Sydney/City Centre

Circular Quay and the CBD skyline, with the Opera House (left) and The Rocks (right)

The Sydney City Centre was where Governor Arthur Phillip first raised the British Flag on Australian soil in January 1788, the earliest site of European settlement in Australia. After two centuries and more, it now features a Manhattan-like skyline of skyscrapers on the harbour. It is the commercial centre of Sydney, seeing hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders commute daily to work, shop, and socialise.

The city centre meets and embraces its harbour. The entire foreshore is walkway, and much of it is parkland. The office towers compete with each other for the best view of the harbour, with those in the back row grateful for any glimpse.

It is the site of Sydney's grandest structures, from the modern Opera House and Sydney Tower, to the art-deco, the granite facades of the early 20th century, and the colonial sandstone of a convict era. The oldest buildings may be in The Rocks, but those warehouses and residences lack the proportion, scale, and inspiration of the construction in the city centre.

Into the evening, there is a stark contrast as many of the crowded footpaths grow quiet, and many of the city centre eateries and cafes wind down. There are still people around though: the after-work crowd still around in the city pubs, the opera aficionados and diners out down at East Circular Quay, and the groups meeting up near Town Hall for a movie, a drink, or a night out.

Get in

The City Centre lies at the hub of Sydney's transport network. Most major roads, and public transport radiate from the city. Catch a train from anywhere and it will stop here.

By train

The City Circle loop, which can be used going in either directions, has five stations.

There is also a station at Martin Place on the way to Bondi (pronounced bond eye) Junction in the Sydney/Eastern Suburbs.

If you're headed for the city centre, do not get off at Central in the City South. It refers to Sydney's main train station and is not too close to the city centre.

When buying a train ticket, you can just press the City button on the ticket machines, or ask for a ticket to the City at any ticket window. You can get off at any city centre stations above. If you are travelling from the North Shore to City Centre, try getting a ticket to Wynyard which will often be cheaper.

By bus

Direct buses to the city centre are available from many inner suburbs, and some outer regions. If you are travelling from the Central Business District (CBD) by bus on weekdays 07:00-19:00, and you don't have an Opal Card, you have to purchase a ticket before you get on the bus. Tickets can be purchased from hundreds of shops around the city.

By boat

The most pleasant way to arrive in Sydney city centre, or to get out and see the Sydney harbour or north shore, is by ferry. Most ferry routes (from 41 wharves around the Sydney harbour suburbs) start or finish at Circular Quay, at the northern end of the CBD. From here you can take a ferry to Manly or Watsons Bay to the east or Parramatta to the west, all for far cheaper than taking a private tour.

There is a train station and major bus terminus right next to the ferry terminal at Circular Quay for connections to other parts of the city.

There is also a ferry wharf on Darling Harbour (Kings Street) which is next to the city centre. A ferry from Circular Quay to here will take 35 minutes, go under the Harbour Bridge and provide great views of the city.

By car

The city is accessible to private vehicles. It's well signposted from most surrounding areas. Firstly as Sydney, then as City, and finally, as City North or City Centre. Don't confuse City North, with North Sydney, or you will end up on the other side of the harbour.

Traffic in the city can be congested. Peak hours, Friday lunchtime, and Friday afternoon are worst. Weekends are usually fine, although some congestion can occur at any time. Traversing the few city blocks can take up to 30 minutes during these periods.

Many streets in the city are one-way and disallow right turns.


Garage Parking can vary from around $18 to over $70 for a day on a weekday. You need to do research and book online to avoid high rates. Don't be misled by parking stations advertising parking for $5, as this usually apply for the first 30 minutes, after which charges rise steeply. Early-bird rates (for arriving and leaving during set times) can save up to 75% on hourly rates during the day.

Parking stations usually charge less for evening parking and all-day weekend parking. A flat rate is often available for $15 or less, but not all places have special deals, so check before you park. It is a safe bet to drive around the CBD and check the flat rates advertised outside the parking stations on weekends, but again, you will get better rates booking online in advance.

Street Parking is scarce and although street parking for short periods is possible it is often difficult to find, particularly during the day on weekdays. Free on-street parking or street parking available for extended periods is particularly elusive. Early on weekend mornings, some on-street parking is usually available in Clarence, Kent, or Sussex Streets. On street parking is also available on Art-Gallery road. Expect to pay. Free on-street weekend parking is available where no parking zones apply on weekdays. All public parking zones are enforced by city parking police and occasionally state police, infringement penalties are around $130. Motorcycles and scooters can park for free anywhere a car can park, but must still follow any time restrictions (for example they may not stay longer than 2 hours in a 2P spot). There are also some dedicated motorbike parking spots around the city.

