Edited by Emma White
Sydney is of the biggest, busiest, and most exciting cities in Australia, and with so many things to see and do it’s easy to get carried away flashing the cash and trying to squeeze as many of top attractions in as possible. Sadly, there’s no denying Sydney’s reputation for being an expensive city, and for those of you traveling on a budget the growing list of payable activities can be daunting. However, the good thing is that Sydney is also full of equally fun things to see and do for free! Kickstart your trip with this guide to the best things to do in Sydney for free. Give your credit card a break and discover the best of Sydney for free with the help of these local tips and tricks.
A day at the beach
It’s no secret that Sydney is home to some of the best beaches in the world. Whether you’re a surfer, swimmer or tanner and whether you prefer the excitement of a busy beach or the peace and quiet setting of a tranquil cove, Sydney has the perfect beach for you. Aside from the essential food and drink to keep you going all day, you can spend as long as you want at your chosen sandy destination for no cost at all, making this ultimate thing to do in Sydney for free during your stay! Bondi Beach is the most famous beach in Sydney, and arguably the whole of Australia, which therefore makes it one of the busiest too. Nevertheless, it’s soft golden sand, crystal clear turquoise waters and perfect waves, make it a great all-rounder.
For surfers, the unique crescent shape of the beach also means that the southern end has larger waves ideal for the more experienced, while its northern section receives smaller waves which are great for beginners. Bondi is also one of my favourite places to watch the sun rise over the ocean, another amazing thing to do in Sydney for free! If you prefer something less hectic then check out Clovely Beach. It’s much smaller and there aren’t many amenities, but this secluded is beach is one of the most beautiful hidden places in Sydney and a true slice of peaceful paradise for anyone wanting to escape the city crowds. The calm water is also really good for snorkelling or paddle boarding.
Thanks to the lush parklands and bush areas around the harbour, bush walking is a popular activity in and around Sydney and another one of my top recommendations for free things to do in Sydney. Walks range from one-hour leisurely strolls to extreme day-long treks for more experienced walkers. Whatever your level, there are many bushwalks suitable for varying capabilities and fitness levels for you to enjoy. The classic and most well-known Sydney bush walk is the Spit to Manly walk. This trail is well maintained, not too difficult and takes roughly four hours to complete. The views over Middle Harbour are wonderful and there are even a few places along the way to stop for a coffee, grab a snack or go for a swim. And if you’ve got spare time, the side trips to Grotto Point and Arabanoo Lookout are worth the extra effort. Another famous coastal walk in Syndey is the Bondi to Coogee Walk, a medium-grade six kilometre walk in the city’s eastern suburbs featuring picture-perfect views, pristine beaches, pretty parks, as well as bays, cliffs and even rock pools. If you are a lover of the outdoors like me then bush walking is one of the best ways to see Sydney for free, not only will you see some incredible sights and get to spend some time in nature, but you’ll also get a flavour of the famous Australian outdoorsy spirit too!
Visit a museum
The Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-see for art-lovers, like me, visiting Sydney. Not only does the museum boast an extensive collection of fantastic Aboriginal and Asian Art, amongst others, it’s also free to enter making this one of many great things to do in Syndey for free. The wide variety of art on display at this top-rated museum is unique, often unusual, but always though-provoking. You can easily spend a whole afternoon admiring the works of art and the themed exhibitions and just taking it all in. Once your mind has been sufficiently boggled by the beautiful art, head up to the rooftop café where you can indulge in a delicious lunch, paired with a chilled glass of wine or a refreshing beer, and enjoy unrivalled views of the distinctive Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Harbour and the rest of the Port Jackson Sydney Area beyond. The Art Gallery of New South Wales, located near to the Royal Botanic Gardens, is also an excellent alternative. With its striking Greek-style architecture, this gallery is hard to miss. It offers free admission to the permanent exhibitions and boasts an excellent collection of colonial, indigenous, Asian and European art.
Relax at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Sydney’s the Royal Botanic Garden is a heritage-listed major 30-hectare botanical garden, event venue and public park located on the eastern fringe of the Sydney central business district. The Royal Botanic Gardens are one of most beautiful locations in the entire city and a definite must-see for visitors to Sydney, especially if it is your first time. It is one of the most important botanical institutions in the world with more than 9000 plant species arranged into interesting and stunning displays throughout the park. The Gardens are also very popular among locals who like to come here to work out, picnic, meet friends or just lounge around and soak up the sweet Aussie sun. From here you are also awarded great views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and right across to the north shore of the city. And best of all? It’s free! Visit the Rose Garden, marvel at the carnivorous plants, enjoy a picnic in the sun or simply chill out in the shade of palm tree.
Watch the Darling Harbor fireworks
One of the best free things to do in Sydney at night is of course the Darling Harbour firework display. Every Saturday night at 9pm, crowds of locals and tourist alike gather around Cockle Bay to watch the night sky light up with up with a spectacular firework display above the shimmering water. As you can imagine this area gets very busy with eager tourists waiting for the fireworks so make sure you get there early enough to grab a yourself a good ringside seat around Cockle Bay. The harbour is also a great entertainment spot with tons of harbourside restaurants and bars where you can eat and drink before or after the show.
Explore The Rocks
The best way to really get to know Sydney, or any other city for that matter, is by taking time to explore the different neighbourhoods on foot. Heading deep into the heart of local communities, mingling with locals, discovering the city’s secret hot spots and hidden gems and getting lost in the maze of busy streets is one of the simplest yet most valuable things to do in Sydney for free. For a taste of the city’s history, head into The Rocks, the harbourside district where Europeans first settled. Here you can spend an afternoon wandering down quaint, cobbled lanes, visiting old pubs and browsing the local markets. Or spending some time delving deep into Sydney’s colonial history at The Rocks Discovery Museum. And why not end your day by joining a ghost tour and let yourself be captivated by the grisly tales of The Rocks’ past as you walk down dark, narrow streets and try to imagine what would have once been here? This is one of the more unusual things to do in Sydney for free for those who perhaps have a bit more time in the city and are looking for activities which are a little out of the ordinary.
See the lights at the Sydney Vivid Festival
If you happen to be visiting Sydney in the winter, then you’re in for a (free) treat! Every year, Sydney hosts the Vivid Festival, a festival lasting 23 days that combines art, music, light installations, technology, new ideas and much more. The highlight of the annual festival are the night time light installations where iconic Sydney monuments including the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Luna Park and other structures are lit up by multi-coloured lights with different patterns and shapes to form stunning works of art. The festival and its light shows are loved by locals who take the opportunity to get together and celebrate their wonderful home city. The Vivid Festival is usually held around May or June so if you’ve booked your trip for this time make sure to include it in your Sydney itinerary.
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