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With its spectacular beaches, iconic Opera House, and stunning harbor, Sydney, Australia is one of the best cities in the world to visit as a tourist. But it can be expensive! If you’re hoping to explore Sydney on a budget, we’ve got you covered.
You don’t need to break the bank to have an amazing time here. This blog will take you through some of the best things to do in Sydney, Australia that are cheap or completely free. You’ll find fantastic hikes in Sydney, museums, wildlife encounters, and more!
While this is a guest post written by Bryan from Budget Your Trip, we actually spent some time in Sydney and coincidently did most of the things on this list! We definitely agree that they are the best ways to have fun without spending a fortune.
About Sydney, Australia
Sydney, the capital of New South Wales and one of Australia’s largest cities, is best known for the harborfront Sydney Opera House, with its distinctive sail-like design. Spectacularly draped around its glorious harbor and beaches, Sydney has a visual wow factor like few other cities in the world.
National Parks surround the city and penetrate right into its heart. There’s always a new restaurant to try, hidden bar to hunt down, hip band to check out, sports team to shout at, show to see, or crazy party to attend.
On the coast, Australia ends abruptly in sheer walls of sandstone punctuated by arcs of golden sand perfect for those beach days you’ve been craving. And what makes Sydney even more of a crowd-pleaser are the many free or cheap things to do here.
Free and Cheap Things to do in Sydney, Australia
1. 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.
This 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) walk features stunning views of cliffs, bays, and rock pools and passes the beaches of Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, and Gordon’s Bay. It should take you about 2 hours to complete.
While it isn’t too difficult of a walk, there are some steeper uphill sections and several sets of stairs along the way. The good thing is there are plenty of places to stop and catch your breath while enjoying the spectacular coastline views.
You can also stop for a swim or pop into a cafe for a drink and bite to eat. In late October/early November, check out the free Sculpture by the Sea near Bondi. The stretch from Bondi to Tamarama Beach transforms into the largest free sculpture exhibit in the world! There are more than 100 pieces of art from local and international artists.
This coastal walk is definitely an activity you should add to your Australia itinerary!
2. Stroll the Sydney Harbor Bridge
One of the most impressive landmarks in the city, the Sydney Harbor Bridge is the largest steel arch bridge in the world!
Called the ‘Coathanger’ by locals, walking or biking across the bridge is completely free and offers some pretty amazing views of the harbor. Just look for the pedestrian pathway on the bridge’s eastern side. It starts at the Bridge Stairs in The Rocks and finishes at the Bridge Stairs in Milsons Point.
Walking gets you the best views as you’ll be on the east side of the bridge, perfectly positioned to see the harbor, Opera House, and Circular Quay. If you’re on a bike, you’ll be on the western side of the bridge, so the views are good, but not AS good as on the other side.
If you do want to shell out some cash, you can climb the bridge with BridgeClimb Sydney. It’s an epic experience but will set you back $250-400 AUD.
As one of the symbols of the city, walking on the Harbor Bridge is one of the free things to do in Sydney that you definitely need to do!
3. Enjoy the Art Gallery of NSW
Entry to Sydney’s premier art institution, the Art Gallery of NSW, is free! Explore five levels of art at one of Australia’s most popular art museums, located within the beautiful parklands overlooking Sydney Harbor, just a 15-minute walk from the city center.
See an extensive collection of Australian art, including one of the largest galleries of Aboriginal art in the country, alongside European masters, Asian treasures, and leading local and international contemporary art. This gallery hosts more than a million visitors every year!
Visit on a Wednesday evening until 10 p.m. for Art After Hours and see a slice of Sydney culture with free celebrity talks, music, performances, films, and special events.
The art gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and later on Wednesdays) and it’s easy to join one of the free guided tours when you walk in.
4. Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens
The beautifully kept Royal Botanic Gardens have everything from succulents to herbs, as well as a tropical greenhouse. You can’t beat the serenity of the city and Sydney Harbor views from here – only a 5-minute walk from the city center.
Spending half a day in the Gardens is a relaxing and free way to enjoy one of Sydney’s top spots. Pack a picnic lunch, a blanket, and a bottle of wine. Then take a walk around the gardens to admire the many different types of plants and city views. You can also take a free self-guided walking tour.
There are also festivals, events, workshops, and plant sales in the garden. Check their event page to see what’s going on while you’ll be there.
The gardens are open every day at 7 a.m. and closing time in the evenings depends on the season – more around 5:30 p.m. in the winter and 8 p.m. in the summer.
