Sydney: Do It Cheaply

Australia has been one of the first few countries to fully recover from the economic crisis, and since then the value of the dollar has risen dramatically. At the time of writing, the exchange rate was almost AUD$1 = SGD$1.30, an ominous sign that doesn’t bode well for one’s wallet. Going down under, it seems, may very well sink your finances down under as well.

But believe it or not, the old mantra holds true: the best things in life are free (or cheap, at least, in the case of Sydney).

Here’s a list of my favourite things to do for free/cheap in Sydney, compiled over the course of a ten-day trip in November:

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Gorgeous harbour views. Sometimes the tourist belt encompassing the Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and the Rocks appear to be one big overblown tourist trap. If you’re not careful here, it is very easy to part with your money: Opera House Essential Tours (AUD$24.50 for student and concession tickets) and a variety of Harbour Cruises, some involving dinner on board (AUD$50 and above).

Out of reach for the budget traveller. Sometimes this sum alone might be one’s budget for a day, even two. I’m going to suggest some alternatives below, but by all means, if you feel that the tours/cruises represent money well spent during travelling, go ahead.

I went for the Opera House Essential Tour and found it mildly interesting, though not exactly “an emotional journey, engrossing you in a story to rival any opera plot" as claimed on the website. The tour tells you about the history and architecture of the world’s most recognised building, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and if AUD$24.50 for a concession ticket still seems steep, buy it online where prices can drop to as low as AUD$19.60 for the earlybird ticket. Otherwise, just bring along a guidebook and read about the Opera House while you stand staring at its beautiful, billowing sails (free). By the way, you can also grab a free copy of The Sydney Morning Herald (usually AUD$1.40 at newsstands) at the Opera House as well. Great for catching up on international news while overseas and understanding more about the only country in the world which is also a continent unto itself.

If a candle-lit dinner on an evening harbour cruise sounds expensive, it is. Do it dirt-cheap by purchasing a ferry ticket (all ferries leaving from Circular Quay get you a view of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and city skyline) on the public ferry, a mode of transportation used by many Sydneysiders themselves. Take as many ferry rides as you want with a TravelPass, and enjoy the sea breeze blowing through your hair as you take in one of the world’s most recognisable skylines. Unfortunately, no food is served on board save an overpriced cafe; pack a sandwich and you’ll get yourself a unique experience at just a quarter of the cost, with the same view as those who paid AUD$50 a head for the full-blown dinner cruise:

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An unexpectedly delightful time can also be had wandering the grounds of University of Sydney (free admission), which occupies a huge sprawling campus between The Glebe and Newtown. The university is entirely deserving of its “Hogwarts-like” label bestowed by Lonely Planet.

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The historic campus is full of beautiful buildings and gardens, and security isn’t that tight too, leaving you free to wander most of the grounds at leisure.

Another gorgeous place in the city is Hyde Park (free admission). Its an oasis of shade and calm in the middle of towering skyscrapers.

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Marvel at how fitness-conscious Sydneysiders are; visit Hyde Park during lunch-time on a weekday and it’ll be full of people using their lunch break judiciously by jogging and exercising. I also witnessed many office workers munching on sandwiches and tucking into salads on the benches in the park.

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Walk over to St Mary’s Cathedral (above photo, free admission), just next to Hyde Park. Its a lovely old church with an amazing interior and pretty stained glass windows (I didn’t take any pictures inside the cathedral).

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For further proof of Sydneysiders’ obsession with fitness, check out the Botanic Gardens (free admission).

This is what I saw at The Domain (free admission), the section of the Gardens nearest the CBD:

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The best views from Sydney other than atop a ferry can also be had from the Botanic Gardens (its also an incredibly windy place!)

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Plus some pretty cool flora and fauna:

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The Botanic Gardens is just a short walk from Hyde Park, and I saw several interesting scenes and people along the way:

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A great city is always best experienced on foot, and you can walk almost everywhere in gorgeous Sydney weather, admiring the sights along the way. Best of all, its free.