Budget Travel

These free things to complete in Sydney may have you swimming and stargazing in Harbour City

You don't require a fat wallet to enjoy the glamour and chic of Sydney. From peering over coastal cliffs to watching the sun's rays alight on one of the world's most iconic skylines, these free experiences, attractions and Sydney sights won't cost you a cent. Here's how to check this out fabulous city on a tight budget.

Walk the Bondi to Coogee Clifftop Trail

Sydney's most well-known and most popular walk, the Bondi to Coogee coastal path really shouldn't be missed. Both ends are very well linked to bus routes, much like most points among should you feel too hot and bothered to continue – although a cooling dip at the beaches en route should cure that (pack your bathing suit). There's little shade on this path, so be sure you dive into a tub of sunscreen before aiming. A hat's also a good idea.

Traverse the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydneysiders love the giant Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932. The best way to experience this majestic structure is on foot. Stairs and elevators climb up the bridge from both shores, resulting in a footpath on the eastern side (the gulf is a bike path). Getting the train to Milsons Point and walking back toward the town is easily the most spectacular. It's free to climb the southeastern pylon towards the Pylon Lookout, the next smartest thing to paying for the popular if expensive BridgeClimb.

Cycle through North Head

The spectacular North Head offers dramatic cliffs, lookouts, secluded beaches, pretty paths through the native scrub, and sweeping views of the ocean, harbor and city. It's great to explore by bike or by walking, along the Manly Scenic Walkway. Grab a roadmap and plot your own path through the headland, that takes in former military barracks, WWII gun emplacements, a quarantine cemetery along with a memorial walk commemorating Australia's military. In the tip, Fairfax Lookouts offer dramatic clifftop perspectives. The 5.5-mile, four-hour Manly Scenic Walkway loops around the park; get a brochure in the visitor center. Also this is actually the historic Q Station. North Head is considered to have been used like a ceremonial site through the native Camaraigal people. These days, most of the headland belongs to Sydney Harbour National Park.

Take an Aboriginal Heritage Tour at Royal Botanic Garden

The Royal Botanic Garden was established in 1816 featuring vegetation from around the globe. Within the gardens are hothouses with palms and ferns, along with the Calyx, an uplifting exhibition space having a curving glasshouse gallery with a wall of greenery and temporary plant-themed exhibitions. The gardens include the site from the colony's first paltry vegetable patch, however their history goes back much beyond that. Well before the convicts arrived, this was an initiation ground for that Gadigal (Cadigal) people. Free 1.5-hour guided walks depart from the visitor center at 10:30am daily, plus 1pm on March to November weekdays. Book ahead to have an Aboriginal Heritage Tour by having an Indigenous guide.

Admire the collection at Art Gallery of NSW

With its neoclassical Greek frontage and modern rear, the much-loved Memorial of NSW plays a prominent and gregarious role in Sydney society. Blockbuster international touring exhibitions arrive regularly, and there's a superb free-to-visit permanent collection of Australian art, together with a substantial Indigenous section. The gallery also plays host to lectures, concerts, screenings, celebrity talks and children's activities. A range of free guided tours is offered on different themes and in various languages.

Sunbathe at Camp Cove

Avoid the crowds at Bondi Beach by heading to Camp Cove, Sydney's most intimate beach, where you can pitch your umbrella in the very doorstep of 1 from the city's priciest homes before floating in the wave-free harbor. Immediately north of Watsons Bay, the small swimming beach of Camp Cove is well-liked by both families and topless sunbathers. When Governor Phillip realized Botany Bay didn't work like a site for any convict colony, he explored north into Sydney Harbour, dropped anchor and sunk his boots into Camp Cove's gorgeous golden sand on 21 January 1788.

Take within the 1930's vibe of Luna Park

A chip-toothed clown face (50 times life-sized) forms the doorway to Luna Park, an old-fashioned theme park overlooking Sydney Harbour. It's one of many 1930s features, including the Coney Island funhouse, quite a carousel and also the nausea-inducing Rotor. You can wander through without purchasing a ticket, though the rides do charge admission. Should you choose decide to purchase a ride pass from Captain Cook cruises, they'll throw in free ferry travel.

Hike through the Royal National Park

The 37,290-acre Royal National Park was established in 1879, making it the oldest national park on the planet after Yellowstone in the USA. Stretching inland from 20 miles (32km) of lovely coast, it encompasses pockets of subtropical rainforest, windblown coastal scrub, sandstone gullies dominated by gum trees, freshwater and saltwater wetlands, secluded beaches and dramatic cliffs. Traditionally the home of the Dharawal people, there's also numerous Aboriginal sites and artifacts. Walking trails range from the spectacular 16-mile (two-day) Coast Track. Most beaches are unpatrolled, and rips could make them dangerous. Garie, Wattamolla, Era, South Era and Burning Palms are popular surf beaches, and Werrong Beach is clothing optional.

