Sydney is an expensive place (it costs a lot to even get there), but the great thing about the harbour city is that all the best things to do are free! Sydney is very much an outdoor city and you could easily spend a week here only spending money on food, accommodation and transport. Sydney is blessed with a gorgeous climate and some of the most spectacular beaches and walking trails we've ever seen. But don't worry if you're more of a culture lover, we've got some free options for you too.
Once you've read this list it should be easy to see why our favourite things to do in Sydney are free!
So to save your budget for more items on your bucket list, here's our favourite free things to do in Sydney.
Free things to do in Sydney
Chilling at one of Sydney's famous beaches....
The world knows Sydney's beaches are gorgeous and you'll no doubt want to check out the most famous of them. Chilling or swimming at Bondi and Manly are both great ways to spend a day without it costing a cent.
They can get pretty busy, but you'll see why when you see just how beautiful they are. If like us you prefer your beaches quiet, head there early morning, you'll likely be rewarded with a stunning sunrise too!
However, with hundreds of beaches within Sydney's boundaries, you may want to explore a few more.....
Or explore one of the quieter beaches
Whilst we love Bondi and Manly, but our favourite Sydney beaches are not the most popular ones. Some require a little walking like Burning Palms in Royal National Park or West Head Beach in Kuring-gai.
Others like Palm Beach or Tamarama are a bit easier to get to. Whichever you fancy, why not check out some that are off the tourist trail with our guide to the ten best beaches in Sydney.
Take a dip in one of the ocean pools
The Sydney coastline has a huge number of swimming pools by the sea (ocean baths) that are completely free to use. If you're freaked out about what could be lurking in the ocean and want to have a dip to cool down, then head to one of these iconic spots.
Try Bronte Baths, Cremorne (great city view), Curl Curl or our favourite Bilgola (close to Palm Beach and the one on the photo above).
Checking out one of Sydney's best spots for Sunrise or Sunset
Sydneysiders are early risers and when you see one of the glorious sunrises you'll understand why. The sky lights up in the early hours and there are several beautiful places to watch the sunrise from.
We've compiled a list of our favourite sunrise and sunset spots for you to check out.
Snorkel at Shelley Beach
Shelley Beach is home to some of the easiest and best snorkelling in Sydney. Swim straight from the beach and look out for wrasse, grouper, rays and maybe even a shark (one of the type that won't eat you for breakfast!). There are also a few free bbqs on the beach for after your snorkel!
Free Sydney City Sights
Whilst most of the major sights do cost, there are plenty which you can see for free. There are parks, museums and even a walking tour which you can do for free!
Exploring the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Garden is a stunning collection of native plants and trees and wraps its way around the harbour. It is in a stunning location next to the Opera House and the views are terrific.
There are several paths to meander along, watching out for the many kookaburras and cockatoos. We love walking along the coastal pathway and stopping at Mrs MacQuarie's chair for sunset. Best of all, it's completely free!
The Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art sits in the heart of Circular Quay and houses fixed exhibitions of traditional art as well as temporary exhibitions and modern art (exhibitions usually incur a charge). Not being lovers of the modern art, we tend to spend more time in the Aboriginal art sections, but you may also like some of the weird and wonderful pieces on show!
It also has an amazing cafe on the rooftop overlooking the harbour, which of course isn't free but for the price of a cup of coffee you get a million dollar view. It's one of our favourite cheap things to do in Sydney.
The Art Gallery of NSW is also free and has a fabulous collection of indigenous art.
Explore the CBD with the free walking tour
Sydney has a free walking tour that takes you to the major sights in the city with an explanation of their history. It's a good way to get your bearings, learn a bit of history and understand more about Sydney when you first get there (although you can do this just as easily yourself!).
It is free, but a tip or donation at the end is probably a good idea. You can find out how to do them with either of the tours below:
Take a stroll through Hyde Park
While it isn't quite as good as its British counterpart, Hyde Park is a pleasant place to take a stroll in the afternoon. This leafy park in the heart of the city runs alongside St Mary's Cathedral in the north to the Anzac Memorial in the south by some pretty tree lined paths. The cathedral is also a great free thing to do in Sydney.
