Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport (IATA: SYD) is the main airport of Australia's largest city, Sydney. It is the base for Qantas and has one of the world's busiest air routes from Sydney to Melbourne.
Sydney Airport is Australia's busiest airport and the main gateway to Australia. It is located 9 km from the CBD on the northern shores of Botany Bay. Being close to the city centre and also one of the oldest commercial airports in the world means this airport is rather space constrained and hemmed in by residential areas. As such, there is an overnight curfew.
Sydney Airport has three terminals divided into two precincts:
International terminal (T1) handles all international flights and some domestic flights. Check your itinerary and flight number because check-in, connections and customs will take longer when arriving or departing from the International Terminal, even on a domestic flight. You do not need a passport (only an identification document) when travelling domestically, just hang on to your boarding pass - but be aware that the international boarding and check-in times apply to domestic flights leaving from international.
Domestic terminal 2 (T2) is the largest domestic terminal. Airlines using this terminal include Virgin, Jetstar, Tiger and Regional Express (Rex).
Domestic terminal 3 (T3) handles Qantas and Qantaslink domestic flights and is a short walk over from Terminal 2.
The terminals are notoriously busy at peak periods, whether approaching it by land or by air. If you're going to the airport by car or taxi in the morning (7-9AM), allow some time for traffic jams especially if leaving the CBD. If you arrive in the international terminal when a few big A380 planeloads of people do (around 10 in the morning), then immigration, customs and then the taxi queue can take at least an hour or more.
Over 35 airlines fly in and out of Sydney Airport with daily flights linking Sydney to key destinations on every continent. The Asian-Pacific transport hubs of Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul have several daily flights, as does London (with a stopover in Asia). There are also non-stop flights to the Middle Eastern centres of Dubai and Abu Dhabi which make for popular connection destinations to Europe and northern Africa. North America is connected via Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth and Vancouver. Travellers from South America can fly direct from Santiago, while those from southern Africa can catch a flight from Johannesburg. There are multiple daily flights to the New Zealand cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown as well as frequent flights to the South Pacific Islands.
You can fly to Sydney directly from all other Australian capital cities and from many major regional airports. Otherwise, you need to fly to the state capital and transfer to a Sydney flight. Sydney can be reached within an hour and a half from Melbourne and Brisbane, 45 minutes from Canberra and just under four hours from Perth and Darwin. The popular tourist cities of Alice Springs and Cairns are reachable within 3 hours.
Sydney Airport is 9 km from the city centre and reaching the city centre or other suburbs is easy, whether it be by suburban rail, bus or car.
Sydney Trains have two stations at Sydney Airport. Domestic station services T2 and T3, and International station serves T1. Each station is connected to its airline terminals via lifts and pedestrian subways. A single ticket to the city is $17 from Domestic or $17.20 from International, which includes an airport station access fee (GatePass) of $13. If you have an Opal Card (available from the airport newsagents, ticket windows at the Domestic and International Airport train stations or any 7Eleven), the fare will be slightly lower but you'll still be charged the $13 airport access fee on top. When using Opal, the station access fee is capped at $23 per Mon-Sun week. The airport is on the Airport & East Hills line and trains run at least every 10 minutes between 6am and 10pm. Passengers for the city centre should take a train from Platform 1. From the City, trains leave from Central platform 23, Town Hall Platform 6. Check the indicator boards, because not all trains on these platforms go to the airport.
The trains form part of the commuter train network, and during peak hours you may not get a seat at the airport stations, but you should still be able to board the first train to arrive. If boarding in the city heading towards the airport with baggage, try to avoid Town Hall Station. You may not be able to get on a train with baggage at this station during peak time.
