Often called ‘Emerald City’ or ‘Harbour City,’ the capital of New South Wales, Sydney, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia. While the city as a whole is not-so-cheap to live in and is the most expensive city in the country, with the cost of living being around AUD 8,045 (INR 4,66,088 approx.) for a family of four for a month, there are numerous free things to do in Sydney that are worth your time.
From admiring exquisite pieces at an art gallery to guided tours in museums and refreshing walks and cycling sessions in the sprawling parks, there are infinite fun things to do in Sydney with kids too. Planning a trip to Australia? Move over Kangaroos and prepare a checklist of these Sydney attractions and the other things listed below.
Some of the best free things to do in Sydney when you visit the Emerald City
Take a guided tour of Barrenjoey Lighthouse
Standing tall at the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, the Barrenjoey Lighthouse was built from quarried sandstone in 1881. Perhaps one of the best free things to do, not just in Sydney but Australia as a whole, is visiting this historical marvel for an informative guided tour that is provided every Sunday. While strolling around the park premises and climbing up the lighthouse doesn’t require a penny, one has to pay a street parking fee as per their vehicle. Get a majestic view from the top, and don’t forget to keep your binoculars handy.
Get to know interesting stories at The Rocks Discovery Museum
Whether an archaeologist or a geologist, or neither, one can’t simply miss visiting the Rocks Discovery Museum. This museum has various types of rocks from the pre-European days to the present. It is segregated into four sections — Warrane (pre-1788), Colony (1788–1820), Port (1820–1900) and Transformations (1900 to the present). One of the free things to do in Sydney with kids, this is a family-friendly place built in the 1850s in a sandstone warehouse, restored and maintained well for interested tourists. It is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (except Good Friday and Christmas), and the nearest station is Circular Quay.
Experience the extraordinary Sydney Opera House
Award-winning Danish architect Jørn Utzon designed one of the most iconic spots of Sydney, the Opera House, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, too and was inaugurated on 20 October 1973. And, 2023 being the 50th year, you can expect a myriad of symphonies and performances lined up this year. While various activities and shows are priced differently, simply enjoying this work of art from the outside doesn’t cost anything and is nothing short of an experience in itself.
Please your ears at Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Originally designed as Governor Macquarie’s new abode’s stables and servant quarters in 1817 by architect Francis Greenway, the Conservatorium of Music is one of the esteemed institutions to study music in Australia. Known as the ‘Con,’ you can witness a host of shows here with tickets but admiring its beauty or getting to know more about its rich past on any fine day is absolutely free, of course. Not to forget witnessing the amazing talent of students and teachers during the free recital sessions during semesters.
Find peace at St Mary’s Cathedral
Located at the extreme end of Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest church — St Mary’s Cathedral — that was completed in 1928. This architectural delight stands tall in its Gothic-Revival style, honouring the medieval European cathedrals. Although entry into the church is free, there is a small fee to visit the crypt that has the bishops’ tombs. One can also choose to attend the free guided tours on Sundays after the Solemn High Mass.
Visit Australia’s oldest park – Hyde Park
Located at Elizabeth Street and spread across a humongous area of 160,000 square metres, Hyde Park is the city’s oldest park. While it has many attractions, the Anzac Memorial and Archibald Fountain are the most iconic ones to stroll around. It has many shaded areas to sit and relax and is close to prominent train stations, including Museum Station or St James Station and bus stands.
Stroll through The Royal Botanic Gardens
A personal favourite of most Sydney-goers, The Royal Botanic Gardens has a multitude of tours and nature therapy walks to offer. With the classic harbour backdrop, it showcases plant life like no other. Especially the Calyx — an intriguing green space offering temporary plant exhibitions inside a glasshouse gallery. While you have to shell out for the Aboriginal Heritage Tour, guided walks on weekdays are free of cost.
Admire the installations at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
If history and art fascinate you to the core, then MCA is your place to be. The Museum of Contemporary Art houses both permanent collections and temporary exhibitions and depicts art majestically. With free self-guided tours and a stunning rooftop café, it has a special segment on Aboriginal art, described by the official website as, “The MCA recognises and celebrates the histories, diversity, creativity, resourcefulness and endurance of the First Peoples of Australia – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.”
Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
While climbing the bridge comes with a cost, walking across it is free. Opened in 1932, it has eight lanes and two railway lines. Also known as the ‘Coat Hanger’ owing to its arch-like shape, it is situated 134 metres above sea level. And yes, it is the largest steel arch bridge in the world.
Visit the Sydney Observatory for an enriching experience
Not just astronomy enthusiasts can admire the collections, including exquisite equipment and photographs, but lovebirds can head to Observatory Hill for a romantic moment, too, for a mesmerising sunset and views. The Italianate sandstone monument with a copper dome was built in the 1850s to figure out the correct time through various astronomical observations.
Enjoy cycling at the Bicentennial Park
Cycling is one of the many activities that can be executed here. You can witness the Peace Monument and the Sundial sculpture, take a refreshing walk amid the mangroves, gorge on a lavish breakfast at the Cafe at Waterview, spot interesting birds, or simply sit and meditate. While most of the activities are free, you can book a room here too. Keep a tab on the free events that take place here.
Head to Paddy’s Markets
Sydney is home to numerous colourful markets, including Paddy’s, The Rocks, Bondi, Rozelle Collectors and the markets in the famous Queen Victoria Building, but Paddy’s takes the cake in popularity. You can get down at Town Hall station and head straight to the market and indulge in clothes, souvenirs and street food. While these require bucks obviously, a free window-shopping session is harmless.
Relax at Shelly Beach
While Sydney has many famous beaches, including Bondi Beach, Palm Beach and Shelly, the latter is perfect to experience the marine life up close and in their natural space. While the Sydney Aquarium is costly, and one needs to book tickets for the Australian National Maritime Museum, snorkelling at this beach requires only your swimming goggles and other snorkelling gadgets if you need them. Also, don’t miss visiting Manly Beach from Circular Quay by ferry. Shelly Beach has many cafes and a ticketed car parking space.
Get immersed in books at the State Library of NSW
Attention bibliophiles. An elaborate collection of over 5 million books, including the most revered journals and logs by James Cook, Joseph Banks and William Bligh, the library speaks volumes about neoclassical architecture as well. And yes, it features exhibitions in its galleries too. It also hosts events for kids, so one can keep an eye on the announcements.
Soak in the greens at Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden
This one is for lovers of hidden gems and offbeat places. Late artist Brett Whiteley’s wife, an artist herself too, has created this wonder that lies off Lavender Street and can be reached through Clark Park. Regarding the amazing artefacts placed intelligently amid the lush greens, the website reads, “Wendy’s Garden is strewn with artefacts – some formal creations, others informal creations, and yet others – simply finds.”
(Main Image Credit: Tyler Duston/ Unsplash; Featured Image Credit: April Pethybridge/Unsplash)