Australia has always had a special spot in my heart. It was where I went on my first international trip years ago and I had such a great time I try to make it down whenever I can. There is so much to see and do that 7 days isn’t nearly enough time to do it all so there’s no point in really trying. However that doesn’t mean you can’t visit 2 of the larger points of interest fairly quickly. That said, for your first time in Australia, use this 7 day itinerary to help you on your trip to see the major sites of this vast country.
- Day 1 – Arrive in Sydney
- Day 2 – Explore Sydney
- Day 3 – Blue Mountains
- Day 4 – Cairns
- Day 5 – Great Barrier Reef
- Day 6 – Rainforest
- Day 7 – On to the Next Adventure!
Day 1 – Arrive in Sydney
Sydney is a massive city and incredibly easy to get to. It’s serviced by countless airlines and as long as you live near the Pacific, you’re probably be able to get a nonstop flight to the city.
Once in town, make you way to the metro to get into the city. The metro is well connected to and within the city so that’s going to be your main mode of transport. I wouldn’t recommend renting a car or relying on a taxi everywhere because it could get expensive really fast. As great a city as Sydney is, it isn’t a cheap city so costs can rise pretty quickly. By getting a day pass, you’ll have access to the metro and ferries.
For the metro, you’ll want to get an Opal card. You can get single use tickets if you want so if you don’t think you’ll be using it that much, it could be a better option. However, if you use the metro more than a couple times a day, you may find it more beneficial to just get an Opal card. The card also has a daily max you pay so anything over that would be free. You can get an Opal card almost anywhere like a newsstands, 7-11s, supermarkets, etc. The benefits of the Opal card is that they also have a special cap on Sundays where it’s set a $3 (I think…it’s really low) so you can really get some incredible value out of it.
When choosing your hotel, you can pretty much stay wherever you want as long as it’s near the metro. However, you’ll want to do some research before you go. For nightlife and trendy bars and restaurants, King’s Cross is a great place (although still a little sketchy at night along the side streets). To be central to everything, the Rocks or Circular Quay (although expensive) will probably be better (even though it is in the heart of downtown so at night, things can really die down).
Go explore the area and get your bearings. Depending on your time of arrival, you may have the whole day o that’ll be a bonus if you do.
Day 2 – Sydney Harbor Bridge, Opera House, Bondi Beach, Manly Beach
First, go climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It’s a great introduction to the city, a fun climb, and it’ll really hit you that you’re on the opposite side of the world when you make it up to the very top. It’s really safe but you won’t be able to take anything with you since you could cause serious injury if you were to drop anything on the highway below. They’ll take photos for you so you’ll be fine there. The whole tour will last about 3 hours and is well worth it.
After, stroll over to the Sydney Opera House and see if there are any shows that will be performed while you’re there. It’s one thing to see the opera house from the outside but it’s quite another to see it from the inside. The opera house isn’t as large as it seems because it’s actually a collection of a few theaters under one roof so the setting is really intimate.
Then take the metro over to Bondi Beach. Depending on the time of year, it could be packed with sunbathers and surfers or completely empty. Either way, it’s a quick stop to see and maybe enjoy the sun depending on the time of year. Enjoy your time but make sure you get back to Circular Quay before late afternoon so you can catch the ferry to Manly.
If you make it back a little early and have some time to kill, go grab a drink at the Lord Nelson Brewery, Sydney’s oldest bar. You could even have a bite to eat there as well. It’s located in the Rocks area so it’s about a 15 minute walk from the ferry wharf.
Then take the ferry over to Manly beach. The purpose isn’t so much to go to Manly but to take the ferry back from Manly at night. Manly beach is a seaside tourist town with shops and a few bars but nothing much else. Manly is known basically as a surfer’s beach so if that’s your thing, you may be in the perfect spot. For me, I thought it was fine to walk around but mostly I was there killing time before I could take the ferry back to Sydney to see the city at night.
As you make it back to Sydney, you’ll want to sit on the left (port) side of the ferry. That’ll give you a great view of the city as you pull into the wharf.
Day 3 – Blue Mountains
Take a day trip to the UNESCO site of the Blue Mountains. It’s easy to get to since it’s only about a 2 hour train ride from Sydney to Katoomba (the town you’ll get off). Once there, you can explore the area by walking or go on the many hiking trails. There are tours that will take you there and back from Sydney but it isn’t necessary. I would recommend that once in Katoomba, to just get the hop on hop off bus. It’ll take you to all the points of interest and give you a chance to take a break from the walking when you need it. What’s nice is that the bus will actually stop in certain places for a bit longer to allow you to take a few photos and get back on the bus so you don’t have to wait 30 mins for the next bus to arrive. There is also a combo ticket to Scenic World so you can do the bus and Scenic World.
