I don’t know a person who wouldn’t like to visit Sydney. With its beautiful harbor, countless beaches, many sunny days throughout a year and green parks, Sydney is the ideal city getaway with relaxed small town atmosphere. Unfortunately, the big city life can be expensive and Sydney’s not an exception; but as Russell Crow once said: “The best things about Sydney are free: the sunshine’s free, and the harbor’s free, and the beach is free”, there are plenty of things to do here, that will not ruin your budget. Living in Sydney for over 4 years now, I prepared for you the ultimate list of 16 things what to do here for free.
1. SEE THE OPERA HOUSE
The iconic Sydney building is one of the most famous and distinctive buildings in 20th century and you have to admit that the Sydney skyline wouldn’t be the same without this landmark. Even though you have to pay to go inside, either with a guided tour or to see a performance, you can admire this beautiful piece of architecture from the outside completely free! Because, if you don’t have your photo with the Opera House, have you even been to Sydney?
2. HAVE A PICNIC IN ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
Royal Botanic Gardens are spread through the city centre and cover the total area of 30 hectares. It is a gorgeous park that offers its visitors amazing views over the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and CBD. Pack your blanket and some snacks and enjoy the view!
3. WALK TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HARBOR BRIDGE
I think this is a must when in Sydney. The bridge is open 24/7, the walk is easy, free and it gives you great opportunities to see the Opera House and the harbor from different perspective. If you wish to splash some cash, for $15 AUD ($10 student admission) you can go up 200 stairs in the first pylon, learn something from the incredible history of Harbor Bridge and enjoy the views of the city from above.
4. WANDER AROUND THE ROCKS
The Rocks is the oldest part of Sydney with little alleys, hidden restaurants, sandstone churches and Australia’s oldest pubs. In the 70s it was meant to be torn down to build new modern area with business buildings and luxury apartments, but luckily citizen action got it preserved. It is one of my favourite parts of the city with its weekend markets, museums and endless possibilities to eat! For great views of Sydney Harbor I like heading up to the Sydney Observatory Hill Park, where you can learn about the night sky and Indigenous astronomy (also for free).
5. WATCH THE SUNSET AT MRS. MACQUARIE CHAIR
Mrs. Macquarie Chair is part of the Botanic Gardens, located right on the other side of the Farm Cove. It is probably the most Instagrammable spot of Sydney with the best view of the two most iconic landmarks in one shot.
6. CHECK OUT THE WEEKEND MARKETS
On Saturday the inner suburbs of Sydney come alive with colourful weekend markets full of vintage clothes, fresh produce, local arts and crafts, hand-made goodies, and so on. My favourites are Glebe and Kirribilli. Glebe market is held in the grounds of Glebe public school and it is one of the most popular Sydney markets with its large grassy area, live music and great food. Art, Design and Fashion market in Kirribilli is held only every second weekend, so make your research before getting on the train to the other side of the bridge. This Sydney’s oldest market has really Instagram-worthy views over north end pylons of Harbor Bridge and it is the right place to get unique gifts.
7. HIKE FROM BONDI TO COOGEE
Australia has magnificent coastline. There are plenty of coastal walks to choose from in Sydney, but the most popular one is definitely Bondi to Coogee. It is 6 km long, easy track from one famous beach to another, revealing other smaller, maybe not so popular but definitely not less attractive beaches.
8. SOAK IN THE SUN ON ONE OF THE MANY BEACHES
Sydney is blessed with some of the finest and most famous beaches in the world. There are over 100 beaches in the city and close surroundings which makes Sydney number one when it comes to beach life. Despite the popularity among tourists and locals, water and sand are remarkably clean. At the most popular beaches you will find restaurants, bars and cafes as well as barbecues to pack a hamper and have a picnic lunch. The beach watch is always present, but you still have to be careful because of the waves.
9. HAVE A SWIM IN A ROCKPOOL
Now if you made it to the beach, make sure you explore some of the free rock pools that are a great place to swim without the risk of big waves, currents or sharks. The most popular ones are Fairy Bower Pool in Manly, Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, Mahon Pool in Maroubra, Dee Why Rock Pools, and Bronte Baths. My favourite beach and rock pool is Bronte. The pool and the change rooms are open 24/7, so you can even come here for some midnight swim.
