Sydney – Australia’s metropolis surrounded by national parks, the Blue Mountains and the Tasman Sea. Whether you’ve been living here for a long time, just moved here or are visiting as a tourist, we’ve got the best tips for you on how to travel around the city.
To find your best connection from A to B, check the TripGo app. It’ll quickly and easily let you compare all the options below, showing how much your trip will cost, how long it will take and the environmental impact it will have.
Public transport tickets
We recommend you get an Opal Card to use public transport, which is a prepaid smart ticket. Some paper tickets are still being sold, but the Opal Card is much more convenient.
The Opal Card is valid on almost all trains, ferries, buses and light rail in Sydney, Newcastle; and the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Hunter and Illawarra. Make sure you tap on and tap off at the card readers (wait for the ‘ding’ sound both times), as you might otherwise be charged more for your trips.
Before leaving on your trip, ensure you always have enough money on your card to cover your trip (check TripGo for costs). You can top up the card at any Opal Card retailer (many newsagencies, 7-Eleven stores, Australia Post and Woolworths supermarkets).
Tips: There are several Opal Card travel caps you can take advantage of, e.g. on Sundays you pay a maximum of $2.50 for the whole day. There’s also a 1h transfer time, meaning you’ll only get charged for one trip if you transfer (or go back) within an hour. Check the official website for more tips.
The Opal Card also lets you enter a barriered station for free for 30 minutes. That’s especially useful for dropping off, picking up or using the toilet.
You can use the My Opal app (available for iOS and Android devices) to keep track of your card balance, see your journey history, how many journeys to go till you reach your caps and more. (Please note, the My Opal app is not affiliated with SkedGo or TripGo.)
Issues & solutions: If the reader does nothing, try another reader. If the reader ‘dings’ and the barrier opens but the screen doesn’t change, just walk through. If the reader ‘dings’ and the screen shows the fare, but the barrier doesn’t open, try again then talk to the attendant.
Refunds: Visitors to Sydney can get the remaining balance on the Opal refunded, though there is some hassle involved .
Alternatives: If you only need to make one or a few trips and prefer paying cash instead of getting an Opal Card, you can do that on off-peak buses, NightRide buses, light rail and the Manly Ferry. For all other services you’ll need to prepay (buy a paper ticket or Opal Card before you board the service).
Trips to and from Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport
Costs can easily pile up if you need to travel to or from the airport. But don’t despair, we have some great money-saving tips:
By public transport: When travelling to or from the airport by train, you will be charged a station access fee, and your usual Opal 60 minute transfer doesn’t apply. So, if you’re just picking someone up you can stay in the train station area (do not tap off) and meet your friend/family member there to avoid the tap off and on. Alternatively, you can take a bus to the airport (check TripGo for options) which does not charge any extra fees.
By taxi: On top of your usual fare, you’ll be required to pay an airport toll, so check prices before jumping in. Often, savings from booking flights near 6am or midnight are outweighed by the taxi fare (see also taxi section below).
By car: Parking fees at the airport are very high, however there are some cheaper options around the airport. This means you might have to walk a little though (or take the 400 bus for a few stops), as well as pre-book and pre-pay. If picking someone up, your best option might be not to park at all, but wait till they are ready, then use the 15 minute free parking right outside the airport to let them jump in.
By shuttle: There’s a variety of privately operated shuttle services available to you. They might be a convenient option and a good alternative to taxis if you have a lot of luggage. TripGo includes shuttle service options via Jayride. Check for group booking discounts. We recommend booking at least 24h in advance.
When waiting for a bus, make sure you signal the driver to stop with an outstretched hand. Otherwise they might drive right past you. Enter the bus through the front door; the back door is exit only (but you can exit through the front door).
Similarly, to get off, press the STOP button on the bus to ensure the bus will stop. If you have your GPS enabled, you will be able to see on the TripGo app where the bus stops are and where you are, so you know when to press the button.
As mentioned above, make sure you tap on when you get on the bus, and tap off when you leave to ensure you get your correct fare.
