The best of Sydney on a budget: top things to do

Happily, you can drink in the delights of the Harbour City without spending much – here are our top budget-friendly tips for the best things to do in Sydney.

Sydney Opera house and harbour bridge at sunset
  • Jetstar
  • February 2018
  • Updated June 2021

Gorgeous, glamorous Sydney is a magnet for travellers looking for the best of everything: beaches, dining, nightlife and adventure. But that doesn’t mean it’s a luxury destination – much of its beauty and decadence is readily available for a song, or even for free.

Here are some of our top tips for a budget-friendly Sydney adventure.

Snorkel at Shelly Beach

No trip to Sydney is complete without a day spent in search of everyone’s favourite clownfish, Nemo. A scenic and leisurely walk from Manly Wharf, via Manly Beach, will take you to the smaller, charming sands of Shelly Beach. Its sheltered cove makes it a calm and safe place for beginner swimmers and snorkelers.

The waters here are part of the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve – home to more than 160 species of fish and about 50 different species of invertebrates. Keep your eyes peeled for giant eastern blue groper, cuttlefish, wobbegong sharks, green turtles, yellowtail scud, dusky whalers and sea dragons.

View of the colourful, shallow waters of Shelly Beach
Shelly Beach, Sydney

Visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Treat yourself to a day of art and culture at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, located a quick 15-minute walk from the city centre. With an extensive collection spanning five levels, you’re sure to be inspired and awed by the works on display. Alongside the permanent collection, the gallery also has a spectacular line-up of temporary exhibitions that are not to be missed.

Entry to the Art Gallery of New South Wales is free with only some exhibitions and events requiring a paid ticket.

Exterior view of the art gallery roof with lettering and Australian flag.
Get inspired at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Enjoy a DIY harbour lunch cruise

The harbour is the focal point for many visitors to Sydney. The famous waterway is abuzz with year-round activity – jet-boating, sailing, cruises and of course, the ferries that are part of the city’s public transportation system. They’re a convenient way to get around, but they’re also a fine way to sightsee at a fraction of the price of a luxury harbour cruise. Starting at Circular Quay, jump on a ferry heading to Taronga Zoo, Manly, or Watson’s Bay. Breathe in the ocean air and take in the postcard-perfect scenery. Pre-pack a sandwich, and you’ve got a lunch cruise.

Passenger ferry travelling across Sydney Harbour with homes and a lighthouse in the distance
Passenger ferries are an inexpensive way to experience Sydney Harbour

Capture iconic views from the Royal Botanic Garden

A stroll through Australia’s oldest botanic garden is a great way to get back to nature, discover various plant species and capture stunning city views. There’s also the unmissable opportunity to gawk at Sydney’s architectural elites – the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The best places to get that iconic shot are from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair at the tip of the point, or Harbour View Lawn.

For more photo opportunities or to learn about the garden, join one of the guided walks operating most days of the week. These guided walks are free, however donations are welcome. To avoid disappointment, you can book your spot in advance.

View of a colourful garden with large trees. Across the water stands the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Enjoy the stunning views at the Royal Botanical Garden

Hike the coastline between Bondi and Coogee

A favourite pastime of Sydney residents is the Bondi to Coogee walk. Despite the name, some walkers choose to do the famous trek in reverse: Coogee to Bondi. Its six kilometres will take you about two cruisey hours depending on how many stops you’d like to make along the way. Covering this section of coastline on foot will ramp up your heart rate as you weave in and out of points, bays and beaches. By the time you round Mackenzie’s Point and see the drop-dead gorgeous view of Bondi Beach, you’ll be ready for a refreshing swim – remember to pack a towel.

Coastal view of the boardwalk that extends between Bondi and Coogee
The gorgeous coastal views between Bondi and Coogee

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