Where to stay in Sydney first time: 9 Best areas

Finding where to stay in Sydney as a first-time visitor can be a headache. That’s why, in today’s article, I will share with you what I believe are the best areas to stay in Sydney for the first time (including a map), where I stayed in Sydney, and best hotels in Sydney all budgets.

Visiting Sydney for the first time is an exciting experience. Sydney is the largest city in Australia and the capital of the state of New South Wales known for its stunning harbor, iconic landmarks, and vibrant culture. The city has warm summers and mild winters. 

You can start your visit with iconic landmarks like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Also consider taking a guided tour of the Opera House to learn about its history and architecture.

Other well-known attractions that you can take a note to visit include the Circular Quay, The Rocks, Bondi Beach, Darling Harbour, Sydney Tower Eye, and Royal Botanic Garden.

Sydney has a vibrant arts scene, and you can also explore it at institutions like the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Australian Museum.

The city has a diverse dining scene, reflecting its multicultural population. You can try local dishes like meat pies, Tim Tams, and explore international cuisines in Chinatown and Newtown.

Sydney has an efficient public transportation system, including buses, trains, ferries, and light rail. Consider purchasing an Opal Card for convenient access to all these modes of transport.

The Kingsford Smith International Airport serves as Australia’s primary gateway for international flights. From the airport, you can easily reach the city center by train, bus, hotel’s shuttle and taxi.

You can consider taking day trips to places like the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley wine region, or the beautiful beaches of the Central Coast for a change of scenery.

Where to stay in Sydney first time?

The best areas to stay in Sydney for first-timers are Sydney CBD, Darling Harbour/ Pyrmont, Circular Quay, The Rocks, Darlinghurst, Potts Point, Surry Hills, Bondi Beach, and Manly. These areas offer a wide range of accommodation options, catering for all budgets and preferences.

Most new visitors to Sydney stay in the CBD (Central Business District) due to its convenient location, close to major attractions like the Opera House, Darling Harbour, and Royal Botanic Garden. It also offers excellent public transportation, making it easy for them to get around.

Other iconic places like Circular Quay and The Rocks are also great options but accommodations there can be pricey due to its prime location. If you have a generous budget, they can be great choices, but if not, I recommend sticking into the CBD, with more range of hotels and easy access to attractions.

During my first trip to Sydney, I stayed in the Sydney CBD (of course!). I spent 5 nights with my partner at the YEHS Hotel Sydney QVB. It has a fantastic location, within walking distance to all major attractions and  numerous shopping malls. Town Hall nearby is a major station. 

You can filter the hotel in the Sydney CBD area to suit your budget from booking.com website.

Below is a map of the popular areas in Sydney for tourists. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the best areas to stay in Sydney first time
Map of the best areas to stay in Sydney first time

Let’s get into the details of my recommended areas in Sydney for first-time visitors. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget.

All hotels have been carefully selected by me from well-known booking sites such as booking.com, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. 

If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

9 Best areas to stay in Sydney first time are:

1. Sydney CBD (Central Business District)

Sydney CBD is the most popular choice for first-time travelers. It is located right at the heart of the city and extremely well-connected to public transportation, making it incredibly convenient for newcomers. 

Many of the city’s top attractions, such as the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, and the Royal Botanic Garden, are within walking distance or a short public transport ride away.

Sydney CBD is well-connected by buses, trains, and ferries. Central Station, located at the southern edge of the CBD, is a major transportation hub that provides access to various parts of the city and beyond.

Sydney CBD is a shopping and dining hub. You’ll find a wide range of shops, boutiques, department stores, and international brands in areas like Pitt Street Mall and Queen Victoria Building (QVB). The area is also home to a diverse range of restaurants, cafes, and bars, catering to various tastes and budgets.

Sydney CBD comes alive at night with a vibrant nightlife scene. There are numerous bars, clubs, and entertainment venues where you can enjoy live music, dance, and socialize.

In addition to the iconic landmarks, the CBD is home to many cultural institutions and museums, such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Despite being a bustling urban center, Sydney CBD has several green spaces and parks, such as Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Garden, where locals and visitors can relax and enjoy nature.

Best places to stay in Sydney CBD first time:

  • Luxury ($$$): Meriton Suites Sussex Street, Sydney, 5-star hotel, centrally located in Sydney CBD, a short walk from iconic landmarks such as Barangaroo, SEALIFE Sydney Aquarium, Hyde Park, and Cockle Bay Wharf, as well as lot of shopping malls including the QVB.
  • Mid-range ($$): YEHS Hotel Sydney QVB, 4-star good value for money hotels, conveniently located on York Street in The CBD, across the street from QVB and City Hall. Its location is central to everything.
  • Budget ($): Megaboom City Hotel, this hotel is located in the heart of the CBD, within a short walk from the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), Town Hall train/bus station, and Wynyard Station.