5. Enjoy live music at Opera Bar
The incredible Opera Bar is a terrace bar with beautiful harbor views. Not only are the views great, but there’s also free live music each night and on weekend afternoons.
It’s a great place for meeting locals and fellow travelers while enjoying some entertainment from local musicians. It is a busy spot though, so make reservations if you can or be prepared to wait a bit for a table.
While cocktails run in the $9-$20 AUD range, the free music and stellar views are worth it. If you only buy one or two drinks, this is one of the best cheap things to do in Sydney!
6. Check out Luna Park
A fun amusement park with great harbor views, Luna Park has no entry fee. This historic park was first built back in 1935 and still has lots of those older elements to it – combined with modern rides.
You can wander around to look at the rides or grab some fair food if you get hungry. There are roller coasters, a ferris wheel, lots of rides for kids, and an adorable retro Coney Island to explore.
If you do want to ride, I recommend purchasing a day pass online ahead of time. You’ll pay around $44 AUD for an all-you-can-ride pass if you purchase it early … which is a significant savings from the walk-up cost of $75 AUD.
Luna Park is open Friday to Monday and closed from Tuesday to Thursday.
7. 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. This is one of the best diving and snorkeling spots in Sydney, so make sure to bring some goggles!
This sheltered cove is home to tons of fish, octopus, squid, and the occasional wobbegong shark (carpet shark), stingray, or turtle. There are plenty of great spots to snorkel or scuba from the edge of the rocks to the left of the beach or right along the pathway.
There are plenty of facilities too with showers, washrooms, BBQs and a cafe on the beach.
The easiest way to get here is by taking the 30-minute ferry ride on the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf. It’s a $10 AUD ride and you’ll get some amazing harbor views. Once you dock, it’s just a short walk to Shelly Beach.
Related Read: From Sydney, it’s only a short drive to Byron Bay where you’ll see even more sea creatures. Consider getting in the water to kayak with dolphins in Byron Bay!
8. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art
Overlooking Circular Quay, the recently-expanded permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art can be seen for free!
The MCA Collection contains over 4,000 works by Australian artists that have been acquired since 1989. The Museum collects all art forms with a strong focus on paintings, photography, and sculptures as well as a significant collection of work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
You can explore on your own or take one of the free guided tours. Most of the tours are good for drop-ins, although a few require booking ahead of time.
The museum is open every day except Mondays and stays open late on Friday nights.
9. See the Royal National Park
The second-oldest national park in the world, Royal National Park, is home to over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of walking tracks through coastal rainforest gullies, dramatic windswept cliffs, and down to pristine beaches.
It’s beautiful in all seasons with stunning wildflowers in the spring along the Coast or Wises tracks. Come in the summer to surf or relax at Garie Beach. Or in the winter, take the Coast track from Bundeena to Otford and you might spot whales from the cliffs!
This is a huge park to explore, so you can plan to spend the day and bring a picnic lunch or stay a few nights at one of the many campsites.
There is a small charge of $12 AUD per vehicle if you drive, but it’s free on foot if you take public transportation. Camping fees range from $35-55 AUD a night depending on the site you book.
10. Go to church
Two of Sydney’s loveliest churches are separated by just a short walk across Hyde Park.
St Mary’s Cathedral is a prime example of an English-style Gothic church with some interesting local touches in its crypt including a terrazzo floor believed to be one of the world’s most beautiful mosaic floors. There are free guided tours offered on Sundays following the 10:30 a.m. Mass or you can purchase a ticket for a self-guided tour of the Crypt for $5 AUD. St Mary’s is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The elegant St James’ Church is the oldest church in Sydney and was completely designed and built by convict labor. It has a rare collection of marble memorials from the 19th Century, a unique Children’s Chapel with beautiful murals, and an extensive Crypt with sandstone walls and vaults. It’s free to visit and wander through or try and catch one of their lunchtime concerts with affordable $10 AUD tickets.
11. Stroll the Spit to Manly Walk
One of Sydney’s best walks takes you from Spit Bridge to Manly Walk. You’ll pass through the Sydney Harbor National Park with its fascinating Aboriginal rock art, past Manly Cove, see the Dobroyd Head lookout, and down to Manly’s famous beach.
The walk is about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) one-way and should take 3-4 hours to complete. It’s a moderate hike with sand, stairs, dirt track, and some paved road sections. If you’re doing this in the summer, make sure to bring water along! There are lots of points to sit and enjoy the view if you need a bit of rest along the way.
I recommend doing this hike in the later part of the day so you can take the ferry back from Manly Wharf and see the illuminated Opera House and sunset on your way back!
