A classic, well-deserved bucket list item. Luckily, our families made it across the world to ring in the new year with us. Otherwise, New Years in Sydney may be a stretch for the typical backpacker budget…
Book Ahead of Time
We cannot stress this enough. Book ahead of time. Well ahead of time. Some people plan their New Years in Sydney years in advance. EVERYWHERE will book up, and EVERYWHERE will upcharge. Especially if you’re looking to stay in a hot location, like Darling Harbor, be prepared to spend more than 3x the regular rate. Same goes for both hostels and AirBnB.
If you want to go out to eat at all in Sydney during the week of New Years, we highly recommend scouting out some restaurants and making reservations. Sydney has many, many incredible places to eat and you can find almost any kind of cuisine you want. We mostly went to asian fusion places and had some seriously incredible meals.
BUT we didn’t expect it to be as booked as it was, and we had trouble finding a place that could even take us for lunch. Play it safe and put your name in the book.
New Years Eve
New Years Eve is absolute chaos in Sydney Harbour. Everyone wants to see the fireworks, and everyone wants the best spot. People literally pitch tents the night before in order to secure front-row seats. If you’ve got the gear, and the stamina, go for it! It looks like a ton of fun, and if the weather’s nice, I’m sure you’ll have a great time (bring water and booze, it’ll be a long day).
If that’s not your jam, just plan to get to the harbor hours earlier than you think. The sidewalks fill up in the early afternoon. Seriously, go early if you want a chance at seeing the fireworks from any public place.
Otherwise, make a late dinner reservation at a restaurant on the harbor. Chances are, they’ll have a fixed menu and higher-than-usual prices, but it’s so worth it. We were lucky enough to enjoy our meal right on the harbor, watching the fireworks from the gated dock next to the restaurant.
Also good to note that there are actually two sets of fireworks. The first ones go off at 9pm for families that want to get to bed, and the second (bigger) set is at midnight. If you don’t want to stay up, or the crowds are too much for you, call it a night after the first set. They are spectacular, there’s no doubt, but at the end of the days, they’re just sparks in the sky.
Sydney Harbour Ferries
Opal cards! They were admittedly a bit tricky for us to figure out at first. Buy one per person at any convenience store near a subway or ferry station (Central Quay is easiest). You load the cards with money and use them like most other public transit cards. We were told to start with $20 each, but that was way more than we needed. All you do it tap-in wherever you get on, then don’t forget to tap-out when you get off. It automatically charges you the appropriate fee depending on how far you’ve traveled.
The Harbor Ferries are an awesome way to see the best of Sydney. They take a bit longer than the local subways and busses, but the ferry rides are really enjoyable in nice weather. You’ll get amazing photo ops of the Bridge and Opera House. This is also a great way to get to some of Sydney’s more famous beaches, like Bondi and Manly. Ride it all the way to Watson’s Bay for lunch on the beach!
Take a break from the harbor-side chaos and spend a day in The Rocks. Start at the free Rocks Discovery Museum to learn about the history of Sydney Harbor, starting with aboriginal culture, through the early convict years, and up to modern urban development. Grab a map of some of the key areas to walk through and get an idea for what the city looked like in the 18-1900s!
Grab a beer at some of the oldest bars in Australia, or climb the Argyle Stairs to stroll along the historical Gloucester Walk. Try to make it up to the Bridge Stairs for a killer view of the Harbor from the pedestrian bridge - and if you’re daring, book the Bridge Climb for an even higher vantage point!
Sea Life Sydney Aquarium
If you don't have enough time to explore the underwater world of Australia with a tank on your back, spend an afternoon in the Sea Life Aquarium instead! The family friendly exhibits are full of engaging activities and awe-inspiring marine life. Get up close and personal to big rays and spiky sharks in the tunnel!
Sydney’s Botanical Gardens are incredible and they’re FREE! Spend an afternoon wandering through the many beautiful walkways and gardens and make sure you get all the way to the famous Macquarie's Chair to get an incredible view of Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera house.
With serious swells, crowds, and mural artwork along the boardwalk, Bondi Beach does not disappoint. A beach day at Bondi would not be complete without some people watching (check out the beachside “gym” on the north side or the skate park on the south side) and a passionfruit mojito at The Bucket List, a cool lounge right next to the information center that’s as popular with tourists as it is with locals.
If you’re looking for a scenic walk, head south along the beach and up the hill to the cliff side path that takes you around the less welcoming sides of Bondi, with incredible views and rocky edges. But even if you go when the weather is subpar, getting in the ocean is a must - it’s not just surfers who love Bondi for the water and waves!
Blue Mountains National Park
Yes, the mountains look like they’re blue! Depending on how much time you have, you may want to consider spending more than just a day out here. Most tours from Sydney pack in too many activities for one day, so you spend a lot of time on a bus. If you really want to experience the National Park, you’ll need more than a day. But if you just want a couple photos and a good time, check out Scenic World for a cable ride with killer views of the Blue Mountains. Try to spot the - once Seven, but now only - Three Sisters!
A Note on Going Out in Sydney
While Sydney is one of the world’s big name cities, it’s party scene may come as a surprise to you. As a result of late night, raucous behavior in the streets, the City of Sydney installed a series of ordinances to tone down the nightlife a few years ago. Although relatively reasonable from a city planning standpoint, professional party-goers may find some of these new rules a bit restricting: no shots after midnight, no doubles or triples, and some places won’t even stay open past 1am. Keep it in mind when trying to plan a rager weekend in Sydney.
Many people who’ve spent significant time in Sydney told us that many parties moved a little further out of the city and the scene is much more underground than it used to be. One idea might be to stop in at a few hostels and ask the people working the desk on where they’d recommend you go. Our favorite places we found were all these kinds of recommendations. You’re probably not going to find what you’re looking for online.
Digs in Sydney
Still motivated to party hardy? Here were our favorite places:
ARC - Before you go here, look at the Google reviews. They’re exactly right. Know before you go.
Chinese Laundry - Dungeon-y, three-story club with great deep house and a lot of cool rooms to get funky in.
World Bar - A bit more low-key and a great place to start the night. Top 40 good times, and try their special tea pot drinks!
Oxford Art Factory - Small and funky concert venue. Check out who’s playing there while you’re in town - you might be pleasantly surprised!
Malaya - Incredible Malaysian fusion.
Chin Chin - Modern af asian fusion place with a trendy, New York vibe.
Watson’s Bay Seafood - K I L L E R seafood platter, but be prepared to take it down with a few buddies.
Abb Air - Authentic Thai cuisine. Ask for extra spicy… if you dare…
Lumi - Expensive but incredible preset menus with a great view of the Harbour.