How to Use the Sydney Opal Card and How to Get Around on Public Transport!

a train in sydney

Sydney is one vast city. Its boundaries appear limitless and I’ll be honest getting around Sydney can feel like trying to navigate a giant labyrinth maze! After living in Sydney for 6 months with no car it’s safe to say I’ve experienced more than my fair share of public transport getting around Sydney.

Luckily, there a few systems in place, like the Opal Card, to make your commute from A to B run smoothly. In this post, I’ll be going into detail about how to use the Sydney Opal Card and how to get the best out of it, including rewards! I’ll also be going over all the important things to know about Sydney’s public transport system! If you’re planning on visiting this vibrant city in Australia then I suggest getting to know a little about the transport first. I can tell you that if you don’t it will be very confusing when you land in one of the worlds most popular cities. 

How to use the Sydney Opal Card - Image of train station
A very quiet central station

How to Use the Sydney Opal Card 

Before going into the public transport systems in Sydney lets talk about the Opal Card.

I decided to write this post because I found the whole Opal Card thing quite overwhelming when I first arrived in Sydney. Roll your eyes and call me old fashioned but pre Australia I lived in the countryside where we paid on board for buses and still bought paper tickets for trains. And I’ve also been driving for many years and unfortunately once you stop using public transport you become useless at figuring it out – I can’t be the only one?! 

So if like me you can be a little clueless to the systems then I hope you find this guide before you’re in the city and using the Opal Card for real!

What is the Opal Card?

Basically, the Opal Card is a pre-paid travel card that you top-up and then use to pay for public transport. If you’ve been to London and had an Oyster card then it’s exactly the same thing. 

Wynyard station in Sydney Australia
Wynyard Station is pretty special!

How to Use the Sydney Opal Card – Technical Aspect

Topping Up

The Opal Card is super easy to use. To top up your card simply go to any newsagents, shop, or station that has the Opal sign. You can honestly top-up anywhere in Sydney there are so many places that do it including the big supermarkets like Coles. The other option which I found so helpful is to top-up via the free opal app!

Download from the App Store or Google Play store, register the card and then top-up by using a master or debit card. 

Tapping On and Off 

The Sydney transport system works on a tap-on tap-off system. To get on and off public transport tap the opal card on the sensors at the train/ferry stations and on the reader as you hop on the bus. It really is that simple. When the balance is running low the reader will let you know that you need to top-up. If you run into a negative balance then the amount will be deducted the next time you top-up the Opal card. 

Now you know how to use the Sydney Opal card on a technical level there are few other things to keep in mind when getting around public transport using an Opal card. 

Initial Cost of Opal Card

The Opal card doesn’t cost but there is a $10 minimum requirement when you top-up for the first time. Honestly, you won’t get far on $10 in Sydney so top-up at least $20 to begin with!

It’s also worth noting that if you purchase an Opal Card from the airport the minimum top-up is $35! This is a total tourist trap if you ask me so don’t purchase until you get to the city! The train from the airport to city is a standard $20 so just buy a ticket from the airport! 

how to use the sydney opal card

Using a Contactless Card instead of an Opal Card as a Tourist 

Again, if you’re familiar with the London Oyster card then you’ll know you can now use a debit/master card on the underground instead of an Oyster.

There is that option in Sydney too. This is for sure an easier way to travel around in Sydney opposed to topping up the Opal card all the time. However, if you’re a tourist just get the card! Using an International card will occur international transaction fees. Sydney transport is already expensive enough without that extra cost on top! 

Alternatives to Using the Opal Card in Sydney 

If you really don’t want to buy an Opal card then you can buy a single ticket on buses and in stations. But these will be more expensive so I honestly recommend just getting a card on your first day and make it cheaper for yourself! 

The downside to the Sydney Opal Cards for travellers is that you can’t get the money that’s on the card back unless you have an Australian address/bank account. Keep an eye on your travel costs throughout the day so that you don’t top-up too much! But if you are on a working holiday visa make sure you claim any unused balances back from your opal card before you leave!

Fare Capping on Sundays in Sydney! 

Sundays are an important day in Sydney for public transport as all transport costs are capped at $2.70! This does mean that Sundays in Sydney are extra busy but worth it for the cheap travel! No matter if you use the Opal card or contactless the fare will be capped at $2.70. 

Other Budget caps on the Opal Card 

As well as capping the public transport fare at $2.70 on a Sunday the fares are also capped daily and weekly. The daily amount is $16.10 and weekly is $50 for your standard adult. Also if you make more than 8 journeys in one week the rest of the week is half price using the Opal card. 

Guide to the Public Transport in Service

Now you know how to use the Sydney Opal Card and everything else that comes with it, here’s an overview of the types of public transport available and the easiest ways to get around! 

Available Public Transport in Sydney 

Like most big cities in the world, Sydney has a fairly decent public transport system. I personally think it could be a lot better but that’s a matter of opinion. If Sydney had a tube system like London then I think it would make so many commuters very happy indeed! In Sydney, you’ll find the usual public transport options, trains, buses, ferries and the light rail (just another word they use for the tram – don’t ask me why!).

Sydney spent the last year rebuilding the tram system in the city centre. The first tram ran on the 14th of October 2019 so I’m sure it would be wise to expect some teething issues over the next few months!