12. Listen in at Conservatorium Lunchbreak Concerts
Get a chance to hear the best up-and-coming musicians at Australia’s premier musical training institution, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Every Wednesday and Thursday during the academic year, there are free lunchtime concerts at the beautiful Verbrugghen Hall.
The 45-minute concerts start at 12:30 p.m. and feature a wide variety of music and instruments from talented Conservatorium students.
13. Experience history at The Rocks Discovery Museum
The Rocks Discovery Museum is a free, family-friendly museum that tells the story of The Rocks area of Sydney from pre-European days to the present.
Housed in a restored 1850s sandstone warehouse, the museum is home to a unique collection of images and archaeological artifacts found in The Rocks – some of which you can even hold. The exhibits are filled with interactive fun, using touch screens, audio, and visual elements to bring the history of the area alive.
Four permanent exhibitions have been developed in close consultation with the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council which share the history and stories of the area and the impact of European settlement.
With free entry, it’s the perfect starting point for an exploration of Sydney’s oldest neighborhood, as well as the area’s rich Aboriginal heritage. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
14. Walk through Hyde Park
Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest park and the city’s central open green space is popular among office workers who want some fresh air, a quick siesta, or a time away from the concrete jungle.
Hyde Park contains numerous monuments and statues, and the central pathway through the park is an impressive fig-lined road. Over the summer months, the park is a hive of activity, with plenty of shade to sit down and relax in.
15. Sunbathe on a floating pontoon
A perfect spot for families and less confident swimmers, the Murray Rose Pool is not really a pool at all but a harbourside enclosure. It’s basically a roped-off area with fences creating an outdoor swimming area.
There are floating pontoons to sun yourself on or you can jump off the wharf into the water. It’s tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but only a few minutes from nearby cafes and restaurants. It’s also free and open year-round.
Parking isn’t ideal around here, so your best bet is to take public transport or walk.
16. Watch migrating whales at the lighthouse
The Barrenjoey Lighthouse lies on Sydney’s most northern point. This historic lighthouse was built in 1881 and has breathtaking views of Broken Bay, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and the Pacific Ocean.
Speaking of those views, if you’re here during the winter (May to October), you can spot passing pods of migrating whales along the shoreline. It’s free to whale-watch here and pretty amazing to spot them swimming by.
The lighthouse is a 20-minute uphill walk from Palm Beach on Sydney’s north side. It’s part of a popular hiking trail in the area. If you want to learn more about Barrenjoey Lighthouse, consider joining one of their Sunday guided tours for $10 AUD.
17. Take a free walking tour
Why not start your visit to Sydney with a free walking tour with a knowledgeable local guide? Rain, hail or shine the guys from I’m Free Walking Tours walk daily around the best Sydney Sights at 10:30 a.m. and The Rocks area at 6 p.m.
The 3-hour easy walking tours of Sydney will show you the sights and give you your bearings so you return to places you spotted along the walk. The guides are super friendly and always willing to answer your questions. You’ll need to book your tour in advance and even though it’s free, tips are highly encouraged.
If you are willing to pay just a little bit, plenty of affordable activities and tours in Sydney are available.
Related read: Have a browse around all the tour options in Sydney and area as you plan your trip!
18. Hang out on the beach
The beaches are famous in Sydney and for good reason. These golden stretches of sand and relatively warm water all year round are just calling for you to pack a beach bag and head down. It’s truly a must for one of the top free things to do in Sydney (though there are parking fees if you drive).
From the Northern Beaches to the Eastern Suburbs you have many so many great beaches to explore. You’ll have to try at least a few while you’re in the city. These are my absolute favorites!
Sitting on the peninsula between Pittwater and Broken Bay, the water is beautifully clear at Palm Beach. It’s located about an hour’s drive from the center of Sydney and it’s not usually too crowded. The calm waters here are great for families with little ones, there’s lots of room to build epic sandcastles or explore one of the nearby hiking trails. There’s also the nice Palm Beach Rockpool that’s completely free to swim in.
This beach is considered the birthplace of surfing in Australia! Way back in 1914, the famous Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku demonstrated his skills on Freshwater Beach. Even today, the waves are pretty constant, making this a popular surfing destination. The beach is nestled between the cliffs here and the sand is nice to relax and there are lots of places to eat nearby.
Of course, the iconic Bondi Beach has to be on my list. It’s one of the best beaches in all of Australia! It’s super close to the city center – about a 15-minute drive. The sand is soft, and the water is clear or if you want to chill, just lay out a beach towel and suntan. If you want to do a bit of local shopping, check out the market stalls that are set up near the beach on Sundays.
