Greetings, Internet Stranger! It’s a lucky traveler who gets to spend 24 Hours in Sydney. Sydney is such a disgustingly fun city that you could do nothing but sit at Sydney Harbor all day staring at Chris Hemsworth lookalikes walking by and still get your money’s worth.
But if you manage to get off your duff and do some sightseeing, you will find amazing Asian art, cemeteries, jumping koalas, and tourists in dire need of a history lesson. These are just some of the best things to do with 24 hours in Sydney.
24 Hours in Sydney
Where to Stay?
I wish I could recommend the hotel where I spent 24 hours in Sydney, but I went to Sydney at New Year’s, and the hotel prices were astronomical. I was forced to stay in a suburb of Sydney called Ashfield, which I can’t really recommend. Also I arrived at breakfast one morning with the back of my dress tucked in my stockings and now I’m too embarrassed to ever go back to Ashfield.
The next time I visit Sydney, I’d want to stay in a more centrally located hotel. Since I’m American, it already takes me 10 years to fly to Australia, so I don’t want to waste any time once I arrive in the Land Down Under.
If you’re looking for a collection of over 3000 places to stay in Sydney, along with some pretty great deals, just click here.
24 Hours in Sydney
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Sydney is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Australia, New Zealand, or the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. Australian electrical outlets don’t work with American or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Sydney
Morning: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
The Museum of Contemporary Art is probably my favorite contemporary art museum in the world. First off, it is FREE, and second, it has regular docent led tours and they are FREE. The word free is probably my favorite word in the English language, unless it is followed by the word Willy.
There’s lots of cool/crazy works of art in the collection, but I will be happy to get you started with…
Approximately top 5: MOCA
1) You must go on one of the docent led FREE tours
The docents are both knowledgeable and passionate. I highly recommend going on a tour of the collection highlights because your guide will definitely explain to you better than I why there is a sculpture of Spiderman looking at a freaky head in the museum. If you’re really motivated, you can take another tour of any special exhibitions going on.
2) Worth exploring? by richard bell
Bell is an Aboriginal artist, and according to our guide, he uses documents in his works of art. In this piece, he uses one of the Certificates of Authenticity that sometimes come with a work of art produced by an Aboriginal artist to question the ways in which white Australians have claimed ownership over the Aboriginal population. After all, why should an Aboriginal artist have to produce a document for a white buyer in order to prove that their work is authentic?
I knew almost nothing about race relations in Australia when I arrived, and Bell’s work made me curious to learn more about the subject. I always say a good work of art is one that makes you ask questions that stick with you, so I’m very glad to have encountered Richard Bell.
3) the door was open by nicolas folland
This chandelier is the work of art here, and it’s actually encrusted in ice. Supposedly this is meant to make the viewer think about global warming, but all I can think of is what a fancy lady I would feel like if I had a chandelier covered in ice in my apartment.
4) Play connect the dots
This work looks like a collection of red sticky dots, but they are actually replicas made out of, I believe, plasticine. I think this is one of those pieces that’s meant to make you ask, “What even IS ART, anyway?”
5) explore the art of the first peoples of australia
My favorite part of the museum were the works like baskets and shoes created by contemporary Indigenous Australians. Our docent pointed out that works like these are often not considered art that belongs in a museum, whereas paintings and sculpture, which are more likely to be done by wealthy, educated, and perhaps white artists, are.
I don’t personally get all riled up by what does or doesn’t belong in a museum. I go to museums because I like being able to spend time with interesting objects that I wouldn’t otherwise get to see, and I love learning new things. So it was a pleasure for me to come all the way around the world and chillax with these baskets, especially those ones that look like killer worms hanging from the ceiling.
24 Hours in Sydney
Afternoon: Explore Sydney Harbor
After the museum, you’ll want to get some time during your 24 hours in Sydney for basking in the glow of Sydney Harbour and people watching. This area is the first thing anyone thinks of when they imagine spending time in Sydney, and there’s a ton of things to do here. I suggest…
Approximately top 5: sydney harbor
1) See the writers walk
Begin by exploring the ground, and you will spot the Writers Walk made of medallions dedicated to various scribes. Here’s Joseph Conrad.
Or you could spot a message left by our future alien overlords, Kang and Kodos
The possibilities are endless!
