Australia is known as an expensive country. Sydney the most expensive of them all. If you have dreamed about traveling to Australia but need to travel Australia on a budget, this post is definitely for you. If you’re just beginning to plan a trip to Sydney, I suggest reading this article on the best cities in Australia first.
Before I give you tips on traveling to Sydney on a budget let me destroy some of your dreams. Scuba dives along the Great Barrier Reef, while also not being in Sydney are expensive. But, if you want to Scuba in Australia check out this article. Sipping cocktails during an Uluru sunset, again not in Sydney, is also very expensive and probably won’t make your list.
But, don’t worry! There are still so many things to do in Sydney that are unique, fun, and budget-friendly! Hopefully, this post sharing Sydney budget travel tips will help.
How Much Does Backpacking Sydney Cost?
Your biggest expense is going to be flying into Australia, and getting to Sydney. Australia is an isolated country in the middle of the ocean it also is very far away for anyone living in the US. Before you even start to make a budget for Sydney I recommend sorting out - and purchasing - flights and visas.
That being said, Sydney can be very affordable if you commit to traveling like a true backpacker. Plan on allocating your money to the activities that are most important to you and not being afraid to skimp on everything else.
Realistically, I would plan to budget at least (aka a bare minimum) of $70-$100 a day. Note that all prices are in AUD! A budget like this will keep your trip to Sydney comfortable. Here is a breakdown of where that money goes in a Sydney daily budget:
Accommodation: Hostel Dorm Beds are $25-35 a night. If traveling with friends you could split an Airbnb for $35-70 a night.
Transport: Getting in you'll pay to get to the city. Airport Link Train is $18.50 a great option if you are traveling alone. Ubers are around $40 so if you are traveling with someone opt to split the cab.
Around the city: Adult Opal Card to take public transport. Plan to spend around $3.50-7.00 a day
Drinking: A couple of beers at the bar will run you $6-10 a night. Alternatively, you can grab a goon (boxed wine) for around $14.
Food: Typical costs are as follows - Breakfast anywhere between $5-9, Lunch between $12-20, Dinner between $20-35. These can obviously be brought down with street food and market shopping.
Activities: Stick to things that are free or low cost like a day on the Beach and scenic coastal walks.
Read on: Full Travel Guide for Sydney
Flying Around Australia on a Budget
The good news is air travel in Australia is cheaper than ever! Here are some more tips on how to travel to and from Sydney, and around Australia, on a tight budget.
The main two discount airlines in Australia are Jetstar and Tiger Airways.
I flew both whilst in Australia and didn't have a problem on either. Make sure you read the rules on baggage dimensions and weight restrictions carefully.
Jetstar has Friday Frenzy deals with flight sometimes as low as $19. Subscribe to their newsletter and be ready once you get it, they go quick.
Rex Airline offers a backpacker pass available only to international travelers. It gives you one to two months of unlimited Rex air travel. Rex is great for flying to regional areas such as Broken Hill, Kangaroo Island, King Island, etc.
Virgin Australia, while being more expensive does have some great deals and you shouldn't rule them out.
Pro Tip: When searching for flight deals in Australia (and this applies to how I find deals in general) I always start with Google Flights. Their website is straight forward and ad-free. It searches thousands of flights with ease. Once I find a good deal, I ALWAYS book directly through the airline or agent (no extra fees). This makes it easier to make last-minute changes. I almost never book through sites like Orbitz, Expedia, etc.
Pro tip: Travel in the low season
The most expensive time to be in Sydney is during Aussie summers. Although the hot summers from December to February are perfect for travelers in the Northern Hemisphere wanting to warm up over the holidays, travel costs (especially airfare to and from Sydney) and hotel rates will be high. Spread your Sydney budget out by visiting during shoulder seasons like spring and fall or during the low season of winter.
Winter in Sydney starts in May and lasts through August. The temperatures are actually quite pleasant and the deals are fantastic.