By bus and train
To skip the GatePass fee, taking the Route 400 local bus in conjunction with a train is an option. This bus travels from Burwood to Bondi Junction. If going to the CBD, hail the bus at one of the stops located outside T1 and T3 (but not T2), heading towards Bondi Junction. Get off at the next stop after the domestic terminal, then take a 300m walk straight along the road in the direction the bus went, towards Mascot station, crossing to the other side of the road. If heading to the airport, exit Mascot station, turn left (heading south) along Bourke Rd, cross Coward St (next street) and turn left. There is a bus stop half a block down. You will need the 400 bus heading towards Burwood. The bus costs $2.10 and the train $2.36 off-peak, $3.38 peak (using Opal Card). On an Opal Card you'll be charged the fare for both trips to the card reduced by $2.00 while changing the means of transport within one hour (whole trip cost $2.46 off-peak, $3.48 peak). There is limited luggage space on the bus, but if you can manage backpacks or suitcases by yourself, it should not be a problem. Only consider this option if you have ample time to spare, as buses can be infrequent, late or cancelled. Buses are usually at 20 minute frequency and real-time location information is available via the Tripview, Arrivo, TransitTimes+ and TripGo smartphone apps - you can make a decision whether to get the bus after you check the real time information.
By bus and bus
The very cheapest way you can get from Sydney airport to the city without walking is using an Opal card and two buses. Catch the 400 bus (towards Bondi Junction) to Mascot shops (not mascot station), and from there catch the M20 to the City. Transfers from bus to bus are free if using Opal, so the total amount charged to your card will be only $3.50. It also contributes a trip towards your weekly reward, and value towards the $15 day-cap. On a Sunday Opal journeys are capped at $2.50, so that's the most you will pay.
By shuttle bus
Shuttle buses will drive passengers to the city and deliver them to the door of their hotel. There is no regular scheduled service that you can depend on to leave frequently and on time, and if you are the last drop-off you can count on spending over an hour in the bus. You can buy a ticket for a shuttle bus to your hotel from the information desks for around $15. It can be cheaper to book online in advance, but you're then committed to wait until that particular brand of shuttle turns up. Buying a return ticket is always risky.
The airport is located roughly 13km (8 miles) south of the Sydney CBD via the M1 Eastern Distributor Motorway. This road is often heavily congested during peak periods. The M5 South Western Motorway links the airport to the South Western Suburbs of Sydney and onwards to Canberra and Melbourne, it is tolled west of the Kingsgrove Road exit.
There are a variety of vehicle rental companies at all terminals (see Sydney Airport website for current list). After you rent a vehicle, you will be directed to pick it up at a parking space in the adjacent parking garage. You can return the vehicle to any terminal.
Have someone pick you up. At T1 (International), a private car cannot stop legally at the arrivals area to pick up someone from the curb. If you exit the car park within 15 minutes, it is free, otherwise it is $7 per half hour. At T3 (domestic terminals), cars can stop at the pickup area only if there is someone already at the kerb. At T2, there is a pick up area inside the paid car park. Follow the yellow stenciled signs outside the terminal. Car park charges apply if you stay longer than 10 minutes. Fines apply for waiting at the arrivals areas or for picking up at the departures areas. Leaving your car is out of the question. The parking officers can photograph your car and licence plate and fine you without warning you to move along. If a wait of longer than 10 minutes is expected (perhaps due to a delay), a way to avoid the car park fee is to wait at the nearby McDonalds restaurant which has a free carpark near the domestic terminal. Once the passenger is waiting at the pickup area, it takes less than 2 minutes to drive from the McDonalds to the pickup.
Taxis to the city centre should cost approximately $40 (including tolls), and more to other Sydney destinations (The Rocks $40-45, North Sydney $45, Manly $50, Parramatta $80-100 etc.) You can expect to pay a $3.80 airport taxi levy and a $5.50 Eastern Distributor toll on top of the metered fare. If you are arriving on a Friday evening, you may face a long queue for taxis. Asking the driver to take O'Riordan Street is a little slower but shorter and cheaper than the Eastern Distributor tollway which frequently experiences traffic congestion during peak times.
For about three travellers, the cost of the taxi is about the same as the equivalent train tickets. Also note that during rush hour a train into the CBD will probably be quicker than taking a taxi, although you may not get a seat on the suburban train.
