Are you looking for free things to do in Sydney? You’ve come to the right place! Australia is definitely not the cheapest country to travel in, and sometimes a day spent just walking around checking out the free sites can be great on the budget while getting to know the city. Luckily, there are so many free Sydney attractions, it’s almost possible to visit here and not pay a cent. Here are the things to do in Sydney for free.
Visit Sydney Observatory
The Sydney Observatory was built in the 1850s as has a prime location on a hill right near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In fact, from the lawns out the front, there are great photo opportunities of the bridge. It seems to be a popular location for wedding photography as we saw two groups in the area taking photos.
The Observatory itself is free to enter and have a look around. They do offer paid tours, but I think for someone who only has a mild interest, just looking around is enough. If you happen to be here at 1pm you can observe the timeball on the roof dropping. In the past this was used by ships out in the harbour, as well as the Sydney General Post Office, to ensure their clocks were right on time.
Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
When is comes to free things to do, Sydney has some iconic activities, like walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are a few options to enjoy the iconic Bridge. Of course you can do the famous bridge climb, but that can cost hundreds of dollars. Another option is to pay to climb up inside one of the pylons for a view over the harbour. Walking across the bridge though is free, with almost the same fabulous views – and some may argue better views because of the angle.
We spent around half an hour walking across the bridge and back taking copious photos of the Opera House, ferries, the magnificent harbour and the bridge itself. Definitely feels like I have finally ticked something off my bucket list.
Explore The Rocks
The historical Rocks area was one of the first settled by Europeans in Australia. It now consists of some original buildings and narrow laneways right near the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay. In more recent times this area has become a hub for visitors with many trendy restaurants, small museums and boutique stores, perfect for some fossicking for a unique souvenir. From Friday to Sunday markets run in the area giving it an even more festive atmosphere.
Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia
Located right next to Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art is free to enter and take a look at the main exhibitions. I am no art connoisseur, but we spent an enjoyable half an hour or so wandering through the galleries. There’s a big clock that sits in one of the galleries with the back open to see the mechanics and I was completely mesmerised by how it all works. For those who are interested, there are extra temporary exhibitions, but they do have an entry fee – although during my visit in Oct 2020, due to Covid, entry to the temporary exhibit is free.
There is also a cafe and a terrace on the roof with some great views of the Sydney Harbour bridge and Circular Quay, so it may be worth popping in just for the view.
Soak in the Circular Quay atmosphere
There’s no better place to while away some time than Circular Quay. There is always plenty of action, with ferries coming in and out, buskers dotted around, many locals and visitors alike in the area. There could be a cruise ship in port and of course there are stunning views of both the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat in this area and sat on a bench enjoying our lunch and views over the harbour. Of course there are many restaurants and cafes around to grab a meal, but most of these places and not great for those on a budget.
Admire the Opera House
Arguably one of the most recognisable buildings in the world, the Sydney Opera House juts out into Sydney Harbour on it’s own little piece of land, surrounded on three sides by sea. The Opera House is home to multiple performing arts areas, and holds over 1500 different events each year. Even if you are not attending one of the events, you are still able to visit. Take a walk right up close to the famous sails and explore the public areas of the Opera House. While not one of the free things in Sydney, having a cocktail at the Opera Bar should be on everyone’s list.
At certain times of year the Opera House becomes a work of art in itself with images projected onto the sails. This will be common during the Vivid festival in May/June, but it can happen any time, such as recently when the sails commemorated the huge effort the volunteer firefighters made during the recent bushfires in Australia.
If you are really interested in the Opera House, there is also a paid tour available to have a good look around and learn all about it.
Stroll Through the Royal Botanic Gardens
When looking for free things to do in Sydney today, here’s one that’s alway open! Escape from the hustle and bustle by taking a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens. There is plenty of space here to relax. Perhaps pack a picnic for lunch and enjoy it on one of the many lawns. You could also explore the various gardens, from the Herbarium to the Australian rockery or the Oriental Garden.