Take the ferry from Circular Quay and in less than half an hour you’ll be at the stunning Manly Beach. This is a nice spot to spend the entire day – exploring the beach, taking a swim, or learning to surf on some of the most consistent waves that Sydney has. Surf schools are here if you’re hoping for a lesson or to rent a board. There’s a netted pool for kids and lots of great restaurants so you can grab some fish and chips to eat on the beach.
Close to Bondi, but smaller and less busy, Bronte Beach is another nice option. It has good waves (although they can be too rough to swim in sometimes) and lots of sand to enjoy. There’s also the free Bronte Baths saltwater swimming pool to check out. This beach has great views, lots of parking and you aren’t fighting the crowds for a spot on the sand.
Related Read: For more amazing beaches, be sure to head to Western Australia to check out Perth, Busselton, and Margaret River!
19. Catch the ferry to Manly
I’ve mentioned the ferry to Manly a couple of times in this blog because it’s one of the best ways to experience Sydney Harbor.
The tickets are relatively cheap at $10 AUD and the scenery on the way over and back is stunning as you cruise by the city skyline, Opera House, Harbor Bridge, and Botanical Gardens.
Whether you are taking the return ferry after doing the Spit Bridge walk or you’re hoping to spend a day exploring Shelly Beach and Manly Beach, taking this ferry is one of the best cheap things to do in Sydney.
20. Party with some new friends
Sydney draws travelers from all around the world, and many of them stay in some of the best party hostels in Sydney. Why not use one of these hostels as your base to see everything this dynamic city has to offer?
You’ll find cheap accommodations as well as great recommendations from fellow travelers on the best things to see and do in the area. You’ll make new friends, have a group to go out on the town with, or just have some people to enjoy trading travel stories with. Plus, the amount you spend is completely up to you.
Related read: For advice on accommodation in Sydney, check out this blog by our friends from “You Could Travel” on where to stay in Sydney.
21. Take in the view from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
Be sure to check out Mrs Macquarie’s Chair which has one of the best vantage points in Sydney looking back over the Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.
This chair was hand-carved by convicts in 1810 to turn this sandstone rock ledge into a sitting spot. It was specially made for the wife of Governor Macquarie, who was governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. His wife, Elizabeth, loved this area and especially this spot.
Mrs Macquarie’s chair is also the perfect place to take some photos, it is easily one of the most Instagrammable spots in Sydney!
22. The Pylon Lookout
On the Sydney Harbor Bridge visit the Pylon Lookout. Climb the 200 stairs all the way to the top and you’ll get 360° views of Sydney.
This was the original lookout in the city, built back in the 1930s. Now it’s still a great vantage point along with a museum housing original artifacts and a brand-new virtual reality tour about its history.
It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the busier months and is typically only open Friday-Sunday in the winter. Admission is $19 AUD per person.
Related read: If you are heading to Brisbane after Sydney, be sure to heck out these places to see between Sydney and Brisbane!
Visit the Sydney Markets
While the temptation will be there to spend money, you don’t have to spend much or anything at all to enjoy wandering through the various markets in Sydney. You can ‘window shop’ or people watch or pick up something cheap to eat as you stroll through.
It’s a great option if you are looking for cheap things to do in Sydney. The best markets to visit include the following:
23. Paddington Markets
Open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Paddington Markets has been a staple in Sydney since the 1970s. There are more than 150 unique stalls offering creative fashion and accessories, soap and candles, pictures and art, and more! Make sure to grab some breakfast or lunch to-go – the smell of fresh bread will draw you in!
24. Bondi Markets
Open Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there’s an artsy and laidback feel to the Bondi Markets. Stroll by after a visit to the beach to browse produce and fresh food, original designer clothing or vintage finds, handmade jewelry, arts, crafts, and even retro furniture and vinyl records.
25. The Rocks Market
The open-air waterfront Rocks Market is open Saturday and Sunday. You’ll find gourmet street food, art, music, books, fashion, and souvenirs all along the oldest streets in Sydney. There are also lots of free workshops and classes including yoga in the park.
26. Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market is a huge market near Chinatown that’s fun to explore. It sells fresh fruit and vegetables and lots of take-out options for food. You can even buy fresh seafood! There are a ton of souvenir-type things here for cheap gifts and trinkets to take home. It’s open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
27. Sydney Fish Market
If you’re craving fresh seafood, you can’t beat going to the Sydney Fish Market. This authentic, working fish market is right on the harbor in Blackwattle Bay, about 10 minutes from downtown. It’s the largest fish market in the Southern Hemisphere with more than 100 species of seafood up for grabs daily.
