Getting Around Sydney

There are a few stray sections that make up this page: Arriving, Quarantine laws in Australia, Travel hubs in Sydney, Getting around Sydney and Cheap travel.


You will most probably arrive by aircraft. While there are several other small airports near Sydney, you will arrive at Mascot, also known as Kingsford-Smith or some other boring name like Sydney International Airport. Mascot is the suburb that the original landing field was in, but it is commonly used as the airport's name.

There are two entirely separate terminals. There is the international airport, where you have to go through Immigration, Customs and Quarantine, and there is the domestic terminal where you need none of those. They are a considerable distance apart, but there are shuttle buses to take you from one to the other.

On the aircraft, you will be given a card to fill out. Do both sides, and carry it off with you. Present that card and your passport to the immigration person, and head on down to collect you baggage (or luggage). Baggage trolleys are free at Sydney, so take one, collect your bags, and go through to Customs and Quarantine. A lively beagle will probably sniff your bag, and in most cases, your bags will be X-rayed, mainly to check for food that could be a problem.

Once you are past there, head on out into the terminal. You have several choices when you are leaving the airport, and I list them in diminishing cost order: taxi will always be the most expensive, although if you fall for the con-men who try to get you into a limo as you exit, that will cost even more. The airport is privately owned, and the taxis are charged exorbitant fees to be there, so expect them to rip you off if they think they can, just like almost any other big city.

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Quarantine laws in Australia

The quarantine rules are simple: NO. No plants, no seeds, no soil, no pets, no blood or semen samples, no raw meat, no unsprayed wooden artifacts from certain pest-ridden countries, nothing made from endangered animal species - those are the rules Australia has to keep unwanted pests out of the country. Animals may be brought in under certain conditions, but the cost is high, and the wait is long.

Drugs are out, and the medical prescription you bought somewhere else could get you in trouble here (it can work the other way as well!), so check what you have brought on the way in by going through the red channels, and play safe.

No fire-arms, guns, bludgeons, coshes, maces, SAMs, landmines, swords, knives or pies containing any of the known lethal forms of custard. Get the idea? We are a peaceable nation, and will beat you up to prove it if you come here armed.

If you are unsure about what you can bring into Australia, please take a good look at, ask the quarantine people when you arrive, or leave the doubtful item behind, and help us keep our environment staggering along. There are also "amnesty bins" into which you can dump any dubious objects. See the comment above about beagles and X-ray machines.

Quarantine Station: the beach.The Quarantine Station (now disused).There is a former Quarantine Station, once used for quarantining people on North Head, but these days, people travel so fast that they are here and dispersed around the country before a disease breaks out, so the Quarantine Station rests by the edge of the harbour, as part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.

The future of the station is uncertain, but it is well worth a visit. Passengers had travelled out for up to six months, assigned to a particular class, and when they went into quarantine, they were given accommodation appropriate to their status as 1st, 2nd or 3rd class.

Also worth seeing: the stone carvings performed by people trapped there, waiting to see if they would catch the disease being controlled, or die. Down at the beach, you can see the fumigation and cleaning systems that were is use to get rid of infection. The chimney of the boiler house is visible in the picture on the left.

Please be reassured that travel provisions in Australia are much better than they once were!

Getting around Sydney

You have a variety of choices once again. There are many coach tours that operate from hotels and from the area around Cicular Quay. For the most part, these have boring and basically misinformed commentaries. Sadly, the same applies to harbour tours, where the guides are good at pointing out the homes of the rich and infamous, but they know nothing of Sydney's history or environment, and won't shut up.

You are better off going on your own, and that gives you a choice of trains, ferries and buses, but be aware of the light rail service that operates from Central Railway, out past the Fish Markets. The same people operate the monorail, which is mildly useful and offensive to most Sydneysiders who see it is a carnival ride that encroaches on our streets. On search engines, look for 'Sydney light rail'.


Keep in mind that Australians drive on the left side of the road. If you normally drive on the right, be aware that at least once, you will make a left turn and end up on the wrong side of the road. Try to have an alert front-seat passenger to remind you each time, and also to do the navigating. Make sure that you hire a car with automatic transmission (note: we have 'cars', not automobiles, but we will know what you mean).

Be aware that road signs have a different logic in each country. Unlike Britain, street names are on most corners, placed high enough to be visible from a vehicle, either on a building or on a pole. Be aware that Sydney's geology has driven a geography that demands rabbit warrens. Streets don't always go where you expect, because they need to curve and twist.

Be aware that peak hours are horrendous in Sydney, getting worse as you get closer, and that beach traffic on weekends can also be bad, especially if there is a cool change in the middle of a hot Sunday.

No, I am not trying to discourage you, I am trying to prepare you. There are some attractions that cannot be seen without a car, or cannot be seen easily. All the same, I will be concentrating on stuff that does not need cars.

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Cheap travel

There are cheap tickets available to commuters. The State Transit Authority advertises some of these, but don't be sucked-in by the tourist tickets. Those may let you on the Sydney Explorer, but it is cheaper to ride that once and get a TravelPass, or a Travelten, or even use DayTrippers if you are only here for a few days. Once you have one of those, no more queues!