Keep an eye out for events too, as some of them may be free. During our visit we came across the Tomato Festival Sydney which consisted of some food and drink stalls with things to try and food and drink to purchase. .
Take in the views at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
While in the Royal Botanic Gardens take a walk to Mrs Macquarie’s Point and sit in her chair. The person in question was Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the then-governor Major-General Lachlan Macquarie. The chair is actually a carved sandstone rock created by convicts in 1810. The story goes that Mrs Macquarie liked to sit on the rock and watch the ships coming in and out of Sydney Harbour.
From this point today, there are also great views back towards the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. My favourite photos of the harbour, including the one at the top were taken as we walked along the foreshore on our way here.
Check out the Reading Room in the State Library of NSW
As we left the Royal Botanic Gardens we spotted the State Library of NSW. I’ve seen many other beautiful libraries around the world but had never heard a thing about this one. It’s an impressive building from the outside, and we were not disappointed by the inside either. I just loved the stained glass windows in the Mitchell Library Reading Room.
There is an exhibition and display area that has changing local information and things to do. During our visit we saw some Aboriginal story telling. I thought an up coming exhibition regarding local burial sites in the city centre could be interesting too.
We just wandered around a little, but the library is a great option is you need access to free wifi or some space to work quietly for a while.
Step back in time in the Queen Victoria Building
When it comes to free things, Sydney has some really impressive attractions. The stunning Queen Victoria Building was completed in 1898 and has been kept in that same style so visiting gives the feeling that you have stepped back in time. It is filled with boutique stores and lovely little tea rooms making it an elegant place to stop for a sweet treat.
The QVB is also well known for it’s elaborate decorations at different times of the year. During this visit it was celebrating the recent Lunar New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Rat. On a past visit I saw a beautifully decorated Christmas tree rising up three or four stories in the main atrium.
People Watch in Darling Harbour
Another precinct in Sydney that is worth a visit for the sheer pleasure of people watching is Darling Harbour. This area is often bustling, especially in the evening as there are many restaurants and nightclubs to be found here. As the sun goes down the buildings light up making a pretty backdrop.
Make sure you are down here on Saturday night if you are in Sydney to see the fireworks that happen each weekend. The normally happen about 9pm.
Take a Free Walking Tour
Free walking tours are one of my favourite things to do in any city around the world. They seem to always be run by young, passionate, knowledgeable people who not only show you the main sites, but pepper the walks with interesting and quirky facts. You will likely also find out the best hidden bars and restaurants and the best viewpoints.
The free tours in Sydney are no different. I have done two different free tours with this company in Sydney (and one on Melbourne too!) and have enjoyed every one of them. I spent a morning exploring the main sights in the city centre of Sydney, including some of the ones I have listed about. The second tour was in the evening and was through the historic Rocks area. While not technically a ghost tour, there were some stories of ghosts and the gory past of the home to the first convicts in Australia.
In case you are unfamiliar with these tours, they are not really free, but rather tips based. At the end of the tour you pay based on how much you can afford and what you think the tour is worth. It’s worth noting that tips no longer need to be made in cash, the guides now can take card payment too.
Relive Your Childhood at Luna Park
Here’s one of the fun free things to do in Sydney! Located on the northern shore of Sydney Harbour right at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Luna Park is an old-style theme park. Originally opened in the 1930s, it still includes all the rides and sideshows that have been enjoyed in the years gone by.
I’m including Luna Park here in this list because admission is usually free and the rides are paid for as they are taken. Due to Covid, there is a temporary requirement to purchase a ticket to enter the park online in advance, so it’s not actually free right now. This was the case as I walked past so I did not go in. Hopefully it will be back to normal soon and I can check it out more on a future visit.
Admire the Incredible Coastline on the Bondi to Coogee Walk
From Circular Quay, jump on the 333 bus and make your way down to Bondi Beach. From here, follow the coast towards the south to Coogee Beach. This is the most popular, and possibly most beautiful, walk in the area, and one of the best free things to do in Sydney. You will walk past five different beaches and numerous stunning clifftops. There are manmade ocean baths, including the iconic Icebergs at Bondi. Stop in and explore the historic Waverley Cemetery which has a particularly scenic location looking out to sea.
