Australia’s most populous city and often mistaken as its capital, Sydney is one of the best places in the world for a city break. Whether you prefer museums and galleries, parks or architecture there’s so much to do here that a week will fly by. Best of all, there are loads of cheap things to do in Sydney that will make a stay here far more budget friendly – we stayed for new year so there was a 7 night minimum stay and we had to find plenty of ways to make our budget stretch!
Despite its size and notoriety as an expensive place to travel, it’s more than possible to spend time in Sydney on a budget and still see all the highlights the city has to offer. It’s easy and cheap to get around by ferry, bus or train and has everything from urban culture to stunning beaches and coastline. Here are our top 25 free and cheap things to do in Sydney:
One of our favourite museums and great value for money, they are currently running a spider exhibition which is well worth seeing. The museum contains a wealth of material on Australian wildlife, history and Pacific cultures. Only 16AUD for the permanent exhibits and spiders exhibition with a student or young persons travel card. This was one of our favourite cheap things we did in Sydney.
2. Darling Harbour:
A great place for a wander, the harbour is packed with bars and restaurants with a view. It feels buzzing and cosmopolitan, with street entertainers and plenty of people wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere. Top tip – visit Nick’s Cafe for a 7AUD coffee and cake deal. You can spend a good couple of hours enjoying the harbour area completely free if you’re on a tight budget.
A popular chain in many areas of Australia, these guys are master chocolatiers and the prices aren’t astronomical. The hot chocolate in particular is amazing – go for American style packed with marshmallows.
Climbing the harbour bridge can be both busy and very expensive, the pylon lookout is a cheap alternative that still offers amazing views over Sydney Harbour and the Opera House. Just 10AUD concession and exhibits on each level explaining the history and construction of this iconic feat of engineering. An amazing cheap thing to do in Sydney if you can’t afford the more expensive alternatives.
5. Circular Quay:
The stretch of quayside near to the Opera House, this is where you can catch ferries to Manly and other locations over the water. There are many bars and places to eat, making it another good place to watch the world go by. Go at happy hour for great drinks deals.
6. Bondi Beach:
Probably the most famous of Sydney’s beaches for good reason, it’s definitely worth spending a sunny afternoon here watching the surfers and catching some rays. If you take your own food and drinks it’s a free thing to do in Sydney that’s loads of fun and will help you work on that tan!
7. Manly to Spit Bridge Walk:
If you fancy stretching your legs, the walk from Manly to Spit Bridge is a pleasant 2-3 hour coastal walk with amazing views over the ocean. Catch the ferry to Manly harbour and head round the coast – make sure not to miss the ancient aboriginal carvings along the way. When it comes to free things to do in Sydney, this is one of the most popular for good reason.
8. Observatory Hill:
The perfect location to watch the fireworks if you’re in Sydney for New Year, it’s worth the uphill walk for some great city views and a park that’s perfect for picnics.
9. Coogee Beach:
One of our favourite Sydney beaches, Coogee is fairly small but a lovely suburb with lots of nice eateries and a really nice beach for swimming and relaxing in the sun. It’s just 40 minutes by bus from the city centre.
10. Fish & Chips:
One of the cheapest meals you can find in Sydney, the perfect lunch by the harbour or the beach. I still don’t think the Aussies do fish & chips as well as us Brits but it’s a pretty good effort.
11. Botanic Gardens:
Located next to the Opera House these gardens are the perfect place to wander round and see the local flora. There’s a nice cafe in the centre, or a restaurant if you’re feeling flush, and we even saw some spontaneous open air Theatre on our walk through.
12. Catmosphere Cat Cafe:
If you spend any time in Surrey Hills, a popular residential suburb close to the city, be sure to visit this brilliant cat cafe. Reservations need to be made in advance and you can spend an hour with the cats or kittens enjoying a coffee and a cookie. 20AUD and it’s a great cause. Whilst it’s not free, it’s still classifies as a cheap thing to do in Sydney in our book, and what better excuse to take loads of pictures of cute cats.
