Sydney is a city rich in culture, history and beauty. But it’s also a city that’s can really hurt your travel budget. To dispel the myth that you need to be rich to enjoy a stay in Sydney, we’ve put together a list of free things to do in Sydney to help you get the most out of your first visit.

25 FREE THINGS TO DO IN SYDNEY ON YOUR FIRST VISIT

While we could easily have created a list of 100 amazing free things to do in Sydney however today, we have kept it simple and just included our top things to do in Sydney for a first-time visitor.

This list includes everything from spending time out on the harbour and visiting some free museums to urban walks, parks and markets proving you do not need to be rich to enjoy your time in Sydney.

So what are you waiting for, let’s start planning!

1. Walk the Harbour Foreshore

Whether you do the complete 11km official Foreshore Walk or choose a short section, this trail will not disappoint. The entire walk takes a couple of hours or half a day, depending on how much you stop along the way.

Maritime Museum Darling Harbour Walk
Maritime Museum Darling Harbour – Foreshore Walk

Starting at the Finger Wharf at Woolloomooloo, you make your way through the Botanic Garden, past the Opera House, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, through Barangaroo Reserve, Darling Harbour, Sydney Aquarium, the National Maritime Museum and around the foreshore at Pyrmont to the Anzac Bridge.

2. Explore The Rocks

We are not talking about boulders, Wander the cobblestone lanes of Sydney’s oldest area, known as The Rocks. This part of the city went from the city’s first makeshift hospital to the home of Sydney’s early shipping industry.

The Rocks
Warehouses on Campbell Wharf in The Rocks

Take a self-guided walking tour using a map from The Rocks Discovery Museum (also free) or book an I’m Free Walking Tour; they offer free evening walks around The Rocks that include plenty of tales of the area’s finest characters on this guided tour. They also offer free walking tours of the rest of the city, so ask for details when you book.

Local tip: Head to the Doss House for a drink – it’s a beautiful property and gives you a chance to see the inside of one of these historic buildings.

Google map location

3. Stroll across the Sydney Harbour Bridge

She’s world famous for a reason! Marvel at the beauty and engineering of Sydney’s Majestic Harbour Bridge. You don’t have to climb over the coat hanger to appreciate the beauty of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Spend 30 minutes walking the pedestrian footpath, stopping to take in the views along the way. You can really appreciate the life of the harbour by watching the action from above. If your budget won’t stretch to a Bridge climb or helicopter joy flight, this is the next best thing.

Sydney Harbour Bridge walk way
Sydney Harbour Bridge walkway

Local tip: We like to start at Milson’s Point on the northern side and walk east, so you spend your time walking towards that stunning Sydney Opera House view. But first, make your way past Luna Park and the giant  9m x 9m smiling face that has been greeting Sydneysiders since 1935. There have been 5 Luna Park faces over the years. They painted the current one in 1995. If you feel like a bit more of a walk, make your way around Lavender Bay to Wendy’s Secret Garden.

Where: Enter from 100 Cumberland Street in The Rocks
Google map location

4. Appreciate the beauty of the Sydney Opera House

Did you know the Opera House tiles are not all white? Two colours used in the 1,056,006 tiles make up the outer shell of this iconic building.

Walk around the base, then climb the stairs and get up close. You can find some really cool angles to shoot.

Opera House tiles Sydney
Opera House tiles up close

1,056,006 tiles cover the shells

If you are an architecture lover, part with a few dollars for one of the basic tours. They take about and hour and the guides are full of interesting stories.

Come back in the evening to check out the Badu Gili projections on the eastern side of the Opera House sails. Three times a night, beginning just after sunset, check the website for the current times as they change according to sunset.

Local tip: If you are visiting in winter, check if your trip dates align with the annual Vivid Sydney festival when the Opera House looks her finest. It’s one of the most popular free festivals on Sydney’s calendar.

5. Book a free morning tour of the Royal Botanic Gardens

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens has a prime position on the harbour and plenty to see for an hour or two. Head to the visitor centre and pick up a free map, you can also usually find them in stands near the entry gates.

The early morning is a special time to experience the Royal Botanic Garden. The light across the harbour is lovely at this time of day. There are also some cute creatures to discover.

There are dozens of sculptures and several topiary animals which can make a great treasure hunt for kids and they usually love spotting the eels in the large pond near the kiosk.

