When we first arrived, we were staggered by just how big "Sydney" is. A lot of hotel websites count suburbs as far as 60km from the CBD as still being in a part of the city and Wikipedia lists Sydney as having 658 suburbs in total!
As a traveller, working out where to stay can be incredibly difficult as Sydney has so many different neighbourhoods all with their pros and cons, but there are only a handful you’d want to stay in as a traveller.
After living here for over four years we can help break down the best Sydney neighbourhoods according to your travel taste. No matter what you're looking for, there's a neighbourhood for you.
Where to stay in Sydney: the best neighbourhoods
If you want to explore and do the highlights of Sydney, then the key is proximity to the CBD and Circular Quay as this is where most of the best things to do in Sydney are. However, if all you want is that perfect beachside break, then Manly or Bondi are calling for you!
There are so many neighbourhoods, each with their own character that it can be hard to work out which are the best and where they are.
Having stayed in a lot of places before living in Sydney, we have a great perspective on where the best places to stay in Sydney for travellers are. Here are the choices:
Circular Quay & The Rocks - The gateway to the harbour and the world-famous landmarks
Sydney CBD - Walking distance to everywhere, great location but not the prettiest of areas
Darling Harbour - Close to a lot of things and is the home of the weekly fireworks. Plenty of waterfront restaurants and bars.
Surry Hills - Hipster central! Think coffee on milk-crates and bistros.
Kings Cross & Potts Point - Kings Cross is the cheapest option in town and close to the centre. Potts Point is a lot quieter and upmarket.
Pyrmont & Glebe - Former industrial suburbs with converted warehouses. A little way away, but has a bohemian vibe.
Bondi - The iconic beach, favourites for backpackers and high-end beachside apartments.
Manly - A glimpse of the Aussie coastal life and a real beachtown feel. A huge beach with great food and plenty of hidden spots to explore.
North Shore - Very close to the city, but a lot cheaper. The North Shore is a bit more residential, but there are some great places to be found here.
Circular Quay and the Rocks
Where is Circular Quay and the Rocks?
If you think about Sydney, it's likely you're thinking of Circular Quay and The Rocks. In this area you'll find the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the oldest parts of Sydney and the main ferry terminal. It's a great place to have a stroll, get your bearings and watch sunrise and sunset across the harbour.
Vibe: Historic area, but pretty touristy.
Famous landmarks: Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Harbour, The Rocks & the Botanic Gardens.
Good for: Being in an iconic location, near the harbour, historical buildings of Sydney, excellent transport options.
Bad for: Price. Almost all of the most expensive hotels in the city are based here and unless you stay at the YHA, you won't find cheap accommodation. Food options aren't the best here either if you aren’t going to fork out for fine dining.
Transport links: Brilliant. You can get ferries to Manly, the North Shore and Darling Harbour, Trains to anywhere else in the city and buses to Bondi, Coogee beach etc.
The Quay is a good place to base yourself as a traveller. It's not only got all the major sights, but it has by far the best transport links to get anywhere else. It's the focal point for all ferries and the city has been designed to enable people at Circular Quay to get just about anywhere by ferry, train or bus.
The major downside is that it can be very busy and it is really a tourist area. This can mean big tour groups, busy streets and a feeling that you won't necessarily be going to the places locals do.
Best hotels in Circular Quay & The Rocks
It doesn’t get much more expensive than Circular Quay and The Rocks. The budget options here are the few hostels that have managed to squeeze into this area. There is one mid-range option in this area but it’s still not cheap. If you can afford though Circular Quay is a great place to stay.
Luxury - The Shangri-La
Shangri-la’s never let you down, but the Sydney Shangri-La is something special. This hotel has the best views of the Opera House, Bridge and Harbour in the whole of Sydney and it is our top recommendation for anyone visiting. Even if you can’t afford to stay here go for a drink at their sky bar, (Blu Bar) or Altitude Restaurant. This was easily our favourite dining view in the whole city for special occasions.
Mid-range - The Russell Boutique Hotel
The Russell is in the middle of the Rocks, just opposite the Museum of Contemporary Art and the very popular George St. Location-wise, it doesn’t get much better as you are just steps away from the ferries in Circular Quay and can walk to any of the major attractions from here.
Hostel - YHA The Rocks
The YHA in the Rocks has a great combination of location and value. They offer private rooms and dorms, as well as its own rooftop view of the Harbour. Hostels don't get much better! It is pretty popular, so book up in advance. We could never get in here when we tried off the cuff.
