Cruise from Sydney – the essential guide

The New Year cruise from Sydney was one of the best vacations we have ever had. What could beat sailing out of one of the most beautiful harbors in the world?

Australia is beautiful, so place it on your bucket list now. When you visit for the first time, you will wonder why you waited so long. Sydney, in particular, offers you an opportunity to experience a modern city with a traditional Australian flare. 

Why not choose a cruise from Sydney, and discover Australia and New Zealand in affordable luxury? We recommend booking your cruise from Sydney well in advance – most often, cruises are bookable at least 12 months before departure. So start your search now and watch for the best cruise deals.

Do this by signing up for our newsletter and registering your email address with cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Celebrity Cruises.

You can also join social media groups that have been created for travelers like you looking for a great cruise ship for a Sydney cruise.

A spectacular view as you cruise from Sydney Harbour

Sydney Opera House - view from cruise ship
A breath-taking view of Sydney Opera House

Cruising out of Sydney harbor is a spectacular sight. Sail past the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House towards the open waters of the South Pacific Ocean.

Many cruise lines offer a cruise from Sydney. One of our favorites is with Norwegian Cruise Line.

Cruises depart from Circular Quay, easily accessible from the city. We recommend hotels within walking distance of the port and others that are ideally placed for exploring the city easily.

Sydney – a city you’ll want to call home

From the street markets in Paddington and The Rocks to the quiet of the Botanical Gardens, from the lively shops, cafes, and restaurants of Darling Harbour to the stunning architecture of the Opera House.. Sydney is like opening up a modern history book with a distinct British undertone, evolving into a uniquely Australian experience.

It is hard not to fall in love with the place.

It is no easy task to decide what you want to see in the time you have. For it will never be enough. Of course, you’ll want to see all the major tourist sights, or if you are a returning visitor, find some more unusual spots off the beaten track.

If you have more time before you start your cruise from Sydney, then the eastern suburbs where the locals live are worth exploring for their hidden beaches, local restaurants, and morning markets. 

Where to stay before your cruise from Sydney

Here are the hotels we recommend. Read on to find out why and what these areas have to offer. Then pick the one that suits you best.

Downtown/Central Business District (CBD)

Sydney’s downtown area is known as the CBD or the financial district. It is the beating heart of business and commerce in the city. Packed not only with office blocks and the Sydney Tower, there are many shopping malls and boutiques. It’s a short walk to Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay.

  • Radisson on George Street
  • The Grace Hotel
  • Park Regis
  • The York by Swiss Belotel

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is Sydney’s biggest shopping and entertainment area, where you will find a vast array of restaurants and nightlife. It’s also home to Sydney’s aquarium and the wildlife zoo. It’s a great area to stay in, with everything at your fingertips! Darling Harbour is a 40-minute walk from Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay.

  • Holiday Inn Darling Harbour
  • Adina Apartment Hotel
  • Novotel
  • Park Royal

The Rocks/Circular Quay

If you stay in this area, you will be closest to the port of Sydney. Your cruise from Sydney will start just a short walk from your hotel.

Hotels located in The Rocks are generally more expensive. But often the view is world-class!

  • Rydges Sydney Harbour
  • Sir Stamford Circular Quay
  • Harbour Rocks Hotel

Sydney Suburbs

Sydney has many beautiful surrounding suburbs. One of our favorites is Double Bay. It’s an excellent place for upscale shopping, restaurants, nightlife, and local transport links.

If you stay here, you are not within walking distance to downtown or Sydney Opera House. You must use local transport such as buses, trams, or even a ferry to get you across the harbor.

But it’s a beautiful area with plenty of shopping and restaurants. And the view from the jetty on the beach at Double Bay looking towards Harbour Bridge is spectacular.

  • Intercontinental Double Bay
  • The Savoy Hotel Double Bay

How to get around

Sydney and its many enclaves and surrounding suburbs have an excellent transport system.

Don’t be afraid to try out local buses, trams, trains, and ferries. The services are usually prompt, clean, and well-priced.

The tram service (“light rail vehicles”) in the heart of Sydney is relatively new, and for just a few dollars, you can get from Circular Quay to downtown Sydney smoothly and quickly in a minute or two.

Combine these options with walking, and you can see and explore a great deal of Sydney during your stay.

We recommend that you pack good walking shoes, a great guidebook, and a day of exploration walking the different areas of central Sydney on foot. We are starting at the water, of course!

The best way for visitors to use Sydney’s transport network

Sydney center is compact, but the surrounding suburbs are spread out. So while walking is the ultimate way to see the city, the trains, buses, and trams are easy to use.

