Sydney Transport with Opal Card
Sydney public transport uses one-card-for-everything, the Opal Card.
You can buy the Opal card
- at the airport,
- at Central railway and other designated stations,
- from many retailers around the city,
- you can order it online (allow two weeks for delivery within Australia, longer for overseas).
Load it up with a minimum of AUD$10 (online minimum AUD$40) and then travel on it until the balance is used up, when you top it up again.
Top-ups can be AUD $10, $20, $40, $60, $80, $100 or $120 (halve these amounts for a child’s top-up).
In NSW children under 4 travel free. From 4-15 a child’s fare applies. From age 16 an adult fare is charged.
If you hold a valid Australian pensioner card or seniors card you are eligible for senior/pensioner fares. These are generally half the adult fare and are capped at AUD$2.50 per day, no matter how much you travel.
But be aware that you cannot buy and use these immediately. It must be sent out to you and it can take up to 10 working days. So, if you’re eligible, it’s best to order one online and have it sent to you before you come to Sydney. For more details see the special senior/pensioners section below.
You can use the Opal card almost everywhere. Use it to travel Sydney by bus, train, ferry and light rail (tram). It doesn’t cover special event or Hop-On Hop-Off buses (affiliate link)
Cost of Opal Card City Passes
Opal card charges are capped at AUD$15 a day (child/concession AUD$7.50) and AUD$60 a week (child/concession AUD$30).
The Opal card’s top daily charge is AUD$15. The highest weekly Opal card charge is AUD$60.
It’s much cheaper than buying single tickets. With the Opal card you can travel on more than one bus, train or ferry provided you transfer within 60 minutes from the time you first tapped on (within 130 minutes for the Manly ferry).
If you swap from a bus to a train, or ferry to a bus as part of a single journey it will cost a little more, depending on total distance travelled. There’s an extra charge for these multi-mode transfers, an anomaly that makes no sense but it’s there.
Which Opal Card is Right for Me?
There are four Opal cards:
Black for adults (16 and over) who normally pay full fares
Green for children from 4-15 years old
Gold for senior/pensioner card holders
Silver for eligible tertiary students and job seekers
Only the black and green (adult and child) cards can be bought from kiosks, machines and retailers for immediate use.
Sydney Airport Transfers
All users of Sydney transport pay an extra fee for train travel to or from the airport. Here’s the detail on how you can avoid airport fees on Sydney trains. Read on for the summary.
Airport access fees add AUD$13.40 to the fare for adults and AUD$12.00 for children/concessions, capped at AUD$25 per week (adult) and AUD$22.50 (child/concession) for Opal card holders. So if you need to go in and out of the airport more than once in a week make sure that you have the card. Buy it before boarding your first train at the airport.
You can buy Opal cards from the airport train station itself and also from bookshops and convenience stores inside the terminal.
There are two ways to avoid paying the airport station access fee.
You can take the Number 400 Metro Bus that goes between Burwood and Bondi Junction. Either way will get you to a station that will connect to city trains and buses. If you’re going to the eastern suburbs the bus heading for Bondi may suit you, to the inner west then take the Burwood direction.
Compared with the train, which takes about 10 minutes to get you into the city, the Number 400 bus will take well over an hour and require a change of buses to get you there. You can have a bit of a wait as well, as it doesn’t run that often. Check the timetable at the bus stop, or look it up on this page.
If you don’t have too much luggage you can walk the first part of your journey so that you pick up the train outside the airport limits. That way you won’t be charged the access fee.
From the international terminal that means a stroll to Wolli Creek, where you take the train to the city.
From the domestic terminal your walk will be to Mascot train station. You can avoid the latter walk by taking the 400 bus to Mascot and then joining the train there. That’s faster than going the whole way by bus but you run into an Opal card anomaly and annoyance: you’ll be charged extra because train and bus trips are counted separately (although there’s a $2 adult/$1 child transfer discount).
Taking Airport Buses & Trains
Most people today use the train to get into Sydney. It’s quick (10-12 minutes to Central) but it’s not cheap.
A one way ticket from the international airport will cost you around AUD $17.60 (adult) and AUD $14.10 (child). That’s to Sydney central and inner city stations. If you’re going further the cost will be a little higher.
If you’re going to be leaving Sydney Australia within a week (and travelling back to the airport by train) you’ll pay less overall if you buy your Opal cards at the airport immediately. Your weekly spend on airport access fees will then be capped at something less than two separate entries.
You can still catch an airport bus when you arrive. But there are fewer of them each year.
The Number 400 Metro Bus from Burwood to Bondi Junction still stops at the airport. It takes just over an hour to get to Bondi Junction, just under an hour to Burwood. See my comments on this above
Some hotels and hostels still provide shuttle buses from the airport and it’s worth checking with your hotel if it provides this service.