By bike

One of quietest approach to the city is from the west at Darling Harbour and Pyrmont. The Pyrmont Bridge allows cyclists, and a cycle path takes you along to King St as far as Clarence St. There is bike parking there. From the North take the cycleway over the Harbour Bridge, next to the station at Milsons Point. From the south there is a separated cycle path from Central Station (Eddy Avenue) that winds its way through the city streets to meet the Kent St, King St and Pyrmont Bridge paths.

Maps and other information for cyclists around the inner city are provided by local government.

Get around

NOTE: There is a heightened police presence at all road junctions in the CBD during the construction of the new light rail on George Street. This is primarily to catch jay-walkers running red lights. If you are caught then a $70 file will apply.

Looking for the Bridge? Don't follow Bridge St

Bridge St is one of the major east-west roads in the city centre, running south of the Circular Quay, but it does not go the Harbour Bridge. The road is one of the earliest in the colony of New South Wales and the site of the first government house, very near the first settlement. It was also the site of the first bridge built in Sydney, over the Tank Stream, which was Sydney's first water supply. The Tank Stream has long since been buried and become an underground drain, but the name Bridge St remains.

To access the Sydney Harbour Bridge by foot, take Cumberland St and climb the stone stairs near Argyle St to the east side of Bradfield Highway; continue north onto the Harbour Bridge.

The city centre has a very rough grid system. George St is the major north-south city street, running all the way from Central Station in the south to Circular Quay and The Rocks in the north, with Pitt, Castlereagh, and Elizabeth St running parallel to it through the city centre. City blocks are small, especially in the east-west directions.

There are maps and directional signs to nearly attractions located every few blocks.

By foot

Most of the attractions below are within a 1.5km radius, and are easy to walk around. Consult the Walking tour of Sydney for details. The spectacular walk along the harbour's edge (Farm Cove) from the Sydney Opera House (Queen Elizabeth II Gate) through the gated Royal Botanical Gardens to Mrs Macquarie's Chair (Yurong Gate) is for many the epitome of a Sydney experience.

By bike

There are a few cycleways around the city. Travelling North-South along Kent St in the city west is easy enough. This route connects to Liverpool St to travel east-west, and Castlereagh St to travel to the south. It requires a bit of planning and determination to get around the city centre by bike. It may be best to leave your bike on the city centre fringe, and walk while downtown. You can be fined for cycling in the pedestrian malls or footpaths.

There are bike parking spots all over the city, and you can park your bike pretty much on any street. If you leave your bike unattended then ensure you park it in an area with high visibility - like outside Clarence St Cyclery - and secure it well.

By bus

Public buses

NOTE: The free CBD shuttle service 555 ceased Sunday 4, October 2015.

All buses are numbered on their indicator boards at the front and on the left side of the bus, and show the final bus destination.

The major bus interchanges in the City are at Circular Quay, Wynyard, Town Hall and the Queen Victoria Building. Buses from Wynyard run straight over the Harbour Bridge. From Circular Quay, as a general rule of thumb: Any bus number starting with "3" run the eastern route (i.e. to/from Circular Quay via Elizabeth Street and to/from the Eastern Suburbs), while the ones starting with a "4" run the western route (i.e. to/from Circular Quay via George Street and to/from the Inner West). The ones starting with a "5" out of the city over the Anzac Bridge. Check the bus stop signage, and walk to the next stop if your bus doesn't stop there.

Buses running along Clarence St and York St between Wynyard and Town Hall generally don't stop between those two points. Join southbound buses at Wynyard interchange, or northbound at the QVB. The southbound buses along Clarence St don't operate via Wynyard Park, but have stops scattered along Clarence St. Each bus that passes along Clarence St stop at least once at one of the stops between King St and Margaret St. Check the signs at the stops.

At the interchanges (Circular Quay, Wynyard, Town Hall and the QVB) have multiple stops, each assigned a letter. See the guide at the stops.

Hop-on Hop-off

City Sightseeing Sydney Explorer bus tours. Costs more and takes longer than normal public transport, but can take the hassle out planning your routes.

By train

Trains run both ways around the city circle stations Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James and Museum. Each of these stations has services every five minutes. Most of the city is no more than ten or fifteen minutes walk from a train station.

Another city station, Martin Place, is mid-town on the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line and has services every 10 min to Town Hall and Central.