10. VISIT WENDY’S SECRET GARDEN
Located on the North side of the Harbour Bridge in Lavender Bay, a secret garden is hiding, offering scenic views over the Harbour. This fairly secluded spot is a great place to relax, have a picnic or even a small party, as there are garden chairs and tables provided.
11. ENJOY THE ATMOSPHERE IN DARLING HARBOR
Darling Harbour is the entertainment quarter of Sydney. When we moved to the Land Down-Under, we used to live in Chinatown for a while, which is located right next to Darling Harbour. I liked going out with no plans and then finding out that there is something exciting happening, like free screening of Dirty Dancing, Lunar markets with lots of food for Chinese New Year, ice skating in winter months or fireworks every Saturday at 9 pm during summer.
In Darling Harbour, apart from many restaurants, bars and clubs, you can also find Maritime Museum with perfect replica of Captain Cook’s ship, which offers free entry every Thursday.
12. EXPERIENCE VIVID FESTIVAL
I definitely prefer warm summer over cold winter month but decreasing temperatures in Sydney bring every year Vivid – Festival of Lights, Music and Ideas and that is something I am always excited about. Vivid is free outdoor exhibition of lightning sculptures and installations that lasts for 23 nights during May and June and it takes place all over the city of Sydney and few other suburban areas. The whole city changes into one large unique open-air art gallery with interactive light installations, 3D projections on public buildings, and innovative statues.
13. CHECK OUT THE MUSEUM OF CONTENPORARY ART
Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the waterfront of Circular Quay in a grand art-deco building and contains more than 4000 works by Australian and international artists; including paintings, sculptures, photography, moving images, constellations and more. The admission to most of the exhibitions is free and there’s also a café on the 3rd floor with amazing views to the Opera House.
14. VISIT ART GALLERY OF NSW
The Art Gallery of NSW is the most important and popular public gallery in Sydney and one of the largest in Australia. Mix of Australian, European and Asian art are spread over five levels. The admission is free to the general exhibition space, but the gallery also hosts over 40 temporary exhibitions every year, which are paid. Wednesday nights are “the after-hours events”, when the gallery is open until 10 pm. The artists talk about their exhibitions, there are free guided tours as well as live music.
15. GET SOME INSTA-WORTH PHOTOS IN THE GROUNDS OF ALEXANDRIA
The Grounds of Alexandria, former pie factory with brick walls and an organic garden, is the perfect place for everyone who loves markets, cafés, flowers, coffee and pastry. You can find here flower shop, bakery, café, restaurant and even a mini zoo with some farm animals. The entry is free to check it out and take some photos, but most probably you won’t be leaving empty-handed and get at least a lemonade or freshly baked donut.
16. GET LOST IN THE STREETS OF SURRY HILLS AND NEWTOWN
Newtown and Surry Hills are inner-west suburbs with kind of bohemian feel, brimming with interesting things to do and see, interesting people to meet and great food to taste. Lined with vintage shops, second-hand bookshops, graffiti walls, cafes and small galleries, you can just walk around and enjoy life in the two of the quirkiest suburbs in Sydney.
GETTING AROUND SYDNEY
The easiest way to get around Sydney is by using public transport. Trains, buses and ferries in New South Wales are using Opal cards. The Opal card itself is free, you just need to top it up for $10, $20 or $40 AUD. You can get them in any convenience store, but not in the public transport. The maximum daily spend is $15 AUD or $60 weekly. After your 8th ride, every other ride will be half price. Uber and taxi companies also work well in Sydney, or if you are feeling adventurous enough, you can hire a Go-get-car – a car-hire company that hires cars per hour, not per day.
I hope you enjoyed the article and that it inspired you to visit Sydney. I love this city and it keeps surprising me all the time! If you are after some more advice, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments below.
By Hana Melegova from @Hanas.travel.journal