Sydney is bloody expensive, there’s no getting around that. Many surveys have shown that Sydney has one of the highest costs of living in the world.
But there are still lots of great ways to save money here, so whether you’re here for just a few days or for the rest of your life, this post will help scrimp some coin together to spend on the more meaningful stuff (like more travel!).
If you get on the train at either Domestic or International Airport stations, expect to get slugged with a fare of around $18 when you get off. This is because these 2 stations are privately owned, so there is a “station access fee” of $14.30 for adults and $12.80 for children (ages 5-15).
To avoid this fee, combine your train trip with either the 400 or 420 bus, which both go to Domestic and International airports. It will add about 15-20 minutes to your trip but save you around $15 - that’s worth it in my books!
If you’re heading to the airport, get off the train at Mascot station, walk upstairs and around the corner to Coward Street, and get on at Stand B. If you’re arriving into Sydney International airport, the bus stop is to the right as you come out of the airport, not far from where the coach buses pull in. At Sydney Domestic airport, the bus stop is near Terminal 3 (see image below).
On Sundays, all-day travel on public transport will only cost $2.80, no matter how much you travel. This is a great day to head out the Blue Mountains (a train ride from Central to Katoomba normally costs $6.20 one-way) or take the ferry to Manly or Watsons Bay. To give you an idea of how much you’re saving, normally a ferry will cost (one-way) $7.65 to Manly or $6.12 to Watsons Bay.
If travelling by train, try to time the start of your journey outside of peak times. If you do so, your fares are discounted by 30%. Peak times are normally from 7:00 am to 9:00 am and 4:00 to 6:30 pm on weekdays.
You can buy an Opal card at most train stations, as well as newsagents and convenience stores. When putting money on them, don’t put too much - maybe $20 if you’re here for a few days. You can always put more money on the card later, but it is really hard to get your balance refunded if you don’t use it. To get a refund, you need an Australian address and an Australian bank account. Nowadays you don’t even need an Opal card - your Visa, Mastercard or American Express credit card will allow you to tap on and off all public transport in Sydney. However, you may still get hit with overseas transaction fees.
Pro tip: Paula from SydneyExpert has also put together a really good guide on Sydney’s public transport here.
In Sydney, we have Uber, Ola and Bolt. I prefer using Ola as they regularly have discounts, plus they give better commissions to their drivers. Every single Uber driver I’ve had uses Ola as well, so you’ll never have to wait more than a few minutes if you’re around the city. Compare prices between the apps before you ride, as sometimes there can be a big difference.
If you haven’t used Uber or Ola before, then plug in one of these codes:
For Uber: “IUD5S” will get you $10 off your first Uber ride.
For Ola: “BWRBH3U” will get you $20 off your first Ola ride.
This is one of my new favourites. Loads of restaurants are using this app to offer special deals during their quieter hours, or just to get more people through their doors. It’s not unusual to see restaurants offering 20% off, 30% off, 40% off... some restaurants are even offering 50% off your total bill if you reserve through EatClub. And there are some good restaurants on this app too!
Hey You is a coffee app that I have been using for many years. Mainly designed for cafe regulars to save time, they often have promotional deals with cafes such as happy hour deals. Many cafes also have their loyalty cards built into the app.
Pro tip: If you use the code “AMEJK6R4”, you’ll get $5 off your first order.
Lots of restaurants and bars around Sydney have happy hour deals, mainly between the hours of 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm, although sometimes earlier and every so often, extending a little bit later. The Happiest Hour is an app and website that keeps a pretty good track of what deals there are, so make sure to check it out. Also check out the Facebook pages of restaurants and bars, as that is where you’ll find more up-to-date information.
One way to eat cheap in Sydney is to eat lots of Asian food - there are sooo many cheap Asian restaurants, particularly around Chinatown. And the food is delicious! Keep in mind, a lot of these places are cash only.
Here are a few of my go-to favourites:
North Sandwiches Cafe: really generously sized sandwiches and wraps for around $10. Located in a basement arcade, this place is always popular at lunchtime with office workers, so either go early or just queue up - the queue moves surprisingly quickly.
These are some serious “tourist trap” spots. Basically, if you can see the Opera House, Harbour Bridge or Darling Harbour from your table, you’re going to be paying a lot extra for it.
Yes, alcohol is expensive in Australia, but for about $5, you can get a decent bottle of wine from Aldi’s liquor section. And while you’re there, pick up some of their award-winning cheeses to go with your wine!