Town Hall, Wynyard, Martin Place and St James stations are located within 1km of each other, so unless you are feeling particularly lethargic, catching the train or bus between them will take longer than the walk.

By car

It is unusual to drive between city centre attractions, and it can be problematic if you are unfamiliar with the area. Attractions in the city centre are not signposted from the city roads. The only directional signs you will see will point you out of the city centre, across the harbour bridge or to the west or east. There is a one way system and few right hand turns are permitted. Some right hand turns are legally possible, but are difficult to find breaks in traffic. The quickest route from where you are to your city centre destination will not always be apparent from a map, and even the best GPS will struggle in the canyons of the city centre.

If you are driving into the city centre, best to navigate straight to a parking lot nearby. If you are going between multiple destinations in the city centre, walking is usually the quickest way.



Sydney Opera House (lower left) and Harbour Bridge at night
Sydney Tower

Museums and Galleries

Museum of Sydney
Hyde Park Barracks
Night view of the ANZAC memorial

Historic sites

Parks and gardens

Sydney Botanic Gardens

Other City Parks

The Hyde Park fountain with St Mary's Cathedral in the background



Harbour cruises

You can take a cruise on Sydney Harbour. There are many cruises to choose from and they depart from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay. For a bigger adrenalin rush, try the jet boats that zip around the harbour at breakneck speeds.

Harbour Cruises depart from Darling Harbour and at Circular Quay in the city.

You can create your own harbour cruise, as the normal Sydney Ferries services go everywhere a cruise goes and more. Get a daytripper ticket for $20, and take as many ferries as you like, get on and off where you like, and enjoy a picnic in any of the many harbour side parks next to the ferry wharves. On a Sunday and if travelling with children, a Family Funday Sunday ticket can be bought from all the usual outlets for $2.50 and allows unlimited travel on all public transport for the day. Timetables are available at the Quay, and its hard to catch a ferry somewhere that isn't worthwhile. The Manly ferries even have a cafe on board, where you can grab a pie, and sit out in the sun, taking in the view for a fraction of the cost of a luncheon cruise! Consider dropping in at one of the harbour islands


Sydney Opera House

Other theatres are at Lyric Theate at Star City in Pyrmont, the Capitol Theatre in the south of the city, and the Wharf Theatres at Walsh Bay in Sydney/The Rocks.



If you are interested in fringe or arthouse films, you may also like the Chauvel, Verona and Academy Twin cinemas in nearby Oxford Street.


The CBD of Sydney is also the retail centre of the city, having the largest range of shops and outlets in a variety of settings. Sydney's shopping is frequently concentrated within large city malls and arcades (heavily interconnected mid-town through a number of underground walkways). There are also a number of recognised shopping strips.

If you are shopping for food and supplies, the convenience stores and even the city fruit stores can have up to three times mark-up over supermarkets. If you need to stock up on the basics, it would be cheaper to try the supermarket "Woolworths", one opposite Town Hall on Park and George Sts or one underground north of Wynyard Station in the MetCentre (take down escalator from ground level of the MetCentre); or the supermarket "Coles", one at Carrington and Wynyard Sts or one at 388 George St near King.

George Street

Inside the Queen Victoria Building

George St is the closest thing to Sydney's main street. It has a shopping strip between the Town Hall (Park St) and Wynyard (Hunter St), about 10 minutes brisk walk. Along this section of road there are numerous fashion, technology and gift stores and malls like the Queen Victoria Building, Galleries Victoria, Myer, Westfield, the Strand Arcade and the Apple Store.

Pitt Street Mall

Pitt Street mall is a pedestrianised block between Market and King St that is so busy that it has some of the highest retail rents in the world. Both sides of the Pitt St mall are full of shops and shopping centres, extending westward to George St and eastward to Castlereagh St. Most of the shopping centres connect to each other. The Westfield Sydney connects to the David Jones department store, the Queen Victoria Building (and through there to the Galeries Victoria and Town Hall Station), and the MLC Centre (and through there to Martin Place Station), making this area ideal for shopping in poor weather.

St James

Castlereagh Street and Martin Place

Castlereagh Street north of King St and Martin Place between Castlereagh and George Sts. Home to a large concentration of fashion houses and big names including DKNY, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Ferragamo, Gucci, Bvlgari, Stefano Canturi and Chanel.


There is much competition, specials, and choice for breakfast and lunchtime eating. Even the classiest restaurants tend to have lunchtime specials, and the competition for breakfast, coffee and lunch at the budget end of the market is fierce. However, by supper time in the evening, many of the cafes and take-aways have closed in the CBD and the remaining restaurants can be expensive. Doing your food exploration at lunchtime will save you money in the city centre.