Walk and train from T1. T1 (the international terminal) is less than 2km from Wolli Creek Station, from where a train to the city costs $2.36 off-peak, $3.38 peak. The walk isn't signposted and may be very quiet after dark. It is all surfaced, has no steps, and takes in some nice scenery by the Cooks River. Exit straight from the international terminal (T1), follow the pedestrian path under the multistory car park following the cycleway sign, and continue just to the left of the customs building to the pedestrian crossing. Go under the road, as indicated by a green Marsh Street sign until, you run into a green fence with the canal directly in front of you. Follow the path 'up to your right' around and back over the path you just walked on up to the Marsh Street bridge. 'Do not turn left' and ignore the no pedestrian access sign, as this path ends abruptly on a busy road after around 200m and is dangerous. Cross the Cooks River on the footpath on the right of Marsh St and then proceed along the cycleway next to the Cooks River (signposted to Tempe), keeping the river on your right. When you reach the Princes Hwy (6 lane road), cross at the pedestrian crossing lights, and continue straight on, past the apartment blocks, to the roundabout with the funny artwork, then turn right up to Wolli Creek Station. The walk will take about 20 minutes and will save you $12.30 (gatepass fee) on the train fare. Trains from Wolli Creek are even more frequent than from the airport since East Suburbs & Illawarra line trains also stop there.
Walk and train from T2 & T3. The Domestic terminals (T2 and T3) are about 1.7km from Mascot train station. The walk along suburban pavements takes about 20 minutes. Follow the road out of the domestic terminal and on to O'Riordan Street. Follow O'Riordan Street and then veer left onto Bourke Street. Cross Coward Street and then John Street, Mascot train station is on your right. An single adult fare to the city (Central) from Mascot is $2.36 off-peak, $3.38 peak, with no airport station surcharge. This walk is mainly through industrial precincts, and you'll probably pass a few flight crew shunning the staff bus to walk to and from local hotels.
The western airport cycleway runs in front of the carpark to T1. Non secured, but undercover bicycle parking is located either side of the terminal on the arrivals (ground) level. Inside the terminal, luggage storage will hold your bike for $25 per 24 hour period. Follow the cycleway west and over the canal to Wolli Creek and eventually to Sydney Olympic Park. Follow the cycleway east to Mascot and the City. There are showers in T1 as described below.
T2 and T3 are more problematic for bicycle access, because of the busy multi-lane road that loops the terminals with buses, taxis and cars dodging and vying for road space. Bourke Road gets you within 400m of the terminals, and there is footpath from there to the bike parking to walk or ride if you are with a child under 12 years. Bicycle parking is in the main carpark, next to the pickup area, on the opposite side of the carpark to T2. There is no luggage check option, and no showers in the terminals.
Transfer between domestic terminals T2 and T3 must be done on foot. Follow the signs either via the railway station underground, or across the car park.
Transfer between T1 and T2/T3 is 4 km by road, as the terminals are on opposite sides of the airport tarmac. You will have to use one of the following methods to transfer:
- An air-side shuttle is available free of charge if you are connecting through with Qantas or a Oneworld partner airline. Passengers transferring Virgin Australia and a codeshare flight or other international Virgin Flight (Pacific Blue, Polynesian Blue, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Hawaiian Airlines) are entitled for a free pass on the T-bus (see below).
- If you aren't entitled to a free shuttle, your best bet is to catch a suburban train ($5.00). It is a 2 minute journey between Domestic and International stations with around 10 minute frequency. Follow the train signs from the terminal and board any train on platform 1 for International to Domestic transfers and any train on platform 2 for domestic to international. Travel one stop only, as the train continues to the city or into suburban Sydney.
- T-bus ($5.50) outside the terminal building. The T-bus is a dedicated terminal shuttle and uses the normal roads. It is scheduled to take around 10 minutes but can be stuck in Sydney traffic at peak times. Runs at a 10-20 minute frequency and you pay the driver on boarding. This method is slower and slightly more expensive than the train, but it stops close to the terminal and has plenty of room for baggage.
- Sydney Buses ($3.60) leaves from the yellow bus stop outside the arrivals, or outside T3 at domestic. It is possible to use the ordinary city bus service to transfer between terminals with the same speed as the T-bus, albeit with less frequent departures and less luggage space. T1 to T2/T3 take the 400 towards Bondi Junction. T2/T3 to T1 take the 400 towards Burwood. There is only one stop for buses going both directions, and catching the bus going the wrong way will again send you off into suburban Sydney.
