Let’s not beat around the bush, Sydney is an expensive city… Expensive to live in and expensive to visit… However, there are some great things you can do for free. Sydney is widespread and diverse and there is a lot to choose from. In order to plan your trip and your budget, I have a list of some of the best things to do in Sydney for free.
Gaze at Sydney Harbour
Sydney Harbour is one of the largest and most beautiful in the world. With so many aspects and great photo locations, the harbour is impossible to miss and you can enjoy the gorgeous views for free. If you are visiting Sydney for the first time, it makes sense to discover the harbour at Circular Quay and walk around the Sydney Opera House. To encompass more views, a ferry ride is a very cheap way of getting around the harbour.
Walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Along with the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge is the ultimate Sydney icon. It makes for a great walk between the Rocks and Kirribilli, to admire the harbour, the CBD and get your bearings around the city. If you want to add a little extra entertainment for a very small budget, don’t miss a visit to the Pylon Lookout.
Visit the Art Gallery of NSW
As you stroll through the Domain, you will come across the Art Gallery of NSW. The museum is an active cultural beacon with collections of Asian, European and Aboriginal Art. Always busy with temporary exhibitions (not always free), it is also a lovely place for lunch. I recommend a stroll through the galleries if you want to get away from the bustle of the city.
Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour of The Rocks
To me, the Rocks are the most interesting neighbourhood in Sydney. Take an afternoon to walk around and discover Sydney’s colonial history. You will get a great insight into how the colony started and how the neighbourhood evolved in the last two centuries by just observing the architecture.
The Rocks Discovery Museum
If you are pressed for time and a full walking tour of the Rocks is not an option, at least make time to visit The Rocks Discovery Museum. Located in a restored sandstone warehouse amongst the cafe strip of the Rocks, the museum presents the history of Sydney from pre-European times to today through a wide-ranging series of displays.
Take a Break in Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral
With shaded alleys and accessible lawn, Hyde Park is where CBD workers relax at lunchtime, and makes for a pleasant walk to the Cenotaph. At the other end of Hyde Park stands St Mary’s Cathedral. Built in the Gothic style, it is a testimony to Australia’s Catholic heritage and is worth visiting for its beautiful stained glass.
Relax in the Royal Botanical Gardens
Set just behind the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanical Gardens are a gorgeous nature haven and boast some of Sydney’s best views. There is a range of different gardens, free tours and it’s a great place to learn about Australian flora. I especially enjoy a walk around Farm Cove and a stroll to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.
Take a Free Walking Tour
There are various options available in Sydney and free walking tours are a great way to get your bearings around the city when you first arrive. There are tours every day at 10.30am. They will also point out the important landmarks and point of interest you may not be aware of!
Have The Most Fun at an Outdoor Festival
With its sunny climate, Sydney lends itself very well to outdoor events, in every season. I am amazed at how exhibitions enhance the Sydney scenery and I have a few favourite outdoor festivals.
If you visit Sydney in winter, don’t despair! During Vivid Sydney, the crisp nights play host to eerie light installations that glow in the dark. Sydney icons such as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge play along and it makes for unforgettable sights…
For spring, the Bondi to Coogee walk hosts Sculpture by the Sea, a stunning collection of contemporary sculptures and installations. A typical coastal walk becomes a unique outdoor experience. I missed the exhibition this year, but here is my recollection of last year’s Sculpture by the Sea.
I also recommend the Sydney Mardi Gras for some colourful street dancing and equality spirit. And the Sydney Festival is an incredible array of cultural and artistic events.
Take a Coastal Walk
The Bondi to Coogee Walk is a popular option for a coastal walk, however, there are many other options. I recently rediscovered the Sydney headlands, South Head, Middle Head, North Head, and even West Head all the way up north. Which one will take your fancy?
Lay on The Beach
A visit to Australia wouldn’t be complete without a day at the beach. The beach is a such a quintessential part of the Sydney lifestyle and there are so many to choose from. From iconic Bondi to family-orientated Balmoral and surfing Maroubra, there is a wide selection and always one near you. The beaches in Sydney are accessible by bus, train or even ferry.
Climb to Barranjoey Lighthouse
The northernmost point of Sydney is a great day trip and offers stunning views. You can travel by bus to Palm Beach and climb Barranjoey headland. Free tours are available on Sundays.
Visit a Market
Sydney has plenty of open-air markets, with great food or wares. Strolling through a weekend market enjoying a coffee and gourmet food is a must-do for all Sydneysiders, young and old. Visiting a local market will give you a good sight in how relaxed and friendly the Sydney lifestyle is. Whether you are into food or fashion, there will be a market for you!
Admire New Year’s Eve Fireworks
In one of the most expensive cities in the world, the most iconic and spectacular event is free… Sydney treats fireworks as art and if you can grab a good spot, it’s an unforgettable experience. Whilst some locations charge an access fee, a number of vantage points remain free. Check out this post from Sydney Expert for more information.
Beautiful Sydney Beaches
Sydney Harbour Photos
You can discover Sydney on public transport, check out this website to start planning.
Do you have any tips for free things to do in Sydney? Please tell me in the comments below.
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25 thoughts on “Some of The Best Things to Do in Sydney for Free”
Vivid Sydney and Sculpture by the Sea are my favourite things on your list. The only one I haven’t yet done is the Pylon Lookout. I keep meaning to go there but always get distracted somehow.
Hi Lyn, Vivid Sydney and Sculpture by the Sea are now firmly on my list… I missed Sculpture by the Sea this year, unfortunately… I visited the Pylon Lookout years ago when I did the BridgeClimb and I absolutely love it! I look forward to your views when you get there!
This year some vantage points attract a cover charge. This is due to the massive clean-up bill the councils face every year. It’s a shame that some good vantage points are no longer free but I understand that there needs to be some accountability as well.
Perfect! We are heading down to Sydney for Xmas to housesit for some friends. Whilst we have done a number of these activities over the years ( Vivid last year was fantastic!) the Barrenjoey Lighthouse looks like a fun thing to do for our family.
Housesitting in Sydney for Christmas is a great idea, hopefully the weather will be good!
I visited Sydney twice but always for a short time. I enjoyed simply walking in the streets that are filled with gorgeous buildings and the Royal Botanical Gardens, which offered great views of Sydney. Though the best experience was the Bondi to Coogee – I wasn’t expecting it, but as I kept walking along the coast and had to force myself to turn back!
Hi Patricia, I agree with you that the coastal walks in Sydney are the best, it’s so beautiful on a sunny day!
I’ve always heard Sydney is a very expensive city so it is nice to see so many free things to do there! The botanical gardens look fun to visit and a coastal walk always seems amazing in Australia.
I would always recommend a coastal walk in Sydney, there are so many to choose from !
We head back to Australia in 2020. Always great to read about free things to do. We missed the museums and art galleries on our list visit. So good to know the Art Gallery of NSW is worth a visit. We will definitely have to look at see what festivals are on when we visit. We may be there for New Years. So we will definitely look forward to an amazing show.
Hi Linda, Sydney has the reputation to be expensive and it’s true. However, there are a lot of free or very cheap things to do. Festivals are a great way to discover the spirit of the city. Don’t miss the Pylon Lookout, it’s only $15!
Love your lineup of free things to do in Sydney! I had no idea there were so many options. Of course the Royal Botanic Gardens tops the list for us, where I discovered my favorite (favourite) park sign ever “Please walk on the grass…” Brilliant. Not sure how we missed The Rocks Discovery Museum on our last visit … must get in there the next time.
Hi Michael, it’s indeed pretty good that grass areas are free to walk on, this wasn’t the case when I was growing up in Paris, that’s for sure! Sydney is expensive but you can certainly enjoy a fair few things for free!
I havent been to Sydney yet (I only done Melbourne) but I want to do EVERYTHING on this list! Then I want to rent a car and drive to Melbourne via the coastal road, or go hiking in the blue mountains nearby…or go north…oh my god, I need about four years in Australia to do everything that I want to do. The only worry is about the costs, my trip to Melbourne was only four days and I left with open wallet surgery. 🙁 Please be cheap again Australia one day. 🙂
Hi Danik, it’s true that Sydney is expensive but I think you can see a lot for not very much money. The key is to work out some cheap accommodation and to find reasonably priced restaurants, and you’re OK.
I absolutely love posts like these. It is almost the best way to discover a new place. Who knew there would be so many? I would definitely love to this entire list if I ever had the opportunity to travel to Sydney. I am surprised that the botanical gardens is free, that speaks volumes to what the city values by making it accessible to everyone.
Hi Renee, often botanical gardens are free. I think all gardens should be free, considering the main thing to do there is to walk around and enjoy the view.
Oh.. I love this list! I think I would start with a free walking tour to get my bearings and learn a few tidbits of info. and head off to the Rocks to explore. Some coastal walks and laying on the beach also top the list for me! Saved for when I get there!
Hi Alison, the Rocks are a great area to explore on foot. Don’t miss the old pubs and old houses!
Free art museum, yes please! Always love looking at ideas for things to do for free. Just walking around the places you mentioned can be so much fun to absorb and draw.
Hi Natasha, my favourite cheap activity in Sydney is to take the ferry across the harbour. There are also some free art festivals like Sculpture by the Sea and Vivid.
Some great tips here, despite Sydney being an expensive city it is also one where there is a lot of amazing things to do for free or cheap too which is great. Our favourite thing to do in Sydney is the coastal walks, such amazing landscape and so close to the city too.
I’m with you, I love the coastal walks, especially on a week day, it’s so much quieter!
I think you missed the cruises at Circular Quay, in particular the Rivercat to Parramatta. Although not free, they offer much better value for money compared to those cruises for tourists. Whenever I have friends from overseas, I always suggest them trying at least one of the routes at Circular Quay.
Taking the ferry is just as good than taking a cruise, in my view. And it’s a lot cheaper too! I haven’t tried the Rivercat to Parramatta though, the inner harbour is also fascinating!