In today’s post, Tim of UrbanDuniya is sharing his one day itinerary around Sydney for less than $25. Sydney is Australia financial capital, and it shows with some of the exorbitant prices you’ll see around the place. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it on a shoestring budget!
Some of Australia’s most iconic sights are free, and there are plenty of cheap places to eat in the harbour city. It’s a different experience to Melbourne – while our southern city is arty and understated, Sydney is bright and bold. Rather than the grungy laneways or the eclectic galleries, Sydneysiders take more pride in their beautiful, glittering harbour, their world-famous architecture, their warmer weather and their sunny beaches (in the summer at least!). Come and enjoy Australia’s global city, for under $25 a day!
Accommodation doesn’t come cheap in Sydney, and you would be well advised to consider CouchSurfing (of course, you should also make sure that the concept of CouchSurfing is suitable for you, or that you are suitable for it!!). When we looked, the cheapest backpackers accommodation in Sydney appears to be at Nomads Westend Backpackers, but that’s $18 a night for a dormitory, which already eats up a fair proportion of the budget. However, if you want to stay here, you could always self-cater to cut costs – Woolworths at Town Hall Station in the centre of the city is a great place for stocking up on supplies! Wherever you stay, try to make it close to the city centre, that way you’ll cut costs on transport. So pull on those sneakers and fill a water bottle with clean tap water, we’re walking a lot today!
Start your day like so many working Sydneysiders do with a coffee and muffin. A great, cost effective option for this is Le Grande Cafe, connected to the Alliance Française on Clarence Street. Not the most authentically Australian introduction to the day, but with a muffin and espresso coffee for $5, we’ll manage!! From here, walk to George Street just outside of the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) – we’ll come back here later in the day. From the QVB, hop on the first free northbound shuttle bus of the day at around 9:30 (it’s the big green bus, route 555). Take this all the way to the end at Circular Quay, the nerve centre of Sydney’s harbour commuter network, and get off along with all the other eager tourists!
First, walk away from the harbour to Customs House (free), the original processing point for maritime arrivals to the city, and now used as the city’s district library. As you enter the building, the model of Sydney’s city beneath the glass floor is a great way to get your bearings for what will be a big day of sightseeing.
Exiting Customs House, cross the road and walk through the railway station plaza towards the harbour foreshore. Turn right and follow the shoreline around. As you round the corner and pass the waiting ferries, you will catch sight of the marvellous Sydney Harbour Bridge. A great (and free) way to get a birds’ eye perspective on Circular Quay is to take the glass elevator just to your right as you leave the wharf area. The top of the lift is the Cahill Expressway, a controversial road project whose pedestrian affords great views of the bridge affectionately known as “The Coathanger”.
Back down on ground level continue your walk around the harbour shoreline, until up ahead you spot the Sydney Opera House. The magnificent white sails of this are Sydney’s most beautiful icon, although be warned – the concrete interior is not quite so graceful. You are free to walk around the exterior of the building for as long as you like – it’s a public space and often used for performances of exhibitions in times of good weather, but going inside will cost you either the price of a tour ticket, or the price of an opera ticket. Looking out to the harbour, you’ll spot the white Kirribili House on the opposite shore.
This is the Sydney residence of Australia’s sitting prime minister. Around to the right is Fort Denison, originally built in the 1850s to guard against any reprisal attack by the Russian Empire against what was then a British colony.
As you leave the Opera House, on your right is Circular Quay, and on the left is an entrance to the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. Take this, and begin your passage through some of Australia’s most lovely urban parklands! You can get lost in the lines of banyan trees, beds of Australian natives and sweeping harbour vistas When you’re done though, don’t forget to follow your way around the water’s edge to Mrs Macquarie’s Point for the picture postcard shot of the Opera House against the backdrop of the Harbour Bridge.
When you’re done with the happy snaps, amble your way back to Circular Quay – we’re about to check out the oldest part of Sydney, The Rocks. Here, you can gain free entry to The Rocks Discovery Museum, full of information about the city’s oldest neighbourhood. In contrast, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is full of weird and wonderful creations, but is also free to visit for the permanent exhibitions. Or if you’re looking for something more musical, you will nearly always find talented buskers playing various instruments like the Indigenous Australian didgeridoo by the waterfront.
Have lunch at a Sydney institution – Doyles on the Wharf. This fish and chippery began life in the suburb of Watson’s Bay, but has since expanded to this convenient location. A Doyles fish burger with chips ($12.50) in First Fleet Park (in front of the MCA), just watching the comings and goings on the harbour is a great way to ‘feel’ Sydney at lunch time, especially in the warmer months. When you’re had your fill, head back to the bus stand and catch one of the last free buses back to the city centre. (The free shuttle bus finishes at 3:30pm most days, but runs until 9:30pm on Thursdays and 6pm on weekends).
Alight at the Queen Victoria Building, a nineteenth century Romanesque construction which is something of a landmark in the city, and home to three levels of upmarket stores – walk through, admire the architecture, spot at the Royal Clock and the Great Australian Clock suspended from the ceiling, and browse the plush window displays. Exiting at the south end of the QVB, cross the road to admire the Sydney Town Hall, an important sandstone landmark of the same era as the QVB.
Walk away from the town hall, along Park Street until you reach Hyde Park. At the southern end of this park you can visit the solemn Australian War Memorial (free), or at the other end the Archibald Fountain with its ancient Greek and Roman inspired statues. Or, if it’s summer, you could do as some Sydneysiders do and just chill out on the grass, flat on your back, sunbaking in the centre of Australia’s biggest metropolis.
By now the day will be getting late, and it’s time to walk back down Park Street to Darling Harbour, Sydney’s largest entertainment precinct. There’s always something happening here – live music, public performances, markets, souvenir shopping, fireworks displays – check out www.darlingharbour.com to see what is on when you are visiting. It’s a great place to spend the evening and unwind. With your last few dollars, order some delicious takeaway sushi rolls (from $3.60 a piece) from the fabulous Umi Sushi + Udon in Darling Harbour, find a prime position by the water, and reflect on your day in Australia’s biggest city!
Extreme budget travel for less than $10 a day? In Sydney, this means self-catering.
Go shopping at Woolworths supermarket on the corner of Park and George Streets and pick up some baguettes, cold cuts and fruit at the start of your holiday. Enjoy sandwiches by the harbour and divide the cost of the grocery bill by the number of days you stay in Sydney to work out the overall cost.
About the author: Tim is our frequent writer whose budget travel tips are priceless! He is not only a talented writer, but also a traveller, journalist, amateur photographer and teacher. Moreover, he is a creator of UrbanDuniya, an online journal featuring independent and alternative news, reviews, opinion and discussion from four major cities across Australia and the Indian subcontinent, so make sure to check it out!