Sydney travel- what to save on and what to splurge on
Australia definitely has a reputation for being expensive, especially within the major cities. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit, or shouldn’t move here. Sydney is one of the most amazing cities on earth (I am biased, I know), but there are tons of things you can do for free, or at very low cost, either as a tourist on a budget or as local looking for something new to try on the weekends.
Here, in no particular order, are some of my top free things to check out, based on my experience of living here. I’ve tried to include things that are actually fun and worth doing, despite being free, rather than the boring same old things you often see in lists like these. I’ve also included a few of the best activities to try, if you want something amazing for a special occasion or souvenir. Hope it helps make your trip a bit more exciting!
Guided tours of the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens are beautiful just as they are, especially in spring, but to dig deeper (pardon the pun) into the history, cultivation, and management of the gardens, join in on a free guided walk. They occur daily- more information can be found here. The Calyx is also worth checking out, as they often have free exhibits on.
Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
Two of the best art galleries in Sydney, if not Australia, are free to visit. (Although special exhibits often have an admission fee). Get your fill of culture, ranging from Old Masters at the Gallery of NSW to thought-provoking, contemporary installations at the MCA.
Bondi to Coogee walk
This iconic Sydney walk, from Bondi Beach to Coogee, can be done in sections or in full, about 6km. Expect stunning coastlines, surfers, and lots of other tourists- completely worth it though.
Sydney has a number of ocean pools, and almost all are free to enter, with the exception of Icebergs in Bondi. The pools are a great place to swim laps, cool down, or just chill, without worrying about the strong ocean surf. Or jellyfish. Or sharks…
Luna Park, the art-deco style amusement park near Milsons Point, is free to enter and have a stroll, you only need to pay if you want to ride any of the rides. That being said, the Coney Island section (check out the terrifying giant wooden slides) and the Ferris wheel are worth it- otherwise, it is fun to just walk around and capture some photos of this unique place, a throwback to a bygone era.
Harbour Bridge Walk
The Sydney Bridge Climb, while incredible, is a massive splurge. You can experience the thrill of the harbour in other ways, such as walking across the Harbour Bridge. It has dedicated lanes for both pedestrians and cyclists, and walking across gives you the best perspectives of this imposing steel feat of engineering.
Join a Meetup group
Meetup.com, if you’re not familiar with it, is a website full of clubs and, well, meetups, for a huge range of interests, from bushwalking, speaking French, economics, or socialising. Most are free to participate in, and can be a great way to both meet new people and try new things.
Sydney Fish Markets
Sydney Fish Markets, near Pyrmont, offer a huge array of fresh seafood, cooking classes, and tours. However, pop in to experience the hectic hustle and bustle of the market, then grab a bottle of wine and some prawns for a cheap date.
Another touristy spot, but well worth an afternoon of exploring. Restaurants, shops, and a busy harbour of sightseeing boats can be found here, as well as the Australian Maritime Museum, Sealife Aquarium, and Madame Tussauds. Or, relax on the decks of Cargo Bar or Helm Bar during happy hour for a cold beer out in the sun.
There are local parks literally in every Sydney suburb, and are amazing places to walk, cycle, picnic, or take photos. On a beautiful day, head to the park with some friends for a free day out, much cheaper than meeting at the pub.
Sydney Free Walking Tour
I’m Free Walking Tours offer a unique tourism model- join in on their comprehensive walking tour, and afterwards, you pay what you believe the tour is worth. Of course I encourage everyone to pay a generous amount- I have done their tours in several cities and am always impressed. However, the point is they offer a quality tour for a much lower price than you’d pay with one of the larger Australian tour operators. Also, I recommend them (and all other businesses listed in this article), based on my own experience, and have not been influenced by them.
Wander around markets on the weekends
Weekend markets can be found all over Sydney- check out Bondi, Glebe, Kirribilli, and Balmain markets, for a start. They are fantastic for wandering around, scoring cheap finds, or grabbing a bargain lunch- Turkish gozleme can always be found, a favourite of mine.
Manly volleyball courts
Why not organise a beach volleyball match on one of Sydney’s most stunning beaches? The courts can get crowded though, so arrive early or prepare to wait.
Find a festival
Sydney is king when it comes to free festivals. There is always something on during the weekends, especially in summer. Most festivals have free components, shows, or attractions, and are a great way to spend an afternoon or evening. Check out Vivid, Sydney Festival, NAIDOC Week, and Sydney Writer’s Festival.
Take photos at the Opera House
Touristy? Yes, but for good reason- Circular Quay, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are quintessential Sydney.
Government House, one of Sydney’s oldest buildings, is the official residence of the Governor of NSW. This epic sandstone building, located within the Botanic Gardens, really blew me away- the history, architecture, and design is really special. Free guided tours are offered regularly, except when the home is closed for private functions.
There are tons of gorgeous spots to snorkel in Sydney, just off the beach- check out our top spots here. Clovelly is a great spot in the East Suburbs, as is Shelly Beach and Balmoral, on the north side. It’s free and easy- all you need is a snorkel and mask.
Participate in a beach clean-up
Sadly, it’s no secret that our oceans aren’t in the best condition. Luckily, there are several caring organisations that are doing their best to remedy this, through regular beach clean-ups. Joining in on one is a fun way to meet new people, spend time on a gorgeous beach, and give back. Check out these groups in Manly and Bondi to learn more.
Join a Trivia Night
Lots of pubs across Sydney offer trivia nights throughout the week. They are free to participate in, and usually good prizes can be won, such as free bar tabs. Grab a beer with some friends, combine wits, and enjoy an evening out.
Bonus– $2.60 travel all days on Sundays with your Opal card. This is a great incentive for planning a Sunday funday- all day, unlimited travel is only $2.60 for adults. A single ferry ticket from Circular Quay to Manly is $8.90, to put this into perspective. If you don’t yet have an Opal Card, they are Sydney’s transport passes for ferries, buses, trains, and light rails. You can load funds onto them, then tap and go!
And the splurges…
There’s no point in making a solid effort to save money while travelling if you don’t plan on splurging on some amazing activities in Sydney. Here’s three activities that, while not cheap, are completely worth the expense, and are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Sydney Bridge Climb
Sydney Bridge Climb is one of the most unique experiences I’ve been a part of, anywhere in the world. You literally suit up and head out onto the pylons of the bridge, complete with guide, and climb (or walk, really), to the peak. My full review can be found here, but this would be a perfect thing to do for a special birthday or anniversary.
Dinner and a show at the Opera House
There’s almost always something on at the Opera House, Sydney’s most iconic building. There are a few performance spaces here, so try to book something in the Concert Hall, the Opera House’s largest and most impressive venue. For a massive treat, head to dinner at Bennelong beforehand, a fine-dining restaurant located within the Opera House. Or, stick to a drink at the Opera House Bar, if you’re on a tighter budget.
Charter a boat for a day on the harbour with friends
The most impressive way to see Sydney has got to be by boat. If you can wrangle a big group of friends together, hiring a catamaran is an amazing way to spend the day on the water, visit secret beaches, and just generally have a good time. A lot of companies offer this service, but I recently went on a sunset cruise with Travel Massive via OzCat– they were a great company, with a beautiful boat, tasty food, and friendly crew.
What’s your favourite free thing to do in Sydney, or you bucket-list luxury adventure?