Read on: Packing guide for a trip to Sydney
Eating Cheap in Australia
Other than a room to sleep in the biggest part of your budget will go to food. Of course, there's a wide range of options when it comes to eating - from high-end restaurants on the Sydney waterfront to cheap food stalls and even cheaper, the supermarket. Where you spend your money is up to you but here are some tips.
Cook often. This coincides with staying at hostels or cheap hotels that offer kitchenettes.
ALDI is the cheapest supermarket in the country. Try to find one of those as often as you can.
Australian supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths have prepackaged sandwiches that are super cheap and, of course, grocery products for you to stock up on.
Grab some bread, jam, and cold cuts from the supermarket and have yourself a nice little outdoor picnic.
Markets are not only a free experience to fill your days they also have fresh seafood and produce at reasonable prices.
Like most major cities, Chinatown is excellent for cheap eats, and inexpensive local restaurants.
Keep yourself hydrated! It is really hot in Sydney. Australian tap water is fine to drink, and you can find water fountains everywhere. Refill reusable water bottles to save the planet and money on water purchases.
Backpacker bars in Sydney are everywhere! Cheap beer abounds.
Many hostels will list backpacker specials at the bars inside.
Stick to local Australian beers like Tooheys and Coopers when bar hopping in Sydney.
Drink Goon also known as boxed wine. It is also a cultural phenomenon that you should experience while in Australia. Goon is infamous on the Australian backpacker hostel trail. A cheap box of wine, usually around 4 liters will cost you around AUD$13. It is widely used for pregaming in Australia and is one of the best ways to get a buzz and save a lot of money at the same time.
If you’re curious on where I ate while in Sydney I have an article listing all of my favorite Sydney restaurants here.
Staying Connected on a Budget in Sydney
I highly suggest grabbing a SIM card when you arrive. The telephone company Telstra offers excellent phone packages and the coverage throughout the country is exceptional. Call and text rates are low which means the credit will last. Vodafone has great deals as well but I do warn they have more limited coverage around the country.
Use free internet as much as possible. A word of warning that the internet in Australia is painfully slow and expensive even in fine hotels. Public internet work at basically the same speed and you can find free connections in many places from public libraries to McDonald's (Aussies call it Maccas).
Getting around Sydney on a Budget
Sydney Opal Cards
Get an Opal Card. I really can't stress this enough. The Sydney Opal card is a touch-and-go contactless card that can be pre-loaded for easy and quick access to public transport.
The major advantage of these cards is the convenience and lack of headache that comes with the card automatically calculating your fare (by distance traveled). Opal cards can be bought through the official website or at over 1000 retailers throughout the city including at newsstands and in most rail stations. If you are sight-seeing on a Sunday travel is only $2 all over the city.
Taxis and Ubers in Sydney
Taxis are expensive in Sydney you should avoid them. Rideshare like Uber Pools can be used as a cheap efficient way to travel the city. If you are traveling in a group (and it isn't rush hour) Uber is a great way to get around. The split fares with fellow travelers are sometimes cheaper than public transport.
Budget Hotels in Sydney
Sydney is an all-around expensive city. I used apps like Hotel Tonight to book a hotel for cheaper. While in Sydney I stayed in CBD (central business district) and loved the location. We booked the Radisson Blu and loved our stay. Read my whole review here.
If you’ve never used HotelTonight I encourage you to check it out. The app is incredible for booking amazing hotel deals tonight (like the name of the app suggests) and beyond. I’ve used it for booking deals up to a week or two before.
Use my promo code TETORRENTE and you'll get $25 off your first booking. Download the app here: https://txt.htltn.com/cHfQa9qp3U
*Bookings must be made on the app with a room charge of at least $135 USD (excluding taxes and fees).
HOSTEL PRICES IN SYDNEY
Even if you are going on a budget, hostels in Sydney are very expensive. King’s Cross area tends to have cheaper hostels. 8-bed dorm starts around 25ish AUD, while a 4-bed dorm starts around 30 AUD. Private rooms range between 70-130 AUD per night. Prices are very dependent on factors like location, time of year, and even if the bathroom is shared or private.