Sydney CBD (Central Business District)
Sydney's CBD is overdue a facelift and at the moment there's a lot of construction going on with the building of the light rail. This looks like it will be going until 2019, but who knows if that will actually be the end day. However, it is a very convenient place to base yourself to see the city.
What counts as Sydney CBD?
When people talk about the CBD, they normally refer to just below Circular Quay in the North, Sydney Central Train station in the South, Hyde Park in the East and Town Hall in the West.
It is a relatively big area, but essentially it is made up of compact streets which are primarily offices with a few historic buildings like the QVB and Town Hall thrown in for good measure.
Vibe: Very much "Central Business District": a grid with pretty uninspiring architecture (apart from the Queen Victoria building), but everything you'll ever need food and shops-wise.
Famous Landmarks - Sydney Tower, QVB Mall, Town Hall and Hyde Park.
Good for: Being in the main part of the city and having the best of being close to all the sights and great dining areas and bars. The CBD also has good transport links to everywhere.
Bad for: Price and noise. This area is always busy and you won't find value here.
Transport: Very good. There are several train stations to get you anywhere and hundreds of buses.
The CBD is pretty uninspiring, but its location is very convenient and it is a very useful place to base yourself. It is home to virtually all the best restaurants and bars, plus all public transport is centred around here. You can also walk to a lot of the best suburbs like Surry Hills, Kings Cross and Darlinghurst.
The major downside is that you'll miss out on being near the water, the thing that makes Sydney so special.
Where to stay in Sydney CBD
Sydney CBD has more options than The Rocks or Circular Quay, but they tend to be on the pricier side too. There are some beautiful hotels at the top end and some good hostel choices, but not so much in the mid-range.
Luxury: Sheraton Grand
Formerly Sheraton in the Park, this hotel is luxurious and central for everything you’d want to do in the city and right by the green, leafy Hyde Park. Rooms here are beautiful and everything you’d expect from a Sheraton.
Budget Private Room - YHA Central
YHA’s are justifiably popular in Australia. You know what you’re getting here, a good, clean, comfortable room - if a little spartan. It’s in a fantastic location, only steps away from Sydney Central Station which can get you to anywhere by train and beaches like Bondi by bus.
Again this was fully booked every time we tried to stay so you will need to book in advance.
Hostel - Bounce
Bounce Hostel is our favourite hostel in Sydney with the most comfortable beds you’ll see in a hostel and good communal areas. The kitchen and common room are on the top floor and overlook Sydney Central Station and the surrounding area, making it a great chill out area.
The location is second to none as you can get to Central Station within a few steps and then be on your way to anywhere in the city.
It is a little more expensive than other hostels, but worth the little extra investment.
Where is Darling Harbour?
Set to the West of the CBD, Darling Harbour is - as the name suggests - another harbour of Sydney and has a different feel to the rest of the city.
It is a 10 minute walk from the CBD or a 25 minute ferry from Circular Quay.
Vibe: Touristy, but with a water views.
Famous landmarks: Pyrmont Bridge, Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Wharf & King Street Wharf.
Good for: Being near the water in more affordable accommodation than Circular Quay. You can also be very central, pretty quickly from here.
Bad for: Food isn't great here and you really get that touristy feel. However you can stroll over to Pyrmont for much better dining options.
Transport: Not bad. You can get ferries to Circular Quay and beyond. Town Hall or Wynyard are the nearest train stations, but are a 10 - 15 minute walk away.
Darling Harbour was a suburb that was boosted significantly by the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and was designed to be an area where tourists can congregate and watch festivals and shows on the harbour. At every turn in this place, you can see how it has been carefully manicured to try to give what tourists want. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
As a traveller, it's a pleasant place to walk by the harbour especially when the fireworks are on (every Saturday for free) or when Vivid has its nightly shows. We lived in the neighbouring suburb of Pyrmont and really enjoyed strolling through Darling Harbour when it was quiet.
It is another area that many locals look to avoid as they see it as the suburb of tourist attractions, not brilliant restaurants, a huge mass of flyovers and too many people.
However, it looks like the City has finally made some improvements with the shiny new Sofitel and Exhibition Centre being the first of some big changes.
Where to stay in Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour is a pretty small area and the majority of hotels here are right on the water. This is another great spot for luxury hotels in a great location, but there aren’t many choices for mid-range or budget travellers in this area.
Luxury & Instagrammers’ favourite - The Sofitel
Sydney's newest 5* hotel is pretty swanky and the place to stay. With stunning views of Darling Harbour and the city in modern and stylish rooms, it was made for people who want that perfect shot on Instagram. It is the newest 5* star hotel in Sydney and sets a whole new bar for luxury in the city. Cat wants to stay here just for the bath tubs with views!
