Sydney on a shoestring: the budget traveller’s go-to guide

By , 17th July 2015

Sydney is known for its proximity to nature, balmy climate and laidback culture. At the same time, it’s well-suited to evenings out, cocktails by the harbour and cosmopolitan dining – so it’s no wonder everyone wants to go there. But put frankly, budget travellers may not find Sydney’s exorbitant prices so welcoming. In fact, the city was ranked as the fifth most expensive city in the world in 2015.

Thankfully, life as a penny-pinching student in Sydney has taught me some indispensable money-saving tips – so you can be assured that it’s possible to have a good time without burning though all of your precious savings. If you’re on a budget, stick to these pointers to make the most of your time in Sydney.

DO |  EAT | DRINK | DANCE | SLEEP

DO

Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout

Budget alternative to the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb - the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon LookoutPhoto by hjjanisch

You’ve always wanted to climb the Sydney Habour Bridge… until you found out that it would leave you   £150 out of pocket. But not to worry – because you can practically have the same views for a fraction of the price at The Sydney Pylon Lookout. Located on the southern end of the bridge, the lookout is perched at 87 metres above sea level and affords spectacular panoramic views of Circular Quay and the city surrounds. There’s also a museum housed within the pylon, detailing the history of the bridge.

Tickets cost $13 (£6) for adults and $6.50 (£3) for children.

Chinese Garden of Friendship

Buget guide to Sydney: check cout the Chinese Garden of Friendship

The Chinese Garden of Friendship is a small oasis in the heart of Sydney, and for a modest entry fee visitors will be treated to waterfalls, lakes, exotic plants, pavilions and hidden pathways – all tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Complete with koi carp swimming in the lakes, weeping willows and even a Chinese teahouse, the garden is perfect for a tranquil afternoon in the sun.

There’s also plenty to do in the area – situated in the Darling Harbour precinct, you’ll find plenty of locals lazing on the steps of Cockle Bay Wharf on a sunny day. There are also a number of bars along the harbour side offering $10 (£5) jugs of beer during the afternoons.

Entry to the Chinese Garden of Friendship costs $6 (£3) for adults and $3 (£1.50) for children.

The Rocks Area

Things to do on the cheap in Sydney: meander around The Rocks.Photo by chee.hong

Home to the first Europeans in Australia, The Rocks is a curious place to explore, with its rough cobblestone laneways and rustic sandstone buildings. Today, it’s a bustling area lined with boutique shops, market stalls, cafés and restaurants. Don’t miss seeing old-fashioned rock candy being hand-made by the talented staff at Sticky – it’s what childhood dreams are made of.

Top tip: wander down at the weekend for The Rocks Markets.

Ferry Ride to Manly

Cheap day out: take a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly.Photo by Graeme Churchard 

A ferry ride to Manly, a beach-side suburb in the city’s north, is one of the most economical ways to see Sydney’s picturesque coastline. It makes for a great day out, because firstly, you get a 30 minute tour of Sydney Harbour for the price of a return ticket; secondly, you get to go on one of Sydney’s iconic green and yellow ferries and thirdly; you’re rewarded with a day out at Manly Beach. Go for a dip in the sea, treat yourself to a lunch of fish and chips and you’ll have yourself sorted for the afternoon.

An adult return ticket to Manly costs $15.20 (£7).

Top tip: Manly is home to a colony of Little Penguins. Between the months of July to February, you can see them emerge from the water every night to nest at Manly Wharf.

Bondi to Bronte Walk

Budget guide to Sydney: do the Bondi to Bronte coastal walkPhoto by Philipp Hoffmann

There’s more to Bondi than a pretty city beach and a yummy brunch. The Bondi to Bronte walk is a coastal pathway along Sydney’s rugged shoreline and it’s highly recommended – even the locals are fans, because it’s also a popular jogging path. Along the way, you’ll be able to catch stunning views over Bondi Beach, right across to North Bondi Rocks. Take a moment to explore the rocky Mackenzie’s Bay – here the rock pools harbour some fascinating wildlife, from sea snails to starfish and crabs.

