You don't need a fat wallet to enjoy the glamour and chic of Sydney. These experiences, attractions and Sydney icons won't cost you a cent. Who doesn't want to see one of the world's most fabulous cities on a budget?
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) near Bondi.
Stroll the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The climb will set you back at least some dollars, but you can get the next best thing for nix by simply strolling along the pedestrian pathway at the bridge’s eastern edge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Sunbathe on a floating pontoon with postcard views
A perfect spot for families and less confident swimmers, Murray Rose Pool is not really a pool but a harbourside enclosure with pontoons to sun yourself on. Open year-round.
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).
Watch migrating whales from a stunning lighthouse
The Barrenjoey Lighthouse is a 20-minute uphill walk from Palm Beach in Sydney's north. It's part of a popular hiking trail and offers stunning views of the spit below as well as the Pacific ocean. During winter (from May to October) passing pods of whales can be spied migrating along the shoreline.
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 or Friday’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald 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.
- For cheap theatre tickets, try the terrific Griffin Theatre Company in Kings Cross, which has $20 Monday Rush tickets.
- 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.
This article was published in August 2014.