Exciting news! My family are coming to visit this month! This is the first time they’re coming to visit in the three years that I have lived in Sydney. With them staying in Australia for a whole month, we have some exciting trips planned (watch this space!), but I also want them to experience the best that Sydney has to offer. And the good news? There are actually a lot of things to do in Sydney that are either free or very affordable, and it doesn’t need to be 30 degrees outside for those things to be enjoyable. I have listed my 10 picks for you below.
There are so many amazing walks that you can do in and around Sydney, but I think the Taronga to Balmoral coastal walk has to come close to my favourite walk in Sydney. It’s around 7km, takes around 2-3 hours to do, and has spectacular views of Sydney harbour. Also, you end up in Balmoral, which is a beautiful beach and a great spot for a cheeky lunch at The Boathouse. This walk makes for a great half day out, particularly because there is a short ferry ride (from Circular Quay to Taronga) involved if you live south of the bridge, i.e. great views all around. In Taronga, just take a right past the zoo and then follow the signs towards Chowder Bay, then Middle Head, and from there the signs will lead you to Balmoral Beach.
This is another walk with amazing harbour views. We usually take a bus to Rose Bay, and then start the walk from Bay View Hill Road (the first bit is called Hermitage Foreshore Scenic Walk). It’s an easy 1.4km walk to Nielsen Park, which is home to one of my favourite swimming beaches on Sydney harbour. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to go for a swim in winter, this beach is very sheltered from the wind, which means it’s usually quite warm and the water is fairly calm. There’s plenty of shade and some lovely grassy areas if you feel like hanging out and reading a book and/or taking a nap, and the Nielsen Park Cafe & Restaurant is there if you get hungry. The restaurant does amazing seafood platters to share. Once you’re done exploring Nielsen Park, you can continue the walk on to Watson’s Bay (this is the longer bit and takes around 2 hours). The walk will lead you past Vaucluse House and Parsley Bay, both very nice spots. There are plenty of things to explore in Watson’s Bay itself as well, and – once you’re done exploring – you can just hop on the ferry to get back to Circular Quay.
The revolving O Bar is a great alternative to Sydney Tower – no need to buy a ticket or stand in line. The views both during the day and at night are fantastic, and you can get a 360 degree view of Sydney from above in about an hour. If you’re doing this on the cheap, you can opt for drinks and (optional) nibbles only, rather than booking a table in the restaurant.
4. The Rocks – Sydney Harbour Bridge – Luna Park
It’s not a secret that The Rocks, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park are all popular tourist attractions. I personally think that it makes for quite a nice day to combine all three of them and walk from one attraction to the other. You can also do this in reverse order if you live north of the bridge. I recommend doing this on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, so that you can check out the markets in The Rocks in addition to some of the lovely small backstreets and historic buildings. When you’re ready to move on, head to Cumberland Street and you’ll see the stairs that lead up to Sydney Harbour Bridge. Once you reach the northern side, turn left onto Burton St (near Milsons Point station), then left onto Alfred Street and left again onto Paul Street, where you’ll see the entrance to Luna Park. In Luna Park, you can either jump on some of the rides, or – if that’s not your thing – get yourself some coffee or ice cream and simply enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and harbour views.
5. Take the ferry to Manly
Manly, in my opinion, has a very special, very relaxed vibe to it and it’s one of my favourite spots to go for a walk on the beach or just hang out in general. Hop on the ferry from Circular Quay and enjoy the fantastic harbour views. Once in Manly, I like to get myself a juice or coffee (I usually go in the morning) from one of the many cafes and then go for a walk along the beach. If you feel up for it, make sure you also walk over to Shelly Beach, which is part of the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve. For lunch, I recommend The Ivanhoe or, if you’re feeling like something healthy, the Native Cafe.
I love love love the Art Gallery of NSW. Not only is it a grand building in a top location, but their permanent exhibition is free to access for anyone, and the special exhibitions are always top-notch (you have to pay entry for these but it’s usually affordable). I recommend going on a Wednesday night, as the gallery is open until 10pm and there is always something exciting going on (music, readings, lectures etc.). If you’re feeling fancy, there is also a fantastic restaurant at the gallery named Chiswick. This is of course not free or cheap, but I thought it’s worth mentioning anyway.
This tour is an entertaining (and active!) way to learn about Sydney’s history, making it an awesome freebie not only for tourists, but also for Sydneysiders who want to learn more about their home. The tour starts at 10:30am and 2:30pm every day from Town Hall (look out for the guides in green t-shirts in Town Hall Square). The tour covers all the Sydney usuals – Opera House, Harbour Bridge etc. – PLUS a lot of the Sydney sights that aren’t on every postcard, such as Parliament House, Hyde Park Barracks, Customs House and more.
Vivid, the festival of light, music and ideas, is one of my favourite things about winter in Sydney. The light installations are always extremely creative and, even though Sydney at night is pretty anytime of the year, Vivid makes the whole city light up in vibrant colours. My favourite installation is usually the one at Customs House, as well as the Opera House. This year, the festival is on from 26th May through to 17th of June. There are plenty of paid events and activities around Vivid, however all the outdoor light installations around the city and the harbour are free to access on foot. The festival can get quite busy, so go on a weeknight if you can.
9. Bondi Beach & The Icebergs
No trip to Sydney is complete without a visit to one of the world’s most famous beaches – Bondi. The big advantage about going in winter is that you can enjoy the beach on what is hopefully a sunny winter’s day, but without the crowds that flock here in summer. Take a walk along the beach, have some ice cream or – my preferred option – a cronut from Speedo’s Cafe, and simply enjoy being in this iconic location. I personally am a huge fan of the Bondi Icebergs, just because they look so cool on a sunny day. I normally spend quite a few minutes here trying to get the perfect photo. If you feel like walking off your cronut, you can do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, one of the most famous and popular walks in Sydney.
A visit to the White Rabbit Art Gallery is a fantastic way to give visitors a feel of the Asian influence in Sydney. The gallery boasts one of the most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art, and it’s free to access. The gallery is located in Chippendale, which is quite a cool spot to explore if you have time – check out Spice Alley and One Central Park, and have some ice cream at Anita’s (it’s worth the calories, I promise!).