Budget or Mid-range - Ibis in winter
Unless you count over $300AUD for an Ibis as good value, you can’t get anything other than luxury or expensive in Darling Harbour until low season (about May until the end of August). We recommend that you check on Scoopon or Groupon, as we have regularly seen Novotel or Ibis Styles offer incredible deals as low as $100 AUD per night (although this is almost entirely in the winter).
Kings Cross & Potts Point
Where are Kings Cross & Potts Point?
Kings Cross and Potts Point are the beginning of what are termed “the Eastern Suburbs”. They are two small areas up the hill from the Sydney CBD and are pretty close to city.
It is a two stop train ride or 20 minute walk from the CBD.
Vibe: Quirky, edgy suburb, rough round the edges.
Good for: Seeing a more edgy side of Sydney and some affordable accommodation. For years this was the party suburb, however the lockout laws have really taken its toll. Nearby Potts Point has become a more gentrified area, with some of the best fine dining options in the city.
Bad for: Many people won't like Kings Cross. It does have a red light district and you can sometimes get some bad atmosphere from people being out all night drinking.
Transport: Not bad. Kings Cross has a train station that is two stops from the CBD and can get you pretty close to Bondi. There are a few buses you can get as well.
The area is very close to Darlinghurst and Woolloomooloo, two upmarket suburbs known for great food and bars.
Within a few hundred metres, Kings Cross transitions from pubs, clubs and a bit of a "rough round the edges” area to the swanky Potts Point, characterised by bistros and expensive houses.
Kings Cross isn’t for everyone but we actually really like the area and stayed here for several weeks when we first arrived in the city. It’s a great spot for people watching!
Where to stay in Kings Cross and Potts Point
Kings Cross has been the go-to place for decades for budget travellers, with a mix of a quirky atmosphere, bars and plenty of cheaper accommodation in Sydney. If you’re looking for something a bit more upmarket in the same location, then go to Potts Point. Within a few hundred metres, the area turns from bars to swanky bistros and boutique hotels.
The whole area is probably some of the better value for accommodation and location you’ll get in Sydney.
Luxury - Spicers
The best luxury option in Kings Cross is the Spicers Potts Point. Spicers is a trusted high-end brand in Australia and the Potts Point accommodation is up there with the best.
We stayed in this place before Spicers took it over and has received rave reviews since the refurbishment. A good reason for us to return and we really liked it when we stayed pre-refurb.
Budget - The Devere
Hotels don’t get much cheaper for decent, private en-suite rooms than the Devere. The rooms are immaculately clean and the location is a short walk from the train station. They’ve recently started adding newly refurbished rooms as well to give the place a facelift.
We stayed here whilst looking for jobs in Sydney and found it to be a great option for people who want a cheap and comfortable place to rest after a day’s exploring but more privacy and peace than in a hostel.
Hostel - The Blue Parrot
The most popular hostel in Kings Cross and one of the best in Sydney, the Blue Parrot has a sparkling reputation. Sadly we were never able to get a room as it was alway fully booked, but those who have been always told us that the hostel was really comfortable, well kitted out and had a really nice vibe that was good for people who wanted to party and those who wanted peace and quiet.
We had to go to Eva’s Hostel instead which wasn’t a bad choice, but not as good as Blue Parrot.
Where is Surry Hills?
Surry Hills is East of Sydney Central Train Station and South-East of the CBD. Crown Street is a 10 minute walk from Central Station or a 15 minute bus ride from the CBD.
Good for: Food, coffee, dining, bars and hipster stuff. The western parts are close to Central train station, making transport easy.
Bad for: Depending on what area you're in, getting to the major sights can be laborious. There are a few rougher parts of this suburb as well.
Transport: Not great. You’ll be reliant on walking, buses and taxis as it is a walk from any train station and a long way from the ferries.
For decades Surry Hills was a no-go area, but like in many other cities this suburb has now become the hipster centre of Sydney.
Every street here has a coffee shop and it's usually the best in the city. We’d sometimes come from our apartment over the bridge just to brunch here. You'll also find the best curry houses (Cleveland St) and many of the best restaurants on Crown Street and the surrounding area. There’s less traffic and some nice leafy streets to chill in while you sit on a milk crate, drinking your 10/10 coffee served by a man with a very long beard.
However, areas like Crown St and further out have pretty ordinary transport links, relying on buses is the only way to get around. There is a light rail that will be opening in the next couple of years that may make getting around easier. If you stay here you do need to be prepared to walk a bit.