CityRail offer good information on the TravelPass system: note that some of the TravelPasses are good for all of train, bus and ferry. Sydney Buses offer reasonable information, but it is not as helpful. Note that many newsagents will also be able to sell you a TravelPass. In 2009, many routes require you to have a prepay ticket before you board the bus, and this is becoming more common.

There are also DayTripper tickets that are good value if you are travelling a lot, but only for a day or two. You can buy these when you first board a bus -- the driver just inserts a blank ticket and generates it for you. I am fairly sure they are also available at train stations and ferry ticket windows. I am a "senior", so I use a $2.50 "Pensioner Excursion Ticket" which can take me to Nowra, Lithgow, Goulburn or Dungog (I think)—and back again oon the same day. It is my belief that the "Seniors Cards" of other states are now honoured in Sydney. We tend to buy these in bulk, in advance.

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Transport hubs

Around Sydney, there are a number of transport hubs and interesting destinations. I have listed these here, giving details of ways of reaching them by public transport. Sydney has good public transport, but you need to know how it works, and in that description, I will be referring to these hubs quite a lot.

Bondi Beach | Bondi Junction | Burwood | Central Railway | Chatswood station | Cheap travel | City Circle | Circular Quay | Cronulla | Drummoyne | Hornsby | Transport hubs | Macquarie Centre | Manly Wharf | Maroubra | Neutral Bay | Parramatta | Rockdale | Strathfield Station | Warringah Mall | Wynyard and QVB

Central Railway

A typical departures display, Central Railway. Central Railway: ticket office and the clock for meeting under. Central Railway, Sydney: places to feed, drink and buy books and papers. Pictures, from left to right: Central Railway, Sydney: places to feed, drink and buy books and papers; Central Railway: ticket office and the clock for meeting under (Sydneysiders always "meet under the clock"); A typical departures display, Central Railway.
The name of this railway terminus is slightly misleading, as the station is actually at the southern end of the CBD, and set up away from the main road routes to the south-west. It is usually just referred to as "Central", and the unwary traveller who wants a bus that starts there needs to know that there are several different places where buses start and end. You can also get there by light rail -- and train, of course.

Almost all train services pass through there, and if you want to travel outside Sydney by train, this is the best place to start. You can also get food and drink — and reading matter. Most country train trips take a long time! Note that services will sometimes be run or completed by coach.

Railway Square, Central Railway. Railway Square, Central Railway.  The clock is on the station itself. You need to understand that when people say "Central", they often mean one of the bus interchanges, especially the one at Railway Square, at the top end of George Street, where Broadway begins. If you are wanting to switch from bus to train, there will be shorter walks at the other stations.

Pictures, from left to right:
1. Railway Square, Central Railway.
2. Railway Square, Central Railway. The clock is on the station itself. Note the landmark scupltures.

Walking along the Devonshire Street Tunnel, Central Railway. Entry point for the railway Square part of the Devonshire Street Tunnel, Central Railway. The Devonshire Street Tunnel, Central Railway. (Left) walking in the tunnel, (right) the tunnel breaks into the open and then goes under railway Square, emerging near the TAFE building that you can see in the background. There are usually a few buskers in the tunnel, which emerges near the suburban train platforms, and also to the eastern side of the station.
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Circular Quay

Circular Quay.  A Rivercat in the foreground, the raised railway behind.Circular Quay, Sydney. Pictures: (left) Circular Quay and the northern CBD, seen from an approaching ferry: the Opera House is off to the left, The Rocks are to the right.
(right) Circular Quay from near the MCA. A Rivercat in the foreground, the raised railway behind.

This is the area where Sydney's ferries arrive - the name is a shortened form of "Semicircular Quay" - which makes more sense than a circular one, if you want passengers to be able to go anywhere. You can get there by any train that goes around the City Circle, and many of the buses that run into the city go there. From Wynyard, walk down George Street. If you are after directions, just ask for "the quay" or "Circular Quay", knowing that 'quay' is pronounced 'key'.

While you are there, look beneath your feet, for you are walking on history. Set into the pavement, you will find a variety of plaques which make up the Literary Walk. These are comments made by famous literary figures, some from the world stage, many local, collected with wit and charm by somebody in the Ministry for the Arts.

Circular Quay railway station. Circular Quay railway station. Railway indicator board, Circular Quay.
Pictures, from left to right:

Buskers at Circular Quay. Picture: Buskers are common along Circular Quay and around towards the MCA. They are generally worth stopping to watch.

Many of the buses from the east, south and west will terminate at Circular Quay. If you are coming from the north, you will need to get off at Wynyard and make your way down to George Stree, where you can walk or catch a bus to the Quay. As an alternative, you can walk down into the station and catch a City Circle train that goes from Platform 6 (from memory -- check the indicator board), one station. With a very few exceptions, ferries always dock at Circular Quay.

At this point, you are well placed to visit the MCA or the Opera House and the Museum of Sydney, you are close to Observatory Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, ferry rides, cruises and more.