If you are staying for a week or so before your cruise from Sydney gets underway, getting an Opal Card is one of the best ways for visitors to smoothly and efficiently pay for fares on trains, buses, ferries, and trams.  

Buy one at the airport when you arrive if you plan to use the train to get you from the airport to the city center.

Some private ferries also take Opal, so you can quickly get across the harbor. Just look for the sign “OpalPay accepted here.” Climb aboard, blip your card at the machine, and you’re all set.

If you run out of money on your card, just top it up at an Opal retailer, at one of the many Opal machines at train stations, or via the Opal app

The card is also suitable for going further afield, for example, to visit the Blue Mountains or the Hunter Valley Wine District by bus.

Using your credit card at the start of each journey is more manageable for shorter visits. 

It’s essential to do some planning before you cruise from Sydney to ensure you make the most of your time there! Use our information and suggestions on this page for great ways to see the best of Sydney before starting your cruise from Sydney Port. Choose what sounds most appealing, where you want to visit, and what suits your budget.

Then allow extra time for exploring without a schedule!

How to get from Sydney Airport to Sydney City Center

Trains and buses offer regular service between the international airport – Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport -and the city from 5 am until Midnight, every day of the week. The journey of only 8 km usually takes around 20 minutes.

Train

You will find the train stations underneath your arrival terminal, clearly signposted in the arrivals lounge. Note that the airport train stations are privately owned, and there is a small fee for entering the station, in addition to the cost of your ticket.

Bus

Bus stops are right outside your arrival lounge. Buses from the airport take you to Bondi Junction, Sydney’s transport hub. A single adult fare costs about AUD$5. From here, you will most likely need a short cab ride to your hotel.

To use the train or bus service, we recommend purchasing an Opal Transport Card at the ticket window at the airport.

Taxi

Note that an airport road toll will be added to your taxi fare. The cost of a taxi from the airport to the city is around AUD$55, and the journey takes about 25 minutes depending on where in the city your hotel is located and how heavy traffic is that day.

4 great ways to explore before your cruise from Sydney

Here are our top tips for making the most of your stay.

We have divided the city into four areas, and we love every single one – as do the locals. It’s no wonder Sydney is known as one of the most liveable cities in the world.

Day 1: From the waterfront to downtown Sydney

Start your day at Circular Quay. You will find yourself here more than once during your visit, so it’s good to familiarize yourself with this area on your first day.

Circular Quay is the central hub for transport of all kinds around the city and ferries over to North Sydney Wharf. Not least, it’s most likely where your cruise ship will be docked (check your cruise ticket!).

If you choose to stay at the Sir Stamford Circular Quay on Macquarie Street, these hotels are very nearby.

Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb – what a view!

You will find yourself standing between the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge on the other side at Circular Quay. Surrounding you will be street performers, musicians setting up for the day, and fast food venues. It’s a busy place. 

Take a few minutes to take in the view. You made it Downunder! If you are a first-time visitor, this first glimpse of Sydney Opera House and all it stands for will stay with you. If you are a returning visitor, I assure you you will never tire of this view.

For an adrenaline rush on your first day in Sydney, you may like to start by climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You need to book in advance. It’s windy but fantastic. And this is one of those “once in a lifetime” opportunities.

The Rocks – Sydney’s historical precinct

After visiting the bridge, a few more steps, and you are in the precinct known as The Rocks, Sydney’s historic harbor quarter. The city’s oldest pub, Lord Nelson, can tell a few stories. The Rocks are full of restaurants, boutiques, and galleries, and it is lovely to walk around in the evenings.

The most famous of all is the market. It opens on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week. It’s a fantastic place to buy original Australian art and jewelry.

The architectural miracle that is the Sydney Opera House

From The Rocks, head to the Opera House, which has become Sydney’s cultural heartbeat. If you want a guided tour, I recommend you book before arriving. 

The official guided walking tour takes about one hour, and you get to see behind the scenes and hear the history of this remarkable icon. It’s well worth it.

Afterward, visit the famous Opera Bar for the world’s best backdrop when enjoying your first taste of great Australian food and drink.

The Royal Botanic Garden and Mrs. Macquaries Chair

Visit the Sydney Opera House gift shop, then head outside, down the main steps of the Opera House, and towards the gated entrance to Sydney Royal Botanic Garden.

Follow the pathway around the harbor towards Mrs. Macquaries Chair, historical stone steps carved into the limestone. It’s a beautiful walk, and the views back across to the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge are spectacular.