Where to stay in Surry Hills
Surry Hills is the place for hipster atmosphere and the hotels reflect this. It is a great option for mid-range hotels. The best option for luxury is in the neighbouring Woolloomooloo (try pronouncing that after a few drinks!) for some stunning harbourside views.
Luxury - Ovolo Woolloomooloo
The Ovolo Woolloomooloo is set on a pier that juts out into Sydney Harbour and shares residence with some esteemed guests (we’ve been told that Russell Crowe owns one of the apartments on the pier). The pier is home to some of Sydney’s best restaurants including China Doll and Ottos, making it the perfect place for foodies.
The hotel is stylish, luxurious and you can wake up to harbour views that overlook the Botanic Gardens. Bliss.
Mid-Range - The Cambridge Hotel
The Cambridge is our top pick for a mid-range hotel in Sydney and is located on the popular Crown Street in Surry Hills (home to a lot of great mid-range restaurants). The rooms are big, comfortable and a perfect to relax for a good price. This is where we stayed when we had a bit more money before getting our first flat in Sydney!
Glebe & Pyrmont
Where is Glebe & Pyrmont?
These two suburbs are categorised as the “Inner West” and aren’t far away from the CBD. You can get a tram from Central Station, a ferry from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay or a bus.
Vibe: Bohemian and more of a locals’ suburb than the inner city.
Good for: Some great dining and more affordable options for accommodation.
Bad for: Transport. Neither have train stations and you'll find yourself relying on taxis, buses or walking a lot.
Transport: Not great. Glebe & Pyrmont have trams, but not trains (and the trams only go to Central Station or out west). You can get ferries from Pyrmont Bay, but they only go to Circular Quay,
Glebe has a village feel that is very close to the city as well as some really cool markets. It is near the University and the bars and there are many cheaper restaurants and bars accordingly. Similarly Pyrmont has a suburban feel as well, but is the residence of many businesses as well as locals.
Both suburbs have some really good restaurants that are small, cosy and serve amazing fresh food. If you are sick of the pub grub or seafood, then Pyrmont and Glebe have all kinds of different cuisine including great Italians, Indians (but they don’t beat Surry Hills) and Middle Eastern.
The major downside is that unless you are prepared to walk or get taxis, Pyrmont and Glebe can feel a long way from everything as there are no train stations. We lived here for 18 months and used to walk everywhere but we were happy to walk for 35 minutes to get to Circular Quay and 25 to get to the city.
Where to stay in Glebe & Pyrmont
Pyrmont and Glebe are quickly becoming alternative favourites of Sydney with boutique hotels popping up around some of the former warehouse areas.
Luxury - Ovolo 1888
Technically this is in Darling Harbour, but you won’t get waterviews and it is so close to Pyrmont that we put it in this section! The Ovolo 1888 is a really cool hotel that is a listed building that was an old warehouse. The rooms are incredibly stylish and the location is perfect.
They say they have instagrammers in mind with their design, so you know it will be good! We used to go here for drinks and even the lobby is atmospheric.
Budget - YHA Glebe Point
You can’t go wrong the YHA in Australia and Glebe is the perfect place for those wanting to get away from the bustle of the city centre in a bohemian area. The rooms here are a bit spartan and none of the private rooms are en-suite, but you really don’t get private rooms this cheap anywhere else in Sydney!
Where is Bondi?
Bondi is part of the Eastern Suburbs and can feel disconnected from the rest of Sydney. However, if you’re wanting to be by the beach, but not too far from the city, then Bondi is a great option.
Pick your accommodation wisely here though, as partying backpackers LOVE to stay in Bondi.
Vibe: Touristy beach with a few trendy parts.
Good for: Being on this beautiful beach!
Bad for: Going anywhere other than Bondi. Your only transport option is a long bus ride, or getting a train from Bondi Junction which is a 30 minute walk from the beach (which often won't take you to where you'd want to go!)
Transport: Bad. Bondi is woefully under-serviced for one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sydney, with only buses. The nearest train station is Bondi Junction which is 3km away and there are no ferries here.
A favourite of Brits and Europeans, but avoided by locals unless you’re a surfer, Bondi is either heaven or hell depending on where you come from! Personally, we like the beachside suburb, but feel there are better places to base yourself in Sydney.
If you're looking for a beachside accommodation that's closest to the city, then Bondi's your best option. It's a great place to start the day and we'd highly recommend doing the Bondi to Coogee walk (one of our favourite things to do in Sydney).
However, if your holiday doesn't focus on the beach then there are better options that don't require a hefty commute into the city!
Where to stay in Bondi
Bondi has a few mid to top-end options and quite a few hostels, but there aren’t many accommodation options overall.
