Sydney is not the easiest city to obtain around, nevertheless its trains and buses network is reliable, affordable and way more convenient than driving. Undoubtedly the best way to enjoy making your way around Sydney is by going for a ferry or water taxi whenever feasible.
Sydney's transport network is as complex as its roads system which grew organically, marrying disparate settlements round the harbor. Sydney Harbor Bridge connects the North Shore using the city, taking buses, cars and trains – as well as pedestrians and cyclists – across it and also the Harbor Tunnel is an alternative vehicular crossing.
In summer you'll find a lot of it's also air-conditioned, although there's nothing much better than sitting on the deck of the ferry crossing Sydney Harbor.
Getting into Sydney city in the airport
You have three options if you aren't hiring a car in the airport: train, shuttle or taxi. Because of worldwide shortages, rental vehicles are in peak prices at the moment so trains and buses might be the best choice.
Trains depart from underneath the terminal which is well signposted, however the fare is fairly steep for the short journey in to the city considering you'll then have to travel onwards for your destination. Airport shuttle buses cost around $20 per person and can drop you at your city-based hotel. If you are inside a group it may be cheaper to grab a taxi. The fare in the airport in to the city centre and neighbouring suburbs is around $50, which is not bad when split between passengers.
Get yourself an Opal card on arrival
Sydney's trains and buses network operates on a ticketing system called Opal. You tap along with your Opal card when you start your trip, after which tap out whenever you complete your vacation. The system calculates and deducts the correct fare. Fares derive from the distance you travel and also the mode of transport (ferry, bus, train, light rail). Electronic readers are found at train and metro station gates, inside the doors of buses, on light-rail platforms and at ferry wharves.
Opal cards could be ordered online, or bought in person at numerous newsagents and supermarkets across Sydney. They ought to be loaded with credit (minimum $10/5 for adult/child; $35 in the airport station, to cover the fee into town).
Note: you can only get a refund on unused credit for an Australian banking account, therefore it is best to keep close track of your balance and just top up when you really need to right at the end of your stay.
Daily (and weekly) fare charges are capped: see online for that current fare cap. On weekends the utmost daily fare is half the usual daily fee, making weekends the optimum time to visit further like Palm Beach or the Blue Mountains!
Other methods to pay for public transport
You may use your contactless charge card or smartphone in the electronic readers, however, you may incur additional international bank fees for transactions.
If you're carrying out a one-off trip then you can choose to purchase a single-trip Opal ticket from bus drivers and also at ticket offices at Circular Quay or major train stations. Unfortunately you have to purchase a new ticket if you change to a brand new mode of transport, so getting a rechargeable Opal card is almost always more convenient.
The joy of catching a ferry in Sydney
Most Transport NSW ferries operate between 6am and midnight as well as use the Opal ticketing system. Most run about twice an hour or so. You check ferry timetables online. The conventional adult one-way fare for many harbor destinations cost approximately $6 but ferries to help destinations like Manly, Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta are closer to $8.
There are also private ferry operators running in Sydney, like the Manly Fast Ferry which makes the trip from Circular Quay to Manly in 18 minutes. Captain Cook Cruises is another private outfit that offers services with several stops around the harbor and all the way to Lane Cove.
How about zipping around Sydney in a water taxi?
Water taxis are a fast way to shunt round the harbor (Circular Quay to Watsons Bay in as little as Fifteen minutes, for example). Companies will quote on any pick-up point within the harbor and also the river, including private jetties, islands and other boats. All have a quote generator on their websites; you can add in extra cruise here we are at a bit of sightseeing. It's often good value for groups.
Look out for companies like Fantasea Yellow Water Taxis, H2O Maxi Taxis and Water Taxis Combined.
Sydney buses are reliable – and air-conditioned
Transport NSW runs an extensive bus network, operating from around 4.30am to midnight, when more uncommon NightRide services commence.
Bus routes starting with an M or E indicate express routes; individuals with an L have similarly limited stops; all are somewhat quicker compared to regular bus lines.
There are several bus hubs in the city centre: Wynyard Park by Wynyard train station; Railway Square by Central Station; the QVB close to Town Hall Station; and Circular Quay by the ferry, train and light-rail stops of the same name.