Check out Australian art in the Museum of recent Art

The Museum of recent Art is really a showcase for Australian and international contemporary art, with a rotating permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. Aboriginal art features prominently. The art deco original building has already established a modern space grafted onto it, the highlight of which is the rooftop cafe with stunning views. You will find free guided tours daily, in several languages.

Snorkel among marine life at Shelly Beach

The Sydney Aquarium is pricey, however, you can easily see plenty of marine life in its natural habitat at Shelly Beach. This beautiful, sheltered, north-facing ocean cove is an appealing 0.6-mile (1km) walk from the busy Manly beach strip. The tranquil waters are a protected haven for marine life, therefore it offers wonderful snorkeling. Take the Manly ferry plus some swimming goggles.

Read the plaques at St James' Church

Built from convict-made bricks, St James' Church, Sydney's oldest (1819), is widely considered to be architect Francis Greenway's masterpiece. It had been originally designed as a courthouse, however the brief changed and also the cells became the crypt. Browse the dark-wood choir loft, the sparkling copper dome, the crypt and also the 1950s stained-glass "Creation Window." It's worth reading the marble plaques across the walls for many insights into early colonial life and exploration. A far more recent plaque commemorates former pm Gough Whitlam and his partner Margaret.

Experience Sydney's hub of religion at St Mary's Cathedral

Sydney has traditionally been quite a Catholic city, and St Mary's Cathedral is the hub of the faith. Created to last, this 350ft-long sandstone Gothic Revival -style cathedral was begun in 1868, consecrated in 1905 and substantially finished in 1928, although the massive, 250ft-high spires weren't added until 2000. The church is free to go to, though there's a little $5 admission fee to determine the crypt, which has bishops' tombs as well as an impressive cross-shaped terrazzo mosaic floor depicting the Creation, inspired through the Celtic-style illuminations of the Book of Kells.

Attend a celebration at Centennial Park

Scratched from the sand in 1888 in grand Victorian style, Centennial Park, Sydney's biggest, is a rambling 470-acre expanse full of horse riders, joggers, cyclists and in-line skaters. Grab a park map at any of the entrances or the information center in the centre. Keep your eye out for free events in the warmer months.

Meander along the Manly Scenic Walkway

Manly Scenic Walkway, one of Sydney's best walks, goes in the Spit Bridge at Mosman, through the Sydney Harbour National Park using its fascinating Aboriginal rock art, past Manly Cove, across North Head and right down to Manly's famous beach. This marvelous coastal walk has two major components: the 6.2-mile western stretch between Manly and Spit Bridge, and the 6-mile eastern loop around North Head. Either download a roadmap or pick one up from the information center close to the wharf.

Listen in in the Sydney Conservatorium of Music

The historic Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Australia's premier musical training institution, showcases the talents of their students and their teachers, with frequent free recitals. The castellated "Con" was designed in 1817 by convict architect Francis Greenway as the stables and servants' quarters of Governor Macquarie's home. Partly due to the project's extravagance, Macquarie was ousted prior to being complete. In 1915 the stables were converted to a conservatorium, now part of the University of Sydney. Subsequent renovations (equally extravagant) created five world-class venues.

Learn Aboriginal history in the Rocks Discovery Museum

Divided into four displays – Warrane (pre-1788), Colony (1788 -1820), Port (1820 -1900) and Transformations (1900 to the present) – the little but excellent Rocks Discovery Museum digs deep in to the area's history with an artifact-rich tour. Sensitive attention is given to the Rocks' original inhabitants, the Gadigal (Cadigal) people, and there are interesting tales of early colonial characters. The next floor holds temporary exhibitions.

Shop the right path through Paddington Markets

Originating within the 1970s, when they were drenched within the scent of patchouli oil, the Paddington Financial markets are significantly more mainstream these days. They're still worth exploring for his or her new and vintage clothing, crafts and jewellery.

Swim at the Murray Rose Pool

Not a swimming pool as a result, family-friendly Murray Rose (named following a champion Olympic swimmer) is really a large, shark-netted enclosure that is one of the harbor's best swimming spots. Among the closest harbor beaches towards the city, it attracts an urbane cross-section of inner-eastern locals. A boardwalk moment it, there are a couple of sought-after floating pontoons.

See the majestic views from Barrenjoey Lighthouse

The historic sandstone Barrenjoey Lighthouse (1881) sits in the northern tip from the Northern Beaches in an annex of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. You've got two route options – shorter stairs or perhaps a winding, convict-built track – for that steep hike to the peak, but majestic views across Pittwater and on the peninsula are worth the effort.

Peruse the star-gazing equipment at Sydney Observatory

Built within the 1850s, the copper-domed, Italianate sandstone Sydney Observatory squats atop Observatory Hill, overlooking the harbor. Inside is an intriguing collection of vintage apparatus as well as background on Australian astronomy and transits of Venus. The observatory was originally built to determine the correct time via astronomical observations. On the roof, an indication ball still drops at exactly 1pm. The hill seemed to be used to signal to ships from two high flagpoles, one of which has been reconstructed. Research in the observatory ceased in 1983.

