Getting your bearings.
From the airport terminals:
T1 – International, T2 – Domestic Tiger/Rex/Jetstar, T3 – Domestic Qantas
First up, here’s a map of the airport area so you see where you are relative to where you’re going. Sydney Airport is only about 10km from the city centre, so getting there is easy. Just zoom out and you’ll see the city centre appear in the north east as you may have flown in over the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, the two famous landmarks of Sydney.
There are door to door airport to hotel shuttles, minibuses, Taxis, Ubers and whatever else. If you’re more than 2 people a taxi may be the same price or cheaper to the city than the train, as it works out about $50 one way, and the train is about $16.30 one way, but per person. However the train is the quickest way. The bus/train combo below is cheaper than taxis or trains but not as convenient.
If you’re coming to Sydney, you need an Opal card for buses, trains, the Light Rail, and ferries. Don’t bother with single tickets, you will be ripped off as single tickets cost for every trip, Opal however gives you discounts over trips and daily caps. Buy it straight at the airport (retailers all over Sydney, including at the airport, can be found here), and top it up. The card itself is free, just top it up with whatever amount you like.
This is a good page to go to if you are just simply transferring terminals in Sydney, as T1 International and T2 Virgin/Rex/Tiger/Jetstar and T3 Qantas Domestic are kilometres apart and you don’t want to walk it. The distance between the two domestic terminals T2 and T3 is however an easy walk.
So if you’re staying in Sydney, I’d suggest you feed your Opal an initial $20 to get you to most places in the city. The airport “access fee” (charged at the airport gate when you walk through) is $13.80 for an adult before you even travel anywhere, plus the train fare. This may sound expensive, but it is the quickest and most hassle-free way from the airport to the city, and the trains run frequently and are clean, although can be crowded. City trains at the airport leave platform 1, and trains to Wolli Creek and beyond on the East Hills line on platform 2. A trip to the city from the domestic terminal is about 15-20 mins. If you return to the airport within a week (Monday-Sunday) you are capped at $27 for the week, so if you were to leave Sydney, and come back within a week, you’d benefit from that.
Note some trains are express, and may not stop at your station, so check the train monitors and listen to announcements. Trains from the airport to the city stop everywhere, but trains from the city may not stop everywhere past the airport, ie the Macarthur train is express through various stations past Wolli Creek, if this is the direction you’re headed.
Let me mention a cheaper alternative from the airport: the 400 bus. Please note, at the airport, the 400 bus has the same stop for both directions, as it runs through on a loop, so be careful you board the correct bus. If you want to travel from the airport to the city, catch the one that says “Bondi Junction”. Catch this bus for one stop to Mascot, and walk back 50m to the crossing and turn right straight to the Mascot train station. It has no access fee, so all you pay is the bus fare plus the train fare minus a transfer discount, so all up about $5 depending on the time of day you travel. The 400 to Bondi Junction takes you to Mascot, Botany, Pagewood, Maroubra, Kingsford, Randwick and on to Bondi Junction from where you have train connections and also more buses to take you to Bondi Beach, so if you’re staying there, it may be a better way (albeit a longer one) than the train.
The “Burwood” bus takes you to Rockdale and on to the western suburbs of Bexley, Campsie and Burwood, which also has a train station to connect to the west.
If you are in Mascot and thinking of getting the bus back to the airport, please note there is a 400 and a 410 (during rush hours) but the 410 does not go to the airport. The 400 to the airport departs from across the road of Subway/Renegades Cafe, near Lucca Cafe.
Opal Deals – which is why you don’t buy single tickets
If you’re in Sydney on a Sunday you are capped at $2.50 all day, which does not include the airport access fee, but everything else (including the bus/train combo above), so from Kiama to Newcastle, Blue Mountains to Manly, you pay a total $2.50 if you have an Opal card. It’s pretty much unbeatable, and includes all ferries, including the regular (not fast) Manly ferry.
If you are in Sydney on other days, you are still capped at $15 a day and $60 a week, whichever comes first. Please note again, airport station access is not included in any of these.
Benefits with Opal explains all that and also shows you how the transfer bonus works, and that you get half price tickets after 8 trips in a week.
Transport apps you’ll want to download: TripView Lite and Opal
Now, aside from having an Opal card to finance your trips, you also need a transport app. In Sydney, take two. Go to your App or Play Store and look for “Tripview Lite” and “Opal” apps. The Opal app allows you to do A to B trip planning, it shows your trip on a map, and the fare associated with the trip. If you link your credit card to the app, you can also top up your Opal card(s) through this app. The Opal app does not offer real time view.
That’s what Tripview does. You don’t need to fork out for the full version- but the Lite version does not store regular trips. You’ll just have to enter them again each time you open the app. The Tripview app shows when the bus, ferry, train and Light Rail are due. It has timetables loaded so will work offline, however it will only update departure times in real time if you are connected to the internet. The app, when online, also shows on buses how busy the bus is – one, two or three “men” symbols show how full the service is, so if you have a choice of lines or buses, you can wait for a less crowded one, if applicable.
For simple A to B trip planning without added Opal features, you can also simply use Google Maps, then you may not need the Opal app.
A word on WiFi
Sydney has a good supply of free WiFi hotspots, there is of course a Google map for this as well, however, as a rule, every shopping centre has WiFi, so do most hotels, McDonald’s and some mall areas, and of course the airport. Also let me note that – despite some annoying ads you have to say “no thanks” (or of course, yes) to – all Sydney Ferries have WiFi. For some of these you may have to register, or check in on Facebook, or jump through another hoop to get it, but having a mobile phone with data is a great idea, however for most things you’ll be able to get by using free WiFi, especially if you’re staying somewhere with WiFi access to upload your daily photos to your various online platforms, or let home know you’re happy. Note that the Botanical Garden or the cafe therein does not have free WiFi, however the Opera House and the Pavilion in the Domain across from the Art Gallery does.
Now – enough talk – start walking. May I suggest the Top Attractions first.