Local tip: visit the first nation garden to learn more about how the traditional owners worked the land and don’t miss the gift shop. It has some of the best souvenirs in the city in my opinion.

Tours are run a few days a week – check their website for details Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am.

6. Visit Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral

If you like to tick off a few churches on your trips, this one is worth popping into your itinerary. From its replica Pieta to the beautiful stained glass windows.

St Marys Cathedral from Hyde Park
The Cathedral from Hyde Park

Visitors are welcome to attend mass and enjoy the choir in full voice.

Local tip: Hyde Park, opposite the church, is also a great spot to snap a photo of Sydney Tower directly to the west of the Cathedral.

Where: St Marys Rd, Sydney NSW
Google Map reference

7. Take a walk with a local Sydneysider and book a free Sydney greeter

The free Sydney Greeters service allows visitors to explore Sydney for a few hours by a passionate local who loves to show off their hometown. You might ride a ferry, explore an inner-city village or take a local bush walk. They are also full of ideas for the rest of your stay in Sydney. Your greeter will contact you before the meeting to find out what type of things you are interested in and try to tailor the tour around your interests.

The tours, which usually run for 2-4 hours, are a great way to discover some Sydney sights you are unlikely to find alone. You will explore places not covered on the free city walking tour offered by groups like a free group walking tour.

Tip: Request your meeting 3 weeks in advance for the best chance to be matched to a local. Last-minute requests usually can not be filled.

8. View the City Model at Customs House in Circular Quay

If you have spent some time wandering the streets of the harbour city, you might have noticed that Sydney is not built on a grid, like many big cities are. Our city grew from a mix of bush tracks used by the indigenous owners of the land and rough paths made by the colonials.

Under glass at Customs House in Circular Quay is a scale model of Sydney that is a great way to get your bearings of Sydney’s random layout.

Customs House Library city model
The city model under the floor at Customs House Library

Check it out before or after you take a city walk.

No nice tidy grid here. Many of our streets started as rough paths worn in by the original inhabitants, the Cadigal people, or tracks created by the newly arrived convicts.

If you have some spare cash, you might like to grab a drink at Cafe Sydney on the top floor of the building.

Where: Customs House, Alfred Street Sydney
Google Map reference

9. Visit Watsons Bay and its candy-striped lighthouse

So you will probably need to pay for a ferry ride to Watson’s Bay; however, once you arrive, there is plenty to keep you busy that is totally free.

For spectacular views, take a walk to Hornby Lighthouse on South Head. You can look back to the city skyline or over to North Head and Manly.

Along the walk from the ferry wharf, you pass the beautiful Camp Cove Beach and one of Sydney’s official nude beaches, Lady Bay.

Hornby Lighthouse Watsons Bay Sydney Australia
Hornby Lighthouse at Watsons Bay

Hornby Lighthouse is a fabulous spot to watch the sunset

If you are visiting Sydney at Christmas, this is a fantastic place to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race on Boxing Day.

Where: Start from Watson’s Bay Pier
Google Map reference

10. Learn more about Australian art at the Art Gallery of NSW

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is a bargain traveller’s dream. Entry is free, as are many of the events. From the extensive collection of works by first nation’s artists to a variety of modern and iconic Australian art, a stop at the NSW Art Gallery is a good idea.

Brett Whitely The Balcony at NSW Art Gallery
The Balcony by Brett Whiteley

Local tip: The gallery’s free Art After Hours program on Wednesday offers a range of live performances,, from music to comedy.

Join a free guided tour offered once daily. Check out our guide to art galleries in Sydney for more free art. It’s just a short walk across the Domain from Sydney’s CBD.

Where: Art Gallery Road Sydney NSW
Google Map reference

11. Take in the view from the rooftop cafe at the MCA

The cafe at the top of the Museum of Contemporary Art offers themed menus to match current exhibitions, which is a fun way to end a visit to this free gallery.

MCA Rooftop cafe
The view from the terrace at the MCA Cafe

Affordable dining with a view; however, you don’t have to spend a cent; you can just wander up to the 4th floor and take it all in.

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, George Street, Circular Quay
Google Map reference

12. Hike the famous Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

I am sure this is already on your list. The most popular coastal walk in Sydney is popular with locals and visitors year-round. Taking in the view from the cliffs as you pass five of Sydney’s beautiful eastern beaches is a fantastic way to get a dose of fresh air and get a feel for our coastal lifestyle.

