Is it possible to enjoy the Harbour City on a budget? Too right, mate! Despite its glitzy image, Sydney is essentially an outdoor city, and it costs nothing to look (or lie on a beach), so you’ll be surprised at how much you can save simply by being sensible with your cents.
Attractions on the Cheap
From the iconic Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge to glittering skyscrapers, parks, and opulent mansions, Sydney centers on the dazzling blue waters of Port Jackson. Now you could spend thousands chartering a boat to see it all, but what’s the point of that when you can take a ferry from Circular Quay past the opera house, the former prison island of Fort Denison, and the multimillion-dollar properties to Watson’s Bay for a few dollars return?
The layered shells of Sydney Opera House make it one of the world’s most identifiable buildings, and one of the greatest fusions of architecture and art. You could pay for a guided tour of the interior and hear the dramatic story of architect Jørn Utzon’s opus, but the real draw is the exterior, and last time we checked, it’s free to look. While you’re there, look out at Sydney Harbour Bridge, known locally as “The Coathanger.” You could pay hundreds of dollars to climb it, or you could just walk across it at street level and grab a high-rise view of the opera house and the harbour.
Bondi stands out among the dozens of crescent-shaped stretches of sand along Sydney’s coastline as one of the world’s most famous beaches. In summertime, droves of sun lovers vie for space in the sand to soak up the rays or watch surfers do their thing. And you can too—for free. If you’re feeling energetic, the southern end of Bondi marks the start of a walking trail that weaves its way along a dramatic coastline of sheer rock cliffs and beaches to Coogee Beach about 6km away.
There are also lots of other walks you can do in Sydney that are equally stunning and also free. With such a beautiful coastline and lots of unspoiled nature, you almost have no excuse to stay in the city the whole time.
Accommodation on a Budget
First you’ll need somewhere to stay. And you can stop looking longingly at the Park Hyatt, with its ever-so-desirable views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge—and its oh-so-painful nightly rates of $500 and upwards. As you would expect from a modern city, Sydney is dotted with good quality hostels and backpacker-style accommodation throughout its tourist districts, from downtown to balmy Bondi, leafy Glebe, and the red-light district of Kings Cross. If you really want to feel like a local, try a short-term rental of a Sydney resident’s apartment or house.
Eating on a Budget
Sydney is arguably the most multicultural city in Australia, and that ethnic variety makes for exciting (and surprisingly cheap) eating experiences. Try tapas at Captain Torres or other venues in the Spanish Quarter, sample freshly fried falafel and creamy tzatziki at the Lebanese Abdul’s, or queue up at BBQ King in Chinatown for some of the best Chinese food outside of Asia. Another option to save money, and let’s face it, the planet, is to forgo meat altogether and taste some of the great vegan options in Sydney.
If you want to try real Australian food for next to nothing, your best bet is to be friendly. Strike up a casual conversation in a bar with Sydneysider, and you could be spending the evening at a backyard barbecue. It pays to be forward—but not mean: Never turn up at a barbie empty-handed. Bring a bottle and something for the grill.
Many of Sydney’s most iconic sites are close together, making them easy to tour on foot. A comprehensive rail network doesn’t go as far as Bondi Beach, but a combined train and bus Link Ticket brings you from Central Railway Station directly to the promenade. To explore the Blue Mountains wilderness and the other delights of New South Wales, renting a car can be quite affordable.
Aoife O’Carroll is a staff writer forNova Car Hire, a convenient website for arranging car rental in 26,000 locations worldwide, including car hire at Sydney Airport.