During peak times, buses can be quite delayed, especially in the CBD. Some are also older and don’t have proper air-conditioning which can be a bit uncomfortable in summer when the bus is stuck in traffic. Make sure you check your options in TripGo.
Before boarding your train, double-check that you get on the right one as most trains do not stop at every station.
Some trains can get very hot in summer; take a water bottle just in case.
Cheaper fares: Train trips are cheaper on weekends, public holidays and during off-peak times. The time considered for calculating your fare is the time you tap on, not off. If you use your 1h transfer (see above), the first (journey) tap on is the one that counts.
Barrier tips: At the Opal readers, wait until the barrier has closed before entering the barrier sensor area or it might close on you – don’t worry about annoying the many passengers behind you waiting to tap off.
Safety: If you travel on your own after sunset, we recommend avoiding mostly deserted train carriages, especially towards Greater Western Sydney. Try to sit near another (trustworthy looking) passenger. The middle carriage has a train guard (marked with a blue light) which has contact with police and the driver.
At night: Between midnight and 4:30am, NightRide buses replace trains. Please note that they don’t travel exactly the same routes as the trains; check TripGo to ensure you’re getting on the right one. These buses can be packed on Friday and Saturday nights. The driver can arrange for a taxi to pick you up at your destination.
See above for tips on travelling to the airport by train.
Ferries are a great way to travel in Sydney while enjoying a cool breeze, especially the scenic trip to Manly past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge (see also TimeOut’s recommendations). Make sure you use good sun protection if you’re staying outside though.
Please note: Sydney Ferries Manly service does not require you to tap off your Opal Card; also, you can’t use an Opal Card on the privately owned Manly Fast Ferry or Sydney Fast Ferries (they sell their own tickets).
During rush hour (4-6pm), ferries and in particular the Parramatta River ferries can get crowded.
The light rail runs from Central to Dulwich Hill. It’s very convenient if you travel between the CBD, Darling Harbour, the Star City casino and the Fish Markets. Services between Central Station and The Star operate around the clock, but past that there are no services between 11pm (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) and 6am.
There are many different taxi companies operating in Sydney, and TripGo gives you several options to book including through goCatch, ingogo, Uber and by calling a service directly.
All taxis have a light indicating whether they’re free or booked (light on = free). To hail a taxi, just wave them over. If you’re not in the CBD or at the airport and you want to make sure you get one, booking a taxi is a safer option than walking down the street looking for one. Just tap on “Book a taxi” in TripGo.
Rights: Passengers have rights such as to control the air conditioning and radio and decide on the route, so if you would like any changes, let the driver know.
Fares: Trip fares are calculated based on distance and duration, with higher fares at night. Note that trips via toll roads and to/from the airport are more expensive; check TripGo for a price estimate before jumping on. You don’t have to tip your driver, but it is common to round the fare up if you are happy with the trip. Taxis accept all major credit cards, but charge 11% on top of the fare if you pay by credit card.
See above for tips on travelling to the airport by taxi.
Uber: Uber is similar to a taxi service, but almost everyone can drive to earn money (subject to conditions and checks). You have to book in order to take Uber (you can do this through TripGo). Fares may be cheaper than for taxis, though there might also be surge pricing at times of high demand. At the end of your trip, don’t forget to rate your driver and leave feedback.
Sydney traffic is usually busy, especially during rush hour. On sunny weekends around the beaches and when there are special events on things can get very crammed and slow moving.
Parking is expensive in the city; street parking is cheaper but hard to find and not allowed everywhere. At some beaches, parking can be almost impossible especially on summer weekends. Plan in some time to look for a parking space if travelling by car.
Tolls: Some motorways, tunnels and bridges charge tolls (no cash accepted). When you pass a toll point, you will see a sign with a number to call or a website to go to; if you don’t have a pass or tag you have 48 hours to either call or get online to pay the toll to avoid fees. More information is available on the official website.
See above for tips on driving to the airport.
Safety: If you’re driving in areas outside the city at night, please be aware that wildlife (kangaroos, wombats etc) can cross the road unexpectedly.
TripGo includes both Car Next Door and GoGet in its options.
