How to get the most out of Sydney on a budget – and a shout-out to old friends

When travelling for a while, budget usually is something to take into consideration, or it was at least for me. And costs tend to add up especially in cities like Sydney. Yet there are plenty of great things to do and see in this beautiful city that won’t cost you a fortune. So this is my guide to experiencing Sydney in two days for nearly nothing.

Day 1

  1. Queen Victoria Building
    Wherever you stay in Sydney, if you take a train into the city chances are you pass by  Town Hall station. If you get off there, take the exit through the Queen Victoria building. This old mall was constructed in the late 19th century and still features many of its original features like a beautiful mosaic floor, many balconies and arcades and reminds you of the British heritage of the city.
  2. The Museum of Contemporary Art
    Free entrance to the permanent collection at this modern museum featuring many Australian artists. There is also a nice little café with a great view on the top floor, a good gift shop and free wifi. All in all great place to spend an hour or two.

    Serenity at the MCA in Sydney.
  3. The Rocks and Discovery Museum
    The Rocks is Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood, the place where modern Sydney was born. The Rocks Discovery museum, tucked inside one of the tiny buildings in that quarter, has a free and very informative little exhibition on Sydneys history. And always a plus: there is a food market on Fridays.
  4. Customs House Library
    Join the many locals and travellers in what I find one of the most zen activities: do some serious newspaper-reading. There are many national and international papers and magazines available and there is free wifi too, which makes the Customs House Library a great place to get some work or travel planing done.
  5. Opera House
    Walk from Circular Quay to the Opera House and enjoy the buzz accompanying that iconic building nearly anytime of the day and year.
  6. Royal Botanical Gardens
    Have a stroll and even better a picnic in the Royal Botanical Gardens, this beautifully serene green space right in the heart of the city with great views over the bay.
  7. Art Gallery of New South Wales
    Finish your day in central Sydney off with visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. There are free talks and films on Wednesday nights, make sure to check out their schedule.
  8. Nightlife
    There is always loads going on in Sydney, and there are always some free things happening as well. Check local newspapers for free events. If you visit Sydney in June like I did make sure to check out “Vivid Sydney“, the city’s annual lightshow festival that features many free attractions all over the town.

    Lightshow at the Opera house as part of Sydney’s “Vivid” Festival


Day 2

  1. Glebe
    Head down to alternative suburb Glebe for their Saturday flea market and some serious book shopping: make sure to check out superb secondhand bookstore Sappho Books and Café and if you can’t find what you are looking for head over to Gleebooks, a great bookstore with one of the best selections of titles I have ever seen. (Realising as I write that this is probably not really a budget travel tip, but can turn out rather costly though depending on your book addiction)

    Glebe: a booklover’s paradise.
  2. University of Sydney
    Walk across the campus of the University of Sydney and take a break in the park.
  3. Newtown
    From University of Sydney its only a short stroll to Newtown, one of the places for great coffee in Sydney. Try Brewtown for a bit of the hipster-vibe to go with your coffee.
  4. Bondi Beach
    Take the bus to Bondi Beach, watch the surfers (there are nearly always some, even on a rainy day in June), and walk to Coogee beach along the cliffs, one of the most spectacular walks you can take in this area.
  5. Manly Beach
    And/or depending on your bookshopping/coffeedrinking/surferwatching speed: Take the ferry over to Manly. Walk around the spit if you feel the need to stretch your legs a little more. If you prefer a more relaxed option, have lunch or dinner in one of the many great little coffee places. My favourite is cosy little Hemingways right at the beach.
Surf going strong at Manly beach.

A little disclaimer nevertheless: I was so lucky as to be able to stay with my host family from my student exchange fifteen years ago, so I didn’t have to worry about accommodation too much, but rather got greeted with a warm Aussie welcome including Tim Tams. Guess the only advice I can give on that matter is: Make friends around the globe. Stay in touch with them. Do dare to ring them up even if it has been a while. It is amazing how quickly old friendships can feel comfortable and zero awkward again. Give it a try. And a big shout-out to my Aussie family for being amazing!

My amazing Aussie host parents taking me out to the beach.

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