2. Darling Harbour/ Pyrmont

Darling Harbour is a bustling waterfront area,  just west of the CBD, with attractions like the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, and Madame Tussauds. It’s perfect for families and those interested in marine life.

Darling Harbour also features entertainment options such as IMAX cinema, the ICC Sydney Theatre, and numerous bars and restaurants. It’s a hub for nightlife and cultural events.

The area has a few shopping centers, such as Harbourside Shopping Centre, where you can shop for souvenirs and fashion. Darling Harbour hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, including fireworks displays on special occasions like New Year’s Eve.

Pyrmont is located just to the south-west of Darling Harbour. It is home to Sydney Fish Market, Powerhouse Museum and Star Sydney, a popular casino complex offering gaming, dining, and entertainment. 

Best places to stay in Sydney in Darling Harbour first time:

  • Luxury ($$$): Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour, 5-star popular hotel, located in an amazing location in Darling Harbour area, easy access to the light rail, the Rocks, museums, and parks.
  • Mid-range ($$): PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney, 4.5 star hotel, located within walking distance from Chinatown, Westfield Sydney, and Town Hall Station. Just steps away from  the bars and restaurants of Cockle Bay.
  • Budget ($): Aiden by Best Western @ Darling Harbour, 4-star hotel with a central location, ideal for first-timers, close to the Australian National Maritime Museum, The Star Event Centre and International Convention Centre Sydney.

3. Circular Quay

Circular Quay is a bustling transportation hub and a great place to take in the views of the Opera House and the Bridge. It’s also where you can catch ferries to various destinations including Manly, Taronga Zoo, and Parramatta. 

Circular Quay is a popular starting point for harbor cruises that offer breathtaking views of the Sydney skyline, the Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge.

One of the most iconic buildings in the world, the Opera House, is located right on the edge of Circular Quay. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site and hosts various performing arts events, concerts, and cultural performances.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is another iconic landmark that you can see from Circular Quay. You can also climb the bridge for panoramic views of the city and harbor.

Circular Quay is the epicenter of Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve celebrations, featuring spectacular fireworks displays that light up the harbor.

Best places to stay in Sydney in Circular Quay first time:

  • Luxury ($$$): Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour, 5-star hotel, located in the heart of Circular Quay, easy walk from the Opera House and The Rocks. You can use the express train from Circular Quay to the airport terminals, and ferries to Manly, Taronga Zoo, and Luna Park.
  • Luxury ($$$): Sir Stamford Circular Quay, this 5-star hotel has a sundeck with the views of  Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay. Short walk from Sydney Opera House.
  • Luxury ($$$): InterContinental Sydney, an IHG Hotel, 5-star hotel, short walk from Royal Botanic Gardens via Macquarie Street. Easy access to the Circular Quay Ferries across Sydney Harbour, and whale-watching tours.

4. The Rocks 

Just a short walk from Circular Quay, The Rocks is Sydney’s historic district with cobblestone streets, unique shops, and plenty of restaurants and pubs. Don’t miss the Rocks Markets, where you can find a variety of arts, crafts, and food stalls.

The Rocks is known for its well-preserved colonial-era architecture. Many of the historic buildings have been beautifully restored, and you can see the distinct sandstone structures that give the area its character.

The Rocks overlooks Sydney Cove, which was the landing point for the First Fleet. It has played a significant role in the city’s history.

The area is home to several historical sites and attractions, including Cadman’s Cottage (Sydney’s oldest surviving residential building), the Susannah Place Museum (a row of preserved 19th-century terrace houses), and the Sydney Observatory.

The area offers boutique shopping opportunities, with stores selling unique and locally-made items, including art, jewelry, and souvenirs.

The southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge connects to The Rocks. You can often see people climbing the bridge for panoramic views of Sydney and the harbor.

The Rocks hosts various events throughout the year, including the annual New Year’s Eve celebrations and the Rocks Aroma Festival, which celebrates coffee and chocolate.

To make the most of your visit to The Rocks, you can start at the visitor center, which provides maps, information about current events, and guided tours of the area.