2) Take a cruise around the harbor
The High Tea Tour is a pleasure cruise around Sydney Harbour that lasts about one hour and fifteen minutes, from 2:30-3:45. You have to book your tickets on the website in advance because the tour does sell out. A three course tea, a glass of champagne, and a pot of tea is included with the ticket.
Even if eating tea is not your thing, you can still enjoy the gorgeous views of Sydney Harbour! My favorite part was getting a glimpse of Luna Park.
As a native New Yorker, I feel the need to point out that the first Luna Park was in Coney Island in our very own Brooklyn. But New Yorkers don’t mind sharing our amazing ideas with the world…
3) enjoy a fancy high tea for lunch!
Though there are definitely better places than a harbor cruise for fine dining in Sydney, I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth with the high tea. I began with assorted tea sandwiches, which included a blini with a shrimp on it. This was tasty, but I don’t think Queen Victoria would approve of blinis as tea sandwiches.
As you can see, there are two other plates on the tea tray. As is traditional, one plate had scones and the other plate had sweets on it. I liked looking at the cute little cupcakes the most, but I preferred eating the fresh fruit tart with custard.
Even though I enjoyed the food, my favorite part was the rose champagne. Rose champagne is my favoritest drink because it makes me feel like a fancy, fancy lady. Or more specifically, what I imagined it would be like to be a fancy, fancy lady when I was a little girl having tea parties with my stuffed cat.
4) Visit the rocks discovery museum
The Rocks is a historic area next to the harbor. Like everything else in Australia, The Rocks area used to be home to the Aboriginal population. Then, after the colonists moved in, it became a crime-ridden slum filled with prostitutes and sailors and sailor-prostitutes, like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story. Now of course, it has been gentrified. You can get fancy coffees and buy artisanal pickles and sneakers or whatever there.
I recommend starting at The Rocks Discovery Museum before going on to explore the neighborhood. This museum will give you a good foundation for understanding the neighborhood’s journey through time from Aboriginal home, to den of vice and iniquity, to trendy hotspot. Actually, that sounds exactly like the history of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
My favorite things in the museum were all artifacts related to George Cribb, former resident of the Rocks. Like any good colonial Australian, George was an enterprising ex-convict. He came to Australia on a prison ship and promptly took up with another convict named Fanny. Sadly, he was already married, and when his wife came over from London, George gave Fanny some money and sent her away. Later George’s wife died, and he remarried a woman named Sophia who later left him for his nephew. It’s like a 19th century version of Neighbours!
5) Find amazing views!
When you are done with the Rocks Discovery Museum, spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the buildings of The Rocks on your own. You can actually climb up the area by Sydney Harbour Bridge. Then you can explore the area from a height and get some sweet views of the harbor!
24 Hours in Sydney
Evening: Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House has had my heart even since I watched Carmen Sandiego steal it on an episode of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I dreamed of attending a show there. Lucky for me, there was an event that was just perfect for me while I was in Sydney. This was a Greatest Hits concert of some of the most famous arias in opera history, from Carmen to La Boheme to Nessun Dorma from Turandot.
Even if you are not an opera buff, I recommend ending your 24 hours in Sydney with a concert. You don’t need to follow along with the plot because there was a humorous introduction to each song given by the director of the program. The singing was beautiful, and the audience even got to join in on singing the chorus to the drinking song from La Traviata. So if you go to the concert, you will be able to say that you sang at the Sydney Opera House!
The intermission was also one of the highlights of the show. This is because you get to buy some champagne and food and eat it on the balcony of the Opera House, which has spectacular views of the harbor. Bonus! You will not need to worry about where to get dinner that evening!
Further Reading: 24 Hours in Sydney
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Sydney? Then let me give you some of my favorite reading suggestions for your 24 hours in Sydney. I like the Lonely Planet guide to Sydney if you need suggestions for further things to do. It’s divided into neighborhoods, which is very helpful.
One of my favorite Australian books is Picnic at Hanging Rock. (There’s a movie based on the book made by Australian director Peter Weir, who’s more famous for Dead Poets Society and Witness.) It’s a fascinating and creepy read–Tana French but older and way, way more Australian.
And if you want something more romantic and less murder-y, try Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carew. It’s not entirely set in Sydney, but Sydney is very involved in the story. (And yes, there’s a movie of this one too.)
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in Sydney that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Sydney. And if you’re lucky enough to visit Melbourne too, I’ve got you covered here and here.