Planning an Australian Vacation: Should I Visit Brisbane or Sydney?

Updated on January 12, 2018
Marisa Wright profile image

Kate Swanson is a Scottish-born Australian who has traveled to and lived in many countries across the globe.

Guess where we live?
Guess where we live?

Actually, that wallaby and her baby do not live in Sydney, which may surprise some people. We don't have kangaroos hopping down our streets. In fact, Sydney actually looks like this:

Many people book a visit to Sydney unaware they're going to be staying in the middle of a huge city. The city centre does sit right on the beautiful harbor—so if you stay in the business district,you'll be well placed to take a ferry ride or cruise to view the Opera House. But you will be a long way from a beach or a kangaroo!

There's no denying Sydney Harbor is worth seeing, especially if you can arrange to be in town over the Christmas holidays. On Boxing Day, there's the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race, with hundreds of yachts and spectator craft filling the harbour, and on New Year's Eve, there's the world-famous fireworks.

Sydney's New Year fireworks are world famous
Sydney's New Year fireworks are world famous

However to get a hotel in Sydney over Christmas, you'll need to book at least a year ahead, and you'll pay for the privilege. Also, once the festivities are over, many visitors will find themselves thinking, "Now what?"

Sydney has a zoo, but apart from its picturesque location, it's the same as any zoo you might visit in the States or Europe. There's a pretty range of mountains to the west, but if you're used to American or European mountains, the Blue Mountains are small by comparison.

Of course, you can go to the beach, and Sydney's beaches are indeed beautiful. However, because they're on the doorstep of a city of four million people, they are also overcrowded, especially in summer. You can check out how busy Bondi beach gets on the North Bondi webcam. Also, the bars can get rough at night.

The fact is, you can find beaches as gorgeous as Sydney's all the way up the East Coast of Australia, and most of them are far less crowded. They're also much closer to many of the must-see places that should be on your vacation itinerary.

The famous Bondi Beach on a quiet day
The famous Bondi Beach on a quiet day
...but Australia has many other beaches which are just as beautiful, but less crowded
...but Australia has many other beaches which are just as beautiful, but less crowded

Brisbane

Let's be clear, Brisbane is also a big city and it doesn't have a beach. However, if you start your Australian vacation by landing in Brisbane, you are within an hour or so of some of the best beaches the country has to offer.

Hop on a ferry for a day trip to one of the islands in the bay. You might prefer to choose a hotel on the Gold Coast, a long continuous strip of beaches to the south of the city. It's a glitzy mix of skyscrapers, restaurants, bars and great surfing. Alternatively to the north, there's the Sunshine Coast which has a quieter vibe, with upmarket hotels for the rich and cheerful resorts for the family.

But the big advantage is that once you're tired of the beach lifestyle, you're in a perfect spot to explore the rest of the state without too much stress.

Queensland

If you asked me to name the most important sights to see in Australia, I would say (in order of priority):

  1. The Great Barrier Reef
  2. The Whitsunday Islands
  3. Ayers Rock
  4. Kakadu
  5. Daintree Rainforest

Three of those five places are in Queensland, and if you want to fly there from anywhere else in Australia, you have to fly to Brisbane first, with all the hassle and stress of airport transfers. You'll also find several tour operators offering package tours from Brisbane. You can also fly direct to Darwin (for Kakadu) and Ayers Rock. So making Brisbane your base, instead of a more distant city, makes a lot of sense.

Before my fellow Australians from other states berate me for omitting their attractions, I should say that yes, there's lots to see and do all over the continent. However, most visitors have only a limited time available and they usually want to see the very best sights during that time.

The Whitsunday Islands
The Whitsunday Islands
Finding Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef
Finding Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef
A
Brisbane:

get directions

B
Gold Coast:

get directions

Famous for beaches, theme parks, nightlife and shopping

C
Sunshine Coast:

get directions

Gorgeous beaches, boutique shops, eateries, hinterland

D
Hervey Bay:
Hervey Bay QLD 4655, Australia

get directions

Hervey Bay is about 3 hours' drive from Brisbane. Take a cruise to the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef, or Fraser Island (to see dingoes)

E
Whitsunday Islands:

get directions

Flights available direct from Brisbane. Unspoilt tropical islands, wildlife. Cruises to the Reef from Airlie Beach and from several of the islands

F
Coogee Beach:
Coogee Beach, Australia

get directions

If You Must Stay in Sydney...

