A view of the Sydney opera house and Sydney harbour bridge taken from inside the botanical gardens
Budget Travel, Destinations, Oceania

How to travel Sydney on a Budget.

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The first question I always get asked when I tell people my favourite place to visit is Sydney, is “But isn’t Australia really expensive?” The short answer is no; it doesn’t have to be. While there are unavoidable expenses that can be hefty (such as flights), there are also many ways to save money whilst over there and still have a great Sydney budget trip. On top of this wages are higher over there so if you’re working over there on a working holiday Visa, the costs don’t seem so high. Below I have highlighted my best tips on how to travel Sydney on a budget.

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How to get around Sydney on a budget

As I wrote in my study abroad post, when I was at university I lived in Australia for 6 months. Whilst there, I traveled around a fair bit but my main base and host university was in Sydney. I studied at Western Sydney University which is in Richmond, one of the furthest western suburbs of Sydney. This meant that to get into the main city area I had to take an hour and a half train journey. I didn’t realise quite how big Sydney actually was when I applied to Western Sydney University!

Luckily for me, public transport in Australia is actually very affordable. In England, for an hour and a half train journey, you’re looking at at least £30 (maybe a little cheaper if you find a really good discount) and even more to go into a major city like London. Whereas Richmond to Central Station is less than $5! That’s currently about £2.80! Where I live, a 5-minute train ride to the next stop alone costs £2.60. Those prices are just ridiculous to me!

A woman (me) wearing red hoodie and grey jeans stood up on a ferry with red chairs and a balcony behind. Over the balcony the Sydney harbour can be seen including the harbour bridge

Sydney also has similarly cheap transport by bus, train, tram or ferry around the central business district and into the suburbs. The only transport that is a bit more is the airport line. Be aware that you’ll pay a higher fare if you plan to take public transport when you arrive there. It is, however, possible to walk to the next closest train station even with luggage as it’s not too far, which means you avoid this fee.

How to use the Opal Card in Sydney

On top of these already low prices, Sydney also offers the Opal card. These are pretty much the same as the London Oyster cards and cover all of Sydney and most of the surrounding areas. All the way from the beach to the mountains. They are the cheapest and most convenient way of using public transport. Really the perfect way to travel Sydney on a budget.

A golden sand beach stretches away from the camera in an archway with a blue sea up to the sand. In the distance is a row of buildings and houses overlooking the beach

You simply tap the card on a scanner as you get on the bus/ferry/train/tram and again when you get off and the card will work out your fare. You top the card up by whatever amount you want and the card will tell you when you’re running low. If you’re staying in the area for quite a while and using your Opal card regularly you can set up payments onto it automatically. Either monthly or when you reach a certain limit. Alternatively, you can easily top up yourself online, at a ticket machine or in certain stores that sell Opal cards.

Opal cards are great for cheap travel as they automatically work out the best fare for you. Depending on your journey the card will pick a single ticket, return ticket or day pass so you don’t need to worry about deciding beforehand. They also have a daily and monthly price cap so after you’ve reached the limit all extra travel is free. On top of this, when using the Opal card on Sundays you can travel as much as you like for only $2.50. For the 6 months I was there I went into the city almost every Sunday for this reason.

A red brick building with stone archway above a door. A plague says PUB in red and above this sits three stone monkeys, One covering its mouth with its hands, one covering its eyes with its hands and one covering its ears with its hands.

How to visit Sydney attractions on a budget

Now, the next thing you might be wondering is how expensive are the attractions in Sydney? Yes like any city there are certain things that will cost a lot. But also, Sydney has so much more to offer you. Why not spend a bit of time walking around the city and taking in the character? Australia has such a relaxed atmosphere and even in the biggest cities, like Sydney or Melbourne, nothing seems rushed like in London for example.

A lake in the Sydney botanical gardens, a perfect attraction for visiting on a budget. Green grass is in front of a large blue lake and different types of trees and plants can be seen in the background

Budget attractions in Sydney

There are plenty of free things to do in Sydney such as museums or live music at the Opera House Bar. There are also lots of natural areas within easy traveling distance. From Sydney, you can easily get to the blue mountains, botanical gardens and many different beaches. There are plenty of low-cost attractions perfect for those traveling on a budget. Don’t miss the Chinese garden of friendship which is only $6 (or $3 for students or children) to visit. It’s one of my favourite places in Sydney and a real hidden gem right in the centre of the city.

A large lake is in the front of the picture and behind this is various oriental plants, rocks and decorative features. On top of a hill stands a red and gold Chinese pagoda

Tips for visiting more expensive Sydney attractions on a budget

For the more expensive things, always look for ways to make it cheaper. If you’re staying in a hostel (or you’re studying abroad like I was) there may be group outings at a discounted price. My university ran several trips including horse riding, visiting the blue mountains, climbing the harbour bridge and coastal walks. Keep an eye on notice boards or ask in the reception of your hostel to see if anything like this is available.

If you’re dead set on climbing the harbour bridge why not do the climb at night? This reduces the price of your climb by $40 whilst still giving spectacular views of the city lights. It also helps to go on a weekday rather than the weekend. It makes it $15 cheaper and it will probably be quieter. If you’re not so keen on heights the climb might not be for you. You can walk along a footpath across the bridge free of charge. This still gives great views of the city and harbour, you just aren’t so high up.

looking over a metal fence to the Sydney harbour. In the background is the Sydney Opera house and the botanical gardens. This place is completely free to visit

If you’re there for a bit and know you want to do quite a few of the more expensive attractions look for combo tickets. If you’re interested in visiting the Sydney Wildlife Zoo, the Sea Life Centre, Madame Tussauds and the Sydney Tower Eye you can get discounted tickets by buying them together. It is $46 for a single entry to any of these attractions but $75 for all 4 with the Sydney Big ticket.

