Updated: 11/12/20 | November 12th, 2020
As my friends and I drank wine in the shadow of the Opera House, I couldn’t help but be happy — I was back in Sydney for the first time in five years — and I was here for over two weeks!
“Shall we go somewhere else?” my friends asked.
“Sure, let’s get the bill!” I replied.
When our check came, I was reminded of something about Sydney I had forgotten: its high prices. Even with a currently weak Australian dollar, Sydney was more expensive than I remembered.
With its 10 AUD sandwiches, 10 AUD beers, 17-20 AUD cocktails, 30 AUD hostels, and outrageous restaurant prices, Sydney can burn a hole in your wallet quicker than an actual fire. It was going to be an expensive two weeks if I didn’t figure out how to enjoy the best this city had to offer on a budget.
Leaving no stone unturned (OK, probably one or two), I found several ways to save big here – while still filling your days and having a lot of fun.
While Sydney is never going to be the cheapest destination to travel to, there are plenty of ways to save money in Syndey thanks to all the free and cheap things to do there.
Between museums, markets, beaches, nature walks, and some local deals, there are plenty of ways to lower your costs on your next visit!
I’ve divided this blog posts into two sections:
Just click on the link above and jump to the section you want!
Free Things to Do in Sydney
1. Get an Opal Card
This metro card is free — you just need to load it with money — and worth using for three reasons: it offers discounted fare compared to purchasing single-use tickets (this varies by distance); there’s a maximum fare charge of 16.10 AUD per day; and on weekends, the maximum is 8.05 AUD. That means you can go anywhere on the transportation system – whether by metro, ferry, or light rail – and you’ll never pay more than 8.05 AUD! It’s an amazing deal.
Additionally, after you’ve paid for eight journeys in one week (Monday to Sunday), you earn the “Weekly Travel Reward” which means that for the rest of that week, your fares will be half price!
2. Explore the Free Museums
Australia has a lot of expensive museums, but tons of free ones too. Some worth considering are:
- The Mint (a small exhibit on how they used to make money)
- The Australia Centre for Photography
- The White Rabbit Gallery (Chinese contemporary art)
- The Manly Art Museum
- The Sydney Observatory
- The Rocks Discovery Museum
3. See the Art Gallery of New South Wales
Opened in 1874, the Art Gallery of NSW is one of my favorite museums in the city. There are so many exquisite landscape paintings, portraits, and statues in its collection by Australian and European artists (and even a few by Monet). It’s a really substantial collection.
Some of my favorites were Albert Hanson’s “Pacific Beaches,” Guerard’s “Jebel Cherib” and “Milford Sound,” and Batten’s “Snowdrop and the Seven Little Men.”
They host upwards of 40 temporary exhibits a year too so there is always something new to see. Check the website to see what new exhibitions will be on during your visit.
Art Gallery Rd, +61 2 9225 1700, artgallery.nsw.gov.au. Open daily from 10am-5pm. Admission is free.
4. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art
Opened in 1991 and housed between a huge art deco building and a new modern wing (which was added in 2012), The Museum of Contemporary Artis another free gallery. Offering over 40,00 works, it features modern international and Australian artists, including works by many Aboriginal artists. While I’m not a huge fan of this type of art (bottles on the floor is NOT art if you ask me), the Aboriginal collection was breathtaking. You can really feel the artists’ connections to their land and culture as well as the pain of past attempts to take it away from them.
140 George St, +61 2 9245 2400, mca.com.au. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm. Admission is free.
5. Relax at the Beaches
Sydney is a city famous for its (free) beaches, and there’s no better way to spend one of the city’s many sunny days than by enjoying one of them. Try to avoid going on the weekends, when they fill up and you have to fight for space.
While Bondi is the most famous, be sure to check out some of these other great beaches:
- Manly (wide and beautiful)
- Watsons Bay (nice coastal walks)
- Coogee (fun and lively)
- Bronte (small and quiet; my favorite)
6. Enjoy a Nature Walk
There are a number of stunning public coastal walks that allow you to take in the breathtaking natural beauty of Sydney’s harbor and coastal cliffs. While tons of people do the two-hour Coogee-to-Bondi walk (avoid it on the weekends), I found Watson’s Bay and the Split-to-Manly walks quieter, more relaxing, and beautiful.
Some other walks worth checking out are:
- Rose Bay to Watson’s Bay (easy, 2.5 hours)
- Watsons Bay to Dover Heights (easy, 1.5 hours)
- Chowder Bay to Balmoral Beach (easy, 1 hour)
- Jibbon Beach Loop Track (easy, 2 hours)
7. Take a Free Walking Tour
One of the best ways to explore a new city is by taking a free walking tour. These will introduce you to all the major sites and give you a solid introduction to the city’s history and culture. I always take a free walking tour when I arrive in a new city.