Scenic World is an attraction (similar to an amusement park but with far fewer rides) and it allows you to go on walks to see waterfalls, nature, etc for all skill types. It’s actually a great place for families but just as good for solo travelers as well. There’s a cable car that gives you great views of the mountains and a really steep tram ride that is reminiscent of the tram ride to Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. It’s a great way to spend the day as it’ll give you a different look of Sydney outside from all the hustle of the city.
If you’d like to stay in the city and explore some more, there are certainly options for that as well. Stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens and possibly take a tour of the Government House. You can walk around the harbor and stop at the Sydney Tower, the zoo, or take the ferry around to the surrounding islands to enjoy different views of the city. You can even walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge over to the amusement park called Luna Park.
Whatever you choose, you’ll get some amazing views of the city. Since Sydney is right on the water, it’s just a naturally beautiful city.
Day 4 – Depart for Cairns
Wake up early and take a flight up to Cairns. You’ll take the metro over but make sure you get off at the domestic terminal and not the international terminal. Then you’ll have to take about a 3 hour flight up to Cairns. There are numerous non stop daily flights so it’s easy to get to.
Once you’re in Cairns, you’ll need to take a taxi or an Uber to your hotel. There’s no good or bad place to stay really since the town is so small. Also, everything is pretty much within walking distance so getting around won’t be much of an issue.
After you get settled in, go out and explore this town. It’s amazing how much the weather changes from Sydney to Cairns so if you didn’t bring the right clothing, you may need to go get some lighter clothing. Otherwise enjoy the small town and visit the farmers market and the night market. The night market even has a food court so you can grab a bite to eat there while shopping for gifts at the night market.
Day 5 – Great Barrier Reef
Get up early a pick a tour that will take you to the Great Barrier Reef. There are multiple tour companies to choose from since Cairns is the main hub for people to visit the reef. These tours will serve breakfast and lunch as well as give informative talks about the reef and the marine life. The tours will also have multiple stops to swim the reef throughout the day. If you’re more of a diver, you can also do a day trip, even though a lot of divers want to spend a little more time to go out farther on the reef.
You’ll want to make sure you pick your boat since prices can vary wildly and check to see what is included on your boat. Some boats allow you to try scuba diving as well which is a neat experience. Again, just make sure you know what is included and what is extra. It’s easy to choose based on price but the prices can easily add up.
Day 6 – Rainforest or Bungee Jumping
Get a ride to the cable car station and take the cable car up to the top of the mountain. The cable car stops at a couple places along the way so you can get out and take photos of the rainforest. It’s actually really scenic and totally worth the price of admission.
When you get to the top, you’ll get to the town of Kuranda. There isn’t much to see or do here but there is a small zoo and a street lined with shops so you can hunt for gifts. I don’t think there’s much of rush to get to the top so I’d suggest taking your time at each of the different stops along the way.
When you’re ready to leave, take the train down instead of the cable car. The train is really one of the coolest rides you can have. It obviously takes longer to get down (about 2 hours) but it passes by multiple waterfalls and amazing views of the mountains and valleys. By taking the cable car up and the train down, you can maximize your time and get both experiences.
If you don’t want to go to the rain forest, you might consider bungee jumping at the AJ Hackett bungee jump center. The setting might be the most picturesque place to go bungee jumping since it’s in the middle of the rainforest.
This might be one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done but it’s really fun. As part of your ticket, they’ll even come to your hotel or hostel to pick you up. Once you’re there they’ll weight you and then you climb up the platform to the top. I believe the platform is built to feel rickety on purpose because I swear I thought I could feel it swaying in the wind. At the bottom is the really picturesque lake that if you ask (or if the guys strapping you in feel mischievous) they can adjust the length of the bungee so that you touch the water (or in some cases dunk your head). The whole thing is pretty cool.
If you want to do multiple dives, you can and you can even ride a bicycle off the top if you want. They won’t let you do special dives on your first try though so you’ll have to do it multiple times if you want to try any of the dives (which costs more).
Considering that the entire experience really only takes a few seconds (in terms of you actually jumping off) I thought it was pretty expensive. But, I will say it was one of the funnest things I’ve done so I’d have to say it’s totally worth it. But the price tag may scare off some people.
Day 7 – On to your next adventure!
Cairns is a relatively small airport when compared to Sydney but it is an international airport and you can get to other major and larger hubs like Singapore and Tokyo from Cairns. Depending on your destination, you may even be routed through Sydney or Melbourne so there really isn’t much point in backtracking to Sydney on your own.
Depending on your departure time, you can get some last minute shopping in or go to the zoo and get your picture taken holding a koala. The Cairns Zoo is located above the casino in the middle of town so it’s pretty easy to find. You’ll probably have seen it already as you walked through town. Unfortunately it’s one of the few places you can get your picture taken with a koala because there are strict laws on how the animals are treated.
I think you’ll find Australia to be about as warm a country as you can find. The people are fun loving, kind, and hospitable and the country is vast and beautiful. One week really isn’t enough to really see Australia but this 7 day itinerary will give you a quick glimpse into what this country has to offer. Once you go though, it won’t be long before you come back.