Often Coles and Woolworths will have discounts on various items later in the evening, for example, half-price roast chickens or discount fruit and veggies. There are never any guarantees and sometimes the food might be close to the use-by date, but if you’re up late and near a supermarket, pop by to see what’s on sale.
I’ve been eating for free at one of the top-rated restaurants in Sydney for months now, thanks to this app. Beam Wallet gives you back 10% off your bill in the form of a “Rewards Balance”, which you can later redeem at partnering restaurants. There’s not a huge number of restaurants that use this app, and for now, almost all of them are in Darlinghurst and Surry Hills.
Pro tip: If you use the code “JDGUCZQ”, you’ll get $10 towards your first order.
If you are staying in Sydney for a bit longer, and you’re not the greatest chef, consider signing up for a trial of HelloFresh or MarleySpoon. Both of these companies offer “grocery in a box” subscriptions, with a range of delicious recipes you can choose from each week.
Pro tip: Get $50 off your first HelloFresh box by using this link.
In Australia, we have a very high minimum wage, so hospitality workers are not dependent on tips like they are in some other countries. Of course, if you receive really good service, feel free to tip your waiter or bartender 10% or a small banknote, but don’t feel like you must.
To find cheap domestic and international flights, I often use I Know The Pilot, which keeps track of any travel deals offered by airlines. Currently, I could fly return to Singapore for $269, to Queensland for $91 return or get 60% off a Fiji package holiday...I’m getting wanderlust just writing about it!
OzBargain is where all the cheapskates in Australia seem to hang out, and is a forum-based site where users post deals that they’ve found. It covers everything from electronics, shopping, flights, holidays and more. I managed to save close to $200 off my latest mobile phone using one of the combined deals on this site.
I always use Hostelworld for hostels and Google plus Booking.com for hotels, but if you want to save some money (and help hotel owners out), book direct. Online travel agents like Booking.com and Expedia take commissions of up to 30%, so you should always be able to get a cheaper deal if you message the hotel directly, tell them what you saw online, and see if they can match or better it. Cut out the middle-man and help these small businesses out!
Whenever I arrive in a city, one of the first things I like to do is join a “free” walking tour, just to get the lay of the land and see the main attractions. In Sydney, there are two free walking tour companies, “Free Tours Sydney” and “I’m Free Walking Tours”. Both of these walks operate daily and have about the same scores from thousands of TripAdvisor reviews, so you should get a similar quality regardless of which one you choose. Free Tours Sydney also offers a “free” bus tour, which includes an $18 up-front fee for the cost of the bus, then you tip whatever you feel appropriate.
There is also now a free walking tour of Newtown, which is a great neighbourhood to explore (and very good for budget-conscious travellers). These tours are on Saturday and Sunday mornings only.
Both the Sydney CBD and Newtown tours are tips-based “free” walking tours, where you pay what you can or what you think the tour was worth. For something entirely free, check out the tours offered by the State Library of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Pro tip: While you're in the Royal Botanic Gardens, don't miss the free information display telling the story of Sydney's Aboriginal history, from pre-European arrival up to today. This display (see part of it below) is in the First Encounters Garden, about half-way between Palm House and Botanic House.
Alternatively, you can build your own walking tour! The City of Sydney has put together a free app, “Sydney Culture Walks” (Apple, Android) which contains about a dozen or so guided walks with audio commentary. There’s also an app for a self-guided walking tour of Chinatown (Apple, Android), one of my favourite parts of Sydney to explore. For some other self-guided walks with detailed information on things to see, check out Sydney Expert.
Sydney is a big city, and generally well-connected by public transport. Between the trains, buses, ferries and light rail, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting around. Having said that, Sydney is increasingly expensive, even for a short stay, so a great way to save some money is by just staying a few kilometres further out of the city. Just choose somewhere close to a train line and ideally less than 5 stops from Central station. That way your travel time into the city is basically guaranteed to be less than 20 minutes. This site can help you find some really good Airbnb deals in Sydney.
Pro tip: If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up using my link for $76 AUD free credit.
If you’re looking for stuff to do, particularly outdoor activities such as hikes, weekend adventures and fitness groups, Meetup is the best place to start your search. There are hundreds of groups in Sydney, so there is something for everyone. As the activities are lead by individuals, an activity that you find through here may not have the professionalism of an organised tour or activity, but they are also sometimes really cheap!
This is one of my favourite websites whenever I feel like I need to get out of Sydney for a few days, or am planning a road trip up the East Coast. Transfercar is a car relocation service that pairs rental car companies who need to get a car or campervan moved to another city with travellers heading in that direction. You can get some amazing deals on relocations, such as campervans for $5 per day or cars from $1 per day. Sometimes there will even be a petrol allowance or free days for longer haul relocations.