If you decide Sydney is not to be missed, here are a few tips to make the most of your stay.

Accommodation

When looking for accommodation, you'll find it's much cheaper to the west of the city. There are few hotels but you will find plenty of options on AirBnB. However, be careful!

The Western Suburbs are where most Sydneysiders live and bring up their kids, but they're not suitable for a vacation—you're likely to find yourself in suburbia, with no cafes or restaurants and no nightlife. Getting to the seaside will take you at least two hours and probably more—if you want to cool off, you'll have to head for one of the local community swimming pools.

If you want to be near a beach, then you need to be in the Eastern Suburbs, but avoid Bondi because the good hotels are expensive and the cheaper ones are often run-down. You'll get better value in Randwick,which is still close to several excellent beaches (Coogee, Clovelly, Bronte).

If you''re not a beach bunny, the Inner West may be a good choice. It's where the young and trendy live, so most of those suburbs have good nightlife and great eateries. The Inner West starts around Five Dock/Concord and extends towards the city, as far as Glebe. My favourite inner west suburb is Leichhardt, which is historically the Italian quarter of Sydney and still has a strong Italian influence, reflected in the quality of the coffee and cakes. If you like Portuguese food, go for Petersham—you'll be in heaven!

Sydney New Year's Eve Fireworks

If you are coming for the fireworks, be aware that almost two million people crowd into every public space around the harbor. Many camp out to claim their spots up to two days before the big event.

I used to watch the fireworks every year, but the last time I did, I could hardly see a thing. Instead, I was trapped in a huge crowd, surrounded by a forest of hands as people held up their phones to film the show. For that reason, I don't recommend people rely on finding a spot in a public place.

There are ticketed venues like the Botanic Gardens, and several waterside hotels, pubs and restaurants where you can book a meal or attend a party with a ringside seat. You can even book a harbour cruise so you can see the show from the water.


Questions & Answers

    © 2007 Kate Swanson

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      • JohnPellow profile image

        John Pellow 

        17 months ago from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

        I love this beautiful Hub.Sydney is very beautiful and awesome place to visit.Thanks for sharing your thoughts and suggestion with us.

      • profile image

        Manzer Hussain 

        4 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

        Vary beautiful place I want to visit dream Sydney Australia

      • kjrzeek1 profile image

        kjrzeek1 

        6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

        I have always wanted to go to Australia, and this hub is great. Hopefully I will get there one day soon. Thank you.

      • aboutaustralia profile image

        aboutaustralia 

        6 years ago from Newcastle, New South Wales

        Great info for first time visitors to Sydney. You really explained the layout of the city in an easy to understand way from the point of view of access and transportation. Great work! Voted up!

      • JasonHunt profile image

        JasonHunt 

        6 years ago from South Florida

        I'm definitely going to Bondi Beach, but I'll be sure to check out Coogee too, as you suggested. Thx!

      • Marisa Wright profile imageAUTHOR

        Kate Swanson 

        7 years ago from Sydney

        @Courtney, lucky you going to Sydney Dance Company! Cheap accommodation is hard to find in Sydney, I'm afraid. Your best bet is share accommodation, but you may not be able to get one until you arrive. You could try homehound.com.au.

        You need a work permit to work in Sydney - although I have to admit, if you're willing to work for low pay in a bar or cafe, you can probably find something.

      • Marisa Wright profile imageAUTHOR

        Kate Swanson 

        7 years ago from Sydney

        Not much to do at night, Wendy? Where on earth in Sydney do you live?

      • profile image

        wendy 

        7 years ago

        I had been in sydney 5 years. I'm very love here and i found aussie very friendly manners.there is one thing is for sure , nothing much to do in the everning,ha.....