BUDGET HOTEL PRICES IN SYDNEY
Just like hostels, hotel prices vary greatly in the city and depend on a number of factors. The more center you want to stay the higher they will be. It may be worth it to look into getting a private room at a hostel as opposed to a hotel room downtown. Single rooms in a budget hotel can be found for around 80 AUD per night but this isn't always possible. A double will run you around 160-200 AUD and get more expensive as you get closer to the city center.
AIRBNB IN SYDNEY
Renting from a local while in Sydney is a great option. You will definitely get better value for your money and may luck out into a great location. A quick search showed on Airbnb, a shared room in a home averages about 33 AUD per night. You can find whole apartments starting around 105 AUD per night.
Here are my five favorite neighborhoods in Sydney:
Surry Hills: A hip neighborhood with some of the best public transportation connections. There are also many places to eat and drink in Surry Hills.
Darlinghurst: The heart of Sydney’s gay scene, and home to popular Oxford Street.
Kings Cross: Has bars lining its streets and is known as Sydney’s Red Light District or “backpacker central”. Kings Cross comes alive at night with travelers looking for a good time. You'll find tons of drinking and dancing here.
Bondi Beach: Stay here if you want to be near the beach 24/7. Understand that it is 8km from the main tourist area of Sydney but you can travel between the two via bus (333, 380-2) or a 15-minute drive by Uber or cab. Home to stunning beaches, great coffee, trendy shopping, vibrant nightlife, active people, and the popular Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk.
Manly: Sydney locals love this beach and overall Manly has a cool community feel. Manly is a short 18-minute ferry ride from the city, which I suggest taking regardless because it comes with incredible views of the Sydney Opera House.
Free Things to Do in Sydney
You're in luck, Sydney is crammed with things to do for free. “What’s On Sydney” is a great resource with a huge, and updated, list of free and cheap local events. Here's a small list to get you started:
Spend the day at a beach
There are many different beaches around Sydney and any of them will make a fantastic day. The most famous is Bondi. Actually, Sydney and Bondi Beach are synonymous. Bondi is truly one of the world’s best beaches and obviously, this makes it a super popular attraction that you can’t miss when visiting Sydney. The beach is only 8km away and can be accessed via bus (333, 380-2) or a 15-minute drive by Uber or cab. We chose to take an Uber both there and back and found it cheap and convenient. You can easily spend a whole day in Bondi.
You should also wake up early enough for a sunrise or catch a sunset while in Sydney. They are magical. Even better, grab some goon (box wine) and enjoy the sunset and lovely ocean air.
Visit the Museums in Sydney
Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
Modern art housed in a grand, waterside art deco building. You really shouldn't miss the rooftop cafe at the MCA. The cafe has a sculpture terrace with magnificent views of Circular Quay, including the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Contemporary, modern, and indigenous art in a beautiful building from 1871. I really insist you take a look at the indigenous art on display here. The usual location is in the basement but this is subject to change. When planning your days in Sydney I suggest visiting the gallery in the middle of the day when it is hottest outside. Not only will you cool down but you'll also save money since the Art Gallery of New South Wales is free!
The Australian Museum
Kids admission: free, adults pay AUD$15.
The Australian Museum in Darlinghurst is perfect for families visiting Sydney. Level 2 has Kidspace, a mini-museum for children under five. The top sight is the museum's great natural history collection enabling you to get up close with all of Australia’s scariest creatures, minus the whole risk-of-death thing. You also shouldn't miss the museum cafe which has perfect views of St. Marys Cathedral and Woolloomooloo.
Hike along Sydney’s coastal walks
The Bondi to Coogee coastal walk was one of my absolute favorite things I did while in Sydney. Another great coastal walk is from Manly to Spit.
For the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk start at Bondi Beach relaxing on the sand. Gear up for your walk with a vegan (!) meat pie at Funky Pies and then start walking towards Icebergs swim club. Right after the club is a very easy-to-follow path that curves along the coast and cliffs for 3.7-miles. The views are ridiculously stunning with cliffsides, epic beach views, and rock pools. You can read more about the walk here.
