20 free things to do in Sydney

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You don't need a fat wallet to enjoy the glamour and chic of Sydney. These 20 attractions, activities and icons won't cost you a cent.

Walkers on the Bondi to Coogee Walk approaching Waverly Cemetery. Image by Lindsay Brown / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.Walkers on the Bondi to Coogee Walk approaching Waverly Cemetery. Image by Lindsay Brown / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.

Take the Bondi to Coogee Walk

One of the most spectacular walks and coastlines you could hope to see, this route takes in some of Sydney’s most iconic beaches. In late spring, check out the free Sculpture by the Sea (www.sculpturebythesea.com).

Stroll the Sydney Harbour Bridge

The climb will set you back at least $148, but you can get the next best thing for nix by simply strolling along the pedestrian pathway at the bridge’s eastern edge.

Sydney Harbour Bridge from the air. Image by Wikimedia Commons.Sydney Harbour Bridge from the air. Image by Wikimedia Commons.

Gaze out from North Head Lookout

Enjoy sweeping views from the mouth of the harbour to Sydney’s skyscrapers, and if you’re lucky, spot a whale or two. Sunsets at north head are spectacular (www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/sydney-harbour-national-park/north-head/lookout).

Feast your eyes at the Art Gallery of NSW

Entry to Sydney’s premier art institution is free, with everything from Indigenous to Asian art on display. Wednesday nights are a bonus with free talks and films. See www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au for a schedule.

The Art Gallery of NSW. Image by Kayhadrin. CC BY-SA 2.0.The Art Gallery of NSW. Image by Kayhadrin. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Experience tranquillity at the Royal Botanic Gardens

These beautifully kept and appointed gardens have everything from succulents to herbs, as well as a tropical greenhouse. A perfect picnic spot in the heart of the city. Time your visit for one of the excellent free tours.

Bob in the waters of Camp Cove

Avoid the crowds at Bondi by heading to Sydney’s most intimate beach, where you can pitch your umbrella at the very doorstep of one of the city’s priciest homes before floating in the wave-free harbour.

Tap your toes at Opera Bar

This lovely terrace bar with sumptuous harbour views has free live music each night and on weekend afternoons. For another free live music venue, try the Beach Road Hotel in Bondi (beachroadbondi.com.au).

Relax in Bronte Park

Coin-operated public barbecues make this Sydney’s best (almost free) al fresco lunch spot. Take a dip before squeezing your sausages in between a Korean family grill and a Brazilian meatfest, while enjoying the sparkling sea views.

Luna Park, Sydney by Jan Smith. CC BY 2.0.Luna Park, Sydney by Jan Smith. CC BY 2.0.

Raise a smile at Luna Park

There's no entry fee to this historic fun park with killer harbour views. It’s $10 per ride, though, with adorably retro Coney Island offering the best value for money.

Spot sea creatures at Shelly Beach

The Sydney Aquarium is pricey but you can see plenty of marine life in its natural habitat at Shelly Beach. Take the Manly ferry and some swimming goggles. Other good places to spot sea life are Clovelly and Gordon’s Bay.

Vulture some culture at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Overlooking Circular Quay, this recently expanded gallery’s permanent collection can be seen for free, though its featured exhibitions carry a hefty price tag.

Get lost in the Royal National Park

The second-oldest national park in the world, the Royal is home to over 100km of walking tracks through littoral rainforest gullies, over dramatic windswept cliffs and down to pristine beaches. Camping and picnic sites abound. The cost is $11 per vehicle but it's free on foot. Take the train to Cronulla then the ferry, or just get off the train at Waterfall (www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/Royal-National-Park).

Be uplifted at St James' and St Mary’s

Two of Sydney’s loveliest churches are separated by just a short walk across Hyde Park. St Mary’s is a prime example of English Neo-Gothic style with some interesting local touches in its crypt (free tours after Sunday Mass), while the elegant St James’ was designed by a convict architect, James Greenway.

Get quirky at the White Rabbit Gallery

This is a surprising and delightful little gallery devoted exclusively to contemporary Chinese art. Entry is free Wednesday-Sunday, and there is an excellent tea room downstairs. There are guides all over the place willing to explain the art, as well as free tours (www.whiterabbitcollection.org).

Browse at Eveleigh Market

Every Saturday from 8am, enjoy gourmet eats in a funky industrial setting. Check out the artisans’ market on the first Sunday of the month, which offers excellent local design and craft goods to browse (www.eveleighmarket.com.au).

Soak up the sun at Centennial Park

Unemployed men were enlisted to turn this marshy catchment area into a huge English-style park, which opened in 1901 – the birthday of Australia’s federation – for the enjoyment of all Sydneysiders. Keep your eye out for free events in the warmer months (www.centennialparklands.com.au).

Panorama of Manly by Nigel Howe. CC BY 2.0.Panorama of Manly by Nigel Howe. CC BY 2.0.

Meander the Spit to Manly Walk

One of Sydney’s best walks takes you from the Spit Bridge at Mosman, through the Sydney Harbour National Park with its fascinating Aboriginal rock art, past Manly Cove, across North Head and down to Manly’s famous beach. You can download a free map here: www.walkingcoastalsydney.com.au.

Treat your ears at Conservatorium Wednesdays

Australia’s premier musical training institution hosts its Lunchbreak series during the academic year, with free classical music – see music.sydney.edu.au/event-listings for the schedule.

Experience history at The Rocks Discovery Museum

Entry to this museum is free, making it the perfect starting point for an exploration of Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood, as well as the area’s rich Aboriginal heritage.

Peruse Paddington Markets

Smack in the middle of Paddington’s famed shopping strip, Sydney’s most browse-worthy markets offer a chance to pick up a unique souvenir or just while away a lazy Saturday (www.paddingtonmarkets.com.au).

Even more tips on saving cents in Sydney

Sydney has recently been scoring quite high on lists of the world’s most expensive cities. Here are some tips for saving cash:

  • Pick up a copy of Time Out ($4.95) or Friday’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald ($2) to look up free shows and events.
  • For cheap movies, search online for Event Cinemas, Palace Cinemas, Dendy or Hoyts – they all have cheap days.
  • Book launches and gallery openings are good ways to soak up the local culture, and there is usually complimentary wine. Try RoslynOxley9 gallery and Gleebooks.
  • For cheap eats, pubs and clubs are definitely the go. Try the Norfolk and the Shakespeare in Surry Hills, or the North Bondi RSL for a cheap burger with a million-dollar view.
  • There’s a dearth of free wi-fi in Sydney, so when you get sick of the smell of McDonalds, try public libraries - Customs House at Circular Quay is the best.
  • For cheap theatre tickets, try the terrific Stables Theatre in Kings Cross, which hosts pay-what-you-can Mondays.

This article was published in July 2013 and republished in August 2014.  

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