I’ve been in Sydney for nearly two months now and have decided to compile a list of things to see and do in Sydney which I would recommend to other travellers. The list below will consist mainly of things that are free or are of a low cost to the average poor AF backpacker! Here are a few useful websites which you can use to look up events happening in and around Sydney at the time of your visit:
So, this list is going to be in no particular order, as everyone has different preferences and I wouldn’t claim to be able to rate what Sydney has to offer from best to worst
1) Chinese Garden of Friendship
Just behind Darling harbour and on the edge of Chinatown, the Chinese Garden of Friendship offers tranquility in the middle of the busy city, along with stunning views and traditional chinese architecture. There is usually a fee of $6 per adult, but on the day we went they were just asking for a small donation of a couple of dollars each.
2) Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour sits West of Sydney Harbour and hosts a range of things to do; there is a large shopping centre, an Imax (with the largest cinema screen in the world), a number of restaurants & bars, boat trips & water taxis, Madam Tussaud’s, SeaLife Sydney Aquarium, the Maritime Museum and if you’re feeling a bit posh – Cockle Bay Wharf.
3) Sydney Opera House
The classic tourist spot in Sydney, however the Opera House is so popular for a reason, it’s stunning. With architecture way ahead of it’s time the Opera House can look quite different depending on which side you approach it from. If you would like to see an Opera, tickets usually start from around $60+. If you’re poor like us, take a wander up the steps for some great photos and they do allow you inside into the foyer and gift shop, but no further without tickets. If you want to see the Opera House from the inside, tours operate daily and cost $37 per adult. Another ‘must do’ at the Opera House is the Opera House Bar; located just underneath, right on the waters edge you can relax in the sun with a drink and be overwhelmed with a view of the Opera House on one side of you and the Harbour Bridge on the other; but do expect to pay around $10+ for a beer or glass of wine here – its the Opera House.
4) Harbour Bridge
Again, like the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge is iconic to Sydney and looks amazing from either side of the water. You can take a picnic to Dawes Point Park, sit under the bridge and enjoy the views of the harbour; or if you’d like a different perspective, catch the ferry over to Milson’s Point from Circular Quay and enjoy views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from Bradfield Park. If you’re the adventurous type it is also possible to climb the harbour bridge and get some amazing views of the city; prices vary from $173 – $283, depending on if you go in the day, at night or at the weekend. You may also be able to get a good deal or activity package if you haggle with a tour operator. It takes a roughly 30-40 minutes to walk across the bridge to North Sydney, I would recommend the walk if you’re on a budget but want to experience the bridge and the views it can offer of the harbour.
5) The Rocks
The Rocks is situated just next to Sydney Harbour and is home to a number of great restaurants and bars if you fancy treating yourself. Expect to spend around $20-$30 on a meal here; I would recommend ‘Pancakes on the Rocks’ (open 24 hours a day), ‘Ribs n Burgers’ and ‘Fortune Of War’ (Sydney’s oldest pub – the bistro serves amazing food!). The Rocks markets on a Saturday are also not to be missed, they sell everything; food, gifts, jewellery, art, clothing; and most of it is reasonably priced.
6) Museum of Contemporary Art
At Sydney Harbour the MCA is generally free to look around but will charge a fee for specific exhibitions. This usually means that you can explore two floors of art for free, along with the rooftop sculpture, but will need a ticket to enter certain floors. The MCA offers a range of contemporary art, from original Aborigine pieces, to postmodern, political and installations, there’s something that everyone can appreciate.
7) Hyde Park
Located in Sydney’s CBD, near St James and Museum Stations, Hyde Park is great place to take a picnic, read a book or relax with friends on a sunny day (which is most days). If you take a wander through the park you will find some iconic monuments such as Archibald Fountain, the Anzac Memorial and the Pool of Reflection. Also, just across the road from the park is St Mary’s Cathedral; even if like me, you’re not a religious person, I would recommend taking a look inside, simply for its stunning architecture and artworks.
For a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, take the 20 minute train ride to the inner west suburb of Newtown. If you like quirky shops and colourful characters, Newtown should be on your list of places to visit. It’s also a great place to spot some amazing graffiti!
A short walk from Central station, or Darling Harbour if you’re coming from the opposite direction is Sydney’s Chinatown. Exactly as it sounds, it’s like a mini China in the middle of the city! If you visit the city around Chinese New Year, you will see some colourful displays and traditional Chinese celebrations. If not, give Chinatown a visit for it’s unusual shops and traditional Chinese cuisine. You can treat yourself to a a nice restaurant, or if you’d like real Chinese food on a budget, head down to one of Chinatown’s busy food courts and get a meal for around $10.
10) Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens sit just behind the Opera House and stretch out around the edge of the city. The gardens are free to enter and offer a free 1 hour guided tour at 10.30am everyday. There is plenty to keep you occupied for half a day here, it’s also a great place to learn about some of Sydney’s history and heritage.
11) Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market Haymarket runs from Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00am til 18.00pm. You can walk here from Central Station or get the Light Rail which stops right outside the market. Paddy’s market is HUGE, it can easily take an entire afternoon to get through it all. This is the best place to come for cheap souvenirs/gifts; along with a range of other items such as, clothes, jewellery, phone accessories, watches, sunglasses, work uniforms and at the end of the day ridiculously cheap fruit & veg.
12) The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are a 2 hour train ride or drive from Sydney’s centre and are a MUST SEE! If you don’t want the hassle of hiring a car, trains leave from Central Station to Katoomba hourly and cost around $5 each way on your opal card. Upon arrival at Katoomba station you can purchase a hop on hop off bus explorer day ticket along with entry and unlimited rides at Scenic World for $83. Alternatively, if you have driven, tickets for all rides in Scenic World can be purchased there and cost $39. Scenic World is home to the world’s steepest railway, the skyway, cable car and boardwalk; Scenic World is well worth a visit in the Blue Mountains as it offers amazing views from otherwise unreachable places. I would advise spending the night in the Blue Mountains at one of it’s hostels or hotels in Katoomba or Leura; as one day is not long enough to comfortably see all the amazing things that the mountains have to offer.
1) Bondi –
The famous Bondi Beach doesn’t disappoint. Board culture is everywhere at Bondi, it’s a great place to hire surf boards or body boards and try out the waves. Be careful when swimming here though; don’t think that because the local surfers are miles out to sea you can do the same and not drown! Bondi even has it’s own TV show because of how many injuries occur there! Also check out ‘Bondi Fesh’ for some tasty salads, wraps and sandwiches for around $10.
2) Manly –
On Sydney’s Northern Shores Manly beach is a great place to swim, surf and sunbathe. Slightly less packed than Bondi, Manly is a 40 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay with the fare costing around $7.50. Manly also offers some great bars and live music if you fancy some day drinking at the beach.
3) Coogee –
South of Bondi, Coogee is roughly a 40 minute bus journey from Sydney’s CBD, with an Opal fare of around $4. Coogee is the place to visit if you fancy a smaller and slightly more chilled beach experience. There is also a sea pool at the Southern end of the beach, it’s free to enter and great fun on days when the waves are maybe a bit too big to swim in.
4) Bronte & Tamarama –
In between Bondi and Coogee, Bronte & Tamarama beaches are a short walk along the coast from each other, both are great places to swim and relax. If you fancy a chilled day at the beach with your mates, Bronte and Tamarama are the beaches to visit. Both have parks just behind them with free BBQ’s, so bring some meat and a crate of beers for an unforgettable beach day.
5) Milk Beach –
This tiny gem of a beach is located just North of the suburb of Rose Bay, in Vaucluse. Approximately a 40 minute bus ride from the CBD in a North Easterly direction sits Milk Beach. If you want to break up the journey a bit, stop in Rose Bay for some lunch or paddle boarding in the harbour. If you fancy, you can hire kayaks from Rose Bay and paddle across to Milk Beach. Take plenty of food and drink for a day at this beach as it’s quite secluded and you can’t just ‘pop’ to a shop. This is a great beach to relax on while taking in some incredible views of the city and Sydney Harbour from across the water.
6) Watsons Bay –
On Sydney’s Northern tip, roughly 50 minutes from the city is Watsons Bay; a quiet beach town where you can escape most tourists and interact with the locals. Watsons Bay is a small place and the beach isn’t spectacular but is definitely worth a visit for its clear green waters and Doyles restaurant on the beach.
7) Bundeena –
Bundeena is a personal favourite of mine and unfortunately gets missed by many tourists and backpackers. Bundeena sits on the edge of the Royal National Park, nearly 2 hours south of Sydney via public transport. To get here, take the train from Central to Cronulla, once at Cronulla make your way to the harbour to board the 30 minute ferry to Bundeena; the train costs around $5 and the ferry approximately $7. My big tip for Bundeena is BRING A SNORKEL, its clear green waters are a great place to snorkel and get up close to the sealife; there are also no waves here if you’d like a break from the likes of Manly and Bondi. I’d definitely recommend taking a wander up to the National Park if you have time, to see some colourful wildlife and explore Bundeena’s hidden coves on the way for a picturesque place to relax.
8) Northern Beaches –
There are no trains to Sydney’s Northern Beaches so a bus from Wynyard Station can take you all the way up the coast as far as Palm Beach (which takes approx. 2 hours). If you’d like to escape the tourists and chill with the locals, the Northern Beaches are for you; you have a range of small town beaches to choose from; all offering huge stretches of sand and clear blue waters. My recommendations are Mona Vale, Newport, Whale Beach, Narrabeen (which also has some very nice lakes), Collaroy and Dee Why. Just note, the further North you go, the less there is around you, so if you’re travelling alone try not to get freaked out by a deserted beach.