There are also pretty lawns to chill on if you've had enough of walking!
Free Walks in Sydney
Australia is all about the outdoors and one of the best way to explore Sydney is on foot. There are hundreds of beautiful walks in the city and close by. Even if you're not a passionate hiker there are some walks you really have to do to see some of Sydney's highlights.
Here are a few of our favourites:
The Bondi to Coogee Walk
The 5.5km Bondi to Coogee walk is a stunner. We've done this trail many times and my parents now demand this is the first thing they do when arriving in Sydney!
Starting in Bondi and finishing in Coogee, this incredible walk takes you over the cliffs to several beautiful beaches, each with their own unique lookout to the sea. Even if you're not a regular walker, this is a must-do on your Sydney trip.
Read more: The Bondi to Coogee Walk
Walk over the Harbour Bridge
If you don't want to pay over $200 USD to climb up the bridge, you can walk over it for free! Alongside the road is a protected walkway that is completely free and really easy to do. The bridge offers some great views of the harbour and is a fun way to get to the North Shore!
To get to the footpath, walk up to Cumberland Street in the Rocks and find the stairs. You can see it on the map below.
Spit Bridge to Manly to Walk
One of the best harbourside walks is the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk. Starting at Spit Bridge, the trail takes you through pretty bushland and up to the top of the cliffs, giving great views across the harbour. The walk is just under 10km long, but isn't too strenuous (there are some ups and downs, but it isn't too steep).
You can get a bus to the starting point from the QVB Building in the city. The walk starts on the footpath on the map below.
Walk sections of the Coast Track at Royal National Park
The coast track in Royal National Park is another stunning walk. Whilst the entire track is just over 26km long, you can split this up into smaller sections to create more leisurely day walks.
Our favourite Coast Track walks are:
Bundeena to Jibbon Head Circuit - Click here for instructions
Garie Beach to Eagle Head Rock - Click here for instructions
Garrawarra Farm to Figure of 8 Pools Walk - Click here for instructions
Wattamolla to Big Marley Beach Walk - Click here for instructions
Find an epic viewpoint/photography spot
Checking out the hundreds of epic viewpoints in Sydney was one of our favourite things to do on a weekend. There are so many different places to take in this incredible city that you could spend years getting around them all. The great thing is that we've condensed it down to our favourite 8; all of which are public and completely free.
North Head: Manly
Taking a stroll around the national park at the North Head in Manly is a beautiful way to spend a few hours. There are plenty of amazing views, but our favourite is the one from the cliffs looking back towards the city, especially at sunset.
Balls Head Reserve: Waverton
Our favourite "off the beaten track" viewpoint is at Balls Head Reserve. This lookout is a local favourite and offers great views of the city, including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. You can also combine this with a small walk around a forested area which has some aboriginal engravings in the rocks near the Coal Loader.
The South Head: Watson's Bay
If you're on the southern side of the harbour, a walk around the South Head at Watson's Bay is another great free thing to do. It's a short stroll that will take you to the top of the cliffs and offers great views back to the harbour and out to sea. If you get lucky, you may even see a whale (May to October)!
Barranjoey Lighthouse: Palm Beach
The views from Barranjoey Lighthouse have a real wow factor about them. After walking up from Palm Beach (approx 15 minutes), you'll feel like you're a million miles away from Sydney and the city. From the top you can see both beaches and the lush forest of Kuring-gai National Park.
This spot was just one of our top instagrammable spots in Sydney.
Diamond Bay: Near Bondi
Diamond Bay was a spot that we only came across relatively recently. Near Bondi and Vaucluse is a little cliff edge which offers epic views out to the Tasman Sea. You can watch the brave fishermen clamber down the precarious steps to the water.
It also looks very picturesque, making it a great spot for a photo! :)
SS Ayrfield: Home Bush
The SS Ayrfield is a photographer's favourite. You wouldn't expect a huge rusting ship just a stone's throw away from the Olympic Stadium, but right by the housing estate you'll see this incredible sight! It's made even more photogenic by the trees growing out of it.