A fishtanks with blue and purple corals and underwater plants. There are several blue fish and a large yellow fish

How to use the iVenture Card in Sydney

Another option is the iVenture card. You can either buy these online and have them delivered or you can buy them at a tourist information shop. There are several different options for these which come under 2 categories: the unlimited attractions pass or the flexi attractions pass.

The unlimited attractions pass allows you to go to any attraction in the next 3 or 7 days. This is great if you want to pack in as many things as possible and you’re staying in the city centre. However, with these cards, you need to visit several attractions every day you have it to save money. If you want a fairly relaxing holiday this card is not for you. You will need to be on the move constantly to make the most of it.

The other option (and what I did) is to get the flexi attractions pass, which gives you entry to 3, 5 or 7 attractions which you can use any time over 12 months. These cards are great if you’re spending a bit longer in the city and want to take your time exploring. Be sure to check which of the things included you want to do first though. Some of the attractions are fairly cheap and if you’re only interested in these ones it actually works out more expensive to buy the iVenture card. Both types of the card include attractions like whale watching, hop-on-hop-off bus tours and museum entries. For a full list of what’s included check the iVenture website.

A view from under the Sydney harbour bridge. The grey bridge stretches over blue waters with a tree on one side and large buildings on the other side behind the water

Despite Australia being a fairly expensive country, it’s very easy to travel Sydney on a budget. There’s so much to see and do in the city. You could easily spend days just soaking in the atmosphere without spending a penny. There’s so much that I can’t even write about it all in one post. Make sure you check back for more posts later. Its such an amazing city, so laid back and chilled out. I instantly fell in love with it and there’s no wonder it’s a firm favourite with backpackers and tourists alike. If I have convinced you not to write Sydney off at too expensive, check out Skyscanner to compare flights to Australia to find the best deals!

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  1. This post brought me beautiful memories of Australia. :-)When I went there, to spend a few months as an exchange student, 18 years ago ( wow, times fly!), I stayed in Melbourne but spent a week in Sydney for the holidays. It was amazing! Yes, as you mentioned, there are a lot of free or inexpensive things to do, not only in Sydney but Australia in general. To put into simple words: beautiful place, great people, tons of things to do. What else can we ask for?!

    1. Amy says:

      I actually did the opposite of you! Stayed in Sydney and visited Melbourne. Yes definitely lots of things to do in Australia that don’t require much money but I think A lot of people are put off by the idea that it’s an expensive country.

  2. These are great tips! I always thought a trip to Australia would be expensive, but this post makes it feel possible. Thank you!

  3. I have just spent six months living in Sydney and agree there is so much you can do for little or no cost at all. I love the cheap public transport on Sunday’s. I tried to make a point of going someone most Sundays 🙂

    1. Amy says:

      Yeah I only realised about half way through my stay that the transport was so cheap on Sundays so as soon as I realised I went somewhere every week. But a bit disappointed I missed so many weeks before then!

  4. This was good news to hear! Australia budgets are just so high that it kinda scares me…but this made me feel better!

  5. Great practical guide to keeping costs down around Sydney. Even though I’m a rock climber, I just couldn’t justify paying for the bridge climb but enjoyed my stroll for free nearly as much!

    1. Amy says:

      I honestly don’t think you’re missing too much. I did it once but then when I went back with my boyfriend I told him unless he really wants to it’s not worth the price.

  6. This is great! I’ve always thought of Sydney as super expensive so these tips are really useful. I’d love to visit one day 🙂

  7. This is very helpful information! I had no idea it was so affordable! I’ll be in Sydney later this year (only for a short time), but hoping to visit longer next year, so I’m saving your post to refer to later!

  8. I was just in Sydney is November and did many of these things you mentioned! We enjoyed just walking around the city and taking it in. We did the free tour with the group in green shirts, and did part of the Bondi to Coogee walk. Plus we got an awesome bonus. We found someone’s Opal card that had been dropped. It wasn’t registered to anyone when we looked it up, and it had $30 on it! We really did try to locate the owener but with no luck, so we felt it was like when you find cash on the street. It was a nice bonus!

  9. Sydney is one of the favourite cities. I lived there for a year about 25 years ago and spent every minute of my spare time trying to do and see as much as possible. Money was never a problem because everything was so cheap compared to London and I was probably earning double! It saddens me a bit now when I hear all the time about how expensive it’s become. So your post has cheered me up by showing that Sydney is still an affordable city to visit. Maybe I should start planning my return? 🙂

    1. Amy says:

      Yeah definitely! I’m sure if you’ve not been for 25 years a lot has changed. I think living costs like rent and food can be more expensive than in the UK but like you say wages there are a lot higher too! Cost shouldn’t put you off visiting though because there’s still plenty of affordable things to do there!

  10. Thanks you!!!

  11. Very interesting!

  12. I always love to travel around the world. Last year, i planned to visit Sydney or Gold Coast but because of budget issues that plan didn’t work. Now after reading this post I think i can visit Sydney this year.

    1. Amy says:

      Thank you and im glad it helped! Yeah it’s definitely worth the visit and actually not as expensive as people think!

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