Best places to stay in Sydney in The Rocks first time:

  • Luxury ($$$): Park Hyatt Sydney, 5-star hotel, located between the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Easy walk from The Rocks, Circular Quay, where you can find ferry quays, bus stops and railway stations.
  • Luxury ($$$): Pier One Sydney Harbour, Autograph Collection , 5-star hotel located in the heart of the historic Rocks precinct, short walk from Sydney Theatre Company and the Rocks’ cafes and nightlife. Also close to the Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens.
  • Budget ($): Sydney Harbour YHA, this hotel has both dorm rooms and private rooms. Great for backpackers and groups of friends in prime locations. Short walk from Wynyard Station and Bridge St light rail stop.

5. Darlinghurst

Darlinghurst is situated immediately to the east of Sydney CBD, making it a great base for easy access to attractions. It is well-connected to buses and trains easily accessible to other parts of Sydney. 

Darlinghurst has a rich history, with many historic buildings and landmarks. The area was initially known for its association with the Darlinghurst Gaol, a former prison that operated in the 19th century. The gaol has since been demolished, but its historical significance remains.

The suburb is home to a thriving arts and culture scene. It has a strong connection to the LGBTQ+ community and is famous for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, which usually takes place along Oxford Street, Darlinghurst’s main thoroughfare.

Oxford Street is one of the main streets running through Darlinghurst and is renowned for its numerous bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops. It is a hub for nightlife and entertainment and is especially lively during weekends.

The suburb is home to several parks and green spaces, including Darlinghurst Park and Green Park. These areas provide locals with recreational opportunities and a place to relax amidst the urban environment.

St. Vincent’s Hospital, a major teaching hospital in Sydney, is located in Darlinghurst. It provides healthcare services to residents and is a prominent medical institution in the area.

Darlinghurst is known for its diverse and welcoming community. It has a mix of residents from different backgrounds and walks of life, contributing to its inclusive and vibrant atmosphere.

Best places to stay in Sydney in Darlinghurst first time:

  • Luxury ($$$): Adge Hotel and Residences, 5-star accommodation located in a quiet area, within walking distance from Hyde Park and Sydney CBD, short ride from Chinatown and Darling Harbour.
  • Mid-range ($$): Medusa Hotel Sydney, good value for money hotel, located in Darlinghurst district, within easy reach to all major attractions Haymarket, Paddington, Chippendale. You can take trains to Circular Quay and buses to Bondi beach. 
  • Budget ($): Sydney Boutique Hotel, 3-star hotel, offering airport shuttle service, short walk from Kings Cross and a lot of cafes and restaurants.

6. Potts Point/ Kings Cross

Potts Point and Kings Cross are two closely connected neighborhoods that are known for their vibrant and diverse atmosphere, offering a mix of entertainment, dining, and residential options.

Kings Cross is often referred to as the Red Light District of Sydney, and it has a reputation for nightlife and entertainment. In the past, it was known for its strip clubs, bars, and adult entertainment, but over the years, it has evolved into a more diverse and upscale area.

You can still find numerous bars, clubs, and restaurants in Kings Cross, making it a popular spot for nightlife enthusiasts. There are several boutique hotels, making it a convenient place to stay for tourists.

Potts Point is located adjacent to Kings Cross and has a more residential and upscale feel compared to its neighbor. It is known for its charming tree-lined streets, historic architecture, and a mix of modern and traditional cafes, restaurants, and shops.

The area has a reputation for being a hub of creative and artistic activity, with many galleries and cultural spaces. They are well-connected to the rest of Sydney, making them popular destinations for tourists. 

Best places to stay in Sydney in Potts Point first time:

  • Luxury ($$$): Ovolo Woolloomooloo, 5-star hotel, situated in Woolloomooloo, next to the Royal Botanical Gardens and Potts Point. It is a 15 mins  walk from the Opera House.
  • Mid-range ($$): Macleay Hotel, 4-star hotel, located in Potts Point area, easy walk from  beautiful Woolloomooloo Bay, and Royal Botanic Gardens.  
  • Budget ($): Cozy M Hotel, this self-catering accommodation is located within walking distance from the train station of Kings Cross, Hyde Park and Pitt Street Mall, as well as bars, restaurants and clubs. It is a 15 mins bus ride to Bondi Beach.  

7. Surry Hills

Surry Hills is a vibrant and trendy inner-city suburb of Sydney. It is located just south-east of the CBD and is known for its diverse culture, historic architecture, and lively atmosphere.  Its proximity to the CBD makes it a desirable place for those who want to be close to the city’s business and cultural centers.

Surry Hills is one of Sydney’s most diverse neighborhoods, with a mix of cultures and communities. This diversity is reflected in its food scene, art galleries, and cultural events.

The suburb is known for its well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian terrace houses, which line its streets. These historic buildings add character and charm to the area.