Feel the poignancy of Anzac Memorial

The dignified art deco Anzac Memorial commemorates WWI soldiers of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs). The interior dome is studded with 120,000 stars, one for every NSW soldier who served. These twinkle above Rayner Hoff's poignant sculpture Sacrifice. The downstairs Hall of Service features names and soil examples of all the NSW places of origin of WWI soldiers. There's a daily 11am remembrance service here; alongside is really a poignant exhibition with stories and artifacts of some of those who fought. There's additionally a shop on the middle level, with an exhibition space. Pines in the southwestern entry grew from seeds gathered at Gallipoli in Turkey, the site of the Anzacs' most renowned WWI campaign. Near the memorial, a contemporary sculpture of bullets titled Yininmadyemi commemorates Aboriginal service personnel and the location of the former Gadigal ritual contest ground.

Peruse the tomes at the State Library of NSW

Among their state Library of NSW's more than five million tomes are James Cook's and Joseph Banks' journals and William Bligh's log from the mutinous Bounty. It's worth looking at to peruse the elaborately sculpted bronze doors and grand atrium from the neoclassical Mitchell Wing (1910); note the gorgeous map of Tasman's journeys within the mosaic floor. The main reading room is definitely an elegant temple of data clad in milky marble. About this level and upstairs are a few excellent new exhibition galleries highlighting the collection.

Go down the rabbit hole at White Rabbit

In many different ways Sydney's best contemporary art gallery, White Rabbit is tucked away behind the Central Park development in Chippendale. It's the project of billionaire philanthropist Judith Neilson, who has amassed among the world's largest collections of cutting-edge, contemporary Chinese art (works produced since 2000) and it has so many pieces that just a portion can be displayed at one time. You'll find art here that's edgy, funny, sexy and idiosyncratic.

Get insight into an artist mind at Brett Whiteley Studio

Acclaimed local artist Brett Whiteley (1939 -1992) lived fast and without restraint. A lot of his multimillion-dollar paintings are intended within this hard-to-find studio (look for the twelve signs on Devonshire and Bourke Sts), which has been preserved as a gallery. Pride of place goes to his astonishing Alchemy, a giant multipanel extravaganza that could absorb you all night using its broad themes, intricate details and humorous asides. The studio room upstairs gives insight into the smoothness of this masterful draughtsman and off-the-wall genius.

Expect the unexpected at Carriageworks

Built between 1880 and 1889, this intriguing number of huge Victorian-era workshops now called Carriageworks was part of the Eveleigh Railyards. The rail workers chugged out in 1988, as well as in 2007 the performers moved in. It's now home to a remarkable artist-led program of inventive visual arts and performance, often on the monumental scale. Expect everything from Indigenous dance retrospectives to aura photography or giant incense sculpture. There's a very pleasant cafe-bar here and a very good Saturday morning farmers market.

Get into a government frame of mind at Parliament House

Twin of the nearby Mint, the venerable Parliament House (1816) has been home to the Parliament of recent South Wales since 1829, which makes it the earth's oldest continually operating parliament building. Such as the Mint, its front section (which now blends into a modern addition on the eastern side) was part of the Rum Hospital, built in exchange for any monopoly around the rum trade. You need to pass through a metal detector to gain access to the inner sanctum, where one can take a look at art exhibitions in the lobby and the historical display in the wood-paneled Jubilee Room. On non-sitting days both assembly chambers are open, however when Parliament is sitting you're limited to the Public Gallery. There are free guided tours on Mondays and Fridays at 1:30pm.

Peruse the La Perouse Museum

Housed inside the old cable station (1882), the La Perouse Museum has numerous relics from French explorer La Pérouse's many expeditions, an interesting Aboriginal gallery, and changing exhibitions on local background and environment.

Take a ferry to Garden Island

The most of the important Garden Island naval base is off-limits towards the strolling public, however, you can click on the tip from it by ferry. Here, there's a pleasing garden and lookout as well as a cafe along with a naval museum. It's a well-arranged modern display with wartime paraphernalia, weapons, control consoles from the submarine and a periscope which you can use to observe the harbor. There are also some rather unusual sailors' trophies along with a gloriously out-of-place porcelain iris with a butterfly.

Unwind in Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden

On the shore of Lavender Bay, Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden is among Sydney's hidden treasures. The general public garden was created by artist Brett Whiteley's widow (an artist herself) on an old railway siding and it is accessed through Clark Park, off Lavender St.

Think differently at Artspace

Artspace is spacey: its eternal quest is to meet the increasing demand with vigorous, engaging Australian and international contemporary art. Things listed here are decidedly avant-garde – expect lots of conceptual art, audiovisual installations and new media pieces. This is an admirable make an effort to liven things up in Sydney's art scene, tinkering with sometimes disturbing concepts.

Take a guided tour of Victoria Barracks

A manicured vision in the peak of the British Empire (built 1841 to 1848), the Georgian-era Victoria Army Barracks has been known as the finest of their kind within the colonies. It's still an energetic army base, so entry is just possible on a free guided tour. You'll usually see a marching band perform (weather permitting). Call ahead and take photo ID.

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