The view from Stanwell Tops is one of the best along the South Coast. From this viewpoint you can see out to the Sea Cliff Bridge and onto Wollongong. If you go at the right time, you may also see some hang gliders taking off from this point.
Taking in the Harbour Bridge from one of our favourite viewpoints
If you want something closer to the CBD, then there are several great viewpoints to take in the iconic Harbour Bridge. We've created our favourite spots to view the bridge from which you can check out in this blog.
One of the many viewpoints in the stunning Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains is one of our favourite spots in the whole of Australia, and those who don't fancy a walk can still easily get to many of the incredible viewpoints.
Others may require a little effort, but are well worth the walks. We always loved to spend a couple of hours watching the sun rise or set at a variety of different lookouts. If you only have time for one, make sure you go to the epic Lincoln Rock in Wentworth Falls (the picture above).
You can check out our other favourites in our post on the best viewpoints in the Blue Mountains.
Whilst you won't see them hopping down George St in Sydney, there are plenty of spots to go and find wild kangaroos around Sydney. Seeing them in their natural environment is an amazing experience and you'll always remember the first time you see a wild roo.
You can pay to see them in a zoo, but you can do that in hundreds of places in the world! The easiest place that is close to the city is the National Botanic Gardens in Camden, but you can also check out one of the many places on our list.
Whale watch from the cliffs
Arguably this is THE best thing to do in Sydney, and the great thing is that it can be done completely free! We were blown away after seeing whales from the cliffs at Bondi on our second day in Sydney and we've seen whales pass by the coast many times since.
If you're in Sydney between May and September, you will have a decent chance of seeing a whale if you look out to sea for a few hours in one of the key spots below. At Cape Solander Lookout at Botany Bay, there's a lookout point where there are spotters who detail how many have been seen each day.
If you've always wanted to see Australian Parrots and other exotic looking birds, then Sydney is a pretty easy place to find them. The best places to see a variety of birds is the Royal Botanic Garden, but here's some other great spots:
- Cockatoos: Cabbage Tree Bay in Manly (click here for the location)
- Kookaburras: We always saw them in the park by Balmoral (click here for the location)
- Pelicans: Watson's Bay Wharf (click here for the location)
- Rainbow Lorikeets: Centennial Park (click here for the location)
If you also want to see huge fruit bats, hang around Moore Park and Centennial Park, you'll see hundreds of them chattering in the trees during the day or flying off en mass at dusk!
Free Festivals in Sydney
Sydney puts on some of the best festivals we've ever been to. Vivid Sydney is so good, that many people organise a trip to the city year after year just to see it. So why not visit whilst one of the following festivals are on?
May/June was one of our favourite times of year in Sydney because it was when Vivid was on! This free yearly event is when Sydney lights up its iconic buildings with incredible projections and installations.
You can walk around the city and see shows on the sails of the Opera House, lights on the Harbour Bridge, a huge water show at Darling Harbour and many other interactive installations in the Botanic Garden and the CBD.
As it is the middle of the winter, the lights start in the early evening and you'll want a coat (it isn't freezing, but Sydney can have a chill once the sun goes down in the winter). The only downside is that Vivid is incredibly popular, so rooms may dry up and rates may go up unless you book well in advance.
Sculptures By The Sea
If you want a spin to your coastal walk, then head to Bondi in between mid October and November for Sculptures By The Sea.
During these weeks, you'll find all kinds of weird and wonderful sculptures exhibited on the coastal path between Bondi and Tamarama Beach. A lot are sea themed, others are weird and quirky statements about modern life.
It is completely free, but it can get quite busy. We'd recommend going in the early morning, preferably on a week day, to avoid too many people. You can start the walk on the path marked on the map below.
Sydney's Mardis Gras is one of the most famous in the world. This huge parade happens during March and closes Oxford Street bringing fun, colour and a huge party to the streets of Sydney! There are plenty of after parties and a really upbeat atmosphere all over the city.
It's a big institution in Sydney with companies and even political parties having floats and sections of the parade to support the LGBTQ community in Sydney.
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