      • profile image

        Courtney Palmer 

        7 years ago

        Fantastic hub guys!! .. so much info for us people that don't know Sydney!! .. I need some good info from someone now! .. I am moving to Sydney in January to attend the Sydney Dance Company and I need [relatively] cheap accommodation, and also a job, could you's pleeeaase help me out for both ?!! Thanks! x

      • carcro profile image

        Paul Cronin 

        7 years ago from Winnipeg

        Great info, we hope to visit there one day. We know several people who have spent weeks and even months in Australia and everyone loves it there. Thanks sharing your expertise!

      • Mieka profile image

        Mieka 

        7 years ago

        I lived in Sydney for 6 months, in the CBD. I loved it there, and it is easy to reach everywhere else you want to go from there. I stayed at the Base Backpackers. It is a party place, but a great for meeting a lot of fellow travellers and have a good time.

        Great hub!

      • Marisa Wright profile imageAUTHOR

        Kate Swanson 

        7 years ago from Sydney

        Craig, it depends on your age and interests, but if you only have a week I'd recommend staying at Bondi or Coogee, enjoy the surf, some lazy brunches at the beachside cafes and eat fish and chips on the beach. There's a great clifftop walk from Bondi to Coogee.

        Take a day trip into town for a harbour ferry trip to Manly (cheaper than a harbour cruise and you'll enjoy Manly Beach).

        Personally I don't think there's a lot to see in Melbourne, but you must take at least one weekend to tour the country north of Melbourne - including Daylesford to experience the famous Springs, Ballarat to see the recreated Gold Rush town, and the beautiful Grampian mountains. A tour to Phillip Island to see the fairy penguins is another must.

        For accommodation, go to the wotif.com website.

      • profile image

        craig 

        7 years ago

        Planning a trip to Sydney on route to Melbourne, I intend to stay for a week before spending four weeks in Melbourne. Any info on where to stay in Sydney and what to do in both locations for a solo traveller would be great. Cheers

      • Ingenira profile image

        Ingenira 

        7 years ago

        I love taking the ferries at Sydney harbour to a few places nearby with scenic view. Simply awesome !

      • profile image

        Nancy 

        7 years ago

        Thanks for this great hub. It's always great to hear from others who experienced the trip firsthanded. Thanks for the tips. :-)

      • holidayfan profile image

        holidayfan 

        7 years ago from Sheffield

        Thanks for the advice, I'm going to Sydney and planning to stay in Coogee

      • profile image

        Lisa 

        7 years ago

        Sydney’s beach works and other attractions have great admiration among people all over the world. Interesting and very informative!!! All love to get through Sydney...

      • Jaynie2000 profile image

        Jaynie2000 

        7 years ago

        Fantastic! I am desperate to get to Oz and I love reading hubs about it. Great photos, interesting information. Thank you for sharing it.

      • businesstrader profile image

        Natalie Watson 

        7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        Great hub. I actually live about 20 mins from Sydney and this makes me want to visit bondi beach right now!!!

      • felix127 profile image

        felix127 

        8 years ago

        I like Sydney and Bondi!

      • SidneyMorgan profile image

        SidneyMorgan 

        8 years ago from Australia

        In 2010, Sydney was ranked 10th worldwide by consulting firm Mercer on quality of living.

      • alishaneuron profile image

        alishaneuron 

        8 years ago from Colorado (U.S)

        Fascinating! So interesting.

      • profile image

        TopUniverse 

        8 years ago

        Excellent. I want to visit lovely sydney in australia.

      • profile image

        Artoflegendindia 

        8 years ago

        Nice hub. your hub is informative.I like your hub.I really appreciate with your hub.

      • profile image

        sarahsherlock 

        8 years ago

        I love Sydney - your hub makes me want to go back!

      • kingkhan78 profile image

        kingkhan78 

        8 years ago

        interesting hub thanks for sharing

      • RoseGardenAdvice profile image

        RoseGardenAdvice 

        8 years ago from San Francisco

        A very descriptive hub - while reading yr hub, I felt like I was watching a video of Sydney... it is a beautiful place and you are right about all those beachs - surfers paradise! Thanks .. really well written.

