Free Stuff to Do in Sydney

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 27th, 2009

Besides being Australia’s largest city, Sydney is also the most visited (though, contrary to popular belief, it‘s not the country‘s capital). Sydney has an incredible variety of attractions and sights to see, and, while it can be pricey, its great outdoors, stunning scenery, and a few attractions are free. So when you find yourself in this great city on a tight budget, here are some Sydney travel tips that involve free things you can do:

The Rocks
People shopping near The Rocks in a historic part of Sydney
The Rocks is the most historic part of Sydney with many narrow laneways, fine colonial buildings, maritime history, sandstone churches, and Australia’s oldest pubs. The Lord Nelson brews its own beers and is well worth a refreshing stop. There are traces of Sydney’s original hospital, plumbing, and Tank Stream (the first fresh water source) around the area. With weekend markets and street entertainment, The Rocks is a good place to see.

Beaches
The beaches are free to go to in Australia
Go surfing, swimming, paddling, walking, or simply laze in the sun. From Palm Beach in the north, through the famous Bondi to Cronulla in the south, Sydney is jeweled in white sandy beaches. Discover your favorite; whether energetic and crowded or tucked away almost unseen, there‘s a beach for all moods and people.

Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie Chair
A couple lying on the grass at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie Chair in Sydney on a sunny day
One of Sydney’s finest walks leaves from lively Circular Quay (where the ferries come in). Walk towards the Opera House with its telltale white sails and into the Royal Botanic Gardens, Australia’s first vegetable garden and now a treasure trove of trees, ferns, flowers, and lawn. Criss-crossed by paths and tracks, it‘s a fine place for a picnic before aiming for Mrs Macquarie’s Chair for one of Sydney’s finest views. Carved from sandstone for the wife of one of the early governors, this spot offers stunning vistas of the Opera House, harbor, and Harbor Bridge. On a sunny day, you‘ll find locals sprawled out all over the gardens.

Ferry to Manly Beach
The ferry to Manly Beach is free
More like a seaside town than Sydney itself, Manly is one of the better-known beaches in Sydney. Walk the pedestrian Corso to the main beach area where you can swim, sunbake, eat ice-cream, and simply people watch. There‘s a superb walk along the coastline to tiny and protected Shelly Beach, with cute marine sculptures and a tidal pool. The ferry ride back offers great views of the Harbor Bridge and Opera House. Plan your journey around sunset or early evening for some stunning scenes.

Sydney Harbor Bridge
It's free to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge
The bridge was built in 1932 as a government employment project during the Great Depression. While tours to climb the bridge are expensive, it‘s free to walk across the bridge and get great views of the Sydney Opera House and panoramas across the harbor. Finding the entrance on the city side can be tricky, so jump on a train to Milson’s Point and walk back towards the city. The best time for pictures is the early morning for the sunrise or the late afternoon when the sun is behind.

The Blue Mountains
Photo from a hike up the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney
Over the millennia, the ancient sandstone of this national park area has been weathered into gorges lined by steep cliffs and separated by narrow ridges. Some activities in this area include seeing the magnificent rock formation of the Three Sisters (particularly stunning at sunset and under evening floodlight) or hiking along paths offering excellent views of the valley, sheer rock walls, tumbling waterfalls, and magnificent forests. The park is free, but the bus costs a little money.

Museums
The boat at the National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbor is a free thing to do in Australia
Like most cities, Sydney has a wide variety of museums. There‘s free entry to the Art Gallery of New South Wales (including lots of aboriginal art), the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Rocks, Nicholson Museum in Sydney University, and the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbor. The historic ships are major attractions, including various military vessels and a seaworthy replica of Captain James Cook’s Endeavour, which made contact with Australia in 1770. These museums can give you insight into Australian culture and history as well as a nice cooling break from Sydney‘s hot sun.

Sydney offers a number of ways to enjoy its charms without spending money. Whether it’s relaxing at the beach, escaping to national parks, learning a little of Australia’s history, or viewing the iconic sights, Sydney has it all. Even if you don‘t plan on coming on a budget, these attractions are still must sees.


Mark is a forty-something traveler based in Sydney and has visited 80+ countries across all seven continents. He is the author of the popular travel blog Travel Wonders of the World and enjoys writing about and photographing memorable destinations across our great planet.

comments 12 Comments

gorgeous photos!! i can’t wait to get to sydney. thanks!

brandy jensen

Thank you for posting this. It looks like there are some very fun things to do!

The Rocks and the Blue Mountains were my two favorite of what you have listed and you did a great job – that’s pretty much all of the must-sees in Sydney – I picnicked in the gardens one afternoon and it was really lovely :-)

We are in Sydney now and have done many of these. I think you should add walking through Darling Harbor to this list, too, because there is so much fun people watching there by all the fountains. We love the Botanical Gardens – such a wonderful place!

Thank you all for your comments.

@dave: There are some excellent painters/buskers/street entertainers around. I think Mrs Macq’s Chair is the best photographic point for visitors in Sydney (though north of the harbour looking back at the city at night time is pretty good too).

@akila: Darling Harbour is excellent but which one would you leave out? I did mention the Maritime Museum which is through Darling Harbour and the Chinese Garden (for a few dollars) is a remarkably peaceful and harmonious place in the middle of the city.

@gordie: As a Kiwi, you’ll have to come and explore one day.

Ships in Darling harbor are free? Im pretty sure i had to buy a ticket to get the tour for the submarine and the destroyer there – however that was in 2004…

@daniel: You are correct that there is a charge to get on the boats/ships/subs but the remainder of the museum is free of charge and you can walk (on the pier) right next to the boats. I should have been more precise in how I wrote up the museum.

Nisha

Sydney is one of my favourite cities and I have seen all that you’ve mentioned herein post and in the comments. :)

I agree with Dave, the spray painters are amazing. I even have a video captured of that. Must upload it sometime.

NomadicMatt

yes you must!

jimzoni

I enjoyed reading your posts so far. Great to see folks enjoying and documenting their travels too. Im new at this but enjoying the process.

Sydney is such an expensive city to visit (dining, lodging primarily) that free things are particularly welcomed. Among my favorite are the markets – Paddy’s in Chinatown, Glebe Market on weekends, and so on – where you can really see a slice of city life while sampling all sorts of interesting food.

Adrian

Thank you for compiling this list.
Please note that the Ferry to Manly is NOT free.
Walking around Manly and its wharf, however, is free.

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