At last: air-conditioning, a double bed that doesn’t require us to remain rigid on our sides all night in case we elbow each other in the face, and a toilet rather than a bush. We’ve made it to Sydney and have the absolute luxury of staying in an Air B n B in Bondi for a week with friends from home. I love cities because there is always something new and exciting to do, and Sydney doesn’t disappoint in that regard. But there is a lot more to this city than the standard bar and restaurant scene (although there is a big one here), since there are beautiful beaches, pretty parks and secluded coves dotted all over the place for a little piece of nature whenever you get enough of the crowded streets. For me, Sydney strikes the perfect balance between the fast-pace of city life and the sometimes much-needed escape of that very pace. Read on to find out some of the things you can do in Sydney when travelling on a budget to make your wallet go further in this beautiful, dynamic, and diverse city.
11 Things to Do in Sydney on a Budget
Before I start, just a quick heads up about public transport in Sydney: you have to buy and load up an Opal card (which you can do at most local newsagents) when you arrive – maybe start with $30/$40 if you’re there for a week. Avoid driving at all costs because the roads are hectic and toll-heavy.
1. First on the list because it is one of the “must-sees” in Sydney: you guessed it, a visit to the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House. For me, the best time to go is at dusk, when you get the full, dazzling effect of the lights spanning across the water, and the harbour is alive with the sounds and smells of people drinking and dining in bars and restaurants. I didn’t do the famous climb along the bridge because we’re travelling on a budget (it costs around $180 pp – depending on time of week etc) but I’m sure it would be a very memorable experience. For now, I’m quite happy looking up at the tiny figures tottering along the top of the bridge from down below, thanks!
2. If you take a walk around the edge of the Opera House, you’ll soon stumble upon the entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which has been established for 200 years as of 2016. You’ll find a whole range of native Australian flowers, plants, and wildlife to marvel over, all the while enjoying the spectacular harbour views. Although we just took a long stroll through the gardens by ourselves, you can book in for an Aboriginal Heritage Tour if you’re interested in learning about the important history that is rooted in the gardens, which were once home to the Cadigal people.
3. Catch the ferry to Manly – if you didn’t get the perfect shot of the Opera House, hop on the ferry and you’ll be rewarded with some amazing views of the harbour as you head north to the charming beach suburb of Manly. It’s got great surf, idyllic coastal walks and restaurants aplenty for a nice afternoon out of the city. But don’t be fooled, it does get very busy here, so be prepared to elbow your way through the crowds for the perfect picnic spot by the beach.
4. If, like me, you enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, then pay a visit to the rustic looking 4 Pines Brewery while you’re in Manly to sample their delicious craft beers. 4 Pines is a brewery with a cause – not only to produce great beer, but to do so in a way that incorporates local businesses while being environmentally sustainable, through their Save the Pines programme – awesome! We opted for the beer tasting paddle so we could try a little bit of everything and got some calamari and chorizo to share. 4 Pines was voted as Australia’s 5th most popular brewery of 2016 by Beer Cartel, and I can see why. Our favourites were the hop-forward Pale Ale and the easy-drinking Kolsch.
5. To balance out all that beer drinking, stretch your legs with one of Sydney’s stunning coastal walks from Bondi to Coogee. This isn’t a particularly strenuous route (it’s around 6km, a couple of staircases and hills) but you’ll experience the most spectacular views from the cliffs the entire way. Stop off at one of the many beaches for a swim and a coffee, or go snorkelling at the beautiful Gordon’s Bay where there’s an Underwater Nature Trail. We went for a swim at Coogee beach, (which seemed to me like a slightly smaller, less crowded version of Bondi beach) and shared a pizza at the airy, beach-side restaurant Coogee Pavillion.
6. Collins Flat beach is a beautiful oasis a short walk away from Little Manly Cove, in the heart of Sydney Harbour National Park (well worth a visit in itself). During rainier months, there’s meant to be a beautiful little waterfall, but it was more of a dribble when we went during the peak of summer! Perfect swimming beach, it was just a shame that it was somewhat overrun with rowdy teenagers when we visited on a weekend (kids these days). So my advice is to go during the week or at least get there early so you can experience the feeling of serenity that’s intended.
7. One of the things I love to do when I visit a new city is go on a walking tour – Sydney offers lots of different options, but I would definitely recommend the I’m Free walking tour that explores The Rocks and the colonial history of Sydney. That’s right – it’s free! But, you are encouraged to leave a tip at the end, the amount depending on how much you enjoyed the tour. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about his own city, which made the whole tour really enjoyable and personable. We learnt lots of quirky facts about the old pubs in Sydney, one of which was said to have had a secret door that led to a cellar. When customers drank too many beers and became unaware of their surroundings, they were supposedly thrown through the door and press-ganged (i.e shipped off to become sailors against their will!)
8. This one isn’t specific to Sydney, but there are literally hundreds of yoga studios dotted around the city, so it would be rude not to try a class! I went to a great Ki yoga class (Japanese style) at Mosman Village Yoga, where you can get a week long introductory pass for $25, which is ideal if you want to go to a few classes while you’re in Sydney.
9. The government is trying to promote tourism and development in as many pockets of the city as possible, and at the forefront of that project is Barangaroo. Situated close to the hubub of Darling Harbour and Millers Point, Barangaroo is making the most of its prime location and excellent views with its recently established Reserve/park area. It’s a really nice place to have a walk or just sit down and read your book, because you can still get the views without the crowds of people. Most interestingly, though, is the strong Aboriginal history that is tied to this space (Barangaroo was a strong female figure in Sydney in the late 1700s). You can learn more about it in the free walking tour (see above) and/or read here.
10. It’s worth seeing if there are any sport matches or games happening during your stay in Sydney. During our stay, we got cheap tickets to see the International Cricket Test Series (Australia v Pakistan) at the SCG. Although I’m definitely not a huge fan of cricket (in fact, I only learnt the rules when we got there), it was a fantastic atmosphere, and it’s certainly an experience to be submerged in a crowd of drunk Australians.
11. Last but not least, don’t forget to pay a visit to the world renowned Bondi Beach, where you can spend the afternoon lazing on the sand (amongst hundreds of other sunbathers), before you saunter over to one of the many bars available. Try the Bucket List for beer or cocktail pitchers to share, or Ravesi’s for a more upmarket experience on the rooftop. Our go-to bar when we were in Bondi was the Beach Road Hotel, open 7 days a week with different specials every night (Wednesday is student night, when they open the expansive upstairs section) and a wide selection of food and drink, it’s the perfect place to go for good value and an easy-going atmosphere.
So, there you have it – 11 things you can do to keep yourself busy, well-informed, and well-fed, all on a budget during your time in Sydney. Enjoy!