Australia isn't the cheapest country in the world to explore, but you can still find tons of brilliant things to do that are entirely free, even in the big cities! We've put together a list of our top 21 fun and free things to do in Sydney. From iconic landmarks to stunning coastal walks, there's something for everyone in Australia's most famous city, and the one most travellers arrive into.
1. Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
One of the most popular tourist attractions to do in Sydney is the Harbour Bridge Climb where you climb right the way to the top of "the Coathanger" for views over the city and the harbour, 134m above sea level. While it does sound amazing, it's also REALLY expensive: 3 hour guided climbs start from $344 (around £150) per person, plus you can't take your own photos up there as all personal belongings have to be left down at ground level, which means your only option is to buy the photos taken by your guide for an additional $54.95 (about £29).
However! Much like San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge has a pedestrian walkway with safety barriers separating those on foot from the busy lanes of traffic. While you won't be quite as high up as the BridgeClimb route, you'll still get terrific views out over the harbour and Opera House.
While it's not a freebie, if you'd like a more budget friendly viewpoint option, you can go up the 200 steps of one of the Bridge's pylons to a viewing platform 87m above sea level, plus 3 levels of exhibits about the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Tickets for the Pylon Lookout and museum are $24.95 (£12.99).
2. Sydney Botanical Gardens
You could easily spend hours exploring this green oasis nestled against the waterfront. From beautiful flowers and trees to cracking views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, there's also a surprising amount of wildlife (see number 20)!
3. Window shop in the stunning Queen Victoria Building
The QVB is a Sydney icon. This grand five floor 19th century shopping centre spans an entire block and the elegant interiors are well worth a wander to see the stained glass windows, huge clocks and central domes. Out front is a large statue of Queen Victoria and a wishing well featuring a bronze sculpture of her favourite dog Islay.
3. Wander through beautiful Paddington
Get away from the tourist centre and spend a morning strolling through beautiful Paddington district. This trendy suburb felt like an Australian version of London's Highgate Village, chock full of markets, upscale cafes and coffee shops, boutiques and leafy side streets of pretty Victorian terraces with iron railings that looked more like New Orleans than Sydney. The famous Saturday market is held in the courtyard of Paddington Uniting Church on Oxford Street, where you can pick up Aussie made clothes, jewellery and crafts.
5. Catch a sunset
If you're looking for a cracking spot for sunset, head to Mrs Macquarie's Point to get both the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge in your shot with the sun going down behind them. Alternatively, hang out along the waterfront next to the Opera House for a close up of the skies changing beyond Sydney Harbour Bridge. As you've saved money elsewhere you could treat yourself to a cocktail at either Opera Bar or House Canteen (both run alongside Circular Quay next to the Opera House) for the perfect sundowner.
6. Explore Sydney's oldest district, the Rocks
Home to some of Sydney's oldest pubs (we loved the Australian Heritage Hotel and the Hero of Waterloo), the Rocks is a fascinating historic jumble of laneways, shops and pubs tucked beside Sydney Harbour Bridge on the opposite of Circular Quay to the Opera House.
Head to the free Rocks Discovery Museum where you can learn about the Gadigal People (the First Peoples and Traditional Custodians of the land Sydney was built on), the history and impact of 18th century European colonisation and how the district was saved from demolition in the 1970s.
7. Take in modern art and rooftop views at the Museum of Contemporary art
Tucked on the edge of the Rocks, the MCA is home to an amazing collection of modern art. Free to visit (occasionally a temporary exhibition might require an additional purchased ticket), you can join one of the free daily guided tours or visit after dark on Fridays when the museum stays open until 9pm, along with live performances, artist talks and workshops.
Don't miss the museum's rooftop café where you can enjoy views across to the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, plus it's very inexpensive!
NB: The MCA is closed on Tuesdays.
8. Anzac memorial & reflection pool
Located in Hyde Park, the imposing art deco Anzac memorial was officially opened in 1934 to commemorate all Australians who lost their lives in service during the First World War. It's a peaceful contemplative spot with a large reflection pool leading towards an avenue of tall trees. The inside of the memorial, open 9-5, is free to enter, and you can visit the Hall of Silence with its tragic statue, Sacrifice and the Hall of Memory where the flame of remembrance can be found. Before you leave, check the Assembly Hall to see if there are any temporary exhibitions on.
9. Australian Museum
Just east of Hyde Park is the Australian Museum, first opened in 1857 as a "beautiful collection of Australian curiosities", today you can explore a range of brilliant galleries including Australian dinosaurs fossils beautiful minerals and Surviving Australia, a celebration of the country's weirdest wildlife, from deadly snakes and spiders to long extinct prehistoric megafauna. Particular highlights not to be missed are the Garrigarrang gallery where you will learn all about the region's First Nations people and the Westpac Long Gallery, featuring 100 of the museum's most-valued objects.
The museum is free to visit, some special temporary exhibitions might require paid tickets.
10. Manly Beach
Hop on the inexpensive ferry from Circular Quay across to Manly, then stroll down the main drag to the famous beach. Browse the surf shops and pick up some fish and chips before grabbing a spot on the sand as the Silver Gulls and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos fly overhead. It was here that Australia's first ever surfing competition was held in 1964 and you can still watch some seriously talented surfers catching waves as you walk along the seafront.
11. Bondi Beach
Sydney's other world famous beach is an easy bus ride from the centre. This long curve of sand is always buzzing and the waves are reliable if you want to hire a board or bring your own. Flop on the sand, check out the outstanding murals at the Bondi graffiti wall or take a 20 minute walk along the front to Bondi Golf Club where you can see a beautiful collection of Aboriginal rock carvings - you can find them on a rocky platform near the edge of the cliff at the base of a ventilation tower.