Downtown shopping at its best

Walk through the center of the park towards the State Library of New South Wales and out the other side onto Macquarie Street. Head south towards Hyde Park, Australia’s oldest public park.

Walk across the park and onto Elizabeth Street. Now you are in the heart of great shopping.

If you are hungry, visit the iconic department store of David Jones, right on the corner of Elizabeth and Market Street. It’s our favorite place for a quick city lunch and window shopping. The food hall is on the lower ground floor, and you’ll find great choices for lunch for the whole family.

Sydney Tower – a bird’s eye view

After lunch, it takes just a few minutes to walk to Sydney Tower. Book tickets in advance to save money.

Included in your ticket is a 60-minute guided tour of the Sky Walk at the top of the tower. You also have access to the enclosed Observation Deck.

It’s an unforgettable view of what is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Finish your day at the historic Queen Victoria Building. This 19th-century building houses fantastic boutiques and restaurants and is Sydney shopping at its best.

Day 2: Sydney Harbour boat cruise and Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour at night
Darling Harbour

A boat tour of the glittering Sydney Harbour

Begin early once again at Circular Quay. Today we recommend a boat tour around Sydney Harbour. The harbor is enormous and has numerous small coves to be discovered.

Choose a reputable company and book tickets before you arrive to get the best deal. Find a cruise hosted by locals, and if you love the water, book one where you can stop at a snorkeling spot.

Tours can be anything from 1.5 to 3 hours. Choose if you want a nature cruise with whale watching or a beach and snorkeling boat tour with a picnic lunch.

Alternatively, take a beautiful sunset cruise to see Sydney lit up at night.

Darling Harbour – Sydney’s playground

Darling Harbour is about 2.4 km from Circular Quay. It would take around half an hour to walk, but we recommend you use the metro for a quick 1-minute journey for about $2 each. 

At Darling Harbour, explore Sydney’s family-friendly entertainment area. Around the harbor, the Sydney Sealife Aquarium, Madame Tussauds, Maritime Museum, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, playgrounds for the kids, the Harbourside Shopping Center, and Cockle Bay Wharf for a vast array of food.

Your afternoon at Darling Harbour will most likely blend into the evening, and you’re in an ideal spot for an early dinner with the family before enjoying the lit-up waterfront at night.

Day 3: North Sydney and wildlife experience

Today you’ll need a good pair of walking shoes, sunscreen, and a hat – you’re getting out of the city for the day.

Kangaroos, Koalas, and Wombats at Taronga Zoo

Hop on a local ferry at either Circular Quay or Darling Harbour (whichever is closer to your hotel) and head to Taronga Zoo. Captain Cook Cruises offer the “zoo express” from both these locations throughout the day. Taronga Zoo is located on the other side of the harbor, just 12 minutes by ferry, in Mosman.

Buy your tickets for entrance into Taronga Zoo online and include the price of a one-way cable car ride in your booking. Once you arrive at the pier, ride the cable car to the zoo entrance.

And it’s a zoo like no other.

Home to over 4000 animals and 350 species, Taronga is about conservation, education, and wildlife health. You will discover how this fantastic zoo treats and rehabilitates injured Australian wildlife. And you’ll have plenty of chances to get up close to the furry residents.

It is simply a fantastic place to visit – as is the view back over to Sydney and its famous skyline.

Manly Wharf, North Sydney

At the end of your visit, walk back down the hill to the ferry. Catch the next ferry to Manly, about a 30-minute ride across the harbor. If you can, take a ferry that stops at Watson’s Bay.

Watson’s Bay is a favorite place to enjoy a casual seafood lunch at the famous “Doyles on the Beach.” Opt for take-out if you prefer to eat on the beach instead of in the restaurant.

Arriving at Manly Wharf, it’s time to explore Manly and the beautiful Manly Beach.

If you want an afternoon in nature, hike the paths to Northhead for some incredible views back towards the city.

A visitors center in the forecourt at Manly Wharf can help you with walking guides and maps. Otherwise, stay around the area of Manly Beach for surfing, sun, shopping, and relaxation.

Tip! Book a motorcycle tour and experience this area on the back of an exciting Harley Davidsson motorbike.

At the end of your afternoon in Manly, ferries back to Circular Quay take around 20 minutes.

Day 4: Coastal walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach
Coogee to Bondi Beach coastal walk

On day 4 of your stay in Sydney, there is one particular coastal walk we would like to recommend. 

It’s a 6-kilometer walk that will take about 2-3 hours or longer if you want to stop for a swim.

It allows you to see the eastern shoreline of Sydney. And that makes Sydney spectacular – the blend of a world-class city, powerful nature, and golden sand beaches.