The remaining Sydney airport buses are mostly used to travel on to places further afield where rail links don’t exist or trains don’t run very often.
For example, if you’re going on to Canberra there is an express bus service from Kingsford Smith airport which gets you there quickly and comfortably.
Sydney Transport Tips for Opal Card Users
The Opal card has a few other benefits.
Sleep in and save – avoid peak hour trains from Monday to Friday and you’ll save 30% off the standard fare. Note that this does not apply to buses and ferries – it’s for trains only.
Off-peak fares also apply to travel on weekends and public holidays.
Peak hour on Sydney trains is from 0700-0900 (7am to 9am) and from 1600-1830 (4pm to 6.30pm) weekdays. For Intercity services the morning peak period shifts forward an hour, and runs from 0600-0800 (6am to 8am), afternoon peak doesn’t change. But wait, there’s more …
Travel Sydney on Sundays – anticipate the joy of your senior years by travelling all day for AUD$2.50. This super cheap cap applies only on Sundays and only for Opal Card holders (not for single tickets).
And travel a lot early in the week.
Once you have taken 8 paid journeys a week on your Opal card the rest of your travel for that week is half price – 50% off.
The week starts on Monday. So, if you make lots of short journeys early in the week your overall cost can be a less than the weekly cap. Even more so if you take only trains and start after 0900 (9am).
If you’re a pensioner or senior don’t bother – this deal doesn’t apply to you. Your AUD$2.50 daily cap keeps your costs down without needing to think about it.
Going further with your Opal Card
Your Opal card gives you free rein over the whole of greater Sydney.
That includes the Blue Mountains to the west, the central coast, Hunter Valley and Newcastle in the north and the Southern Highlands, Wollongong and Kiama in the south.
You don’t need to think about sections or exactly what ticket you should have – everything is covered. It’s a nice easy ticket.
Family Discount Sydney Travel Tickets
Sunday city passes are the only significantly discounted Sydney travel option left.
With your Opal card you can travel the entire Sydney Australia train, bus and ferry network every Sunday for AUD $2.50 per person. It’s a bargain!
Most trains stop between midnight and 0430. After that NightRide buses operate on most routes.
Your Opal card’s day continues until 0359 (3.59am) the next morning. So you can continue to travel on NightRide services on your daily capped fare provided you board the bus before it clicks over to a new day at 0400 (4.00am).
Where to Buy Your Opal Card Travel Pass
You can buy Opal cards at these Transport Customer Centres. Most accept only credit/debit cards, the QVB accepts only cash. Only Central and Circular Quay are open weekends:
- Central, Grand Concourse
- Circular Quay, opposite Wharf 5
- Queen Victoria Building Bus Interchange, York St entrance
- Railway Square Bus Interchange, Corner George & Lee St
- Wynyard Bus Interchange, Carrington St entrance
You can also buy Opal Cards at newsagents, tobacconists, convenience stores and supermarkets around the city. They will often show a sign or flag outside saying “Opal cards sold here”.
Top ups can be bought at the same outlets, or through top up machines at many train stations, wharves and light rail stops.
If you have unused credit on your Opal card when you leave Sydney you can
- keep the card and its credit until your next visit – it lasts for at least 8 years
- pass it on to friends or family to use
- get a refund of the credit balance – but it’s a bit of a mission, involving forms and bank account details (no cash or credit card refunds)
Opal for Interstate Seniors & Pensioners
All holders of a valid Seniors card issued by an Australian State or the NT Government are eligible for a 60 day Gold Opal Card. Go to this form which you can complete and send by post or email.
ACT seniors are eligible for an Opal Card with no expiry date. Go here for details and how to apply.
The Gold Opal card is not available to holders of other types of senior cards such as:
- National Seniors Card
- Queensland Seniors Business Discount Card
- Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
- New Zealand SuperGold Card
Interstate pensioners (any Australian State or Territory) holding a Pensioner Concession Card issued by Centrelink or the Department of Veteran Affairs should apply through the online application form at opal.com.au
Gold Opal Card for Asylum Seekers
Eligible asylum seekers can apply for a Gold Opal Card here
Places to Go on Your Opal Card
Why not do one of the Sydney harbour walks? This harbour walk is easy, has stunning views and takes about an hour.
Photos above by courtesy of Newtown_grafitti
Hop On Hop Off Bus
No, this is not covered by your Opal card. But it might still be a good option for you.
It’s more expensive – as you’d expect – but it can be a good way of getting your bearings in a new city.
It’s also a time-saver if you have only a day or two in Sydney.
You can buy one or two day tickets. Both cover two separate bus routes
- around Sydney, and
- city to Bondi beach
They hit all the major tourist spots and there’s a recorded commentary along the way.
First tours start at 0830 and finish at 1930 (7.30 pm) at peak and 1830 (6.30 pm) at off-peak times.
Click here to buy your Hop-On Hop-Off bus tickets (affiliate link)