Went to Sydney, Australia for the holidays with my family – with the objective being to see all the sights Sydney has to offer (and that my family was interested in) across the week on a family-friendly budget (travels can get quite expensive when you realize you have to multiply all your per person expenses by x number of family members)

Family picture in front of the iconic Sydney Opera House
And I am happy to declare we succeeded – below I’ve attached the general essential travel expenses incurred by my family for the entire 7-day holiday:

Sydney expenses
General travel expenses incurred over the week

Before I jump into our travel itinerary, let me quickly share a few tips and tricks / answer a few FAQs that ran through our minds and perhaps is running through yours as we started preparing for this trip a few months ago:

Would you recommend taking Cebu Pacific given Australia being a long-haul flight? We were initially wary of taking Cebu Pacific since it was an 8-hour flight. While my family takes Cebu Pacific a lot, it’s usually for flights 3 hours and less only as we all know how uncomfortable these flights can be (+ they have a bad reputation of always having delayed flights). In the end however, given that the Cebu Pacific flight was 50% cheaper than PAL, we bit the bullet and hoped for the best.

All in all, flight was fine. Plane departed on time (or within 30 mins of declared departure time). Seats were a bit cramped, but we could live with that (except for the Sydney flight back to Manila, damn the Australian behind me had such long legs – he kept kicking me!!). Plane was cold, good thing we brought jackets with us. No meals were served, but we ended up sleeping through the whole flight anyway or writing this blog, in my case (although you might need to buy a few bottles of water though as you can get pretty thirsty on the flight). Anyway, for the price we paid compared to the price we could’ve paid, we felt that we got a pretty good deal and would definitely try Cebu Pacific again– even if for long-haul flights (we realized Cebu Pacific standards are much better for long-haul flights as they need accreditation)

Where should I stay while in Sydney? Cheaper hotels are found in the Sydney outskirts, while staying at areas near The Rock and Darling Harbor will cost you more. What worked for us was we got a hotel that’s situated along George Street (near Chinatown), and in between two major subway stations (Central, Town Hall). We could then get on the subway (or bus / ferry at Circular Quay) for out of town travels, and walk to those within the city (~20-30 minutes walk to Darling Harbor and The Rocks respectively)
How can I get around Sydney cheaply? Get the Opal card as soon as you land, and be strategic about how you use it. Some of the nifty discounts the Opal card offers are as follows:

■      Daily: $15 cap (Minimum fares: Bus at ~AUD 2.1, Train at ~AUD 2.36, Ferry at ~AUD 5+)

■      Weekly: $60 cap or after completing 8 paid trips, all remaining trips for the week are free (One week is recognized to be from Monday to Sunday)

■      On Sundays: $2.50 cap

Should I buy entrance fee tickets / tour tickets online? While there is a risk that you run across long queues if you buy in Sydney (we didn’t encounter any queues while here however), recommendation would be to NOT buy online. Two reasons why:

■      Flexibility it affords you: Travel plans can change quickly depending on the weather (e.g. rain/fog does not make an ideal Blue Mountain trip) and personal preferences as you discover more about Sydney

■      Discounts abound in Sydney: Sydney Travel Guides found at the airport, hotels, and Sydney information centers provide not just detailed travel guides and maps but also BIG discounts on entrance fees, tour ticket prices, and local shopping brands

However, if some particulars are non-negotiable and could possibly ruin your trip if you are unable to do it, do book ahead (e.g. New Year’s Eve fireworks, Christmas lunch/dinner reservations). It’s better to be safe than sorry, holidays are meant for your enjoyment so don’t ruin your vacation at the expense of a few bucks!

How much AUD should I bring with me? Sydney establishments typically accept credit cards. In our case, we researched and found out that the credit card exchange rate (for both BDO and BPI) was better than the currency exchange rate at the time. So we decided to use credit cards as much as possible. In the end, we spent around ~AUD 700 in cash (which amounts to roughly AUD 150 per person), as we only needed to use cash for restaurants that did not accept card + tips (walking tour, restaurant, hotel)
How can I maximize my Sydney trip, without going over budget but with the flexibility to change my plans if needed? ■      Make sure to pack the right clothes – check the weather to see whether it’s hot or cold. Bring a sturdy pair of comfortable walking shoes, as well as an umbrella in case it rains

■      Always put on sunblock and bring your hat with you. It might feel cold, but you’ll be surprised the next day when you wake up with a sunburn, the sun here is unforgiving!

■      Get an Optus mobile sim card, which will allow you to have mobile data on-the-go. This helps you quickly check for transport timetables and plan accordingly (Transport NSW will quickly become your best friend during the trip) + check Google Maps when you’re lost

■      Grab Sydney City Guides at the airport, hotel, and information centers + drop by the Sydney Information Center (The Rocks, Darling Harbor) Really helpful in cross-checking whether your initial plans are feasible based on actual data on-the-ground (nothing beats actual data, as online research gives you varied responses and may no longer hold true by the time you get there)

■      Check the weather every night the day before. For example, we thought Sydney summer would be pretty hot but it wasn’t! We were left shivering, good thing the jackets we brought for our Cebu Pacific flight came in handy. Likewise, we moved our itinerary around when we realized it would rain on the days we were planning to go to the beach, or when it was foggy the day we wanted to go to Blue Mountain

■      Check out the nearest supermarket (although I’d recommend Coles at World Square with its extensive selection and affordable prices). You can buy breakfast food there, and also get to try out local fruits and delicacies (e.g. cherries were in season when we went, and true enough, they were really sweet!)

■      Check out I’m Free Tours: Walking Tours of Sydney (a free walking tour company). We tried out both their City Walking Tour (10:30am / 2:00pm meet up at the Town Hall) and The Rocks Walking Tour (6:00pm meet up at Cadman’s Cottage). Not only will the walking tour provide you a greater appreciation of what Sydney has to offer (as they share delightful commentaries on the areas we were passing by), but the guide can also give you good tips and recommendations on where to eat and drink. Lastly, they’ve got an AWESOME map – best one I’ve seen so far of the city, with roads detailed out and travel options to out-of-town locales laid out (with fares listed!)

■      Make sure to be at the bus/ferry/train stop at least 10 mins beforehand (despite what their timetable says), as public transport in Sydney can be a bit early or a bit late, give or take a few minutes

Now, on to the journey itself – keep in mind that my family’s pretty unfit, walks slow, and loves to take pictures! Therefore, the timing you see in the below 7-day itinerary is very generous and can definitely be done much quicker (perhaps in even half the time listed, except for actual bus, ferry, and train travel times):

Sydney itinerary
7-day Sydney itinerary

Download the excel version of the itinerary here: Christmas in Sydney_7-day itinerary

For more details, feel free to click the links below to read more on specific parts of our 7-day Sydney journey:

Day 1: Airport + Hotel and supermarket + The Rocks Tour

Day 2: Taronga Zoo + Manly Beach + Golden Century dinner

Day 3: City Tour + Fish Market + Paddy’s Market + Darling Harbor

Day 4: Blue Mountain + Leura Village

Day 5: Opera House + Rocks Market + Australian Heritage Hotel

Day 6: Bronte to Bondi Coastal Walk + Watson’s Bay + Harbor Bridge + Luna Park

What to see and do when in Sydney (off-the-beaten path suggestions)

Eating my way through Sydney – top picks!

If you’re headed to Melbourne, do check out my blog on what to see, eat, and do while in that fair city also!