Luxury - QT Hotel Bondi
QT is well trusted in Australia for stylish, designer and quirky accommodation and they certainly achieve this in Bondi! Not only is the QT in Bondi a beautiful place to stay, the rooms are also mini apartments with kitchenettes, meaning you don’t have to eat out every night! The food options in Bondi are amazing, but you’ll be a lot poorer!
It is also a short walk from the beach, meaning you have the perfect base for staying at the world famous beach.
Budget - Bondi Backpackers
The hostel of choice for many a budget traveller, Bondi Backpackers is steps away from the legendary beach and offers amazing views for those who want to kick back in the hostel. It has recently been refurbished with a rooftop lounge area to take in the sea views.
It also offers private rooms if you book early enough (they are popular), otherwise the dorms are a good option. It has a few nice touches like free surfboard hire and yoga classes.
Where is Manly?
Manly is about 20km to the North-East of Sydney CBD and is one of the most famous coastal suburbs in Australia. It is about as far away from the CBD you can get before people question if you’re still in Sydney!
Vibe: A laidback Australian beach suburb.
Good for: The beach experience without being as touristy as Bondi.
Bad for: Getting anywhere other than Manly! You'll need to get a half hour ferry just to get to Circular Quay.
Transport: Ok. There are regular ferries (every half hour) and buses that take a loooooong time to get into the city. There are no trains to Manly, but you didn’t go to Manly to go anywhere else did you?!
The fierce rival of Bondi, Manly is another must-see beach when visiting Sydney. It's a very cool suburb with good restaurants and bars as well. If you're looking for a beach holiday and nothing else, then Manly definitely has you covered and gives a real Aussie beach feel.
However, it's a long way away from anything else but Manly. To get back into the city you'll have to get the ferry which takes half an hour and in the evening only runs once an hour. Otherwise you'll have to be getting very expensive taxi/uber rides.
Where to stay in Manly
Manly is another area that is underserved by hotels, with no genuine luxury hotel options here. There are choices, but you will pay more to be in this location and because of the lack of competition.
Top-End - Novotel
The Novotel is a reliable option in Manly and has recently been refurbished. It is right on the beach, meaning you really don’t have to go far for that morning swim, surf or coffee.
Budget - Manly Bunkhouse
It doesn’t get much cheaper in Manly than the Bunkhouse and this is a pretty popular hostel that’s right by the beach. They offer double and twin private rooms that are pretty basic, so don’t expect too much. But for the location and a place to sleep and shower, the Bunkhouse is the best option for a budget traveller in Manly.
Where is the North Shore?
Surprise, surprise, the North Shore is the northern shore of the harbour! Essentially it is the suburbs around the northern side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, including Kirribilli, Milson’s Point, Neutral Bay, North Sydney and even as far as Chatswood.
Vibe: Places such as North Sydney really feel like a business district that is busy during the day, but dead at night. Others like Cremorne and Mosman can feel like upper class areas of the city.
Good for: Some cheaper accommodation options and not being too far from the city.
Bad for: The North Shore can feel a bit like the CBD, a lot of offices, not too much character and a bit of urban crush once you veer out of Kirribilli. North Sydney can also feel like a ghost town once the working day is over!
Transport: Pretty good. Most suburbs have a train station here and places like Kirribilii, Neutral Bay and Milson’s Point have ferry wharfs as well.
The North Shore offers more affordable accommodation with the benefit of being pretty close to the city. It won’t be anyone’s first choice for where to stay, but you can get good mid-range hotels that won’t break the bank.
There is also a great food scene that is developing in places like Kirribilli, Neutral Bay and Chatswood with great coffee shops and good restaurants too.
Where to stay on the North Shore of Sydney
Top-End - Meriton North Sydney
Meritons are known for being top-end apartments in Australia and the ones in North Sydney are very popular and in a great location. These fully serviced apartments are really comfortable and come with their own kitchenette for when you’ve had too much eating out! You can just walk five minutes to the Coles supermarket which is just down the road.
It is only a five minute walk from North Sydney Train Station and isn’t too far to walk to the beautiful Kirribilli for those North Shore views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Mid-range - Cremorne Point Manor
Not many tourists go to Cremorne, but it is a really popular suburb for Sydneysiders for stunning views of the harbour and also the fact that it has its own wharf with regular ferries to the city.
Cremorne Point Manor is one of the best value places to stay in Sydney with beautiful rooms and stunning views. There’s not a lot to do here though and ferries only run a couple of times a day so depending on what you are looking for it might be too quiet.
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