You can buy directly from a retailer or head to one of the restaurants and cafes. A lot of the restaurants here will let you pick your own fish or seafood from the display tanks and cook it to order. Talk about fresh! Then enjoy your meal on the harborside boardwalk. The market is open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Related read: Checking out the Fremantle Markets is one of the best things to do in Freo. It’s always one of my first stops when I’m in town!
Free Festivals in Sydney
Once your travel plans are confirmed, if you time your visit right, Sydney puts on some of the best free festivals and events anywhere in the world including:
28. New Year’s Eve
Sydney is sometimes called the New Year’s Eve Capital of the World. If you happen to be here, you’re in for a stellar night!
You’ll be among the first in the world to ring in the new year and of course the fireworks. All the fireworks!
There are not one, but two dazzling firework displays that light up the harbor. The first is at 9 p.m. and then of course at midnight to celebrate the new year. There are so many great spots to watch the shows from and many are completely free!
Watch the New Year’s Eve Sydney website for all the details as the date gets closer.
29. Sydney Mardi Gras
One of the largest LGBTQIA+ pride parades and festivals in the world. Sydney Mardi Gras sees thousands of people make their way down Oxford and Flinders St on colorful and glittering floats. It’s truly a party atmosphere and so much fun to be a part of.
Watch for the incredible parade and other fun events like concerts, dance parties, and pool parties all around the end of February.
30. Vivid Sydney
Vivid Sydney transforms the city into a spectacular canvas of light, music, and ideas for 23 days and nights. The annual festival includes light art and 3-D projections on iconic architecture around Sydney, free live music concerts, and thought-provoking talks and workshops.
This award-winning festival takes place from late May to mid-June. Bring your camera as this festival has some amazing spots to photograph.
31. Sydney Festival
Sydney Festival is among the largest cultural celebrations in Australia. It celebrates the city with a unique style and energy. You’ll find more than 80 different events involving artists in dance, theater, music, visual arts, cross-media, and forums. So many of the performances are free too!
It’s been an annual event since 1977 for three weeks every January. The festival not only showcases amazing Australian talent but also brings in some of the world’s best artists and companies to the stages in Sydney.
It’s a blast to attend!
Where to Stay in Sydney, Australia
With so many things to do in and around Sydney, you’re going to need a place to stay. Luckily Sydney has a huge variety of accommodations to fit every budget. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, check out our top picks for places to stay from luxury rooms to budget-friendly hostels. We’ve got you covered!
Four Seasons Hotel Sydney – $$$
For stunning views of Sydney Harbour and the iconic Opera House, book a room at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. You’ll have unobstructed views of the city from the comfort of your room. The hotel is located in the city center within the historic Rocks neighborhood – nice and close to lots of activities and restaurants. Rooms here start at $400 AUD per night.
Meriton Suites Kent Street Sydney – $$
Stay right in the heart of Sydney in a modern luxury apartment at Meriton Suites Kent Street. The suites are air-conditioned and have laundry facilities and either a kitchenette or full kitchen to make longer stays more comfortable. You’ll also have access to an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and hot tub. These full apartments are $195 AUD nightly.
Sydney Harbour YHA – $
For a hostel with a view, head to the rooftop terrace at the Sydney Harbour YHA. Located in the historic Rocks district, you’ll have amazing views of the harbor and be within walking distance of all the major sights. You can opt for a shared dorm room or a private room here. There’s a communal kitchen, TV lounge, billiards, and a 24/7 reception desk. Dorm rooms are around $45 AUD nightly.
Thanks for reading!
And there you have it, 31 amazing cheap or free things to do in Sydney that will keep you from breaking the bank! We absolutely love Sydney – it’s easily one of our favorite cities in Australia. We would even consider living here all the time!
Did we miss anything or should add to this list? Let us know in the comments if you have any other awesome free or cheap things to do in Sydney, Australia.
A big thanks to our guest author Bryan for his expertise in putting together these budget-friendly ideas for activities in Sydney.
About the author: Bryan is a travel addict and the co-founder of Budget Your Trip, which is dedicated to finding out how much stuff costs around the world. Also an avid photographer, he is happiest when experiencing new cultures and adventures in exotic locations.
If you’re planning a trip to Australia in the near future, check out our other in-depth travel guides including:
Rottnest Island Day Trip: All You Need to Know
Ideas for Fun Day Trips from Perth
7 BEST Waterfalls near Darwin, Australia