Thanks to the stratospheric rise of the aussie dollar, Sydney has now leapfrogged New York and London as one of the world’s most expensive cities. Almost every street seems to have a concept wine bar or Masterchef-style restaurant popping up and even scuzzy old Kings Cross has cleaned up its act.
Yet while “Sydders” can take a shark-sized bite out of anyone’s pocket, there’s still plenty of things to do in Sydney for free that don't involve simply lying on a beach.
For the inside track on any city it’s hard to beat a local guiding you around, especially for free. The aptly named I'm Free Tours offers fun, three-hour walking tours accompanied by savvy locals. Look out for the guides - hard to miss thanks to their lime-green t-shirts – at Sydney Town Hall.
Why pay over $200 (£130) to climb the Harbour Bridge, known affectionately locally as “the coathanger”, when you can snap up the same panoramic views for free by walking across? The 1.15km HarbourBridge walkway is best accessed from the north shore so you can keep your eyes on the Opera House as you stroll (or cycle) across.
Taking a dip in one of Sydneys thirty outdoor ocean pools is a classic Aussie experience. The water’s warm enough for year-round swimming and mercifully free of anything that will bite you (well, bar the odd hyperactive toddler). One of the most atmospheric pools is Bronte Baths (free), built in 1887, and overlooking the equally lovely Bronte Beach.
For those of you who own a pair of hiking boots as well as thongs (flip-flops) there are two excellent coastal walks that kick off from central Sydney: Bondi to Bronte (6km) and the Manly Scenic Walkway (10km).
An oasis of calm (at least when its raucous fruit bats are asleep) Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens is a perfect escape from the hectic downtown area. Also within the park is the imposingly colonial Government House (free entry), a kind of pint-sized Buckingham Palace, surrounded by manicured grounds.
You could easily spend a day wandering around the NSW Art Gallery, whose vast collection includes Asian masterpieces as well as European Impressionist, Aboriginal and colonial works. For free contemporary art don’t miss the newly expanded MCA or the Brett Whitley Studio.
Two of the finest free museums are the National Maritime, which traces the country’s many links with the ocean and the Australian Museum, which, as well as the usual dinosaur skeletons, displays some pleasingly lethal creepy crawlies. Also free are the excellent yet often overlooked museums of the University of Sydney.
Look out for the free shuttle bus 555 which does a useful circuit of central Sydney every 10min. For free wi-fi try Sydney’s excellent libraries, you can check in on the lastest Rough Guides content online while you’re there.
Easily the most atmospheric part of Sydney, the Rocks harbourside district is where the first Europeans stepped ashore on 26 January 1788. Strolling the cobblestone streets is, of course perfectly free, though its addictive weekend market should come with a wallet health warning.
Well worth timing your visit for, January’s Sydney Festival features everything from burlesque circus to indigenous arts and kicks off with a huge free street party. Another annual fixture is the fabulous Sculpture by the Sea open-air exhibition. For other free events check out http://whatson.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au.