Friday, 6 May 2016

Best free things to do in Sydney

So you arrive in Sydney for a 2 week holiday, enjoy your first day wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens and The Rocks, then head on to Darling Harbour for some dinner.  After a hearty and thoroughly enjoyable meal, you head over to the Star Casino, just to check it out.  You see a seat become available at a roulette table as you walk past, and think 'what the hell?' - you are on holiday after all.  You take a seat, stick a cheeky $5 on black, and wouldn't you know it, it actually comes up. You allow yourself a satisfied smile as you generously toss a 50 cent chip to the croupier as a tip.

Sydney Harbour in all its glory
Half an hour later, and you're standing there with your shirt soaked with sweat as you place the last $10 in your account on black, having already exhausted both your holiday fund and the money you had saved for your children's school fees.  The croupier is now nervously glancing at the several burly security men in ill fitting suits, who are now standing uncomfortably close to your back and speaking into their cuff links.  With bitter resignation, you watch helplessly as the little ball bounces around tantalisingly from red to black several times, before coming to rest on the green 0.  

If only you'd quit when you were ahead, you could have enjoyed the Bridge Climb
As you trudge out of the casino, wondering how you'll break the news to little Britney that she might need to downgrade her future dreams of becoming a doctor, to dreams of basic literacy, you can console yourself with the fact that the rest of your holiday needn't be wasted.  You may have to cancel the helicopter tour, and the Bridge Climb is out the window, but as it happens, Sydney has no shortage of attractions that cost absolutely nothing.  

For the purposes of this list, we will conveniently ignore any costs of actually transporting yourself to any of these locations, but each of the following attractions can be enjoyed without having to part with a single shiny penny.

Shelley Beach

Who needs big bucks when you have glorious beaches that don't cost a penny?
While you once mocked the beach bums for their lack of drive and ambition, you can now sit on Shelley Beach and dream of one day being able to climb your way back up the rungs of society to reach beach bum status.  Sit on the beach and entertain yourself by watching people stand up paddle boarding, and laugh at how silly the people in scuba equipment look trying to walk along the sand.  Shelley Beach is just a few minutes walk from Manly Beach, but generally offers a slightly calmer and more sedate atmosphere.  Ideal for recovering from your recent trauma.  For a detailed review, read #26 Shelley Beach.

Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

You might want to steer clear of those cliffs until you've come to terms with your loss
This one is a fantastic way to spend a day.  You get to experience two of the best known beaches in Sydney in Bondi and Coogee.  You can also enjoy the smaller, but arguably more appealing beaches in Bronte, Tamarama and Clovelly.  There are no shortage of spectacular Cliffside walks, although you may want to wait until you have mentally recovered from your night at the casino before getting too close.  The walk can take from a couple of hours, up to a full day, depending on how much time you spend relaxing along the way.  For the full review, check out #2 Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach Walk.

Sydney Opera House

The outside is the best bit anyway
Ok, so you can no longer afford to actually attend an opera or event, or even buy a coffee from the Opera Bar.  That doesn't mean you can't enjoy Sydney's most famous attraction.  The highlight for most people is just the sight of the Opera House, and you can get some fantastic views without having to pay any entry fees.  You can get close enough to touch the tiles and press your nose up against the glass of the windows.  You can walk around the entire building, and get some of those unusual shots of the Opera House from some of the less common angles, assuming you didn't pawn your camera to get some extra chips at the casino.  You can read the full review at #4 Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Bridge Climb may be out, but doesn't mean you can't still cross the harbour bridge on foot
 It's always hard to mention the Opera House without immediately thinking of the Harbour Bridge, and vice versa.  Thankfully, the Harbour Bridge is another attraction you can enjoy for no cost whatsoever.  You can of course enjoy the views from various view points in the harbour.  And while the Bridge Climb and Pylon Lookout are great ways to enjoy the view, you can walk or cycle across the bridge without paying a penny.  The view is through a mesh fence for much of the way, but it is still every bit as spectacular as it looks in pictures.  Read the full review at #3 Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Royal Botanic Gardens

Acres of exotic plants and trees, and I take a picture of a metal cage
The more entries you read in this list, the more you start to wonder why anyone pays in to any attractions in Sydney, given the wealth of activities that are available for free.  The Royal Botanic Gardens offers countless walking paths through well manicured gardens, and all are blessed with glorious views of harbour or city skyline.  You could easily spend half a day just wandering around and literally stopping to smell the flowers.  For more details, go to #8 The Royal Botanic Gardens.

Mrs Macquarie's Chair

Ok, the chair itself is just a big lump of stone
I admit that this one is essentially a subset of the Royal Botanic Gardens.  However, Mrs Macquarie's Chair is an attraction in its own right, and is worthy of a mention.  As mentioned in the full review at #56 Mrs Macquarie's Chair, the chair itself is not really worthy of too much attention.  The area round about it however, is one of the best points in Sydney to enjoy the views of the aforementioned Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Walking Tour

You can find out who this General Macquarie, who has his name everywhere, really was
You probably thought once you had blown your life savings on the whim of the roulette wheel that any kind of organised tour was out of the window.  However, there is actually a tour that operates for free.  The descriptively titled 'I'm Free Walking Tours' are, as the name suggests, free walking tours.  There is a three hour city tour during the day, and a one and a half hour night tour of The Rocks.  I would normally recommend that you take the opportunity at the end to donate a fair sum to compensate the guides for their excellent work, but since you are literally penniless, that won't be an option for you.  See #87 Walking Tour for the full review.