Best of all, these tours are free — just make sure to tip your guide at the end!
Two suggested companies for walking tours in Sydney are:
- I’m Free Walking Tours – Daily tours of the city center and The Rocks (Sydney’s original settlement).
- Sydney Greeters – This is a free service that connects you with locals who will show you their neighborhood (advanced booking required).
Cheap Things to Do in Sydney
8. Take the Town Hall Tour
Built in 1889, Sydney’s beautiful Town Hall is a picturesque Victorian building. They offer a detailed two-hour tour for only 10 AUD. It’s a great way to learn some extra history about the building and its place in the greater tapestry of Sydney’s history.
483 George St, +61 2 9265 9333, sydneytownhall.com.au. Open weekdays from 8am-6pm. Tours are by donation (10 AUD).
9. Visit the Markets
Sydney has a ton of amazing markets to walk through. No matter what you’re looking for, from antiques to food to local crafts, you’ll likely be able to find it at a market. I love the Paddington Market and the farmers market the best. They draw an eclectic crowd, and the farmers market makes me want to cook nonstop. Here are some other great markets worth checking out:
- Glebe Market – Vintage clothes and eclectic local handicrafts as well as delicious food stalls. Open Saturdays. (glebemarkets.com.au)
- Rozelle Collectors Market – Home to antiques, clothings, DVDs and everything in between. If you like to dig and hunt for awesome finds, this is the market for you! Open Saturdays. (rozellecollectorsmarket.com.au)
- Orange Grove Organic Market – Not only will you find great produce here but there are some incredible food stalls. Definitely come with an appetite! Open Saturdays. (organicfoodmarkets.com.au)
- Chinatown Night Market – A weekly Asian market featuring work by local designers & artists, plus tons of street-food stalls! (chinatownmarkets.com.au)
10. Attend One of Sydney’s Many Events
Since Sydney has a complex about Melbourne being called the culture capital of Australia, it tries to outdo its rival by hosting over dozens of events each year. It has art gallery nights, concerts, festivals, and much more. Most of them are free and can be found on the Sydney tourism website.
Some of the more noteworthy events are:
- New Year’s Eve – Sydney is one of the biggest New Year’s Eve destinations in the world.
- Lost Paradise – A huge 3-day music festival.
- City2Surf – An annual race and fun run
- Vivid Sydney – An annual light, music, and idea festival.
- Twilight at Taronga – A summer music series.
11. Eat Cheap!
Need a cheap meal? The sushi trains around the city offer a filling meal for 10-20 AUD and the noodle and dumpling shops in Chinatown offer tasty and authentic meals for less than 20 AUD.
Another cheap place to eat is the food court in the MLC Centre, a big office building in the heart of the business district and popular with office workers. From Mexican to sushi to salads to sandwiches, you can find big-portion meals for 15 AUD or less.
For more cheap eats, check out:
- El Jannah (chicken sandwiches)
- Chinese Noodle Restaurant (homemade noodles)
- Spicy Joint (spicy Chinese food)
- Spice I Am (Thai food)
- Wish Bone (fried chicken and poutine)
12. Avoid Expensive Restaurants (Even if You Want to Splurge)
In many parts of the world, high-end restaurants are worth the price. You can walk away from an expensive meal and say, “That was worth every penny!” However, that’s not often the case in Sydney. I was always disappointed when I splashed out on food and drinks. From cocktail bars to upscale steak and sushi dinners, I always left hungry, unhappy, and thinking about the lack of value I got.
Stick to beer, wine, and the low-end restaurants when you’re in town. You’ll get more bang for your buck!
13. Visit backpacker bars for cheap drinks
Drinking in Sydney is expensive — even beers cost 10 AUD! For a cheap drink, head to the backpacker bars in Kings Cross. The World Bar has cheap pints and you can use the app The Happiest Hour to find the cheapest happy hours in the city. It’s an awesome resource!
But if you don’t watch out, it will bust your budget in no time.
Sydney may not be one of the cheapest cities in the world, but there are plenty of free and cheap events to keep you busy during your visit. I found myself with plenty of full days that ended with an even fuller wallet!
Book Your Trip to Sydney: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Two of my favorite places to stay in the city are:
Fore more suggested hostels, here’s a list of my favorite hostels in Sydney. And to figure out where to stay, here’s a lit of the best neighborhoods in Sydney so you can pick the right area for your visit.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!
Photo Credit: 2 – John Cowper, 3 – Melanie Lazarow, 4 – Newtown grafitti, 5 – Tristan Davey, 6 – Nicolas Lannuzel, 8 – Gary Bembridge, 9- sv1ambo, 10 – Nelson Minar, 11 – Eva Rinaldi, 12 -ben britten,