Because it is so central, the area also offers you a range of tourist information, souvenir shops and general spivvery. Choose with care. Chep food can be had at McDonalds or at the Deli and coffee shop under the railway line, opposite the Customs House. Excellent food can be had if you head along towards the Opera House.

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Chatswood station

This used to just be a residential suburb, but it has grown into a major shopping venue, fed by a variety of State Transit and private buses, and also by trains running the North Shore Line that goes to Hornsby. You can also travel by bus to Manly Wharf over several different routes. Chatswood is a place you go to in order to go somewhere else, unless you are a serious shopper.

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Manly Wharf

Manly Wharf, as the ferry approaches it. Kayaks in the harbour, close to Manly, part of North harbour in the background. Manly Pool, a safe place to swim in the harbour.
Pictures above, from left to right:
Manly Wharf, late on an autumn afternoon, Bavarian Bier Cafe in the foreground. Manly Wharf entry. Manly Wharf, late on an autumn afternoon.
Pictures above, from left to right: Manly is a seaside suburb with both surf and harbour beaches on offer. You can get there by
the Manly ferry or by the (peak hours only) privately-owned fast ferry, or by bus. Parking is not the best, but you can also drive. Assume that the parking limits shown on the street signs will be applied!

To find out about the buses out of Manly, see this guide

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Wynyard and QVB

Wynyard is one of the railway stations on the City Circle. Buses from the north and northwest terminate there. If you are travelling by bus from the southern end of the city, it is an area just north of Martin Place.

QVB is the standard abbreviation for the Queen Victoria Building, once a markets, later a library, now an upmarket shopping precinct, close to the Town Hall. Some buses from the north terminate there, after passing through Wynyard, as do buses from the west and north-west (this is why you need to recognise "QVB" when you see it). You can get into the Queen Victoria Building from Town Hall Station, and in wet weather, you can do it all underground! The QVB is about three blocks south of Wynyard, along York or George Streets, and the buses that go from there leave from York Street.

There is a sad remnant of a park in the centre of the bus departure stands at Wynyard. Please smile nicely at it as you hurry on by.

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Warringah Mall

This is a shopping centre built on an old swamp at Brookvale, north of Manly. Buses run from many areas to the mall, which has many specialty shops and chain stores, but it is basically just a suburban shopping centre. Good place to shop, handy place to change transport, nothing to write home about it. Look, I shop there, but it's a useful place, not an attraction. Sorry!

The main road is a good place to join buses to Palm Beach, Manly Wharf or Wynyard.

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Strathfield Station

If you are heading west or north-west, this is a major interchange for trains. There is a shopping centre there, but not much else in the way of attractions. It isn't nasty, it has a few nice houses, but it lacks zing. Sorry, Strathfield!

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Neutral Bay

This is a bus interchange on the ridge, just before you head down the hill to the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and tunnel. There are two lanes, with city-bound buses stopping in the left lane, west-bound buses in the right lane. Note that you are quite a long way up the hill from the water, and the bus interchange is on the ridge, perhaps 70 metres above sea level.

The original Neutral Bay is down on the harbour, and it was a designated area where foreign ships could be directed to anchor. At a time when it might take six months for news of European hostilities to get to Australia, such a safe anchorage was necessary. You can also get an inner harbour ferry to Neutral Bay, but that lands you on the shore. Neutral Bay (on the ridge) has a lot of well-off younger people in flats and units (apartments), so there is good food to be had at reasonable prices.

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Bondi Junction

You can get there by the Eastern Suburbs train line (from Martin Place or Town Hall), or by an assortment of buses. This is one of the largest and busiest shopping areas, and has been inflicting damage on surrounding shopping centres, especially Double Bay (known as 'Double Pay') and the Paddington end of Oxford Street.

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Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is more or less an end point. People have heard of it and want to go there, and it is pleasant enough, but I was raised in Manly, and find that more attractive. That said, there are nice walks away from each end (don't miss the walk to Coogee!), and Bondi beach is usually a safe place to surf.

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to come

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Macquarie Centre

to come

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to come

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This is more a destination than anything else. Maroubra is treated as one of Sydney's beaches.

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to come

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The obvious way to get to Parramatta is by Rivercat, but there are also trains that take you there. Parramatta is the demographic centre of modern Sydney, but might, at one stage have been the capital of the colony, as there was good soil there. Parramatta offers a number of historic buildings that I will write about some time, and also Parramatta Park, because that is a real gem.


to come

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You aren't very likely to get here, but you need to know about it. Trains can get there from the Central Coast, from Wynyard via the Sydney Harbour Bridge and also from Strathfield Station. If you are heading for the central coast, you need to get to Platform 4 to catch a train going through. Watch out, because some of them only make a few stops, so check the indicators. Local trains are more fun, but they are slower.

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City Circle

This is not really a hub, but a string of railway stations around Sydney. Trains run in both directions from Central railway, Town Hall station, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James, Museum and Central again. They then usually head on again on another line — and be aware that some of the trains passing through Town Hall and Wynyard may be heading over the Sydney Harbour Brridge, so check your destination! This file is, first created on February 28, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on September 10, 2009.

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