads of restaurants to choose from and a great restaurant upstairs for sunset bite + drinks.
Watson’s Bay | Also a restaurant, this is a really cute vibe spot to come for Aperol in the summer and fish and chips. Come here the day you do the Harbour Foreshore walk for late afternoon food and drinks. (18+)
The Butler | Branching out from Bondi, we went to a really nice group dinner here. The Skyline views are gorgeous (request a seat outside) and the decor is really retro tropical, imperial vibe. If booking for a group of 8+ go for the set menu.
Heart Cafe | While staying in Bondi we came here almost every morning for coffee. You can grab a drink, smoothie or matcha to go or sit for breakfast/lunch. The atmosphere is really cute and the windows stay open and airy on sunny days.
Drake Eatery | This was another cute Bondi spot. We came here for breakfast – definitely order the boated crumpled its really yummy. Their dinner menu looks nice too. Super chilled and modern.
Bogey Hole Cafe | This quickly became our daily stop for coffees and smoothies. They also have really nice salads, bowls, and sandwiches for a chilled local lunch.
Hotel Ravesis | Come here for sunset cocktails if you’re the Bondi area. Downstairs they have a live band and the upstairs patio has a great view in the heart of Bondi
Fratelli Paradiso | If you’re in Potts Point, come here for Italian! I saved it on my Instagram finds list and it was also recommended to me by my local friend.
Mr. Wong | This was on my list for a while. Make a booking as it’s always a popular spot for a nice dinner.
Icebergs | I’m sure seeing the icebergs is already on your Sydney “list” but if you’re up for a fancy lunch and a cocktail, come here for a treat.
During our summertime trip I kept my packing a light as I could — lots of swimsuits, sunglasses, a pair of denim shorts, white sneakers, sandals, some workout clothes for the beach walks, several light wrap dresses, a pullover light sweater as the evenings got cold, and a cute Love Shack Fancy dress & Zimmerman romper for evening dinners. The overall vibe is really peachy casual. It reminded me of the years I lived in Malibu — Love Shack Fancy, Planet Blue, Hunza G, Agolde, Rhode, Reformation, Zara, and Lover’s & Friends were my go to brands.