If you can’t find a car or van to relocate using TransferCar, check out CarHood. These guys work on a different partnership model, pairing people who are heading overseas and want to park their car near the airport with visitors who need to hire a car. I’ve used this service a couple of times in Brisbane, and they also have offices in Sydney and Melbourne. You can save up to 70% off the cost of hiring a car through traditional car hire companies. Just make sure to take photos of the car before AND after hiring, to avoid being responsible for any scratches or damage.
Spending a while in Australia and planning to open a local bank account? First off, rather than sign up with one of the Big Four, I’d go with ING’s Savings Maximiser and Orange Everyday combo. This will give you an account with a high-interest rate, no fees and a debit that you can use at any ATM in the world for free. It is what I use, and is highly recommended by Australia’s top personal finance expert.
Next, set up an account with TransferWise and transfer your money across. They claim to be up to 8 times cheaper than transferring your money with a regular bank, and significantly cheaper than using PayPal or other transfer methods.
Pro tip: If you sign up using my link, you’ll also get a free international transfer up to $500 AUD. Winner!
Listen, there are so many benefits of travelling slow (like, read this) but one undeniable benefit is that you can save some serious money. If you’re not getting planes, trains or buses every other day, and just enjoying taking your time in a new city, it is going to be a lot cheaper. Cities like Sydney, Melbourne and even Brisbane easily have enough to do to keep you occupied for a week or longer, especially with a few day trips included. I know Australia is a long trip from pretty much everywhere else in the world, but we’re not going anywhere, so don’t try and see everything in one trip (quick tip: you wouldn’t be able to anyway - Australia is huge!)
Seeing a performance at the Sydney Opera House should be on the bucket-list of every visitor to Sydney. But how to do it cheaply? I’m going to refer you to 2 other blogs for this one.
Firstly, check out Darren and Lauren’s post on “How to spend 4 days in Sydney on a budget” and scroll down to the “A Show At the Sydney Opera House On A Budget” section. Have a read of their whole post as it is excellent, but for the TL;DR version - basically just show up at the Opera House on a weekday, just before a performance, and ask politely if there are any seats left. They got a 50% discount voucher that way, seeing a Cabaret show at the VIP table for $135.80 AUD for the 2 of them. What a bargain!
Secondly, have a read of SydneyCloseup’s post on Discount Concert Tickets. They recommend signing up for the Sydney Opera House’s email updates and go into a good level of depth on the cheap seat options in the Joan Sutherland Theatre and the Concert Hall.
One of the things I love about Sydney is that there are always shows, talks and performances going on around town, with multiple excellent venues and some great deals.
The Sydney Theatre Company, set on the harbour at Walsh Bay, offers a limited amount of $20 tickets every Thursday morning at 9:00 am. So set your alarm clock, bookmark this page, and nab yourself a seat. Start or finish your show with a drink at “The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf”, an absolutely stunning venue (unfortunately currently closed for renovations until 2020).
There is a plethora of museums, art galleries and other institutions in Sydney that are entirely free to explore. My favourites are the Exhibition Galleries at the State Library of NSW, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). It is worth noting that both the Art Gallery of NSW and the MCA do have paid exhibits as well, but you could easily spend half a day in each of them just exploring their free sections.
The Art Gallery of NSW has a great collection of Australian artists and the largest collection of Aboriginal art in Australia. If you time your visit for a Wednesday afternoon, you can hang around to enjoy their signature “Art After Hours” program, which runs from 5:00 to 10:00 pm. Every week they invite guest speakers to give talks on a wide range of topics, and there’s also live music, guided tours and workshops to join.
The MCA is an excellent choice if modern art is your thing, and while you’re in the area, don’t miss visiting the Ken Done Gallery at 1 Hickson Road. One of Australia’s most famous contemporary artists, Ken’s colourful images of Australian landmarks have gone global, and I think every Australian family at some point has had one of his designs sitting in their kitchen (generally on a mug, placemat or hand towel).
For more art and private galleries, you can’t go past Chippendale, just south of Central Station. This area features over half a dozen art galleries, including White Rabbit Gallery, Galerie Pompom, Harrington Street Gallery, Nanda\Hobbs, Goodspace Gallery and Peach Black Gallery. Of those, White Rabbit Gallery is the most famous and just celebrated its 10th birthday. Originally the private collection of a wealthy Australian lady, the gallery houses one of the world’s most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art. The gallery is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, and there are free guided tours most days at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm.