Bondi to Coogee walk
The Bondi to Coogee Walk just outside Bondi

Along the way, stop for a quick swim in an ocean rock pool. There are a few to choose from, we love Bronte, but if you have kids with you, Clovelly may be a better choice. Check out some good advice on walking the path before you set out.

Local tip: The art lover in your won’t want to miss the Bondi Beach graffiti wall. It features dozens of murals, basically a free outdoor gallery – enjoy it before or after you complete the walking path.

Bondi Graffiti Walk Mulga 2018
Bondi Graffiti Walk Mulga 2018

Where: Start at Bondi Beach or Coogee – either direction is fine.
Google Map reference

Check out the Sydney Expert guide to exploring Royal National Park if you are in Sydney on a longer stay.

13. Amuse the kids at the Darling Harbour Playground

Darling Harbour is known as a playground for the whole family, however, the children’s playground here is a beauty. Kids of all ages are catered for from a popular water feature with fountains to run through, to two slides at different heights, climbing equipment and some really clever sand and water play areas.

Darling Harbour playground
The water play area at Darling Harbour playground

Weekends can get hectic, so visit mid-week if you can. There are plenty of dining options surrounding the park, so if you decide to stay a while, you won’t go hungry.

Local tip: If the weather is not behaving, the Powerhouse Museum is a short walk away and a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Where: Tumbalong Park Darling Harbour
Google Map reference

14. Challenge yourself on the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

The Bondi to Coogee Walk may get more love in guidebooks and travel documentaries, but the walk between the Spit Bridge at Middle Harbour and Manly Cove is just as impressive. It is also tranquil in comparison and during the week you will probably find that you have the trail to yourself.

Spit Bridge Walk
While almost every visitor walks Bondi Beach to Coogee, fewer do this one.

This beautiful 10km walking track mixes harbour and bush views. The walk is a medium grade and will feel miles from civilisation in no time. Along the way, you will come across secluded harbour beaches, 280-degree views of the harbour and aboriginal rock art.

Local tip: Continue to North Head Sanctuary for a chance to meet an echidna.

Where: We suggest you start from Fisher Bay Walk, Clontarf
Google Map reference

15. Explore Sydney’s most beautiful shopping arcade, the QVB

Visit the Queen Victoria Building before the shops open to appreciate the architecture of this stunning building.

“The most beautiful shopping centre in the world”

Pierre Cardin
Queen Victoria Building in Sydney
Queen Victoria Building in Sydney

Local tip: Some of the cleanest restrooms in the city are at the Market Street end of the building on levels one and two.

Along with being home to some gorgeous shops, you will find two clocks, the Balmoral Clock and the Great Australian Clock, that are worth a look at.

Where: 455 George St, Sydney NSW 2000
Google map location

16. Discover Contemporary Chinese Art in Chippendale

White Rabbit Gallery is home to one of the largest collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world. Australasian philanthropist Judith Neilson, who owns the gallery, offers free entry for visitors. The exhibitions change regularly and focus on post-2000 works.

White Rabbit Tea Room
White Rabbit Tea Room

Local tip: Afterwards, make your way to Spice Alley off Kensington Street, behind the Central Park Shopping centre.

Where: 30 Balfour St, Chippendale NSW 2008
Google Map reference

17. Discover Sydney’s best street art

Along with being the epicentre of Sydney’s street art scene, Newtown is known for its small independent shops and cheap dining. The southern end of King Street is where you will find the more interesting stores.

Street Art in Newtown Fintan Magees Alice St
Fintan Magee in Alice Street

Local tip: Take a detour through Sydney University Grounds past the historic grand hall and the free Nicholson Museum.

Where: Begin at St Peter’s Station and make your way north to the city.
Google Map reference

18. Discover some of Sydney’s newest architecture

From the Frank Gehry’s Chau Chak Wing Building, nicknamed the paper bag, to Kengo Kuma Exchange at Darling Square and the massive green wall at One Central Park if you love architecture, spend an hour or so checking out these three buildings between Chippendale and Darling Harbour.

Frank Gehty Paper Bag UTS
Halfway along the Goods Line is Frank Gehry’s building.