      • MyMastiffPuppies profile image

        MyMastiffPuppies 

        8 years ago

        I have always wanted to go to Australia and now I know where to stay . Thanks

      • MayG profile image

        May Galnou 

        8 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

        I have lived in Sydney, and you are spot on. Great pics too. Balmain is worth visiting. Darling St. Balmain is full of old buildings and great shops - it's inner west on Sydney harbour but it does not have a beach. Short ferry trip. Great place to watch NYE fireworks though, without as big a crowd as some of the other places. Manly beach is my favourite of the beaches that are easy to get to, but Palm Beach is where I'd like to have a holiday house!!

      • MartyWare profile image

        MartyWare 

        8 years ago from New South Wales Australia

        Top Hub, I grew up in Sydney and as a child I was very adventurous. Sydney is really fun, especially if you know where to go!

        One of my students has a website all about Sydney and day trips that you can do. As far as I know it has about 70 pages now!

        I think many would find it usefull.

        http://www.ideal-sydney-getaways.com

        Enjoy!

        Marty Ware

        The SEO DAD

      • jessica_alias profile image

        jessica_alias 

        8 years ago

        Thanks for posting this wonderful piece..

        Maybe it will help me if I visit Sydney someday.. Well done.

      • tuarangi profile image

        tuarangi 

        8 years ago

        This is great info since I am planning to go the coming year! My nephew has traveled all over the world and when I asked him to name one favorite place he mentioned Sydney although it was almost impossible to choose he said.

      • MPG Narratives profile image

        Marie Giunta 

        8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        Beautiful photos and great information about a great city. Living in this city can be frustrating at times with traffic, etc but its beauty far outweighs its problems. Thanks for a lovely hub about Sydney, one of the great cities in this world.

      • profile image

        Sydney Getaways Guy 

        8 years ago

        Cool Hub Marisa, I'm with you... backpackers and YHA's are the way to go. The northern beaches have some great places to kick back so does cronulla but what about a walk-in overnight stay on the beach in the Royal National Park? (Burning Palms) or maybe some day trips to some Sydney Secret beaches

      • beccas90 profile image

        beccas90 

        8 years ago from New York

        Just have to get to Australia and especially Sydney - the whole country looks beautiful and varied. The surfside swimming pools look like fun.

      • defed profile image

        defed 

        8 years ago

        I liked your hub, it was really informative.

      • profile image

        stephane86 

        8 years ago

        I have never been to Australia but dream of going there one day. I liked your hub, it was really informative.

      • profile image

        Sydney Getaways Guy 

        8 years ago

        I really enjoyed the content that you provided here and also the fireworks section. There are great harbour walking trails to views these type off attractions if you want any info get in touch with me?

      • stricktlydating profile image

        StricktlyDating 

        8 years ago from Australia

        For special occasions I splurge and get an apartment at Star City Casino, that way the city is at your finger tips, you can easily walk around the CBD/Darling Harbour and explore the city without having to worry about transport. I also enjoy having my own balcony with a beautiful view of the Harbour Bridge etc.

      • ahmadraza212 profile image

        ahmadraza212 

        8 years ago from Pakistan

        very nice dear keep it up

      • Winsome profile image

        Winsome 

        8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

        Thank you Marisa, I will be sure to stop in when I visit.

      • Marisa Wright profile imageAUTHOR

        Kate Swanson 

        8 years ago from Sydney

        Gosh, Winsome, that's a tough question! I usually head for the cheap and cheerful ones. I've been to Castel Mola several times - nothing fancy, just good basic Italian food, especially the pizzas.

      • Winsome profile image

        Winsome 

        8 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

        Very nicely organized Marisa. Which of the Italian restaurants in Leichhardt do you recommend?

      • OnlinePharmTech profile image

        OnlinePharmTech 

        8 years ago from Hawaii

        I love Sydney!!! I love the smell, food, and the energy of City.

      • kraji profile image

        kraji 

        8 years ago from Slovenia

        Nice hub! I was in Sydney 2 years ago and there you can find a lot of interesting places. I was there only 2 days and I liked walking trails on the east side of sydney where you can find also some nice beaches.

      • Marty1 profile image

        Marty1 

        8 years ago from New South Wales Australia

        Hot places to stay in Sydney never ceases to amaze me but less than one hour down the road is the most majestic piece of New South Wales I've ever known.