Worth popping into if you’re in the Darling Harbour area, it’s possible to see the permanent exhibits free of charge, including taking a look at the display of boats outside in the harbour itself. A pleasant way to kill a couple of hours and if you pay the entry fee you can see a couple of extra exhibits and get the opportunity to explore the boats.
14. NSW Art Gallery:
No entry fee for this gallery that ranges from classic to contemporary artworks makes it one of the top free things to do in Sydney for culture vultures and art fans.
15. The Rocks:
One of the oldest areas of the city, the Rocks was inhabited shortly after the formation of the colony in 1788. It was redeveloped in the 1960s and the architects have carefully maintained the history of the area in the style of the buildings and sculptures.
16. Custom House:
A landmark building near Circular Quay, this is the location of the library. It used to be the headquarters of the Customs service and is an impressive building to walk through. One of the best features to check out is a small scale model of Sydney under the glass floor.
17. Nurses Walk:
Part of The Rocks area, this was named in remembrance of the many nurses who worked at the hospitals in the area. There’s a network of cobbled streets and old buildings with winding passageways – lots of really nice cafes tucked away here for a morning coffee and gives a sense of Sydney’s history.
18. Coogee to Bondi Walk:
Another great coastal walk is perfect as one of the many free things to do in Sydney to occupy a few hours. We preferred to start in Coogee and walk North along the coast to Bondi before spending some time on the beach. Beautiful coastal views where you can see whales at the right time of year – although it can get busy.
19. Royal National Park:
A short trip outside of the city centre, the National Park is the second in the world to be so named, after Yellowstone in the US which was the first. Plenty of open fields, lakes and coastline to explore – take a picnic and spend a day here.
20. Hunter Valley Day Trip:
A bit further from the city but a day trip that’s well worth doing and can be a cheap thing to do in Sydney, especially if you have your own transport. It’s nestled in the countryside near Newcastle and home of Australia’s premier wine producing region. Many wineries have cellar doors and offer free tastings and there’s plenty of nice eateries around. The scenery and countryside in the valley is beautiful.
21. Sydney Opera House:
We skipped the tour as we were on a budget break but it’s impossible to visit Sydney and not see this amazing architectural creation. Probably one of the most iconic buildings in the world it opened in 1973 and is always busy with performances of all kinds.
22. St Mary’s Cathedral:
Another slice of history in the centre of Sydney, this cathedral is a stunning place to take a wander and see some impressive gothic revival architecture.
23. Mrs Macquaries Chair:
Situated in the Botanic Gardens, Mrs Macquaries Point is a popular spot to take those iconic pictures of Sydney Harbour and the bridge, as well as offering impressive city views of the CBD. Around the corner from this is Mrs Macquaries Chair – it was hand carved from sandstone by convicts for Mrs Macquarie who was the wife of governor Macquarie. Apparently she would sit on this bench and watch the ships passing into and out from the harbour.
24. Hyde Park:
Another green space in the city, Hyde Park is great for a wander and located centrally. Make sure to see the Anzac Memorial and the statue of Captain Cook.
25. Blue Mountains Day Trip:
Finally another day trip, this time an hour or so out to the west of the city to the Blue Mountains National Park. So named for the distinctive blue haze formed by the eucalyptus forest, this is an area of outstanding natural beauty and perfect for a day exploring and hiking if you need to escape the city. It’s possible to visit for the day by coach or train if you don’t have your own transport. Here’s what we did in our two days in the Blue Mountains to help you plan your visit.
So there you have it – absolutely loads of free and cheap things to do in Sydney that are suitable whatever your interests. Whether you’re in the area for a couple of days or a week or more, this list will help you to save money as well as seeing as much of the city as possible. If you’re exploring more of Australia on a tight budget – why not also check out our one month in Australia budget East Coast itinerary.