Updated: 5th July 2018
This website uses affiliate links which may earn a commission for purchases made at no additional cost to you.
Sydney often finds itself at the top of lists about the most expensive cities in the world, and while this is undoubtedly true if you are looking to buy a property here, it does not have to cost a fortune to enjoy as a tourist. Planning and some insider knowledge can make this epic city suddenly seem a lot more affordable.
I was lucky enough to call Sydney home for a while, and while the tourist hubs of Darling Harbour and the waterfront around the Opera House serve up expensive beers and eye-watering meal bills, you can still find plenty of free events and money-saving activities in Australias biggest city.
Get a working holiday visa
Without a doubt, this is the best way to manage your costs when travelling through Australia so if you have the time, and legal right to apply for a working holiday visa I can not recommend you do this enough.
Although I didn’t make the best use of mine for various reasons, as soon as you start earning money in Australia, where the minimum wage is pretty high, the cost of travelling in Sydney and beyond suddenly seems a lot more affordable as you are re-stocking your bank account rather than just emptying it. While it’s all well and good to find ways to save money when travelling if you can find a way to afford all the amazing experiences you can have down under then it’s better than missing out on them.
Visit during free events
The event calendar in Sydney is impressive, there is always something going on in this city from cool events at one of the many free museums right through to outside activities such as Vivid Sydney, a light display show that takes over the city, and the world famous Pride Parade.
Take a look at the calendar of events in Sydney and try to plan your visit to line up with some of these, so you have some ready-made, free to enjoy events to attend.
Make use of coupon codes
I always used to mock my mum for her obsession with coupon codes, but here in Sydney, it was a habit I quickly took up.
For example, my favourite restaurant Kobe Jones which serves up an epic degustation menu by Darling Habour could sometimes be 50% off if I would snag a Groupon voucher deal rather than booking direct. These deals aren’t limited to just food though; there are tons of things to do in Sydney listed on the website at a discount, from cinema tickets to sightseeing tours so keep an eye while you’re in the city in case anything you are planning to do appears with the added discount.
Tie in transport with sightseeing
The ferries that ply the waterways around Sydney are some of the best in the world, not just because of how frequent they are but mainly because of the excellent views.
If you get an Opal card to use the public transport, this also brings discounts on the ferries too so you can admire the Opera House and Bridge from the water without having to shell out extra dollar for an expensive cruise. Taking the ferry over to Manly to hang out on the beach can be a cheap day out if you pack a picnic or head out to Watsons Bay for some of the best views in the city.
Stay in hostels over hotels
Accommodation in Sydney can quickly eat into your budget, but there are a surprising number of centrally located hostels that also offer private rooms.
Before moving into my apartment, I checked into a few of these including Maze Backpackers and Casa Central in Chippendale. The rooms are pretty basic and the facilities nothing to write home about but to get a private room in the heart of the city for around $45/£30 a night makes hostel become a more favourable choice, even for those who would generally avoid them.
Use Uber and rideshares
While the public transport in Sydney is pretty decent, in the early hours of the morning when buses are limited, the cost of Taxis can nearly bankrupt you. Uber is, therefore, the go-to get around for many locals after a night out as the savings are significant.
If you are looking to go further afield, then there are plenty of ride-share options in Australia and joining one of the backpacker Facebook groups for Sydney can usually give you access to a ride with new mates for the price of a fuel tank.
Another excellent way to explore beyond Sydney is Campervan Relocations. As most tourists want to pick up campers from prime locations and return them to their endpoint, it’s quite common that the rental companies end up with too many vans in one point and have to redistribute them to their other bases.
The deal is usually around 3-days, a free camper and sometimes gas and in exchange, you drive the vehicle back to where it needs to be. This can become quite a cost friendly way to have a mini break out of the city, and quite a few companies offer this, including Britz who I used when exploring the Bellarine Peninsula just outside Melbourne.
Know when $10 dinners are
Food in Sydney is usually fresh and delicious no matter where you dine, Aussies take their meals seriously. Most pubs and some restaurants also offer discount meal days throughout the week so a steak or fish meal might be only AUD $10 on say a Monday when it would be 3x as much on a Saturday.
Over time you’ll learn where to head on which days of a week and asking any local which days are best to visit any pub you’ll quickly get some answers. Time Out also has a long list of Sydney cheap eats which is updated fairly often and is a good starting point when planning out a great value meal.
Booze costs can quickly add up in Australia, but luckily plenty of restaurants offer the chance to bring your own wine along with dinner; some have a corkage charge, and others allow it for free. A lot of the restaurants around China Town where the food is always really great value offer this, and it’s not something to be embarrassed about as it’s relatively common.
If you really want to save money on Booze costs then Goon, the Aussie word for box wine, might get mocked on the regular but some of them are surprisingly good and an ideal accompaniment for BBQ’s at home if your accommodation has one.
Get ‘locked out’
Sydney has some of the strictest lock-out laws in the country, and after 1:30 am you will not be able to get back into the licensed premises of the city. While this can seem super annoying at times, it’s actually a bit of a blessing for your bank account as a good excuse to call the night and head home before you spend all your dollar on expensive drinks. Shots and buying multiple drinks at once are also regulated after a certain hour so rather than get annoyed at the bartender, appreciate that it’s saving your travel fund and your liver.