You tap on when you board, and remember to tap off when you alight public transit, or you'll be charged the utmost fare. Have your card prepared once the bus pulls up and when you're moving away from.
Trains are good but they don't reach Sydney's beaches
Sydney includes a large suburban railway web with relatively frequent services, although there aren't any lines towards the northern or eastern beaches (ie Manly or Bondi).
Trains run from around 5am to midnight. You'll need to find a NightRide buses in the small hours. These mostly leave from around Town Hall Station and pass through Railway Square at Central Station.
Note that trains are significantly more expensive at prime time, that are from 7am to 9am and 4pm to six.30pm, Monday to Friday. If you can travel outside peak hours, you'll be more comfortable too.
Sydney's new light rail trams really are a plus
Light rail tram services are relatively new to Sydney. Well that isn't entirely true, Sydney had a comprehensive tram network from the 1870s to 1961 if this was disbanded since the trams slowed up cars and caused congestion on the roads.
Today there's two connecting routes. One runs between Central Station and Dulwich Hill, stopping at Chinatown, Darling Harbour, the Star casino, Sydney Fish Market, Glebe and Leichhardt en route.
The second runs from Circular Quay through the city centre to Central Station, then shoots east through Surry Hills, heads past the Sydney Cricket Ground as well as on to Kingsford, having a branch veering to Randwick.
Driving in Sydney has its own drawbacks
Sydney's geography really cuts different parts of the town up, between your harbor, and winding hilly roads, no car journey is quick or easy. Traffic can be a real problem. In addition to Google Maps, the app Live Traffic NSW gives up to date with news of incidents and types of conditions that affect journey in Sydney.
Parking in the pub and in private car parks is expensive. Most machines take cards in addition to coins. The cheapest method to park in the city centre would be to prebook online; Wilson Parking has particularly attractive rates. Parkopedia is very helpful for locating the cheapest rates around in which you want to park.
There are tolls of all of Sydney's motorways and major links (including the Harbour Bridge, Harbour Tunnel, Cross City Tunnel, WestConnex and Eastern Distributor). The tolling product is electronic, and therefore the choice is yours to organise an electronic tag (e-tag) or visitors' pass. See the Transport NSW website for that various e-tag options. Most car-hire companies supply e-tags, but they may try to sell you an expensive all-inclusive rate.
Sydney is navigable without a car
The only reason you would employ a car in Sydney is to go for excursions away from city. The public transport system gets you virtually anywhere, and catching a ferry over the harbor to Manly beach is one of those must-do Sydney experiences. The northern beaches, as much as Palm Beach, are less accessible with no car, but it can be done. Similarly, Bondi is a trek to get at via train and bus. But did we mention the traffic? You're more often than not best on public transport anyway.
Cycling in Sydney is not for novices
We get one word: hills. Situations are improving, but Sydney is not the most bike-friendly city and it's not only because of the hills!
Dubbed 'the city that hates bikes' in 2010 – partly because of the aggression from car drivers and partly the possible lack of safe cycling infrastructure – you're more likely to employ a bicycle for any leisurely cycle around Centennial Park than play one to obtain from A to B at this stage of Sydney's development.
Getting around Sydney having a baby
Sydney is fairly available for going with a pram or stroller with most transport, including ferries, offering lifts and ramps to embark. Consider the wheeler-chair symbol to obtain the relevant exits and pathways through buildings like the Queen Victoria Building.
You can pick 'accessible travel' to plan your trip on the Transport NSW website. Kids three and under travel on Sydney public transit for free. From four to 15 years, you'll need to get them another child Opal card.
For an extra cost, car-hire companies will supply and fit child safety seats (these are compulsory around australia for children under seven).
These are the best trips via trains and buses in Sydney
- Bus 389 Interesting bus route from Darling Harbour to Bondi Junction.
- Bus B1 Express bus from Wynyard to the Northern Beaches.
- City Circle does a loop of city train stations, making it handy for most attractions in the middle.
- T1 is the northbound train line that crosses the Harbour Bridge.
- F1 may be the Manly ferry, a glorious half-hour cruise from Circular Quay.
- F4 is really a picturesque ferry ride that takes you from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay via Rose Bay
Best smartphone apps for implementing Sydney's transport network
There's several apps available with up-to-date information for Sydney transport. TripView may be the app put out by Transport NSW. Additionally you might like to try: