Sydney on the Cheap

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Like every city in the world, Sydney can be as expensive as you like or be seen on a budget. Assuming you are already in Sydney, all the things I am going to suggest will cost you nothing.

Let’s start with two iconic sites; the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. If you want to climb to the top and be led across the bridge it will set you back over $A180 (say £90) but you can walk across it for nothing. Being too much of a miser I have never done the guided trip but you can see nearly as much just by walking across or travelling just on the railway from Wynyard to Milson’s Point and back again. But that will set you back the rail fare. The Opera House has guided tours and the shows will be above the $50 mark but you can wander around for nothing both inside and out.

As you leave the opera House you can either go right and wander along Circular Quay (where all the ferries go from) or go left and wander around Mrs Macquarie’s Chair into the botanical gardens and what is known as the Domain. Circular Quay is lively and there is usually someone playing a didgeridoo to try and create a feel of indigenous Australia. Ferries linking all parts of the harbour dock here every few minutes and the one to Darling Harbour is the cheapest but also the one that goes under the Bridge, across to Luna Park (a funfair overlooking the harbour) and then down into Darling Harbour the trendy tourist area that houses the Maritime Museum and the Aquarium. And by trendy I mean expensive so if you are on a tight budget, look, walk and move on.

Back at Circular Quay, if you keep going right you get to the Museum of Contemporary Art which is free. Inside at present there is an exhibition of work by young Australians some of which is assuming like a whole wall given over to those offers that come through the door advertising savings at supermarkets. Always quirky (I remember a “room” being given over to Kylie Minogue memorabilia a few years ago with loads of spinning CD’s strung from the ceiling revolving and sending out shafts of light from the prism effect.)

Keep on going around and you get to the area known as the Rocks. This is where the first settlers stepped ashore in 1788 and it remained a mixture of old warehouses until the site was restored and turned into a tourist bonanza. Yes it is a tourist trap, yes it is expensive in places but walk, absorb the atmosphere and at least the Rocks Discovery Museum is free. Here though you will find those all important souvenirs to take back as well as a host of different restaurants. And usually there are free events happening throughout this quite large area so it is easy to spend half a day here. And you can even go on The Rocks Pub Tour. (for more see

Back to the Opera House. If you turn left, as I said you gothrough the Queen Elizabeth II Gate and enter the Botanical Gardens and the Domain. If you follow the foreshore around the harbour you get to Mrs Macquarie’s Point where her chair is. It is actually a rock ledge where, according to tradition the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie sat. Even in the first days, people sat and watched the comings and goings on the harbour.

Fruit bats in the Botanical Gardens

Fruit bats in the Botanical Gardens

In the Botanical gardens themselves, you will find an array of different Australian plants but something else as well. 20,000 fruit bats live here and they are big. You’ll see them hanging from the trees and as the blow up man flaps his arms and tries to persuade them to move on, their noise as they scramble for a roost. As far as I am concerned this is one of the best free sites in Sydney,- provided you can put up with the smell. And be careful as you walk because their droppings can make the paths slippery.

Cross from the Gardens into the Domain, another area of park, and you reach the Art Gallery of NSW. Again, this is free, open every day and contains one of the best collections anywhere in Australia or Australian art. Coming up in October is an exhibition recalling an event of 40 years ago when the artist, Christo, wrapped the entire Little Bay in sheeting turning it into an immediate art exhibit and later, much copied around the world.

Manly, Sydney

Manly, Sydney

There then are some free things to do in the middle of Sydney and all not too far away from the focal point of the Harbour. All of these are walkable but Sydney is a large, far flung city and if you want to go further into the suburbs or out to Bondi Beach, Manly, Palm Beach (where Home & Away is filmed), then the public transport network is pretty good. For $A17 you can buy a day pass which can be used on the railways, the ferries and the buses which should get you across most of Sydney if you have the time. But you need to make about four single trips to justify the cost.

But this is Sydney, one of the prettiest places anywhere and just the place to stay on the harbour and like Elizabeth Macquarie, watch the world go by.

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