The Rocks Discovery Museum

You'll need to go for yourself to find out what's inside the weird glass phonebox
So I've managed to squeeze in an organised tour into this list of free things to do, but surely museums are out of the question?  Again, you're in luck.  First up, is The Rocks Discovery Museum.  This is a small but well organised museum about the history of The Rocks area.  It's not going to keep you entertained for a full day, but might keep you away from the pokies for an extra couple of hours.  Read more at #67 Rocks Discovery Museum.

Museum of Contemporary Art

I think this is really a statement about the futility of war.  And wearing trainers with suit trousers
Right, maybe we can get into a small museum for free, but what about the big boys?  Well, I'm sure you are smart enough to have seen this coming, but yes, the Museum of Contemporary Art is also free entry.  Located in a prime position in between Circular Quay and The Rocks, the MCA is a large collection of, you've guessed it, contemporary art.  It even offers free guided tours, usually at 11am and 1pm each day.  For the full review, see #83 Museum of Contemporary Art.

White Rabbit Gallery

Just what exactly are those pink things on the bed??
If you prefer your art to be certifiably insane, you might want to check out the White Rabbit Gallery instead.  This is another free collection, this time focused on Chinese modern art.  While all modern art seems a bit crazy to me, the Chinese really seem to take it to the next level.  This place is suitably nuts.  It is located in Chippendale, near to Central Station, and also offers free guided tours, at 11am and 2pm, Wednesday to Sunday.  If you want to read more, go to #40 White Rabbit Gallery.

Darling Harbour

Stalking the fireworks from the bushes, like a paparazzi
This one might be a bit painful during the day, since the main attractions around Darling Harbour involve eating or drinking, neither of which you can afford to do, following your casino exploits on your first night.  You can still do a bit of people watching, and watch the boats and ferries coming and going.  The real reason this is on the list though is the free fireworks show on a Saturday night.  It is not just a couple of rockets and a Catherine wheel either, this is a professional, coordinated and comprehensive display.  It has music and everything.  Read all about Darling Harbour at #18 Darling Harbour.

Centennial Park

Ok, so the cinema isn't free, but you can probably stand nearby and listen to the movie
Of course, the last thing you may want is to be surrounded by people spending money.  If you would rather escape from the hustle and bustle, and get some time and space to reflect on your foolish and irresponsible behaviour, then Centennial Park might be a good option.  Located to the South East of Sydney, Centennial Park is a huge park area, with lots of ponds for you to pensively skim stones as you contemplate the full horror of your opening night escapades.  Get some further information at #34 Centennial Park


I'm saving this picture for my next album cover
Instead of peace and solitude, you may want to reflect on your new pauper status by wandering the streets and admiring the grungy graffiti in Newtown.  If you haven't washed or shaved since your casino exploits, then this will only help you fit in even better in Newtown.  Just be careful when you stop for a rest and sit on an upturned trash can on a dimly lit side street that you haven't accidentally sat down in the latest hipster bar, where they'll probably try to charge you about $20 for some beer brewed in one of their old boots.  For the full lowdown on the hipster heaven that is Newtown, go to #47 Newtown.

Watson's Bay

Getting as far away from the scene of the crime as possible
One of the best things to do in Watson's Bay is to enjoy a drink or meal at one of the cafes and restaurants near the waterfront.  Since you've blown all your money, that sadly isn't an option.  It is still a beautiful area to spend some time walking around though.  Take a walk past Camp Cove, then up and around South Head to the Gap Park.  There are plenty of stunning view to take your mind off your lack of cash.  For a full review, see #15 Watson's Bay.

Manly Scenic Walkway

More distant views of the skyline, this time from North Head
One of the best ways to enjoy Sydney Harbour is to walk along one of the many routes that takes you along the scenic coastline.  There are plenty to choose from, but I've went with the Manly Scenic Walkway for this one.  I normally recommend to do it in parts, as the whole walk is over 20km long.  However, if you have the time and the fitness, then it's not unthinkable to do the whole walk in one long and enjoyable day.  See the full review at #19 Manly Scenic Walkway.

Balmoral Beach

Balmoral Beach - a glaring omission from the top 100, in my opinion
Last, but not least, I'll finish up with another beach.  It's an obvious option, but genuinely, if money is tight, there are a lot of worse ways to spend your time than by beach hopping around Sydney.  I've actually picked one here that didn't make the top 100 list.  Balmoral Beach is located in Mosman, near to Middle Head.  It's not the most popular with tourists, but it is a beautiful beach, and actually our favourite in Sydney.  There is no full review yet, as this wasn't in the top 100, but here is a link with some more information:

So there you go.  You may have lost your life savings and decimated your child's future, but at least you'll be returning home with a nice tan, having seen many of the best sights that Sydney has to offer.

Do you know of any free attractions that should have made the list?  Worried that I may have downplayed the negative impacts of excessive gambling?  Please put some words in the comments box to convey whatever it is you would like to convey.

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