The Harbour City is world-renowned for its iconic structures and natural beauty, but seeing them can come at a price.
Sydney often occupies a top ten spot on lists of the world’s most expensive cities to live in, which doesn’t bode well for thrifty travellers planning a visit. However, there are some money-saving tips and tricks that will drive your harbourside holiday budget further.
Here are ten great ways to save money on travel to Sydney.
Rule number one: don’t buy single tickets for public transport! With a renewable Opal Card or its contactless equivalent you’ll pay an average of 20% less for trains, buses, ferries, metro and light rail across the whole of Sydney and adjoining regions such as the Blue Mountains and Central Coast. The card is free from newsagents and convenience stores, although you do need to load a minimum of $20 to get started. Top up your balance online or using machines at selected rail stations, bus stops and ferry wharves. But wait, there’s more…
2. Plan your travel times for greater savings
Using your Opal Card outside busy commuting times can reduce fares by almost 50%. Daily price caps, which are halved at weekends, unlock further savings. Try to schedule multiple public transport journeys on one day to get more ‘free’ trips, and keep more expensive outings, such as ferry rides or out-of-town trips, for weekends. There’s also a weekly cap of $50, no matter how far you travel or how many journeys you make. You can make this last longer by taking more of your public transport journeys on weekends and during off-peak times. See the Opal website for more details.
3. Do your harbour cruise on a ferry
Sydney Harbour is a sparkling playground for boats of all kinds, where innumerable ‘fingers’ of water lead to charming bays, famous beaches, secluded inlets and bustling waterfront precincts. Sure, if you have cash to splash, you can see it all on a dedicated harbour sightseeing cruise (or lunch or dinner cruise if you’re feeling really flush). Otherwise, take the DIY option using Sydney’s wonderful public ferry system. The views are the same, and by using the Opal Card hacks described above you can spend a whole day on the water for under $10!
4. See the Bridge on a budget
Accessed from Bridge Stairs in Cumberland Street in The Rocks, the Pylon Lookout provides outstanding views of and from the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, and at a fraction of what you’ll pay to climb the ‘Coat Hanger’. Exit onto the free pedestrian walkway that extends the length of the Bridge. It will take you about 15 minutes to walk across. At the northern end, you’ll find parklands with great views of the Opera House and level pathways ideal for waterfront strolling.
5. Enjoy the coast without cost
Sydney’s beaches and coastal walks are truly in a class of their own. No other major international city holds so much natural beauty within its urban geography and it’s all yours for nix. Bustling Bondi and laidback Manly are just the two best-known of the city’s more than forty ocean beaches. Among the stunning coastal treks on offer are the famous Bondi to Coogee Walk with its dramatic rocky scenery, and the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach Walk, which offers lush subtropical landscapes, harbourside heritage and unrivalled city views. You can now even walk between Bondi and Manly. It’s 80 kilometres, but hey, every step is free!
6. Get a Sydney attractions pass
Sydney’s tourist attractions are amazing, but the cost of entry soon adds up. If you want to see it all and do it all without breaking the bank, the Sydney Attractions Pass is for you. It entitles you to discounted entry to two, three or four of Sydney’s most popular attractions for one low price. Choose from Madame Tussauds, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo and/or Sydney Tower Eye. Depending on the pass you choose, the savings can be up to 45%. That’s a deal that’s hard to pass up — especially if you’re travelling with a family.
For Taronga Zoo, it’s cheaper to pre-purchase your tickets online than buying them at the gate. The adult saving is about $5 and that’s a free coffee right there!
7. Freeload on free art
It’s something of a paradox that priceless art should come at no price, but we’ll take it! Enjoy free entry to the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ outstanding collection of historic, contemporary and indigenous Australian artworks. The building itself is a fabulous neoclassical sandstone monument, with easy access to the adjacent (and free) Royal Botanic Garden — a wonderful spot for a picnic lunch with harbour views.
8. Picnic when possible
Given Sydney’s usually good weather and abundance of parks and free public spaces, picnics are a sensible, enjoyable and affordable alternative to restaurant lunches. Use CBD supermarket outlets to purchase supplies, or buy a boxed snack from a food court such as the MLC Centre. Prime city picnicking spots include Hyde Park and the benches outside the Sydney Opera House, the latter also being a great place to soak up views of the harbour and enjoy the waterfront buzz.
9. Dine away from the tourist hotspots
Appealing as those flash harbourside restaurants may look for dinner, you’ll find much better value in the city’s less scenic but more ‘food-focussed’ precincts. Inner-city Chinatown is a reliable destination for authentic and reasonably priced Chinese, Korean and Malaysian cuisine, with the Friday evening street food market a particular drawcard. Another hub for cheap but good eats is King Street in Newtown (just three stops from Central Station) — a student favourite crammed with great-value Thai, pizza and vegan restaurants.
10. Sleep cheap at the YHA
For a five-star location at a budget price, stay at Sydney Harbour YHA. Situated right in the heart of The Rocks, this award-winning hostel is a short walk from the harbour, major city landmarks and the transport hub of Circular Quay. After a day’s sightseeing you can relax at the incredible rooftop lounge and enjoy what can only be described as cut price million dollar views. Private and family rooms are available.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ways to save money on travel to Sydney? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph and The Australian. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.