The best part? You’ll get to discover the less-touristy beaches, Tamarama Beach and Bronte Beach.

Allow yourself an hour to complete the walk – this will allow you plenty of time to take breaks and plenty of photos.

Art Gallery NSW

Free things to do in Sydney: go to the Art Gallery NSW

Sydney is generally a sunny city, experiencing more than 230 sunny days a year on average. But when it rains, it pours – and on these occasions, there’s nothing better than exploring the city’s range of museums and galleries. The Art Gallery NSW is free and is an excellent choice for seeing both international and Australian art housed in one of the most beautiful museums in the world.

EAT

Brekkie for less than £3

Bourke St Bakery

Buget brekkie in Sydney: head to Bourke Street Bakery

Sydney is an excellent brunch city and we do love an all-day breakfast. A typical brekkie will cost you around $15 (£7) and upwards – but if you’re serious about saving, the best way to do this is head to Sydney’s beloved Bourke Street Bakery. It has a selection of scrumptious pastries, so for around £3 you can pick up a ham & cheese croissant, a pear & rhubarb muffin or a pain au chocolat.

Lunch for £6 or less

Harry’s Café de Wheels

Cheap eats in Sydney: Harry's Cafe de Wheels does the best pies.Cheap eats in Sydney: Harry's Cafe de Wheels does the best pies.
Photo credits (left to right): Lidija and Hui Ling

Harry’s Café de Wheels serves Sydney’s best pie. It’s been visited by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Russell Crowe and Olivia Newton-John – but its celeb-status doesn’t make it fine-dining. In fact, the humble pie-stand has been providing Sydneysiders (and celebs) high-quality, freshly baked pies for more than 70 years. Locals recommend the signature Harry’s Tiger, a chunky lean beef pie topped with a generous dollop of mashed potatoes, green peas and a gravy reservoir – this will satisfy any hungry traveller on a budget for a very reasonable $7.10 (£3.50).

Shakespeare Hotel

Cheap pub lunches: $12.50 meals at the Shakespeare Hotel.

Do you have a penchant for a hearty serving of bangers and mash, or do you simply miss home? The Shakespeare Hotel is popular among both locals and British expats, who frequent the bar for classic pub fare. For a modest price of $12.50 (£6), you can order from a range of dishes, including the said Bangers & Mash, Chargrilled Rump Steak and the Chicken Schnitzel.

Top tip: stop by between 4-6pm on weekdays to take advantage of the $4 (£2) happy hour.

Dinner for less than £10

Your best bet for a cheap and delicious dinner is to make the most of Sydney’s variety of Asian or Middle Eastern restaurants. Thanks to Sydney’s multicultural makeup, you can be assured that the city serves up top-notch authentic cuisine.

Al Aseel

Cheap eats in Sydney: go to Al Aseel for delicious Lebanese cuisine.

Al Aseel is the go-to for authentic Lebanese fare in the heart of the trendy inner-city suburb of Newtown – look no further for delicious grilled meat dishes and incredibly fragrant hummus and garlic dips. It’s not hard to see why the restaurant is beloved among locals, when it exudes a warm and friendly atmosphere while offering generous portions at reasonable prices. We recommend ordering a couple of mixed plates to share – you won’t be disappointed.

Mains dishes are sharable among two to three people and cost approximately $30 (£14).

Chat Thai

Cheap eats in Sydney: go to Chat Thai for authentic cuisine.Cheap eats in Sydney: go to Chat Thai for authentic cuisine.
Photo credits (left to right): Eat Woo and pingkolie

Sydney’s culinary palette demands good and cheap Thai food – and it’s no secret that the city serves up exactly that. Thai restaurants can be found on every corner, so you’ll never have a hangry moment. Chat Thai is a long-time Sydney favourite, known for its authentic cuisine. There, you can be guaranteed that the som dtum (green papaya salad) is wonderfully refreshing and sufficiently spicy, while the sticky rice and mango is equally to die for – rich with coconut cream and fresh, sweet mango.