Local Tip: Pop into Paddy’s markets for some bargain-priced souvenirs. It’s the oldest of the Sydney Markets operating.

Where: Ultimo Pedestrian Network, Ultimo
Google Map reference

19. Spend some time at Barangaroo

Everyone should take a stroll through Barangaroo Reserve. The city’s newest park has been planted with the same species that the botanist on the First Fleet recorded as endemic to the area.

It’s a top spot to watch the sunset with a picnic; you also have lovely views of the harbour bridge.

Wellama Video Barangaroo
Wellama – Filmmakers – Alison Page and Nik Lachajczak

Local tip: Don’t miss the video installation at the Cutaway – a Welcome to Country by the first nation owners of this land, the Cadigal.

Where: The Cutaway, 1 Merriman St, Barangaroo
Google Map reference

20. Eat all the things at the Carriageworks Farmers Market

This weekly market is our favourite market in Sydney. It’s just a short walk from Redfern train stations in the old railway sheds – making it a great wet weather idea.

Australian Native product carriageworks
Australian bush food jams and sauces on sale at Carriageworks make great souvineers

Most of the stalls offer organic and sustainable goods and you can easily pull together a picnic or pick up some gifts.

Local tip: Pop into Carriageworks and check the latest exhibition while are here.

Where: 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh
Google Map reference

21. Explore the villages of Potts Point & Elizabeth Bay

The streets of Potts Point have the highest concentration of Art déco buildings in Australia. The first apartment building appeared here in the 1920s, and there are over 60 fine examples to discover. For the highest concentration, visit Macleay Street, Greenknowe Street and Orwell Street, where along with many gorgeous art déco beauties, you will find some fabulous cafes and restaurants.

Fountain in Kings Cross
El Alamein Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens

This guide to walking Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay will help you discover the best places.

Where: 20 Macleay St, Elizabeth Bay is a good place to start
Google Map reference

22. Visit the Australian Museum

The Australian Museum is one of the best places to learn more about our indigenous past. If you can catch the current exhibition “Unsettled”, I highly recommend you do. It shares the story of settlement from the perspective of Australia’s original inhabitants.

A permanent exhibit also focuses on traditional food gathering methods, beliefs, and language.

Australian Museum Sydney
One of the First Nations galleries at the museum

Other exhibits include Australian mammals, dinosaurs and a brilliant bird and insect collection.

Local tip: There is a great view of the cathedral from the cafe on the 4th floor.

Where: 1 William St, Darlinghurst
Google Map reference

23. Get up close to our marine life at Manly Beach

Just a short walk around from Manly Beach, you will find Cabbage Tree Bay, a protected marine reserve perfect for a quick snorkel. There is a surprising amount of marine life in the shallow waters here, and volunteers update a list of what has been sighted that day. Helping you know what to keep your eyes peeled for.

Snorkeling Manly
Snorkelling in Cabbage Tree Bay

It’s not uncommon to spot baby Port Jackson sharks here.

Local tip: You can stroll around to Shelly Beach and through the bushland to North Head Sanctuary for stunning harbour views

Where: Marine Parade Manly
Google Map reference

24. Explore the Sydney Fish Market

Sydney Fish Market is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere, and while it’s nothing much to look at, the delicious eats on offer inside makes this a must for seafood lovers.

Located on Blackwattle Bay, we suggest you grab a takeaway feast and stroll around the waterfront to the parkland opposite for a picnic lunch.

Fish Market Sydney Depositphotos 73491721 l 2015
Sydney Fish Market

2024 will see a new market building opening next to the current market.

Where: Corner Pyrmont Bridge Rd &, Bank St, Pyrmont
Google Map reference

25. Check out the view from the Cahill Walkway

The Cahill Expressway runs directly above Circular Quay train station and along the northern side has a footpath and viewing platform that offers some of the best views of the harbour for free. In the middle section are some information panels telling the story of the city.

The Rocks George St
George Street The Rocks from the Cahill Expressway

Make your way to the western end for a fabulous photo opportunity over the Rocks.

Where: There is an escalator at the eastern end of the station.
Google map reference

Stay at Sydney Harbour YHA – the best budget digs in town.

Have we missed anything? We would love to add your ideas to this list of free things to do in Sydney. Get in touch via our FB group.

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