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Ok, let’s be realistic about things- you can’t go to Australia without visiting Sydney. Am I right? It’s one of the most iconic cities in the world and definitely one of the most visited. But planning a trip here on a budget can seem like a bit of a tricky one. But fear not! for all you bargain hunters out there, I’ve got a great list of 32 free and budget-friendly things to do and see while you’re in Sydney to help you have an amazing time and explore the city.
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1. Go on a free walking tour
The ‘I’m Free’ Sydney walking tours are a great way to get to know what this city has to offer as well as learning some great insider knowledge from a local. There are 2 fantastic walking tours covering the main CBD area and popular sites as well as the historical area of the Rocks with a brilliant dark and gruesome past. Both are completely free and operate on a tips basis. Check out the website here.
2. Get an Opal Card
An Opal card is your ticket to use the trains, buses, light railway and ferries throughout Sydney, Bondi and the Blue Mountains. You can pick one up at loads of corner stores that have the Opal logo outside. They are free but you have to top up a minimum of $10 for adults. When you use the public transport the minimum fare is calculated so you don’t pay more than you have to! Another great thing to know is that you will only ever be charged a maximum of $15 a day if you do loads of trips and on Sundays, the maximum charge is a tiny $2.50 and that can even get you to the Blue Mountains!
3. Check out the Sydney Opera House
Ok, so this goes without saying but at the same time, no Sydney list would be complete without it! This iconic building screams Australia and there’s no way you could miss it. Keep reading for places to get great views of it!
4. Explore on foot
Nothing beats catching the city views than walking around on foot. Take a walk around the CBD, the harbour area and some of the fantastic Sydney Suburbs and see what gems you find.
5. Have a night out in Kings Cross
Known as backpacker central, Kings Cross has some great nightlife and it’s probably about as cheap as it’s going to get if you’re looking for a good night out. There’s something going on every night of the week with happy hours galore!
6. Get the view from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
This might sound like a strange name but it’s a great endpoint for your walk from Circular Quay and through the Royal Botanic Gardens. Ever seen those photos where the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are all in one shot? Well chances are, this is where the picture’s been taken. The name actually comes from a bench shaped piece of sandstone that was carved by convicts in the 1800s for Governor Macquarie’s wife. I just love it for the view at either day or night!
7. Breath in the fresh air at Circular Quay
The buzz around here is fantastic and with views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and the harbour itself it’s another spot that screams Sydney. Take a walk all along Circular Quay and watch the sunset for a pretty amazing view of the skyline.
8. Relax in the Royal Botanic Gardens
Walking from Circular Quay past the Opera House you will find yourself in the oasis that is the Royal Botanic Gardens. This stunning area is filled with plants from all over the world and is the perfect place for a picnic with a view. If this is your thing then make sure you catch one of the free guided walking tours that take place at 10.30am every day and also 1 pm on weekdays.
9. Visit The Strand Arcade
This beautiful building was the last of 5 arcades to be built in Sydney back in 1891 and today it’s the only one left in its original form. It’s full of beautiful boutiques that come with hefty price tags but window shopping is free right? Dreaming aside, the building itself is stunning and well worth a look around.
10. Catch the ferry to Manly
If you’re looking for a beach escape from the city, then Manly Island is the perfect place to go. Jump on a ferry from Circular Quay and spend the day exploring, swimming and relaxing. Don’t forget, a ferry to Manly on a Sunday will cost just $2.50 with an Opal card too!
11. Snorkle at Shelly Beach on Manly
Shelly Beach on Manly is the perfect spot for snorkelling. It’s a great sheltered spot and there’s loads of wildlife to see too.
12. And why not have a BBQ while you’re there…
Yep, in the traditional brilliant Aussie style, why not finish off your day on Manly with a BBQ? You can find them at Shelly Beach, Manly Lagoon Park, Little Manly Reserve and Fairway Reserve so you should be good to go wherever you decided to explore.
13. Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge
Dif you know that Sydneysiders gave this iconic bridge the nickname of the ‘coathanger’? It’s a bit of a love/hate thing but the shape of the bridge lead it to its name. You can’t miss the chance to walk over the Harbour Bridge and see the city from a different perspective. My favourite time to go is at sunset!
14. Shop at the Saturday markets in Paddington
When is a market more than just a market? How about when every purchase made goes towards helping the homeless and disadvantaged people in the local area. Personally, I think the Paddington market is one of the best and when you know that everything sold is not only supporting new designers and entrepreneurs but also those in need of help, it’s a great feeling. It’s full of everything you would want in a market and the location around a beautiful church makes it even more charming.
15. Explore the Rocks
This suburb is jam-packed full of history and some dark stories from the past. I would highly recommend going on the free walking tour of The Rocks to find out more from a knowledgeable local. While you’re there, be sure to check out all the great architecture, archaeology, the little laneways and also the museums there.
