Seeing Sydney on a Budget
A lot of adjectives describe Sydney, Australia: beautiful, lively, coastal, cultural and expensive. In fact, it’s ranked as Australia’s most expensive city and the 24th most expensive city in the world. Sure, you don’t have to worry about general cost of living factors like rent and electric bills if you’re just visiting here, but many of the things you’d do as a traveler–you know, like eat, drink and get around town–are the very factors that contribute to Sydney’s high price tag.
Luckily, cash-saving shortcuts can help you make the most of the city. If you’re smart, do a bit of planning and stay open to alternative options so you can enjoy yourself without burning through your budget the first day.
To avoid breaking the bank on your three meals a day, keep your eyes peeled for cafes and bakeries that offer brekky deals for around $5. Most give discounts if you take your coffee and muffin away instead of eat in. If you want a snack, the shacks in Circular Quay sell filling meat pies (there are veggie options) for about $4. If you’re in Chinatown or one of the Inner West suburbs, you can find even cheaper foodstuffs at many of the Indian and Asian grocers.
For lunch or dinner, try Plan B, which offers a $10 Wagyu burger plus other sandwiches and soup specials. You can find another $10 steal at Bodega Café in Surry Hills, which serves a Chorizo roll with chimichurri. A super-cheap spot for chomping is in and around Chinatown, home to over 60 restaurants and food courts with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean offerings. Try Marigold Citymark on George St. in Haymarket, which has dimsum for $2.40 to 4.60 and yum cha specials $5.70. Flying Fajita Sistas in Glebe, one of the city’s few Mexican options, offers $3 tacos and shots of tequila on Tuesdays. You can get soft tacos filled with your choice of chicken, beef or pork. Cheers on George St. in the CBD has $10 meals of fish-n-chips, nachos, burgers and schnitzel each night. At Big Bite Sydney, you can get a huge (like, the size of your head) roasted veggie sanga with pumpkin, potato and eggplant for $8.50.
When you’re ready to hit the town, avoid spending $20 or more on a cocktail by getting to the bars before 7 for happy hour. Mars Lounge in the downtown offers $10 cocktails between 5 and 7pm., while the Sanctuary Hotel offers $4 Drinks during that same slot and again from 9:30pm to 2am. Other bars in hotspots like Darling Harbour, such as Tokio Hotel, offer drinks specials like $3 wine.
Sightseeing and Culture
For day-time hopping about, there’s really no shortage of low-cost or free things to do. If you want to see as much of Sydney as possible without paying for a sightseeing tour, take a solo walking tour by downloading a podcast onto your iPod for just $9.95 . If you don’t have the $200 to spend to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, see the same sights for less from the Pylon Lookout for $9.50.
If nature’s you’re thing, there’s Hyde Park, where you can visit the Anzac Memorial, watch old men play chess or have a picnic. The Domain overlooks the water and provides various species of shade trees under which you can relax, while the nearby Botanical Gardens offers beautiful plants and flowers in addition to a glimpse at the bats sleeping in the trees. If you can venture a little out of the city center, take a ferry ride to Manly and do the 12K scenic walk to Spit Bridge. To stay closer, try the Bondi to Coogee 5K stroll, which takes you along the water the entire way.
Art lovers will dig that the Art Gallery of NSW and the Contemporary Art Museum are free, though exhibits may cost extra. Others museums, like the Powerhouse Museum in Pyrmont, have exhibits for just $10. Numerous art galleries line the alleyways of the Rocks, so try them out if you want a peak at Aboriginal paintings and other works for sale. You can also absorb the work of Sydney sculptor Tom Bass on a $3 self-guided city tour.
The cheapest bet for accommodation will usually be a hostel, which can offer rates from $25 to $70 depending on the level of privacy you’re after. YHA, which has several hostels in Sydney, is a highly-regarded chain whose users typically speak of clean rooms, friendly staff and minimal rowdiness. The 3-star The Australian Heritage Hotel Sydney in the Rocks has rooms from $69 and Macleay Lodge Sydney in Potts Point has $74 a night lodging. Hotel 59 Sydney in Rushcutters Bay and St Marks Lodge Sydney in Randwick both have rooms for $88 per night. Staying outside the city can also drop down your per night rate by as much as half. The Glenferrie Lodge in Kirribilli, for instance, offers rooms from $69 per night.
You and yours can also opt to stay at a university, such as the University of Sydney’s Wesley College, which offers bed and breakfast for $65 a night per person over the summer. St John’s College also has rooms for $65 a night.
Shopping & Entertainment
You can find Burberry and Gucci in Sydney, but for those with less cash to spend, Paddy’s Markets at Darling Harbour offers a warehouse full of clothes, souvenirs and more for low prices. Birkenhead Point in Drummoyne has discount prices in clothing stores. Another shopping mecca, Bondi Junction, has the Hot Dollar in the Westfield mall selling homewares for less.
In addition to the restaurant and bar discounts we already covered, you can get cheaper entertainment discounts for a night out on the town. The Opera House has cheaper shows for as low as $35 per ticket, and they’re surprisingly not in the nosebleed section. Or try the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Conductors Series, where you can listen to classical music for as little as $15. Darling Harbour has free entertainment in the form of buskers and outdoor shows in addition to annual events like the Jazz and Blues festival and Australia Day concerts and fireworks. On Tuesdays, movies are half price at $7, and many local bars, like Glebe’s Excelsior Hotel, have free live music.
The Sydney CBD is pretty walkable, but if you want to get somewhere that’s more than a stroll away, you’ll want to steer clear of taxis whenever possible. It can cost $8 just to go 1.5 km, and if you’re traveling solo, that can add up. Plus, we’re not talking New York City cab drivers here–taxi drivers in Sydney are relatively slow in comparison, which doesn’t help with your timed meter fare.
Instead, stick to the bus or train. Getting a My10 pass will save you money and allow you to take 10 bus rides, or five round trips. The same goes for the trains and ferries. If you decide just to purchase a single ride, get a return ticket, as buying them separately costs double. There’s also a free CBD shuttle, the 555 bus, that runs throughout the day and takes you around the city circle. Never use the Monorail or water taxi, as they are pricey and don’t take you to as many places as the regular trains, buses and ferries.
We hope you can use some of these tips to make your trip to Sydney a fun and fairly inexpensive one.
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