Sightsee for free in Sydney’s centre

Sydney can be an expensive city but there’s a great variety of things to see and do for free right in the centre of the city. These are the best ones.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated: has asked me to share some things to see and do from my home city of Sydney when you’re on a budget, and I am more than happy to put this guide together for you.

10 best things to do on a budget in the Sydney city centre

Sydney has a reputation for being an expensive city. I can tell you, as someone who grew up here and has seen things change over the decades, the reputation is justified.

Food, drink, transport – all those everyday things, they do not come cheap in Sydney. But for tourists, who are also looking to fill their time with fun and new things, it can be even more expensive. Before you know it, you can blow your whole budget in a few days on attractions.

Best free things to do in Sydney, NSW, Australia

The good news, though, is that there are lots of really interesting things that you can do for free in the centre of Sydney. They are all pretty close to each other and you could easily fill a day or two with them.

From historic sites, to natural adventures, interesting museums and modern culture, these free things to do in Sydney will give you a good breadth of experiences

For lots more ideas, you can check out Expedia’s list of things to do in Sydney. But for now, here are my suggestions for things to do for free (or low cost) around the centre of the city.

Royal Botanic Garden

The Royal Botanic Garden has one of the most beautiful locations in Sydney – on the harbour, next to the Opera House, bordering the central business district.

For visitors, it’s a stunning location that gives views of the Harbour Bridge and across to the north shore of the city. But it’s also one of the most important botanical institutions in the world with about 9000 species of plants.

Wander through and see the displays or spend some time in the shade enjoying the views.

Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Conservatorium of Music

Sydney’s premier music school is on the edge of the Royal Botanic Garden. The building looks like a castle but was actually originally built as stables for the nearby Government House.

Because it’s a school, not all areas are open to the public but you can see three levels of the atrium. There are also free concerts each week.

Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Art Gallery of New South Wales

The state’s main art gallery is on the other side of the Royal Botanic Gardens and the building is hard to miss with its large Greek style of architecture.

The permanent exhibitions inside are free and there are excellent collections of indigenous, colonial, European and Asian art. There is usually an admission fee for the temporary exhibitions.

Art Gallery, Sydney, NSW, Australia

BONUS: Museum of Contemporary Art

At Circular Quay you will find the Museum of Contemporary Art, which also has free admission for the permanent collection. The museum owns more than 4000 recent works by Australian artists.

St Mary’s Cathedral

Across the park from the art gallery is St Mary’s Cathedral, the most important Catholic Church in Australia. It is free to go in and, if you do, you’ll notice a strange colour inside.

The windows were intentionally tinted yellow to keep out the bright Australian sun that the European designers weren’t used to.

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, NSW, Australia

BONUS: St Andrew’s Cathedral

It is a short walk to St Andrews Cathedral in the central business district, another magnificent church that you can visit for free. It is the main Anglican Cathedral in Sydney.

The Mint

The Mint is the oldest surviving building in Sydney’s centre and it is free to go in and have a look around. The site started as a hospital for convicts but then became the first overseas branch of London’s Royal Mint.

There is a small exhibition about the history of the building and a nice restaurant and café.

The Mint, Sydney, NSW, Australia

BONUS:Hyde Park Barracks Museum

Next door to The Mint is the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. There is an admission fee to get in but it is definitely worth the cost.

This is a World Heritage Site and an extremely important part of convict history, with a museum that tells the story of Sydney during that period.

The Rocks Discovery Museum

This free museum at The Rocks near Circular Quay also has some great information about the convict era – it was here that the British established the first colony. But the museum also takes visitors through the indigenous history and the transformation over the past century from a busy port to a modern city.

Cockatoo Island

While you’re at Circular Quay, admiring the ferries, I would suggest jumping on one and going on a trip across the harbour.

A fantastic place to visit is Cockatoo Island, which is just a short ride away. Over the years, the island has been used as a convict prison, a shipbuilding yard, a military defence base and now as a camping site.

There’s lots to see and it’s all free to explore.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Australian National Maritime Museum

Catch the ferry back to Darling Harbour where you can jump off and visit the Maritime Museum. There’s lots to see and do with collections about the history of boats and sea exploration around Australia.

The permanent exhibitions and some children’s activities are free. However, there is an admission fee for temporary exhibitions and to go onto the vessels moored in the harbour.

Maritime Museum, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Barangaroo Reserve

Barangaroo Reserve can be seen from the Maritime Museum, across the water towards the Harbour Bridge. It’s a new development that has turned an industrial site into a headland park.

It has bush walks, lookouts, coves and cycling tracks. It’s a perfect place for a picnic with one of the best views in Sydney.

Barangaroo Reserve, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Sydney Observatory

Sydney Observatory was built in 1858 on a hill above The Rocks and was used for decades for research into astronomy and weather conditions. It was also crucial for navigation, meteorology and timekeeping.

The observatory is still an important scientific site but is used mainly as a museum these days. You can visit it for free to see the buildings and items including Australia’s oldest telescope.

Sydney Observatory, Sydney, NSW, Australia

If you have any other suggestions yourself, please drop me a note in the comments section below!

7 thoughts on “Sightsee for free in Sydney’s centre”

  1. I couldn’t agree more that there are so many interesting and fun things to do in Sydney and Royal Botanic Garden looks refreshing which is I like the most.

    • Great! These are some pretty easy ones to start off with and get a sense of Sydney city. I’ll get around to doing some more in depth guides to other parts of Sydney at some point. Enjoy!

  2. Hi Michael,

    Do you also have some good ideas for camping site in Sydney? We are planning a trip to Australia next november and you roadtrip melbourne -Sydney is very helpfull 🙂

  3. Nice! Really cool guide!
    I’m planning a trip to Sydney in a month and a half. After making my business, I’d like to visit some museums, maybe galleries. There are a lot of them in Sydney actually just thought if u could help me to choose some the most interesting.
    And one more question. It’s about accommodation. I need to choose a casino hotel, found some of them here and can’t decide which one is better. There are three of them in Sydney or nearby, and I like them all. If that’s not hard for u and you already know something about Australia, help me to choose please)

    Thank you very much!

  4. dear Sir.

    My family are planning to tour Sydney from Korea. May I ask how to get free or low cost activity in Sydney Observotory.
    We plan to visit Sydney from Jun25~July 13
    thanks for your advise
    [email protected]

    best regards
    David Chun


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