        After taking a leisurely drive throught the Royal National Park and hitting the coastal scenery at Otford its the next two towns of Stanwell Park and Coalcliff that are the most out of the way and relaxing places to stay out of Sydney.

        To learn more about the northern Illawarra check out this page; http://www.ideal-sydney-getaways.com/illawarra.htm...

      • RickSure profile image

        RickSure 

        8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

        I used to live in Coogee and I have to agree that it is a better option than Bondi.

      • travelespresso profile image

        travelespresso 

        9 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

        Hello Marisa

        I enjoyed reading your article and your excellent information for visitors to this great city. I have just published an article on Best Sydney Beaches https://hubpages.com/travel/best-sydney-beaches and I hope you don't mind but I linked the two as I figured they were complementary.

      • ManchesterGirl profile image

        ManchesterGirl 

        9 years ago

        I have recently come back from Sydney and absolutely loved it, I am planning on going back next year. Bondi Beach was beautiful and I also advise people to visit the Gold Coast, about an hours flight away from Sydney. It is beautiful and the miles and miles of sandy beach is definitely a must see! I stayed in Surfers Paradise and although it is quite a tourist trap, which has a busy nightlife, the beach and lovely restaurants and bars make up for the hustle and bustle.

      • salt profile image

        salt 

        9 years ago from australia

        excellent hub...

      • Marisa Wright profile imageAUTHOR

        Kate Swanson 

        9 years ago from Sydney

        Nico, if you haven't booked yet, you may find you don't have much choice - most of the best places are booked out already. The main action on NYE is in the centre of the City and Kings Cross.

      • profile image

        Nicolicous 

        9 years ago

        This is to all the Aussie's out there...

        I'm going to be in Sydney for NYE, what's the best place to stay? Is the Star City Hotel and Casino fun? I'm a single girl looking to find something comparable to the Hard Rock hotel in the US, lots of young people, fun, hip, but more upscale than a hostel.

        Any suggestions?

      • Resolver2009 profile image

        Resolver2009 

        9 years ago from Bournemouth, UK / Oslo, Norway

        This hub is amazing. It really makes me feel as if I am back in Sydney. I miss it so much...

      • Target Visibility profile image

        Target Visibility 

        9 years ago

        hey this is a great hub! If you want to find out more about Australian cities, visit okbravo.com. It's a really good travel site that will help you plan your holiday in OZ. Thanks for the info Marisa!

      • earnestshub profile image

        earnestshub 

        9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

        From another Australian. This is spot on information about Sydney the beautiful perl of the east.

      • JPSO138 profile image

        JPSO138 

        9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

        I have not been to Australia. I will certainly remember your hub should I be able to visit the place.

      • cfangerow profile image

        cfangerow 

        9 years ago from United Kingdom

        What great info! One of these days I will make it to Sydney - just as soon as I find the right house sitting job there!

      • ajcor profile image

        ajcor 

        9 years ago from NSW. Australia

        Lucky us we have family in Bondi, Kirribilli and Paddingtion so my trips to Sydney are delightful....thanks for this hub Marissa - btw if and when the family are away or we want to stay in a hotel for whatever reason we always use wotif.com and they have never let us down in the 8 years we have checked in through them ...cheers

      • earnestshub profile image

        earnestshub 

        9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

        I had a friend downtown for many years and was spoilt rotten every time I stayed in his 34th floor apartment on the hill in the centre of Sydney. I miss being able to get in the lift and be right in the thick of it in a minute, or strolling in the park in 2 minutes.

        Lizzie, I stayed in an apartment in Glebe when working in Sydney for a few months. I loved the location and the bridge, plain as it is.

      • Marlene F. profile image

        Marlene F. 

        9 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

        I have always wanted to visit Australia. Unfortunately, the flight alone is a few thousand dollars. If I ever win the lottery I am going to use this Hub to find myself a place to stay. Thank you for being so kind!!!

      • Lissie profile image

        Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

        10 years ago from New Zealand

        Last time we were in Sydney we stayed in Glebe - its very convenient to the ight rail which takes you right into Darling Harbour - good food too. Id stay there again - we got free parking for a vehicle too which you dont get in the CBD

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