12. Bronte Baths
While Bondi's ocean side Icebergs Swimming Club is probably one of Australia's most famous pools, if you're looking for a freebie option, pop half an hour up the road to Bronte Beach. Their lovely enclosed salt water pool provides a safe place to swim right beside the ocean and won't cost a penny to visit.
Looking for more budget travel tips and things you can do for free? Check these blogs out!
13. Explore Luna Park
Hop on the ferry across to Sydney's north bank or walk over Sydney Harbour Bridge to the city's answer to Coney Island, Luna Park. While the retro rides are pretty expensive (you need to buy a day pass rather than paying for individual rides), entry to the 1930s funfair is totally free and it's a fun place to walk around, photograph and enjoy the harbour views.
14. Peruse the Strand arcade
Travel back in time in this elegant Victorian shopping arcade. Similar to London's Burlington Arcade, the Strand arcade is a hidden gem in Sydney's buzzing CBD. Opened in 1891, the arcade was painstakingly reconstructed in the 1970s after a devastating fire. Be sure to pop into the Nut Shop, a Sydney icon run by three generations of the same family since it opened in 1939 - we recommend the mixed nuts and the chocolate macadamia nuts! Scrummy.
15. St Mary's Cathedral
One of the largest Catholic churches in Australia (second only to Melbourne's St Patrick's), St Mary's is built in a magnificent Gothic Revival style with two soaring spires. The inside feels enormous and is lit by yellow stained glass windows, casting a slightly odd colour across the nave.
16. Art Gallery of NSW
Just opposite the Botanical Gardens, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is split across 2 buildings: North and South and the art displayed ranges from the 1400s to the present day. On Wednesday nights the gallery stays open until 10pm with additional workshops, performances and talks and you can also join free daily guided tours of the gallery highlights. The North Building is home to the gallery's collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. Entry to the gallery, tours and Art after hours on Wednesdays is free, some special temporary exhibitions might require paid tickets.
17. Get up close to the Sydney Opera House
You can't visit Sydney without stopping by its most iconic building: the Sydney Opera House. The billowing white sails that make up the roof are probably one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world, and the famous venue turned 50 last month!
Photogenic from every angle, you can get right up close to the Opera House to really appreciate the soaring roof tiles and huge glass windows. If you want to see the auditoriums and performance venues inside the Opera House you'll need to either book onto a guided tour or buy a ticket to watch a show there, but you can certainly get a great appreciation of the architecture from the outside.
Be sure to walk round to the water steps on the front of the Opera House to see if the venue's resident fur seal Benny is snoozing there!
18. Darling harbour and the Australian National Maritime Museum
You could easily spend an hour people watching at Darling Harbour and strolling along the pedestrianised waterfront. Home to swanky alfresco restaurants and big ticket attractions like WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussauds Sydney, head round to the far side of the harbour to check out the Australian National Maritime Museum - unlike the other museums on the harbour, general admission to the Maritime Museum is free! Some temporary exhibitions will require a ticket, as will going onboard the boats and ships on display outside, but you can still get a great view of the vessels from dry land if you walk around the front of the museum. Highlights include Cold War era submarine HMAS Onslow, and a beautiful replica of Cook's Endeavour.
19. Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk
One of the best free things to do in Sydney is the stunning Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk. Popular with locals at weekends, this gorgeous 6km path winds its way along the ocean cliffs passing numerous beaches, 2000 year old Aboriginal rock carvings, cafes and lookout spots where you might see whales and dolphins! You could stop off at Bronte Beach for a dip in the oceanside swimming pool or check out the heritage listed Waverley Cemetery, full of stone angels and gothic monuments dating from 1877.
20. Wildlife spotting
Let's go on safari! Despite being a busy buzzing city that's home to around 5 million people, Sydney also has a surprising amount of wildlife to spot. Stroll through the Botanical Gardens to check out a huge variety of birds - we saw kookaburras, sulphur crested cockatoos, crested pigeons, Pied Currawong, lots of different ducks, lapwings and parakeets. Walk through Hyde Park to see noisy Myna birds, parrots and Australian Ibis (or Bin Chickens as the locals call them).
Take your binoculars on the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk and keep your eyes peeled for Dolphins and between May - November, Humpback whales. We also saw plenty of birds, including the Wattlebird, kookaburras and the electric blue Superb Fairy Wren.
For more marine life spotting, grab your snorkelling gear and head to Shelly Beach, Manly to look for giant cuttlefish, large schools of fish, rays and if you're really lucky, turtles! On the route of the Bondi - Coogee walk, you could visit Gordons Bay or Clovelly for more great snorkelling.
21. Blue Mountains National Park
While not in Sydney itself, this inexpensive day trip is well worth the 2 hour train journey or 90 minute drive. You'll be amazed that you can visit this astonishingly beautiful national park without paying an entry fee! The train to Katoomba is an absolute bargain, about £5 each way, but the unlike the national parks we've visited in the US, Blue Mountains is free to enter. Spend the day winding your way along the glorious Prince Henry Cliff Walk which follows the edge of Jamison Valley past epic viewpoints, famous rock formations like the Three Sisters and gushing waterfalls. Far below, the white dots of cockatoos circle over the forest canopy.
Bring a picnic and plenty of water, otherwise your options are to grab something in Katoomba town once you're off the train, or the expensive Scenic World café once you reach the national park.
If you follow the trail all the way to Gordon Falls you can catch the train back to Sydney from Leura Station instead - it's the stop before Katoomba.
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