On a budget? Try one of the classic noodle or rice dishes $13 (£6.20).

DRINK

El Loco

Cheap and cheerful drinks at El Loco, Surry Hills.

Cheap and cheerful pub-Mex comes to life at El Loco in the hip suburb of Surry Hills, perfect for an afternoon drink and a quick bite. You’ll have fun with the kitsch and colourful décor, as well as the $14 (£7) margaritas and $6 (£3) tacos. On Friday nights, you’ll find El Loco heaving with a mix of locals and backpackers soaking up the casual and fun atmosphere.

The Glenmore Hotel

A bar with a view: The Glenmore is a no-fuss rooftop bar with beers starting from $5.

The unassuming Glenmore Hotel might shock first-time visitors – after all, who would’ve thought that a casual three-storey pub would lead you to an impressive rooftop bar with some of the best views of Sydney? Overlooking Circular Quay and the Opera House, the Glenmore is the perfect place to catch the afternoon’s rays with a beer in hand. And the best part? You won’t even pay a premium for the prime location.

Standard draft schimiddies (that’s about a half-pint) start from $5 (£2.40).

DANCE

The Cliff Dive

Trendy clubbing in Sydney: the Cliff Dive has free entry before 11.Photo by Holly Adams

It can be a challenge getting into a decent club without paying an entry fee – and in many places it can be as much as $20. Well, put your wallet away, save it for the drinks and head to The Cliff Dive. The tiki-fashioned bar and club greets keen revellers with a huge Polynesian statue in the hallway, before leading guests to an underwater-themed dancefloor.

The mixologists do an excellent cocktail which even the cash-strapped traveller can enjoy: the Bali Hai (Bacardi, sugarcane and citrus) and the Grapefruit Cutter (Barcardi, Gin, Cognac, grapefruit and apple) are just some of the adventurous concoctions you can get for $10 (£5).  The DJs play a range of music to get the crowd pumped; from retro tunes to indie and rock.

The Cliff Dive is open on Friday and Saturday nights. Free entry before 11pm and $5 (£2.50) thereafter.

SLEEP

Sydney Central YHA

Budget accommodation in the heart of Sydney: the Sydney Central YHA

Located right in the heart of the city, Sydney Central YHA is just minutes away from Darling Harbour, Chinatown and Surry Hills – a prime location for accessing the city’s wealth of cheap eats and happy hour deals.

Budget accommodation in the heart of Sydney: the Sydney Central YHA

Contrary to what a weary backpacker may expect from a hostel, Sydney Central YHA offers panoramic rooftop views, a heated pool and sauna, as well as a cinema. It’s perfect for relaxing after a long day or for mingling with like-minded travellers. With multi-share dorms as well as double, twin and en-suite rooms, you’re sure to find one that suit your needs.

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Big Hostel

Budget accommodation in Sydney: stay in the Big Hostel

The centrally-located Big Hostel is great for any traveller looking for comfortable budget accommodation. There’s plenty to do on your return to the hostel after a day of sightseeing: with a rooftop courtyard, a selection of books on offer and a DVD movie library, the hostel is perfect for recharging your batteries.

Budget accommodation in Sydney: stay in the Big Hostel

A complimentary light breakfast is served daily, and guests can save on costs by making use of the laundry and self-cater kitchen. All of the spacious double rooms have full-size lockers, comfortable bedlinen and access to free WiFi.

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See Sydney’s budget hot spots on Google Maps here.

Google Maps-Budget Guide to Sydney

Lead image by Ross Fowler 

Do you have any tips for seeing Sydney on a budget? Let us know below!