- Taxi ($10). The trip will take around 10 minutes, though the wait for taxis can be long at peak times. Drivers may also give you attitude as they have to line up for a long time and generally want bigger fares.
- Walk. If you have little luggage and some time to kill, the walk will take around an hour. There is a footpath most of the way, and has good views of planes taking off metres above your head, and of the Alexandra Canal. However, towards the domestic terminal some of the walk is across grass, and there is one moderately busy road to cross without lights. From T1 walk across the car park, across the crossing, under the underpass, and follow the Airport Drive footpath/cycleway to the right, keeping the canal on your left, and airport on your right. Where the canal deviates to the left from the road, follow the dirt path straight ahead following the road. From T2/T3 follow the road out of the airport, and turn left on to the far side of Qantas drive, and keep the airport and the road on your left, and the canal on your right.
No planes arrive or depart between 11PM and 5:30AM due to an airport curfew.
The domestic terminals (T2 and T3) close after the last flight has cleared (around 11PM) are scheduled to reopen at 4AM, but often it can be a little later before the doors actually open. The terminal is cleared and locked after the last flight arrival, and you can't pass through security after the last flight departure.
The international terminal T1 also closes around 11PM and reopens at 4AM - but there is a small transit area with basic facilities that you can remain in if you are already in the terminal (landside). This is located on level 1 near the entrance to the train station. There are limited seats and it fills up quickly when security starts herding people out of the terminal. The last train service departs at 11:45PM.
- Qantas has lounges in T1 and T3. In Terminal 1 (International) there is a Qantas First Lounge in addition to The Qantas Club. Note that the T3 lounge gets incredibly busy with business travellers at the beginning and end of the working day, with people in suits swarming over sausage rolls and pastizzi like seagulls around chips. The Qantas lounge in T2 closed when Qantaslink flights moved to T3, but eligible people can still use the T3 lounge when flying Jetstar from T2. You can check-in in the T3 lounge for domestic Qantas flights, but you have to check in in T2 at the Jetstar counters for Jetstar flights (if you haven't checked in online before arrival). Access to the Qantas lounges is only for Qantas Club members, those members with appropriate status, or those travelling business or first class. Reciprocal benefits apply, but there is no paid admission or equivalent scheme.
- Virgin Australia has a domestic lounge located in Terminal 2.
- Rex Airlines has a lounge located in Terminal 2.
- Air New Zealand has a newly renovated lounge located in Terminal 1 near gates 50 - 63. Paid access is available for $55 for up to 4 hours.
- Singapore Airlines has a SilverKris Lounge located in Terminal 1 near gates 50 - 63.
- Emirates Airlines has a lounge located in Terminal 1 near gates 50 - 63. Passengers flying on Qantas International business or first class may use this lounge.
- Etihad Airways has a lounge located in Terminal 1 on the way to gates 50 - 63.
- American Express has a lounge located in Terminal 1 near gate 24 and is accessible to those with select AMEX cards.
- Skyteam has a Plaza Premium managed lounge located in Terminal 1 near gate 24. Paid access is priced at $77 for two hours and $132 for five hours.
Eat and Drink
T1 (International terminal) has food and shopping both before and after immigration and security. There are cafes on both departure and arrival levels. Good coffee and food can be had for a reasonable price, but it is easy to buy poor overpriced coffee and food too. Departures has cheaper prices than downstairs at arrivals. There is a better and cheaper choice of food before going through security, at the large central food hall in departures. On the air side after security, there are several bars, cafes and restaurants along with a McDonald's fast food outlet.
T2 has a large food and shopping area, with a large selection of food outlets located to the right after you go through security.
T3 (Qantas domestic) has an expensive food hall with a variety of food and coffee. Chinese is available for around $15 or Hungry Jacks for normal prices. Sumo Salad, sushi and a few cafes are also available. The food hall is airside of security, but you do not need to be a passenger to pass through. Most food and drink places and the security checkpoint close 30 minutes or so before the last departure. Don't expect to be able to get anything at all if you are arriving on a late flight.
When arriving, there are some liquor and perfume stores before customs. For departure, once you check in and get past customs, you are funneled through a large maze like duty-free shop selling alcohol, cigarettes, perfume and electronics, but there's a small shortcut at the side to bypass the shopping. The alcohol in Sydney Airport is generally considered a rip-off, even for local Australian beers and wines. Also avoid currency exchange offices (see the Currency exchange section). Cigarettes are sold in a walled off section in departures.