The Sydney Train System 

a train in sydney
All Sydney trains are double-decker inside!

Sydney has a decent train system and I would say it’s the most efficient way to travel whilst visiting or living in Sydney.

The trains run very frequently throughout the city centre and to the suburbs daily so it’s easy to hop on the train to your destination. You’ll need an opal card to travel on the train in Sydney and once you know how to use the Sydney opal card getting on and off the trains is easy!  

The only downside to the trains in Sydney is that I don’t think they go far enough! For example, if you want to get to Bondi Beach you’ll have to get a train to Bondi Junction and then switch to the 333 bus to Bondi Beach which is a little bit of a pain! On the other hand, there has been talk about building a train station on Bondi Beach which has attracted a lot of backlash from the locals. I can understand why because Bondi and the area surrounding it is just beautiful but I do think it would help in the long run. Standing in line for the bus at Bondi is not fun and definitely not quick. 

The trains and most of the public transport in Sydney run all night which is brilliant for those out exploring until late at night or having a few gins down at the chic Bondi bars! 

Buses in Sydney 

The bus network in Sydney is actually very good. The only reasons I hated travelling on Sydneys buses wasn’t because of the service but the sheer volume of traffic. Honestly, Sydneys traffic is ridiculous to say that a lot of people don’t actually drive in the city centre! I get terrible motion sickness and there is so much stopping and starting on these Sydney buses. The other reason why I don’t favour the bus is that it does take a long time to get from one end of the city to the other, again because of traffic. But don’t let deter you from using them!

The Sydney bus service is very reliable and in my experience, the buses are always on time! The fare for the buses and trains is similar so it doesn’t matter too much which one you choose! The best thing to do is use some of the planning apps on your smartphone to help plan your transport routes! Keep reading for information on which Apps you’ll need in Sydney to get around easily!  


Back in the 60’s the tram system in Sydney was halted and ripped out. That was perhaps one of the worst decisions the city made because now in 2019 it’s back up and running once again! The tram system or ‘light rail’ as they call it in Sydney now runs between the CBD and Kensington. The light rail was still under construction when we lived there so I can’t comment on it really but take a look at the official light rail website here for more information.

Ferries in Sydney

the commuter/public transport ferry in Sydney
This is the ferry you want to pay less!

As well as buses trains and trams Sydney also has ferries! The ferries are brilliant and offer some of the best views of the city so I highly recommend getting one at some point! The ferries are expensive which is the only downside. If you’re in Sydney for a Sunday then this is a great time to take a ferry ride when the fare is capped! Otherwise, fares on the ferries are usually about $7 upwards. The most popular and my favourite ferry journey in Sydney is the Sydney – Manly. The views are amazing and Manly should definitely be on your Sydney itinerary!

Fast Ferries: There are fast ferries available in Sydney and it depends on the company as to whether or not you can use the Opal card so check beforehand. The fast ferries are good because they get you from A to B faster but they are more expensive. You can easily tell the difference between the fast ferries and normal ones. The normal ferries are the huge yellow and green ones as photographed above!

Helpful Apps to Download in Sydney for the Public Transport 

Opal Card App – Download the Opal Card app if you’re in Sydney for an extended period. It’s easy to top-up via the app and you can keep a track of your weekly rewards. 

Google Maps – You can use Google Maps to get all the public transport information in Sydney.

NSW Trip Planner – This app is also helpful when planning your trips in Sydney and sometimes has a little more information than Google Maps if there are delays. 

Handy Sydney Transport Tips: 

  • For Bondi Beach the bus you’ll need is the 333
  • You cannot get the train to Manly or Bondi – you have to switch to the bus
  • The 333 also runs an all night service which is handy to know 
  • Sydney public transport runs on Christmas Day (crazy I know)! 
  • The ferry to Manly takes 45 minutes 
  • For the best views of the city take the ferry to either Manly, Watsons Bay or Rose Bay and sit at the rear of the boat outside 
  • The Sydney Harbour is choppy as! So if you get seasick be warned! 
  • If you sit at the front of the ferries you’ll probably get wet on a choppy day!
  • Your journey will take longer than it says because of crazy traffic 
  • Opal Card fares do not apply when travelling to the airport 
  • Kids under 5 go free! 
  • Students, Children/Youths and Seniors get discounted travel 

I really hope you found this post helpful and it makes your journeys in Sydney a little easier! Once you get used it and know how to use the Sydney Opal card then the system is really handy! If you’re on a Working Holiday Visa and have an Australian bank account then use contactless making it even easier to get around on the public transport! My biggest takeaway on getting around Sydney is to schedule enough time for traffic and always set off early!

Find more of my Sydney posts here!

If you did enjoy this post or find it useful then I would so grateful if you could share it! Thank you! 

Happy Travels, 



Alicia is a travel obsessed Registered Nurse who is on a mission to help other unfulfilled nurses reconnect with their purpose, passion and joy for life. Alicia has suffered from countless bouts of burnout in her nursing career and now wants to help other nurses too. Alicia is a huge advocate for travel and travel makes up a huge part of her life and this blog! Join her on her adventures nursing around the world and helping others to live a happier more positive life.

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