You start at the northern end of Coogee Beach, in Dunningham Reserve. Get the tram from Circular Quay. The journey time is about 30 minutes. Alternatively, a taxi takes around 10 minutes depending on traffic, but the tram is much cheaper.

Upon arrival at Coogee beach, pick up the ocean footpath at the northern end. The walk is signposted.

Coogee is a fantastic beach, and the area is known for its lively nightlife. Your coastal walk will take you to the shores of Sydney, including Gordons Bay, Clovelly Beach (great for snorkeling from the shoreline and its ocean swimming pool), Bronte Beach, Tamarama, and finally the beautiful stretch of white sand at Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach.

From Bondi Beach, there are buses directly back to Bondi Junction if you want an opportunity to shop at the Westfield Sydney shopping center. Otherwise, continue back to your hotel. Head to The Rocks for dinner for a great way to end your last evening in the city.

Sydney day trips further afield

If you have more time and want to see the landscape around Sydney, there are two memorable day trips we recommend. Book in advance to secure your spot.

The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains, so-called because of the haze created from water droplets hitting the tight Eucalyptus vegetation on the mountains, are just 90 minutes west of Sydney.

This gigantic sandstone plateau has been dramatically eroded over thousands of years to create what we know as the Jamison Valley. The famous sight of the Three Sisters is best viewed from Echo Point.

But the best way to experience the Blue Mountains is using The Scenic Highway. A cable car system transporting you 300 meters over the mountain range.

Alternatively (or in addition to) ride the Katoomba Scenic Railway, zigzagging through the mountains. Hold your breath, don’t look down, and be camera-ready!

If you have enough time, book an overnight stay as the area of the Blue Mountains is very deserving of your time.

The hotel Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort and Spa, located in Katoomba, is a glorious luxury resort dating back to the 19th century. It offers fantastic views over the Jamison Valley and ravines and is on the edge of Echo Point. The hotel serves local, traditional food at their fabulous Darley Restaurant.

Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is located just north of Sydney, starting at the coastal town of Newcastle and stretching inland.

With over 150 different wine producers in this region, You will recognize the well-known names of, for example, Lindemans. But now you can visit for yourself, and even discover the lesser-known names that the locals love. 

It’s easy to rent a car from Sydney and drive to The Hunter Valley yourself if you don’t mind driving on the left. If you decide you want to rent a car while in Sydney, do check out the latest rules regarding driving licenses for Australia. You may need to apply for an international driving license before leaving home, depending on where you live!

Otherwise, book a bus tour and join like-minded visitors from all over the world eager to see the landscape and wineries of the Hunter Valley for themselves. Perhaps to make your visit memorable, that once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride looks like a reality about to happen.

How to get to the Sydney cruise terminal

Finding your way to the Sydney cruise terminal is easy. If you are staying in the Central Business District or the Sydney suburbs, we recommend you ask your hotel concierge to book a taxi. That way, it’s a door-to-port service without having to get your heavy luggage on and off public transport.

If you are staying in the area called The Rocks, then the Sydney cruise terminal is on your doorstep and most likely a short walk away.

Most Sydney cruise ships depart from Circular Quay. The overseas passenger terminal is at West Circular Quay, right by the Rocks.

There is, however, one more cruise terminal called White Bay Cruise Terminal in Rozelle. You must check your cruise ticket to find out which cruise terminal your cruise line uses. White Bay Cruise Terminal is a 20-minute drive outside downtown Sydney, and you will need a taxi to get there from central Sydney.

You can find updated information about the ports in New South Wales and the ocean cruises they serve on their website here.

Australia and New Zealand – the perfect combination

When you have journeyed so far to come down under, most travelers will combine their visit to Australia with New Zealand. And when you cruise from Sydney, you have a perfect opportunity to do just that.

Many cruises start in Sydney and end in Auckland, on New Zealand’s north island. And the cruise destinations in between these two cities are spectacular.

You get the best of all worlds – big cities, fantastic nature, unique wildlife, cultural experiences found nowhere else, and outstanding fjord landscapes of southwest New Zealand.

And once you are in Auckland, you can choose how you spend your post-cruise days. Rent a car, and explore the city and the tremendous surrounding country. Drive south if you have time and visit the town of Tauranga, Rotorua, and the capital Wellington. The options are endless.

You can even reverse your trip – there are fantastic cruise deals that start in New Zealand and end in Sydney. Consider a cruise from Auckland on a cruise package that will be an unforgettable experience for you and your family.

Need more tips on cruising? We’re here to help!

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Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.