Car sharing lets you use a car that’s not your own and drive it to where you’d like to go (basically like a rental, but more flexible as you can get to the car at any time of the day). At the end of your trip, you’ll need to return the car to its pod. You’ll have to register with car sharing services in order to use them.
GoGet offers a fleet of regularly updated and well serviced cars, with a variety of options (including economy cars, vans, utes, people movers and premium cars).
Car Next Door makes use of cars your neighbours own and lets you rent those; the cars might not be as new but prices are often low.
TripGo makes it easy to compare prices, and you can see more details and book straight from the app.
Motorbikes can be quite a bit quicker than cars in Sydney’s heavy traffic, since lane filtering is now legal in NSW. That means you can move past slow moving or stopped vehicles with up to 30km/h (full details here).
Parking: There are several dedicated on-street parking areas in the city which are free. Even outside those you won’t need to pay at any of the parking meters in the City of Sydney area (you have to observe the time limits though). Some public car parks offer motorcycle parking at discounted rates. Outside the city, parking is usually easy to find.
Safety: The amount of traffic also makes it challenging to ride in the city; we advise doing a safe riding course and riding defensively. Outside the city area, there are lots of nice routes with much less traffic to enjoy your bike to the fullest.
Cycling is a great way to become healthier and save money, among other benefits. Sydney is quite hilly though, so a certain level of fitness is required depending on your route. RideTheCity is a great planning tool for your trips.
You are allowed to ride on all roads except freeway tunnels and can also use bus and transit lanes.
Safety: Cycling can be quite dangerous in high traffic areas, especially in the city centre. In the outer suburbs where traffic is less severe it’s often safer and more enjoyable to ride. Make sure you always obey the road rules and be visible to stay safe. This includes riding with a helmet (cycling airbags are unfortunately not legal yet) and working lights. Also, keep a safe distance from the car door zone. You have the right to take up a lane, use it if it’s your safest option. The City offers free cycling courses for those who are keen to improve their skills and confidence.
Tips: With an Opal Card, you can take your bicycle onto Sydney trains as well as ferries and light rail for free, though it might get challenging during rush hour. You can also leave your bike in one of the secure bike lockers which are available at many stations (need to book in advance).
Walking is often the most convenient (and cheapest) way to get around in the CBD. During peak hours, walking can be much faster than taking the bus. If trips are too long, it’s easy to combine with other modes of transport – check TripGo for your options.
Walking is usually safe and pleasant in the city as well as surrounding suburbs. To be safe though, try not to walk alone at night in Kings Cross, around George St from the cinemas and south to Haymarket, along the coastal walks (which are beautiful and highly recommended during the day!) or anywhere you don’t feel safe – trust your gut feeling.
A good alternative last mile transport are folding electric scooters and solo wheels. They are more easily carried on public transport than bicycles and can reduce your travel time significantly.
So, here you have it – our complete guide to transport in Sydney.
Anything wrong or missing? Let us know in the comments below!
- Title image: Australia By CSITDMS (own work) [CC0 1.0 Public Domain], via Pixabay
- Opal Card By Scottmacpherson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Qantas plane at Sydney Airport By Flickr user: Shayan (USA) USA http://www.flickr.com/photos/ssanyal/ [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Sydney Buses 1336 By EurovisionNim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Sydney Trains A set (Waratah) departing Central Station (2) By Bidgee [CC BY-SA 3.0 au], via Wikimedia Commons
- Sydney Ferry Supply 2 By Hpeterswald (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- CAF Urbos 2 Sydney Light Rail By Abesty (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2005-2007 Ford BF Fairlane Ghia sedan (Silver Service taxi) 01 By Celica21gtfour at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
- Driving on the Western Distributor Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons
- Suzuki Alto GoGet Share Car By Tom Worthington (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Cargo Repsol (motorbike) By Alfredo Gayou from Mexico, Mexico (Cargo Repsol) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Clamont 80s Geoff Scott funny bike By Conollyb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Townhall George St (walking) By Enoch Lau (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Content (main sources)
First published on 5 February 2015. Updated on 3 June 2016.