16. Shop at the Saturday markets at The Rocks
From jewellery to bags to chocolate, you will find it all at The Rocks market on Saturdays. Spend time browsing through all the one-off items and find yourself a unique gem to take away with you. Be sure to try some of the delicious food at the stalls, and while your there, go and sit under the Harbour Bridge and look out over the harbour and Opera House for lunch with a great view.
17. Relax in Hyde Park
Looking for a place to relax in the heart of the CBD? Then make your way to Hyde Park and watch the world go by for a while. Why not have a picnic while you’re there too?
18. Drink at the oldest pub in the city
Walking through The Rocks you will see a number of pubs that claim to be Sydney’s oldest pub. But when there are pubs that claim to have been around longer than the building itself, it can get kind of confusing. But why not pick one and have a drink anyway?
19. Check out the views at Observatory Hill
This spot offers fantastic sweeping views of the Harbour and Opera House and is the perfect spot to watch the sunset from. Don’t forget to check out the public art in the cute rotunda in the middle of the park too!
20. Visit the Blue Mountains
Located just a couple of hours from Sydney, the Blue Mountains National Park is an absolute must! Whether you love hiking or you just want breathtaking lookouts, the Blue Mountains has something for everyone. What’s even better is that you can get there for a tiny $2.50 by train on Sundays! Read more here to learn more about this area, check out my video to get you inspired and also find out how to camp overnight for free!
21. Explore the Chinese garden of friendship
Located in Darling Harbour which is right next to China town, you will find these beautiful and relaxing gardens. It’s completely walled in offering an escape from the bustle of the city and harbour. Entrance costs just $6 per adult.
22. Have a walk around Darling Harbour
This shiny harbour area is right next to the city centre and a great place to check out. It has a relaxed business feel to it and there are loads of restaurants offering decent lunch menu deals if you’re looking for an affordable bite to eat.
23. Spend a day exploring Sydney’s suburbs
A trip to Sydney wouldn’t be complete without exploring some of the areas that surround it. From great Saturday markets in Paddington to Indoor glow in the dark crazy golf at Holey Moley in Newtown, there’s plenty to do and see and tonnes of places to eat and drink at. So hop on a bus or train and make your way around some of them.
24. Find some hidden bars
while a rooftop bar may offer great views, finding a hidden bar is way more fun. You’ll find them down the dingiest of lanes and behind completely unmarked, unlikely looking doors, but you’ll also definitely find some of the best cocktails!
25. Happy hour drinks at Circular Quay
For a drink right in the hustle and bustle of the harbour, and with a great view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, head to one of the bars on Circular Quay during happy hour. The beers prices along there are surprisingly reasonable, so why not go for it?
26. Or why not really get into the Sydney vibe and have a drink at the Opera Bar
With great drinks, music and loads of seating, it’s a pretty damn perfect way to relax and soak in the atmosphere!
27. Watch a cruise ship leave the harbour
Ok, so this might sound like a bit of a weird one, but if you happen to be in the harbour when one of the ships is leaving, make sure you watch it! There’s just something awesome about seeing something so enormous leave the harbour as the sun sets.
28. Hit Bondi Beach
Because you can’t not go right? On a hot day it will be heaving but grab your swimmers, jump on a bus and join in with the crowds. Just make sure you pay attention to the flags on the beach – there’re some seriously strong currents here!
29. Do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk
This 6km walk will take you along the stunning coastline through a number of beaches, parks and rock formations. It’s an easy walk and a great way to spend an afternoon. Be sure to take some food with you for a picnic and plenty of water. Check out my photos here for more inspiration!
30. Take a dip in the Bondi Iceberg pool
This is probably the pool you will have seen pictures off time and time again, so why not take a swim here? Membership is not required to enter and at just $6.50 per adult, it’s the perfect way to get in the sea.
31. Visit Luna Park
Luna Park in Sydney is one of only 2 Luna Parks left in Australia (the other being in Melbourne) and you can see it right from the harbour. You can get the ferry, train or bus over to the park on Milsons Point.
32. Have a picnic in a park
With over 400 parks in Sydney, it’s a great city to relax in. Why not pick one, get a picnic together and spend some time doing nothing (apart from stuffing your face with food). To find parks near to where you’re staying, have a look here.
33. Check out the Northern Beaches
whilst Manly is the start of the Northern Beaches, and super easy to spend the whole time there, don’t miss out on quieter spots further along. For stunning and lesser known areas, head over to beaches such as Curl Curl for great views, Dee Why for a swim in an ocean pool or Akuna Bay to really relax.
34. Take a road trip to Seacliff Bridge
Located 1.5 hours drive from Sydney, this road is pretty amazing. This part of the Grand Pacific drive is where the road sits away from the cliff, right over the ocean and follows the coastline. You can walk it in about 15 minutes and is just pretty damn awesome!