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12 tips from a local for exploring Sydney on a budget

Skip the queues and expensive tourist traps and explore Sydney like a local.

Shannon Barker

Nothing is worse when exploring a city than finding yourself handing over money every time you want to see the sights. So what’s the best way to avoid the expensive tourist traps and city tours that cost you an arm and a leg? Do as the locals do. Whether you live in the city or you're just visiting, here are 13 tips from a Sydneysider who’s been living in Sydney for 30 years.

1. Get an Opal Card

This is the only piece of “equipment” you need to explore Sydney on the cheap and with ease. The Opal Card is your ticket to anywhere across all of the Sydney public transport systems (except a couple of the ferries). You can use it to travel on trains, busses, regular ferries and the light rail. There’s a daily cap of $15.40 so you can ride public transport all day without the worry of spending too much. You can pick up an Opal Card at most corner stores and newsagents: they’re free you just need to put some travel credit on to get started.

2. Walk the beautiful coastline from Bondi to Coogee

12041207675_6dc9ff40df_z Photo by karlnorling

This scenic walk links some of the most picturesque beaches of the eastern suburbs: Bondi, Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee. On it you’ll get a stunning picture of where city life meets the ocean. It’s best to go early in the morning before it gets busy so you can catch the sunrise and watch surfers heading out for a morning wave. Visit the famous Bondi Icebergs swimming club, see Aboriginal carvings at Mark’s Park, enjoy a coffee in one of Coogee or Bronte’s many cafes, and if the weather’s good take a dip in Clovelly beach.
Cost: free.

3. Explore the Royal National Park

Sea_Cliff_Bridge_from_air Photo by illawarrashowcase

On the southern border of Sydney, the Royal National Park, or the “Nasho” as locals call it, is the jewel of Sydney’s crown. It’s a vast, 151 square-kilometre national park rich with sprawling coastlines, untouched beaches, bush walks and beautiful plant and animal life. Have lunch at Bundeena or hire a canoe to explore the gorges at Audley Weir. You’ll need a car to get around the Royal National Park and if coastal drives are your thing, you must take a drive down the Grand Pacific Drive, which features the famous Sea Cliff Bridge.
Cost: a car pass is $12 a day.

4. Get around using car sharing


Because Sydney is so expansive, you need to use a car to get to some places while others sights are easier to get to via public transport. Typically anything outside the suburbs won’t be well serviced by public transport, so when you want to get from one side of Sydney to the other it’s often more convenient to use a car. Uber Carshare allows you to borrow neighbours cars in your community by the hour or by the day. Just book a car for the time you need it and return it when you’re done. There are hundreds of cars all over the city ready to drive.
Cost: From $5/hour or $25/day, plus distance charges

View hire cars in Sydney

5. Ride the ferry to Manly, Watsons Bay or Darling Harbour


Departing from Circular Quay, take any of these three ferry trips and you’ll get a Sydney harbour cruise for a fraction of the cost of the cruise companies. The Darling Harbour ferry will take you right under the Harbour Bridge and you’ll get to see it tower above you before a quick stop at Luna Park and back around into Darling Harbour. The Watsons Bay ferry will take you along the most exclusive beaches of the eastern suburbs where Sydney’s elite live. And the Manly Ferry will take you up north to Manly Beach and you’ll get to cross the heads where Sydney Harbour meets the ocean. The ferries run rain, hail or shine.
Cost: The maximum fare is $8.90

10. Barangaroo and Darling Harbour waterfront

The most recent foreshore development turns a previously under-utilised industrial area of Sydney harbour into a foreshore to rival the famous Circular Quay. Modern and stylish, the Barangaroo foreshore combines awesome scenery with trendy cafes, bars and quality restaurants. The takeaway restaurants that line the wharf at Barangaroo are inexpensive but high quality.
Cost: free, but you won’t be able to resist stopping for a bite to eat.

6. Stroll through Hyde Park and the Royal Botanical Gardens

14953365213_614ba4fe2d_z Photo by Jeff Turner

Get off at Museum or St James station and you’ll walk straight into Hyde Park, an oasis of peace and quiet amongst the hustle and bustle of the city. Head north through Hyde Park towards the Domain and into the Royal Botanical Gardens. Stroll through the gardens towards Lady Macquarie’s Chair which gives you the perfect postcard shot of the city.
Cost: free

8. Visit one of Sydney’s many free galleries and museums

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales - Sydney’s most prestigious public gallery with famous artwork from around the world and historical Australia.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art - A stunning art deco building on the Circular Quay foreshore, the MCA hosts contemporary artworks from Australia and around the world. There’s also a rooftop cafe which has uninterrupted views of Sydney Harbour.
  • The Rocks Discovery Museum - Sydney’s trendy Rock’s district has an industrial and sometimes dark past. Hear the stories of the cobblestone streets.
  • Australian National Maritime Museum - Discover Australia’s naval and maritime history. See historic ships up close.
  • White Rabbit Gallery - One of the world’s largest collections of contemporary Chinese art.
    Cost: free

7. Eat at Spice Alley

In the shadow of the architecturally acclaimed One Central Park building, spice alley recreates a Tokyo laneway in Chippendale with some of Australia’s top tier street food vendors.
Cost: around $10.

9. Be a Night-owl in Newtown

Newtown comes alive when the sun goes down – with back to back bars, pubs, restaurants and shops, Newtown goes all night. If you’re looking for a cool place to unwind, look no further. Try your hand a pub trivia and one of the many pubs that line King St. Eat dinner at Sydney’s only pay-what-you-feel charity restaurant, Lentil as Anything. Finish the night off with world famous gelato from Cow & Moon.
Cost: around $20

11. Check out Cockatoo Island

2238346485_14bd91c3a6_z Photo by Dave Keeshan

Take a ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island, a world heritage site with both a significant maritime and convict past, now turned into a photographer’s wonderland. The rusting industrial cranes contrast against beautiful green waterfront, ensuring that you’ll get an unforgettable photo. If you’re feeling like spending a few dollars, grab a deckchair and enjoy a cocktail by the harbour.
Cost: $10 return ferry trip

12. Go to Glebe or Rozelle markets

Skip Paddy’s markets and go to the markets that locals love. On Saturdays Glebe markets is where you’ll find local art, clothing designers and epic street food on offer. Rozelle markets is open the whole weekend and is the perfect place to get quality food and trinkets you won’t find anywhere else. Forget the tacky souvenirs!
Cost: free entry

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