Whether visitor or a resident of Sydney, it’s good to know that there are lots of free things to do around the city. In fact you will be spoilt for choice with the number of places to see and fun things to do around Sydney. We have put together a list of budget-friendly things to do that will show you Sydney in a whole new light.
Free Tourist Attractions in Sydney
Now, in the CBD there are a number of free tourist attractions for you to enjoy.
- Enjoy the sun and fresh air in the delightful Botanic Gardens east of the CBD. Not only can you wander among fascinating native and exotic shrubs, palm trees and flowers, you can also walk around Farm Cove and take the most iconic photos of the skyline, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
- Walk around the historic precinct The Rocks, one of the first white settlements in Australia and discover old worker’s cottages and terrace houses, quaint little cafés and artist studios, street performances and the fantastic The Rocks markets (weekends) as well as the The Rocks Foodies Market (Fridays).
- Or why don’t you cross the Harbour Bridge on foot to take in the beautiful views of the harbour and the Sydney Opera House. If you are lucky you can catch a glimpse of one of the gigantic cruise ships that dock at the International Passenger Terminal, or you can watch the ferries transport Sydneysiders to and from the city.
- Another great viewpoint is off the viewing platform on the Cahill Expressway which runs atop the Circular Quay train station. You can access this secret spot very comfortably via one of the two glass lifts that are tucked away in the south eastern corner of Circular Quay. From here you can enjoy views of Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay.
- Beautiful St Mary’s Cathedral is build with local limestone in a neogothic style and surprises on the inside with its understated elegance and brightness.
- Right next to St Mary’s is the striking Archibald Fountain which serves as a meeting point and gathering place for friends and families. On a hot Sydney summer’s day the sight of the water jets that seem to go high up in the air into all directions is really refreshing. Close by, the main artery of Hyde Park with the impressive avenue of majestic fig trees serves as another willing photo opportunity.
- We wouldn’t recommend shopping here, but just to enjoy some Victorian elegance you should have a look at the Queen Victoria Building, or QVB, and the elegant shopping arcade The Strand. The former is also the perfect choice for a free toilet break by the way – ladies in particular will appreciate this tip.
- One of our most favourite places around the CBD is Chinatown. Nowhere else will you feel so clearly the multicultural vibe of Sydney and the close proximity to the Asian continent. I can spend hours on end strolling past tiny little shops that are selling everything from Hello Kitty stationery to Korean pop music or Chinese herbal medicine. Chinatown is also a good place to find a cheap lunch or snack, just make sure you steer clear of the tourist traps around the pedestrianised Dixon Road.
- Here you will also find the wonderful Paddy’s Market, where you can stroll among the stalls full of souvenirs, household goods, clothes and electronics, or marvel around the fresh food market which is usually also stocked with the most amazing exotic vegetables and fruit. The Market is open from Wednesday to Sunday and on long weekends.
- Need some more inspiration? Have a look at this article: 25 Best Things to Do in Sydney
Free things to do in Sydney’s suburbs
Besides the obvious landmarks around the CBD there are also a number of things you can visit and experience in Sydney’s suburbs. This is a selection of the best places around Sydney:
- There is actually no valid excuse to give the Bondi to Coogee walk a pass. This coastal walk will take you some three hours to master, but the effort is well worth it as you will get to see the most beautiful bays and coastal views, as well as some of Sydney’s most famous beaches such as Bronte, Tamarama and Clovelly beach.
- Another great destination in the Eastern Suburbs is the area around South Head. From the notorious cliffs of The Gap to popular Watson’s Bay on the other side of the peninsula, there are multiple spots that are spectacular lookouts out to sea or to the harbour.
- On the other side of the harbour entrance in Manly you will find North Head which is today a National Park from which you can enjoy the most fantastic views over the Pacific Ocean all the way to the CBD in the far distance. North Head is particularly popular with whale watchers, so make sure you pack your binoculars during the migration seasons.
- Also on the Northern Beaches is the Barrenjoey Lighthouse in Palm Beach. If you are game you can climb the little hill on the tip of the peninsula and be rewarded with great views across Broken Bay all the way up the Central Coast.
- Sydney is blessed with great beaches and swimming spots but Shelley Beach in Manly is probably the best option when it comes to snorkeling in order to get up and close to Sydney’s wonderful marine life. Here you will hear the clicking sounds of dolphins, can see stingrays in action and swim past sea dragons and fishes of all sizes. The beach is well protected from the surf, making it ideal for families with young children, and there are free BBQs where you can cook up a storm.
- In North Sydney, right next to the Harbour Bridge is the iconic and historic Luna Park. While the rides will be at a cost, the entry to Luna Park itself is free and walking around the different rides can make an entertaining experience.