Surry Hills is a food lover’s paradise, with a wide range of cafes, restaurants, and eateries serving cuisines from around the world. It’s particularly famous for its brunch spots and trendy dining establishments.

The suburb offers a mix of boutique shops, vintage stores, and contemporary fashion outlets. Crown Street and Oxford Street are two of the main shopping destinations in the area.

Surry Hills has a thriving nightlife scene with bars, pubs, and live music venues. It’s a popular spot for both locals and visitors to enjoy a night out.

While Surry Hills is mostly urban, there are some green spaces and parks where residents and visitors can relax, including Shannon Reserve and Harmony Park.

Best places to stay in Sydney in Surry Hills first time:

  • Luxury ($$$): Crystalbrook Albion, 5-star hotel located in the heart of Surry Hills, a short walk away from a range of excellent restaurants and cafes.  
  • Mid-range ($$): Rydges Sydney Central, this accommodation, is conveniently located close to  Oxford Street and Crown Street shopping streets. It is also a short walk from  Capitol Theatre and Chinatown.  
  • Budget ($): 57Hotel, this hotel is only 5 mins walk from Sydney’s Central Station, Crown Street shopping and dining area, as well as the Oxford street nightlife area.

8. Bondi Beach

Spend a day at Bondi Beach, one of Sydney’s most famous beaches. You can swim, surf, or just relax on the sand. The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk offers stunning views of the coastline.

Bondi Beach is a famous beach located in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, approximately 7 km east of the CBD. It is one of the most popular and iconic beaches in the country and is known for its stunning natural beauty, golden sands, and great surf. 

Bondi Beach is renowned for its surf, attracting surfers from around the world. It offers consistent waves, making it an ideal spot for both beginners and experienced surfers. There are surf schools in the area that provide lessons for those looking to learn.

The beach is patrolled by lifeguards, making it a safe place for swimming. There are also shark nets in place to minimize the risk of encounters with sharks.

The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk is a popular activity for visitors. This scenic coastal path stretches for about 6 km and offers stunning views of the coastline, cliffs, and the Pacific Ocean.

You can visit the Bondi Pavilion, the historic building on the beachfront houses a theater, art gallery, and various community spaces. It serves as a cultural hub for the area.

The beach became internationally famous thanks in part to the television series “Bondi Rescue,” which follows the daily lives and rescue operations of the lifeguards on Bondi Beach.

Located at the southern end of the beach, the Bondi Baths are a popular spot for both lap swimming and ocean pools, offering a unique swimming experience.

Best places to stay in Sydney in Bondi Beach first time:


9. Manly

Manly is a popular coastal suburb known for its stunning beaches, vibrant atmosphere, and easy accessibility to the city center. 

Manly Beach is a great spot for swimming, surfing, sunbathing, and beach volleyball. The beach is often bustling with tourists and locals alike, especially during the summer months. 

Short walk from Manly Beach is Shelly Beach, a  smaller, more secluded beach, popular spot for snorkeling and diving due to its calm waters and marine life.

The Corso is a pedestrian mall that stretches from Manly Beach to Manly Wharf. It’s lined with shops, restaurants, cafes, and boutiques, making it a popular place for shopping and dining.

Manly Wharf is the main entry point to Manly for visitors arriving by ferry from Circular Quay in Sydney’s CBD. The wharf area has several restaurants and bars with waterfront views, making it a great place to enjoy a meal or drink.

The Manly Scenic Walkway is a picturesque trail that offers stunning views of the harbor and coastline. It runs from Manly to the Spit Bridge and is a great way to explore the natural beauty of the area.

North Head is a headland at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and it offers panoramic views of the city skyline, harbor, and the Pacific Ocean. It’s also home to the North Fort, a historical site with World War II-era gun emplacements and tunnels.

Manly Art Gallery and Museum showcases local art and history and is a great place to learn more about the area’s heritage.

Manly hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, including the Manly Jazz Festival and the Manly Food and Wine Festival, which showcase live music and delicious food and drinks.

Best places to stay in Sydney in Manly first time:


In conclusion, The CBD, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, The Rocks, Darlinghurst, Potts Point, Surry Hills, Bondi Beach, and Manly are the best places to stay in Sydney for first-timers. You can also consider staying in different areas for different portions of your trip to get a well-rounded experience of the city.

I also covered a topic about Sydney for car-free travelers and families, you can check it at Best areas to stay in Sydney without a car and Best places to stay in Sydney with kids. Other interesting articles about Australia:

There you have it, my recommendations for the popular areas and neighborhoods where you can stay during your trip to Sydney. I hope you found my article helpful and enjoy your holiday!

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

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