When planning your trip to Sydney, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House are probably top of your “must see” list. Yet there is so much more to see and in Sydney without breaking the budget. Many of these you probably won’t see in the tourist brochures, yet there are many cheap things to do in Sydney.
Lesley grew up in Sydney and we have been frequent visitors over the years. As locals, here are some of our favourite places in Sydney.
You may find Lonely Planet Australia’s Best Trips, available on Amazon useful when planning your Australian trip
Darling Harbour Sydney
Sydney’s Darling Harbour is a destination in itself. When visiting Sydney, particularly when we had children, we always chose to stay in or around Darling Harbour.
There is so much to see and do in Darling Harbour itself, yet you are still within proximity of the major Sydney attractions. While there are some eye-wateringly expensive things to do, we have also spent several days with the children just in Darling Harbour enjoying the cheap or free attractions.
Just some of the things you will find in the Darling Harbour precinct include:
- The Australian National Maritime Museum, $20 adults $14 children
- Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. Entry $44
- A range of harbour cruises – Lunch cruise $75 per person
- Kingpin bowling,
- Laser tag,
- Childrens playgrounds,
- 3D cinema
- Madam Tussauds,
- Powerhouse Museum $15 adults, children under 16 free
- Wildlife Sydney Zoo $60
- Paddys Markets.
- Chinese Gardens of Friendship
- China Town
In Darling Harbour you will also find a wide range of dining options, from cheap eats in the Harbourside food court, to a selection of restaurants and bars around the harbour as well as nearby China Town, where you can enjoy a cheap Asian Meal or Yum Cha.
Food and Drink in Sydney
Some of our favourite places to eat and drink when we visit Sydney include:
- The Glenmore Hotel at the Rocks, where you can enjoy a traditional pub meal for two for around $80 including drinks.
- Fortune of War, also at “The Rocks”. Dating back to 1828 it is Sydney’s oldest pub in the First Fleet Bistro you will find burgers for around $20 and traditional “pub grub”for under $30.
- Yum Cha in China Town – $40 for two.
- Doyles at Watson’s Bay $100 for lunch for two
Cheap things to do in Sydney
Many of the best attractions in Sydney are either free or relatively cheap.
- Browse around Circular Quay and the Opera house, taking that must-have selfie with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Enjoy the street performers and enjoy a coffee at one of the many harbourside cafes.
- Stroll through the Royal Botanical gardens around to Mrs Macquarie’s chair for magnificent views of the harbour. The chair was carved out of the rock in 1810 by convict labourers for the wife of the Governor. Enjoy a picnic lunch in the gardens.
- Take a ferry to Bradley’s Head Walk a two hour return walk from Taronga Zoo wharf to Chowder Bay. Well formed pathways will take you along the harbour foreshore to Georges head and the old canon placements guarding middle harbour.
Historic Buildings in Sydney
- Take a train out to Parramatta and visit Old Government House, Australia’s oldest building. Located in 200 acres of parkland, it was built between 1799 and 1816, housing the first 10 governors of the Australian colony. Entry $16 adults and $8 children.
- While in Parramatta, take the train back one station to Harris Park and visit Elizabeth Farm. Built for John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1793, it is one of the oldest homes in Australia. The setting for political intrigue, rebellion and the birth of the Australian merino wool industry, today the recreated 1830’s garden and homestead are an interactive living museum. Entry is $12 adults and $8 children.
- Take the 325 bus to Vaucluse house, built in 1827 by colonial explorer and politician, William Charles Wentworth. Enjoy the immaculately landscaped gardens and take a tour of the house, which is an excellently refurbished living museum. Guided tours are available on the hour or take a self guided tour. Entry $12, children $8
- Home to the Governor of NSW, Government House Sydney in Macquarie Street is open daily from 10-4 with free guided tours Friday to Sunday. The imposing gothic buildings were constructed from 1837. Today you can view the restored grand interiors and collection of portraits, furniture and government memorabilia. The beautifully landscaped gardens provide a different harbour perspective over Farm Cove and the Opera House
- The Anzac War Memorial in Hyde Park was opened in 1934 to commemorate those who served in the First World War. Sculptures adorn the wall in remembrance of the servicemen, nurses, doctors and aviators who served. The dome of stars features one star for each life lost during the war. The Pool of Reflection and Well of Rembrance provide places for quiet contemplation. Major refurbishment is currently underway, with an exhibition of artifacts and historic collections to be open in November 2018. The main hall remains open to the public. Entry is free but donations are welcome.
- In the middle of the harbour, you can’t miss Fort Denison, known as “Pinchgut” for the brutal conditions of the prisoners held there. The Sandstone prison on an island in the harbour until recently operated as a restaurant and function centre. Negotiations are currently underway to lease the site and it is well worth investigating if tours have recommenced.