Swim in an ocean pool for free
My favorite pool in Sydney was not Iceberg in Bondi but instead Bronte Pool a short 20-minute walk away. I can't stress enough that you CAN NOT MISS DOING THIS. First off, Bronte Pool is man-made but feels much more natural compared to Iceberg pool in Bondi. The second reason why I love it: Entry is free. And third, it is much less crowded than Icebergs Pool in Bondi. This place is seriously magical and Matt and I spent over 4 hours just chilling here.
Pro Tip: Get here for sunrise--before 7 am-- and have a magical moment watching the sun creep over the ocean’s horizon.
Join a free walking tour of the city
The I’m Free walking tours are a perfect way to stay on budget and get to know Sydney. Locals who are passionate in their love for their city will give you a deep understanding of the sights around you and the history behind them. They offer 3 tours a day and I encourage you to spare a few dollars to tip the guides at the end.
Browse the markets
Over in Darling Harbour is the Sydney fish market, the perfect place to try Australia's delicious seafood. 15 million kilograms (33 million pounds) of seafood come through here annually and the chaotic nature surrounding the market is exhilarating. Several cafes and restaurants can be found onsite, as well as a famous cooking school (sydneyfishmarket.com.au/seafood-school). There is also a sushi bar, a Chinese seafood restaurant specializing in yum cha, and behind-the-scenes tours are available for around AUD$35.
Other markets include Paddington Markets on Oxford Street (open Saturdays after 10 am), Bondi Farmers Market on Campbell Parade near Bondi Beach, the flower market on Parramatta Road, and tons of seasonal markets.
Wander the different neighborhoods
Ah yes. The easiest way to save money is to simply walk and wander. I highly recommend taking a stroll around Darling Harbour which isn't only home to breathtaking river views. You'll also find an extensive variety of attractions in the Harbour. Some must-sees include the serene Chinese Garden of Friendship (entry: AUD$6) and its delightful teahouse. As well as the informative National Maritime Museum (the permanent collection is free).
If you want a great backdrop for photos or simply a so-kitsch-it's-kind-of-cool adventure I suggest heading to Luna Park. Naturally, there are many amusement park rides inside but you'll be surprised to learn you can also have a romantic dinner here also. On Sundays, the Ferris wheel offers first-class dining while you ride. If you're from the US and specifically NYC, you'll laugh to find out there is a Coney Island area inspired by non-other than our Coney Island in Queens.
Admission inside is free but you'll have to pay to ride the rides. A two-ride pass is AUD$20 or you can buy the unlimited-ride adult pass for AUD$52.
Walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Taking a Bridge climb is an outrageous AUD$205. If you are exploring Sydney on a budget that will not be on your list. The good news is you can walk across this icon for free!
Appreciate Nature at the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens is a harborside haven for the city with wildlife at your fingertips. The gardens stretch for X acres and you could wander them for hours. The Calyx is particularly impressive and a must-visit. While I was there they had an exhibit on carnivorous plants that was as beautiful as it was fascinating. Best of all, the gardens and Calyx are completely free.
St Marys Cathedral
Catholic cathedral built over 100 years (1821-1928). You can take a peek inside for free. Lighting candles, of course, requires offerings. Mass is also held regularly.
Grab an iVenture Card
To save money on Sydney's many top attractions, consider purchasing an iVenture Card. This smart card attractions pass has options for multiday unlimited or a flexible use package. You will gain access to must-see sites like the Sydney Opera House, the Chinese Garden of Friendship and the Australian National Maritime Museum at a fraction of the price.
Planning a trip to Australia in general, can be overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion on this beautiful location and you may be frozen and unable to plan anything. Rest assured that no matter what you choose to do in Australia or where you choose to stay in Australia you're going to have a beautiful time.
One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing an Australian travel guide along with you. Here are some of the travel guides I used during my trip...
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com).