- Another great nature walk that you can enjoy for free in Sydney is the famous Manly to Spit walk which will start right behind the Manly Aquarium and finish at the Spit Bridge in Mosman. Along the way you will be able to enjoy great views of Middle Harbour, lots of native bush as well as Aboriginal rock engravings.
- Lastly, if you would like to check out what Sydney’s designers have been producing lately, you need to pay a visit to Paddington Markets which take place every Saturday in Paddington, not far away from the CBD. Clothes and fabrics, jewelry and artworks, fresh flowers and delicious food make sure you are having a great time without spending a cent.
Free things to do in Sydney on rainy days
Since the weather cannot always be nice, even in Sydney, there are also a number of museums around the city that offer free entry and still have world-class exhibitions. These are perfect kid-friendly places that the whole family will enjoy.
- The Government House which is located in the Botanic Gardens doubles as a museum and as residence of the Governor of NSW. Due to this, the house is not always open to the public, so before you head there make sure you check the website for opening times and visitor tours.
- The National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour is equally recommendable and free – that is, if you don’t want to step onto any of the museum ships that are moored in front of the museum. Here you can learn everything about Australia’s strong ties with the oceans – be it its past as an British overseas colony and important international trade port, the waves of immigration via sea or the modern-day romance of the Australians with the surf, swim and beach culture.
- If you want to learn more about the early days of the Sydney colony around Port Jackson, you need to pay a visit to The Rocks Discovery Museum in, well, The Rocks. This museum has a comprehensive exhibition on the lives, toils and joys of early convict settlement in the Sydney area as well as stories about the Aboriginal history in pre-colonial days.
- If arts is more your thing, there is luckily the Art Gallery of New South Wales awaiting you. This brilliant museum is not just displaying art of different cultures (Aboriginal, European, Asian) and different epochs but has also made it its mission to function as an educational facility that aims at making art a tangible and enjoyable experience for all ages.
- If you are interested in contemporary Australian and international art, then head to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Circular Quay
- While you are there why not also pay a quick visit to the Customs House which is apparently situated where the Eora people watched the arrival of the First Fleet. In the lobby of the building you will find a marvellous model of Sydney at a scale of 1:500 under the glass floor.
- Lastly, entry to the Sydney Observatory and its beautiful gardens is also free, with the exception of the telescope viewings, the telescope towers and the 3D theatre sessions.
Free outdoor activities in Sydney
For family with kids there are also a number of great free adventures around Sydney, in particular of course the public beaches, rock pools and parks. On top of that we can recommend the following two:
- The playground at Darling Harbour is a favourite for local kids, visitors and tourists alike. On hot summer days kids love to get wet and dirty with the waterworks installations and adjoining sandpits. The huge slippery dip is fun as well as are the big netted swing and the flying fox.
- Further afield, Sydney Olympic Park offers fantastic free school holiday activities for kids of all ages, such as Sports Star and Sign Star, BMX and Mountain X, Clue trails, the Amazing Chase, Wetland walks, and lots more. With Blaxland Riverside Park you will also find the biggest playground of Sydney here, spread over 3 hectares. Adults are strongly encouraged to have a go, too!
Cheap Sydney attractions and activities for visitors
If this selection of 27 free things to do around Sydney is not enough for you, we have listed a number of attractions that you can enjoy for a small fee.
- The Museum of Sydney is the official city museum displaying artifacts of colonial times found in the area as well as recounting Aboriginal history and showing special exhibitions. The cost is around $10/adult.
- Located between Darling Harbour and Chinatown, the Chinese Garden of Friendshipis a tranquil and refreshing oasis in the middle of the city. This garden has been donated by the Chinese government to the people of Sydney and is a beautiful example of Chinese horticultural art and culture. The fee is around $6/adult.
- If you want to enjoy the views from one of the ships that frequent the harbour, buy a ticket for the famous Manly Ferry that takes commuters as well as tourists to this popular seaside suburb. For around $7.40 you can enjoy the 30 minutes ride past the harbour heads, let the sun shine on your face or enjoy a coffee from the café on board.
- With Australia’s convict past, it comes to no surprise that Sydney has a dedicated Justice & Police Museum which tells the stories of crooks and villains, judges and policemen. Have a look at the mugshot gallery, peek into one of the historic prison cells and hear more about the underworld of Sydney. Fees are around $10/adult.
- Interested in rocks, bones and shells? Then plan a visit to the Australian Museum! Here you will not only find a good dinosaur exhibition but also a comprehensive collection of everything that makes Australia so unique – minerals, gold and typical animals. Kids will love the dinosaurs, and for toddlers there is a special area which offers plenty of opportunity to touch, feel and explore. Admission is $15/adult.
- Another great museum is the Powerhouse Museum, a science and design museum with interesting changing special exhibitions. Children under 16 free. Cost per adult is $12.