The Rocks Sydney
- Wander through the historic Rocks area, the birthplace of Australia, from Circular Quay and stop at one of the old pubs for a schooner and a counter meal. As you wander the cobblestone streets you will find market stalls, modern artisans and smaller museums.
- Susannah Place museum, is one such museum. A terrace of four houses built by Irish immigrants in 1844, it tells the story of ordinary working class people. Open 2-5 daily. Adults $12 children 8
- The Justice and police museum in the Water Police station on corner of Albert and Phillip Streets, Circular Quay tells the story of colonial criminal history. Visit 1890’s holidng cells, charge room and courts and browse through mugshots and crime scene photos spanning more than a century.
- Visit Cadman’s cottage . Located near the international terminal, it is the second oldest residential building in Australia built in 1816 for coxwains and crew. Half hour tours run at 10am on the first and third Sundays of the month
- Walk through the Argyle Cut, a massive sandstone tunnel begun in 1843 with convict labour connecting the Rocks area with Millers Point
- In Millers Point, visit the Garrison Church, dating back to 1855 as a place of worship for the British Regiment
- From the Garrison Church, walk up to Observatory Hill for more magnificent harbour views.
Beaches in Sydney
- Take a ferry to Watson’s Bay, take a dip at the beach and wander up to the famous “Gap” cliff face. Walk along the south head heritage trail, past Lady Jane nudist beach and the Hornby lighthouse. From here you can spot whales between May and November. Enjoy fish and chips at the famous “Doyle’s Restaurant” or a counter meal at the waterfront hotel.
- Take a ferry to Manly Beach to the historic Manly pier for a swim and a stroll along the promenade. Built in 1936 on the site of the original 1855 wharf, it is one of two original wharves remaining in Port Jackson. From 1932 until 1989 the pier was an amusement park. Today you will find a range of bars, restaurants, shops and boat hire outlets in the redeveloped pier.
- Take a train from Town Hall Station to Bondi Beach. Enjoy a dip in the iconic surf – just remember to swim between the flags. Have a stroll along the century old Bondi Pavillion, which has become a national icon.
Sydney Museums and galleries
- Visit the Art Gallery of NSW. Located adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, the gallery holds an expansive collection of Australian, Aboriginal, European, Asian and contemporary artworks. Entry is Free.
- On the corner of Macquarie Street and Shakespeare place you will find the Mitchell Library and the State Library of NSW. Here you will find a range of free exhibitions and events.
- Take a ferry to Cockatoo Island and spend the day exploring the maritime and convict history. The island served as a penal colony from 1839 to 1869, a reform school for wayward teens and later a maritime shipyard. Self guided audio tours are available, and you can camp the night from $175
- Visit historic St Mary’s Cathedral. Bishop Polding laid the foundation stone for the church in 1850, however the original building was destroyed by fire in 1865. work commenced on the current cathedral in 1866. The spires from the original 1866 plans were finally put in place by helicopter in 2000. St James station is the closest rail station to St Marys
- Visit St Andrews Cathedral. Located next to Town Hall Station, the Cathedral was consecrated in 1868.
- Sydney Town Hall is the largest and most ornate 19th century civic building in Australia. The magnificent grand organ in the concert hall was installed in 1890 and is used for concert recitals throughout the year. You will also find a number of significant portraits, including a large portrait of Queen Victoria hanging in the southern stairwell.
- The domed Queen Victoria Buildings nearby were completed in 1898, replacing the former markets on the site. The original concert hall later became the city library and the main occupant by the 1930’s were the city council offices. Refurbished as a major shopping complex and function centre, you can still see the inner glass dome and the magnificent stained glass window as well as reconstructions of the original cage lifts.
- Hyde Park Barracks in Macquarie Street is one of the earliest colonial buildings. Over the course of its history it served as convict accommodation,an immigration depot for female immigrants and was later used as courtrooms and government offices. Entry Adults $12, children 8
- Stroll through Paddy’s Markets in Haymarket, near Darling Harbour and haggle a bargain from the hundreds of stallholders.
- Visit nearby Chinatown in Dixon Street and enjoy a cheap meal.
Sydney Tourist Discounts
There are a number of tourist discount cards available which can help you to save money on your trip. Have a look at the links below and see if they meet your needs.
The Sydney Pass offers discount prices on a number of Sydney Attractions. Entry into 7 attractions is $229 adults and $135 children.
The Iventure card provides discount entry into many popular attractions from $270 per adult.
Sydney attractions pass provides entry to the Sydney Tower Eye and three other attractions for $99
These are just a few of the many hundreds of fabulous things to see and do around Sydney. We hope they help you to plan a memorable trip.