Sydney is expensive. We’re talking top ten most pricey cities in the world kind of expensive. But it’s also beautiful, exciting and culturally rich. While there’s no denying there are plenty of activities to do here that would blast a hole right through your bank account, you can still live large in this bustling city by the sea for $20 or less.
1. Visit the NSW State library
I hear you shaking your head, but this is no high school library. Smack bang in the middle of the city on Macquarie Street, it’s the oldest library in Australia with the sandstone building dating back to 1826. Even ignoring its façade, you can’t ignore what’s going on inside. Free classic films every Sunday, a myriad of free art and photography exhibitions (at the moment it’s rock’n’roll photographer, Tony Mott’s exhibition, What A Life!), and yes, for book buffs, the kind of rare and beautiful books, manuscripts, maps and more that take you to your happy place.
2. Become a film buff
Speaking of movies, if you prefer cult over classic, you’re going to love the free movies at Soda Factory in Surry Hills every Monday. They’ll also sell you beer and hot dogs for only $5 a pop from 5pm to 7pm, which is rather nice of them really, and even kinder to your wallet. In summer, you’ll find plenty of free outdoor screenings around the city, including the courtyard of The Argyle in the iconic Rocks, every Monday.
3. Go bush
Want to see the real Sydney? Get amongst its natural beauty. You could live here for months and still not see all it has to offer. Soak in the expansive blue of Bondi to Bronte, get some history on Cockatoo Island or bask in the bushy surroundings of Hornsby’s Blue Gum Walk. What makes it even better? It’s free, so you can spend that $20 on wine and cheese to reward yourself with a picnic after all your hard work.
4. Watch a band
On any night of the week you’ll be able to find somewhere offering live music and free entry. Frankie’s Pizza is the city centre must-go for rock’n’rollers, Surry Hills offers up Cafe Lounge for calmer acoustic sets (shout out to it’s cheap eats and comedy nights) or combine your love of good tunes and sand dunes at the Beach Road Hotel in Bondi.
5. Live on the beach
What could say ‘Australian Summer’ more than spending every opportunity at the beach? Yes, Bondi is beautiful and full of other backpackers ready to party. Bondi is over-crowded, Bondi is for showboats and Bondi is a pain in the butt to get to from anywhere else in the city. Expand your beach horizons by popping next door to the calmer Bronte, discovering the hidden gem of Bilgola or indulge your inner teenager at Palm Beach, the location for all those dramatic Home & Away scenes.
6. Party in Newtown
Everybody loves Surry Hills. It’s central, full of glorious beards, packed with trendy bars and the eating is top notch. Well, what if I told you just another 10 minutes over you can get all that for about half the price in Newtown? This is where a lot of students stay during university…and then never leave. You’ll find tasty options from all over the world for under $20, and you’ll probably get a beer in too with happy hours galore. Add to that plenty of venues to get your boogie on for free and you’ve got yourself a typical Sydney party. The Courthouse Hotel, Miss Peaches Soulfood Kitchen and The Midnight Special will get you started.
7. Try Barefoot Bowls
If you haven’t watched the classic Aussie film Crackerjack, get on it now. Then you’ll understand why bowls in Australia is a must do. Most bowling clubs will offer barefoot bowls sessions to the public for around the $12 mark. One of the most popular clubs for this amongst Sydney-siders, is Clovelly for its water views and complimentary BBQ facilities.
8. Test yourself at Pub trivia
You can’t spill a beer in the city without stumbling upon a pub trivia night. Any weeknight, you’ll find a pub somewhere offering anything from classic trivia to pop culture themed nights (although these can often be ticketed). My personal favourite is the classic pub trivia at The Royal in Leichhardt. The prizes are real (hello $50 bar tab) and quizmaster John Barrand keeps it lively. He’s also a talented magician, and if you ask REALLY nicely at the end, he may do a quick trick for you that will blow your mind. For a more pop culture focused trivia night you can’t go past Goodgod Small Club. In past months they’ve lined up Kath & Kim, Seinfeld, Nickelodeon/Cartoon Network and Disney Animated Films themes. The best part is they’re all for free!
9. Take advantage of cheap Sydney Theatre Company tickets
Sydney loves its theatre, but tickets to the Opera House can come at quite a price. Enter Sydney Theatre Company’s Suncorp Twenties. Twenty dollar tickets to a range of performances are yet another thing you can thank Cate Blanchett (and then co-artistic director Andrew Upton) for. They’re released online at 9am every Tuesday. Upcoming shows include Endgame with Hugo Weaving and The Present with Cate Blanchett.
10. Make Discount websites your new best friend
Groupon, Living Social, Scoopon: if you’re not already on them, go and do it now. All those fun activities and fancy restaurants you can’t afford? Well now you can because there’s an awesome deal and it probably includes a bottle of wine. Past deals have included stand-up paddle boarding in Sydney’s picturesque Balmoral beach for $19, or Bondi for $20, joining a gym for $9, or having a two-course Indian meal plus sides for $15 per person! What I love most about these sites is the way they open you up to a whole world of activities you would never think to do on your own.