Neighbouring Chinatown in the south of the city has large a number of restaurants offering cheap and tasty Asian cuisine, and the food courts in Market City Shopping Centre stay open into the evening, when the CBD ones have usually shut.


If you fancy an early dinner (or late lunch) many of the food halls sell off remaining lunch items at discounted prices around 16:00 in the afternoon, sometimes for as little as $4-5 a meal, but commonly for $6.


The Sydney CBD is packed with small cafes that serve (usually) good coffee and a breakfast of toasted banana bread, toast (with cinnamon, Vegemite etc) or anything involving bacon and eggs. They mostly serve office workers and are open (generally) between 07:00 and 15:00 during the week. On the weekend most are closed in the CBD, and you may want to head to a more residential suburb to find breakfast.


The CBD is flooded with cafes and pubs doing lunch with mains in the $10-15 range. Avoid the ones in or immediately next to major tourist attractions to avoid inflated prices. Clarence St, York St, and even Pitt St have many to choose from.

Outside of the cafe scene, mid-range restaurants in Sydney's CBD proper tend to be a little thin on the ground, but you will find plenty clustered around the George St cinemas and World Square, and on Liverpool St. Liverpool St. in particular has a large amount of Korean restaurants to choose from


Sydney's top-end dining scene is world class, with prices to match. Some of the best restaurants in Australia are listed below, and many of them feature on the San Pellegrino list of the Top 100 restaurants in the world.



Sydney has recently relaxed its licencing legislation, leading to a few experimental style small bars. Time will tell if they succeed against the Sydney beer halls.

Try the Shirt Bar in Sussex Lane (off Kent St just south of Erskine) to have nice wine, beer, coffee and cake amongst antique sewing machines, or in York Lane, near Wynyard station, where you can have a Lord Nelson Brew or a Margaret River Sav Blanc on a recycled milk crate next to the garbage bins in the back lane.



Gig guides



There is little budget accommodation in this district. There are some backpacker hostels but generally cheaper accommodation is found in the surrounding areas around Central Station in the City South.



Stay safe

In the daytime Sydney City is a busy location with high pedestrian activity. The biggest threat to your safety during the day is traffic, so take care when crossing roads with high traffic volumes and one-way flows. Occasionally there is a blitz on jaywalking, so look-left, look-right, and look around for police at the intersection before crossing on the red.

If you're out late, stick to popular areas and main streets. The main business area of skyscrapers and office building area north of Park and south of Bridge St becomes very quiet at night as the office workers return to the suburbs. Late at night anti-social behaviour and even some alcohol-related violence is possible around the George St Cinema strip (between Bathurst Street and Liverpool Street) and the northern (harbour) end of George St towards the rocks (north of Bridge St). The harbour end of George St is very busy on Friday and Saturday nights, with large numbers of people arriving in the city to go to the nightclubs, many of them already having started drinking hours ago. On other nights the area around the Quay down to the Opera House is very pleasant. It has a variety of restaurants and bars, a great view, and is safe.

On the trains late at night stay close to the guard's compartment which has an exterior blue light. There is an emergency assistance button on every platform and by the entrance to the train carriages on more modern trains.



You won't have any problem finding an Internet terminal in the City Centre, although they are perhaps not as common or cheap here as they are in the city south. Many convenience stores have a terminal or two although prices are high and computers are usually antiquated and filled with malware. Expect to pay around $2.50 per 10 min.

For free Wi-Fi in a comfortable environment, try the NSW State Library (free password at the circulation desk) or the Sydney City Library in the Customs House. Alternatively, free Wi-Fi is also available in some food courts (try Australia Square), or McDonalds, or Woolworths MetCentre.

Most cafes offer Wi-Fi to their customers, although they almost always require a password.

4G Internet is available everywhere in Sydney on all networks.


Public phones are fairly common in the CBD, although seldom used. You can also use them to send text messages, domestically or internationally. Telstra offers free wifi to their customers through them as well.

Go next

Take a walk to the surrounding city areas, go to the aquarium, maritime museum, or just walk along the boardwalks at Darling Harbour. Visit the historic district of The Rocks. Walk up to Chinatown in the city south for Yum Cha.

Take a ferry trip from Circular Quay to the Harbour Islands, Manly or Parramatta.

Walk, or catch the train, over the harbour bridge to the Lower North Shore.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.