There are also gift shops, bookshops and some clothing stores. There are nice views over the tarmac from the eating area. There are ATMs before and after security. Everyone is able to go through security, regardless of whether they are travelling or not.
There are a smaller range of shops in T3 than the other terminals, but you'll still find the usual newsagents, cafes, pharmacy and gift stores to browse. As with T2, everyone is able to go through security, whether travelling or not.
Terminal 1: There is free (ad-supported) wifi internet throughout the terminal (T1 Free wifi by SYD), as well as several free and pay internet terminals. A post office is in the check-in area, but it is only open during business hours. Post boxes are available after customs.
Terminal 3: There is free Wi-Fi provided by Qantas for technically 30 minutes ("Qantas Free Wifi"), although it doesn't actually seem to run out.
In T1 arrivals there are Optus and Vodafone shops by each of the two arrivals exists as soon as soon as you pass quarantine and exit into the terminal landside, each of these shops will sell you their full range of SIM cards for your phone, as well as personal Wi-Fi devices, phones etc. There is a small Lebara booth near the outside exit in the centre of the terminal. Selling SIM cards. Telstra SIMs (and some others) are available from WH Smith. At busy times there is a little Telstra booth manned inside the WH Smith to sell these SIMs.
Trolleys cost money landside of security. Pick one up airside where they are free, or out in the carpark where they have been left by previous users. Two free showers for both males and females are available by check-in bay A on the departures level in T1.
- Rydges Sydney Airport, 8 Arrivals Court, Sydney International Airport (Directly located in front of Terminal 1.), ☎ . The hotel is a 2 minute walk from the International Terminal T1 and includes a restaurant, bar and cafe in addition to a 24 hour gym. There is also a free shuttle bus to the T2/T3 Domestic Terminals for hotel guests.
Near the airport
- Hotel Ibis Budget Sydney Airport, 5 Ross Smith Ave, Mascot, ☎ . Check-in: 12PM. Closest hotel to the domestic terminals T2 and T3, this is a basic budget hotel with convenient access to 24 hr Krispy Kreme and McDonald's next door.
- Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport Hotel, Cnr O'Riordan & Robey Streets, Mascot, ☎ . A short walk north from the domestic terminals T2 & T3. This is a well-appointed 4* hotel. Tip: Ask for an upper-level airport view room, it's one of the best outside the control tower!
- Quest Mascot Apartments, Sydney Airport., 108–114 Robey Street, Mascot, ☎ . Located within walking distance to the T2/T3 Domestic Terminals.
- Holiday Inn Sydney Airport, Cnr O'Riordan St & Bourke Rd, Mascot, toll-free: 1800 899 960. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 11AM. A longer walk (10-15 min) from the domestic terminals, this hotel has the advantage of being very close to Mascot train station, providing quick and cheap access to Sydney CBD.
- Mercure Sydney Airport, 20 Levey Street, Wolli Creek (walk west from T1 on the northern side of the Marsh Street bridge (the southern side of March St has no access - don't pass the no pedestrians warning sign.), ☎ . Formerly known as the Hilton and within walking distance to the International Terminal T1. A taxi to the international terminal costs about $7-8, there is also a shuttle bus which costs $6.
- Novotel Brighton Beach (opposite the beach at Brighton le Sands), ☎ . By far the largest hotel in the district, linked to Brighton Beach by a footbridge. Situated in the heart of the restaurant area along Bay Street.
Central Sydney is a short train journey from the Airport, and you can be at the Opera House in under half an hour. If you have 4 or more hours transit, you can think of making a trip into the city.
If you escape the loop road and carparks around T2/T3 you'll find yourself in the middle of the Mascot industrial area. Adjacent to Mascot station (around 20 minutes walk) you'll find a small choice of cafes, and food stores. If you are at T1 you'll have a better aspect - if you walk out across the car park you'll get to the canal. If you cross the canal on the footway to the right, you'll find a large outdoor playground with flying fox in the sports field - a good option if you have kids that need some outdoors time.