With an overabundance of things to see and do, Sydney is the perfect base for day trips and weekends away.
Along with popular bush and coastal walks, picturesque picnic spots and watching the annual whale migration, you’ll also find museums, gardens and galleries which are all free to visit. So, whether you live in Sydney or just visiting for a weekend, if you know where to go, you can have a great time without breaking the bank.
Check out our snapshot of the best things to do for free in this stunning harbour city.
Picnic areas around Sydney Harbour are some of the most beautiful spots in the city and are perfect for those on a short visit to Sydney.
The Sydney Observatory, built between 1857 and 1859 is a well-known landmark in Sydney. Just a short walk from Circular Quay train station via The Rocks, Observatory Hill is home to a beautiful rotunda overlooking the harbour. When you’re finished gazing at the panoramic views, check out the observatory itself which is a free museum.
Sydney’s newest Harbour foreshore park, this quiet oasis just minutes from the city is a popular spot for locals. Featuring lookouts, extensive walking and cycling trails, idyllic coves, picnic spots and places for quiet contemplation, there’s plenty of room for kids to run around and the reserve is also dog friendly.
Located in the heart of Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island has a fascinating history as a former convict penal establishment and naval shipyard. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island has been revitalised as a landmark harbour attraction with cultural events and heritage interpretations. Pack a picnic and head up to Biloela Lawn in the Historic Residence Precinct for unspoilt vistas. Alternatively, head to the Northern Apron Park beside the wharf to use the free BBQ facilities, shaded seating areas and expansive green space.
The whale migration along Australia’s East Coast occurs for around six months of the year, with June and July being the best months. The lookout at Cape Solander, near the southern beachside suburb of Cronulla, is the most well-regarded whale watching lookout in Sydney. Closer to the city, a short walk along the South Head Heritage Trail in Watson’s Bay brings you to historic Hornby lighthouse, offering great views of both the harbour and the ocean.
To uncover the hidden lanes, history and culture of Sydney check out ‘I’m Free Walking Tours’. These tours are a great way to experience the local lifestyle as you delve into the history, stories and culture of the city.
Crossing the Harbour Bridge on foot offers panoramic views of Sydney Harbour, Circular Quay and the Opera House. You can catch a train to Milsons Point and walk south along the designated footpath on the bridge. It is an easy 1.5km walk, although there are some stairs at the start and end.
Beneath the southern end the Harbour Bridge you’ll find The Rocks. This was the site of Australia's first European settlement and nowadays is where you’ll discover markets, museums and galleries tucked into little laneways. The best way to experience the magic of The Rocks is on foot with the ‘I’m Free Tour’ which starts at 6pm outside Cadman’s Cottage.
You'll explore the cobbled laneways, pubs and historical buildings as your guide regales you with stories of murders, muggings and mysteries not even the locals know about.
Located in Southern Sydney, The Royal National Park is the world’s second oldest national park and is known for it by rugged cliffs, windswept beaches and indigenous rock art. Make sure to check out Jibbon Headland, part of the Bundeena to Marley Head walking track. Jibbon is home to one of the best-preserved Aboriginal rock art sites in Sydney, while still being easily accessible. Viewed from a walkway and viewing platform, the Aboriginal rock carvings on this site date back over a thousand years.
The 6-kilometre-long walk from Coogee to Bondi is arguably the most scenic coastal walk in Sydney, snaking along the beaches of the popular eastern suburbs. Jam-packed with restaurants, cafes, surf shops, sandy beaches and rock pools, it’s the perfect spot to visit on a warm day. Many of the beaches are also popular surfing spots. You can extend the walk and head down to Maroubra, another gorgeous beach and a well-known area for spotting whales during migration season.
Every year from the end of October you can check out Sculpture by the Sea, the largest free sculpture exhibition in the world, at the Bondi-Tamarama end of the walk.
Located behind the Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens is the oldest botanic gardens and scientific institution in Australia and the gardens are the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. There are some free walking tours available, and you can also learn about the important role the local Indigenous history plays in the gardens.
Located on one of the most spectacular sites on the edge of Sydney Harbour, the MCA brings impressive exhibitions of international and Australian art to as many people as possible in the belief that art is for everyone. Take a self-guided tour around the MCA’s Collection containing over 4000 works by Australian artists, with a strong commitment to works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The museum also has a great rooftop cafe offering uninterrupted views across Sydney Harbour.
The Australian Museum is in a heritage-listed building in Sydney’s CBD. It is the oldest museum in Australia, and the fifth oldest natural history museum in the world. General admission to all its permanent exhibitions is free and tickets are not required for general admission.
Celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2021, the Art Gallery is committed to making art a vital part of everyday life. Located in the Domain, explore five levels of art at one of Australia's most popular art museums, just 10 minutes’ walk from the city. General entry is free, although some visiting exhibits may have a fee. There are also some free tours available.
For more free sights and experiences in Sydney:
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