Sydney is one of those cities that you just have to visit at least once in your life. But like London or New York, it can really max out your travel savings if you’re not careful. With this handy list of 15 free things to do in Sydney, you can experience this amazing city no matter what your budget.
1. Take the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee
This 6km trail takes you on a tour of the city’s best beaches. But besides rock pools, bays and golden sands, you can also expect to see something a little unusual here every year in October: Sculpture by the Sea turns the coastline into an outdoor gallery with surreal and interactive sculptures. It’s a must for anybody visiting Sydney.
2. Bike ride around Sydney Olympic Park
Built for the 2000 Olympic Games, the Sydney Olympic Park is huge. The best way to see the park’s natural wetlands, mangroves, salt marshes and cultural attractions is to take advantage of the smooth cycle paths. Make sure you pack a picnic!
3. Explore Sydney’s harbour
With countless hidden bays and iconic sights such as the Sydney opera house, exploring Sydney’s harbour can provide you with hours of free fun and selfie opportunities. If you want to push the boat out, hop aboard one of the public ferries that pull up outside the docks of Cirqular Quay – though not free, an adult fare will end up costing less than your lunch.
4. Walk the street art and culture scene of Newtown
Newtown is the beating heart of Sydney’s bohemian arts scene. Wander the streets and take in the many murals dotted around the suburb – in particular, check out the artworks along King St and the Enmore Laneways. If it’s raining, head indoors to one of Newtown’s many art galleries featuring everything from local ceramic sculptures to politically-driven artworks.
5. Check out Sydney’s hidden bar scene – free live music venues
Venture away from the city’s upmarket business centre and you’ll find authentic and affordable nightlife in the form of small, hidden bars. Drop by the Baxter’s Inn, recently voted one of the world’s best bars with an eyebrow-raising selection of whiskeys and free pretzel offerings. For cheap fun on a weeknight, make your way to the Soda Factory – Mondays are free movie and popcorn nights, and on Tuesdays, this retro bar-slash-diner dishes out gourmet hot dogs for just $1 each. That’s basically free!
6. Watch the weekly fireworks at Darling Harbour
Sydney doesn’t do things by halves. Channelling the celebratory spirit of its locals, the iconic Darling Harbour holds fireworks over the waters EVERY SINGLE WEEK from the months of May to October. On New Year’s Eve the city pulls out all the stops: The entire harbour lights up in a spectacular display, with half the city crowded around the shore. It’s one of the best ways to see in the New Year, and it’s completely free.
7. Swim the waterfall and lagoons of Sydney’s Royal National Park
Ever dreamed about swimming under a waterfall in a quiet lagoon? Sydney’s Royal National Park has five nestled behind the dense bushes. A local favourite is Wattamolla, with a waterfall and lagoon that connects to a secluded beach. With shallow, calm waters and a quiet beachfront, it’s a hidden gem for visitors looking to avoid the crowds at Sydney’s more popular beaches.
8. Free Salsa night at Establishment Bar
This is one of Sydney’s fanciest bars, but their Tuesday salsa nights – accompanied by a live percussion band belting out sexy Latin beats – are completely free to attend. The bar transforms into one big dance floor and for novices there are free lessons on offer after 8pm.
9. Snorkel with marine life at Shelly Beach
This small, 100-metre long beach located along Sydney’s north coast is hands down Sydney’s best snorkelling spot for beginners. As one of just two west-facing ocean beaches along Australia’s east coast, Shelly Beach is unique in being largely protected from ocean swells, making it perfect for snorkelling with first-timers.
10. Enjoy the view at the Sydney Observatory
This historic building is completely free to visit, and for a small fee you can book a night tour that gives you the chance to see the stars through Australia’s oldest telescopes. Observatory Hill is the highest point over the Sydney Harbour and boasts incredible views across the city.
11. Watch for Whales and Sydney’s city skyline at North Head
Sydney’s spectacular coastline welcomes migrating whales every year. In the months of October to December, mothers and their newborn calves are often spotted swimming very close to the shoreline as they head south, stopping along beaches to rest and feed. One of Sydney’s most stunning whale-watching spots is North Head Sanctuary in Manly. A quick 30-min ferry ride from Sydney city, and you’re guaranteed stunning lookouts with uninhibited views of the inner city and whales passing by.
12. Vivid Festival of Lights
Vivid Sydney is hands down the city’s most spectacular festival. Held in the middle of each year, Sydney’s most iconic buildings are lit up with colourful, ever-changing light displays that interact with buildings. The festival has grown into the largest of its kind in the world, attracting a record 1.7 million visitors in 2015. From the iconic Sydney Opera House to small laneway artworks, the entire city takes on a whole new persona when the sun sets.
13. Admire the architecture of the QVB
The “QVB” or Queen Victoria Building is now home to designer fashion boutiques and fancy cafes and restaurants. But it doesn’t cost a penny to visit this grand historical building and gaze at its beauty. You’ll also find a letter from the Queen to Sydney to be opened in 2085, a Royal Wishing Well, and huge mechanical clocks that play a diamara of Australia’s history every hour.
14. Open-air cinema
Summer in Sydney wouldn’t be complete without an evening spent watching a film under the stars at one of the city’s pop-up open-air cinemas. If you’re into feel-good classics, head to Cathy Freeman Park. Or if you’d like an amazing view to go with your movie, then look no further than St George’s Open-air Cinema (pictured above). And last but not least, the Ben & Jerry’s Openair Cinema – though entry isn’t free, the unlimited supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is!
15. Explore the Rocks Markets on the weekend
This arty, bohemian suburb holds the legendary Rocks Markets every weekend with over 200 stalls selling an eclectic range of home-grown homewares, beauty products and art. You’ll find a heady display of the city’s artistic and cultural diversity, with delicious Turkish gozleme to keep your energy up and ingenious artworks made from cutlery. Just try to stick to window-shopping only!
All images Sydney.com except for the lovely hotdogs from Soda Factory. Words by Amy Cai.