Take advantage of the city’s natural beauty and laidback ambience. Some of the best parts of Sydney cost nothing at all.
A chic but easy-going metropolis, Sydney’s concrete heart is wrapped in a majestic embrace of national parks and turquoise waters. Bejewelled with beaches on East, and a wealth of breezy, urban hang-outs, the city serves up a refreshing blend of bustling city life infused with a rich expanse of nature’s finest offerings. Sydney boasts a lively yet still laidback vibe, that is tangible throughout the city, and can be enjoyed at little to no cost, suiting even the lowest budget explorer.
To revel in the low-budget or, preferably, free activities, is to cherish the city of Sydney like a local. Forgo the tourist excursions and meander the city’s streets, get acquainted with the efficient public transport system and see where it takes you. Navigate the magnificent surroundings and discover how, in this city, the best things in life really are free.
Be sure to grab yourself an Opal Card. Available to order online, or throughout the city at thousands of retailers, this will be your most useful tool when exploring. Your Opal Card can be used on all public transport in Sydney: buses, trains and ferries. By simply tapping on and off, you can make the most out of the reasonably priced fares — there is a cap on prices per day, per week and (perhaps most useful of all) on Sundays. More on the Sunday price cap to follow.
Circular Quay: Harbour Bridge and Opera House
The image that likely enters your mind when you think of Sydney is its world famous harbour. The Harbour Bridge and the Opera House are recognised the world over, and have become universal symbols of Australia. These iconic landmarks are accessible by public transport: board a bus, train or ferry to Circular Quay. Alternatively, journey on foot and take a leisurely stroll through the Eastern Suburbs, breathe in the energetic aura of Oxford Street and wander through Hyde Park. Sydney’s easygoing ambience, even in the midst of urban life, will be palpable as your mosey your way down to the harbour.
There’s an array of restaurants at the harbour, most of which are more on the pricier side given their location. The Opera House is free to visit, although you can pay $40 for a guided tour if you wish. To experience the sheer scale of the building, and enjoy the views across the water that surrounds it, however, is free of charge. Crucially, it is a prime spot for a selfie or two… or twelve. Take a stroll around the Opera House perimeter and peek over the rails at the steps down to the water — you might just see a seal enjoying its own slice of Sydney sunshine.
Scan the horizon adjacent to the Opera House, and you might spy a slightly foreboding pair of eyes and a toothy smile, grinning at your from across the water. This is Luna Park, Sydney’s beloved, restored amusement park, first opened to the public in 1935.
If you begin at Circular Quay, you can get a ferry over to Milson’s Point where the park is located. Alternatively, you could take the half an hour walk across the Harbour Bridge, killing two birds with one stone and enjoying another free activity: viewing the unbeatable sights of the city from the heights of another quintessential landmark. General admission to Luna Park is free — subsequently you would pay $10 per ride, should you choose to give any of them a spin. If fairground thrills are your fancy, it could be worth spending the $55 ticket price for unlimited rides. If slightly rickety thrills aren’t your bag, you can simply enjoy the park at no cost; it’s a great photo-op (especially in front of the aforementioned creepy face at the front), and is fun to explore and get caught up in the carnival-like atmosphere. The park is also in a prime position to get a different perspective of the Harbour. Sat out on the deck here is a great place to catch a dreamy Sydney sunset.
The Blue Mountains
Slightly further afield, but still easily accessible by regular train services is the breathtaking spectacle of the Blue Mountains. Carpeted with oil bearing Eucalyptus trees, some associate its namesake to the fine oil droplets these trees disperse throughout the valleys, creating a dusky, blue mist that fabricate a dreamlike setting. If you are an avid walker, you will not be let down by the amount of trails on offer here. Waterfalls, native animals, and historical Aboriginal art are in abundance throughout this sacred national park. It’s only a two hour train ride from Sydney Central Station, despite feeling otherworldly and a far reach from urban life. Journey here on a Sunday and take advantage of the Opal Card Sunday price cap — the return train journey will cost you only $2.60. With said Opal Card, you can travel anywhere in Sydney for this price on a Sunday. Another one of the Opal Card’s many benefits; even if you embark on multiple trips, the Sunday price cap means the maximum you will be charged for the whole day is $2.60, no matter how far and wide you travel across the city.
It may seem counterintuitive to head to a local marketplace if you are meaning to be strict with your budget. Paddington Markets, however, are well worth a visit for the atmosphere and the simple pleasure found in perusing the handmade goods. Here, you can find a variety of stalls, from vintage vinyls, to handmade jewellery, homemade cakes and cold pressed juices to name a few. Paddington Markets are a celebration of community and local craftsmanship. Running every Saturday (rain or shine) from 10am-4pm, there is normally the bonus of live music to be enjoyed. It’s a wonderful spot to take your time browsing various boutiques within an unhurried, mellow atmosphere. More enjoyable still if it’s done whilst savouring a handmade delicacy and resting in the shade, listening to whichever musical act is gracing you with their talents that day. There is public transport readily available to get you here hassle-free, Opal Card in hand. It’s worth noting that you can skip public transport altogether should you fancy. If you head here from Circular Quay, for example, the walk is just short of an hour but is leisurely and enjoyable. This route gives you a divine opportunity to enjoy the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street en route to the markets.
Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk
Sydney boasts an enviable number of picturesque beaches. Some, like Bondi, are iconic; world famous for its curling surf and synonymous with the city of Sydney. As well as its more famous coastal stretches, Sydney is home to over 100 more beaches, each one offering up its own sandy slice of laidback Aussie life. The East Coast is studded with beaches and you will never struggle to find one to relax on, but a great way to explore the Southern beaches is to begin at Bondi, and take the stunning coastal walk down to Coogee beach. It won’t cost you a cent to enjoy the warm salty air along the coastline, and you get to experience some of Sydney’s most beautiful stretches of sand and surf.
Begin the coastal walk at the Southern end of Bondi beach, and enjoy at your own pace. Be mindful, there are some steep staircases throughout the walk, and remember to stay hydrated on hot days (these are surprisingly common Down Under…). There are plenty of opportunities for refreshment with cafes and kiosks dotted alongside each beach, however I would recommend taking your own bottled water as well.
If you are in Sydney during October to early November, you will be able to enjoy the annual Sculpture by the Sea; an outdoor exhibition that presents art where you would least expect it. Blending into nature and intertwined with rock formations along the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, the exhibition adds another element of beauty to the wild coast. With the rugged landscape as its backdrop, the art makes nature its canvas and blends seamlessly into the coastline. This can all be enjoyed free of charge, however is likely to be extremely busy when the exhibition is taking place, so perhaps plan ahead to arrive before the crowds — the earlier the better.
Sydney has a multitude of activities to suit all budgets and needs — this list barely scratches the surface of what this city has to offer. I think it’s useful to know about the free/budget friendly options when Sydney is often perceived as a very expensive city to stay in. Do you have any favourite things to do in Sydney? Do you enjoy the more luxurious activities and do you have any recommendations?