Despite what people say about live music in Sydney dying, there are still so many great venues offering high-quality entertainment throughout the week. Here are a few places to sample some live music:
Cafe Lounge in Surry Hills (best night: Thursday’s Jazz Jam)
Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst (best night: Sunday from 7:00 pm - Bluegrass)
Lord Wolseley Hotel in Ultimo (best time: Sunday afternoon from 2:00 / 3:00 pm - Jazz)
Frankie’s Pizza in Sydney CBD (best night: Monday night house band)
Mary’s Underground in Sydney CBD (live music every night - Tuesday to Saturday)
Marble Bar in Sydney CBD (best night: Reggae Mondays from 10:00 pm)
The Lansdowne in Chippendale (best night: Chicken Wire Wednesdays from 9:00 pm)
The Imperial Hotel in Erskineville (best night: Wednesdays & Thursdays - Drag N’ Dine)
The Soda Factory in Surry Hills (best night: Wednesday - Soul, Funk, Rhythm & Blues)
You can also check out The Brag which provides up-to-date listings of live music and bands playing at bars around Sydney.
Haven’t found anything on Meetup or any events at the galleries, museums or bars I’ve already mentioned? Check out Eventbrite. If I have a night off, I often go looking there for an even wider range of activities, at all different prices. There are lots of free events that get listed there too.
Regardless of when you’re visiting Sydney, there’s just about always some large festival or multi-day event going on. Here are a few that you can plan your trip around:
Going to the cinemas in Australia can be an expensive form of entertainment, with most cinemas now charging close to $25 per person for a standard movie ticket. Add in your drinks, popcorn and other snacks, and costs can really snowball. But there’s plenty of ways to watch a cheap or even free movie, if you know where to go.
For many years now, Soda Factory in Surry Hills has been showing free movies on Monday nights, with a focus on cult favourites. There is free popcorn, “buy 2 get 1” deals on snacks, $10 hotdogs and $12 cocktail specials. Reservations are recommended - book your spot here or visit their Facebook page to see upcoming movies.
On Tuesday nights over the summer, The Taphouse in Darlinghurst will be showing “cult classic” movies on their rooftop, with free popcorn. Visit their Facebook page to see the full schedule.
Tuesday night is sometimes called “Tight-Arse Tuesdays”, and many cinemas will offer cheap movie tickets. Some of the best deals can be grabbed at The Ritz in Randwick ($10 tickets) or Dendy Cinemas in Newtown ($13.50 tickets). Palace Cinemas has moved their cheap night to Monday night, with $10 tickets at all their Sydney locations. Or for something a bit different, the Golden Age Cinema in Surry Hills offers $12 tickets on Tuesdays for members (membership costs $30 for a year).
Okay, so most of the stuff will say “Made in China” on the label, but if you look carefully you’ll find some genuine Aussie souvenirs. Or you know, some cheap fluffy koalas, emu meat jerky and kangaroo scrotum bottle-openers to take home to the family.
Just a *bit* of a step up in quality levels, visit one of Sydney’s many weekend markets to pick up gifts and souvenirs. My personal favourite is the Glebe Markets (Saturdays only, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm), where you can find lots of vintage clothing, as well as jewellery, candles, bags etc. If you join my “Discover Sydney’s Best Kept Secrets” walking tour, we finish right near the markets, so you can visit them afterwards on a Saturday.
Other good markets to visit include the Rozelle Collectors Markets (Saturdays and Sundays, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm), the Paddington Markets (Saturdays only, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm) or the Bondi Markets. At Bondi, they have the Farmers Markets on Saturdays (9:00 am to 5:00 pm) and the Arts & Crafts Markets on Sundays (9:00 am to 4:00 pm).
Looking for furniture, a used car or even a new housemate? Gumtree is a good place to start the search - it is basically Australia’s Craigslist.
Another good place to search for larger item bargains is Facebook Groups. There are plenty of neighbourhood specific groups, such as BONDI LOCAL LOOP, Newtown 2042 and EASTERN SUBURBS BUY SELL SYDNEY. If you’re looking for a sharehouse, there are also plenty of groups you can join.
An “op shop” is short for “opportunity shop” and they are run by a range of charities and organisations, such as St Vincents, the Salvation Army and the Australian Red Cross. Just Google “Op Shop” to find the nearest one to you, these places are a great spot to visit to pick up something really cheap, and the money goes back to the charities too.
Do you really need that fancy new toothbrush or electrical nose hair remover? Why not save the money and put it towards your next holiday! Lots of studies have shown that experiences will make you happier than just buying more stuff.