The walk can be done in either direction, but is more commonly done north to south. On busy days it might be best to go in that direction so you are going with the flow instead of against it. In some areas the path can be quite narrow. In saying that, I started from Coogee and ended up at Bondi just in time for a delicious late breakfast at Parida Bondi (which I highly recommend! Best avo on toast ever). If you prefer to stop for a coffee and snack mid-way through the walk, there are options to do that too. It generally takes between two and three hours to do the whole walk depending on how many times you stop for coffee or to photograph the incredible scenery!
Relax in Wendy’s Secret Garden
Located on the banks of beautiful Lavender Bay on the north side of Sydney Harbour, this oasis of calm is all thanks to Wendy Whitely, wife to the well-known Sydney Artist, Brett Whitely. After Brett’s death in 1992, Wendy turned to clearing the neglected block of land that stood between her house and the shores of Sydney Harbour. She didn’t own the land, and never thought to ask permission during those days of therapeutic labour.
Now the garden is full of hidden little areas to sit or have a picnic. It’s popular with locals for weddings and parties, with views that overlook the harbour.
I visited the garden at the end of a walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, past Luna Park and along the North Sydney Art Trail. It was the perfect place to stop and rest for a while. Bring your own drinks and snacks and sit at one of the many tables to enjoy your break while admiring the garden. Perhaps you will be entertained by a baby bush turkey digging around like we were.
Explore the Street Art of Newtown
Just to the south west of the city centre is the suburb of Newtown. This typical inner city suburb shows the grittier side of the city while being dotted with trendy eateries, boutique stores, and best of all, some incredible street art. Some of the piece of street art have been here for decades and are considered iconic. Some is even heritage listed.
I was lucky enough to meet up with fellow blogger, Paula of Sydney Expert who showed me around the area. You can follow in our footsteps with all the hints and tips she shares in this blog post – Inner West Self-Guided Street Art Walk.
More Free Things to do in Sydney
These things are not ones that I have been able to squeeze into my visits, but these things to do in Sydney free are on my list for next time. Perhaps though, you will be able to fit them into your time here.
Admire the Cathedrals
Both St Andrews and St Mary’s Cathedrals are incredibly impressive buildings. St Andrew’s is the oldest cathedral in Sydney, but St Mary’s is the largest. Duck into them both as you pass to admire the architecture and beautiful windows. If you would like to know more about St Mary’s, they offer a free tour at 12pm after mass on Sundays.
Take a Yoga Class
Each Sunday there is a free yoga class held at First Fleet Park at The Rocks. Start your morning stretching and easing into the day with views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. That’s not the end of the freebies though, as all participants then get to enjoy a free coffee. While the class is free, you will need to register for it over on the website here.
Spit to Manly Walk
This is another of Sydney’s popular coastal walks. Perfect if you have already done the Coogee to Bondi walk or if you prefer to avoid the crowds that it can sometimes contain. This walk is a little longer at somewhere between 3.5 and 5 hours and offers views of the coastline, this time on the northern side of Sydney Harbour. This walk is definitely on my list for my next visit to Sydney.
Go to the Beach
What’s more iconic of the Sydney free things to do than a visit to the beach? There are dozens of beaches to choose from, but the most popular two are Bondi and Manly. Both can be reached easily by public transport. Bondi is the most well known, especially since the tv show “Bondi Rescue” made the surf lifesavers famous. Bondi is always busy and always fun. Manly, on the other hand, has the advantage that you need to take a ferry to get to it. While this is not free, it’s the cheapest harbour cruise around. The ferries leave from Circular Quay, and drop you a short walk from Manly Beach. Manly is possibly even more beautiful than Bondi, and the area is filled with delicious eateries and great shopping. Take your pick of either beach.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.