Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), a novel coronavirus with high nucleotide identity to SARS-CoV and to SARS-related coronaviruses that have been detected in horseshoe bats, has spread across the world and had a global effect on healthcare systems and economies1,2. A suitable small animal model is needed to support the development of vaccines and therapies. Here we report the pathogenesis and transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 in golden (Syrian) hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Immunohistochemistry assay demonstrated the presence of viral antigens in nasal mucosa, bronchial epithelial cells and areas of lung consolidation on days 2 and 5 after inoculation with SARS-CoV-2, followed by rapid viral clearance and pneumocyte hyperplasia at 7 days after inoculation. We also found viral antigens in epithelial cells of the duodenum, and detected viral RNA in faeces. Notably, SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted efficiently from inoculated hamsters to naive hamsters by direct contact and via aerosols. Transmission via fomites in soiled cages was not as efficient. Although viral RNA was continuously detected in the nasal washes of inoculated hamsters for 14 days, the communicable period was short and correlated with the detection of infectious virus but not viral RNA. Inoculated and naturally infected hamsters showed apparent weight loss on days 6-7 post-inoculation or post-contact; all hamsters returned to their original weight within 14 days and developed neutralizing antibodies. Our results suggest that features associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection in golden hamsters resemble those found in humans with mild SARS-CoV-2 infections.